The Rockies’ addition of top prospect Brendan Rodgers — No. 1 in Colorado’s system, No. 28 overall — to their big-league roster completes part of a journey that seemed preordained when Rodgers was still just a high school underclassman. As is the case with lots of prominent Floridian high schoolers, Rodgers was evaluated early thanks to the endless parade of both varsity and travel baseball in Florida. Scouts were interested in Rodgers very early, as Kiley noted in his initial 2015 draft rankings.
Rodgers was a standout last summer with scouts saying he’d go in the top 50 picks as a high school junior, then he took a huge step forward this summer when his bat speed and raw power jumped at least a notch, if not two.
Those rankings, which Rodgers topped at the time, were produced after the high school summer showcase season, during which Rodgers looked fine at shortstop and continued to perform against the best pitching in the country. There were tepid evaluations of his defense and some concerns, from model-driven clubs, regarding his advanced age. But Rodgers’ offensive consistency and mix of physical talents (he had among the best raw power in the class at the time) overrode those notions.
To escape February cold and rain, many college programs head to Phoenix for their early-season games. While the weather is often quite perfect there during the day, the winter nights are still quite cold, especially once you’ve become accustomed to the heat. This creates a hilarious visual contrast among fans, as the locals are layered — a hoodie and beanie at least — while out-of-towners from Michigan, Illinois, or the Pacific Northwest are sleeveless. But there are evenings that we’d all agree are frigid — unbearable for the locals, and a source of disappointment and disgust, especially among the shivering unprepared, for those who hoped coming to Arizona in February would let them avoid the chill for a while.
San Diego’s early-season, midweek game at Arizona State was like this. I was up the third base line watching hitters, my teeth chattering, nose running. People walked past me with Styrofoam cups full of steaming hot chocolate, a ballpark rarity, and I wondered if I might eventually need one to get through what had, to that point, been a terribly played game.
My standards for cocoa are high. I’ve gone from being a double-packet Swiss Miss kid to an adult who prefers a single packet, with a teaspoon of baking cocoa and a dash of cinnamon and cayenne if I’m feeling frisky. Surely, at stadium prices, hastily mixed and diluted to meet the speed and volume of demand, it would fall short of what I wanted.
My nose kept running. I felt like I miss-timed two Adam Kerner throws down to second because my fingers had slowed down. I just wanted something warm. I turned to the napkin/condiment kiosk (my de facto box of Kleenex for the evening) and saw yet another person carrying a fresh cup of relief. As I looked to their face to ask how much it cost, I recognized Keston Hiura, who told me he had gotten the last cup of hot chocolate they had. He departed, walked down into the bleachers and sat, alone, attentive and focused on a random, local, college game on a miserable night in the middle of the week.
For all players, baseball is a job. For a lot of them, it clearly and justifiably feels that way. But then for others, it’s a vocation. They love it and go out of their way to watch and be around it when they’re off the clock. It’s not possible to know whether or not every prospect we like and talk about on this site has this trait, which I believe to beneficial. But it seems like Hiura does.
He’s also exceptionally talented. Dominant immediately as a freshman at UC Irvine, Hiura hit .331 that year and .375/.466/.581 throughout his college career. He faced early-career questions about quality of competition (Irvine does play the bigger SoCal schools, but they don’t often face weekend pitching) and, later and more severely, about an elbow injury moved him off of second base and mostly to the outfield or DH for his summer with Team USA and his junior spring. Here is our draft blurb on Hiura, who we ranked as the No. 2 college hitter in that class:
Hiura has had elbow issues for much of his college career and has seen Dr. Neal El Attrache in Los Angeles. He’s not throwing right now, taking grounders at second base during batting practice but lobbing balls away to teammates after fielding them. He has the feet and actions for second base but there’s uncertainty about his future defensive home because of the arm. He rakes though, with one of the draft’s quickest bats and above average raw power. If his arm gets healthy he could hit and hit for power while playing an up the middle position.
The gap between the offensive bar at second base (an 88 wRC+ is the 2019 average at the position) and at DH (111 wRC+) is vast. Drafting Hiura was somewhat risky, because it was not widely known (at least, I never found out) exactly what was wrong with his elbow or if he’d need surgery, or ever be able to play a passable second base (where he might be a star) or if he’d need to be a DH/LF type (where it’d be harder to clear that offensive bar).
After the Brewers drafted him, Hiura predictably crushed lower-level pitching while playing DH until the final few games of the year, when he finally saw time at second again. He had no balls hit to him that required him to throw during that span. During instructional league in the fall, scouts finally saw what it looked like and were encouraged. We moved Hiura from a 45 FV on draft day, to a 55 FV based on confidence that he could indeed play second. He ranked No. 1 in Milwaukee’s system and 24th overall.
In 2018, Hiura reached Double-A and was, in my opinion, the second best offensive prospect in the Arizona Fall League behind Vlad Guerrero, Jr. His hands are so explosive and violent, but precise and deft, that he’s likely to hit for contact, hit for power, and play a premium defensive position better than who Milwaukee currently has shoe-horned there. Here’s what we wrote about Hiura on this offseason’s Top 100 prospect list, where we had him as the No. 13 prospect in baseball, a 60 FV player.
Hiura reached Double-A in his first full pro season, and then was clearly one of the top five or six talents in the Arizona Fall League, where he won League MVP. Most importantly, his arm strength is once again viable at second base. An elbow injury relegated Hiura to DH-only duty as a junior at UC Irvine, and he may have gone even earlier in the 2017 draft if not for concerns about the injury and how it might limit his defense. That’s no longer a concern, as Hiura has an average arm and plays an unspectacular second base. This is an incredible hitter. He has lightning-quick hands that square up premium velocity and possesses a rare blend of power and bat control. Hiura’s footwork in the box is a little noisier than it has to be, and if any of his swing’s elements are ill-timed, it can throw off the rest of his cut. This, combined with an aggressive style of hitting, could cause him to be streaky. But ultimately he’s an exceptional hitting talent and he’s going to play a premium defensive position. We think he’s an All-Star second baseman.
And now he’s a big leaguer. Hiura has been hitting .333/.408/.698 at Triple-A San Antonio. The new baseball and the PCL hitting environment has probably helped, but this is a middle of the order talent who’s ready to hit for all-fields power right now. I’m not totally buying the 2019 uptick in his walk rate. Hiura hunts early-count fastballs and I expect him to have a proactive approach, bordering on aggressive (he did beat me to that cocoa, after all), which is more palatable at second base even if it means his OBPs are closer to average, especially if it helps him hit for power by attacking pitches he can drive. He’s an entertaining, homegrown hitter who’s poised to hit in the middle of Milwaukee’s order for most of the next half decade.
Eric A Longenhagen: Pretty slim. The big club would have to be in some kind of race down to the wire (seems possible) and they’d have to think he were one of the best few options in the org AND the workload stuff needs to line up properly which, after the blister stuff last year, seems tricky
Greg: When’s the next mock out?
Eric A Longenhagen: when we have sufficient info to run one, probably sometime next week
Jon: Eric, hello! I’ll be in Lehigh Valley over the summer; any food recommendations?
These are notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.
I turned last Thursday’s edition in too late for publication (I lost track of time at an Extended game) but certainly won’t deprive you of the notes I have from that day. Here they are:
Xavier Edwards, SS, San Diego Padres Level: Low-A Age: 19 Org Rank:tbdFV: 45+ Line: 5-for-5, 2B
After 21 Low-A games, X is hitting .390/.450/.455 and has walked more than he has struck out. He has just one extra-base hit and has been caught stealing a bunch, but even for one of the more advanced high school bats from last year’s class, this is a strong start. Gabriel Arias was just put on the IL at Hi-A Lake Elsinore and Edwards has out-performed Justin Lopez and Tucupita Marcano, so he might be in line for a quick move up depending on the severity of Arias’ injury.
The use of the major league baseball at Triple-A combined with the PCL hitting environment has had, um, some impact on offensive performance. It’s important to keep this in mind when considering what Alvarez has done so far, though his line through 23 games — .386/.474/.916(!) with 12 homers — is remarkable. Notably, several of those homers have come against breaking balls, which Alvarez is particularly adept at identifying and adjusting to mid-flight. He does not have a sellout, max-effort swing — this power comes easy and it plays to all fields, as seven of Alvarez’s homers this season have been opposite field shots. He was toward the back of our 50 FV group pre-season because of concerns about his body and defensive limitations, but he’s hitting like someone who belongs toward the front of that tier, up near Pete Alonso. Read the rest of this entry »
Eric A Longenhagen: Hey from Tempe, folks. I’m going to try to move through questions quickly today as I’ve much to do before UCLA/ASU (which should be dope)…
Reid: Hi Eric, thanks for the chat. I’m curious as to what you think is the least common 20-grade tool at the major league level. My first thought was hit, because it’s incredibly difficult to be valuable as a .200 hitter, but I also can’t really think of what a 20 grade arm would look like.
Eric A Longenhagen: I guess *someone* has to have a 20 arm somewhere (Kris Davis, maybe?) but even the wettest of noodles I can surmise (Ben Revere, Juan Pierre) I’d probably 30
Eric A Longenhagen: but yeah, i think you’re right, it’s probably arm
GraphsFan: Question about weighting tools… All else being equal, is a 70 Hit / 40 Game Power prospect = 40 Hit / 70 Game Power? Is there a hierarchy to which tools are more valuable than others when rolling it into a FV?
Eric A Longenhagen: hit uber alles, there are probably better ways to show, with a number or two, the way the this and power tools interact for a given player through the use of batted ball data
These are notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.
I’m going to eschew minor league lines from last night to talk about the players I saw in the Northeast over the last week. My trip prioritized draft coverage but included some pro stuff due to rain.
Let’s start with Navy righty Noah Song who, like former Air Force righty Griffin Jax before him, has a military commitment that complicates his draft stock. In May of 2017, the Department of Defense changed a policy which had only been in effect for about a year, that allowed athletes at the academies to defer their service commitment in order to pursue professional sports.
Jax has been able to continue pitching after he was accepted into the World Class Athlete Program, which enables military athletes who fit certain criteria to train for the Olympics full-time. This only recently became an option for baseball players, as baseball will once again be an Olympic sport in 2020. The exemption grants a two-year window for training prior to the Games. Considering that it took Jax several months to apply and be accepted into the program, this avenue is probably too narrow for Song. Read the rest of this entry »
These are notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., 3B, Toronto Blue Jays Level: Triple-A Age: 20 Org Rank:1FV: 70 Line: 2-for-5, HR
The Blue Jays have an off day Thursday, so Guerrero will make his debut Friday at home against Oakland rather than play a road series at Lehigh Valley where I was hoping to see him this weekend, though this serves the greater, baseball-watching good. I don’t have too much to add to what we wrote for the Jays list aside from some ephemeral nuggets.
Guerrero came to camp heavy, and was visibly bigger than he was last fall. He had a strained patellar tendon last year, and an oblique strain this spring. Let’s hope these issues aren’t chronic and don’t cause him to prematurely slide down the defensive spectrum, though he’ll hit enough to render it moot even if it occurs.
After rehabbing in Dunedin to start the year, Guerrero joined Triple-A Buffalo on April 11 and took just one home plate appearance for the Bison before his promotion as they have mostly been on the road while he was with them, and had a home series against Scranton decimated by rain. The 38 games Vlad played for Buffalo were the fewest he spent at any affiliate. Pour one out for Bob Rich, Jr., I suppose — just wait until it thaws.
Like his college teammate Matt Thaiss, Smith had strong peripheral stats as an amateur but desperately needed a swing change in pro ball to hit for enough power to profile at first base. After slugging under .400 as a college hitter in the Cal League last year and looking overmatched in the Fall League, there’s been some movement in his batted ball profile early this season. After posting ground ball rates of 48.8% each of the last two seasons, Smith is lifting the ball more and his grounder rate is just 33% early on. It’s a tad too early to trust batted ball samples, but that’s a fairly striking difference. It’s still going to be a tough profile and we’re not huge Smith fans here at FanGraphs, but this might be a sign things are getting better.
Oscar De La Cruz, RHP, Chicago Cubs Level: Hi-A Age: 24 Org Rank:15FV: 40 Line: 6 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 2 R, 8 K
This was De La Cruz’s second rehab start after returning from a PED suspension that dates back to last July. I saw one of his final spring training tune-ups, during which he was 92-94 with unusually precise command of a plus-flashing slider, and he’s only walked one batter over the two starts. His velocity has been all over the place throughout his injury-riddled career — 93-97 at his best, 88-91 at his worst — but 92-94 with command is fine. He seems like a reasonable candidate to contribute to the Cubs at some point this year, perhaps out of the bullpen if De La Cruz, who has never thrown more than 77 innings in a single season, is on some kind of innings limit.
Bolton came into some new velo last year, had a strong first half, and then was shut down with a shoulder injury and missed the rest of the year. His early-season results indicate his stuff is back, and he’s only 20 and already at Hi-A. Sinker/slider types like this sometimes don’t hold their strikeout rates as they climb, but even if Bolton becomes a No. 4/5 starter (which is how his stuff grades out on paper) that’s a steal for a sixth rounder.
Hall has been scorching since late last year. He slashed .378/.441/.500 in August and is at .365/.467/.429 so far this season. He’s continued to steal bases like he did late last summer, too. Of his 22 steals last year, 15 came in August. Hall has seven bags in 16 games so far in 2019. He’s a slash and dash type of hitter and that style of play works best against bad, lower-level defenses, which is part of why he’s got a .523 BABIP right now. That’s got to come down, but this is a strong start.
It’s important that we look at Triple-A statistical performances (especially in the PCL) in a different light given what is transpiring with the baseball itself, but we can still appreciate Alvarez’s blistering start with that in mind. After a little over two weeks, he’s slugging .870; nine of his 17 hits have been home runs, and he has one more walk than strikeout thus far. He’s played eight games in left field, five at DH, two at first base, and one in right field. Most all of Houston’s big league hitters are mashing right now (Tyler White is hitting lefties, at least), so there’s not an obvious short-term path to big league playing time here. If anyone goes down though, perhaps Alvarez will get the call instead of a struggling Kyle Tucker. Read the rest of this entry »
After two middling starts to kick off his season, Thorpe was dominant yesterday and K’d 12 of the 22 hitters he faced, all on either a fastball at the letters or with a curveball beneath the strike zone. He has quite the injury history (including a two-year stretch where he didn’t pitch at all) and it has impact on how the industry perceives him, which is why he’ll be ranked a bit beneath where he would otherwise be based on his stuff and proximity to the majors. But Thorpe has been consistently healthy since May of 2017, which may begin to allay concerns.
Cody Thomas, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers Level: Double-A Age: 24 Org Rank:tbdFV: 40 Line: 4-for-4, 3 HR
The Dodgers have done well drafting and developing college power/speed hitters who are athletically stiff, have some swing and miss issues, or both. Thomas, who will be an interesting Rule 5 case this offseason, is one of these. He’s striking out a lot as a 24-year-old at Double-A, but some teams may view the context of his performance differently because Thomas was a two-sport college athlete who hasn’t focused on baseball for as long as other prospects his age. The Dodgers will need to add several other players from Thomas’ draft class to the 40-man (Will Smith, Mitch White, Jordan Sheffield, Tony Gonsolin), so Thomas would seem to be a candidate for trade if a team loves the tools, ability to lift the baseball, and has some 40-man space/time to spare to let him develop further.
Cleveland outfielders, aside from Leonys Martin, are struggling right now. Mercado has begun to heat up at Triple-A with hits in five consecutive games. If he starts seeing more time in a corner, it may be an indication a call-up is imminent, because he’s not supplanting Martin in Cleveland’s center field. He’s only started 23 games in either left or right field during his career, and it might behoove Cleveland to get him more acclimated.
Ty France, 1B/3B, San Diego Padres Level: Triple-A Age: 24 Org Rank:tbdFV: 40 Line: 2-for-5, 2 HR
The Hosmer and Machado deals almost certainly make France a burgeoning trade chip. He’s exactly the kind of hitter to whom the PCL is extra nice, but he’s hit at every level since college and, save for one season, has also hit for power, and his current SLG% is more caricature than mirage. France also had a great spring with the big league club and is on the 40-man, so he’s likely to debut this year if one of the big league corner bats gets hurt, though San Diego might view that as a way to clear their outfield logjam by playing Wil Myers in the infield again.
A quintessential Houston four-seam/curveball pitching prospect, Ivey at least projects as a good multi-inning reliever and his four-pitch mix gives him a great chance to start. He was ejected two innings into his last start for having a foreign substance on his glove. He’s a sleeper 2020 Top 100 candidate.
More on Keoni Cavaco
There’s background on Cavaco in yesterday’s Notes. I saw him again yesterday against Torrey Pines High School and he had a tough day at the plate, swinging over multiple changeups from TPH’s funky lefty starter. There are going to be questions about his hit tool because of both the swing (inconsistent, arguably ineffectual stride length, odd hand path) and his lack of track record against elite high school pitching, and maybe about what his ultimate defensive position will be, but he’ll be somebody’s toolsy sandwich round pick.
Also of note from the game was Torrey Pines CF Mac Bingham, a 2019 committed to USC. He’s a strong, compact 5-foot-10, 185, and was the football team’s running back in the fall. He made strong contact with two hittable pitches, and ran a 55 time from home to first while legging out a double. The frame makes the power projection less exciting and one area scout told me the general consensus is that Bingham will go to school, but he’s at least an interesting, tools-based follow for 2022 if he does.
In our recently-published Royals list, we openly wondered if we should be heavier on Lopez largely because A) he plays shortstop and B) his peripherals are excellent. Shortly after publication, an executive reached out to us and they agreed we should be more enthused about Lopez, who we currently have evaluated as a second-division regular. He’s struck out just once so far this year. We don’t expect Lopez to hit for much power (he’s little and hits the ball on the ground a lot), but he may do enough to be part of Kansas City’s rebuilding efforts.
After two semi-wild starts during which his stuff was still too good for opposing hitters to do anything with, Graterol was slightly more efficient and utterly dominant last night. He’s holding upper-90s heat late into games, and while his slider is more horizontally oriented than is ideal (vertical breaking balls are typically better at missing bats), Graterol’s has enough length to be a real problem for hitters anyway. He’s only 20 and carving up Double-A. If there’s a scenario in which Graterol sees the big leagues this year, it almost certainly involves a tight AL Central race and a start like the one he’s off to.
After a rough first week, Kelenic has heated up and is hitting like one would hope the most advanced high school bat would hit during their first full pro season. Both he and Nolan Gorman are performing and seem on the fast track. Kelenic has also looked comfortable in center field. Big and muscular aleady at 19, there’s some thought Kelenic may eventually move to a corner, but if he races through the minors, he’ll get to the bigs before he slows down.
Perhaps the epitome of the high-risk hitting prospect, Gonzalez continues to hit for power despite employing one of the most swing-happy approaches in pro ball. He still hasn’t walked this year and has just three free passes dating back to last June. The realistic ceiling for a player like this is a Hunter Renfroe-y sort of player.
Dispatch from Chula Vista
I’m in Southern California to see Eastlake High School infielder Keoni Cavaco, perhaps the most signifiant pop-up prospect in this year’s draft. Though his swing is a little unorthodox and handsy, Cavaco has big raw power and speed (he homered to dead center yesterday, turned what would typically be a gap single into a double, stole a base) and maybe the best body in the draft. He mishandled a ball at third base (where he moved, from second, late in the game) and saw little defensive action beside that.
We have Cavaco at the back of the 45-FV tier in this year’s class. There can only be so much confidence in his bat because he wasn’t part of last summer’s big showcases, where he would have faced better pitching than he’s seeing now. On tools, and based on what teams had extra heat in to see him (Seattle, Cleveland, Arizona), we’ll likely slide him up a few spots on The Board. I may head back to see more of him today.