Author Archive

Daily Prospect Notes: 7/23/21

These are notes on prospects from Tess Taruskin. Read previous installments of the Daily Prospect Notes here.

Anderson Espinoza, RHP, San Diego Padres
Level & Affiliate: High-A Fort Wayne Age: 23 Org Rank: 8 FV: 40+
Line: 2.2 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 1 R, 6 K

San Diego acquired Espinoza in the Drew Pomeranz trade in 2016, but he was shutdown before the start of the 2017 due to elbow discomfort. That began five years of developmental delays in the form of multiple Tommy John surgeries and the canceled 2020 minor league season. Now the 23-year-old is back on the mound and looking to recapture the stuff that once earned him top prospect status.

His longest outings this season have gone three innings (a mark he’s matched five times), so his 2.2 innings of work is on par with his understandably stringent workload restrictions. The six hits he allowed were all singles and the ones that came in the first and second innings were all weakly hit, though well placed. Espinoza’s outing ended when those softer hits turned into more solid contact in the third, but not before recording a season-high six strikeouts. His pitch count was already pushing 70 by the end of his short outing. On paper that may seem like cause for concern regarding Espinoza’s command and feel to pitch, which he struggled with earlier this year in his sole spring training appearance with the big league club. But that wasn’t the case on Thursday; the only walk he issued was to the first batter of the game, after which only one other hitter saw a three-ball count, and many of the pitches that were called for balls were extremely close and could just as easily have been called for strikes. Read the rest of this entry »

What to Watch For at the Tokyo Games

It isn’t easy to make it to the Olympics. The backstories of Olympians often inspire awe (and trepidation): athletes, sometimes quite young, dedicating more time to their sport than many adults do to their careers, sacrificing life’s frivolities for the sake of representing their country on a global stage, potentially to the long-term detriment of the young bodies they’re pushing to their limits in order to get there. And that’s before adhering to often-antiquated rules for participation that could see them unfairly removed from eligibility for reasons completely unrelated to their sport. Of course this year, beyond the hurdles of human achievement that always stand between athletes and the Olympics, there’s an unprecedented existential threat looming over the Games and indeed the world.

The Olympic trials and other qualifiers leading up to the Tokyo Games were minor skirmishes compared to the fight against COVID-19. Of course, the recent resurgence of the global pandemic has already made its impact known. Back in March, it was announced that international fans would be prohibited from attending; stadium capacities would be limited to 50% and a maximum of 10,000 fans would be permitted for any given event. But earlier this month that was walked back, with Olympic organizers deciding that Japanese fans would also be barred from attending Olympic events, an announcement that simultaneously discouraged excited potential spectators, added a significant amount to the overall cost of hosting this year’s Games, and caused would-be Olympic viewers worldwide to question how much sense it made to proceed with the Summer Games at all, given the state of the world.

The impact that COVID has had on the much anticipated (albeit fleeting) return of baseball to the Olympics predates this most recent audience restriction by well over a year. As I mentioned when I previewed Team USA’s roster, the qualifying tournaments began in 2019, with four of the six teams earning their Olympic spots at the end of that year before most of us had even heard whispers of a potential pandemic. Japan had an automatic spot in the Games thanks to Tokyo’s role as host city. Israel won the Africa/Europe Qualifying Event. The 2019 Premier12 Tournament saw the addition of two more teams: Mexico, which narrowly edged out the US to earn its spot as the tournament’s top finisher from the Americas, and South Korea, which finished second behind Japan, whose spot was already secured. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Prospect Notes: 7/8/21

These are notes on prospects from Tess Taruskin. Read previous installments here.

Keibert Ruiz, C, Los Angeles Dodgers
Level & Affiliate: Triple-A Oklahoma City Age: 22 Org Rank: 2  FV: 50
4-for-5, HR, 2B, 2 RBI
Ruiz’ four-hit night wasn’t enough to make up for the fifteen runs scored by the opposing El Paso Chihuahuas, but it certainly bolstered confidence in the young catching prospect’s overall 2021 performance. His approach at the plate continues to impress; Ruiz’s 11% K-rate is the third lowest in all of Triple-A (10th lowest in all of the minor leagues), and he’s only struck out twice in the past twelve games, walking 11 times over that span.

Nick Plummer, DH/OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Springfield Age: 24 Org Rank: NR  FV: 40
3-for-5, 3 HR, K, 5 RBI
The line says a lot, but not quite everything. Plummer hit three home runs last night, but most notable was when they came and where they landed. His first four-bagger didn’t come until the bottom of the seventh, when he banged an opposite-field bomb off of the left field foul pole. His second dinger came the following inning, when he sent one over the wall in left center. Finally, as if filling out his bingo card, he walked it off in the 10th on an absolute rocket over the right field wall.

Here’s a look at all three:

Read the rest of this entry »

Baseball Is Back in the Olympics (for Now)

After much anticipation, the US National Baseball Team is heading to the 2021 Olympic Games. Given the 13 years since baseball was last played in the Olympics, the lack of overlap between this roster and the last Games’ is no surprise. But that’s not to say the team is entirely without Olympic experience. Eddy Alvarez competed for the United States speed skating team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where he earned a silver medal in the 5000 meter relay. When he told reporters after those Games that he planned to hang up his skates in favor of pursuing a baseball career, it’s unlikely he did so knowing the decision would start him on a path back to the Olympics.

Far-fetched as it may have seemed back then, Alvarez was indeed one of 24 players named to represent the US in the six-team Olympic baseball tournament later this month. The US and the Dominican Republic both qualified in June, joining Japan, South Korea, Israel, and Mexico, all of which qualified over a year and a half ago, when the Games were still slated to take place in 2020 (just one of many ways in which the global pandemic has already shaped this year’s Games, a topic I’ll examine in greater depth next week). This will be the first time baseball is played at the Olympics since the 2008 Games in Beijing, after which the sport (along with softball) was removed from Olympic competition. The 2008 roster featured Double-A versions of Trevor Cahill and Dexter Fowler, a Single-A Jake Arrieta, and a soon-to-be-drafted college pitcher named Stephen Strasburg.

It’s been a while, to say the least. Read the rest of this entry »

Will Bednar Leads the Bulldogs to MSU’s First Title

On Wednesday, the Mississippi State Bulldogs defeated the Vanderbilt Commodores to win the 2021 College World Series, bringing home the school’s first title in any team sport in its 126-year history. According to ESPN, an estimated 1% of the entire population of Mississippi made their way to Omaha to cheer on the team in person. Also in attendance at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park were MSU alumni Dak Prescott and Rafael Palmeiro, the latter of whom was a member of the 1985 baseball team, which is widely considered one of the greatest college teams not to bring home the World Series title (Will Clark was also on the roster that year; the two were collectively referred to as “Thunder and Lightning”). Before the game started, it seemed likely to be a pitchers’ duel, with MSU’s Will Bednar facing off against Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker. But both aces were working on short rest – Bednar on three days, Rocker on four – and the college level is known for its unique anything-can-and-probably-will-happen brand of baseball, so even that prediction was flimsy at best.

Bednar came into the contest riding a wave of confidence stemming from his two previous games. While the draft-eligible sophomore hasn’t generated nearly the same amount of buzz that’s surrounded Rocker all season, once his team had reached Omaha, he wasted no time demonstrating why his name has come up as a potential late-first-round pick. In his first start of the tournament, the righty struck out 15 Texas batters, while walking only one and giving up just one hit in his six innings of work. He struck out seven more Longhorns in his second Omaha start, which ended with a Bulldogs walk-off. It’s not hard to imagine the impact of a hot team on a hot pitcher, coming into what is undoubtedly the most important start of his budding career. Read the rest of this entry »

Our 2021 Dodgers Prospect List, Revisited

Back in December, Eric Longenhagen compiled FanGraphs’ annual Dodgers Top Prospects List, identifying 51 noteworthy players in Los Angeles’ system. What follows is an update on the top-ranked players and best performers from that list, along with some previously unlisted prospects who’ve made a case for themselves to be included in prospect lists to come. (Note: The stats in this article are updated through Monday, June 28).

Updates on the Top Five

Josiah Gray, the Dodgers’ top-ranked prospect who they acquired in the Yasiel Puig trade, seemed to be a likely option to replace Dustin May on the big-league roster when May was sidelined by Tommy John surgery at the beginning of the year. But just a few days later, Gray made his first start at Triple-A and has been sidelined ever since with an arm injury of his own (shoulder impingement). He hasn’t pitched since then, and according to team personnel, they’re wisely taking their time with his rehabilitation. Whenever Gray is deemed healthy enough to pitch, he’ll still likely be on a fast track to the major league roster. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Prospect Notes: 6/21/21

These are notes on prospects from Tess Taruskin. Read previous installments here.

Reid Detmers, LHP, Los Angeles Angels
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Rocket City Age: 21 Org Rank: 3  FV: 45+
6 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 14 K
Detmers’ delivery starts out somewhat slow, almost nonchalant, but ends with an explosive arm action that hitters seem to have trouble gauging or reacting to. In the first game of the Trash Pandas’ Father’s Day double-header against the Biloxi Shuckers, Detmers got to work right away with an immaculate inning, fanning his first three hitters on nine pitches. He went on to strike out a total of fourteen Shuckers in his six innings of work before handing the game over to reliever Oliver Ortega for the save. Detmers is only the fourth pitcher in the history of the Angels’ minor league system to strike out 14 in a game — interestingly, only four days after his teammate Cooper Criswell became the third to do so.

Read the rest of this entry »

Our 2021 Reds Prospect List, Revisited

Back in December, Eric Longenhagen compiled FanGraphs’ annual Reds Prospect List, identifying 36 noteworthy players in Cincinnati’s system. Here’s an update on the top-ranked players and best performers from that list, along with some previously unlisted prospects who’ve made a case for themselves to be included in lists to come.

Updates on the Top Five:

Perhaps the most notable update for Jose Barrero (formerly Garcia) is in regard to his surname, which he changed last month to honor his late mother who passed away due to complications from COVID-19. On the field, he is still the Reds’ top-ranked player, with a slash line of .333/.392/.515 — good for a 151 wRC+  — at Double A. That’s a vast improvement over his numbers during the shortened 2020 season, when he was prematurely called up to the majors despite never having played above A-ball because of the Reds’ lackluster middle infield options. His strikeout rate is still too high for comfort (20.3%) and comes paired with a similarly unsatisfactory walk rate (8.4%), so his approach is still the order of the day in terms of his development.

Tyler Stephenson, Cincinnati’s no. 2 prospect, has seen a good amount of playing time this season, much of it at first base during the weeks that Joey Votto was on the IL. He has a 126 wRC+ on the season, with a 13.2% walk rate and 18% strikeout rate that are both better than league average, as is his slash line of .270/.383/.418. Despite the important role Stephenson has played, his at-bats are going to take a dip; with Votto back in the lineup, he will be relegated to sharing time behind the dish with Tucker Barnhart. Read the rest of this entry »

The Road to Omaha Is Paved With Score Inflations

Watching baseball can sometimes feel like watching a chess match, scrutinizing often-motionless players as they try to out-think one another. But if MLB’s brand of baseball is a Queens Gambit-esque affair – quietly self-serious, steeped in tradition, a bit stuffy at times – then college baseball is the more unpolished version you see played in Central Park, with moves coming in frenzied flurries from players who can sometimes seem more caught up in the moment than they are focused on gameplay. But as the NCAA Division-I baseball tournament heads into super regionals this weekend, who can blame these players for letting their emotions run high? There are a number of future major leaguers among the remaining players in the tournament, hoping to boost their draft potential as they attempt to lead their teams to Omaha. But there is also an undoubtedly larger contingent of players who can feel their days of playing competitive baseball dwindling, which can make for a score-enhancing combination of adrenaline-fueled offense and nervy defense.

A brief glimpse at the scores from last weekend’s action is enough to highlight the different brand of ball on display at the college level. There was an average of 12.8 runs scored in each game – a stark contrast to the anemic offensive landscape of the majors. But even with those inflated results, there was still pitching prowess aplenty, with many regular-season storylines stretching into postseason play, including those of much-discussed Vanderbilt starters Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter. The two are expected to go early in this year’s draft (as early as first and second overall, by some estimates), and were unsurprisingly tapped to start the team’s first two games of the Nashville regional. Rocker started Game One, pitching seven scoreless innings and fanning nine as Vandy shut out Presbyterian, 10-0. In their next game, Leiter faced off against Georgia Tech starter Marquis Grissom, Jr., allowing the nostalgic among us to reminisce about the days when their fathers went head-to-head decades ago. Leiter allowed just one run, and struck out 11 batters over the course of his six innings of work; Vanderbilt went on to win 4-3. Read the rest of this entry »

Looking for Prospects, Listening for Community

One of my favorite things about attending a live baseball game is how it sounds. Sure, the pops and cracks of leather and wood on the field are comforting in their own right, but what I’m really talking about is the chatter. The constant din of anonymous talkers throwing out well-researched stats, or strongly felt opinions on pitchers’ hair length, or two-notches-too-loud questions about where the Bud Light guy is. And as much as I enjoy the ambient noise of a major-league ballpark, for my money, there is no baseball chatter that compares to that found in the stands of a high school game.

At the end of May, I attended my first live baseball game since 2019, a matchup on the South Side of Chicago between Marist High School and Marian Catholic. Heading into the game, Marist had the best record in Illinois, thanks in part to Noah Smith, their toolsy infielder, and our top-ranked high school prospect in the state. Also on the field was Smith’s Area Codes teammate and fellow Louisville commit, Eddie King Jr., playing in the outfield for Marian Catholic. But in the bleachers along the first base line, the chatter wasn’t about whether Smith would ever eliminate the sway in his swing and stabilize his head to more consistently identify breaking balls, or how hot a bat King was swinging after he smashed a double off the left-field wall (he had homered in the game the day before, also against Marist). Instead, I found myself seated in between a group of teens who had googled the team’s roster because one of them was pretty sure she’d sat next to one of the outfielders in Freshman Spanish, and a mom who spent the entire game playing defense against her toddler, who was intent on pulling on the cord coming out of the camera she had perched on the railing to record her older son’s performance on the field.

After the game, there were hugs and pats on the back from the parents in the stands, and awkward giggles from the group of girls I’d been sitting by, none of whom seemed keen on actually approaching any of the players. Marian Catholic won 9-7, issuing Marist its first conference loss of the season (and third loss overall), and knocking them down to second place in the state. If anyone in the stands noticed, they hid their disappointment well. But regardless of whether or not the audience at this mid-week, mid-afternoon high school game was aware of the stakes of the game itself, it was clear how much they cared about the players on the field. The sense of community was palpable. Even as an outsider, I felt like I’d attended an event that meant something to my fellow spectators – something specific, and unrelated to baseball. Read the rest of this entry »