These are notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.
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.
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.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.