Daily Prospect Notes: 7/22/21

These are notes on prospects from Brendan Gawlowski. Read previous installments of the DPN here.

Across the country and around the world, it’s the Daily Prospect Notes.

Graham Ashcraft, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Chattanooga Age: 23 Org Rank: 22 FV: 40

A threat to walk everyone in the ballpark in college, Ashcraft seemed like a surefire reliever after the Reds drafted him in the sixth round of the 2019 draft. But a weird thing happened between then and now: He found a way to throw strikes, started going deeper in games, and did both while still missing bats.

With his barrel-chested frame, rotational delivery, and very loosely buttoned jersey, Ashcraft looks more like a shot putter than a pitching prospect. The stuff is very real though: he works primarily with a 94-97 mph cutter, which he spins at about 2700 rpm. As you’d expect based on the delivery, he works better north-south than east-west, and is capable of attacking both edges of the zone and getting whiffs at the letters. He also throws a horizontal-breaking slider in the mid-to-upper 80s (2900 rpm), and works in an occasional curve as well. At it’s best, the breaking ball makes hitters absolutely buckle:

The jury’s out on whether he can start. I think the increase in his control is real — it stems from better conditioning as opposed to a mechanical tweak — but he’s still a little loose with his command for a starter and he’ll have to prove he can fight good lefties to a draw, particularly in his second and third times through the order. Still, he’s taken a real jump forward, and even if he’s a reliever in the end, he has the arm strength and spin ingredients to make an impact out of the bullpen.

Zach DeLoach, RF/LF, Seattle Mariners
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Arkansas Age: 22 Org Rank: 15 FV: 40

One of a coterie of Seattle farmhands recently promoted to Arkansas, DeLoach bashed his first Double-A homer yesterday. Offensively, he offers a few promising skills. He’s a patient hitter, often working deep counts, with a better feel for the zone than his mid-20% whiff rate implies. There’s some swing-and-miss in his game, but also really intelligent swing decisions. Lifting the ball more has been a developmental emphasis for him this year, one that he’s incorporated successfully so far in his professional career. Because of that, he has power to all fields — perhaps just doubles power the opposite way, but who can really guess what future big league balls will have to say about that — and he’s even an above average runner.

Everett and Arkansas have used DeLoach exclusively in a corner role so far, and that puts a lot of pressure on his bat to perform. So far so good: there aren’t many second round picks who can climb into the high minors after only two months in A-ball. He may well become a fourth outfielder in the end (Eric Longenhagen projected him as the strong side of a platoon), but for now his stock is up.

Robinson Pina, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
Level & Affiliate: High-A Tri-Cities Age: 22 Org Rank: 38 FV: 35+

I meant to include Pina’s report in last week’s notes and just plumb forgot, so here you go, Angels fans, one more struggling farmhand for the road. After four dominating starts at Inland Empire, Pina has found the sledding a little tougher in High-A. He’s still missing bats, but after eight outings, he’s posted an ERA near six with 33 walks in 29 innings. He works with a big crossfire delivery, and while you can succeed with that kind of motion, it’s not conducive to throwing strikes. In Pina’s case, he has trouble working to his gloveside (indeed, his fastballs often leak into the right-handed batter’s box as well). Even beyond that, his velo was down a bit, topping out at 94 in my viewing and sitting a tick or two lower. On the night, his slider was also inconsistent, at times flashing depth and missing bats, but it also backed up on him a couple times. We have him projected as a low-leverage reliever and there’s plenty of work ahead to get from here to there.

Jung-hoo Lee 이정후, CF, Kiwoom Heroes
Level and Affiliate: KBO Org Rank: N/A

I covered the other half of the KBO’s early-20s dynamic duo, Baek-ho Kang 강백호, a few weeks ago. Lee is an entirely different player, a line-drive-mashing center fielder who sprays the ball and plays a sneaky-good center field.

The hit tool is the calling card with Lee. He’s never hit below .325 (which he did as an 18-year-old) and has struck out only 22 times in 350 plate appearances this season. He’s also walked 51 times in that span. It’s a bit of a weird setup and swing: he coils early, almost like a Charlie Lau disciple with the bat held up higher. Like a python ambushing unsuspecting prey, Lee is extremely quiet in the box until he springs forward all at once when he decides to swing. KBO pitchers can’t beat him with velo, he adjusts to spin, and has no problem barreling the ball wherever it’s pitched.

The risk here is that elite pitchers will knock the bat out of his hand. We’ve seen this with Lee’s former Kiwoom teammate, Ha-Seong Kim, who torched the KBO for years but has registered alarming batted ball numbers during his first MLB Season. They’re different players, of course, and Lee is a better pure hitter. But Lee is less physical and he earns a lot of his hits on soft loopers and infield singles. Additionally, after raising his launch angle a bit last season, his power numbers have waned amidst a return to a more contact-oriented cut in 2021. It’s rare but not impossible to make his current plan of attack work. More likely, if he ever comes stateside, Lee will have to trade some balls in play for more thump.

A shout out to the Northwoods League: The Northwoods League is one of the top college summer leagues in the country. The 22-team circuit has clubs in seven midwestern states (plus one in Canada), and attracts a lot of talented underclassmen, particularly rising sophomores. It boasts an impressive alumni list — including five guys who played in this year’s All-Star game — and while I’ve never been, it’s considered one of the better fan experiences around.

The league has also blown me away with the quality of its video coverage. Few summer leagues broadcast any of their games, but the NWL goes all out. Each game is televised, with at least one announcer, and these aren’t just grainy feeds taken from the press box: the footage is crisp, and most teams have center field camera angles right behind the pitcher. There are even pre-game and highlight shows.

As far as I can tell, all of the announcers and studio hosts are college students. There’s a genuine enthusiasm from all commentators, and it’s a group that seems to know their stuff. Ultimately, the production quality is better than most of the streams on MiLB.TV, and the depth of coverage exceeds anything you’ll find short of the big leagues. Best of all for fans, everything is free. A hearty tip of the cap to all involved.

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2 years ago

one of these days we’ll see a rangers prospect here (given they have, idk, 70 ranked)