Daily Prospect Notes: 8/9/2021

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

Justin Steele, LHP, Chicago Cubs
Level & Affiliate: Triple-A Iowa Age: 26 Org Rank: 37 FV: 40

After a strong debut out of Chicago’s bullpen this spring, Steele has spent the last month in Triple-A getting stretched out in preparation to join the Cubs rotation. The southpaw dazzled in his 11 big league outings, striking out 37% of the hitters he faced while also generating a 70% groundball rate. Evaluators are split on whether he’s a reliever long-term, and with the Cubs going nowhere fast, this summer provides the team with the perfect opportunity to assess his chops as a starter.

Over his last two outings, he’s registered 13 strikeouts against just two walks in 10 innings of work. It’s a good sign that both his low-to-mid-90s fastball and slider didn’t lose much gas in the transition to the rotation. Watching him, I’m impressed with his ability to locate the slider against opposite handed hitters: he’s good at both back-dooring the pitch for a strike and can also spin one to a hitter’s back foot in search of a whiff. That utility takes a little pressure off the change, which he’s just now working back into his repertoire after not using it at all in the bigs. While the safe bet is that he’s still a reliever long-term, there are enough ingredients here to make this rotation experiment more than a blind shot in the dark.

Jonathan Bermudez, LHP, Houston Astros
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Corpus Christi Age: 25 Org Rank: N/A

Bermudez has some of the best numbers of any Double-A starter and yet not much of a prospect pedigree. The 25-year-old was drafted in the 23rd round back in 2018. In his first year and a half of pro ball, the southpaw posted solid if unspectacular numbers, mostly at the lower levels. After a yearlong layoff, the Astros bumped him to Double-A in 2021, where he’s flourishing. He’s notched a 3.16 ERA and a career-high 12.28 K/9 across 74 innings. Alongside the highest strikeout rate of his career, he’s taken a real step forward with his control, and it all plays up because he hides the ball well in his delivery.

That bump in control is key here, because he’s not a particularly firm thrower. Bermudez sits in the low-90s, his fastball has good carry, and he’s adept at slinging it to the upper part of the arm-side corner; he can also throw a sweeping cutter. His slider doesn’t feature quite the same shape as the usual Astros frisbee but it’s close, with less horizontal run and a little more drop at the end. He also works with a low-80s fading change that keeps hitters off balance, though to my eye it looks like he’s slowing his arm and delivery down. I think the command and arm strength are a little light for regular duty in a big league rotation, but he strikes me as an innings-eater of some sort. The thin air and Titleist-stamped baseballs of Triple-A West will provide an intriguing test of his command when the time comes for a promotion.

Anderson Tejeda, SS, Texas Rangers
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Frisco Age: 23 Org Rank: 58 FV: 35+

Tejeda has been a favorite of mine since 2016, when he was 18 and played a short-season game at Safeco Field. In batting practice he lined ball after ball into the right field seats and followed that up with hard contact throughout the game and slick D at shortstop. Five years on, he has three plus tools in the box and has managed to stick at shortstop, no small feat for a guy with plus pop. He had a shaky big league debut last season, but I was nonetheless shocked when Eric stuck a 20 on the bat and listed him in the 35+ section of the Rangers list this spring.

It is with no small amount of regret that I have to admit the Smart Guy From Arizona was right. Tejeda’s ability to make contact has regressed from “concerning” to “dystopian.” He has a 41.3% strikeout rate at Double-A — yes, with a “4” — which is actually a one percentage improvement on what he registered in a month at Triple-A Round Rock. He still occasionally runs into a ball and knocks one over the fence, but it hardly matters. The approach is awful, the swing decisions as good as you’d expect, and he just looks downright lost in the box.

I don’t know if there’s a way out. If there is, one place to start might be switch hitting. Tejeda hasn’t exactly been good against southpaws, but he’s kept his strikeout rate in the stratosphere while hitting for a little power in about 75 PA’s this season; against righties, he’s been unplayable. Perhaps focusing on just hitting one way is a bad idea for all sorts of reasons I’m not privy to. But for someone struggling so badly, it may be better to tackle one very challenging thing right now rather than two.

Scott Schreiber, 1B, 3B, RF, LF, Houston Astros
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Corpus Christi Age: 25 Org Rank: N/A

Looking for a deep cut? Try Schreiber, a 25-year-old four-corner guy who started the year in A-ball. He swatted his way to Double-A in short order, and he’s put a hurt on the Texas League (I’m still calling it that, dammit) since joining Corpus Christi, batting .259/.322/.519 with eight extra base hits in 16 games. Those numbers probably undersell the production, as a stiff wind in Midland knocked a couple would-be dingers back into the field of play.

At the plate, Schreiber is aggressive. He’s not an indiscriminate hacker, but when he sees a pitch he thinks he can drive, he will swing. At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, he’s a big dude and he has home run power to all fields. Defensively, he’s played at all four corner spots. He can run a little bit when he gets underway but all of the value here will come at the plate. Realistically, he doesn’t project as more than an up and down guy, but the arrow is pointing up here, and his name came up when I asked one of my sources about the best bats in the league.

Note: This report on Schreiber was written last Friday. He has since landed on the 7-day Injured List.

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2 years ago

Apparently Tejeda is a natural lefty who only took up switch-hitting a few seasons ago after having some troubles against lefties in the upper minors. So, instead of just letting him work out his issues vs,. lefties over time (as Nolan Jones seems to be finally doing), the Rangers org now has a guy who’s still unplayable against lefties, but has regressed to striking out almost 60% of the time against righties as well!