KATOH’s Most-Improved Hitting Prospects So Far by Chris Mitchell May 16, 2017 A couple of weeks ago, I looked at the 10 hitting prospects who had most improved their KATOH+ projections over the season’s first few weeks. Now that we have a more meaningful sample of games to analyze and a new Baseball America top-100 list baked in, I’m repeating that exercise. It’s still early in the season, but not too early to start identifying players who are performing better than they have in the past. A reminder: a player’s KATOH forecast denotes his projected WAR total over the first six seasons of his major-league career. Juan Soto, OF, Washington (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 4.0 Current KATOH+ Projection: 11.2 Soto topped this list two weeks ago and has only built on that performance since, though he’s sidelined with an ankle injury for now. His line now sits at .360/.427/.523. Baseball America also recognized Soto’s excellence by ranking him No. 59 on their updated top-100, which also nudges up his projection. Soto possesses a rare combination of power and contact skills and is very young for his level. Jesus Sanchez, OF, Tampa (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 0.5 Current KATOH+ Projection: 4.6 Sanchez also appears here for the second time in a row, thanks to his strong showing in Low-A. Few teenagers have the power to produce an ISO over .200 in full-season ball, let alone with decent strikeout and walk numbers. Scouts seem to be on board as well, as Baseball America placed him on their updated top 100 at No. 96. Sanchez’s overall offensive package is very appealing, even if he’s limited to a corner-outfield spot. Andrew Knizner, C, St. Louis (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 1.5 Current KATOH+ Projection: 5.2 Knizner caught KATOH’s eye following his impressive showing in Rookie ball, where he hit .319/.423/.492 with a minuscule 9.5% strikeout rate. He’s been just as good at Low-A this year, hitting .306/.353/.409 with a 9% strikeout rate. Knizner’s been outstanding at the plate, though it remains to be seen if he’s a catcher long-term. Eric Longenhagen informed me he wasn’t viewed as a legit catching prospect in college and he moonlighted at third base, so perhaps a move down the spectrum is in order. Regardless, guys who can pair a single-digit strikeout rate with an ISO over .200 are rare. Breyvic Valera, 2B, St. Louis (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 1.3 Current KATOH+ Projection: 4.6 As a 25-year-old who’s never played in the big leagues, Valeria isn’t really a prospect. KATOH’s always found him mildly interesting, though, and that interest has increased following his strong start in Triple-A. Valeria’s making more contact than ever and already has five triples to his name. Not bad for a second baseman. Rafael Ortega, OF, San Diego (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 2.4 Current KATOH+ Projection: 5.4 Ortega is another nondescript Triple-A player in his mid-20s whom KATOH’s always kind of liked. He completely flopped in 200 plate appearances with the Angels last year, but is now hitting .294/.365/.451 in Triple-A with nine steals. He’s also walked more than he’s struck out. Sebastian Elizalde, OF, Cincinnati (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 0.1 Current KATOH+ Projection: 2.9 Elizalde cracked Eric Longenhagen’s Reds list as a 40 FV after a strong performance in Double-A last year. He’s been even better in Triple-A so far, slashing .288/.366/.392 with three triples, which has caused KATOH to take notice. Most notably, he’s more than doubled his walk rate from last season while also striking out less and maintaining his power. Mike Ohlman, C, Toronto (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 0.9 Current KATOH+ Projection: 3.3 Previously an organizational catcher with a touch of power, Ohlman has found new life with the Blue Jays this year. He hit .246/.388/.594 at Triple-A, which has earned him a promotion to the big club. His 33% strikeout rate is a cause for concern, but the power and walks lead KATOH to believe he belongs in the big leagues. Rhys Hoskins, 1B, Philadelphia (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 3.9 Current KATOH+ Projection: 6.7 Hoskins made the All-KATOH Second Team in the preseason after he hit .281/.377/.566 in Double-A, although those numbers were surely helped by his home ballpark in Reading. But he’s kept right on mashing after a promotion to Triple-A this year, and his currently slashing .345/.432/.655. He’s cut six percentage points off his strikeout rate and has somehow hit for more power — though it’s been more of the doubles-power variety. The 24-year-old has run out of things to prove in the minors. Cam Gibson, OF, Detroit (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 0.1 Current KATOH+ Projection: 2.9 A former fifth-round pick, Gibson flashed his speed last year by swiping 26 bags in Low-A. Unfortunately, as evidenced by his .221/.302/.330 line, he did little else. He’s repeating the level this year and has started to hit. He’s shaved nine points off his strikeout rate in the early going and has already matched last year’s home-run total. With a .274/.351/.496 batting line, Gibson seems to be growing into a speedy center fielder who can both hit and hit for power. Those can be quite valuable. Luis Urias, IF, San Diego (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 5.4 Current KATOH+ Projection: 8.2 Urias has long been one of KATOH’s guys, but an increasing number non-KATOH entities have since taken notice. This season has been Urias’s best; he’s slashed .324/.419/.478 at Double-A with four steals. The shortstop also cracked Baseball America’s list for the first time, checking in at No. 57. Urias is still just 19, but now that he’s mastered Double-A, San Diego can’t be too far off.