KATOH’s Most-Improved Hitting Prospects So Far by Chris Mitchell May 3, 2017 Now that we’re nearly one month into the minor-league season, 2017 performances are starting to mean something. The 2017 sample size is still small, but it’s large enough at least to merit a look at those prospects who may be in the midst of a breakout. This article aims to do just that by calling attention to the 10 hitters who have most improved their KATOH+ projections over the season’s first few weeks. A reminder: a player’s KATOH forecast denotes his projected WAR total over the first six seasons of his major-league career. Juan Soto, RF, Washington (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 4.0 Current KATOH+ Projection: 6.9 Soto destroyed the GCL last year, prompting the Nats to send him to full-season ball at the age of 18. An 18-year-old in the Sally League is noteworthy in and of itself. An 18-year-old striking out at a 9% clip while also hitting for some power is the stuff of a blue-chip prospect. If he continues to rake, he’ll likely be place highly on midseason lists. Eric Longenhagen recently checked in on Soto as part of his daily notes. Will Smith, C, Los Angeles NL (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 2.5 Current KATOH+ Projection: 4.8 The Dodgers made Smith the No. 32 overall pick in last year’s draft, and his pro debut was more good than great. This season, however, he’s slashed .319/.435/.609 with a high-for-a-catcher five steals. As a college bat, he isn’t young for High-A, but his performance has been off the charts. Juan Perez, UTIL, Cincinnati (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 1.1 Current KATOH+ Projection: 3.1 Perez caught KATOH’s eye after he held his own as a 23-year-old shortstop at Double-A in 2015. He had a similar season last year at Triple-A, prompting Eric Longenhagen to label him a “light-hitting utility man who is passable at short and in center field but who lacks the power to play every day at second base.” In the meantime, he’s hit .301/.393/.548 with five stolen bases. Who knows what that means for Perez’s long-term future, but in the short-term, he’ll likely be a big leaguer. Anthony Alford, OF, Toronto (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 1.7 Current KATOH+ Projection: 3.6 Alford had a rough year offensively in 2016, hitting just .236/.344/.378 in High-A with a 29% strikeout rate. He’s kicked it into high gear this year, however, and is currently slashing .356/.427/.507 at Double-A. Given his speed and athleticism, his hitting is an exciting development. Eric Longenhagen recently checked in on Alford in his daily notes. Michael Chavis, 3B, Boston (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 0.0 Current KATOH+ Projection: 1.8 Chavis’s bat sputtered each of the past two years in Low-A, but he’s found new life this year in High-A. He’s currently slashing an unrealistic .341/.463/.773 and has hacked more than seven points off his strikeout rate. Jesus Sanchez, OF, Tampa (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 0.5 Current KATOH+ Projection: 2.1 Sanchez punished Rookie-ball pitching in 2016 and hasn’t missed a beat in his transition to full-season ball this season. As a 19-year-old in Low-A, Sanchez is still a ways away, but he’s hitting for an impressive amount of power. Jason Krizan, OF, Detroit (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 1.0 Current KATOH+ Projection: 2.6 KATOH flagged Krizan as a Rule 5 sleeper in December after his strong 2016 campaign. He’s ramped things up even further this year, and through one month this year, he’s hit .378/.424/.635. Krizan’s already 27, but he has nothing left to prove in the upper levels of the minors. Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Houston (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 4.2 Current KATOH+ Projection: 5.7 Hernandez forced his way into the Astros lineup last year on the strength of his rare power-speed combination. He opened 2017 back in Triple-A, where he hit a powerful .250/.358/.571 before the Astros called him up. Unfortunately, Hernandez is now on the DL with a knee injury. Aneury Tavarez, OF, Boston (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 0.5 Current KATOH+ Projection: 1.8 The Orioles nabbed Tavarez in the Rule 5 after his breakout season in Double-A last year, but returned him at the end of spring training. He opened 2017 back at Double-A, where he’s mashing to the tune of .377/.473/.475. Most impressive of all, he’s walking twice as often as he’s struck out. Melvin Mercedes, 2B/UTIL, Oakland (Profile) Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 0.1 Current KATOH+ Projection: 1.4 A longtime, nondescript minor leaguer, Mercedes is making some noise in the minors this year. In split action between Double-A and Triple-A, the versatile Mercedes has slashed .308/.449/.410. Unbelievably, he’s walked in 20% of his plate appearances and struck out in just 6%.