Keeping Up with the AL East’s Prospects

Without a true minor league season on which to fixate, I’ve been spending most of my time watching and evaluating young big leaguers who, because of the truncated season, will still be eligible for prospect lists at the end of the year. From a workflow standpoint, it makes sense for me to prioritize and complete my evaluations of these prospects before my time is divided between theoretical fall instructional ball, which has just gotten underway, and college fall practices and scrimmages, which will have outsized importance this year due to the lack of both meaningful 2020 college stats and summer wood bat league looks because of COVID-19.

I started with the National League East, then completed my look at the American League West and Central. Below is my assessment of the AL East, covering players who have appeared in big league games. The results of the changes made to player rankings and evaluations can be found over on The Board, though I try to provide more specific links throughout this post in case readers only care about one team.

Baltimore Orioles

Starting in the top 100, I’ve left a 50 FV grade on Ryan Mountcastle but moved him up within that tier from 101st overall to 84th. He’s now right next to Nationals second baseman Luis García and Dodgers catcher Keibert Ruiz, who are players who also get away with being overly aggressive at the plate because they have great barrel control. Mountcastle has more power than either of them, but also is the worst defensive player by a long shot. I still see Mountcastle as being on the Nick Castellanos track.

I’ve upgraded Keegan Akin from the 40+ FV tier to the 45 FV tier due to increased confidence that he can start based on his ability to attack righties with both his plus changeup and a back foot breaking ball. He’s either got two distinct breakers now or is adding and subtracting enough from his slurve to create a camelback velocity distribution for that pitch, but in either case he’s creating enticing angle on his glove-side breakers against righties and his slot helps him flummox lefties. Akin has not regained his 2018 velo (he was 92-95, up to 98 that year, then down in 2019) but showed a spin rate increase in the big leagues. I now have him turned in as a 1.5-to-2 WAR starter rather than a power reliever.

I’ve made a similar move with Dean Kremer, who had a little bit of a velo bump this year, averaging 93 mph with his fastball after he sat 90-93 in the minors last season. I think Kremer’s curveball is going to be an early-count weapon rather than a put-away pitch, but I still consider it plus. His little mid-80s cutter/slider is command-dependent, but despite bad walk numbers over a small sample, which were largely due to a single meltdown outing, I think he executes his slider location enough that it’ll be effective.

Hunter Harvey still hasn’t exhausted his rookie eligibility, even though this year’s September days now count. He continues to deal with intermittent injury while exhibiting high-leverage relief potential when healthy. In the brief look we had at Harvey this season, he threw fewer splitters and used more varied, in-zone fastball location rather than constantly attacking at the letters.

I buy that second baseman Ramón Urías has above-average feel to hit that makes him an above-replacement player with some sneaky trade value. Even at age 26, Urías has some roster flexibility thanks to two remaining option years and a service time clock that just started. He’s not a good defender and doesn’t have much power, but he puts the bat head on the ball consistently and can play second base, though not especially well. He’d be an interesting, small-trade depth target for a contender this winter, similar to Mark Mathias last year.

He lost prospect eligibility during the year, but it’s worth noting that the enigmatic Dillon Tate had a bit of a velocity bounce back this season.

Boston Red Sox

Tanner Houck worked with a two-seamer, four-seamer and slider across three starts, with his fastballs sitting in the 90-96 mph range. I have him projected in relief but think his velo could climb in short outings. Lots of relievers who present a sidearm look like Houck’s end up in 40 FV middle relief roles and very few of them have the kind of velocity Houck does, let alone what he might have in single-inning work, so I’ve slid him up from the 40 FV tier to the 40+ FV tier, indicating he has late-inning potential.

I’m leaving Bobby Dalbec in the 45 FV tier and comfortably out of the top 100 because of his strikeout rate (42%), which has been disconcertingly high since college.

New York Yankees

Deivi García will stay toward the middle/back of the 55 FV tier. He was 91-95 touching 97 last year, 90-95 touching 96 in 2020, but his changeup took a step forward and though his fastball command was a little loose at times, he executed his slider with consistency. All three of García’s secondaries had above-average swinging strike rates against big league hitters this season and he doesn’t turn 22 until next May. His future is very promising.

I haven’t resolved what to do with Clarke Schmidt, who had been in the 45+ FV tier, sixth in the org behind García and four young hitters who I think have monster ceilings. In his three appearances (two short relief outings and a four-inning start) Schmidt worked with two different fastballs (a sinker and four-seamer, both harder than the 91-95 range he sat in last year), a power-sweeping, mid-80s breaking ball, and the occasional changeup. His sinker is hard and has nasty tailing action while the four seamer isn’t as crisp. Schmidt has also added 400 rpm of spin to his breaking ball since 2019 (2700 rpm in ‘19, 3100 in 2020) giving it a rare spin/velo combo for a curveball, only comparable to Dustin May’s. This development was enough to shuttle Schmidt into the back of the top 100 amid James Karinchak, Brusdar Graterol, and Brailyn Marquez, all of whom I have projected as high leverage relievers. Based on Schmidt’s age, long arm action, and injury history, I do think he has a good bit of relief risk.

I don’t think Miguel Yajure pitched enough to glean anything from his brief, erratic big league tenure, so he’ll remain a 45 FV. Nick Nelson and Michael King, both 40 FV, retain their role projection as a middle reliever and longman/fifth starter types.

Tampa Bay Rays

Aside from the white-hot Randy Arozarena, all the Rays prospects who were in the big leagues this year have either graduated from the list or are out with injury and have already been moved. But let’s talk about Arozarena, who was on the pre-season Top 100 but evaluated as a well-rounded, tough-nosed everyday player rather than someone with impact power, which he appears to have developed during quarantine. I think this is a real, relevant change and I’ve moved Arozarena up into the 55 FV tier and to 42nd overall. Is the sample too small to make a confident change? If you’re just talking about his triple slash line, a star-like .281/.382/.641 in the regular season and God-like .500/.538/1.042 in the playoffs, yes. But I’m not. The relevant data point here is Arozarena’s max exit velo, which was 109 mph in 2019 and is up to 113 mph this season. For reference, if we were to 20-80 scale max exit velocity as a proxy for raw power, the scale looks like this (from Future Value):

Max Exit Velo on 20-80 Scale
Grade Max Exit Velo (mph)
80 118
70 116
60 113
55 111
50 110
45 108
40 106
30 103
20 100

This is a measurable change in physical ability, the reason for which is well-publicized and which is supported by a change in the visual evaluation of Arozarena’s physicality. I’m sold. And I’m not too worried about the sudden uptick in Aronzarena’s strikeout rate because that has not only occurred in a small sample but is way above his career norm of 18.5% (I’m avoiding recency bias), and the circumstances surrounding it (Arozarena rolled out of quarantine bed and faced big league pitching for the longest stretch of his life) are odd.

Toronto Blue Jays

I’ve previously covered the changes to some of the Jays pitching prospects, so all that’s left is a reconsideration of Nate Pearson after his return from elbow tightness, and a look at Alejandro Kirk. Pearson threw out of the bullpen upon return and his fastball velocity was back to his prospect peak, albeit over just two innings of work, so he’ll remain a 55 FV and among the top 25ish prospects in baseball but I’m not moving him back into the 60 FV tier because I don’t think he can live in the upper-90s as a starter.

Kirk moves into the Top 100. The concern surrounding him is that he’s already such a husky guy at age 21, but he’s no bigger than Christian Vázquez or Roberto Pérez and is a better hitter than both of them by a substantial margin. I suppose there’s still risk of him approaching physical decline earlier than his peers because of his physique, but he might have All-Star offensive output before that happens. He moves next to Twins catcher Ryan Jeffers on the overall list, but one of my offseason priorities is to consider more deeply how electronic strike zones will impact my catcher evaluations, so players at that position are the ones whose rankings are most subject to change.





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.

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gtagomori
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gtagomori

Thanks for continuing this series. These are incredibly enjoyable to read. And since it’s all about young players it also changes the readers frame of reference to thinking about the future – which is a relief in the current atmosphere.