Monday Prospect Notes: 5/23/22

© Annie Rice/Caller-Times via Imagn Content Services, LLC

This season, Eric and Tess Taruskin will each have a minor league roundup post that runs during the week, with the earlier post recapping some of the weekend’s action. You can read previous installments of our prospect notes here.

Alec Burleson, RF, St. Louis Cardinals
Level & Affiliate: Triple-A Memphis Age: 23 Org Rank: TBD FV: 40+
Weekend Line: 9-for-13, 3 2B, HR

As the Cardinals are apt to do with their prospects, they pushed Burleson, a former two-way player, to the upper levels very quickly, having him spend most of his first full season at Double-A before a late-season promotion to Memphis, where he began 2022. He has had virtually no issues, slashing .282/.337/.486 so far as a pro, with a whopping .321/.367/.591 line at Triple-A this year. Burleson has above-average raw power and is hitting the ball hard despite utilizing a simple swing, one that becomes even simpler when he has two strikes. He is adept at hitting up-and-in fastballs, though he sometimes strangely inside-outs them to left field, and he also tends to take pitches down and away from him the opposite way, with enough strength to do extra-base damage in that direction.

Burleson is a pretty aggressive hitter whose chase rates have historically been in the 37-40% range, which would put him among the top 25 or so swing-happiest qualified big league hitters. It’s a somewhat scary underlying data point for a guy who doesn’t bring a lot to the table on defense, as Burleson is a tentative corner outfielder with a surprisingly average arm for a former college pitcher. Burleson has absolutely put himself in the short-term big league conversation with his upper-level performance, but there’s still bust risk here and he’s likely a corner platoon bat who’ll compete with Lars Nootbaar (who has better plate discipline, but a swing less optimized for power) for plate appearances against righties once Corey Dickerson’s one-year deal is up.

Enmanuel Valdez, 3B, Houston Astros
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Corpus Christi Age: 23 Org Rank: HM FV: 35
Weekend Line: 6-for-14, 2B, 2 HR

There is still not a ton of support for Valdez to be considered a true prospect in the Astros system even though he’s a career .250/.331/.455 hitter (with a whopping .306/.414/.578 line in parts of two years at Double-A) who plays a middle infield position. Valdez is a compact-framed, low-ball hitting 2B/3B with below-average defensive ability. He struggles to cover the upper/outer quadrant of the plate, especially against fastballs, issues that big league pitching will likely be able to exploit. While his upper-level performance forced a sincere re-evaluation, we’re still resolved that Valdez is more an upper-level org guy than a true prospect.

Jonathan Ornelas, SS, Texas Rangers
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Frisco Age: 21 Org Rank: TBD FV: 40+
Weekend Line: 7-for-15, 2 2B, 3B, SB

The 21-year-old Ornelas (he turns 22 later this week) is hitting a robust .362/.399/.497 at Double-A Frisco, aided in part by an unsustainable .442 BABIP. He works almost exclusively to the opposite field, squaring up pitches up and away from him and spraying line drive into shallow center and right field. This is in stark contrast to early-career Ornelas’ batted ball profile, which was very pull-heavy and has slowly been trending toward his current distribution. Impressively, Ornelas has put about two balls in play for every one time he has swung and missed so far this year, and he’s done that despite being a fairly aggressive hitter with a hole in the down-and-in part of the zone. Some of these issues will likely be exposed by big league pitching, and Ornelas probably won’t have the offensive output befitting an everyday player, but he brings so many other skills to the party that he’ll likely be a good utility man. While he doesn’t have traditional left-side arm strength or throwing style, Ornelas is a capable shortstop defender with above-average range and hands. He’s seen time all over the infield and has even played some center, though not really enough for anyone we’ve spoken to to have confidence in grading his defense out there. Clay Davenport’s minor league defensive metrics thought he was close to a neutral defender in 26 games last year.

Ornelas is making a case for a 40-man spot after the season, but the Texas infield is clogged ahead of him (Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Ezequiel Duran, Nick Solak), around him (Josh Jung and Josh H. Smith are locks to be added this offseason, while Luisangel Acuna and Davis Wendzel are possibilities) and behind him (Justin Foscue is a 2023 add, and Maximo Acosta, Cody Freeman are also possibilities), and Ornelas’ defensive versatility is what helps him stand apart from that group and gives him the best chance of holding down a big league roster spot in this org.

Drew Parrish, LHP, Kansas City Royals
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Northwest Arkansas Age: 24 Org Rank: TBD FV: 40
Weekend Line: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 8 K

Parrish is a lefty with a plus changeup and starter-caliber command, so he’s extremely likely to play a big league role of some kind, but whether or not he can seize a rotation spot for the long haul may be dictated by how his breaking ball develops. It’s an extremely slow, lollipop curveball in the 69-72 mph range, almost an Eephus-style curveball in the Zack Greinke and Vicente Padilla mold. It would be a cute fourth or fifth option if it were allowed to function as a get-me-over surprise a few times per start, but for Parrish it’s his third pitch. It’s possible the Royals will help Parrish parlay his natural ability to spin the ball (his curveball spin rates are often in the 2600-2700 rpm range) into a firmer slider, but that hasn’t happened yet. It’s encouraging that they’ve done something similar with Jonathan Heasley, who had a below-average curveball in previous years and has added a really hard, upper-80s slider in 2022. Parrish only sits in the low-90s but his short, deceptive arm action and his fastball’s carry make it a viable offering, and help it miss bats in the strike zone. Lefties with a changeup this good tend to be valuable big league contributors either toward the back of the rotation, or as a swingman/spot-starter type. The key variable here is whether Parrish can find a breaking ball sufficient for the upper part of that range.

Edward Cabrera, RHP, Miami Marlins
Level & Affiliate: Triple-A Jacksonville Age: 24 Org Rank: TBD FV: 50
Weekend Line: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 8 K

The oft-injured Cabrera began the season with a biceps injury that prevented him from pitching at an affiliate until his lone late-April rehab start with Jupiter. This is the sixth (!) consecutive season Cabrera has had injury issues that brought about an IL stint and his second consecutive year with a biceps issue that delayed the start of his season. As has been the case after every other injury Cabrera has suffered, his stuff has come all the way back and he is throwing extremely hard while complementing his arm strength with a bevy of plus secondary offerings. He routinely gets into the upper-90s with his fastball and his velo has been trending up during his post-IL starts, beginning in the 95-99 mph range in his first outing and trending closer to 97-100 mph more recently. Similar to teammate Sixto Sánchez, this pitch’s shape and movement causes it to play down, and it isn’t an elite pitch despite having elite velocity.

Cabrera adds a plus upper-80s slider that features so little downward movement that it almost seems to be rising compared to most breakers, though throughout this most recent rehab period he has been working more with a low-to-mid-80s curveball that may usurp his slider as his go-to breaking ball. Cabrera’s best pitch is a killer changeup that, while on the firm side in the 90-92 mph range, features very low spin and significant fade and tumble. His command and control, both of which were firmly in the average bucket as a younger minor leaguer, regressed mightily during his brief 2021 time in the majors, which may have been a result of him being amped up or simply trying to get too cute around the edges to avoid his fastball getting hit. Cabrera has starter traits, but there are still questions about his ability to hold up over the course of an entire season, as between injuries and conservative workloads, 100.1 is the most innings he’s thrown in a season, and that was all the way back in 2018. He still has the best stuff of all the Marlins 40-man arms not currently in the big leagues.

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 Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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Uncle Spikemember
1 year ago

What is the concern over Burleson’s swing happiness? Is the concern that his k-rate will spike or that he’ll have poor quality of contact or both? I ask because even when he was 22 he was running a 15.7% K-rate in AAA. He’s slightly improved on that this year and his ISO and BABIP are significantly up insinuating he’s making good quality contact. Clearly he has great bat control. To me though, as a 23 year old in AAA, if his pitch recognition is poor, I get more excited about the potential upside as this tends to be a skill that improves with age, especially if you are young for your level.

1 year ago
Reply to  Uncle Spike

I think the worry is the swing-happiness leads to a power output similar to his 2021 line rather than his 2022 line. His walk rate will play is there is power, but if he’s swinging at pitches that he can’t drive, that batting average gets empty in a hurry.

Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson
1 year ago
Reply to  Uncle Spike

There’s no *legitimate* concern. The “chase rate” talk is a rationalization, a contrivance.

It’s the same silly “swing-happy” critique that Longenhagen offered re Juan Yepez a couple weeks back. In each case the meaningful and predictive batting numbers for the player are excellent, but Longenhagen gives the appearance of grasping at straws, trying to find any justification at all for his skepticism.

Yepez & Burleson are prototypical bat-first back-of-the-top-100 type hitters, just like Pratto and Pasquantino for Kansas City. But while P & P are respectively ranked 48th and 116th overall at Fangraphs, Yepez & Burleson (so far) have grades placing them hundreds of spots lower. So the massive rationalizing becomes necessary.