Prospect Dispatch: New York-Penn League

Over the weekend, I saw two New York-Penn League games. The first was Friday night’s matchup between the Lowell Spinners and the Staten Island Yankees; the second was Sunday afternoon’s matchup between the Tri-City Valley Cats and the Brooklyn Cyclones. Below are some notes about players from each game.

Lowell Spinners (BOS)

Noah Song, RHP, Top 100 Rank: N/A, Org Rank: 12

Song graduated from the Naval Academy this past spring with uncertainty surrounding his required military service time, which is the main reason why he wasn’t taken until the fourth round of the 2019 draft as a senior. As of this writing, Song must serve two years of active duty before being eligible to petition to serve the remainder of his time as a reservist. In late June, President Trump signed a memorandum ordering the Pentagon to develop a policy similar to the one in effect prior to 2017 that allowed Griffin Jax to pitch as part of the World Class Athlete Program and could permit athletes like Song to defer their service obligation due to what was described as a “short window of time” to compete. Though no one is certain if or how this proposal will be actioned, if it is, it looks like the Red Sox got a steal.

Song had a record-setting senior season at Navy, leading the nation in strikeouts with 161 in 94 innings pitched. He’s a lean 6-foot-4, with a simple, rhythmic, on-line delivery. He has a short arm action that sees him pinch his arm up near his ear a bit, but it is loose and he repeats it well. His fastball worked 94-97 mph on Friday with good life, showing ride through the zone and some tail. It comes out of the hand well and looks like it might play slightly above its velocity through the zone. He threw two different breaking balls. The slider was too slow, working in the low-to-mid 80s, and had horizontal tilt with proper slider action, but was a short breaker that looked a bit like a cutter at times. It touched average and, if thrown harder consistently, can sit there. He threw just one curveball and it was a 74 mph roundhouse type that was below average, though sources have indicated that they’ve seen better ones. He threw a handful of fading changeups against left-handed hitters that were average as well.

He’s probably too advanced for the NYPL now, as he showed solid command of all his pitches and I wouldn’t be surprised if, should he be able to defer his military commitment, the Red Sox push him aggressively through their system in 2020. A plus fastball with life and a handful of average offspeed pitches with a good delivery from a well-built right-handed pitcher who had a tremendous college season is usually a first round pick, and Song has No. 4 starter upside.

Gilberto Jimenez, CF, Top 100 Rank: N/A, Org Rank: 17

Jimenez was a 2017 J2 sign and is a center fielder who is at least a 70 runner. He has a compact, twitchy build with some present strength and still some leanness. Playing this season at age-18 (he turned 19 last month), he’s struck out just 16.6% of the time in the NYPL and has slugged .476 to date. He’s very compact to the ball and has below average power, so he’s not likely to sustain much power output long-term, but he shows good balance in the box and enough bat speed to be a gap-to-gap type hitter long term. While his current .423 BABIP is unsustainable, his speed should help him in both the box and in center field where, on Friday, he showed solid average range; he could become a 55 defender or better in time. Jimenez is a long way from making a big league impact but he’s a teenager who has some feel to hit and a good probability to stay in centerfield, so there is enough big league upside to warrant projection as a sleeper prospect for Boston several years down the road.

Staten Island Yankees (NYY)

Ezequiel Duran, IF, Top 100 Rank: N/A, Org Rank: 22

Duran currently leads the NYPL in home runs with 12 but has also struck out 26.4% of the time. The 20-year-old flashed with above average power in the DSL in 2017 but struggled in his 2018 stateside debut. His plate discipline has improved some and he did a nice job on Friday night battling against Song, then followed that up with a long home run later in the game that easily cleared the trees in left field. He’s a shorter, stockier type with present strength who will need to work to keep his body where it is in order to stay at second base. His actions are fine and his present range and arm strength are enough to project him to stay there long term, but I have some concerns that the body eventually limits the range so that his defensive value plays more as a 45 at best. Still, this is a 20-year-old with a chance to stay on the dirt and hit for power, so there is enough upside to warrant following his progress as he presumably makes his full-season debut in 2020.

Josh Smith, IF, Top 100 Rank: N/A, Org Rank: 27

Smith hit .341/.431/.507 at LSU in 2019 after being injured for most of 2018 and was selected in the second round of the draft by the Yankees. As an SEC performer, and at 21 and 10 months on draft day, Smith has been playing like he isn’t being challenged enough in the NYPL. In 20 games he’s hit .388/.506/.597 with 18 walks and just five strikeouts in 87 plate appearances. A tweener type, the left-handed hitting Smith fits best at second base long term, where he has a chance to be average, though he has good instincts and is a solid athlete, so he can likely provide some value moving around the diamond. His approach is that of a grinder, showing average bat speed and some loft ability to the pull side. He’s probably fairly maxed out physically at this point and likely won’t hit for better than 40 power long term, but he has enough feel to hit and chance to stay in the infield that there is utility upside.

Tri-City Valley Cats (HOU)

Luis Santana, IF, Top 100 Rank: N/A, Org Rank: 7

Houston’s return from the Mets for J.D. Davis, Santana has hit since debuting as a pro in 2016 and has continued to do so in the NYPL. Still in his age-19 season (he turned 20 a few weeks ago), Santana has shown plus bat control and solid plate discipline throughout his professional career, though has never hit for much power. On Sunday, he showed a balanced approach with the same plus bat control for which he’s known. He has average bat speed. A short, pudgy type, Santana is uninspiring physically and will have to work to provide defensive value in the infield, where his hands are fine; he does have enough arm strength for third base. This is an offense-first prospect with a chance to hit his way into a big league lineup every day and though I do have some concerns about where the body will be at maturity, I like the bat and think it has a chance to have an impact at the game’s highest level.

Korey Lee, C, Top 100 Rank: N/A, Org Rank: 8

A strong junior year performance and a boost in scout visibility likely due to his Cal teammate Andrew Vaughn led to Houston selecting Lee with the 32nd overall pick in June’s draft. A well-built catcher, Lee shows solid actions behind the plate and a plus arm. He moves well and his receiving is solid, though it was stiff at times on Sunday. He has a chance to be an average defender in time. Similarly, his hands are a bit stiff at the plate as he showed a tendency to push the bat through the zone and was a bit disconnected at times. He is strong and sources say he’s hit some balls hard this summer, with a handful of exit velocities above 105 mph, but I’m not sure he’ll ever be anything better than a fringy hitter. A catcher with a chance to be average behind the plate and 55 raw power generally sticks around for a while, though, and Lee has a chance to be just that long term.

Hunter Brown, RHP, Top 100 Rank: N/A, Org Rank: 25

Brown was a late bloomer at Division II Wayne State in Michigan who saw his velocity continually rise throughout his college career. He struck out 114 batters in 81.1 innings as a junior and was selected in the fifth round of the 2019 draft by Houston. A classic middle relief prospect, Brown is physical with a long arm stroke and effortful release. He touched 100 on a few radar guns in Brooklyn on Sunday and has been up to 98 this summer on Trackman, while flashing a 55 slider that works in the mid-to-upper 80s with solid spin. He’s still quite inconsistent at this point, with velocity fluctuations and below average command. Still, a 20-year-old with an upper 90s fastball and feel to spin a quality breaking ball has big league bullpen upside, and Brown fits that mold.

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Josh Herzenberg has served as an area scout and a minor league coach for the Dodgers. He can be found on Twitter @JoshHerzenberg.

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Duran’s strikeout rate is not excessive in today’s game.