Prospect Pupu Platter: Jackson Merrill, Spencer Arrighetti, and Luis Gil

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

I had a few notes on topical prospects without a big piece to put them in, so I’m including them here in an appetizer-sampler article.

How Is Jackson Merrill Taking to Center Field?

Well, let’s observe. Here’s every fly ball hit Merrill’s way in April, minus the mind-numbingly routine plays and liners he had no chance to catch:

It’s not Gold Glove-caliber defense or anything, but it’s pretty good considering Merrill hadn’t played the position in a competitive setting until this year. As I worked on the offseason Top 100, I was resigned to Merrill playing a corner position, in part because of the Padres’ depth at shortstop and in part because I was left feeling lukewarm about Merrill’s defense at short late last year. There are still scouts and orgs who think he can transition back to shortstop long-term, and I now feel good about the way things are trending in center. Merrill is much more valuable as a viable up-the-middle defender than if he were going to play left field or first base (which seemed in play prior to the Juan Soto/Trent Grisham trade) and I think this merits elevation into the FV tier above where I had him during the winter. He doesn’t have the power-hitting ceiling of a James Wood or a Samuel Basallo, but his hit tool is more stable than that of Jordan Lawlar and Dylan Crews, so I’ve slid him in front of those two on the 100.

Can Spencer Arrighetti Be An Effective Band-aid in Houston?

If you’re like me, two nights ago you were split-screening Jackson Holliday’s debut alongside Spencer Arrighetti’s, which did not go well for him and the Astros. Houston’s many starting pitcher injuries necessitated Arrighetti’s call-up. Last list cycle, I 40’d him and wrote him up as a single-inning reliever. Arrighetti had a nomadic amateur career, going from TCU to Navarro Junior College (TX) before finishing up at Louisiana. His velocity climbed throughout the 2021 and 2022 seasons, with Arrighetti throwing four ticks harder than he did in college by the end of that span. That velo spike was sustained (but plateaued) in 2023 even as the Astros took the piggyback starter leash off of and Arrighetti consistently worked five innings or more. This year, he’s added a cutter to his fastball/sweeper mix.

Arrighetti’s fastball tails and rides in on the hands of right-handed hitters, while his sweeper breaks in the exact opposite direction. His breaking ball command is better than his fastball command, which is a big reason why I had him evaluated as a reliever. Considering how loose and whippy his delivery is, and that this level of velocity is relatively new for him, it’s plausible Arrighetti could sharpen his command enough to more comfortably project as a starter. His fastball plays up because of huge extension (look how far down the mound he is at release in the video below), and he might not even need precise command of that pitch to bully hitters in the zone with it because of the way it jumps on them. Really what Arrighetti has needed is a more reliable way to thwart left-handed hitters, and while the new cutter definitely gives opposing hitters something else to parse, I’m not sure it’s going to be a panacea against lefties. Arrighetti also has a changeup that he barely uses, and the way he tends to approach lefties is by altering the shape of his slower breaking ball to make it more vertical, like a curveball.

As we’ve seen with 30-year-old Ronel Blanco and his brand new changeup, Houston can teach an old dog new tricks, and it’s plausible Arrighetti will find yet another gear with big league instruction. It’s reasonable to consider Arrighetti on the starter/swingman line, especially on a contender with a healthy pitching staff. Guys I’ve had in that bucket lately who seem to be working out as starters include Clarke Schmidt, Kutter Crawford, Javier Assad, Reese Olson, and Cristopher Sánchez. When you look at the long reliever population at the big league level, it’s full of guys whose careers include a lot of shuttling back and forth. The need for starting pitching depth is so persistent and dire that I’m more inclined to tip the scales for pitchers like Arrighetti into the starting pitcher bucket. Because he’s optionable, Arrighetti is more likely to be back and forth from Sugar Land as the veteran parts of Houston’s rotation get healthy.

Luis Gil’s Changes

Gil made his big league debut in 2021, but a poorly-timed Tommy John cost him the better part of two seasons. He returned from surgery for just two A-ball outings at the end of 2023 and entered 2024 with just one option year remaining (due to an injuyry exemption). That made it seem more likely he’d make the big league roster, but almost certainly in a relief capacity because he hasn’t been able to develop his strike-throwing (historically a problem for Gil) or build a starter-level innings count due to the injury. Instead Gil had a monster camp and won the last Yankees rotation spot. He’s made two starts and is set to make his third on Saturday against Cleveland.

Gil’s mechanics and release point look the same as they were in 2022, but he’s reshaped his physique and has begun to emphasize a changeup that he was barely throwing prior to the surgery. His usage of that pitch has nearly quadrupled compared to his previous big league sample; so far, it has been Gil’s secondary pitch of choice. Is it a separator for his profile? Not at this stage. It isn’t as if Gil has found a nasty and consistently finishing changeup immediately. His slider is still better looking to the eye and has special velocity. It’s conceivable the Yankees want Gil to deploy his changeup more not because they think it’s his best shot at getting outs right now, but because they need him to develop it. Changeups are generally regarded as a “feel” pitch, which take time to develop hitter-tricking arm speed for and command of. Gil has walked seven batters in his first nine innings and his feel for location has wavered later in his starts. None of this is surprising given that he didn’t pitch for two years, which is why I projected him into the bullpen on my pass at the Yankees system. There’s still a monster, upper-90s, uphill fastball here. That alone is going to make Gil a good and (importantly) stable reliever. He commands that pitch up at the belt level pretty consistently early in starts, which should carry to the bullpen.

Starting him, however inefficient he may be initially, gives Gil and the Yankees an opportunity to see if things click for him as a starter, and if not, well then Gil has had many more innings and reps to refine his secondary stuff than he would have had if he had just been ‘penned this year, which raises his ceiling as a reliever if one of his secondaries improves. I still think it’s most likely that he ends up in the bullpen, and probably at some point this season, but the Yankees have had a sound process here as they try to meet the needs of their major league roster while developing Gil at the same time.





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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VinnieDaGooch
1 month ago

One thing that has surprised me so far is how good Colt Keith looks at second base. Aside from a missed tag on a stolen base he has made all the plays and looked surprisingly agile doing it.