Prospect Roundup: Cronenworth, McKenzie, Skubal, and More

We’re a week from the Trade Deadline and still, almost all of the available information on pro prospects is limited to the big league level. That’s where I’ve been focusing my attention, with new player opinions then reflected on The Board, to which I made the following updates over the weekend.

Entering the 100

Padres infielder Jake Cronenworth becomes the first 2020 Pick to Click to, well, click. He moves into the top 100, ranked 93rd. At 26.6 years old, he becomes the oldest player on the hundred, pacing A’s catcher Sean Murphy by about seven months. Most of his pre-season scouting report holds water except that Cronenworth suddenly has relevant pop. He hit a ball 110 mph this year, up from a max of 106 mph last season in the minors. He now looks like an everyday player at a premium position rather than a super utility type, so he slots into the top 100 ahead of similar players who are a couple years away (like Brayan Rocchio) but behind players who are either there or who are close but much younger (like Washington infielder Luis García).

Cleveland righty Triston McKenzie made his big league debut in what was his first competitive game since 2018 due to multiple injuries and the global pandemic. Not only is he healthy, but McKenzie is throwing harder. His fastball lived in the 90-93 range in 2018 and was 90-94 this spring as he prepared for the season. He’s now living in the 93-96 range and leaned on the heater in big spots during his debut, shaking off Roberto Pérez to get to it. Hopes that McKenzie would eventually develop a third pitch have more than come to fruition, as both his slider and changeup have evolved to complement the fastball/curveball combo that headlines his arsenal.

So how about Dane Dunning? The 25-year-old, who debuted last week, also had not pitched since 2018, with his layoff due to Tommy John surgery. His stuff looked as it did pre-surgery, with the fastball in the 91-94 range, and both breaking balls effective.

Both Dunning and McKenzie were 45 FV prospects before play began this summer. McKenzie’s velo bump and repertoire development have pushed him into the 50 FV tier, while Dunning stays put.

I also extended the 60 FV and 55 FV tiers down a few prospects without changing anyone’s order. This is the sort of thing that typically happens naturally during the minor league season, both as players change and as their roster timelines progress. Without minor league games or scout access to alternate training sites, player progression is harder to track. But 40-man timelines progress nonetheless, so the likes of Bobby Witt Jr., and CJ Abrams are moving up. These changes better reflect where I think the talent drops off on the list. I still put “up arrow” indicators next to these players on The Board so you can see who they are.

Sliding Around Some Older Relievers

I’m still trying to polish how I value late-inning relief prospects who are also much older than other prospects. Clearly some of the trades made by Tampa Bay (for Nick Anderson and Pete Fairbanks) are an indication that this is a player demographic I’m undervaluing.

Speaking of Fairbanks, his release point has changed and he’s now got better vertical separation between his fastball (which still cuts sometimes) and his curveball. He’s moving into the 45 FV tier, which is rarefied air for pure relievers.

Two Blue Jays relievers have moved up. Julian Merryweather, 29, looks healthy and is throwing even harder than he did last fall, when he sat 95-97. He’s now sitting 96-99 and has a four pitch mix. 27-year-old Jordan Romano is throwing two ticks harder than he did last year and his slider has climbed a remarkable 5 mph. Both velocity bumps have coincided with a release point change; he goes from off the Toronto list entirely to firmly in the 40 FV tier. Rangers reliever Jonathan Hernandez, who moves into the 40+ FV tier, has also had a little velo bump and is also throwing many more of his pitches in the zone, with his Zone% climbing from 32% to 41%. I considered making a similar change to Astros lefty Blake Taylor, but his walk rate has regressed toward his career mean lately.

Catchers

Sean Murphy deserves to climb to the 55 FV tier based on how well he’s played so far. He’s in the top 10 in WAR among catchers and has the highest average exit velo of all big league backstops. Twins catcher and Pick to Click Ryan Jeffers has been thrust into the starting lineup because of Mitch Garver’s injury and could soon be on the 100.

Specific Things You Should Be Watching for From the Guys You Should Be Watching

Expanded rosters and the postseason picture mean that teams are more motivated and able to put their prospects on the active roster, and there are dozens of good young players either getting everyday reps for rebuilding teams or playing a bit part for a contender. A large contingent of these players are hyper-aggressive hitters with red flag walk rates. Watching really talented guys like Francisco Mejía and Adalberto Mondesi struggle because they can’t stop themselves from swinging at everything has been instructive for gauging prospects with epicurean approaches. I considered moving Dodgers corner bat Edwin Ríos into the 40+ FV tier because he generates such huge power with comical ease, but he still hasn’t walked this year and I think proactive swinging on that level would be exploited were he to get everyday reps. Several of the Orioles’ (Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays) and Marlins’ (Jesús Sánchez, Monte Harrison, Lewis Brinson, Magneuris Sierra) young outfielders have strikeout problems that are driven by approach issues, at least in part, and each group will be an interesting case study in whether that trait can improve with time or is a constant.

Does the Stuff Play?

As I’ve stated several times before, I’ve learned a lot about how and why fastballs actually work in the last couple of years, and I’m more apt to optimistically project pitchers whose fastballs have backspin and carry rather than tail and sink. It’s why I slid Kyle Wright down the overall list before the season, though even I didn’t expect things would be this rocky for the former top-ranked draft prospect. He has fallen out of the top 100 and into the 40+ FV tier of the Braves list. There are a few other famous sink/tail guys up now, including Sixto Sánchez, Jesús Luzardo, Dustin May, Brady Singer, Brusdar Graterol and Adrian Morejon. Any Morejon start is mandatory viewing for prospect nerds since Luis Patiño is piggybacking with him.

In Tarik Skubal’s offseason blurb, I wrote that last year he threw an overwhelming majority of fastballs, much more than is typical for a non-sinkerballer. His usage has been more varied in his two short big league outings, but his fastball command is still pretty raw for a 23-year old and he has some release point variance that might enable hitters to pick up pitch type out of hand until he becomes more consistent.





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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Nathan
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Nathan

Has anyone gotten a better idea of whether the hype for Jasson Dominguez is earned?

Coop
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Coop

I heard James Anderson say that he looks like he has added a ton of muscle. Like, too much muscle. Haven’t specifically heard anything on performance, but it seems like that is hard to get a read on this year with the Alternate Site situation.