Tuesday Prospect Notes: 5/10/22

© D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Darius Vines, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Mississippi Age: 24 Org Rank: TBD FV: 35+
Weekend Line: 6.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 11 K

Notes
Even though Vines had K’d a batter per inning leading up to it, his trademark changeup hadn’t been consistently plus this year until Sunday’s outing. It’s actually been Vines’ fastball, which has lift and carry through the strike zone, that has induced most of his swings and misses this year, even though he hasn’t had any kind of velo spike and is still sitting in the 89-92 mph range and topping out close to 94. A fringy, low-80s slurve rounds out a solid if unspectacular pitch mix that has been weaponized by Vines’ command. Fastball playability, a good changeup, and plenty of strikes drive spot starter projection here. Vines will likely enter the offseason on Atlanta’s 40-man bubble.

Juan Yepez, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals
Level & Affiliate: MLB Age: 24 Org Rank: TBD FV: 40
Weekend Line: 5-for-13, HR

Notes
Yepez has long shown big raw power in BP, enough that he was once acquired via trade (from Atlanta, for Matt Adams) and was on prospect lists before the power output really began showing up in games. He struggled to stay healthy early in his career and didn’t slug over .400 at any level until 2019, when he broke camp in the Midwest League for the third straight year. The home runs finally began to pile up in 2021, when Yepez suddenly hit 27 combined between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis, mostly at the latter. He then went to the Arizona Fall League, where he faced pitchers who were worse on the average than those he had seen throughout the regular season. He homered seven more times in just 23 games in Arizona and created some perhaps overzealous buzz.

While Yepez has plus power, the track record for 1B/DH-only types who strike out as much as he does, especially for the swing-happy reasons he has tended to, isn’t great. Yepez had walked at a 5-6% rate in the low-to-mid minors but showed a year-over-year increase in 2019 (9% in a 72-game sample) and ’21 (12% in 134 games, including the AFL), and has presented some visual evidence that he’s refined his approach (he’s ditching his leg kick with two strikes). Yepez still tended to expand the zone during my Fall League looks, and it seemed like opposing pitchers could limit his game by working him with outer-third breaking balls, which he tends to roll over. So far in 2022, his chase rates (36% per Synergy) are similar to lots of comparable players whose careers can help to calibrate our expectations for Yepez.

The power here is real, and in the event that injuries press him into regular duty at first base, Yepez could hit 25-plus homers in a single season. But at the 1B/DH end of the defensive spectrum, even amid a big peak year or two, players like this tend to perform just shy of the 1 annual WAR range as part-time corner role players or low-end options at their position, like Christian Walker, Ryon Healy, and Michael Chavis. Average-or-better 1B-only types don’t often have one-dimensional offensive skill sets like this. He’s dangerous enough to play a power-hitting, part-time role, but don’t expect Yepez to be a middle-of-the-order anchor for an extended stretch.

Andrew Nardi, LHP, Miami Marlins
Level & Affiliate: MLB Age: 23 Org Rank: TBD FV: 35+
Season Line: 16 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 26 K

Notes
Marlins fans old enough to remember the 2003 squad have watched their team run the gamut of health fortune and misfortune over the last 20 years. The starting pitchers on that 2003 title team were unusually healthy that season (Carl Pavano, Brad Penny, Mark Redman, Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett each made at least 23 starts, with only A.J. Burnett dinged for a long stretch), while the half-decade that encompassed the era of players like Josh Johnson, Aníbal Sánchez, Ricky Nolasco, Chris Volstad, and pre-bullpen Andrew Miller was decidedly less fortunate from a health and prospect actualization standpoint. The 2022 Marlins are now experiencing something close to normal attrition as the team tries to assert itself in the crowded NL East. While young pitching is the core of the current club, several of those arms have either been injured (Sixto Sánchez, Edward Cabrera), less effective than anticipated (Braxton Garrett, Nick Neidert) or less consistent than hoped (Jesús Luzardo, Trevor Rogers). As we learn every year, it takes lots of pitching depth to withstand the attrition teams typically experience, and the Marlins feel especially vulnerable due to their young starters’ track records and their bullpen’s age (fourth-oldest in the majors). Especially as they’ve made efforts to acquire core position players via free agency and trade, it’s important for the Marlins to draft and develop role players for their pitching staff so they don’t have to constantly use prospect pieces to acquire guys like Dylan Floro and Tanner Scott.

That brings us to Nardi. He isn’t going to be a dominant late-inning reliever or anything, but he was a relatively innocuous Day Three draft pick who knifed through the low minors and has put himself in position to claim a 40-man spot after this season. He sits 92-93 mph, will top out in the 95-96 range, and has an average low-80s slider and a playable mid-80s changeup that relies on location more than action. He also has experience working four-to-six outs at a time. He’s in position to work as an optionable long man next year. It’s imperative for Miami to keep guys like this coming as support for the aging/oft-injured group likely to comprise their bullpen for the next several years.

Yosy Galan, RF, Texas Rangers
Level & Affiliate: Low-A Down East Age: 21 Org Rank: TBD FV: 40
Season Line: 6-for-12, HR, 2B

Notes
Galan, who signed in October of 2020 as a 19-year-old, several years later than is typical for an international hitting prospect, now has 15 home runs in 70 career games. He is, as one scout put it to me recently, a “low probability prospect” because his timing at the plate and feel to hit are so crude that it seems likely Galan will begin to experience what Seuly Matias or Hunter Bishop did as they traversed the upper minors, and it may become obvious that he won’t get to his incredible raw power in games. But to this point, despite striking out at a 33% clip (which is actually better than Galan’s 2021 line on the complex), he is getting to that thump and has been on a 34-homer full-season pace as a pro. If we use Joey Gallo as an example of a guy with a 20-grade hit tool who has still managed to be quite impactful, we can see he’s been exceptional in other areas besides just the raw strength. He’s walked a ton and hits the ball in the air with extreme frequency. While Galan has a chance to approach Gallo’s level of raw power, those secondary skills feel less realistic. Still, this guy signed late and has all of 2022-24 to polish that stuff up before the Rangers have to make a 40-man decision on him. He likely won’t develop the ball/strike recognition that allowed Gallo to have several 3-plus WAR seasons, but could develop enough of it to be an exciting if volatile big league slugger.

Alex Ramirez, RF, New York Mets
Level & Affiliate: Low-A St. Lucie Age: 19 Org Rank: TBD FV: 45+
Season Line: 8-for-13, HR, 2B, 2 3B

Notes
It might be time for a promotion here. Ramirez spent all of 2021 at Low-A as an 18-year-old and slashed .258/.326/.384, which was slightly below the league-average line in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. It was exciting that the lanky and projectable Ramirez hit that well as a teenager in full-season ball, though his minuscule walk rate (6.9%), especially during a year when automated balls and strikes seemed to inflate FSL walk rates, was at least a yellow flag.

Back in Port St. Lucie to start 2022, Ramirez has been hot for the first month of the season, slashing a whopping .385/.423/.606 while cutting his strikeout rate by about 30% (from 31% to 18% as of publication), though his walk rate has dipped by about the same amount. Ramirez has plus bat speed and will show you big pull-side power already. His wispy, 6-foot-3 frame has room for another 30 pounds at least, and with that weight and strength could come huge raw power. Ramirez has to cut some mechanical corners to swing as hard as he does right now, but that might be ironed out as he gets stronger, and the bat speed and explosiveness he shows are very exciting. Purely on tools, Ramirez is among the top five teenage outfielders in the minors and you can make a cogent argument to take him over Jasson Dominguez (who he’s easily outperforming in the same league) and Kevin Alcantara (who has better plate discipline and subtly better body projection, but who hasn’t hit for as much power). So while acknowledging that the plate discipline piece here is troubling and creates bust risk, the ceiling merits inclusion in the Top 100; Ramirez has been added.





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.

31 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
sadtrombonemember
1 month ago

If Yepez is like Michael Chavis or Tommy Joseph or Ryon Healy, that does seem bad. The model for a successful version of this player is CJ Cron, who isn’t by any means a true-talent 40-homer player who hits .300 like he’s been this year but is good enough to put up 2-3 wins for you at first base. Cron is a bit of an anomaly, but if you want to dream on someone, it’s him.

Uncle Spikemember
1 month ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I do feel the outlook on Yepez is a little too pessimistic. After running some comparisons, to me, the three hitters he most resembles are Pete Alonso, CJ Cron and Rowdy Tellez. While he’s very unlikely to be a superstar, 3 WAR seasons are a very real possibility IMO.

Raoul Raoulmember
1 month ago
Reply to  Uncle Spike

Although I’d be slightly disappointed if their careers turned out similarly, it’s very satisfying to see Matt Adams, the man he was traded for almost exactly five years ago, high on the included list of comps.

Last edited 1 month ago by Raoul Raoul
The Duke
1 month ago
Reply to  Uncle Spike

Yeah the pessimism above is not consistent with Zips which had him at closer to 2 WAR before a strong first month in AAA.

The issue with yepez is that there isn’t a home for him as long as Pujols is RH DH and Goldy is playing 1B.

He looks like a trade candidate to me (similar to Voit).

Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson
1 month ago
Reply to  The Duke

Yepez is positioned to be the full-time DH, starting next year. He hits righties as well as southpaws (if not better) and contrary to Mr. Longenhagen’s writeup, Yepez is not generally considered a “one-dimensional” offensive hitter at all. In fact, Baseball America very recently asserted that Yepez had the #1 hit tool in the St. Louis farm system. (All the more impressive when the organization has a teenager hitting over .300 in AA and a 20-year-old batting .370 in High-A.) You take a good-to-very good hit tool and marry it to a big isolated slugging, and you’ve got at least a 2-WAR designated hitter for the next 4-6 years.

Some other details were a bit off, also. Yepez didn’t slug .400+ for the first time in 2019. He slugged .449 and .466 in 2015 across two levels of rookieball. And more recently, and much more impressively, he thoroughly dominated Low-A at age 20 with a .400+ batting average, nearly .600 slugging, and a mere 13% strikeout rate. After a month of that, the organization was forced to promote him and his 198 wRC+.

Basically, if we give even a cursory glance to the minor league hitting performances of Ryon Healy and Christian Walker and take into consideration age and plate discipline, they bear very little resemblance to Yepez’. And Michael Chavis was a drug cheat in the minors unless my memory fails, so anything he has or has not done with a bat in hand should simply be tossed out.

KJLmember
1 month ago

How do you know he hits righties as well as lefties?

Yepez is generating a lot of excitement for relatively run of the mill R/R free-swinging 1b type. This isn’t to say he can’t be a productive hitter, but Eric seems dead on.

Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson
1 month ago
Reply to  KJL

Baseball-Reference has minor league splits, and Yepez has been consistent in his reverse platoon numbers — sometimes extremely so. From 2018-2021, Yepez posted a higher OPS against righties than lefties every year. The difference ranged from 86 points to 327 points.

The notion that Yepez is “free-swinging” is an odd one, as is this fairly inexplicable passage from Longenhagen’s writeup:

“While Yepez has plus power, the track record for 1B/DH-only types who strike out as much as he does, especially for the swing-happy reasons he has tended to, isn’t great.”

“Types who strike out as much as he does…”? While dominating AA and AAA last year, Yepez fanned 17% of the time and 19% of the time, respectively. These days that’s practically Luke Appling.

KJLmember
1 month ago

I dont think you understand what “free-swinging” means.

As of now his o-swing% is north of 37%, in a small sample, but in line with erics write up. Hes keeping his K% down by swinging more, and putting the ball in play, which keeps his K% down, sure, but results in more suboptimal contact.

Neils-Henning Orsted Joc Pederson
1 month ago
Reply to  KJL

So your concern is that the guy with a .300 isolated slugging since the start of 2021 is making too much sub-optimal contact?

And just so we understand one another: are you talking about his o-swing percentage across AA and AAA? Or just AAA? Or are you talking about his 29 MLB plate appearances? Because if it’s the latter, that would be a pretty odd statistic to cite — especially for someone with a hankering for conclusive sample sizes.

KJLmember
1 month ago

I noted the small sample, there arent ANY reports of yepez being a master of the strike zone. Either way, Im going with Erics opinion over a cardinals homer.

And yeah, i do care about a players swing decisions when theyre providing zero defensive value and its all on the bat to produce.

gydememember
1 month ago
Reply to  KJL

He has a career minor league k rate right around 20%? Not at all a red flag lol

Last edited 1 month ago by gydeme
KJLmember
1 month ago
Reply to  gydeme

Didnt say anything about his k%, not sure what your point is

Lanidrac
1 month ago
Reply to  The Duke

Even this year, he’s starting to replace Dickerson as the DH vs. RHP despite being right-handed himself.

sadtrombonemember
1 month ago
Reply to  Uncle Spike

I don’t think he’s in the class of Pete Alonso. Pete Alonso was savage, a guy with the best raw power of any guy not currently playing for the Yankees (Stanton, Judge, or Gallo) and with better plate discipline than Yepez. Rowdy Tellez is a decent comp except that he kept getting chances because he hits lefty and Yepez is not, so if he comps to Tellez it’ll be harder for him to get established.

I do think that Eric, like pretty much the entire scouting industry, is a bit too light on R/R first basemen but there’s space for him to be an everyday guy at first base (metaphorically, not literally since Goldschmidt is there).

Lanidrac
1 month ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Yepez’s minimal platoon splits will help with that establishment issue. He’s already starting to get significant playing time at DH vs. RHP.

tdouglas
1 month ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

It takes thousands and thousands of at-bats to prove a reverse platoon split talent. Odds are Yepez is a better hitter against lefties. We’ll see how he does against more and more righties in the majors.

Lanidrac
1 month ago
Reply to  tdouglas

I said minimal, not reverse, and Yepez’s MiLB numbers are enough to show that.

KJLmember
1 month ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

No, they arent