Tuesday Prospect Notes: 5/3/2022

© Jim Rassol-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.

Calvin Ziegler, RHP, New York Mets
Level & Affiliate: Low-A St. Lucie Age: 19 Org Rank: TBD FV: 40
Weekend Line: 4.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K

Ziegler was generating enough buzz during minor league spring training that a scout in Arizona mentioned his name to me totally unprompted, as a heads up that he might be breaking out. A Canadian high schooler in the Toronto area, Ziegler was in a bind ahead of the 2021 draft because travel restrictions were going to make it hard for him to be seen by scouts. He transferred to TNXL Academy, an athletics “school” in Florida, for his pre-draft spring. The Mets made him their second round pick and signed him for just over $900,000, then shut him down during the regular season.

He’s come out hot to start 2022, at least from a bat-missing standpoint, with last Friday’s outing his most efficient from a strike-throwing standpoint. Ziegler’s stuff isn’t appreciably different than when he was in high school, though he is mixing in his secondary stuff more heavily. He used his fastball over 75% of the time on the summer showcase circuit, but his usage has been closer to 50% so far this year. Both Ziegler’s trademark breaking ball and his mid-80s changeup show bat-missing potential, though the former has much more consistent finish. While Ziegler doesn’t have the prototypical pitching prospect’s frame at a fairly mature six feet tall, his delivery is very athletic, with the power and balance he shows in his lower half and the flexibility of his upper back generating optimism that he might yet throw harder than his current 91-96 mph range. Ziegler’s “lack” of height and the way he gets deep into his legs during his delivery give his fastball a tough-to-hit line. Changeup and overall command refinement are all that stand between Ziegler and pretty comfortable projection into a rotation.

Bryan Hoeing, RHP, Miami Marlins
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Pensacola Age: 25 Org Rank: TBD FV: 35
Weekend Line: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 HBP, 8 K

Hoeing is a lanky, strike-throwing righty with a sinking/tailing low-90s fastball that lives in the bottom third of the zone. At a broad-shouldered 6-foot-5, Hoeing has an innings-eater’s build, and an innings-eater’s approach to pitching, as he has walked an ultra-efficient 4.5% of pro batters faced. He fills the bottom third of the zone with his tough-to-elevate heater that induces a lot of groundballs, as well as a slow, two-planed slurve in the low-80s, which isn’t especially nasty but has enough depth to keep hitters from squaring it. If there’s a bat-missing pitch here, it’s Hoeing’s changeup, which he’s so far used more often this season than he did in 2021. Without an above-average offering to lean on, it’s tough to project Hoening into a consistent big league role, but he is an extreme strike thrower and is starting to put together a strong statistical track record at the upper levels, so he’s in position to be an upper-level depth starter, which the Marlins will need to keep pace in a crowded NL East.

Michael Massey, 2B, Kansas City Royals
Level & Affiliate: Double-A NW Arkansas Age: 24 Org Rank: TBD FV: 40
Weekend Line: 6-for-11, 2B, 2 HR, 2 BB, SB

Massey is another of the college position players from the 2019 draft who are tough to evaluate on paper because they missed the 2020 season due to the pandemic, creating a gap in their performance track record and a discordance between their age and level of performance on the back of that gap. Massey is not only in this bucket but he was also dealing with a back issue that impacted his performance in 2019. Sent to High-A in 2021, he had a huge season, slashing .289/.351/.531, with 50 extra-base hits (21 of them homers) and an impressive 15.5% strikeout rate. Of course, he was a 23-year-old college hitter crushing A-ball pitching, albeit one who hadn’t been healthy and active for two years.

Not all of the visual and underlying statistical evidence corroborates Massey’s 2021 line. While he has some hitterish elements (the short-levered Massey is adept at catching fastballs on the inner third), his swing is relatively grooved and he tends to be vulnerable to back-foot breaking balls, and he’s a fairly aggressive swinger. His peak exit velocities aren’t what you’d expect from someone who just hit 21 bombs, resting comfortably below average, and the same is true of Massey’s barrel rate. His swing is so geared for lift, however, that he does seem likely to hit for in-game power even if he doesn’t have big raw, by virtue of how often he hits the ball in the air. Massey has only ever played second base in pro ball and he probably needs to start branching out to other positions since he doesn’t quite have the hit/power combination to project as an everyday second baseman. He’s not a candidate to try to move up the defensive spectrum, especially not in an org that is loaded at shortstop ahead of him. Instead, I’ll be looking for him to get some reps at third base and the outfield corners en route to a lefty-hitting utility role.

Matthew Liberatore, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Level & Affiliate: Triple-A Memphis Age: 22 Org Rank: TBD FV: 50
Weekend Line: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 7 K

Liberatore continues to track through the minors without experiencing so much as a developmental hiccup, and in fact, he’s accumulated much more big game experience than all but a few pitchers his age. Last year, he struck out a batter per inning as a 21-year-old who spent the entire season at Triple-A Memphis, started the Futures Game for the National League, and pitched for Team USA in the Olympics.

Libby has done all of this amid a shift in his pitch usage. The slider that he learned on the fly as a high school senior has now become his most-used secondary pitch, and the sinking/tailing fastball shape that seemed like it might hamper his heater’s effectiveness has actually helped set up his changeup, which Liberatore has tremendous feel for locating, especially for a pitcher his age. The gorgeous, high-arcing curveball that made us all swoon while Liberatore was an amateur has actually become his least-used offering. It’s still useful as a way for him to get back into counts or as a show-me pitch the second or third time through the order, but it’s too slow and easy to identify out of his hand to be a dominant, finishing pitch.

Libby’s four-pitch package is seasoned with all sorts of crafty, Cueto-esque delivery variations that disrupt hitters’ timing and keep them off stuff that is more well-rounded than dominant. While he doesn’t have to be added to the Cardinals 40-man until after the season, Liberatore is ready right now and could be a superior option to several of the other upper-level Cardinals on the 40-man roster in the event that the team’s current rotation once again deals with injury.

Kyle Muller, LHP, Atlanta Braves
Level & Affiliate: MLB Age: 24 Org Rank: TBD FV: 45
Weekend Line: 2.2 IP, 4 H, 7 R, 6 BB, 3 K

Though very efficient in his first three outings of the season, Muller began to exhibit scattershot fastball control again in his last Triple-A start before he was promoted for a turn in the big league rotation on Sunday, during which he really struggled. He threw strikes with his fastball at a rate of between 65-71% in each of his first three starts, then just 50% on April 23, which preceded his Sunday night clunker. Now nearly six years removed from his draft, Muller still does not have consistent feel for his fastball. It’s a nasty enough pitch that it would probably be fine even if he threw imprecise strikes, but he throws many non-competitive heaters. He has more consistent feel for locating his slider (which really only plays as a chase pitch) and his changeup, which he has started to throw more often this year.

While he has mid-rotation stuff — mid-90s heat from the left side, two good breaking balls and enough feel for a below-average changeup that it has some utility — Muller is now in his second option year and most of the strike-throwing sand has passed through the hour glass. In a vacuum, it is easy to project Muller to the bullpen for the long haul, and in most cases one would assume that would happen soon. But the Braves have tended to leave their young, walk-prone starters in the Triple-A rotation as spot-starting depth for as long as possible, opting to fill their big league bullpen with veteran free agents rather than see if someone like Muller, or Touki Toussaint, or any of the many pitching prospects for whom this is true, can find another gear in the ‘pen. So unless he suddenly becomes less prone to implosion, Muller is likely to be a up and down each of the next two seasons.

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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8 months ago

When I saw the Braves, I was hoping for a write up on Royber Salinas who somehow has a k/9 of 19+!

8 months ago
Reply to  Francoeurstein

I’ll second that.