Wednesday Prospect Notes: Baz, Strasburg Rehab; Updating the Phillies List

Shane Baz
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This season, Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin will have periodic minor league roundup post that run during the week. You can read previous installments of our prospect notes here.

I noticed what felt like an unusually high number of rehabbing big leaguers (and some prospects) in the box scores over the last several days, so I called around to get info on how these pitchers have looked on their way back from injury.

The Rays have two prominent members of their pitching staff currently working back through the minors: former top prospect Luis Patiño and current top prospect Shane Baz. Patiño, who was put on the IL on April 12 with an oblique strain, has only just begun his climb through the minors. He threw one inning in the Florida Complex League on Monday night and sat 94–96 mph with his sliders in their usual 84–87 range. He threw just one changeup. Baz, who is coming off of arthroscopic surgery of his right elbow, has been rehabbing at Triple-A since the end of May, working on four days rest and ramping up to about 80 pitches in his most recent outing, in which he struck out 10 hitters in 4.1 innings on Sunday. He looks like his usual self, sitting 94–97 and touching 99, and is poised to rejoin the Rays’ rotation within the next week.

(Another Rays note: former first rounder Nick Bitsko, who is coming off of a prolonged rehab from labrum surgery, was sitting 92–95 during his Extended Spring outings and has moved up into the 40+ FV tier now that he’s shown his arm strength is mostly back to pre-surgery form.)

Also set to return to a big league rotation is Nationals righty Stephen Strasburg, who has made three rehab starts with Triple-A Rochester, also on four days rest, recovering from thoracic outlet surgery. While he’s still showing plus secondary stuff, especially his changeup, his velocity has been way down, hovering in the 88–92 range with poor shape. Of all the pitchers who I’ll cover today, he’s the only one who hasn’t looked anything like himself.

White Sox righty Lance Lynn (knee) has made two Triple-A starts thus far and will make a third on Wednesday before, assuming continued health, re-joining Chicago’s rotation for his next turn. He was sitting 93 in 2021 but has been more 90–92 and topping out at 94 during this rehab period. Lynn’s game is much less about velocity than most pitchers, and his command and pitch execution during these outings have been crisp, so he feels less likely to go belly up if indeed he’s lost a tick or so for good and this is just how hard he throws now. The same would be true of Cardinals righty Jack Flaherty, who threw 30 pitches across three perfect innings at Double-A Springfield early this week, except his velocity has been intact, in the 92–94-mph range as he returns from a shoulder strain.

Padres lefty Adrian Morejon, who is coming off of Tommy John, was recalled from El Paso on Tuesday. After pitching three innings in his first rehab outing, he’s worked in one- and two-inning relief stints since, totaling 10.1 frames in the last month. He’s been up to 98, sitting 94–97 with inconsistent shape and command (despite walking just two batters during this span) and his usual mid-80s splitter, which has become his best secondary pitch. Morejon’s pitch data shows that the shapes of his two breaking balls continue to run together a little bit, which suggests (along with the fastball variability) that he still has below-average control and is likely to pitch out of the bullpen, long-term; there hasn’t been some miraculous adjustment that has unlocked a new strike-throwing gear.

Two hard-throwing Rangers are surging back to the big leagues. Jonathan Hernández, rehabbing from Tommy John, is once again showing premium arm strength and a fastball with a ton of tailing action. He’s been sitting 97–99 during his couple of relief appearances, with his slider lacking movement and living off of hitters who are trying to cheat on his fastball and his changeup looking like roughly the same pitch as his fastball, just 10 mph slower. He and José Leclerc are poised not only to rejoin the Rangers’ bullpen, but also are likely to pitch at the very back of it. Leclerc also had Tommy John in 2021 and has made a handful of upper-level rehab relief appearances. His velocity has returned to his pre-surgery peak (it was down in 2021 before he was shelved), as he’s averaging 96 and topping out at 98 with big carry and a good splitter, which at times has cut action.

We’ll wrap up with two more rehabbers, both prospects. Orioles lefty DL Hall has been up to 100 while bending in a plus-plus mid-80s slider. His 2021 season ended due to a stress reaction in his left elbow. Mariners righty Emerson Hancock is topping out in the 95–98 range, sitting more 91–93 with tailing/sinking shape, with his changeup coming to the forefront of his repertoire in part because his slider has stagnated.

Updating The Phillies List

I’ve made some changes to the Phillies prospect list based the notes I collected during my recent trip through Florida and based on the usual mélange of data/film/scout contact work that goes into shaping the lists. I saw Andrew Painter strike out 14 Low-A Yankees hitters in five innings. He threw 70 pitches, his fastball sitting 96–98 for the duration of his outing and touching 99 a couple of times. Most of the whopping 20 swings and misses Painter generated in this outing came via his fastball, most of which were up and to the arm-side part of the zone. His slider played well off of this fastball location, as the young Yankees gave up on it out of hand, thinking it was a high fastball, only for it to drop into the strike zone. This happened constantly throughout the evening, more often than Painter’s slider finished down and to his glove side. His slider’s depth and two-plane bite is easily plus; it’s just not clear that he has feel for locating it in that area consistently. While Painter also warmed up with a changeup and curveball, they weren’t used during the outing. It’s possible some of his slower sliders (the pitch ranged from 78 to 86) were actually curveballs, but all had close to the same shape and in-zone utility.

I left the outing taken by the sheer power and dominance of Painter’s fastball and impressed at how he’s reshaped his frame and improved his conditioning since my last look, when he looked closer to maxed out. Promoted to Hi-A within the last couple of days, Painter has enough to work on — expanding the ways he uses his breaking ball(s), changeup incorporation — and is still far enough away from the big leagues that I’m not entertaining a move into the Top 100 right now. But he certainly has that sort of upside based on the same components that made him a first rounder: his arm strength, talent for spinning a breaking ball, and his prototypical size. He’s swapped places with Johan Rojas, who isn’t hitting, near the top of the Phillies list.

The other Clearwater prospect who moved the needle was 21-year-old outfielder Jadiel Sanchez, who has gone from a sleeper whom Tess Taruskin liked on tape during the offseason to a prospect who looks likely to be a role-playing corner outfielder. Visual evaluation of his skills is superior to his current statline, with both my in-person look and the thoughts of a scout who brought Sanchez up unprompted this week, supporting a move up. He’s still behind the younger 40 FV types in the system who I think have a puncher’s chance to be a regular.

I also saw one day of Phillies Extended Spring Training, running into wispy 20-year-old Jean Cabrera (still more about long-term frame projection, sitting 92–94) and teenager Yemal Flores, who made several nice plays in the outfield and whose projected defensive position I’ve changed from right to center. The lone new addition to the Phillies list resulting from this look is compact infielder Nickau Pouaka-Grego, a twitchy little middle infield prospect from New Zealand, who has a very quick bat and advanced feel for contact. There are other low-level prospects in this system who have a better chance of playing shortstop (Erick Brito, Alexeis Azuaje), but Pouaka-Grego has a much better chance to hit.

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 Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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1 year ago

Thanks for the Phillies update!