2021 MiLB Prospect Notes 9-30-21

by Mike Schneider
2021 MiLB Prospect Notes 9-30-21

Welcome to the final entry of the 2021 MiLB Prospect Notes 9-30-21.

As the Minor League season comes to an end, this will be my last weekly article.

After not having Minor League baseball in 2020 it was great for prospects to get a full year of baseball that was mostly not impacted by COVID-19.

It has been fun to have a place to document my thoughts and opinions on prospects and the minor leagues.

This week I am going to highlight the stories for the season that have most interested me.

2021 MiLB Prospect Notes 9-30-21

C0-MiLB Comeback Prospects of the Year

Without a doubt, this is my favorite story of the 2021 minor league baseball season.

In 2017 the Royals spent their first two picks on high school position players.

With the 14th overall pick, the Royals selected first baseman Nick Pratto, who was a Little World Series hero as a 12-year-old from Huntington Beach, California.  With their second pick the Royals chose, MJ Melendez a catcher from Miami whose father is the Head Coach for baseball at Florida International University.

Pratto and Melendez made their pro debut together in the Arizona League on June 25, 2017. Except for three weeks earlier this year when Pratto was promoted to AAA Omaha before Melendez they have been teammates for their entire minor league careers.

In their first full year in 2018 with Lexington in the Sally League, both Melendez and Pratto showed a lot of promise although neither put together complete years.  Melendez was great in the first half of the year but seemed to wear down toward the end.  Pratto struggled early in the year as he adjusted to full-season ball but was terrific at the end of the year.

In 2018 Pratto struck out 143 times and Melendez struck out 150 which could have been a red flag.  However, it was their first full pro season and they were young for the level.

In the off-season between 2018  and 2019 Melendez spent a lot of time working on his defense probably at the expense of his hitting.  In 2019 Melendez threw out 60 percent of base stealers.

There was a ton of optimism for both Pratto and Melendez heading into 2019.  The High A Wilmington Blue Rocks were one of the most prospect-laden teams in all of baseball.  Prospects from that team such as Brady Singer, Kyle Isbel, Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic are already in the majors and Wilmington won the Carolina League Championship.

However, the season was a disaster for Melendez and Pratto offensively. While Wilmington's field (Frawley Stadium) is a pitcher's park it does not matter if you do not make contact.  Melendez struck out 39.4 percent of the time with .163/.260/.311 slash line. Pratto struck out 34.7 percent of the time with a .191/.278/.310 line.

It was a wake-up call for both Pratto and Melendez. They attended a special hitter's camp the Royal conducted in October 2019 in Arizona and continued to work on improving their hitting during the canceled 2020 minor league season.

Despite their problems at High A in 2019, the Royals saw enough improvements to assign Pratto and Melendez to assign them to AA NW Arkansas to begin the 2021 season. Melendez hit two home runs on opening day.  Pratto hit three homers on May 21st.  Both have continued to hit all season.

Melendez' improvement has been extreme and since getting promoted to AAA on August 9th he has been even better.  His ISO in 2019 was .149.  In 2021 Melendez' ISO was .342 in AA and .344 in AAA.  His strikeout rate at AA was 21.9 percent and is currently 20.9 percent in AAA.  The walk rate was 10.5 percent in 2019. In AA in 2021 the walk rate was 12.4 percent and it is presently up to 18.4 percent in AAA.

Pratto's improvement in his underlying numbers is not as much.  He has split the year equally between AA and AAA and the strikeout rate is virtually the same as each level at 28.9 percent.  The walk rate has decreased from 16.7 percent at AA to 12.7 percent at AAA but is better than the 10.4 percent walk rate in 2019. Pratt has hit 19 homers in AAA and 15 in AA.

I ran a website that focused on the Carolina League in 2019.  Melendez and Pratto were two of the younger and higher ranked prospects in the league at the beginning of the season.  Every time they had a good game, I would think they were turning a corner but then they would struggle more.

Something that is important to remember with prospects is that they are young people and generally speaking to become high draft picks and top prospects they have been successful playing baseball all their lives. It is safe to say that Melendez and Pratto never struggled for a full year as they did in 2019. It is a challenge for anyone to handle adversity but especially a young person who has never had to deal with it before.

As a prospect evaluator and dynasty league owner,  Pratto and Melendez show the importance of being patient, believing in the talent, and not dismissing a prospect as a result of one year. My rule of thumb is typically to give a prospect two years at a level once in their career before deciding that they are likely not going to make it.

Based on how Melendez and Pratto looked in 2021, they appear to be major league ready for 2022. Pratto should be the Royals' regular first basemen in early 2022.  With Salvador Perez at catcher for the Royals, it is more complicated for Melendez.

I believe it would make sense for Perez and Melendez to split catcher and DH with Perez initially catching about 75% and gradually over time shifting to Melendez catching more.

I find myself rooting for the players that were in the Carolina League in 2019. After seeing first hand both Pratto and Melendez struggle so much back then, I am very pleased for their success.

Embed from Getty Images

Orioles Not Drafting Pitching

Since Mike Elias took over as General Manager of the Orioles after the 2018 season he has overseen three drafts.  The Orioles have had 18 picks during that time in the first five rounds. They have selected 16 positions players and two hitters.

The chart below lists the percentage of pitchers selected by each team in the first five rounds of the draft.

OrgPercent of PitchersOrgPercent of Pitchers
Bat11.11%Oak53.33%
Mil26.67%Phi53.85%
Det29.41%Col55.56%
Hou30.77%KC55.56%
SF35.29%NYM56.25%
Bos35.72%Ari57.14%
Min37.50%Pit57.89%
Tex37.50%Cle58.82%
Mia38.89%Sea58.82%
NYY42.86%CHC60.00%
Was42.86%STL61.11%
Cin 44.44%LAA64.29%
Atl46.67%Tor64.29%
TB47.37%LAD68.75%
SD50.00%CHW73.33%

The 2020 draft was only five rounds. However, in 2019 and 2021 combined 58.67 percent of the players selected in the drafts between rounds six through ten were pitchers.  The Orioles selected position players in eight of their ten selections in rounds six through ten.

The rebuilding Orioles has a desperate need for pitching. Their team ERA is current 5.80 which is more than a half of a run worst than anyone else in baseball.

What is the strategy to build a pitching staff when they are drafting pitchers less than other organizations?

Prior to Elias taking over the Orioles operations, the Orioles drafted consecutive high school pitchers in the first round with DL Hall in 2017 and Grayson Rodriguez in 2018.

Rodriguez has developed into arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball and appears to be close to major league ready. However, as Forrest Whitley and Mackenzie Gore have shown there are no sure things with pitchers and a lot can go wrong regardless of how great a pitching prospect looks.

Hall has elite stuff but in more than four years since being drafted, he has only thrown 217 innings.  He missed much of 2021 with an arm injury.  He is not a finished product and he has been hurt by pitching so few innings the last two years.  Hall reminds me of a left-handed Lance McCullers Jr.. and if he has a career similar to McCullars it would be close to a best-case scenario.

The Orioles have made several trades with the Angels to acquire a few pitching prospects that were recent mid-round draft picks including Kyle Bradish, Kyle Brnovich, Zach Peek and Garrett Stallings.  Unheralded 20-year-old Jean Pinto was part of the Jose Iglasais deal and was impressive in the second half of the year for Low A Delmarva.

There are several other interesting arms in the organization including 2018 fourth-round pick Drew Rom a crafty lefthander, 2020 undrafted free agent Brandon Young, Mike Baumann, and Blaine Knight.

Generally speaking except for  Rodriguez and Hall there is not a lot of pedigree in the organization on the pitching side.

One of Elias' first hires was Chris Holt who came with Elias from the Astros organization. Currently, in addition to being the pitching coach, he is the Director of Pitching for the entire organization.   Holt appears to be smart and innovative but as the major league results have shown, a pitcher still needs to have talent in order to be successful.

The other side of the coin is the Orioles have loaded up on position players in the draft.  While other teams seem to believe that you can never have enough pitching, the Orioles are trying a different strategy. It is most important to draft players that turn into assets, it may be that the Orioles feel that in the current environment that they have a better chance to draft value with a position player and that down the road they can move assets if there is excess with position players for assets in pitching.

It will be fascinating to watch how it plays out over the next few years.

Stolen Bases

The most challenging fantasy baseball category to project for a prospect has always been stolen bases. It is very easy to overestimate how much a prospect will run bases on their stolen bases totals when they are very young.

Factors that may cause a prospect that steals a lot in the lower minors to not run as much as they get older include not running as fast as their body fills out and improved catcher play in upper levels.

Yoan Moncada was the number one prospect in baseball in 2017.  A large reason that he was so highly ranked was that Moncada stole 49 bases in 52 attempts in 81 games in the Sally League in 2015 and stole 45 bases in 2016 between High A  and AA. In his major league career, Moncada has 28 steals in 535 games and he has three stolen bases in 2021.

Nick Madrigal stole 35 bases in 2019 in the minors across three levels and it was thought he could make up for his lack of power by being a fantasy asset in batting average, runs and stolen bases categories.  However, in 83 career major league games, Madrigal has three bases in six attempts.

From a fantasy perspective, Dylan Carlson's 2021 rookie year has been about what I expected except I thought he would steal about 15 bases and he has two.  With 15 stole bases, his value in fantasy would be completely different.

In 2021 projecting stolen bases became more challenging due to experimental rules changes.  At Low A pitchers are limited to two pick-offs. In High A pitchers have to be off the rubber before attempting a pick off. These rules changes clearly inflate stole bases numbers but the question is by how much.

Oswald Peraza is a top prospect for the Yankees that played 28 games in High A Hudson Valley before being promoted to AA Somerset on June 8th which does not have rules that benefit base stealing.  Peraza stole 16 bases in High A which is more than one base every two games.  In 79 games in AA, Peraza stole 20 bases which works out to one stolen base about every four games.  For Peraza 20 stolen bases a year in the majors seems reasonable at his peak but he is unlikely to be among the stolen base leaders.

Max Schuemann is in the As organization and is not the prospect that Peraza is but he did split the year evenly between High A Lansing and AA Midland.  In 54 games in High A, Schuemann stole 34 bases with a .344 on-base percentage which works out to 0.63 stolen bases per game.  In 57 games at AA, Schuemann stole 17 bases with .398 OBP or 0.3 stolen bases per game despite being on bases quite a bit more in AA. Schuemann's success rate on stolen bases was excellent at both levels (94 percent at High A and 85% in AA).  Again, Schuemann is a capable base stealer but he is not Raul Mondesi Jr. either.

Joey Wiemer of the Brewers and Shay Whitcomb of the Astros had similar statistics in 2021.  They are both college players who were drafted late in the five-round 2020 MLB draft.  They split 2021 between Low A and High A and stole 30 bases while hitting over 20 home runs.  Based on their statistics both appear to have an intriguing power and speed combination.

Dynasty league owners should be careful to not expect those types of stolen base numbers at high levels for Wiemer, Whitcomb and many other prospects that posted huge base stealing numbers in Low A and High A in 2021.

Yankees Prospect Success

No organization appeared to do better at developing prospects during 2020 than the Yankees. So many of their prospects were better in 2021 than they were in 2019.

Anthony Volpe, Oswald Pereza and Everson Pereira emerged as top prospects.

Very young players such as Anthony Garcia, Jasson Dominguez and Antonio Gomez showed tremendous promise.

Pop-up prospects such as Randy Vasquez, Brandon Lockridge and Oswaldo Cabrera look like legitimate prospects after not being on the radar at the beginning of the year.

Luis Medina and Luis Gil took huge steps forward in 2021.

JP Sears, Stephen Ridings and Matt Krook are older castoffs that had success at AAA and are interesting.

In the last year the Yankees traded away Roansy Contreras, Maikol Escotto, Miguel Yajure, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Alexander Vizcaíno, Kevin Alcantara, Josh H. Smith, Glenn Otto, Ezequiel Duran, Hoy Park, Diego Castillo and Trevor Hauver.  Not many teams can trade that amount of talent and still have a strong minor league system with excellent depth.

Rule V Draft and 40 Man Rosters

It seems that are more teams that are going to have a challenge setting their 40 man roster prior to the Rule V draft this upcoming offseason than normal. Teams such as the Yankees, Indians, Dodgers and Rays simply have too much talent.

Players signed in 2017 must be added to the 40 man roster by the November deadline or be eligible to be selected in the Rule V draft held at the winter meeting in December. Without the 2020 season, it seems that teams have to make this decision sooner in a prospect's development than normal.

If I was in charge of a rebuilding team I would be very selective about who I add to my own 40 man roster to have as many openings as possible.  I would be aggressive about pursuing deals with teams with a roster crunch.  A trade prior to the deadline of a recent mid-round draft pick who would not need to be added to the 40 man roster for a higher-end talent to a team with a roster crunch and does not have room to keep would be ideal.

Royals Hitting Development

In recent years the Royals had not done well at developing hitting prospects. We discussed the success of MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto earlier but this year the success the Royals had had with hitting prospects goes beyond Pratto and Melendez.

Bobby Witt Jr is my number one prospect in baseball.  He is a special talent and his progress in his first full year as a 21-year-old in AA and AAA has been incredible.

First baseman Vinnie Pasquantino was a 2019 11th round draft pick who split the year between High A and AA. In 55 AA games, he has more extra-base hits (28) than strikeouts (26).

I have discussed Brewer Hicklen several times in the past. He was much better in the second half of the year at AA NW Arkansas.  He is old for the level but was late to play baseball on a full-time basis.

Shortstop Nick Loftin was the 32nd pick in the 2020 draft and has really played well in August and September for High A Quad Cities.

Michael Massey is a second baseman who was the Royals' fourth-round pick in 2019. He spent the full year at High A Quad Cities and was consistent all year hitting 21 homers.

Outfielder John Rave had a stretch in late July and early August for High A Quad Cities where he might have been the hottest player in the minors.  He was the Royals' fifth-round pick in 2019.

Tucker Bradley was a 2020 undrafted free agent from the University of Georgia that had a nice year primarily at High A Quad Cities.

After the 2019 season, the Royals made a number of changes.  This article by Alec Lewis does a great job of discussing new philosophies and hires that appear to have had a very positive impact on the development of hitters in the Royals organization.

https://theathletic.com/1322191/2019/10/25/behind-scenes-look-inside-royals-revamped-hitting-development-approach/

Zach Featherstone

I would like to end with an underdog prospect who has shown great perseverance.

The Twins drafted  Zach Featherstone out of junior college in the 12th round in 2016. He was a position player. Featherstone played 34 games in the Gulf Coast Least in 2016 as first basemen and did not much to distinguish himself.

In 2017 he converted to a pitcher and threw 15.1 innings in the Gulf Coast League. He was back in the Gulf Coast League for 2018 but hurt his arm and end up having Tommy John surgery.

Featherstone missed 2019 as he recovered from the surgery and there was no minor league season in 2020.

In 2021 Featherstone impressed in the spring with good velocity and was assigned to High A Cedar Rapids as a reliever. He struggled in May.  Since June Featherstone had a .129 batting average against with a 41.6 strikeout percentage.

Featherstone turns 26 in December and he needs to cut down on his walks, but it should have an opportunity next year in the upper minors.

Comings And Goings

Prospects Changing Levels

Matt Brash and Roansy Contreras were both called up from AAA to the majors without ever pitching in AAA. Due to COVID protocols, a player cannot be called up directly from AA this year.

DateOrganizationProspectFromTo
9-22PiratesMiguel YajureAAAMLB
9-23RangersCole WinnAAAAA
9-23RangersSam HuffAAAAA
9-23RangersDavis WendzelAAAAA
9-24AngelsJhonathan DiazAAAMLB
9-24CubsGreg DeichmannAAAMLB
9-24RockiesRyan ViladeMLBAAA
9-24AngelsReid DetmersMLBAAA
9-24OriolesMike BaumannMLBAAA
9-24Blue JaysGabriel MorenoAAAAA
9-24MarlinsMax MeyerAAAAA
9-25MarinersMatt BrashAAAAA
9-26DiamondbacksGeraldo PerdomoAAAMLB
9-26PhilliesHans CrouseAAAMLB
9-26Red SoxEduard BazardoAAAMLB
9-26TigersZack ShortAAAMLB
9-26BravesTouki ToussaintMLBAAA
9-26Blue JaysKevin SmithMLBAAA
9-26DiamondbacksStone GarrettAAAAA
9-26RoyalsAustin CoxAAAAA
9-26RedsJacques PucheuAAAAA
9-26RoyalsAngel ZerpaAAAAA
9-27AthleticsLuis BarreraAAAMLB
9-27CubsWyatt MillsAAAMLB
9-27RedsReiver SanmartinAAAMLB
9-27YankeesAlbert AbreuMLBAAA
9-28PhilliesAlec BohmAAAMLB
9-28BravesSpencer StriderAA
AAA
9-28BravesShea LangeliersAAAAA
9-28MarinersMatt BrashAAAMLB
9-29AngelsTurner WardAAAMLB
9-29OriolesCadyn GrenierAAAAA
9-29PiratesRoansy Contreras AAA MLB

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