With so many clubs needing to plunge into the minors for pitching reinforcements, let’s put more attention on this next wave of arms.
Five Big Hype Prospects
Andrew Abbott, 24, SP, CIN (AAA)
31.1 IP, 13.21 K/9, 4.02 BB/9, 3.16 ERA
Abbott walked all over the Southern League earlier this season, posting a 1.15 ERA with 20.68 K/9 and 1.72 BB/9 in three starts. The Reds got him out of there in a hurry – possibly because the pre-tacked ball used in that league was obscuring aspects of his development. Since arriving in Triple-A, Abbott has reverted to a good-not-great trajectory and there’s still risk he’ll eventually land in the bullpen. From a stuff perspective, he has a starter’s repertoire. Like most young pitchers, Abbott’s command can be inconsistent and mostly draws negative comments. There’s reason for concern about home run prevention, especially at Great American Ball Park.
Ben Brown, 23, SP, CHC (AAA)
24 IP, 13.50 K/9, 4.50 BB/9, 3.75 ERA
Brown was acquired from the Phillies in the David Robertson trade. Like Abbott, Brown dominated the Southen League (20 IP, 0.45 ERA) en route to a quick promotion. He’s continued to miss bats, albeit with a couple red flags. Per a statistical source, hitters have averaged a 91.3-mph exit velocity against Brown in Triple-A. It’s a small sample concern for now. Inconsistencies with his command remain on display, and the relief risk is palpable. While his fastball, slider, and curve are all viewed as above-average offerings, the lack of command and changeup are traits of pitchers who eventually land in the bullpen. We’ve seen plenty of guys succeed with non-traditional repertoires lately, but they usually rely on some sort of unicorn trait. I’m unaware of Brown fitting this mold.
Christian Encarnacion-Strand, 23, 1B/3B, CIN (AAA)
146 PA, 13 HR, .346/.384/.721
Prospects like CES tend to create a lot of arguments among the general public. He was one of the top minor league performers in 2022, and he’s repeating the effort this season. However, poor plate discipline and a hefty swinging-strike rate introduce considerable risk. There’s also doubt about his ability to stick at third base. Cincinnati has already conceded this by using him 17 games at first, seven at DH, and seven at third. Few first basemen are this ill-disciplined. Of qualified first basemen, only Brandon Drury, Gio Urshela, and Ryan Mountcastle have walk rates below 6.0 percent. Drury and Urshela aren’t really first basemen. On the other hand, CES punishes baseballs when he connects, averaging 92.2-mph on contact. If he can mount any sort of resistance to the inevitable bevy of breaking balls out of the zone, he could develop into a legitimate 40-homer threat.
Cade Povich, 23, SP, BAL (AA)
40 IP, 13.73 K/9, 3.83 BB/9, 4.50 ERA
Acquired in the Jorge Lopez trade, Povich probably deserves inclusion in the latter portion of Top 100 lists. The southpaw doesn’t have any overwhelming traits, but the total package resembles many adequate left-handers around the league. Povich’s basic stats suggest cause for both optimism and skepticism. His 2.20 FIP and 2.47 xFIP are a sight better than his 4.50 ERA – largely due to a .356 BABIP and 62.2 percent strand rate. In the minors, such stats can be more than the “luck” we generally attribute them to in the Majors, and Povich also had a poor strand rate in 2022. It could indicate issues pitching out of the stretch. I’ve reached out to a couple contacts for their thoughts.
Worth mentioning, the Eastern League is not using the pretacked ball.
Emmet Sheehan, 23, SP, LAD (AA)
44 IP, 15.55 K/9, 3.68 BB/9, 1.64 ERA
The Texas League also isn’t using the pretacked ball. Sheehan started to generate hype late last season, culminating in a successful stint in the Arizona Fall League. Sheehan is overwhelming the Double-A competition as evidenced by a 20.1 percent swinging strike rate, .176 BABIP, and 97% strand rate. Such figures indicate luck, but they also speak of an ability to miss bats with impunity. The star of the show is a double-plus changeup. A prospect watcher tipped me off last season about changeup artists – they tend to overperform in the minors. At the time, we were discussing Grayson Rodriguez. Like the other pitchers we’ve covered today, Sheehan’s command sparks comments about a future in the bullpen. Scouts also seem to dislike his mechanics – he tends to fall off hard to the first base line. I tend to ignore such comments. Goofy mechanics may (or may not) increase injury risk, but they also lead to unusual looks for hitters.
Matt McLain, CIN (23): McLain, who we discussed in this section last week, has rushed out to a heady .380/.456/.600 performance in 57 Major League plate appearances. Red flags include a .531 BABIP, modest exit velocities, and 28.1 percent strikeout rate. However, McLain is showing power, advanced plate discipline, and a high rate of swinging contact (7.3 percent SwStr%).
Zach Dezenzo, HOU (23): Although not yet on the radar for top prospect status, Dezenzo is quickly accelerating through the Astros system as a third baseman. A scout brought him to my attention a month ago. He’s a low-angle, line-drive machine, leading to high BABIPs. There’s considerable swing-and-miss in his game, introducing risk of stalling in the upper minors. Dezenzo was recently promoted to Double-A.
Johan Rojas, PHI (22): For fans of Esteury Ruiz, Rojas basically has a better version of a similar profile. He doesn’t visually look like Alfonso Soriano the way Ruiz does, but you can easily discern the athletic ability. Unlike Ruiz, he’s already regarded as a plus center fielder. Already on the 40-man roster, Rojas seems likely to ascend to Triple-A in the coming weeks.
Did I miss a detail or nuance? DM me on Twitter @BaseballATeam to suggest corrections.