Prospect Crop Roundup: 4/24

Here are some quick news and notes regarding some recent growth in this year’s prospect crop:

Walker Buehler – RHP – Los Angeles Dodgers

Buehler was called up by the Dodgers 4/23 to make his first MLB start. Not surprisingly for anyone who has followed his prospect career, Buehler made a strong start, scattering 4 hits and 3 walks in 5 innings of work while also striking out 5 batters. Digging into his MiLB stats, the thing that really pops out about Buehler is his strikeout stuff. He has recorded a K/9 rate of at least 11.0 at each stop he’s made.

Check out the movement on his fastball, courtesy of the fine folks at @PitcherList:

Here he is freezing top prospect Lewis Brinson with a backdoor slider (video from @PitcherList):

What do we expect from Buehler going forward?

He has the strikeout stuff to play in the MLB. The question is whether or not the Dodgers need him for anything other than a spot start right now. They have a productive 5-man rotation at the moment (Kershaw 0.8 fWAR, Wood 0.8 fWAR, Maeda 0.7 fWAR, Ryu 0.6 fWAR, Hill 0.0 fWAR, on his way back from finger injury). However, every one of those starters have dealt with injury issues at some point. If anyone misses an extended amount of time, look for Buehler to slide into the rotation with a chance to hold down a spot. We don’t foresee the Dodgers using him in the bullpen again, as they tried last summer when he made 8 relief appearances.

Jack Flaherty – RHP – St. Louis Cardinals

Rumors are swirling that the Cardinals are considering bringing back top pitching prospect Jack Flaherty for another shot in the starting rotation. The Cards look like playoff contenders early on in what looks like a tough NL Central race. Carlos Martinez, Luke Weaver, and Miles Mikolas are all clicking for the Redbirds, but Adam Wainwright (5.02 xFIP) and Michael Wacha (4.75 xFIP) have combined for 0.0 WAR in 7 starts. They need to get more from their starters, and Flaherty has shown at AAA Memphis that he is worthy of a shot.

What do we expect from Flaherty going forward?

He’s been dominant in 20 innings as a 22-year old at AAA this season, posting a 9.90 K/9 rate with a 1.35 BB/9 rate in 3 starts. He was similarly good in 2017 at AAA, going 7-2 with a 2.74 ERA, 8.96 K/9, and 2.53 BB/9. He also made a strong spot start for the Cardinals at Milwaukee on April 3, working 5 innings, striking out 9, walking 1, and scattering 6 hits:

Video highlights courtesy of MLB Gameday

If the Cardinals give him an extended look, we expect Flaherty to stick in the starting rotation and be a contributor to the Cardinals playoff run this season. However, as a 22 year-old pitching for the first extended period of time in the MLB, expect some bumps.

Tyler O’Neill – OF – St. Louis Cardinals

O’Neill was called-up by the Cardinals to cover for Tommy Pham when he was dealing with a groin injury last week. Fortunately for Pham and Cards fans, it appears that the groin injury is just a day-to-day nuisance at this point. Unfortunately for O’Neill and all the prospectors out there, it looks like we might have to wait a bit longer to see how the young Canuck’s prodigious power will play out in the bigs.

Razzball’s Ralph Lifshitz (@ProspectJesus) gives us a fantastic breakdown:

“This is a player that has worked hard to improve in all facets of the game, a player who hits the ball hard, takes good at bats, and walks more than you think. He’s faster than you would expect, and is an above average base-stealer, don’t believe me? He’s 26-for-30 on the bases the last two seasons. In my opinion he’s one of the more underrated players in the minors, particulary for fantasy. Will he likely strikeout at a 25%-30% clip during his early years in the majors? Yes, but that’s no longer a deal breaker if you hit 30 dongs, and swipe some bags. I think O’Neill should be owned in all dynasty formats. ETA: 2018” More great info from Ralph on the Cardinals system can be found here.

What do we expect from O’Neill going forward?

Frankly he was kind of a shock call-up at this point. It appears that St. Louis was pretty concerned about Pham’s groin injury as soon as it happened. It doesn’t appear that there is much playing time for O’Neill right now in the Cardinals very strong outfield setup (Ozuna – Pham – Fowler). However, if one of those guys goes down with injury, we now know that St. Louis is more apt to use O’Neill than current active roster option Harrison Bader. And with playing time, O’Neill has the raw power to really mash MLB pitching. Buy the skills, not the opportunity.

Gleyber Torres – 2B – New York Yankees

21 year-old Gleyber Torres got the call on 4/22 to join the Yankees, giving the Yankees youth movement another contributor. Given the Neil Walker/Brandon Drury/Ronald Torreyes mess they were rolling with at 2B, the Torres call-up makes a lot of sense. Torres was likely on a path to the MLB last summer before he tore his UCL sliding into home last June. The injury required Torres to undergo Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing arm, but he doesn’t look any worse for wear in 2018.

What do we expect from Torres going forward?

Gleyber is already being tagged as the next Yankees superstar by the New York media. It looks like the Yankees starting 2B job is his for the taking. He does everything well; has a good hit tool, hits for some pop, runs well, and handles his defensive responsibilities at 2B with aplomb. At AAA in 2017, he logged at .388 wOBA. At AAA in 2018, he logged a .404 wOBA. He might not ever see AAA again.

Juan Soto – OF – Potomac Nationals (Nationals)

Soto was promoted from Full Season-A Hagerstown to High-A Potomac this week. Despite his promotion, Soto still leads the Sally League with 24 RBI this season, 6 ahead of his nearest competition. Local scout John Calvagno (@SALNotes) got a look at Soto a couple of weeks back. Here are some highlights from his first-hand scouting of Soto’s hit tool:

“At the dish, Soto hits from a semi-open stance and a slight crouch. He keeps his hands high. His hands stay fairly active pre-pitch. With two strikes he widens his stance and the crouch gets noticeably more pronounced. He’s got quick hands and he really whips the bat head through the zone. The swing is linear and the ball jumps off of his barrel. In BP he was hitting rocket liners between the gaps, reminiscent of Rafael Devers a couple of years ago. I’d put the raw power at 60 right now, with perhaps room for more.”

Discussion between John and some other top Prospectors led to this side-by-side swing comp:

Soto is a prospect name you must watch this season. He will be a top-10 prospect going into 2019 barring injury.

Jesus Luzardo – LHP – Midland RockHounds (Athletics)

Luzardo got the call-up to AA Midland from High-A Stockton on 4/23. He has been one of the most impressive starting pitchers in all of the minors so far in 2018, dominating the competition in the hitter-friendly High-A California League. He features a plus fastball with a curve and a change which both have double-plus projection at this time. Here’s the curve in action with Stockton:

Here’s Mike Zunino on a rehab assignment staring at the same curve:

He was 2-1 with a 1.23 ERA, 2.18 xFIP, and a 25:5 K:BB ratio in 3 starts for Stockton this spring. Like Soto, there is a very good chance that Luzardo lands in the top-10 prospects heading into 2019.

UPDATE: Arizona-based baseball insider and FutureSox contributor Kim Contreras (Twitter: @Cu_As Blog: https://thefireleague.wordpress.com/) is very familiar with Luzardo’s game and gives us the following notes:

Oakland’s young pitching phenom, left-hander Jesus Luzardo, was brilliant in his Double-A debut on Tuesday. In his 4th game of the 2018 season, the 20-year-old took the mound with confidence in his ability and in his teammates, and after 5 innings against the Astros AA affiliate he proved himself wise. His line included 3 hits, 2 runs – both earned – and one walk, with 5 strike outs. Some might have been concerned that 2 of the 3 hits, along with the first earned run, came on doubles from the first two Corpus Christi batters he faced. But those who follow Luzardo’s debut outings know that it’s kind of his “thing” to allow the first batter to reach – by hit or the rare base-on-balls.

He’s like a baby-faced pool shark, with a high 90’s fastball; nasty changeup, breaking ball, and cutter, and the batters who face him don’t realize they’re about to give him all their money.

In 16 games as a professional, and 2 in big league spring training, Luzardo has done nothing but impress. And as threatening as his stats seem, they are magnified when watching the 6’1, 210 lefty in person:

63IP 44 Hits 13 Runs 12 Earned, 2 Home Runs, 3 Hit Batters, 11 Walks, 78 Strike outs

His 189 outs have come in order of quantity, via:

Strike outs: 78

Ground outs: 60

Air / pop ups: 51

Where it all began:

The Nationals called his name in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft but thanks to Tommy John, his professional career was delayed by a year. On June 28, 2017, roughly 10 months ago, the Parkland, FL native appeared in his first of three games for the GCL Nationals before joining the Oakland Athletics in a trade for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. Luzardo took the ball for four games with the AZL A’s then five with short season Vermont before heading to the Fall Instructional League in AZ where the pitching gurus, including the man himself, Gil Patterson, were able to work with him on a daily basis.

In February, the Stoneman Douglas High School alum was headed to work out one last time before leaving for early spring camp in Mesa; until he got a text telling him to stay away. The tragedy that day left many wondering how to help; Luzardo responded by setting up a YouCaring account in honor of former athletic director Chris Hixon.

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