Minor league baseball weekly cultivation for week ending June 26, 2021
This week is a “hype” week. We will highlight players with significant hype entering the 2021 season or that have developed significant hype thus far in the 2021 season. Some of the preseason hype players have not fared well in-season, but this will serve as a good update on how they’re performing in the 2021 season. With complex leagues opening this week, coverage will expand beginning next week!
Statistical Leaders (stats through June 26)
AVG – Jamie Ritchie, Reno (Ari), .404
OBP – Jamie Ritchie, Reno (Ari), .539
SLG – Taylor Motter, Albuquerque (Col), .667
HR – Jo Adell, Salt Lake (LAA) and Frank Schwindel, Las Vegas (Oak), 16
SB – Vidal Brujan, Durham (TB), 14
IP – Kirk McCarty, Columbus (Cle), 58 2/3
ERA – Mike Wright Jr, Charlotte (ChW), 2.42
WHIP – Mike Wright Jr, Charlotte (ChW), 0.93
SV – Luis Garcia, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (NYY), 11
K – Aaron Ashby, Nashville (Mil), 56
AVG – Gabriel Moreno, New Hampshire (Tor), .373
OBP – Gabriel Moreno, New Hampshire (Tor, .441
SLG – Gabriel Moreno, New Hampshire (Tor), .651
HR – Four with 13
SB – Jake McCarthy, Amarillo (Ari) and Samad Taylor, New Hampshire (Tor), 17
IP – Mario Sanchez, Harrsburg (Was), 56 2/3
ERA – Janson Junk, Somerset (NYY), 1.07
WHIP – Cole Winn, Frisco (Tex), 0.78
SV – Jose Adames, Portland (Bos) and Colton Hock, Pensacola (Mia), 10
K – Reid Detmers, Rocket City (LAA), 76
AVG – Ruben Cardenas, Bowling Green (TB), .368
OBP – Jacob Hurtubise, Dayton (Cin), .448
SLG – Ruben Cardenas, Bowling Green (TB), .658
HR – Andy Pages, Great Lakes (LAD), 14
SB – Max Schuemann, Lansing (Oak), 30
IP – Zach McCambley, Beloit (Mia), and Chris McMahon, Spokane (Col), 50
ERA – Cade Cavalli, Wilmington (Was), 1.77
WHIP – Jayden Murray, Bowling Green (TB), 0.68
SV – Carter Loewen, Fort Wayne (SD), Joe Jones, Hillsboro (Ari), and Jonah Dipoto, Quad Cities (KC), 6
K – Cade Cavalli, Wilmington (Was), 71
AVG – Jordan Walker, Palm Beach (StL), .358
OBP – Edouard Julien, Fort Myers (Min), .492
SLG – Diego Cartaya, Rancho Cucamonga (LAD), .690
HR – Joe Gray Jr, Carolina (Mil), Neyfy Castillo, Visalia (Ari), and Brandon Lewis, Rancho Cucamonga (LAD), 10
SB – Braulio Vasquez, Augusta (Atl), Jordy Barley, Lake Elsinore (SD), 27
IP – Breiling Eusebio, Fresno (Col), 52 1/3
ERA – Santiago Florez, Bradenton (Pit), 1.51
WHIP – Santiago Florez, Bradenton (Pit), 0.89
SV – Juan Mejia, Fresno (Col), 8
K – Carson Ragsdale, San Jose (SF), 76
Sorting through the weeds:
Jeter Downs, 2B/SS – Downs was arguably the prospect that most Red Sox fans expected to have the most potential impact on the big league roster in 2021. His combination of raw power and speed and ability to play up the middle defensively gave him a very bright future in Boston. Then he opened with a rough first 25 games in AAA, struggling to a .635 OPS and 35% strikeout rate. Over the last two weeks, however, Downs looks like the guy he’s been in the past again, with a shorter swing producing plenty of pop and using all of his tools on the field. He’s posted a .900+ OPS over that time with his walk and strikeout rate right around his career norms. He’s splitting his time on either side of the keystone this season, though he’s probably best suited at second in the majors. Season line: .245/.325/.396, 139 AB, 6 HR, 10 SB, 15/49 BB/K.
Josh Lowe, OF – Lowe was drafted by the Rays as one of the elite athletes in the 2016 draft coming out of high school in Georgia. A third baseman in high school, Lowe moved to the outfield in his first full season as a professional, and he’s turned himself into a strong centerfielder and a potential plus corner outfielder with a plus arm. His uber-athleticism has translated to on-field production as his plus raw power is now showing up in game, as indicated by an ISO that’s been .250+ all season. Lowe could offer the Rays the strong defense they value from guys like Manuel Margot and Brett Phillips on the roster with a significantly better bat. Season line: .299/.367/.578, 147 AB, 9 HR, 9 SB, 16/43 BB/K.
— Brewers Player Development (@BrewersPD) June 22, 2021
Ethan Small, LHP – Many viewed Small as a relief prospect coming out of Mississippi State coming out of the 2019 draft after striking out 298 hitters over 208 innings for the Bulldogs in 2018-2019. The Brewers have kept Small in the rotation, and he’s moved up fast. Small’s fastball is not elite, but he pitches backward effectively, leading with his change and curve, both of which are fringe-plus pitches, but he still throws his fastball plenty. Fangraphs’ Kevin Goldstein noted Small as a minor leaguer with a rising fastball, and Small’s low-90s heater definitely is primarily effective due to its rare action as it comes to the plate. Small has created plenty of buzz this season as he’s moved from Double-A to Triple-A. With continued excellent performance at Nashville, Small could put himself into the Brewers 2022 rotation plans. Season line: 44 IP, 2.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 26/68 BB/K.
MacKenzie Gore, LHP – 2021 has not been pretty for the pitcher who many considered the top pitching prospect in the game entering the season. Multiple arms have dominated in such a way that even holding serve in El Paso likely would have pushed the Padres lefty down the top prospect list a notch or two. However, Gore has also had mechanical issues such that he was sent to Arizona this week to work on those issues. Throughout the season, Gore has flashed his elite curve, his elite change, and mid-90s fastball, but he’s put together none of the three for more than an inning or so at a time, and certainly he’s struggled to work through mechanical issues, even battling with lesser stuff at times, for multiple starts in a row. When he’s on, it’s still as good as you’ll see in the game from the left side, so here’s hoping the work in Arizona brings back that elite pitcher once again as he’s still just 22 years old. Season line: 20 IP, 5.85 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 12/18 BB/K.
Pedro Leon, SS/OF – Many assumed that Leon’s compact, strong build would fit best in the outfield, likely a corner outfield spot long-term with a double-plus arm. However, the Astros have moved Leon to shortstop primarily this season with Corpus Christi, playing 33 of his 39 defensive games in shortstop. He’s shown well at the position, with some rough edges in his reactions, but his arm covers up for those moments when he is out of position. At the plate, Leon has oozed athleticism, though he went through a brutal start at the plate. The month of June has been incredible, however, as he has posted a .900+ OPS with a significantly better walk rate. Season line: .229/.339/.396, 144 AB, 6 HR, 10 SB, 19/57 BB/K.
Bobby Witt Jr, SS/3B – No one made a bigger impression in spring training with less professional time than did Witt. He was placed at Double-A with many figuring it would just be a matter of a short period of time until Witt was in the majors. Not surprisingly, Witt has experienced multiple growing pains in the upper minors in his first full professional season, but he has improved each month along the way, with a better walk rate and strikeout rate each month, along with drastically better overall numbers in June. Witt has shown incredible raw power while also showing off an elite arm playing the heavy majority of his time at shortstop. Season line: .286/.350/.560, 175 AB, 12 HR, 12 SB, 18/51 BB/K.
I’m sorry I was busy yesterday and missed a 461 foot opposite field HR from Bobby Witt Jr. pic.twitter.com/0WzJ7WZvNA
— Cody Tapp (@codybtapp) June 27, 2021
Adley Rutschman, C/1B – The former top overall selection was consistently ranked in the top 10 overall prospects in the game entering this season after showing very well at the Orioles alternate site in 2020. Rutschman has played strong defense behind the plate, but the O’s have worked to keep his bat in the lineup by playing him frequently at first base or designated hitter. The bat has been incredible all season, hovering near a 1.000 OPS all season with more walks than strikeouts while displaying power to all fields. With the Orioles’ season going nowhere, Rutschman will be a September callup at best, but he could factor into the 2022 plans in Baltimore. Season line: .285/.426/.521, 165 AB, 11 HR, 39/34 BB/K.
Spencer Strider, RHP – The incredible thing about Strider’s meteoric rise up the Braves system this year is that the 2020 4th round pick out of Clemson has really been working with two pitches thus far. Strider primarily uses his rising fastball and a hard curve/slider right now, though he’s working a lot with the Braves to develop his change and a combo cutter/slider as well. He is able to have success right now with just the two pitches, and Strider made his upper minors debut this week after breezing through both A-ball levels already this season. It’s hard to imagine the Braves push him to AAA this year, but if he continues with the same success, it will be hard to hold him back. Season line: 34 2/3 IP, 1.82 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 13/64 BB/K.
Max Meyer, RHP – In a dynamic college pitching class in the 2020 draft, Meyer was the first off the board. If there’s a better pitch in minor league baseball than Meyer’s slider, I’ve yet to see it. He throws a double-plus fastball and a legit top of the scouting grade slider. Meyer’s fastball has elite velocity and movement, and he was widely considered the best athlete in the 2020 draft. Meyer has shown some command/control struggles along the way as upper minors hitters force him to hit the zone with that incredible slider, and the break can carry it out of the zone at times, but he is finding success plenty and showing the Marlins could potentially even push him to Triple-A midseason with a look at a 2022 appearance in the Marlins rotation. Season line: 43 IP, 2.09 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 23/44 BB/K.
Matt Cronin, LHP – While many have noted the dynamic rise of Cade Cavalli in the Nationals system, Cavalli has risen alongside 2019 4th round selection Cronin this season. The lefty was selected as a likely reliever out of Arkansas, and he’s not started a single game in his minor league career thus far. Pushing to the upper minors in his first full season gives him a chance to appear in the majors by the end of 2021 and certainly should give him a legit chance to open 2022 in a key role in the Nationals bullpen, where he should have a key role for many years to come with a dynamic mid- to upper-90s fastball and plus curve. Season line: 18 2/3 IP, 1.45 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 4 SV, 7/34 BB/K.
Nick Gonzales, 2B – After showing his big swing in the 2019 Cape Cod League, Gonzales was among collegiate leaders in power numbers before the 2020 season was shut down. He parlayed that performance into being selected seventh by the Pirates in 2020. He opened the 2021 season with High-A, and after missing some time due to injury, he returned to the field this week. His bat has been excellent throughout, showing impressive gap power to all fields. He’s going to be playing second base as a pro, and he’s shown very well at the position thus far. Now that he’s healthy, there’s a good chance he finishes the season with Double-A. Season line: .304/.371/.589, 56 AB, 3 HR, 5/16 BB/K.
Julio Rodriguez, OF – While he’s not actively playing in the Mariners system at the moment due to helping his native Dominican Republic qualify for the Olympics. Rodriguez will represent his country in Tokyo, provided the Olympic games take place. Some in the game consider the Mariners outfielder the top prospect still in the minor leagues. His combination of athleticism, raw talent, and remaining ceiling gives Rodriguez a chance to come back from the Olympics and finish the season in the upper minors with an eye on finishing 2022 in the major leagues. Season line: .325/.410/.581, 117 AB, 6 HR, 5 SB, 14/29 BB/K.
Ronny Mauricio, SS – The Mets have produced a host of elite middle infield prospects recently, using a pair of their most recent prospects as pieces to acquire Francisco Lindor. Mauricio has potentially the highest ceiling of the bunch. Certainly, one could argue his defense is the best of any of the most recent Mets infield prospects. Mauricio takes risks defensively and makes errors, but he also shows some of the most impressive range in the minor leagues. Brooklyn has been the home to multiple top Mets prospects in 2021, and while a few players have really shown out, Mauricio has simply been steady, not really making huge strides in High-A at age 20. There is still work to be done in his discernment at the plate, but the development of his power has shown well this year. While the numbers aren’t great, Mauricio’s shown positive flashes along the way. Season line: .234/.273/.431, 167 AB, 7 HR, 9/46 BB/K.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) May 29, 2021
Matt Canterino, RHP – There was a time when hearing a pitcher was from Rice University was a significant red flag for his future professional success. Even modern Rice arms have been finding more success, but it’s been as bullpen arms, like Tyler Duffey, David Aardsma, and Tony Cingrani. Canterino is bucking that trend with a well-balanced pitch mix led by a mid-90s fastball, a plus slider, and a change and curve that both are at least above-average pitches and frequently show plus. Canterino was quickly showing he was worthy of a promotion to the upper minors when he was put on the injured list due to elbow inflammation. The Twins have stated that Canterino had no structural damage and are hopeful that he could return by the end of the season. Season line: 18 IP, 1.00 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 3/35 BB/K.
Bobby Miller, RHP – Miller is the type that likely would have jumped up significantly with a full 2020 season due to the ability to answer questions that many scouts. The Dodgers nabbed Miller at the 29th overall selection and has shown that his improvement during the 2020 collegiate season was no mirage. The Dodgers have been handling Miller gently this season, with just one start completing four innings on the seasons, but his raw stuff is among the most exciting in the game. He has been clocked up to triple digits with his fastball, and his slider has worked well with two distinct shapes as a true slider in the low- to mid-80s and a cutter/slider hybrid that works in the high-80s to low-90s. His change has taken a big step forward since college in consistency of shape and his ability to command and control all of his offerings. As the Dodgers add innings to Miller’s arm, he could take a giant leap forward in national prospect lists. Season line: 23 2/3 IP, 1.90 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 6/28 BB/K.
Blake Walston, LHP – Walston had some North Carolina scouts comparing his mental makeup to Braves righty Bryse Wilson, as both were notable football players and pitchers in high school. Their physical makeup is quite different as Walston is long and lanky from the left side with a traditional beautiful lefty curve that comes in in the upper-70s and absolutely buckles knees. Walston’s velocity has been more consistently in the 92-94 range in starts I’ve seen this year, but he’s shown some velocity range in his past as well as difficulty repeating his tunneling with the fastball and secondary offerings. Walston still has plenty of fill to his body to develop, and that will put him on a likely full-year track in High-A this season, despite plenty of success. Season line: 43 1/3 IP, 3.32 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 17/60 BB/K.
Orelvis Martinez, 3B/SS – The Blue Jays teen phenom has been a much-ballyhooed prospect since signing for $3.5 million out of the Dominican. He showed very well in 2019 in rookie league ball, giving the Blue Jays confidence that he could handle full-season ball after a year off. While Martinez hasn’t torn the cover off the ball, he’s certainly not been overmatched at the level. Martinez has legit power in his bat, and while he’s certainly going to be a quality third baseman. He’s still held his own at shortstop due to excellent instincts and tremendous hands along with his plus arm. The Jays have a strong infield foundation, but Martinez could certainly make his presence known soon. Season line: .256/.340/.459, 172 AB, 6 HR, 19/51 BB/K.
Jeremiah Jackson, – One of the most powerful prep bats in the 2018 draft, Jackson was very raw when the Angels plucked him in the second round out of high school in 2018. He worked his way to the Pioneer League in 2019, where he crushed 23 home runs. This season is his first in full-season ball after the missed pandemic year, and the power is still legit. Jackson’s eye at the plate will need some work as he advances, and as he fills into his frame further, he may be a better long-term fit at second base than shortstop, but Jackson is one of the most exciting players in the minor leagues offensively, as evidenced by his power and speed combination this year. He very well may stick in Low-A to work on his eye this season, but as he develops in that area, he could explode up the system as the rest of the tools are very loud. Season line: .248/.322/.510, 149 AB, 8 HR, 8 SB, 18/59 BB/K.
Marco Luciano, SS – Before the season started, I had Luciano pegged as my top overall prospect in the game, even ahead of the guy who was just called up to Tampa Bay recently. Luciano has one of the most electric bats that I’ve ever seen in a prospect and can still shorten up as he works a count as well. He has been consistent with the power in his bat while the plate discipline has improved month over month in his first full-season assignment. His plus arm will allow his long-term home to be third base or right field if he grows off shortstop, but he’s handling the position well at this point due to very quick reactions, so he could make it up the system another few steps before a position change occurs. Season line: .268/.351/.512, 168 AB, 9 HR, 3 SB, 21/40 BB/K.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) June 23, 2021
Jared Kelley, RHP – Sharing a hometown with Hall of Fame hurler Nolan Ryan, it’s not surprising that Kelley was known for a blazing fastball coming into the 2020 draft. He was noted with the highest velocity of any prep pitcher in the 2020 draft, touching triple digits on some guns and certainly 98-99 across the board at the top end. He pairs that with a plus changeup, something not typical for a young pitcher. When the White Sox nabbed him in the second round, they thought he would move quickly due to that changeup feel, but Kelley has struggled with both his control and some early-season injury in 2021. Kelley has returned to throwing and should return to the mound in the next couple of weeks, but he has plenty to show in his control and his feel for breaking pitches. Season line: 8 IP, 9 ERA, 2.38 WHIP, 10/12 BB/K.
Daniel Espino, RHP – Considered by many to be the best prep arm in the 2019 draft, Espino lasted until the 24th overall selection, though he was the second high school arm selected when the Indians plucked him from Georgia Premier Academy. Espino has an elite arm, with a fastball that can touch triple digits and routinely sits in the 95-97 range with excellent movement. He has shown improvement on both of his breaking pitches this year, with both legit plus offerings. Espino has shown some struggle with his control after missing the 2020 season, but two legit plus breaking pitches and a double-plus fastball have certainly lived up to the hype thus far, and Espino should finish the year in high-A. Season line: 34 1/3 IP, 2.10 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 17/48 BB/K.
Mick Abel, RHP – Widely regarded as the top prep arm in the 2020 draft, Abel went to the Phillies with the 15th overall selection. He’s shown plenty for Phillies fans to be excited about, though he’s also shown why he’s likely going to take a few years of development before he’ll be pitching every fifth day in Philadelphia. Abel’s flashed at least three plus pitches in games, though his command of all four pitches has been inconsistent at times. When Abel is getting good plane with his fastball and reaching upper-90s with minimal effort with the heater, he can set up the rest of his repertoire to roll through a lineup. Many of his starts will be fastball-dominant as he looks to establish the fastball in order to set up everything else going forward. The Phillies will be patient with Abel, but if he shows strides in his command/control, Abel could find his way to Jersey Shore by the end of the year. Season line: 30 2/3 IP, 4.11 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 14/46 BB/K.