Have you ever wondered how to find prospect breakouts before your league-mates?
Part of me thinks this is a near-universal query; I know prospects can be valuable, even explosively so, but when the whole world is tuned in to the Vladimir Guerrero Jrs and Wander Francos of the world, how can I find a potential impact player at half (or less) of the cost?
Enter Command & Control, a new feature here at SP Streamer which will hopefully serve to point out prospects and lesser known dynasty assets you may not be aware of.
If you don’t know of their work or haven’t heard of them previously, Carson Cistulli, Chris Mitchell, and Ross Jensen have all done a great job shaping my mindset on how to discover prospects and evaluate them more completely, rather than trusting a list (or lists) from one writer or a site’s Top 100 players to influence my decision making.
As part of the directive to point our readers towards players who you might not see on Top 100 lists and towards the more under-the-radar prospects who could hit the scene in a meaningful way, I plan to share a few prospects from each level of the minors once per month. By highlighting them in a chart and keeping track of how seriously I would pursue them, we can build a database of the players I feel are worth targeting over this season and beyond.
Of course, elements of my own whimsy and logic (substandard or not) will inevitably work their way into the process, and I’m not too proud to say I’ll probably end up liberally borrowing portions of Cistulli’s Fringe Five scoring system for my own. (Thank you, Carson.)
Without further ado, let’s get to the players who will start our leaderboard this season, presented from A-ball up to AAA.
A Hitter – Adael Amador, COL
Adael Amador, a 19-year-old Rockies shortstop prospect, earns the nod for A-ball batters on the back of his 0.343 AVG, 0.485 wOBA, and 0.313 ISO figures through the first month of play.
Spending 2021 at the Arizona Complex Level, Amador slashed .299/.394/.445 over 200 plate appearances with nearly equal strikeout and walk rates. The 2022 isolated power metric is particularly interesting for Amador, as his 2021 ISO was a paltry .146 compared to the strong .313 he’s put up in 81 plate appearances. The power output is similarly reflective of the ISO jump; in less than half the plate appearances as his 2021 campaign, Amador has already hit 150% of the home runs he had over the entire season (6 compared to 4.)
Previous reports could lead prospect-hounds to potentially write Amador off as a lead-off type at best, with a more predictable future as a utility infielder based upon his solid contact rate and formerly absent power the likely answer.
Amador’s BABIP and batting average are in line with his marks last season, and based upon his output thus far, a new career-high in RBI is incoming. His speed score is sub-standard, but he managed to steal 10 bases at the Complex level last season; I doubt he will ever be a significant steals threat, but should he keep this power output, Amador’s stock could significantly rise as the season continues. Fortunately, this April breakout is Amador’s ticket onto our tracking sheet through the rest of the season, where we will monitor these marks as we go.
A Pitcher – Andrew Painter, PHI
It brings me utter joy to report Andrew Painter has truly and clearly emerged in the first month of the 2022 season. With a 6’7, 215-pound frame, Painter has the build to assuage any workload concerns which may arise, and his four-pitch mix is headlined by his mid-90s fastball (which has maxed at just under 100 MPH) and a slider that rolls in the mid-80 MPH range with a slicing trajectory.
The 19-year-old righty is yet to allow an earned run in seven professional starts, spanning 18 innings of work (three starts, 12 innings this season). In his 2022 frames, Painter has struck out 70% of the batters faced and has a sparkling 0.58 WHIP to go alongside his nasty 22.8 swinging-strike-rate.
On April 23, Painter wrecked the Tampa Tarpons, hurling five innings of dominant baseball. His four-seamer earned a called-strikes-and-whiffs rate (CSW) of 43%, and his slider somehow one-upped the fastball by earning 57% CSW. Predictably, he struck out 14 Tampa batters, only needing 70 pitches to carve up Jasson Dominguez, Antonio Gomez, and company. Gomez, in fact, was the only batter to lay down a hard-hit ball against Painter, tattooing his fastball with an exit-velocity of 104.2 MPH. Regardless, Gomez represented two of Painter’s 14 strikeouts at the end of the day.
However, a great deal of these fastballs (and even a few sliders) were elevated out of the zone significantly – so much so that I worry his CSW rate may be a result of inexperienced batters hacking wildly at the exaggerated velocity. Regardless, the proof is in the pudding for the moment and I’ll remain positive.
Sure, sure, there’s risk associated with his age, and it’s only 18 innings of work, but how can you NOT be excited based on early returns? Painter’s dominant April has all but guaranteed him a healthy ascent up prospect lists, a rise which only an equally catastrophic May and/or June could inhibit.
It should go without saying I am geeked beyond belief for Painter and am even more in than I was prior to the season.
High-A Hitter – Christian Encarnacion-Strand, MIN
Oklahoma State product Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Minnesota’s 2021 fourth-rounder, has nearly met the amount of low-A plate appearances he saw after being drafted last season, and thus far, the results have been consistent, if not improved, in every aspect of the game.
CES has eclipsed his home run total from last season (he’s got five as of writing), has batted in five more runners, and while operating with a lower BABIP figure, has a batting average .015 points higher. Encarnacion-Strand’s output is validated by a much-improved ISO, up nearly a tenth of a point from .207 to .304 this year, with a slugging metric elevation to .710, as well.
The most telling mark for Encarnacion-Strand is absolutely his walk and strikeout rates, each improved from last season to a comfortable 23.7 K% and 9.2 BB% for a corner-infield-type player such as him. (Hello Aaron Sabato, Brent Rooker.) Many pundits assumed the strikeouts would be the eventual make-or-break figure for CES, as his power has always been a well-established money-maker for the 22-year-old. His 15% swinging-strike rate is only a tick above average for his level, and Encarnacion-Strand certainly fits the mashing corner profile the Twins gravitate towards.
Admittedly, a P5 corner-type probably SHOULD be smacking the ball around in A-ball, but still, the measures do not lie, and I’m suitably impressed with Encarnacion-Strand in the small sample size. I can preemptively say CES will be rising up prospect lists across baseball if he can manage to curtail his strikeouts and continue accumulating stats across an entire season at High-A or beyond. As a 22-year-old, Encarnacion-Strand could feasibly see a bump to AA in a month or so, which would be a great litmus test for the young slugger, who I am now firmly in on.
High-A Pitcher – Wilmer Flores, DET
There are a number of strong contenders for this selection, but Tigers righty Wilmer Flores has been the most impressive of the bunch thus far.
Flores, a 22-year-old undrafted free agent from Arizona Western College who signed for $20,000 has likely already surpassed that figure’s worth in value for the High-A Whitecaps.
Over three games (two starts), Flores has amassed a 54% K-rate, 3% BB rate, and is pitching to weak contact with a sterling 62% groundball rate.
My biggest concern for Flores thus far is his inconsistent role – in 2021, Flores started all but one of his 14 games over the Complex and Low-A levels. Over three games in 2022, the Whitecaps have chosen to deploy Flores from the bullpen once already.
Admittedly, his mid-90s fastball could probably play at higher velocity from the bullpen, and his rate of batters-left-on-base of 87% indicates he could be riding a streak of good luck. Regardless, his big fastball and power curve have combined to earn the 22-year-old 20 strikeouts in 10 innings, so if there’s a bullpen in his future, I would assume he could see high-leverage work if this stretch of dominance is to be believed.
While Flores is far from the most underwhelming name of our introductory eight, his competition in this category was stiff, especially from a pair of Cardinals arms, Michael McGreevy and Gordon Graceffo.
AA Hitter – Esteury Ruiz, SDP
Is it a cliché to say Esteury Ruiz has hit the ground running in 2022? No?
Esteury Ruiz has hit the ground running in 2022, stealing a preposterous 14 bases in 63 at-bats.
The 23-year-old outfielder has notched a 9.32 speed score in the season’s small sample of games, further forming the solidity of his game-breaking hustle on the basepaths.
These figures are old hat for anyone with prior knowledge of Ruiz, though; in 2018, he stole 49 bases for the low-A, then in the next two seasons (A+ and AA) he averaged 35. Now in his second stint in AA, Ruiz is on pace for a 50+ stolen base season, and this is exactly the sort of thing that will put him in the minds of prospect list-makers across the game.
What’s more impressive is Ruiz’s management of his walk and strikeout rates, enjoying the best plate discipline of his career with 17.9 BB% and 15.5 K%.
These numbers (and his .381 batting average opposite a BABIP of .447, almost a tenth higher than his career average) are almost guaranteed to regress as the season rolls along, but if Ruiz can continue getting on base, it seems equally likely he could positively affect fantasy baseball teams in the future.
While the former shortstop was once considered to have the potential for above-average power, I would prognosticate him as a future leadoff hitter and stolen base threat, providing plenty of category juice in the R and SB fields while chipping in a few home runs here and there.
AA Pitcher – Brandon Walter, BOS
Boston’s minor leagues are filled with players who are justifiably earning high praise these days, and Brandon Walter is not immune to this love across fantasy baseball Twitter.
The 25-year-old Walter, a 26th-round pick in 2019, has benefited from professional coaching and conditioning, earning a three-level rise in 2021. After reaching high-A, he was converted from the bullpen to the starting rotation and saw strong results, accumulating a 36.3% strikeout rate through 58.1 A+ innings.
Now battling through AA, Walter appears to be up to his old tricks, punching out 34.1% of the batters he’s faced thus far (29 Ks) and inducing 55% ground balls, as well.
Walter works with a three-pitch mix, of which the slider is the most impressive. The amount and quality of movement he can achieve with the pitch is truly sickening, and in the low-80s, it pairs well with his mid-90s heater.
INSERT ERIC TWEET
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) April 22, 2022
You might have also noticed another quirky movement to pair with Walter’s slider arc in the video taken by the wonderful Eric Cross: his break-neck, whirling dervish pitching motion.
I’m far from the guy to judge someone on their delivery, ‘bizarre’ or not, but it’s certainly different from your average major league starter. Could this delivery lead to injury? Perhaps, but who’s to say? If the lefty’s delivery exacerbates his nastiness, why argue against it until said injury occurs?
Until then, I’m along for the ride and interested to see how Walter progresses – and perhaps more interestingly – how the Red Sox org chooses to deploy him as the year continues.
AAA Hitter – Nolan Gorman, STL
Undisputedly the most well-known prospect of our initial list, Nolan Gorman is a staple in the 40-75 range of your garden variety Top 100 Prospects list. Regardless, Gorman’s numbers are simply too good to ignore for our purposes, as they indicate his status within the middle of those lists may be undervaluing the eventual impact he could have.
First and foremost, Gorman has brutish, silly strength which has been evident through his prospectdom and is on its fullest, most robust display in his second stint in AAA Memphis (shout out to the 901). Currently on pace for a 32-homer campaign, Gorman is only four blasts away from tying the 14 he hit last season, the high mark for his career.
What’s fueling the outburst? Predictably, his .457 isolated power is the highest mark of his career by far, fueling his .800 slugging figure and pushing him closer and closer to St. Louis in his age-22 season. Concerningly, his strikeout rate sits at 32.5%, not quite the worst mark of his career, but still a far cry from the 19.2% figure from last season’s AAA campaign.
If Gorman is really selling out for power, even average major league pitching will find a way to work around his zone and punish his all-or-nothing approach. Then again, if Gorman puts the barrel on the ball, he could send it flying out of the park (either Memphis or St. Louis).
Far younger than his average competition, Gorman’s electric start to the 2022 season is checking, circling, and highlighting his name on lists across the internet, so your buying opportunity may be over before it even began.
AAA Pitcher – Nick Vespi, BAL
I would wager Nick Vespi is the most under-known prospect of our eight, probably rivaling the amount of reputation Nolan Gorman has, just…y’know…in the opposite way.
For the uninformed (which included me up until about three hours before writing this), Vespi is a career reliever in the Orioles minor leagues, chalking up 15 saves over his prior six seasons of work. The key difference for Vespi this season is his K%, holding a gross mark of 42.9% through April. Vespi, a 26-year-old left-hander, has thrown 9.2 innings over the 2022 campaign and is yet to allow an earned run in those frames.
Try to contain your excitement.
In all seriousness, I’m going out on a limb to say the Orioles AAA closer is probably not what you expected to see here, and while Max Meyer, Alex Faedo, or even org-mates Grayson Rodriguez or Kyle Bradish would have been more outwardly ‘flashy’ selections, I think they’re all either too-well-known, appropriately valued for the moment, or do not feature as strong of results as Vespi has thus far.
With two saves under his belt this season, Vespi could feasibly find a job with the Orioles at any time. Admittedly, the closer’s job is currently being managed as well as could be expected by Jorge Lopez, but are you going to tell me there are many other names who have a stranglehold on their jobs in the Baltimore bullpen?
Seriously, and disqualifying any Orioles fans reading, name a non-Lopez and non-Dillon Tate reliever in the Baltimore bullpen.
Couldn’t get one? Mmhmm.
So, yeah – Nick Vespi’s the call. I appreciate his 13.97 K/9 and minuscule 0.93 BB/9 and think he would make a fine addition to the Orioles’ pen…with a sliver of a shot of taking over the closer’s role by season’s end.
I must stress you wait to see before adding Vespi in ANY leagues, though…I’m not a masochist.
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(Writer’s Note: The data and figures compiled here are reflective of the Minor League Baseball season to April 29, 2022.)
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