Alright gang, fire up the Creed and put the Seiya Suzuki (welcome back!) highlights on repeat because it’s time for Command + Control.
After establishing our process over the first two entries in the series, I’ve made another decision regarding Command + Control going forwards – players who have made their MLB Debut shall no longer be eligible for the final leaderboard, instead going to a bonus section for “graduates.”
This will be the ‘wave goodbye’ to Nolan Gorman, David MacKinnon, Nick Vespi, Bailey Falter, and JP Sears, each of whom will be moved to the ‘graduates’ section of our list to track for the year-end notes edition of C+C.
For now, only Gorman earns my full endorsement for your fantasy teams in all league sizes. In dynasty leagues, I’d probably keep Sears on-roster, preferably on an NA or Minor Leagues spot, but active if your pitching can withstand the dead spot. Nick Vespi earned a save, much to my delight, but the surprisingly competent Orioles bullpen hasn’t needed him to appear deep in many games. He’s probably still useful in deep leagues, though. MacKinnon’s bench status relegates him to supremely deep-league status, if that, and Falter is strictly a ‘watch’ until he can translate his AAA success to major league relevance.
A Hitter – Edwin Arroyo, SEA
MAN has Edwin Arroyo been impressive this season, or what?!
At the tender age of 18, Arroyo has been among the most impressive hitters at the A-level of the professional game, playing comparably in many ways to Jordan Lawlar, who was taken a round and change prior to Arroyo in last year’s First-Year Player Draft. Arroyo is a year younger than Lawlar and has amassed over 100 extra ABs, in which he has more home runs, extra-base hits, runs, and RBI. His .320 average is lower than Lawlar’s .366 and he’s not running as much, but still, Arroyo is truly a standout while competing against older competition.
Arroyo’s frame and on-field athleticism (he’s somewhat ambidextrous, switch-hitting, plus pitching southpaw and throwing with his right hand at shortstop in high school) indicate his future can be at shortstop at the big-league level, though his bat has certainly been (and will continue to be) the most impressive part of his game. His frame looks to be perfect for adding natural power as he matures (6’, 175 lbs.) and the ability he’s shown to hit professionally thus far gives me a reason to believe he’ll be featured on tons of top prospect lists in the coming year.
Last month’s selection, Jeremy De La Rosa, hasn’t had a climb through my list, nor a slide; so net-net, I’m pleased with what I see. The BABIP is still concerning, but I’m not arguing just yet. Emmanuel Rodriguez’s unfortunate injury sustained while sliding into third base derailed a breakout campaign for the nineteen-year-old, and Adael Amador has kept a minuscule K rate while getting on base well (.309 AVG, .397 wOBA)—but either way, his numbers and excitement trail behind the other three in his sub-group.
A Pitcher – Tink Hence, STL
I’ve run into an interesting conundrum with A-level pitching – many of the players who are outwardly relevant for our exercise are simply too old to be truly considered. I’ve long said that ageist views about minor leaguers are given more precedence than they should have, but at the same time, I can acknowledge that a 23-year-old Jack Leftwich looking good in A ball isn’t nearly as impressive to me as a 20-year-old performing at 80% of the same caliber.
Enter Tink Hence, who was our second-ranked A pitcher last month on an extremely limited six-inning sample size. If you’ll recall, I referenced the excitement built in his pair of short starts, including “ridiculous strikeout potential.” Hence manages this potential by utilizing a mid-90s fastball and strong curveball, a pair of pitches pundits rank as the best of his arsenal. Hence has been limited to three-inning bursts in 2022, raising concerns about his durability long term. Of course, he isn’t quite 20 years old, but his slender frame gives pause to his long-term ability to stack innings through the year.
Bailey Srebnik covered Hence in great detail earlier in June for Fantasy Six Pack and I highly recommend you read said piece for more on this dynamic young arm, whom he says has ‘ace upside.’ I’m not comfortable taking this particular step just yet, but I am comfortable saying Tink Hence is likely a top ten Cardinals prospect with the potential to be top 100 on many lists going into 2023.
Hence’s contemporaries in our low-A pitching sub-group include a pair of 2021 draft arms I really liked (the returning Shane Panzini, whose small sample size has multiplied, revealing an unseen walk issue as opposed to last month’s spotless four innings, and the new addition Steven Hajjar, who’s been a force for the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels). Hajjar, a product of the University of Michigan, has racked up 59 strikeouts through 35.1 innings, good for a 15.04 K/9 and a 42% K rate. Hajjar is walking more batters than I would prefer, but he is doing a fine job limiting major damage through innings.
The final addition to our sub-group is Dahian Santos, a 19-year-old righty in the Toronto Blue Jays system. Santos’ season is remarkably like Hajjar’s, right down to the issue with walks and the incredible feel for strikeouts at such a young age.
A+ Hitter – Niko Kavadas, BOS
A pair of 2021 draftees rounds out the new group of A+ hitters, starting with Boston’s Niko Kavadas. Despite being a feared presence through the NCAA season (and post-season) for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Kavadas slid all the way to the 11th round of the draft, where the Red Sox snapped him up. The beefy corner-type has (what else?) a booming power calling card with a present hit-tool, as well, and Kavadas has a pair of two-level campaigns under his belt thus far; his current campaign has seen a repeat performance in A ball, and 10 games in High-A following promotion.
My favorite thing about Kavadas is indisputably his 20% walk rate on the season. Obviously, a meaty boy slugger such as himself will come with a 28% strikeout rate, but frankly, the .301 average, .492 wOBA, and .354 ISO indicate Niko’s eye and patience are just as good as they looked for the Fighting Irish last year.
Pundits will almost universally pan his physique and his scant-speed profile might roll an eye or two in today’s fantasy game but pardon me for saying these worries are passe at best. I’m eager to see how he performs in the upper minors because his power could REALLY be something in the ballparks of the AL East, where his defense at first base will probably always be slightly lackluster – but baby, will that power be something else. I am BIG-TIME into Kavadas.
The second new addition to the High-A hitters’ sub-group is 24-year-old Vaun Brown, a Florida Southern exported San Francisco Giants prospect who has been nothing short of impressive since being drafted last season. After reporting to the complex level, Brown has stormed through A ball and into High-A, where he’s been arguably the most impressive hitter at the level (.356 AVG, .476 wOBA, 1.085 OPS, .293 ISO, 15 HR, 99 R+RBI, 26 SB).
Our returnees to the list include the capricious Elly De La Cruz, whose season is reaching a level as lofty as the top-chart outcome for his expansive profile of skills. In the last month, De La Cruz has DOUBLED his stolen base total to 22 for the season and has also begun showing off his monstrous power (14 HR, 32 XBH, .275 ISO) which comes with his shooting guard’s body. This could very well be the next in the Aaron Judge, Oneil Cruz line of massive, all-or-nothing, downright freakshow prospects, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Finally, a darling of mine who has admittedly slid since his white-hot start to the season, Christian Encarnacion-Strand – CES has continued to put up strong numbers but is simply not walking enough for me to place him over any of the other three on our leaderboard. His 16 HR are great – as is his .291 batting average – but I’m concerned about any regression in these numbers as he rises through the minors and hopefully, to the major leagues. I’d like to see a more balanced approach from the 22-year-old for the rest of the season.
A+ Pitcher – Ricky Tiedemann, TOR
Ricky Tiedemann has done some truly incredible things this season, and unseating Andrew Painter from the top spot within his own sub-grouping of Command + Control is arguably one of the most impressive.
The 19-year-old Tiedemann has thrown 58 innings of 1.40 ERA baseball this season, marked most prominently by a 0.79 FIP and 1.79 FIP. I see this as being a very stable, deserved mark, as the figures all line up pretty well. As you might have guessed, Tiedemann is performing against batters who are, on average, three years his senior, and is striking them out at a 41% clip (13.97 K/9, 90 total K). The walks are a bit elevated compared to average, but even still, as a 19-year-old still figuring out his command and growing into a professional workload (it looks promising based on the body type), I’m satisfied.
Tiedemann’s fastball sits 95-96, with a few extra MPH tacked on occasionally. Reports and live looks, including a beefy piece from Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen in May, denote the command issues I mentioned earlier, as Longenhagen details Tiedemann needing “an inning and a half to find any feel for his fastball.” Longenhagen described Tiedemann’s changeup as being far more consistent, and that’s a quality weapon for him as he continues to develop his slider.
My dear Andrew Painter has somehow fallen, and not just on the final monthly ranks, but in his own sub-grouping. June was not kind to the 19-year-old, and probably qualifies for the ‘catastrophic’ levels I detailed in April and May – Painter stumbled on the 12th, with a 3-earned-run performance at Hudson Valley. His three walks were only barely outdone by his four strikeouts and represent the biggest hurdle yet for the lanky Phillies project. Despite the stumble, I’m still betting on the tools we’ve seen thus far and believe Painter will be righted through the end of the season. Meanwhile, Royber Salinas looks a little more human, as well, despite stacking 24 strikeouts over 21.1 innings in June. A tough outing against the Hickory Crawdads was his biggest undoing, as he gave up six earned runs on the back of five walks. Salinas still has the silly strikeout totals boosting him into our rankings, but the BABIP woes I predicted last month have truly caught up to him. Finally, we’re saying goodbye to Mason Black and hello to Mason Montgomery, who has really impressed me with strong showings this month. The left-handed Texas Tech product amassed 37 strikeouts through 21.2 innings for the Bowling Green Hot Rods, only offering 8 walks. On the season, his numbers are equally impressive – 15.84 K/9, 32% K-BB rate, 43% groundball rate.
AA Hitter – Ceddanne Rafaela, BOS
As I mentioned last month, the AA hitters’ sub-group has changed pretty drastically from May. A pair of batters advanced to AAA, another joining them and subsequently falling from our leaderboard. The fourth, Trey Cabbage, is being removed from the list for a pair of reasons: slowing performance and advanced age.
That said, another promotion gives the sub-group its new frontrunner, Ceddanne Rafaela, a darling of the prospecting world through the season thus far, and as I mentioned last month, the newfound status is earned for good reason. Rafaela kept on hitting, adding another 18 extra-base hits in June, while chipping in 13 runs, 20 RBI, and four steals while maintaining a stellar .313 batting average (.411 wOBA).
Your window to acquire Rafaela may already be slammed shut in deeper leagues or ones with particularly active prospect wires, but as the season progresses, keep an eye on Rafaela, as he could sneak into Top 100 lists over the coming year.
Coby Mayo has done some work on improving his batting average in June, raising it to .248. Of course, his power has been relevant still, kicking in another three home runs. I still want to see a significant uptick in plate discipline before completely buying in across all of my leagues, but there’s a definite skill to be found in the 20-year-old’s profile.
With shuffling and change comes new names for our leaderboard, the first of which probably toes the line of “too well known,” but alas, it’s my show, I’m Schmandy Schmilaschmakis, and we’re welcoming George Valera to the list. Valera, a 21-year-old outfielder in the Guardians system, has done a fine job getting on base this season, batting .294 (his wOBA sits at .409 and his walk rate is at 15%) and showing off some pop, hitting 29 XBH, including 13 home runs. Valera is probably an unjust recipient of some brand of prospect fatigue, as he’s been on the radar of many in the fantasy industry for a few seasons, but hasn’t skyrocketed, instead keeping consistent.
His fellow new addition to our list was somehow serendipitously teased on my Twitter account last month, as Cody Milligan joins the leaderboard. Milligan’s season has been marked by a strong .319 average, 59 runs, and a 149.85 wRC+. The 23-year-old Braves prospect has scant power but does a great job getting on base and has present speed (and talent) on the basepaths, as well.
For now, Rafaela is the only prospect I’d be racing to add from this group, though the quartet is comprised totally of strong ‘watch list’ names.
AA Pitcher – Gordon Graceffo, STL
As I mentioned last month, Gordon Graceffo really deserved more than the blip of reference he received in April’s edition of Command + Control.
While his WHIP has maintained at a low level (0.79), Graceffo’s ERA has doubled (from 0.99 to 2.00) and has also been the beneficiary of solid team defense (FIP up from 1.78 to 2.90). Fortunately, Graceffo’s strategy of maintaining a strong groundball rate (raised 1.5% over the month to 44.6%) has allowed him to keep his season in check, as well as his excellent control – he’s had a 3% walk rate this season!
Graceffo’s not the sort of player who immediately springs to mind for fantasy relevance, but if he can maintain low ratios and contribute a decent number of strikeouts, I think he’ll be just fine. Of course, his strikeout stuff could still improve as his changeup continues to (hopefully) develop.
Kyle Harrison is honestly probably too strong of a prospect for this exercise, but frankly, we’re already here, so…y’know. Anyway, his season has been predictably incredible, amassing 109 strikeouts in 60.1 innings (good for a ridiculous 16.26% K-rate) with a 2.83 ERA.
Our old friend Wilmer Flores has continued to look the part of a starting pitcher over June – his 4% walk rate is particularly encouraging, as is his 48% groundball rate, though both numbers have deteriorated slightly over the month. I’m still encouraged.
It’s a tough day for Andrew Abbott and Michael McGreevy, who will be removed from our leaderboard for the terrible infraction of being simply good in a category filled with excellent performances, including multiple not included in the list thus far. Their replacement will be Reese Olson, a 22-year-old righty for the Tigers organization. Olson’s 62.1 innings have been noteworthy, as he’s amassed 13.86 K/9 (96 strikeouts), 3.61 ERA (versus a 1.12 WHIP and 2.07 FIP), and a K-BB% of 30 percent. After adding two MPH to his fastball over 2020, he’s armed with a more substantial weapon to pair with his most effective pitches, his deep slider, and my favorite, the changeup.
AAA Hitter – Esteury Ruiz, SDP
This is the easiest call I’ll make all article long, as Esteury Ruiz has been a revelation this season, one I’m very proud to say I called back in April and have championed since.
Ruiz’s speed has remained ever constant, and his stolen base mark has improved by 58% for the season over June, reaching a total of 49 free bases for the 2022 campaign. As the season rolls on, Ruiz has seen another slight decrease in his walk rate (now 13.2% on the year), and his strikeout rate has ticked up (now 17.59%) – both numbers well worth rostering considering his palpable offensive output. Since we last spoke, Ruiz has kicked in another 14 XBH, 19 R, and 19 RBI, all complemented by a 1.041 OPS.
It appears the prospect market has finally realized exactly what Esteury Ruiz has been up to, and so while the opportunity to buy is certainly not gone, it has been lessened. For those curious, I recently selected Ruiz at pick 258 overall in the Dynasty One Stop Midseason Mock Draft, my 17th Round selection. Again, Ruiz is a player highly worth investing in – act while you still can.
Joining Ruiz in the AAA Hitter ranks is his AA counterpart from last month’s edition of Command + Control, Moises Gomez. Both are 23 years old, but Gomez’s game is more centered on power while Ruiz’s focuses on his speed. Gomez’s three-month pace has resulted in 23 HR, 53 R, 54 RBI, a .317 batting average, and 1.095 OPS. The major separator between Gomez and Ruiz is the 36% strikeout rate, doubling the Padre’s mark, while also walking at a two percent less clip. Even still, Gomez was an obvious selection to remain on the list, as his season is under-the-radar, unexpected, and worth monitoring.
A new addition to our leaderboard is Astros shortstop Enmanuel Valdez, whose season is certainly closer to Gomez’s than Ruiz’s, with 17 HR, a .328 AVG, 1.050 OPS, and 109 total R/RBI. While Valdez has gotten some shine from prospect types through the fantasy baseball industry and beyond, his fellow fresh face in Kerry Carpenter has been much more unheralded. Carpenter’s 23 home runs are certainly impressive, as is his 40 XBH mark for the year. Carpenter’s the oldest of the quartet at 24 years old and has the most alarming walk rate (seven percent) but is still far enough under the radar to be a fine candidate for our list.
Furthermore, we will be waving goodbye to both David Villar and Stone Garrett, who are seeing their yearly performance slide from excellent or above-average to noteworthy and are reaching a point where their ages are suspect for being fantasy relevant in the future at 25 and 26 respectively at the AAA level. I hate being that guy. I’m sorry, gentlemen.
AAA Pitcher – Ken Waldichuk, NYY
Anyone following the aforementioned Dynasty One Stop Midseason Mock Draft can (should?) probably attest to my love for ‘The Chukker’ now more than ever. It wasn’t an unknown quantity, either – last month, in this very exercise, we saw Ken Waldichuk take the most possible points available to be allotted to him, as well as the number one rank for the month of May over fellow ‘Drew guys’ Painter, Ruiz, and more. And yet, I took Waldichuk two rounds later than I did Esteury Ruiz – I’ll say it’s probably due to the fact Ruiz is a known quantity while Waldichuk is still, somehow, bafflingly, flying under the radar.
Seeing this, what I can only assume is his highest pick thus far gives me immense pride, as this isn’t just someone blindly following a dart throw, either. On the year, Waldichuk has thrown 58.2 innings of sub-2.00 ERA baseball, complete with 88 strikeouts, good for a 37% K-rate (13.50 K/9). As I mentioned last month, Waldichuk’s unusual delivery allows his beautiful fastball to roll on batters, and his secondary pitches are easy to play with once the fastball is established.
Rather than prattle on about Waldichuk for a second straight month (again, highest recommendation – buy this player) I will address an interesting conversation from the SPS Elite Discord over the past month – “Drew,” a fellow SPS writer who shall remain mostly nameless asks: “why is Brandon Walter mentioned in your top 100 rankings and not Brayan Bello?”
Excellent question, Josh – I mean, fellow writer. The reason Walter appears in my Top 100 rankings and Bello does not is a two-pronged one – first, I am a doofus and forgot to include Bello. Second, I am actively following Walter due to his inclusion in this exercise, and Bello’s numbers, while impressive, haven’t caught my attention in this context.
Either way, let’s welcome Brayan Bello to the Command + Control leaderboard, as his 79.2 IP has been highlighted with a stable 2.49 ERA, 13.5 K/9 (106 total strikeouts), and a 63% groundball rate. As you read this, Bello may be debuting for the Red Sox, so his time may be limited (especially if any wildness or walk issues flare up, see 9% BB rate), but regardless, I’m glad we could speak about him here. His fellow new member of our leaderboard is Houston righty Hunter Brown, who also toes the line of relevance for our purposes but will be accepted into the fold with a knowing nod and a sideways wink. Brown’s numbers are very comparable, even preferable in many ways (2.66 ERA, 12.54 K/9, 12% BB-rate) to Bello’s – only a lack of innings curtails his strikeout total (85 to Bello’s 106).
(Furthermore – Josh St. Marie lovingly brought it to my attention that Walter is now being shut down due to neck stiffness which is affecting his ability to throw for strikes. He will remain in Fort Myers for the near future and potentially beyond. Thanks a lot, Josh.)
|Player||Team||LVL||Age||Entry||YTD PTS||JUNE PTS||JUNE RNK||Total PTS||OVR RNK|
|Jeremy De La Rosa||WAS||A||20||MAY||2||1||9||3||12|
|Elly De La Cruz||CIN||A+||20||MAY||1||1||9||2||18|
And for the graduates…
|Player||Team||LVL||Age||Entry||Total PTS||OVR RNK|
(Writer’s Note: The data and figures compiled here are reflective of the Minor League Baseball season to June 29, 2022.)