Graduated MLB prospect stock watch

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Heading into the 2022 MLB season, there were three players clearly leading the prospect rankings — Adley Rutschman, Bobby Witt Jr. and Julio Rodriguez. Now that big three, plus several other top prospects, are in the majors, officially having moved on from prospect status — but none has yet reached major league stardom.

Often, prospect analysis lasts from the time from that a player signs his first pro contract to when his name lands at the top of the rankings. If a player reaches the majors and isn’t an immediate star, he is rarely written about. But for the majority of the players on my latest top 100 list, a ranking will just as likely lead to failure, or simply being a solid major league contributor, and that path can be a mystery to casual fans.

As I referenced in my recent breakdown of the best prospects still in the minors, an unusual number of top prospects have already graduated from prospect status (by reaching 130 MLB at-bats or 50 innings, or occasionally due to service-time limits). Others are clearly in the big leagues to stay, so they’ll graduate soon enough.

Let’s check in — stock-watch style — on some of the Top 100 prospects now in the big leagues to see how those players have adjusted.

Stock up

CF Julio Rodriguez (Mariners, third in the top 100) was the riskiest of the three players in the top tier of my preseason top 100. I thought Rodriguez had the dodgiest pitch selection of the group, and while he was posting plus run times and decent center-field defense, I thought he’d settle in a corner.

So far, I’m wrong about his defense, as he has played well in center field. Offensively, he’s been better than I expected as well, essentially equalizing Witt on underlying metrics but beating him in outcomes.

Rodriguez is still the same guy — still swinging more than average and making contact at a well-below-average rate — so the report remains the same; we’re just further along the path. Like with Witt, there’s plenty here in terms of adjustment-making ability and raw tools to reach a perennial 5-plus-WAR upside, and Rodriguez’s defensive progress has now closed the gap between him and Witt.

CF Alek Thomas (Diamondbacks, 14th) is much closer to a finished product than Rodriguez, and he has hit the ground running since Arizona called him up in May. I’m not sure there’s a lot more than the three-win player he’s playing like right now, but that’s incredibly valuable.

RHP Hunter Greene (Reds, 23rd) had some predictable growing pains through April and May. His fastball got hit hard (expecting slugging % of over .700), despite averaging 98.7 mph.

He’s now throwing his slider more than his fastball, and in four starts this month, that xSLG% figure on his fastball is under .300. Greene is still dialing things in, but changing his pitch mix is a big step toward making his high-octane stuff work; this move reminds me of Chris Archer doing a similar thing in his fourth season en route to a career year.

C M.J. Melendez‘s (Royals, 24th) plate-discipline metrics have translated well from Triple-A to the big leagues, and whether that would happen was my main concern on his short-term offensive performance. His raw power is obvious, and he’s been doing damage (six homers, above-average underlying power numbers). The other concern is how much the rigors of catching would affect his offense, but he’s splitting time by also playing DH and right field, so that hasn’t been much of a concern so far.

Freshly graduated RHP George Kirby (Mariners, 34th) ranked high enough that he can’t really be strongly “stock up” unless he looks like a frontline starter — I don’t think he’s that, but he’s getting close. My report said he has above-average stuff and plus command, but I’ve been really impressed watching him operate with confidence against big league hitters. He looks to my eye like a long-term No. 3 starter who should post three-win-type seasons for a long time.

I was the high prospect analyst on CF Michael Harris (Braves, 38th), but now it looks like maybe even I was low after 23 scorching-hot big league games, with another month until he’ll graduate. I was expecting standout defense and solid baserunning value, which he has provided. Harris’ aggressive approach will probably lead to a slowdown in offensive production at some point this year, but he’s posting career-high slugging numbers in the big leagues: three homers in 23 games, after he had nine minor league home runs in 154 games entering this season. Harris has now beat expectations at every pro level since he signed, and it isn’t clear when that will stop happening.

SS Jeremy Pena (Astros, 48th) has been out for a little more than a week because of a thumb injury, but he might be returning soon to add to what looks a little like an American League Rookie of the Year campaign. He’s been aggressive at the plate, swinging at an above-average rate but doing well-above-average damage when he makes contact. That was hard to project given his short recent minor league track record, but his excellent defensive play was not.

LHP Mackenzie Gore (Padres, 80th) has taken a step forward this year, looking like the pitcher we expected when he was drafted third overall in the 2017 draft — right behind Hunter Greene. Gore’s velo is back up (averaging 95.2 mph), and the quality of strikes are at least major league average after a couple of years in and out of the wilderness.

LHP Aaron Ashby (Brewers, 83rd) continues to walk the path of other Brewers standout arms, showing plus stuff with command that holds up as his outings get longer.

I slowly came around on making RHP Joe Ryan (Twins, 120th) a 50 FV (future value) given his low-90s-fastball-heavy approach running somewhat counter to current trends. But with the shape of his heater and his command, he appears to be unique enough in how he does it to be a solid innings-eater.

3B Christopher Morel (Cubs, 45 FV) was short of 50 FV status this winter because of concerns about his contact ability — he struck out in 30% of his at-bats in Double-A last year. He has chopped that down a bit this year without losing any power, and it translated quickly to the big leagues in his first 33 games. If he can keep this up a bit longer, I’ll throw in the towel and make him a 50 FV.

I saw RHP Spencer Strider (Braves, 40 FV) last summer on the same team as Harris and thought he’d be a good setup guy with the length to spot start, but that’s been proved wrong already. He’s a plus pitcher with confidence on the mound who is coming back from a college Tommy John surgery, so he has attacked with that upper-90s velo deeper into games and with better command than I expected. His breaking ball that was fringy to average in Single-A last year when I saw him is now playing better than that. I still don’t think he’s a 180-plus-inning starter long term, but he’s a super useful arm who’s a 50 FV now.

I projected LF Jack Suwinski (Pirates, 35+ FV) as a bench bat entering the year, but it looks like he’ll be a notch better than that as a solid platoon-to-low-end everyday option.

Neutral

C Adley Rutschman (Orioles, first in top 100) hasn’t officially graduated yet but should in another week or two. He’s been about what was expected thus far, starting slowly but getting hotter of late. He’s a player whose surface numbers look bad, but his underlying performance is actually above average in this small sample, so that should flip soon enough. He was always the most likely of the Witt/Rodriguez group to hit the ground running in the big leagues because of his pitch selection.

3B Bobby Witt Jr. (Royals, second) probably had some people thinking he would get to the big leagues and immediately be one of the best players in the majors, but that was always unlikely. He has flashed huge raw power, high-end wheels and the splashy defensive plays that remind you he would be playing shortstop for most teams. Offensively, he’s still dialing in how much to swing and which pitches to target while the league is evolving its approach to him at the same time. He’s on track to be a 2.5-to-3.0-win type of player this year, about what I expected if not a bit better, contributing above-average value in all phases, and the upside necessary to be a perennial five-plus-win player with the right adjustments in the batter’s box.

I’ve been watching 3B Nolan Gorman (Cardinals, 18th) since his high school underclass days and was a little surprised to see his power numbers declining at the upper levels — but I knew he could make that adjustment to tap into his easy plus raw power when needed. He was scorching-hot at Triple-A (15 homers in 34 games) before being called up, and that’s carried over to the big leagues with six homers in his first 29 games (he still has considerable time before he graduates). Gorman slipped almost a dozen picks from where I had him ranked in the 2018 draft, landing with the Cardinals at 19th overall. Now, more than a dozen teams probably feel foolish.

C Keibert Ruiz (Nationals, 27th) still swings a lot and makes a lot of contact without producing a ton of barrels, but the downturn in results is more bad luck than a regression in talent.

LHP Reid Detmers (Angels, 49th) was the 10th overall pick in 2020 as a lefty who was above average at basically everything and could be a solid mid-rotation innings-eater but lacked a knockout plus pitch. He’s been fine thus far but hasn’t hit that level though 16 starts mainly because his contact rates allowed are too high — particularly on out-of-the-zone swings — meaning he still lacks a put-away pitch.

SS Geraldo Perdomo (Diamondbacks, 90th) is still a solid defender with excellent plate discipline and positive baserunning value, but the same questions about in-game power still linger. It looks like he’ll at least be a very good utility guy to a low-end starter, but the power question might keep him from turning into more.

I also came around late on LF Steven Kwan (Guardians, 123rd), and I think calling him a 50 FV is probably the right grade. He’s going to make tons of contact while providing baserunning and defensive value, but there will probably never be enough power to be more than a low-end starter.

RHP Jhoan Duran (Twins, 45+ FV) has excelled in a relief role, so he can’t go higher FV-wise until that’s demonstrated as a starter or he’s one of the best handful of relievers in baseball. His performance (averaging 100.8 mph on his fastball with ERA and ERA estimators in the low-to-mid-2s as a rookie!) is worth noting, though.

Stock down

1B Spencer Torkelson (Tigers, seventh in the top 100) started the season well in April with solid underlying metrics and decent outcomes. Since then, he has been ice cold, hitting .202/.276/.279 with a wRC+ of 62 (i.e. 38% below league average performance at the plate). His launch angle has cratered from 18 degrees to 8 degrees, though he did cut his strikeout rate from 34% to 22%. His contact rate has improved, but he is missing the in-game power that made him the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2020. Torkelson is dialing in the same sliding scale of aggression, power, lift, pitch selection, etc., that Rodriguez and Witt are, but he has been the worst of the group and has the least speed and defense to offer, so he has to be downgraded a bit while he figures this out.

The main concern on 2B Vidal Brujan (Rays, 45th) was a lack of impact power serving to undermine his offensive profile, and that’s largely been the case thus far.

SS Bryson Stott (Phillies, 66th) still has impressive physical tools with strong bat control. but his big league performance at the plate has been pretty bad. He’s been a bit passive, which gets him into bad counts where he has to be defensive at the plate to spoil pitchers’ pitches and thus struggles to impact the ball. The outcomes at the plate (36 wRC+, or 64% league average) are much worse than his talent, so don’t jump off the bandwagon just yet.

C Joey Bart (Giants, 72nd) is still striking out a ton (45% so far this year, 41% for his big league career) because of too many chases out of the zone. That’s still a big enough problem to cut into the value provided by his walks, power and defense.

CF Cristian Pache (Athletics, 105th) is still having similar problems that he’s had the past few years: decent pitch selection but terrible contact rate on pitches out of the strike zone, which limits overall hard contact. He’s an excellent defender, and underlying numbers are saying he’s been better than his surface performance at the plate, but he has had the same issue for at least five years and he hasn’t made enough progress.



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