Straight talk - prospecting is hard. It is time for us to accept this truth - we want believe we know so much more than we do. It is really hard to predict the future, and we are going to fail a lot. This is why it should come as no surprise that every year low minors prospects emerge from relative obscurity to make top 100 lists. Preseason 2018 the following players did not have a single appearance in full season ball: Luis Garcia, Bubba Thompson, Vidal Brujan, and Alex Kiriloff. All four made full-season debuts in 2018 and killed it, eventually landing on the Prospects Live Top 100. I spent much of the last month observing MiLB Spring Training and wondering, “who will follow in their footsteps?” Six names came to mind. The first is Brennen Davis who was discussed at length in my Backfield Banter: Notes From Cubs Camp post. It is time to give the other five some love.
Among players I saw this spring, here are the five players yet to play in full season ball who have the best chance to crack 2020 top 100 lists:
Julio Rodriguez (RF) Seattle Mariners – Not all levels of rookie ball are created equal. The Dominican Summer League is the “weakest” of the five rookie leagues. The Arizona League and Gulf Coast League are a step up from the DSL. The Appalachian League and Pioneer League are the “strongest” rookie leagues, typically filled with more college draftees than their counterparts. I say all of this to accentuate the inherent danger to blindly placing your faith in DSL stat lines. Players in this league are the furthest from MLB, and the league-wide disparity in talent is dramatic, which can result in deceptively good stat lines for marginal players.
Last year Rodriguez dominated the DSL with a .315/.404/.525 slash line as a 17-year-old, which was about a year younger than the average age. He struck out 15.7% of the time and walked 11.8% of the time. The batted ball profile looked good as well; he used all fields but favored his pull side. Despite the stat line it’s fair to question Rodriguez based on the aforementioned quality of competition in the DSL. My looks from MiLB spring training, however, support these numbers. Rodriguez has a chance to quickly ascend prospect lists in 2019 and become a star.
Why he could make the leap:
1) His approach/feel for the game – In my (albeit) limited looks, Rodriguez showed advanced feel. He has an idea of how to alter swing plane based on pitch location; Rodriguez would attack middle/low pitches with a slight uppercut path, looking to elevate and do damage, and he would stay short to the ball on pitches up in the zone. In essence, he was taking what the pitcher gave him. Many hitters are unable or unwilling to alter their approach in this manner, resulting in too many flyballs on pitches up struck with an uppercut path. I came away very impressed by the nuanced nature of Rodriguez’s offensive approach, especially for his age. (He turned 18 in December.) The Mariners must agree; they assigned Rodriguez to full season A ball, skipping him over the AZL and the NWL. Rodriguez was also aggressive on the base paths. In a 3/23 game he read the pitcher, made a good jump, and stole third forcing a throwing error, which allowed him to score. His instincts and overall feel for the game are beyond his years.
2) The body – Just take a look at these videos and tell me how old this kid looks. He is physical but also that baseball kind of strong. Does he gain more weight? Probably. You could argue this should be listed as a negative because it all but ensures he has no future in CF. I think we need to collectively accept this reality because Rodriguez played RF every time I saw him in the outfield this spring. Regardless, I still love the body and can see him adding weight while becoming a serviceable right-fielder with 70 power. I also think he gets to most of his power in game due to his swing. The bat will be the cornerstone of his profile, but defense will not be a weakness either.
3) The swing itself – Rodriguez has a very quiet, aesthetically- pleasing swing. I detailed in this tweet.
Only Matt Thompson had the foresight to rank Rodriguez on his personal top 100. Kudos Matt. I think this ranking will look prophetic about two months from now. I am already lamenting the fact he was left off my list. (Insert sobbing uncontrollably emoji)
Brayan Rocchio (SS) Cleveland Indians – The Indians low A squad was a team I went out of my way to see as much as possible this spring. It was a loaded unit with names like George Valera, Bo Naylor, Raynel Delgado, Quentin Holmes, and the aforementioned Rocchio. I caught them four times over the course of MiLB ST. I know what you are thinking. How is George Valera not on this list?? Alright calm down, relax, start breathin' – Dr Dre from Guilty Conscience voice. Valera only played in one of the four games. Was this random bad luck? Were the Indians “hiding him” as teams are rumored to do on occasion with highly-touted prospects? Your guess is as good as mine, but having only seen him once it felt irresponsible to add him to a post like this. He did do this, though. And I will say Valera looks much bigger than his listed 5’10” 160 lbs. Besides all of that, Valera ranks 87th on our Top 100. Back to Rocchio.
Why he could make the leap:
1) His hands – Rocchio has some of the best hands I have seen as an evaluator. They are striking both offensively and defensively. The hands power Rocchio’s swing, especially from the left side where he uses a wider base and less of a stride forward, basically allowing him to stay back until the last moment and react to what the pitcher is doing. He doesn’t need a ton of lower half use because the hands are that special. I was listening to the Driveline Podcast, and they were talking about how they cater pitch design and offensive approach to their trainees’ strengths and weaknesses. It is not a one size fits all program. The same concept applies here. You can’t evaluate swing mechanics in a vacuum; they are athlete-specific. If you gave Rocchio’s lefty swing to most guys, I’d probably criticize it, saying there is not enough lower half use. But it works for him and that is what’s most important.
2) His athleticism – The first step is really impressive. If you have not seen this tweet, please take a look. Roccchio explodes out of the box. He moves with grace and ease on defense as well, taking a lot of quick steps and changing direction on a dime. I loved Rocchio’s infield actions, and I think he has what it takes to stick at short. Worst case scenario is he slides to second, but I would be nonplussed if he were to move out of the middle infield.
3) Mature takes/ability to hit spin – Rocchio showed an ability to lay off several changeups and breaking balls below the zone. He sees the ball well and is able to react. Many rookie league stat lines can be inflated by “fastball mashers”. That’s not the case with Rocchio. He has shown the ability to read and react. Take a look at :47 mark on this video. Rocchio does an amazing job of staying back, reacting and shooting this breaking pitch to left.
Geraldo Perdomo (SS) Arizona Diamondbacks – Last fall I saw Perdomo during instructs and wrote “Remains fairly tall through swing. Would probably benefit from removing the toe tap. It looks like it disrupts his timing. Last second hitch in swing creates unnecessary length. Hands and bat speed are good once approach phase of swing begins. I think there’s potential for better results if these are cleaned up, but Perdomo had a nice season in 2018 so maybe the Diamondbacks leave him alone until he fails. Plus arm shown on several throws between in-game and morning INF. Good chance he fills out and moves to third, but he looked capable at short for now.”
Guess what? He removed his toe tap! Check out the difference here:
Why he could make the leap:
1) A well-rounded skill set – Scouts love Perdomo defensively. Many believe he is a shortstop stick. He has a plus arm and smooth actions around the bag. Last fall I was concerned he may get too big and move off the position, but I think he profiles as a SS or 3B at worst. From talking to industry folk it sounds like that may the pessimistic view of his defensive future. A premium defensive home and with a chance to have an impact bat is a rare combination. This is a profile few guys have and why Perdomo is on my short list of guys who can take a quantum leap forward.
2) The shortness of his swing – Perdomo’s current swing is extremely short to the ball. The swing change alluded to above has helped push back Perdomo’s “point of reaction.” He now has about a third of a second longer before needing commit to his swing and that’s HUGE. The additional reaction time should pay dividends to his offensive game this year.
3) The strength of his hands– Perdomo takes powerful, max-effort hacks and does not get cheated with any of his swings. His bat speed borders on double-plus, which is largely a bi-product of said hands. I love that he can use them to rip an inside pitch while staying short inside; he is going to be deadly on the inner third of the plate.
Jordyn Adams (OF) Los Angeles Angels – Last year at this time Jordyn Adams had his breakout party at the 2018 NHSI in Cary, NC. He wasn’t a heralded prospect coming into the tournament, but Adams left the tournament as one. Many feared once he made it to campus at UNC (where he had a two-sport commitment for football and baseball) baseball would “lose him”. The Angels lured Adams away from school by drafting him in the first round and signing him for $4.1 MM.
Why he could make the leap:
1) His otherworldly athleticism – Adams is one of the handful of best athletes on the planet. Read that sentence again. It is not a typo. A case can be made he is the best pure athlete in any sport, and I do not want to bet against a guy like that.
2) His background – The fact that Adams played three sports in high school may mean he is a little raw. You can take this a couple of ways. The negative spin would be he is behind relative to kids who focused all their attention on baseball. I am more inclined to buy into the the positive spin: Adams is not even close to tapping into his full potential because his focus has been split between multiple sports. Imagine what he will be able to accomplish as a baseball player when all his time is devoted to it.
3) The swing change – The Angels/Adams have made some mechanical tweaks to his swing that should result in more power. His back elbow is higher through slot position and his back is less upright through point of contact. The result is a more uppercut path and a swing that should be conducive to more power. His leg kick has also been quieted. All these tweaks should be positive developments, but there is still something that looks a bit off with the new swing. I can’t put my finger on it. It just looks like it lacks explosion. Ultimately, I still think Adams has the raw tools to find something that works for him.
Mike Siani (CF) Cincinnati Reds – The Reds took Siani in the 4th round of last year’s draft but paid him $2MM, which was equivalent to competitive balance round slot money. I liked him last fall in instructs, but seeing him again this spring made me love him.
Why he could make the leap:
1) Superb defense – Siani was one of the best defenders I saw all spring. His first step and reads are excellent, which result in better range than you might think for what is around 55 speed. He made three or four excellent catches on the periphery of his range due to excellent route efficiency. Siani reminded me of White Sox OF Luis Gonzalez in that regard. Last fall I wrote Siani’s arm was below average, but he made a couple of impressive throws this spring that have me reconsidering that. With the benefit of more looks, I am ready to concede the arm is probably closer to a 55. One play from 3/19 sticks out in my mind where he threw out Valera going first to third. The overall defensive package is great and projects to stick in CF.
2) Well-rounded skill set – This could be a true five-tool player. While Siani lacks the upside of the other guys on this post, he makes up for it with a high floor. The defense and overall polish made me forget he is still 19. His hands slot high which may make him susceptible to pitches low in the zone, but Siani displayed good plate coverage and barrel control in my looks, showing the ability to scoop breaking balls by his shoe tops and pull belt-high upper 90s heat. These swings helped to allay some concerns with his hitting mechanics. Admittedly those still feel more likely to cause him problems going forward than his defense.
Also considered: Alek Thomas, Brice Turang, Christopher Morel, D'Shawn Knowles, Grant Lavigne, Terrin Vavra, (Cheat Answers - Adley Rutschman, Andrew Vaughn, Hunter Bishop)