Panning For Gold: Will Benson Takes The Cold Water Challenge

There’s some players you root for for the least logical of reasons. Maybe you caught them on the best game of their career and they left an impression. Maybe you heard a personal story of how they dealt with tragedy, or you saw how they treated a young fan. Then, sometimes you root for a player because he is a unit. And by unit I mean Rob Gronkowski with a bat.

If you’ve listened to the Razzball Prospect Podcast, with Lance Brozdowski and I, long enough, you’d know we have a thing for the Indians’ Will Benson.

A power-first prospect who has struggled with his ability to control the strike zone and limit his strikeouts. While those struggles still remain (37.3 K%), Benson has been making the most of his second run through the Midwest League. The Zeus-like outfielder currently rocks a .341/.431/.864 slash line and is only a few days removed from the first four-homer game in the minor leagues since Mike Ford did it in May 2014. This leads to the question lingering in many of your heads, will this be the year Benson breaks out?

Frankly, no. At the moment his strikeout rate is 20 percent higher than last year’s 30 K% and he’s reaping the benefits of a .474 BABIP, a wee bit unsustainable. Unfortunately Benson remains a frustrating talent with a fatal flaw. There’s still a real chance his ability to sting the ball with consistency, as well as take a walk can lead to success, a la Aaron Judge, but Judge never had these contact issues. Remember Benson is striking out this much in Low-A and he’s repeating the level. I will continue to follow, root for, and wish on Benson, but it’s clear, despite his recent success, he has a long way to go.

Let’s get weird with the cold water!

  • Cavan Biggio, 1B/2B (TOR) - Last year Biggio adjusted his path to the ball, and the results led to unforeseen power during his time in New Hampshire. After leading the Eastern League in home runs, there was still a fair amount of skepticism surrounding the other son of a Hall of Famer. So far in 2019 Biggio is silencing the critics hitting .439/.529/.659 and could be the next Baby Jay to see the show. Cold Water: He’s rocking a .500 BABIP, but the passive approach that inflated his strikeout rate has plummeted to just under 16 percent. I’m encouraged.

  • Nicky Lopez, 2B/SS (KC) - A player with excellent contact skills, a strong plate approach, and the defensive value to carve out an everyday role. So far in 2019 Lopez has flashed more power, and perhaps is exactly the type of player to chase in this age of juiced balls. His current .208 ISO is by far the highest of his career, and points to a little more upside than perhaps we imagined a year ago. Cold Water: He’s still hitting the ball into the ground 57 percent of the time, which will aid his batting average, but limit his power, juiced balls or not.

  • Keston Hiura, 2B (MIL) - What is going on with Keston Hiura? The player billed as having one of the better hit tools in the minors is instead mimicking an all-or-nothing power hitter in Triple-A. I won’t quibble over the four homers in 14 games, or the .345 ISO, but I have some concerns. Cold Water: He has 23 strikeouts to just a single walk at the moment. I’m confident this stabilizes, but perhaps there’s more reason to doubt the hit tool than previously thought.

  • Cole Tucker, SS (PIT) - He’s in the majors, he hit a homer in his debut, and he might be the best person in sports.

  • Ryan Mountcastle, OF (BAL) - Has hit four homers in his last five games. I’m not sure how much longer the O’s keep Mountcastle in the minors, but he’s the perfect hitter for the current environment and Camden Yards in general. Look for him to take advantage of that short porch in left sooner rather than later. Cold Water: He’s learning a new position and might need a few months to get acclimated to first base.

  • Nico Hoerner, SS (OF) - Give me all the Nico shares! He’s showing no signs of slowing in Double-A, hitting .327/.421/.490 and could reasonably put himself in the mix for a big league debut sometime this summer. Cold Water: He hasn’t hit a homer yet, and that’s one area we were hoping for some growth. It’s early, but I’m still hoping he can grow into 20 homer pop, then again the ball in Double-A isn’t juiced.

  • C.J. Chatham, SS (BOS) - I’ve never been a big Chatham fan, always struck me as a boring floor pick with a utility ceiling. But maybe there’s more there than I thought. So far on the young season Chatham is the standout of the Portland squad hitting .326/.407/.500, while providing plus defensive value at short.  Cold Water: He’s hit eight doubles, but is still in search of his first homer. I’m skeptical of this continuing and you can cite his BABIP (.385), but it’s been above .370 for the better part of a year.

  • Jorge Ona, OF (SD) - Not too long ago, Jorge Ona was considered one of the more intriguing prospects in the Padre system. But the rust of having not seen game action for the better part of two years curbed much of the enthusiasm for the outfielder. That may have changed with reports of strong spring, and an aggressive assignment to Double-A. Ona is flourishing so far in 2019, slashing .314/.410/.490 with three homers, and a beefed up walk rate of 13.1 percent. I’ve added Ona in a few places on the off chance he’s got his groove back. Cold Water: He’s striking out 29% of the time. There’s lingering hit tool concerns.

  • Cristian Pache, OF (ATL) - A player that divides the Prospects Live office like the Trump presidency does your family holidays. Pache has been exciting the Yays with big numbers in the early going, a .309/.361/.618 with a pair of homers and an improved walk rate is the thing April victory laps are made of. Cold Water: He’s striking out at a 31.6% clip and his production is fueled by a .424 BABIP. That said the reports have marked improvement.

  • Khalil Lee, OF (KC) - I traded Khalil Lee in a league for Ronald Guzman not too long ago. Of course Guzman got hurt, and Lee has hit for average and wrecked havoc on the bases. Cold Water: He has a sub-400 slug.

  • Steven Kwan, OF (CLE) - Nick Madrigal’s former Oregon State teammate is on a tear in the early going. The Indians fifth rounder is slashing .379/.463/.483 with four steals. This is more of the same as Kwan was a strong performer out of the draft last season. Cold Water: He’s an advanced college hitter in A-ball, he should be doing this. There’s little to no power in Kwan’s profile, meaning he may end up another Greg Allen, fourth outfielder type.

  • Jarren Duran, OF (BOS) - I caught Duran last season in the NYPL league and the bat to ball skills made him stick out on a decent Lowell squad. A plus contact hitter adept at using the other side of the field, Duran has sneaky raw pop, displayed in a few of the BP I took in last season. So far he’s taking for Salem slashing .386/.426/.509 with five steals in six attempts. He fits a leadoff profile to a tee. Cold Water: Hasn’t flashed a ton of game power yet and once again it’s an advanced college bat in A-ball.

  • Kyle Isbel, OF (KC) - I could only hold back from hyping Isbel for so long, then again I’ve done that before. The former UNLV outfielder is the standout at the moment in a stacked Wilmington lineup. Playing entirely in centerfield (he did some work at second base in instructs) Isbel is slashing .348/.423/.630 with a pair of home runs and five steals. Most impressively he’s only striking out 15.4% of the time. Cold Water: Different verse, same as the first, advanced college hitter in A ball.

  • Ronny Mauricio, SS (NYM) - The Mets teenage phenom is showing well in his first taste of full-season ball. The switch-hitting teenager is hitting .323/.373/.387 fueled by a stupid-do-do-dumb line drive rate of 39.1 percent. Cold Water: Sub-400 slugging percentage, and he’s hitting the ball on the ground a ton (47.8%). But he’s barely of legal voting age, I’ll give it a pass.

  • Trey Cabbage, 3B/OF (MIN) - The Twins’ 2015 fourth rounder from the Tennessee prep ranks looks to be on the verge of a big step forward in 2019. So far he’s slashing .346/.443/.692 with five homers and a pair of steals. Cold Water: It’s his third run through low-A, he’s riding a .400+ BABIP, and he’s putting the ball on the ground a ton. I wouldn’t write off Cabbage’s hot start, but there’s some red flags that scream regression.

  • Mariel Bautista, OF (CIN) - One of my favorite off-season sleepers, and a player close to entering the Reds Top 10. Bautista has been strong but somewhat unlucky in his full-season debut. Slashing .237/.304/.441 with a trio of homers, and four steals. The batting average and OBP aren’t great, but they’re a victim of a .239 BABIP, tough for a player with a contact first approach. Cold Water: He’s still raw, and there’s some real awkwardness in his swing.

  • Cal Mitchell, OF (PIT) - I caught Mitchell last night and I was thoroughly impressed by the professional at-bats, short stroke, and power at the point of contact. He’s hitting .306/.333/.516 with three homers in the early going. Cold Water: It’s still very much a contact over approach profile, and Mitchell doesn’t bring much value outside of his bat. This is a player that has to hit.

  • Joey Bart, C (SF) - God doesn’t want us to have anything nice, so he took Joey Bart. This is only cold water here, as he fractured his hand and looks to miss 4-6 weeks.

  • Casey Mize, SP (DET) - Caught Mize on Wednesday night and he was phenomenal, mixing his fastball, cutter, and splitter. A combination according to this tweet by Alex Chamberlin that could pay dividends at the next level. In three starts, the 2018 No. 1 pick is rocking a 0.50 ERA, 1.29 FIP, and 21/1 K/BB. Cold Water: He’s facing high-A hitters that he should totally dominate. That said, I’ve seen 60+ games at the higher levels over the last year, and none of the arms I watched compare to Mize (including Justus Sheffield, Mitch Keller, Luis Gohara, or Bryse Wilson).

  • Tyler Beede, SP (SF) - I cant quit Beede! He’s from my area of Massachusetts and we don’t have a ton of top prospects from the area, so this is personal. This might be the year the 25-year-old fulfills his promise and makes it as rotation piece for San Francisco. Beede made a mechanical change this off-season and has gotten his velocity up to 97-98 on his fastball with consistency. He’s also scrapped most of his secondaries and has worked off of his curveball more. The results have backed the approach change as Beede has a 41.5% K% and a 2.84 ERA/3.24 FIP. Cold Water: He’s still having trouble throwing strikes with consistency as a 13.2 BB% isn’t ideal.

  • Matt Manning, SP (DET) - Oh hey, Matt Manning is dominating Double-A, who would have thunk it? The massive righty is using his three-pitch mix, led by a plus fastball and a plus hook to stellar results, 1.62 ERA, 1.24 FIP, 39 K%, 6.8 BB%. Cold Water: I have no cold water, I’m as excited to catch Manning this season as my kids were this morning for the Easter Bunny.

  • Brusdar Graterol, SP (MIN) - Another player I traded this off-season, so it’s within reason he goes off. Graterol is dominating the Southern League at the moment. Over three starts for Pensacola Graterol has posted a 0.52 ERA, 2.19 FIP, 27.7 K%, 9.2 BB% and a .119 batting average against. Cold Water: The near 10% walk rate isn’t great, and there’s always durability concerns with Graterol.

    Sunday Start To Watch:

    AAA: Forrest Whitley goes for Round Rock at 3:05 PM ET vs against right-handed Jake Woodford and Memphis.

    AA: Only four Double-A games today, so it’s slim pickings. My MiLB.TV will be set on Mississippi vs Montgomery as Braves lefthander Joey Wentz faces off against Sam McWilliams.

    A-Advanced: Only one High-A game on MiLB.TV today and it just so happens to be Bryan Abreu and Fayetteville vs Carolina. Might be one of the better tales of the day.

    Low-A: No games in Low-A. Happy Easter!