Recently, I have noticed a trend of young pitchers with command/sequencing profiles over raw stuff; coming up to the MLB and absolutely dominating. Not just dominating, but dominating almost immediately! Guys like Chris Paddack, Shane Bieber and Zac Gallen are great examples.
The arrival of one of the most decorated collegiate players ever, The Rays called up Brendan McKay to make his big league debut this past weekend at home against the Texas Rangers. The lefty went six shutout innings, only surrendering one hit with one walk while striking out three. His 12.4% swinging strike rate indicates more strikeout upside down the line. McKay also made his offensive debut when he hit eighth against the Baltimore Orioles going 0-for-4.
The Rays selected the 2017 Golden Spikes Award winner with the fourth pick in the 2017 draft and gave him a $7,005,000 bonus. He was a force at the University of Louisville, putting up eye popping numbers in the box as well as on the mound on his way to three first team All-American selections. Over his three year career on campus he hit .328/.430/.536 while throwing 314 innings with a 2.23 ERA. His best season was easily in 2017 when he hit .341/.457/.659 with 18 bombs while throwing 109 innings with a 2.56 ERA.
When the Rays selected McKay they immediately announced they were moving forward with the plan to keep him as a two-way player, and this was before the arrival of Shohei Ohtani so it came with plenty of questions. McKay was playing first base everyday, except the day after he starts, and they were keeping him on his collegiate schedule which meant just pitching on Sundays while also limiting him to around 50 pitches per start.
He was assigned to Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League to begin his career, and his first taste of pro ball was a success as he threw 20 innings with a 1.80 ERA and hit .232/.349/.376 with four homers in 36 games. He’s since stopped playing the field and has started DH’ing, but the two way experiment is still very much underway. While the offensive stats likely aren’t what people expected, his pitching has surpassed expectations. He’s a career .216/.348/.356 hitter, but in his small Triple-A sample this year he’s hitting .265/.400/.551 in fifteen games. His career numbers on the mound are highlighted by a sparkling 1.85 ERA in 165 minor league innings with 212 strikeouts and 34 walks. The Rays haven’t allowed him to surpass the 85 pitch mark in any pro start prior to his call up, so that is something to watch.
Fastball (60 Present/60 Future): McKay’s best pitch is his fastball, and its a plus pitch because of his ability to command it. It’s 92-94 and he can reach back for a tick or two extra when he needs it. He relies on this pitch heavily and is working to sequence better. Can become a bit too predictable with the heater and will go to it when he falls behind in the count. He can also cut his fastball at times, and it can be his best pitch often looking like a hard slider getting in on the hands of right-handed hitters.
Curveball (60 Present/60 Future): The curveball is a true 12-to-6 breaker and he will throw it against lefties and righties. It’s an above average pitch on it’s own, but when you factor in the command it bumps up to plus. He will often steal strikes with this pitch early in at-bats after the fastball has been established and then will rely on it more heavily as the game goes on.
Change (50 Present/55 Future): McKay throws this pitch primarily against righties. It’s deceptive and the arm speed is the same as the fastball but comes in in the 83-85 velocity range. The pitch has some depth to it and plays up a half grade due to his ability to command it. It has flashed plus at times and can become his primary swing and miss pitch against righties.
Pitching Conclusion: McKay showed off his command and Kluber-esque robotic demeanor on the mound during his debut. His six-foot-two frame lacks physical projection but there is room to add some muscle. It’s an athletic build, and one that appears to be able to hold up to the two-way possibilities. McKay has number two starter ceiling for me on the mound, with three above average or better pitches that play up due to plus command and groundball lean. I trust the Rays as much as anyone with this profile.
Hit (40/55): This is an interesting case. On hitting tools alone, McKay would likely be in Double-A right now working on getting the skills to translate to the stat line, but with his arm being big league ready the Rays are also seeing what they have with the bat. The bat speed is above-average. He’s becoming more pull heavy in the last year or so, but does hit a lot of balls on the ground. The Rays have gotten more out of ground ball heavy guys like Yandy Diaz this year so maybe they can work their magic here. McKay has plus walk rates and will work counts, but is often too passive and part of his struggles in the box are due to finding himself in pitchers counts. Again, the Rays are one of the best development organizations and have a raw bat here in McKay to work with.
Power (50 Game/60 Raw): It’s a short, quick swing and the ball will jump off of McKay’s bat. He can leave any park pull-side but will live in both gaps when he’s going right. He’s been working to utilize his lower half more in the the swing and is far from a finished product here. It’s hard to say how the lack of 100% focus on the bat has hindered him here. Look for him to have some 20-25 homer seasons down the road if he gets more consistent reps.
Speed (30 Present/30 Future): Don’t get greedy. The man can pitch and hit, don’t expect him to run. He’s more athletic than he looks though, and can move a bit when underway.
Hitting Conclusion: The bat isn’t big league ready right now, but he’s got future big league tools here. It’s hard to see his college numbers and not get excited about what he could be offensively though. I can see McKay at peak becoming a .250/.340/.450 bat, which will never be as valuable as what he can do on the mound, but will make him a very valuable asset with his skills. OBP league asset here.
Tommy Edman- The Cardinals selected Edman in the sixth round of the 2016 draft out of Stanford where he majored in math and computational science. He was a starter all three years on campus in Palo Alto and was even the Cardinal number three hitter despite his 5’10” 180 pound frame. The switch-hitter does a little bit of everything and fits the archetype of a pesky yet productive middle infielder.
Defensively Edman is widely viewed as a better long term fit at second base, but I disagree and think there’s enough defensive ability here to stick as a primary shortstop. The hands are soft, and he has enough arm and range be an average or close to average defender there. For Triple-A Memphis he has played primarily at second base because of the presence of Edmundo Sosa . He has also spent some time at third and also started playing some centerfield to diversify the portfolio. He’s a high IQ player that gets the most out of his tools.
Offensively, Edman has the type of profile that often exceeds expectations. What I mean by that is Edman’s ability to hit for a high average while also controlling the strike zone from both sides of the plate. Since entering pro ball Edman owns a career .286/.353/.415 line with a career 85% success rate on the base paths, including a 30-for-35 season last year between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis. Power is his biggest deficiency but he’s already hit a single season high seven homers in his 49 game stint with Memphis this year. The introduction of the Major League ball in Triple-A certainly helps, but Edman did also add 10-15 pounds of muscle this spring. Players of this ilk, above average to plus hit tools with strong plate skills, contact ability and above average speed are the ones that often exceed scouting reports and Edman is in an organization that has a strong track record of extracting the most out of college bats. Jedd Gyorko going on the injured list created an opportunity for the 24 year old infielder. Edman is currently hitting .305/.356/.513 for Memphis with nine stolen bases and seven homers. He’s played himself into position to be added in 20 team dynasty leagues because of his well-rounded profile and high floor. Lance Brozdowski ranked Edman 25th on the St. Louis Cardinals top 30 list.
Peter Lambert- Throw out the numbers when judging Rockies pitching prospects, especially guys pitching in Albuquerque. According to statcorner.com with 100 being neutral, the park factor for homers is 122 for left-handed hitters and 143 for righties, which are insane numbers. For comparisons sake Coors Field checks in at 119 and 117. So his home park in Albuquerque is more hitter friendly than Coors by a considerable margin. Ralph ranked Lambert fifth in the Colorado system, and broke down his arsenal as follows; “Lambert mixes a fastball in the 92-94 range with sink and run, a tumbling changeup pairs well with his fastball generating most of the whiffs I saw in Hartford. His curveball has nice 12-6 break, and he lands it for strikes, lots he’ll steal on the outside corner to lefties. His repertoire is completed by an average slider with some two-plane break. His complete control and command of his arsenal led Lambert to earn better reviews than perhaps his numbers would indicate. In the handful of Lambert starts I witnessed this season he showed the ability to locate all of his pitches for strikes, showing the ability to pitch backwards off his curveball and changeup.” He repeats his delivery well, with plus command/control that pushes the stuff up a grade. He’s not all that dissimilar to what Kyle Freeland can offer from a fantasy perspective.
Jordan Yamamoto- The Brewers drafted Yamamoto out of St. Louis High School in Honolulu. He came over to the Marlins in the Christian Yelich deal along with outfielders Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison and 2B Isan Diaz. He pitched well as soon as he entered the Marlins organization despite a battle with shoulder soreness that limited to just under 70 innings pitched in 2018. There were some stints in 2018 when Yamamoto’s fastball velocity dipped into the high-80s, but 2019 reports on his fastball have it back in the low-90s and he averaged 90.8 mph during his big league debut. Yamamoto gets by on the strength of his secondary offerings. His curveball is his best pitch and it grades out as plus. He commands it to both sides of the plate and its his primary swing and miss pitch against righties. He also throws an above average slider, and a change. His fastball is his only offering with a below average grade, but he also throws a cutter with good run. His overall below average stuff plays due to his above average to plus command, and the deception with the long arm action and a cross body delivery. He projects as a back end starter long term but definitely a play in almost any home matchup. Noted Marlins super-fan Eddy Almaguer ranked Yamamoto eighth on his Marlins top 30 list.
It’s been a busy week over here at Prospects Live with our draft coverage coming out and some interesting pitchers making their big league debuts. We will touch on three interesting arms here.
Devin Smeltzer- The Twins acquired LHP Devin Smeltzer, along with 2B Logan Forsythe and OF Luke Raley, as their return for sending Brian Dozier to the Dodgers last July. Smeltzer had a strong amateur career that began at Florida Gulf Coast University before he transferred to San Jacinto (TX) after one season. The Dodgers drafted him in the fifth round in 2016 and signed for just under $500,000. Our own Ralph Lifshitz saw Smeltzer this season in Pawtucket, and this is what he wrote:
Tall lanky lefty with some of the wildest mechanics you’ll ever see. He’s reminiscent of a spider, as he has a big leg kick, with long arm action and a glove arm that stays fully extended almost until he finishes his motion toward the plate. This arm action and motion allows him to hide the ball well, his low three quarters, almost sidearm, Smeltzer plays up the movement on all his pitches including his fastball. He mixes four pitches, a deceptive but low velocity fastball in the 87-90 mph range, a plus curveball in the upper-70s, a changeup 83-84 with nice drop that plays off his fastball, and a slider in the low-80s with sweepy break and glove-side run. He landed all of his pitches for strikes, threw all of them at any point in the count and drove loads of soft contact in the form of weak grounders and pop-ups to the catcher. Efficient contact minded lefty with control and deception.
Don’t be scared off by the fastball velocity. Smeltzer knows how to pitch, and commands his arsenal extremely well. During his big league debut against a tough Brewers offense, the crafty lefty went six scoreless innings only allowing three hits and striking out seven, including Lorenzo Cain three times. He threw an incredible 53 of his 69 pitches for strikes. Before his promotion to the big leagues, the spectacled lefty had a sparkling 1.15 ERA over 54 innings across Double-A and Triple-A with only ten walks and 48 strikeouts. The Twins have announced that Smeltzer will make another start with the Twins on this road trip against the Indians. I have confidence in Smeltzer and will be rolling him out in that start.
Zach Plesac- Plesac was a relative unknown in prospect circles until a few months ago, but when you add velocity and flash new skills it won’t take long to get noticed, which is what happened here. Plesac was pitching at Ball State, sitting 89-92 before an arm injury sapped some velocity and brought the fastball down to 87-90. Despite this, the Indians liked what they saw from his changeup/command centered mix and selected Plesac in the 12th round of the 2016 draft, and gave him $100,000 to buy him out of his senior season at Ball State. After getting drafted he underwent Tommy John Surgery. The Indians built his workload up to 142 innings in 2018, and he popped up on radars early in 2019 by showing some velocity numbers that have exceeded what he was hitting while at Ball State. Plesac averaged 93.9 with the fastball in his debut and reportedly has hit 97 this year. There’s a bit of deception and he hides the ball behind his body before he attacks hitters with his mostly two-pitch mix, but he does also mix in two below average breaking balls. Plesac is an intriguing pop up prospect, and there’s enough here with the plus command of his two-pitch mix to be an asset in 12-team leagues if the matchup is right. Plesac is a back-end rotation piece long term if he doesn’t develop a third pitch. This is a profile that the Indians have had success with in the past though, so in any dynasty league he needs to be added if somehow still available.
Genesis Cabrera- The former Rays farmhand was acquired as the centerpiece in the Tommy Pham deal. The flame-throwing lefty has a big fastball sitting 95-98, and it averaged 96.3 mph during his start on the road against the Phillies. The fastball itself is a weapon, but the command of the pitch is below average, and when he falls behind in counts he becomes extremely reliant on the pitch. The changeup and slider have a chance to be above average pitches and the curveball can be average, but no secondary profiles as a potential plus pitch for my money. The overall profile screams reliever to me, as I think he will have a difficult time turning lineups over multiple times due to the issues with his command and lack of a plus secondary. His extreme flyball tendency also offers another layer of volatility to the profile. The mechanics are intriguing to me, and the long sweeping arm action is reminiscent of teammate Carlos Martinez. Cabrera is a plus athlete though, and I think could find success in a multi-inning relief role, although the Cardinals are hesitant to make that conversion. Cabrera is not a guy I’m interested in deploying in fantasy formats right now. Lance Brozdowski ranked him 16th on the Cardinals top 30 list. Cabrera has pitched 39 innings in Triple-A this year with a strikeout per inning but also 11 homers and 19 walks and a 6.35 ERA.
Mike Yastrzemski - It’s not always easy for legacy prospects. The grandson of Red Sox hall of famer Carl Yastrzemski was drafted by the Orioles in the 14th round of the 2013 draft out of Vanderbilt and has played over 700 career minor league games before finally getting the call this year. Yaz has put together some strong minor league seasons while in the Baltimore system, but has battled injuries and was passed over in two Rule Five drafts before signing with the Giants as a minor league free agent prior to the 2019 season. His first taste of the Pacific Coast League has been an enjoyable one as he’s hit .316/.414/.676 with Triple-A Sacramento. The fantasy value here is limited for the 28-year old, but he’s in a situation in San Francisco that should give him a handful of starts a week as the Giants struggle to find a corner outfielder that’s a long term fit. He might be worth a look in NL-only leagues as he has started both games since getting promoted.
Seby Zavala - The power hitting backstop gets the call after the White Sox placed the disappointing Welington Castillo on the Injured List. Zavala was added to the 40-man roster after reaching Triple-A in 2018 and is hitting for more power as he repeats that level this year. This is an encouraging sign after a left wrist injury slowed him down last season. Zavala is hitting .218/.253/.506 at Charlotte with six homers in only 21 games. His power is mostly to the pull-side but he does hit the ball in air enough to hit 15-20 homers if given a full-time job. He’s an average defender with an accurate arm but profiles as a back-up catcher mostly due to the lack of a hit tool. Lance Brozdowski ranked him 17th on the Chicago White Sox top 30 list.
Garrett Stubbs - Stubbs is one of the more athletic catchers in professional baseball and has the tools to be a starting catcher one day. His offensive game is built on his average hit tool and strong walk rates as he has never posted a strike out rate above 18% or a walk rate below 10% in his professional career. He’s even an average runner and could chip in 6-8 steals a season from behind the plate. Defensively, Stubbs handles pitchers well, blocks well, and controls the running game as he nabbed 45% of base stealers in 2018. The biggest flaw here is his lack of power, but he’s a catcher with the ability to hit for a strong average and post strong walk rates so he should still be an above average offensive contributor. Still, he lacks the strength necessary to contribute in home runs and in slugging percentage. One area to keep an eye on: He has posted consistently high line drive rates in the past, but his ground ball rate has spiked this year early on. Ralph Lifshitz ranked Stubbs 21st on the Houston Astros top 30 list.
Will Smith - Smith has a lot of similarities with Garrett Stubbs and gives him a run for his money for the most athletic catcher in the minors. The 2016 first rounder out of the University of Louisville is an above average runner and has spent significant time at third base to get Keibert Ruiz some catcher reps as well. This move allowed him to put his plus throwing arm to good use while also giving him additional minor league at-bats. In fact, in addition to being a plus defender behind the plate he is even regarded as an above average defender at third base. His offensive game is much different than those Louisville days though as the Dodgers have him hitting the ball in the air and ultimately for more power. He does make significantly less contact now, but he has cut the strikeout rate down to a manageable 21% so far in 2019 in Triple-A. The pull-side power should make him a 20-homer threat, but will also likely come with batting averages in the .240-.250 range. Fortunately his elite walk rate will raise his on-base percentage significantly and he is currently hitting .290/.404/.551 in the minors and should be owned in all dynasty formats. He will likely go back to Triple-A once Austin Barnes returns from the Injured List, but it’s only a 29-mile trip back to Bel-Air from Dodger Stadium. Eddy Almaguer ranked Smith as the seventh prospect on the Los Angeles Dodgers Top 30 list.
Jared Walsh - Walsh may not be one of the most exciting players to debut this year, but he sure is an interesting one. The former 39th round pick had a breakout year offensively in 2018 as he hit .277/.359/.536 and jumped from High-A to Triple-A. He’s continued that offensive success so far in 2019 hitting .302/.398/.604 with 10 homers in 37 games with the Salt Lake Bees prior to the call up. He has made some improvements with his strikeout rate but is still going down on strikes over 25% of the time.
Walsh is interesting because he represents a new wave of player that will surely be more common as today’s benches keep shrinking. Walsh was being used as a LOOGY (left-handed one out guy) in Triple-A. In 2018 the Angels dabbled a bit with him in the bullpen as he amassed eight appearances throughout the year and he’s already received five this year. The Angels liked enough of what they saw to actually bring Walsh to instructs over the winter to work as a pitcher. Even with Bour being sent down the presence of Ohtani and Pujols will cut unto Walsh’s playing time and I don’t think he works his way into regular playing time for the Angels this season. He can safely be let on the wire in 15 or less team formats. Walsh ranked 22nd on my Los Angeles Angels prospect list.
Shaun Anderson - The long-haired righty was a third round pick by the Boston Red Sox in the 2016 draft. Anderson couldn’t crack the loaded rotation in Gainesville but found his niche as the closer as was behind guys like A.J. Puk, Dane Dunning, Logan Shore and Alex Faedo on the loaded Florida Gators staff. He’s always had the stuff to start and after the Red Sox drafted him they began building stamina and getting Anderson back into the rotation. He was traded to the Giants along with RHP Gregory Santos in a deadline deal for Eduardo Nunez in 2017, and was our eighth ranked prospect in our Giants prospect list. He relies on ground balls and weak contact more than missing bats, and his deep arsenal lacks a truly plus pitch. He’s primarily fastball/slider, but also throws a sinker, change and curveball. With average command, Anderson’s best trait is his ability to keep the ball in the yard and a favorable home park plays into that. Anderson is a useful streamer at home and should be up with the rebuilding Giants for the remainder of the season.
Luis Arraez - A career .331 hitter in the minors, Arraez has a plus hit tool due to his elite hands. He makes contact at a high rate as has only struck out more than 10% of the time once his career and that was in 2018 when he posted a 10.9% strikeout rate while playing in the Florida State League. Arraez’s offensive approach is simple as he is a left-handed hitter with a knack for slapping the ball over the shortstops head or through the 5.5 hole. Despite his plus hit tool, Arraez’s overall skill set isn’t interesting to me because he completely lacks power and is a slightly below average runner. His range is limited at second base, but as we’ve seen in today’s game that’s becoming less and less of an issue. He does have good hands and the Twins have begun moving him around the diamond a bit to add some versatility to the package. Arraez was our 21st ranked prospect on our Minnesota Twins top 30 list, and projects as an offensive-minded utility option going forward. I don’t think he is up for the long haul and he can remain safely on the wire.