That’s another MiLB season in the books, apart from the 10 game “post-season-season” that the AAA level is about to commence.
I’ll make note of that in a couple of weeks when I attempt a season-review possibly “hot take” prospect list in a couple of weeks. None of the teams that are finished are playoff-bound, though the Bisons did score the division championship in the AAA-East. But these columns have always been more about individual prospects than team wins and losses anyway.
While his brief tour in the majors didn’t set the league on fire, Kevin Smith came back with hits in his first four games before going cold over the weekend. But he ended the regular season with a .916 OPS and there’s nothing to be disappointed with there. Fellow top prospect Otto Lopez ended up with almost half as many at-bats at AAA as he had at New Hampshire. He wasn’t as dominant as he’d been at the lower level (naturally) but it’s worth noticing that manager Casey Candele took the brakes off on the bases. He stole 7 in 10 tries at AA, and 12 without being caught once in AAA. Good baserunning is another layer to his potential value as a major league utility man. One other hitting prospect who finished well is 3B Cullen Large who hit .322 in 40 games since July 30, with an .859 OPS.
While there’s many, albeit most familiar by now, names worthy of notice in the bullpen, the real story of this pitching staff, apart from the presence of Thomas Hatch (who finished with a 4.04 ERA after getting touched up a bit in two September appearances) remains lefty Zach Logue. He finished with a 3.43 ERA, almost exactly a strikeout per IP, and slightly more than 4-1 K-BB ratio. Unless he’s part of a trade he’ll absolutely be added to the 40-man this winter and be in the mix for major league rotation depth next year.
Bowden Francis did well enough that he, too, is pretty certain to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. Among those relievers, Kirby Snead finished with the best overall line but you’ve seen him in the majors by now. Kyle Johnson has gotten some notice but most of his work was at AA so I’ll get to him there. The one guy that maybe you haven’t heard much about is a guy who’s already been a Rule 5 loss twice, and came back twice. Dany Jimenez has a 2.32 ERA and struck out 71 in 42.2 IP. Oh, and he hasn’t allowed a run since July 17. He’ll need a roster spot too and if I’m not mistaken will qualify as a minor league free agent if they don’t lock him down.
This is basically the most bizarre update I’ve ever written for any site.
Normally one of these would let you know what’s happened in the 12 games, depending on rain out and make-ups, since the last update. But the Fisher cats had to cancel nine games due to covid protocols including seven of the 12 scheduled games over the last two weeks – and then had a rainout in the first game back. So we have a total of four games of new info to wrap up the AA season. These four games were littered with various call-ups from Vancouver to bolster a thinned-out roster.
Most of them were not what you’d think of as top prospects, however. One of them, though, gave us the best individual performance across those four season-ending games — first baseman Spencer Horwitz. Horwitz has improved his stock maybe more than any other non-premium-hitting prospect in the system. He went 6 for 16 in AA and accumulated an .875 SLG over that tiny sample, but this was coming off of hitting .294 with an .862 OPS in Vancouver. When compared to 2019, he marginally increased his power (he doesn’t have corner infielder over-the-fence power in the traditional sense so far) but more impressively, in ’19 he walked once ever 11.3 PA, and in ’21 he upped that to once in ever 6.8 PA.
Of the guys who’ve been in all the prospect discussions, Jordan Groshans and Samad Taylor both finished on the IL (possibly covid related) and Gabriel Moreno went over to the complex for a rehab assignment but sources say he was involved in a collision at the plate in his second game and hasn’t played since. We got word on Tuesday, however, that he’ll be joining the Bisons for the next couple of weeks. I’m not sure how many games he’ll catch (maybe the games Logue starts since he has more of a history with him) but action is action.
What with no particularly notable SP performances this time around, let’s take a moment to focus on the bullpen given these occasions seldom arise. Converted starter Kyle Johnston, who finished with a cup of coffee in AAA (and may yet get more innings there) has gotten some praise in prospect-watching corners but to be honest, I’m not entirely seeing it. The ERA is nice (1.74, 0.74 as a reliever) but the walks are a little high and the strikeouts don’t blow your mind. Adrian Hernandez is the guy I’ve been watching. Across three-level from Dunedin to New Hampshire, he’s struck out 108 in 62.1 IP and the K rate was just as strong at AA as overall. Across Vancouver and NH in 44.1 IP he struck out 71 while walking just 14. Graham Spraker deserves a mention. His K rate is 13.1/9 but the walk rate is much less impressive. LH Brandon Eisert has also been promoted twice, he’s accumulated 10k/9IP and a respectable 2.7/9 walk rate.
Zac Cook ended the season on a six-week run of eye-catching production. In September alone he ran up a 1.077 OPS which matched the 1.082 from August 6 through the end of that month. Very much one to watch off this squad. Orelvis Martinez has been sidelined for a couple of weeks, but he did well in the last couple of weeks that he did play. I believe I mentioned last time that catcher Phillip Clarke was finishing strong, and he only got hotter in September to the tune of a 1.024 OPS. I should also acknowledge 2B Rafael Lantigua who, like not a few prospects, including Clarke, suffered an awful start that rendered his season line pedestrian long thereafter. So much so that he largely escaped my notice, but as it happens from June 1 until he moved up to NH for those last 4 games, he posted a .904 OPS. Notice taken.
Here too, there’s little of note to report among the SP. The best of them (results-wise) were already promoted, CJ Van Eck has been injured for some time and Adam Kloffenstein kept doing much of what he’s been doing. After getting rocked in his first two High-A outings, Sem Robberse gained some footing. He had a 4.21 ERA over his last five outings. The most consistently high-performing reliever all year has been Hagen Danner, but a couple of newer faces could be noted. Gabriel Ponce ran up the strikeouts in Dunedin while putting a lot of men on base. But he came up to the VanC’s where he had a similar pattern of outcomes except a lot fewer of those runners scored. I expect that if he’s going anywhere he’s going to have to keep more men off base. The other noteworthy newcomer is 2021 6th round pick Hayden Juenger. He’s allowed two runs in his last 16 IP (8 GP) with 2 walks and 27 IP. Based on no actual knowledge, but just a hunch, I’ll bet he’s starting next spring.
The D-Jays offense was never really deep but with the promotion but one of the initial questions were how they intended to distribute defensive reps among three J2 signings who were Top 20 prospects and also nominally shortstops. The highest-profile of these was, of course, Orelvis Martinez who got 4/5 of his defensive reps at short and the rest at third. Another Top 10 prospect, Miguel Hiraldo split his time between second and third, with significant time at each. The other guy is Leo Jimenez. Jimenez got 3/4 of his reps at SS (and the rest at 2B) which might have been mathematically impossible if you want guys to be full-time players but what made that work was that he spent six weeks mid-summer on the IL. By the time he got back, Martinez had already been in Vancouver for three weeks and so he has had all the reps at short all to himself down the stretch. And all of that was me setting the table to tell you about that stretch. When he went on the IL he was slashing .293/.435/.331 with that OBP being driven by an impressive 16 walks in 20 June games. But that was merely the appetizer. Since coming back, in 21 games he’s walked 32 times and struck out 12 times, all while hitting .396, which gives you a slash line over that period of .396/.638/.563 which … talk about making up for lost time! To be clear, that smallish sample slugging is an illusion, he had four doubles in the a33 AB before the injury, his season-long SLG is but .381 but those walks are legit.
You really can’t comment on D-Jays pitching lately unless you start with Trent Palmer. The 22-year-old right-hander is making his case for making some top 30 lists this offseason by throwing two seven-inning no-hotters within the span of four weeks. Moreover, since the beginning of July he’s got a 2.59 ERA over 11 starts and 41.2 IP. In that span he allowed 24 hits, and striking out 68. The other guy, whom I’ve mentioned regularly, is Naswell Paulino. My past cautionary notes have revolved around the excessive number of walks even though the strikeout total is impressive. But it’s also one of the leagues using robo-umps which suggests being cautious about cautionary notes. He also finished strong, giving up only one ER in his last three starts.
It’s become clear that the FCL is a hitter-friendly environment. Adriel Sotolongo got to cross-town and get a cup of coffee with the D-Jays (along with a few others) leaving with a 1.138 OPS, and fellow 3B (also 2021 draftee) Damiano Palmegiani who himself ran up a .997 OPS (in about half as many at-bats). There are about five other guys who had good years here, but I can only make this thing so long. One pitcher I’ll mention is Kendry Rojas who has a 2.28 ERA and struck out 39 against 5 walks in 23.2 IP, but in three September outings, he threw nine innings of one-run ball while walking 1 and striking out 18.
The one consensus-ranked prospect on the DSL squad among the hitters is SS Manuel Beltre. He was invisible until August came, then he was a monster for a month. He cooled off considerably in September but wasn’t completely lost. All that aside, the player who consistently led this team in offense remained Francisco Fajardo all the way to the end. September was his worst month but it was still good and the 21-year-old (yes, that’s old for the DSL so appropriate caveats apply) switch-hitting 2B finished the year with an OPS of .850 which, age aside, gets a hit of the hat. Outfielders Endri Garcia and Yeuni Munoz are both finishing hot in September (remember the DSL plays until the end of the MLB season) but I’ve not seen their names mentioned as ones to watch so, small sample size and all that. I may have mentioned this guy before, but the one SP that stands out here, statistically at least, is RH Sergio Caruchi. The key stats are 2.66 ERA, 10.9 K/9 and 4.8 K/BB which are enough better than his teammates to tag him with the “key an eye on this guy” label.