Minor League Minor Leaguers: 2018 Sleepers, San Francisco Giants

giants xmas.jpg

Prospects highlighted with 2019 age/projected assignment: SS Ryan Howard (24, AAA), OF Alexander Canario (19, R-SS), RHP Logan Webb (22, AA), RHP Pat Ruotolo (24, AAA), LHP Connor Menez (24, AAA), 2B Jalen Miller (22, AA), OF Bryce Johnson (23, AA), LHP John Gavin (23, A+), SS Yorlis Rodriguez (19, R-SS), RHP Jesus Tona (23, A)

This is the second installment of a look at sleeper prospects for all thirty MLB teams. There is no sense in covering the Giants’ top prospects, such as Heliot Ramos, Joey Bart and Chris Shaw, because you’re already going to hear a lot about those players this winter and throughout the season ahead.

For our purposes, we’re going to consider prospects as young players who have not yet become established MLB players, rather than ignoring young, unestablished players once they have exhausted their rookie eligibility.

 

San Francisco Minor League Affiliates (2018)
AAA: Sacramento River Cats, Pacific Coast League (Sacramento, CA; since 2015)
AA:
Richmond Flying Squirrels, Eastern League (Richmond, VA; since 2003)
A+:
San Jose Giants, California League (San Jose, CA; since 1988)
A:
Augusta GreenJackets, South Atlantic League (Augusta, GA; since 2005)
R-SS:
Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Northwest League (Keizer, OR; since 1997)
AZL: AZL Giants Black, AZL Giants Orange / DSL: DSL Giants

 

SS Ryan Howard 2016 5th round (155th overall), Missouri
2019 Age: 24
2019 Projected Assignment:
AAA (Sacramento River Cats, Pacific Coast League)

Ryan Howard is neither the Phillies slugger left to languish in AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, nor The Office character who was named after him. Although, on an entirely pointless note, the prospect does bear an, at best, vaguely passing resemblance to the latter.

howard1 howard2

At least they seem content.

Anyway, Howard is a shortstop who doesn’t run triple slash lines that are impressive on their own, but he’s a sneakily solid player once you break out what’s feeding it. Howard does something I really, really like to see from an unheralded middle infielder. He walks more than never, but much more importantly, he strikes out in only one of ten plate appearances, give or take a percentage point.

In fact, he reminds me very much of what Joe Panik looked like as he broke into the high minors, which was a very attractive looking hitter who looked pedestrian at surface level. A contact hitter with doubles and a dose of speed at a position on the difficult end of the defensive spectrum looked very appealing as the run environment began to change such that playing for one run would need to be happening a lot more than we were used to seeing in the previous decade. Thanks, altered baseballs!

Let’s compare the two players at AA, where Howard just finished up his age 23 season. Panik got there a year earlier, but they look like basically the same player. Panik and Howard also yin and yang one another, in that the high minors saw Panik used primarily as a second baseman with 20 starts to see him try short, whereas Howard got about twenty at second (and at third the year before in hi A) while primarily manning the six hole.

Official Ryan Howard as Joe Panik Doppleganger Table (fig. 1)

Panik (age 22/2013) – 9.7 BB% 11.4 K% .090 ISO (27 2B/4 3B/4 HR in 599 PA) 10/15 (67% SB%)
.257/.333/.347
Howard (age 23/2018) – 8.2 BB% 11.6 K% .123 ISO (32 2B/4 3B/4 HR in 475 PA) 9/14 (64% SB%)
.273/.336/.396

I rest my case that this is the same player. The following year, Panik began a run of compiling 9 fWAR between 2014-2017, highlighted by a 3.8 WAR in his first full season as the Giants starting second baseman in 2015.

This is a pretty good example of why I don’t really understand the prospect pump-and-forget cottage industry. Solid enough regulars who pop for a very plus season or two at peak have to come from somewhere. Neither of this player and his clone who is one eighth his size have tools that jump, but this is clearly a profile capable of starting in the majors, with room for more on the 80th-90th end of the percentile spectrum. And they don’t really have a prayer of ranking on top prospect lists, which tells me that we’re doing something wrong.

It should be noted that Panik was a year younger than Howard all the way up, and he has also never struck out as much as Howard did at hi A in 2017. While 14.3 K% is still a comfortably above average rate, putting the ball in play is an important part of this profile working as a reasonably average to almost good starter in the bigs, and there isn’t a whole lot of margin of error there. Panik is an 80th percentile outcome for what Howard could be for the Giants come 2020 (90th percentile is the nonzero but remote chance that Howard has more than one of Panik’s 3+ WAR seasons in his future).

The smart money is that you’ve got a utility infielder candidate who isn’t hopeless at the plate. He can put the ball in play and won’t get himself out. He’ll hit doubles infrequently, but often enough to run an OPS somewhere in the .600s. With a broad base of okay skills, a glove okay enough to play short, and at least some prior experience with the other difficult infield positions, it’s fairly easy to see an MLB floor for Howard. It’s worth keeping in mind that just because we declare a player’s likeliest outcome doesn’t mean he hasn’t shown several signs that indicate he could give us more than that if things really break right.

 

OF Alexander Canariosigned as IFA: 2016 IFA, Dominican Republic, $60,000
2019 Age: 19
2019 Projected Assignment:
R-SS (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Northwest League)

The Giants faced IFA signing bonus limits in 2016, so they were unable to award any international prospect more than $300,000 to don the black and orange. There’s no shortage of talented prospects and established major leaguers who signed less prolific deals, or conversely, million dollar signees who never develop. Canario will attempt to be the former, having put pen to paper at an age when many kids are getting ready for their junior year of high school.

Instead, Canario showed a broad, five-tool skill set as a 17-year-old in the Dominican League. He walked almost as much as he struck out. He swiped eighteen bags. He smacked 26 extra base hits in only 66 games against older competition, and he showed defensive promise while splitting time between center and right. He rightfully generated significant buzz as a player to keep an eye on before coming stateside for 2018 to play for the Giants (Black) in the Arizona Summer League.

In the video above, this player shows something in the box that stands out to me (no, it’s not one of the youngest stateside players flailing away at offspeed offerings). I remember stepping both forward and towards the third base line as a righty hitter. This is a problem that, while correctable, is counterproductive to maximizing contact. Your momentum isn’t carried fluidly forward to attack the pitch, and both your vision and swing plane are negatively affected by shifting diagonally as the pitch is delivered. If you begin the video at 0:27 (his feet are obstructed by chain link in the first section), you can see that not only does Canario fail to stride towards the mound as part of a fluid, one dimensional motion, but the landing spot for his front foot also changes pitch by pitch. No matter how ideal or not one’s mechanics are, success is difficult without doing it the same way as often as possible.

Enthusiasm tempered somewhat as Canario made the jump in 2018, largely because he ran hot and cold, showing inconsistency with his swing mechanics while striking out more often. Very young players tend to be very raw. In the third at bat shown in the video (:39), Canario swings through a breaking ball and watches three more en route to striking out looking on the inner third. He struck out in 25% of his plate appearances in the AZL.

Still, we’re talking about 45 games. And the obvious plate issues in the AZL are both a reminder as to why we ought to avoid becoming too excited about DSL numbers from teenagers, as well as a reminder that 18-year-old players are almost uniformly years from being ready to survive the major leagues. Canario does not need to fly through the minors as if it’s the norm. He has plenty of time for coaches to work with him on pitch recognition and smoother mechanics. It’s kind of silly that we could get so excited over nice looking numbers from a 17-year-old and so tempered over more pedestrian numbers from the same player a year later. It’s the same player.

Canario has the ingredients that top position player prospects had before they put it all together. As with so many dynamic but inexperienced hitters, his strike zone recognition and approach will allow his raw tools to play consistently in games as he matures, or his lack of it will mark another example of a player whose sum is less than the parts, and I don’t need to tell you which is the safer bet to take. He has room to physically grow, standing at 6’1” but weighing in at only 165. Time is on his side as he continues to make adjustments.

I projected him to spend the summer in the Northwest League, but it’s also possible he repeats the AZL if the Giants feel he’d be overmatched against the college draftees who will populate NWL pitching staffs. He probably would be, but it’s also an option (care of information I am not privy to) to decide that Canario is a specific player who would be able to keep his head above water and learn more from the challenge than from repeating a level. Since Canario could flourish or bust, it’s impossible to say what will happen. That’s what minor league development staffs specialize in: identifying what needs to change to make the flourish scenario possible, because it’s probably not going to happen out of thin air. There’s better junk pitches ahead than the ones that clearly gave him trouble in Arizona.

 

RHP Logan Webb 2014 4th round (118th overall), Rocklin HS (Rocklin, CA)
2019 Age: 22
2019 Projected Assignment:
AA (Richmond Flying Squirrels)

Taking four years to get beyond A ball in the Giants’ system, Webb’s uneven progress has come while never being old for a level, but also never being especially good at one, either. With thirty new names to learn every June, it becomes easier to push all but the top prospects out of mind. John Sickels likes to call this “Shiny New Toy Syndrome”, although in this case, Webb wasn’t especially shiny to begin with.

Nonetheless, there might be a MLB pitcher here. So, rather than defaulting to someone drafted this coming June who still has to get his friend’s older brother to buy him cigarettes, maybe we should take a closer look at a pitcher who feels like he’s been around several years, but who nonetheless earned a trial at AA as a 21-year-old.

Webb’s velocity took a step forward just weeks before the 2014 draft, hurling compact, round objects deep into the mid ‘90s as a high school senior. It was enough for the Giants to take an early shot on him, and when they offered him almost twice the slot bonus, it was enough to get him to sign and forego a college career at Cal Poly.

Webb was very hittable as he got his feet wet in the Northwest League in 2015 against batters more than three years older than him on average. Opening 2016 at Augusta, he was knocked around in nine starts and ran an ERA over 6. At first glance, I accidentally read his career stats as though he was demoted back to the NWL in summer 2016. That was actually where he went in 2017, but if he hadn’t hurt his elbow to require a June 2016 Tommy John surgery, he was probably pitching his way to a demotion.

He missed twelve months, or, five months of minor league games. Returning to Salem-Keizer in 2017, he struck out more than four batters to every walk and surrendered a single home run across 15 relief appearances spanning 28 innings.

Webb pitched to a 1.82 ERA in 20 California League starts in 2018, which earned him his first taste of AA. He survived Richmond and will return there to begin the 2019 season. He didn’t pitch as well as the ERA indicates (4.37 xFIP), but at the same time, his home run rate bears monitoring. There’s a possibility Webb might be a bit of a different arm on the other side of TJ. In more than 100 innings across his 2017 and 2018 A ball stops, he surrendered only three home runs. This very low rate is largely responsible for the gap between his ERA and xFIP.

But, there could be something to Webb’s improved quality of contact. Pre-TJ Webb surrendered more than eleven hits per nine in over 100 innings; post-TJ Webb cut that rate by more than three hits per game. He’s shown an ability to generate groundballs at a league average rate, and perhaps slightly more than that.

Sticky gains on quality of contact would go a long way as far as this pitcher remaining in the starting rotation long term. He has the ingredients: an above average fastball velocity, a solid slider (swinging strikeout 3:41), and perhaps most importantly, a changeup with enough movement to generate strikeouts. You can watch him locate one on the inner third for a called third strike in the video above at 1:14.

The pitch mix is akin to Joe Kelly as a starting pitcher, but with a couple fewer notches of raw velocity. Unfortunately, like Kelly, Webb shows pedestrian control that may eventually force him into a relief role. The positive is that his pitch mix comfortably places him on a hi lev role trajectory, especially if, as many starters experience, peak velocity edges higher in shorter appearances. Little is settled short or long term in the Giants rotation, however, so Webb could find himself in the mix as early as the second half of 2019, and he’ll get to pitch his home games in an environment in which he can continue to suppress the home run ball, regardless of how much of it is or isn’t skill as opposed to park context alone.

The upside for a mid-rotation starter exists here, and it’s not like there’s a ton that needs to be changed for him to reach it. Again, the safer bet is on an 8th inning arm, but there’s non-remote hope for several years of average to above average starting pitching at the MLB level.

 

RHP Pat Ruotolo – 2016 27th round (815th overall), University of Connecticut
2019 Age: 24
2019 Projected Assignment:
AAA (Sacramento River Cats, Pacific Coast League)

A native of Beverly, Massachusetts, or alternatively, the actual city to the west of silly Hyphen Town, Ruotolo has done nothing but pump strikeouts and limit contact since entering the Giants system after serving the Huskies’ closer as a junior.

Prior to his collegiate career, Ruotolo had a ridiculous season as a high school junior, throwing three no hitters and allowing only six hits total across five starts. Bizarrely, this stretch of dominance doesn’t appear to have received any national attention, as apparently only good baseball players are allowed to come from Florida, Texas and California, because anyone playing high school ball above the Mason-Dixon line is under eight full feet of snow for seven months out of the year, and there’s no such thing as indoor facilities. I can’t believe this player wasn’t worth, what, a 46th round draft pick? At least a pre-draft blurb, perhaps.

Across more than 100 minor league frames, he’s allowed exactly one hit or walk per inning while striking out three batters for every two innings thrown. Ruotolo shows the ball late in the process of the delivery, appearing to hide the ball behind his head as he builds power to stride towards the plate to evoke memory of Tim Lincecum, but with less exaggeration. He modeled his leg kick after the two-time Cy Young Award winner and three-time World Series Champion, after all. The same Richmond Times-Dispatch article describes Ruotolo as a high spin rate pitcher with an above average curve, rudimentary change and a 92-94 MPH fastball. Both spin rate and a deceptive delivery allow his otherwise average stuff to play up.

There’s a reliable MLB relief pitcher here and he’ll be ready to help this year. He’s not going to strand literally every runner he inherits again, like he did at AA, but this guy knows how to pitch off of hiding the ball.

 

LHP Connor Menez2016 14th round (425th overall), The Master’s University
2019 Age: 24
2019 Projected Assignment:
AAA (Sacramento River Cats, Pacific Coast League)

Menez was a fan of the Giants growing up, but ain’t nobody scouting a pitcher sitting in the low ‘80s coming out of high school. Once he had hit the weight room at a college I had never previously heard of, however, it started clicking. San Francisco came calling.

“Flying Squirrels” (yes, really) pitching coach Glenn Dishman likes the late action on his otherwise averageish offerings. He’s got league average velocity but can dial it up to 94. He was given two spring spot starts in AAA, and the first one didn’t go very well, but he allowed just a single hit across seven shutout innings in the second, striking out eight.

He struck out ten or more batters in three starts for the season, and 175 for the entire year. Following a lackluster, hittable 2017 in hi A, it’s encouraging that his strikeout rate took a huge step forward as he transitioned to the high minors. I would not have written up this pitcher based on what we had on record prior to 2018. It looks like real progress may have occurred.

Menez doesn’t boast plus velocity. His release point is out towards the first base side and it creates a natural diagonal plane from his hand to the outer third of the plate against lefties. Check out the low velocity slider he gets the lefty hitter to bite on at 0:47. The late break causes what looks like an outer third pitch with two strikes (and thus a near-automatic swing), but the ball is already off the plate as it crosses above the dirt in front of home plate, and the catcher receives the pitch well into the RH batter’s box.

Menez hits a lot of batters and walks too many for me to see him working out as a starting pitcher long term. He hasn’t been knocked around by righties, but his changeup isn’t good enough for him to be an option against them in the majors. He is difficult enough to be tried as a LOOGY. It’s not an especially high upside, but in the glorious era of eight man bullpens and four hour baseball games, there’s room for a high strikeout option to neutralize a key lefty, and as long as you’d rather have one than not, it’d be ideal if the one you’ve got is going to make the MLB minimum for a couple years. There’s no guarantee of a MLB career here, but that’s his path.

 

2B Jalen Miller2015 3rd round (95th overall), Riverwood International School (Sandy Springs, GA)
2019 Age: 22
2019 Projected Assignment:
AA (Richmond Flying Squirrels, Eastern League)

Miller was highly regarded entering the 2015 draft (BA #35, MLB #41, FG #43, Keith Law #60) but fell on signability, as he was awarded a bonus nearly double slot value to ink with San Francisco. Drafted as a shortstop, Miller settled in as a full time second baseman and enjoyed a breakout season while repeating the CAL league as a 21-year-old. Miller, a CAL league home run derby participant (he lost out on the life-changing $250 prize), knocked 51 extra base hits this season for San Jose en route to a .276/.321/.434 triple slash line, good for a 102 wRC+.

In more than 1500 minor league plate appearances, Miller has been remarkably consistent in running a 21% strikeout rate. His swing isn’t noisy and, while he isn’t a zero when it comes to speed or plate discipline, his route to a second base job in the majors will be entirely dependent on continuing to access his solid if unspectacular power profile. As a player who showed even solid hitting ability only when repeating a hitter-friendly league, excitement needs to be tempered until he’s shown the ability to knock a pile of doubles against better pitching in tougher parks of the Eastern League.

Due to their similar frames and background as middle infielders drafted early out of Georgia high schools, a lazy comp would be Brandon Phillips. Phillips, however, was an elite defender who walked slightly more, struck out less, and had already debuted for the Indians at the age when Miller struggled in high A in 2017. He produced more than 30 WAR across a 15-year career. Phillips represents a 95th – 100th percentile outcome for Miller.

You’d rather have a potential starting infielder in your system than not, but Miller is far from a sure thing to turn into one. He seems like the kind of prospect I would prefer to consolidate into a stable MLB piece via trade, but the Giants are in the wrong phase of the contention cycle to further gut the system. That doesn’t mean they won’t continue to play contender pretender, however, if history is any indication.

 

OF Bryce Johnson2017 6th round (186th overall), Sam Houston State
2019 Age: 23
2019 Projected Assignment:
AA (Richmond Flying Squirrels, Eastern League)

Johnson is no one’s idea of a top prospect, but the switch hitter from Cypress, Texas, is a speed demon who’s played nearly 1500 innings in minor league outfields thus far without an error. He puts the ball on the ground in more than half his at bats, which we’d like to see from a speedster with power that projects as well below average at the MLB level. With six triples during his 2018 season, if Johnson can work gap-to-gap and get to the warning track more than once in a while, he’ll be able to overcome his total lack of raw or game home run power.

Johnson was 31 of 35 on the bases this season and walked in more than ten percent of his plate appearances. For a player with so little power, you’d like to see better contact ability. He strikes out about twenty percent of the time, which contributed to him running a BABIP nearly a hundred points above his batting average (.334 to .249). It’s troubling that a speed-dependent profile ran such a low average without poor luck on balls in play. He may be too overmatched by advanced pitching to survive the upper levels.

Errors and fielding percentage of course do not offer a complete picture of a player’s defensive value, but what little we have in the way of so-called advanced defensive metrics at the minor league level may as well be random numbers. Johnson probably tops out as a defensive replacement and pinch runner type that most rosters no longer have room for on the bench. His defense and speed are well above average, so it will come down to whether he is totally unplayable or merely inept as a hitter at the upper levels.

This player looks a lot like Adam Engel, although Engel both struck out more and flashed at least modest, closer to average power. Engel is something like an 80th percentile outcome. That’s not good, because in MLB so far, Engel has given back more value at the plate than his excellent defense has made up for thus far. Kevin Pillar isn’t even really worth mentioning, because to get there, you have to project Johnson to somehow add significant doubles power and, in the future, double digit home run potential, and where’s any of that going to come from. Pillar is theoretically an extreme high end outcome for Johnson, but it’s just not going to happen here.

Fortunately for Johnson, the Giants have made a habit of essentially playing a couple of pitchers in the outfield for years now. Their outfield situation has been so bad that having a stable glove-and-speed player roaming center has tended to be better than most alternatives. That’s how a team that saw itself as a contender managed to give a 29 and 30-year-old Gorkys Hernandez 799 PA to produce a mere .5 fWAR over the previous two seasons. I’ll revise down from Engel and say that Hernandez is what your optimistic outcome on Johnson looks like. You might like to have one to Dave Roberts for your postseason roster, but not much else.

 

LHP John Gavin2017 8th round (246th overall), Cal State Fullerton
2019 Age: 23
2019 Projected Assignment:
A+ (San Jose Giants, California League)

Following an illustrious silver screen career, John Gavin became the US Ambassador to Mexico under President Ronald Reagan fourteen years before he was born. Although Gavin sadly passed away two months before the 2018 season began, the CSU Fullerton alum was terrific in the South Atlantic League, as any 22-year-old college arm worth his chops ought to be.

Gavin’s season was highlighted by his June 23rd outing against Rome, Georgia (Braves), in which he allowed a single baserunner across seven hitless innings, striking out nine. He surrendered zero runs five total times in a quarter of his low A starts, and he surrendered two runs or more in only six of those twenty starts. San Francisco probably could have pushed him to hi A earlier than August.

Gavin ran some sketchy looking low minors rates that we’ll have to monitor at higher, more age appropriate levels before projecting him to the majors. He allowed a hair more than a meager five hits per inning because his experience allowed him to dominate raw, younger low A hitters. This is also borne out by his strikeout rate of over ten per nine, well above the strikeout ability he showed as a collegiate pitcher.

The 6’6” lefty doesn’t top 90 MPH with his fastball. He’s a 5th/6th starter or an up-and-down shuttle reliever at the next level, if he makes it there. Brian Johnson has a similar arsenal and would represent a positive outcome. There is not a lot of margin for error with substantially below average velocity, and Gavin has neither a sinker/groundball profile or well above average command to help carry him. He will probably need to continue to strike out more hitters in the upper minors than he did in college.

Gavin was smacked around in a six game trial in hi A following his August promotion. He surrendered seven home runs in less than thirty innings, but again, relax, it’s six games. The initial struggle does illustrate how imminently vulnerable this pitcher will be each time he reaches a new level, as he just does not have the stuff to overpower advanced hitters. Perhaps this is why San Francisco was a touch conservative in waiting to send him to hi A.

Because Gavin’s path forward will rely heavily on adjusting to hitters who are suddenly more advanced and better prepared for offspeed pitches than raw teenagers, it may be helpful to give him time to consolidate his gains at a level. Even if he does successfully transition to hi A this season, while you could see a productive Gavin getting a half season of AA under his belt to “catch up”, the “good outcome” scenario will probably look a lot like his 2018 plan: most of the season at hi A followed by a few AA starts in August to get his feet wet at the next level.

If Gavin can’t handle the CAL league, he runs the risk of being pushed aside for more interesting prospects behind him. This is a kind of pitcher that often turns into the swingman of an A ball or AA staff. College arms have a reputation for being thought of as “safe”, but that doesn’t mean you’re hitting on a back end starter with a given pick from that player pool. There’s a very sizable chance Gavin doesn’t accomplish more than giving up five earned runs in three MLB September innings at age 25 or 26 before never being heard from again.

 

SS Yorlin Rodriguez – 2017 IFA, Cuba, $300,000
2019 Age: 19
2019 Projected Assignment:
R-SS (Salem-Keizer Volanoes, Northwest League)

Rodriguez got exposure by playing shortstop for the 15U Cuban National Team. I’d love to give you some more information about this player, but this data does not appear to be available. Historical tournament data does not appear to be available via USA Baseball, and if it was, it might not include all countries’ participants.

Sample sizes are small, but data and historical record itself generates interest in these events, which many of us have never heard about. International amateur competition does not appear to be a priority to market on the behalf of Major League Baseball. This is unfortunate, because engaging with other countries over the game of baseball is a way to build cultural bridges in the world, and promoting high level youth baseball competition can drive new fans to the sport.

Rodriguez signed for a six figure bonus and can’t be considered a non-prospect, while keeping in mind that signing teenagers to begin a career in a new country and challenging culture based on a brief look of playing baseball as the equivalent of a freshman or sophomore in high school is a very risky proposition. There’s a lot of adjustment and hard work between here and there, and there are stateside prospects pouring out of every draft to take a lot of the roster spots low minor league affiliates are afforded.

The only video we have on Rodriguez is from a batting practice session from national play, uploaded by Fangraphs. Who knows how he has changed physically in the interim, as well as any mechanical tweaks he has made to his hitting approach. What he shows in the session we do have is interesting to me. The batter is winding his body up by pivoting on his foot, on his toes, instead of striding or using a leg kick to generate force to drive at the approaching pitch. He’s turning his entire left leg inward to load the spring.

The idea is like pulling back the bar on a not-pro-life rat trap. I think it provides what a leg kick is trying to accomplish; it’s hard to see someone without middle infielder balls-of-their-feet sense being able to keep balance and load on power this way. Maybe I’m still fairly new at this and talking too much, but I can’t find anyone talking about him, so I’ll do my best to. Again, the video is a couple years old.

So, what we’re left with is that Yorlis came stateside this year, but the AZL means that we have a tiny sample of highly volatile data in a league that can’t be appropriately scouted from the numbers alone, and yet very little of that scouting becomes public information. Rodriguez hit .323/.409/.445 as an 18-year-old. He walked almost as much as he struck out, and he didn’t strike out very often, and that’s a pretty darn good start. That’s about all we can conclude from it.

One other thing: Rodriguez played third in the AZL. That doesn’t mean he’s not playing short ever again, it just means that he did in Arizona. I wrote about a possible LOOGY and a 5th OF/pinch runner above. You should be a lot more interested in following this player in the next couple of years. At least we don’t already more or less know what he is.

 

RHP Jesus Tona2014 IFA, Venezuela, n/a
2019 Age: 23
2019 Projected Assignment: A (Augusta GreenJackets, South Atlantic League)

Tona was absolutely electric in the Northwest League this summer as the Volcanoes’ closer. He appeared in 23 games. He secured twelve saves while pitching to a dominant 0.87 ERA and 0.81 WHIP. He struck out a batter in all but one game. He struck out two or more hitters in an outing thirteen times. He sits in the mid 90s with a promising slider, per Scouting the Sally.

Well, Tona was 22 in rookie ball. But, if you take a look at the video above from Baseball Census, he’s on the wrong side of home plate. 2018 was his first season as a professional pitcher, and he appears to be pretty fucking good at it. Tona could move quick. The Dodgers might lean more heavily on Pedro Baez in the recent playoff run, with the benefit of Captain Hindsight. Did you know he played six full seasons as a third baseman before turning into a frustratingly hard-to-trust reliever relative to the late inning arsenal he wields?

Not all of the converted position players who move to the mound make it. Tona was legitimately dominant in his first professional exposure. You could see him in a couple years.