Surprise! One encouraging prospect-related development for each team

May 15th, 2024

Six weeks into the Minor League season, we have witnessed plenty of pleasant prospect developments.

Athletics 2023 first-rounder Jacob Wilson is batting a sizzling .438 and already has reached Triple-A. Mets right-hander Jonah Tong has been a revelation with elite fastball characteristics and a Minors-best 0.33 ERA. As one Chourio brother (Jackson) graduated from the Top 100 Prospects list, another (Guardians Single-A outfielder Jaison) played his way onto it.

We detail those stories and more below as we highlight an encouraging story from each farm system.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Blue Jays: Orelvis Martinez, 2B (No. 2/MLB No. 71)While he’s always had plus power potential, Martinez has been defined by his inconsistency through parts of his Minor League career, so while he was a solid performer at Triple-A Buffalo during a 55-game stint last year, it was an open question how he’d handle the Minors’ top level upon his return. So far so good, especially in the power department. The 22-year-old second baseman has 10 homers in 36 games and is slugging .552 in that span.

Orioles: Cade Povich, LHP (No. 9)For all of the (deserved) attention the hitting prospects have generated this year, Povich is doing his part as one of two pitchers in the Orioles’ top 10. The other, Chayce McDermott, has been solid in Triple-A, but Povich has been downright dominant, leading the Triple-A International League in ERA (2.16) and strikeouts (57), while sitting second in WHIP (1.10) and batting average against (.193), trailing only McDermott in that last category.

Rays: Santiago Suarez, RHP (No. 8)Tampa Bay’s pitching development pipeline has generally been strong, but it was an open question which arm could seize the throne as the next big thing. Suarez looks ready to take the mantle. The 19-year-old right-hander has posted a 3.00 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 30 innings for Single-A Charleston. Most amazingly, his 1.8 percent walk rate tops Minor Leaguers with at least 30 innings pitched. His mid-90s fastball and promising curveball give him stuff beyond just control too, helping his status.

Red Sox: Elmer Rodriguez-Cruz, RHP (No. 20)After missing two months at the end of last season with elbow inflammation, Rodriguez-Cruz has returned with more velocity on his fastball (now sitting at 94-96 mph and touching 98) and slider (upper 80s with promising depth). The 2021 fourth-rounder from a Puerto Rican high school has posted a 2.96 ERA, .217 opponent average and 40 strikeouts in 24 1/3 Single-A innings.

Yankees: Agustin Ramirez, C (No. 20)Ramirez received the highest bonus paid to a Dominican catcher ($400,000) in the 2018 international class but didn’t reach full-season ball until last year, when he hit 18 homers and advanced to Double-A. He’s thriving at that level in 2024, providing a lot of hard contact while raking at a .283/.404/.637 clip with 12 homers (one off the Minor League lead) in 30 games.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Guardians: Jaison Chourio, OF (No. 3/MLB No. 96)Signed for $1.2 million out of Venezuela in 2022, Jaison can’t match Jackson’s lofty ceiling — few players can — but he’s an advanced switch-hitter with tremendous feel for hitting and solid to plus speed, arm strength and center-field defense. He won’t turn 19 until Sunday yet is batting .299/.448/.423 with 12 steals in 27 Single-A games, ranking second in the Carolina League in on-base percentage.

Royals: Frank Mozzicato, LHP (No. 4)After Mozzicato was injured during a batting-practice collision last June, Royals senior pitching director Paul Gibson acknowledged to MLB.com’s Anne Rogers that “definitely there was some effect” on the remainder of the southpaw’s 2023 season. A 7.12 ERA and 33 walks over nine starts at High-A Quad Cities helped that case. Mozzicato is back in the Midwest League this spring and is proving to be much more dominant as he puts last year’s injury and recovery in the rearview. He owns a 1.88 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and .095 average against through five starts (24 innings), and while he has some control issues still, that should bring a sigh of relief to all involved.

Tigers: Wenceel Pérez, OF (No. 20)It may have looked like Pérez would be a temporary replacement for Andy Ibáñez when he was first called up on April 8, but the switch-hitter carved out a role in the Detroit outfield with a .304/.375/.506 line through 25 games. He’s been particularly solid at making contact in the zone (88.8 percent of swings), and that’s helped build that slash line. Pérez’s plus speed gives him another asset in both center and right and should keep him in the AL Central contender’s outfield rotation.

Twins: David Festa, RHP (No. 5)The Twins’ top pitching prospect’s command hasn’t been great, but his stuff is all ticking upwards. He’s touched triple digits with his fastball and averaged a touch over 95 mph with the pitch this year. His heater, slider and changeup have all missed bats at an impressive 39-percent rate, leading to his 14.4 K/9 rate and solid 3.00 ERA (which would put him top 10 in the IL if he had enough innings) as he knocks on the big league door from Triple-A St. Paul.

White Sox: Brooks Baldwin, SS (No. 24)Baldwin quickly became an organization favorite after the White Sox drafted him in the 12th round out of UNC Wilmington in 2022, and he has kicked his performance up a notch to begin this season. He’s slashing .350/.421/.462, pacing the Double-A Southern League in hitting and on-base percentage and using his solid to plus speed to steal seven bases in 31 games.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Angels: Caden Dana, RHP (No. 2)The Angels certainly aren’t shy about pushing prospects aggressively and so far, Dana seems up to the task. Just 20, he was pushed to Double-A to start the year and all he’s done is lead the Southern League with his 1.69 ERA and 0.72 WHIP while sitting in second with his .139 BAA. His fastball has been up to 96 mph and his low-80s slider has generated a 39-percent miss rate. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that he leads the SL in innings pitched, having gone at least six in five of his six starts to date.

Astros: Joey Loperfido, OF/1B (No. 6)Loperfido has gotten stronger and more athletic while showing the ability to translate instruction into results since the Astros selected him in 2021’s seventh round out of Duke. The club identified him as a potential contributor to the big league lineup in 2024 and it happened sooner than expected after he batted .287/.397/.713 with Minor League bests in homers (13) and slugging percentage in 25 Triple-A games. He has gone 9-for-28 (.321) in his first nine contests in the Majors while starting at all three outfield positions.

A’s: Jacob Wilson (No. 1/MLB No. 56)After leaving Grand Canyon University with an absurd career strikeout rate of 4.4 percent, we knew Wilson was going to be able to move quickly and make a ton of contact. But this is ridiculous. His K rate has “skyrocketed” to 10.8 percent, but he’s already been bumped up to Triple-A and is leading all of the Minors with his .438 combined batting average. For those who were worried about offensive impact, he does have 15 doubles and three homers for a .652 SLG while routinely hitting the ball hard.

Mariners: Lazaro Montes, OF (No. 4/MLB No. 85)One of the new members of the recently-updated Top 100, Montes has always had among the best raw power in the Minors. He started showing he could tap into it consistently with a drop in his K rate as he reached full-season ball in 2023. He’s back with Single-A Modesto again this year, still only 19, and showing that maybe the Yordan Alvarez comps aren’t far off. He leads the California League in homers and RBIs and is in the top 10 in average, SLG and OPS while walking nearly as often as he’s striking out.

Rangers: Dane Acker, RHP (No. 27)Acker flashed a mid-rotation ceiling after the Rangers acquired him from the Athletics as part of a package for Elvis Andrus and Aramis Garcia in February 2021, only to blow out his elbow and require Tommy John surgery that May. He’s missing more bats than ever and his lively mid-80s changeup has been a weapon this spring in Double-A, where he has recorded a 3.38 ERA, .202 opponent average and 38 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Braves: Owen Murphy, RHP (No. 5)The Braves have six pitchers among their top 10 prospects and all of them have been competing well out of the gate, but none have been as impressive as Murphy thus far. Just 20 years old, three years younger than the average pitcher in the High-A South Atlantic League, Murphy tops the circuit in strikeouts (60, for a league-leading 13.2 K/9 rate)) and WHIP (0.73) while standing third in BAA (.129) and fourth in ERA (1.54).

Marlins: Mark Coley II, OF (No. 24)Coley went through a lot in five years of college at Rhode Island, including missing all of 2022 because of a credit snafu and half of 2023 after breaking his jaw in a first-base collision. Signed for $50,000 as a 17th-rounder last July, he possesses some of the best bat speed and strength in the Marlins system, not to mention plus speed and center-field ability. He earned a promotion from Single-A to High-A 10 days into his first full pro season and is hitting a combined .259/.400/.531 with three homers and five steals in 23 games.

Mets: Jonah Tong, RHP (No. 20)Tong has been one of the big pitching stories of Minor League Baseball with his 0.33 ERA and 47 strikeouts over 27 2/3 innings between Single-A and High-A. The 2022 seventh-rounder has shown a 92-94 mph fastball with incredible rise in 2024, allowing for the high K rate and low ERA. His mid-80s curveball looks like another potential above-average offering, and he has a workable slider and changeup too, adding to his considerable helium.

Nationals: Robert Hassell III, OF (No. 8)A broken hamate from late 2022 might have affected Hassell’s time with Double-A Harrisburg last season as he hit just .225 with a .640 OPS over 106 games. He’s back to looking much more like himself in 2024 with a .303 average, .406 OBP and .810 OPS over his first 29 games back in the Eastern League. His strikeout rate has dropped from 31.9 percent to 23.3 percent, and his speed helps on balls in play. The left-handed slugger still puts the ball on the ground too much, but the contact rate is a promising sign for a prospect who needed one offensively.

Phillies: George Klassen, RHP (No. 29)Scouts loved Klassen’s fast arm and velocity coming out of the University of Minnesota in the 2023 Draft, but command was always an issue. If his first five outings are any indication, he’s figuring things out. The right-hander has allowed just one earned run over 25 innings (0.36 ERA) and his other numbers are equally impressive, with a .119 BAA, 0.72 WHIP and 14.0 K/9 rate, all while walking only 2.9 per nine. His four-seamer has averaged 97.1 mph, which is the highest average velocity by a pitcher in the Florida State League (minimum 150 fastballs thrown). Could a promotion be in his near future?

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

Brewers: Mike Boeve, 3B/2B (No. 13)Milwaukee took the Nebraska-Omaha product in the second round last year for his plus hit tool, but perhaps even the organization couldn’t have seen this coming. Boeve went 21-for-38 (.553) with 13 walks and only five strikeouts through his first 13 games at High-A Wisconsin, prompting a promotion to Double-A Biloxi. He hasn’t stopped hitting there either, and now his .408 average and .493 OBP on the season both rank second-best among Minor League full-season qualifiers.

Cardinals: Quinn Mathews, LHP (No. 21)The 23-year-old Stanford product wasn’t much challenged at Single-A Palm Beach (1.47 ERA, 52 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings) before his recent High-A promotion, but what’s most encouraging is that his stuff has taken a jump. His fastball – previously in the low 90s in school – averaged 94.8 mph in the Florida State League while his 79-82 mph changeup and mid-80s slider have both looked like above-average pitches. It’s looking like stuff that should play at any level in Mathews’ first full season.

Cubs: Brett Bateman, OF (No. 30)Though Bateman was one of the best contact hitters and fastest runners in the 2023 college class, his lack of size and power knocked the Minnesota product down to the eighth round. His tools are translating well in pro ball, as he ranks third in the High-A Midwest League in batting and fourth in on-base percentage with a .337/.472/.426 line and also has 11 steals in 28 games.

Pirates: Hunter Barco, LHP (No. 13)The Pirates knew they’d have to wait to see what kind of pitcher they had when they took Barco in the second round of the 2022 Draft, given that he had Tommy John surgery that May. With a more streamlined delivery, though still with plenty of funk and deception, he’s been outstanding with High-A Greensboro, sitting fifth in the South Atlantic League in ERA (1.65) and fourth in WHIP (0.95) while holding hitters to a .184 average and posting an impressive 34/8 K/BB ratio.

Reds: Jay Allen II, OF (No. 25)There have been some encouraging developments from a number of young Reds hitters like Cam Collier and Sal Stewart, but Allen’s start to the year is the most surprising. The 2021 draftee has always had raw tools, but injuries limited him to 91 games in 2022 and just 31 last year. Still only 21, he’s been outstanding in a talent-packed Dayton lineup, sitting third in the High-A Midwest League with his 1.056 OPS while standing in the top 10 in AVG, OBP and SLG, hitting for power (six homers) and showing off his speed (seven steals).

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

D-backs: Adrian Del Castillo, C (No. 28)Sluggers will often see a power jump in Reno’s dry altitude, and that might cause some skepticism of Del Castillo’s seven homers and .619 slugging percentage through 34 games in his return to the Pacific Coast League. But the 24-year-old backstop’s numbers under the hood (50.9 percent hard-hit rate, .529 xSLG) have been impressive too, and he might be a backup catcher/DH option for the D-backs before long.

Dodgers: Noah Miller, SS/2B (No. 26)The Dodgers acquired Miller in February’s Manuel Margot trade with the Twins because they viewed him as an outstanding defender and thought he could unlock more offense after he batted .220/.326/.318 in his first three pro seasons. He’s making more contact and driving the ball more consistently this spring, producing a .261/.359/.425 line with five homers in 34 games as he repeats High-A.

Giants: Jonah Cox, OF (No. 28)The son of former big league catcher Darron Cox, Jonah compiled a 47-game hitting streak (third-longest in NCAA Division I history) last spring while leading Oral Roberts to the College World Series for the first time in years. Acquired from the A’s in a February deal for Ross Stripling, he has nearly halved his strikeout rate from 28 percent in his pro debut to 15 percent this spring, allowing him to take better advantage of his well-above-average speed. He’s batting .339/.446/.413 and leading the Single-A California League in hitting and steals (20 in 28 games).

Padres: Adam Mazur, RHP (No. 5)In some ways, Mazur was the same pitcher this year with a four-pitch mix, headlined by his fastball and slider, and plus control in his return to Double-A San Antonio. But his results (1.95 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 32 strikeouts in 32 1/3 IP) were even better this time around, and San Diego pushed him to El Paso for his Triple-A debut on Tuesday. The hitter-friendly PCL – and El Paso especially – are major tests for any pitcher, but it’s a sign that the 2022 second-rounder could be a rotation option in San Diego quite soon.

Rockies: Zac Veen, OF (No. 6/MLB No. 93)The 2020 first-round pick is healthy again and that’s helped him land back on the Top 100. Shaking off the wrist injury that greatly impacted his 2023 production and messed up his swing mechanics, the outfielder has put up a .341/.434/.593 line in the Double-A Eastern League so far, leading the circuit in average and OBP while smashing five homers and swiping nine bags. And he’s still just 22 years old.