2018 Sally League Top 20 Prospects Chat

dave (grayson, ga): 

    Can Freddy Tarnok stay a starter? Seems like he fell apart when they moved him into the rotation. Any notes on other Rome pitchers?

J.J. Cooper: Hey everyone. Thanks for coming out. Tarnok did wear down, but even before he did, there was a pretty steady rumbling among scouts that he projects more as a reliever than a starter. There’s no reason to move him now, but that is the long-term expectation. As far as other pitchers (Ynoa is already on the list), Bruce Zimmermann dominated but with fringy stuff but a very good changeup. Kyle Muller was very good and zoomed to higher levels, but it was 30 innings so he didn’t qualify.

Zaphod (Magrathea): 

    What can you tell me about Hickory relievers Demarcus Evans and Joe Barlow? Both were pretty dominant this year, and are part of the Rangers AFL contingent. Legit potential late inning relievers, or just advanced guys taking advantage of young hitters?

J.J. Cooper: Both were dominant and both have plus fastballs, which is the key starting point of a useful MLB reliever. Barlow sits 94-96 mph with a lively fastball and mixes in a usable curveball. Evans fastball may be even better. It’s similar velocity but hitters just do not see it coming out of Evans hand. It plays better than that. Deception like that doesn’t really disappear as a pitcher climbs the ladder. Evans breaking ball also flashes plus. There is definitely something there.

Miles (Iowa): 

    Did you get any feedback on Tyreque Reed? Is his power going to be enough to get him to the majors as a bench option?

J.J. Cooper: Scouts generally thought his bat was slower than they would like for a slugger. It was seen as power derived from strength/leverage more than bat speed. There are concerns how well it will play as he moves up the ladder.

Stlscott (STL of course): 

    How much is the Melendez strike out rate an issue? THANKS

J.J. Cooper: Take that away and he’d be a near perfect catching prospect. Everyone has to have some flaw to work on (well almost everyone, Wander Franco decided he wanted to be flawless). Melendez showed legitimate power, excellent athleticism for a catcher and the tools to be a solid defensive catcher. Put all that together and you are talking about an all-star catcher–take a look at what the average catcher in the AL did this year to get an idea of how low the bar is for a productive offensive catcher these days. Melendez has to improve his strikeout rate and it is a legitimate concern, but the tools/skills are impressive.

Rich (NJ): 

    Can you please provide your thoughts on the potential of the following Lakewood players: Jhailyn Ortiz, Simon Mizzotti & Jake Scheiner. Please forgive my butchering of names. Thanks as always !!

J.J. Cooper: Ortiz was expected to be one of the better prospects in the Sally League this year, but he disappointed with a less-advanced approach than expected. He still has outstanding raw power, but he had a very pull-heavy approach this year that left him vulnerable to pitchers with a plan. There were also concerns from scouts that his athleticism is going away. Ortiz has always been a big guy, but he’s always been quite nimble for his size. Scouts this year said he showed signs he’s slowing down.

Mark (Florida): 

    Would Seth Romero rank on this list if he qualified? What are you hearing on Romero now that he is having TJ and has barely pitched yet?

J.J. Cooper: No. There’s definitely some talent there, but he didn’t show as sharp an arsenal with Hagerstown as he showed at his best in college. His conditioning wasn’t where it needed to be and that does carry a cost for a pitcher. But Romero does have a plus changeup (pre-surgery) and the makings of three MLB pitches. The big question for Romero going forward is his maturity. He needs to attack his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery and come back from it in better shape than he was pre-injury. If he does that and stays focused, he has a major league arm.

Dan (Internet): 

    Yasel Antuna: lost season? What were evaluators saying about him? Candidate to repeat? Looks like he really never found his grove and had some issues in the field as well.

J.J. Cooper: Injuries ruined his season. He’s recovering from Tommy John surgery, but even before the surgery it seemed to affect him both in the field and at the plate. There is legitimate hitting ability buried in there, but he wasn’t as aggressive at the plate or defensively this year. It does make sense for him to return to Hagerstown, but there is some confidence than he is better than what he looked like in 2018. He has the tools to be an everyday MLB regular, but he has a lot of work to do physically and mentally to get there.

dave (grayson, ga): 

    Will del Rosario end up as the prospect the Braves most regret losing?

J.J. Cooper: Could be. I’d put the over/under at 2 on the number of players the Braves lost due to MLB penalties that will end up having significant MLB careers. Del Rosario has the tools to be a useful MLB reliever with a smaller shot at being a starter.

Rodney (Ithaca, NY): 

    Would having Melendez et al. in the system discourage the Royals from taking a backstop at No. 2 next June?

J.J. Cooper: No. You take the best player and figure the rest out later. If Adley Rutschman is sitting there at No. 2 and the evaluation is he is the best player available you pick him. For one, you can play two catchers if one of them is a big bat (with one of them DHing) and for another, if you hit on both players, you can also trade one of them and get great value in the trade. The Royals had Wil Myers and Salvador Perez on the same team as catchers at one point. That worked out quite well for the Royals.

Matt (Virginia): 

    Hey JJ, if I may offer a counterpoint: William Contreras was the best SALLY prospect this year. Those offensive numbers are silly from a player who’s a lock to stay at C.

J.J. Cooper: Please explain what Contreras does better than Melendez? I’ll grant you he has a better hit tool, and because of that it wouldn’t shock me if Contreras ended up being a better big leaguer than Melendez. But Melendez is more than a year younger than Contreras, has a better/more accurate arm and has more power. They had very similar years offensively (Contreras showed a better hit tool, Melendez showed more power). Defensively the reports we have has Melendez as a little bit better receiver right now although both should be able to stay behind the plate. Both are very good prospects.

Bobby Bradley’s 40-time (MA): 

    Just looking at his game logs, it seems as though Melendez hit MUCH better during periods of the season in which he caught, say, every other game compared to the periods in which he was asked to catch for 4, 5, 6+ games in a row. Random? Or could it be a young, smaller catcher dealing with the tough task of catching a full season? Would that be something to monitor?

J.J. Cooper: Passes the logic test, but it also could be some statistical noise as well. Melendez’s season is probably helped in part because he was part of a team that allowed him some days off from behind the plate, but to do what he did while playing in a 140-game schedule for the first time is pretty amazing for a young catcher.

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): 

    Let’s forget DL Hall for a moment. Baumann, Cameron Bishop, Lowther, Hanifee, and Dietz were also on the Shorebird staff – who is your favorite?

J.J. Cooper: Many of them were there only briefly, but several have clear paths to big league jobs. Baumann has solid stuff and feel to pitch. Dietz has a delivery that you wouldn’t want to teach, but he has a big fastball and some deception. Lowther has an invisi-ball fastball where his fastball has average velocity at best but it plays better than that.

Bobby PHI (Philly): 

    What do you think of Kyle Young? promising start, sidelined with an injury, but still made it back for Lakewood’s playoff run. Does he look like he’ll end up in a big league rotation/bullpen someday?

J.J. Cooper: I’m rooting for it. He would be the tallest MLB pitcher of all time, which would be awesome. But as you said, this year was somewhat of a lost year. He has advanced body control and control for a pitcher his size, but he needs to stay healthy. There’s a path to an MLB role for him, but he’s not an elite prospect at this point.

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): 

    Delmarva shortstop and 1st rounder Cadyn Grenier – does he justify the Oriole’s spending such a high draft choice on him in your opinion?

J.J. Cooper: He is what he is, which is a legitimate MLB shortstop defensively with a light bat. I’d describe him as a high floor player, kind of like a Deven Marrero or Nick Ahmed type whose glove gets him to the big leagues but his bat limits his ability to be an everyday first-division regular.

MikeR (Lockport, NY): 

    Seuly Matias seemed to reduce his strikeouts after he came back from some time off in July; was this due to a different approach, better pitch recognition ?

J.J. Cooper: He did make improvements. He became less prone to swinging at the first pitch in at-bats and he did a better job of recognizing breaking balls in the second half of the season. That’s an encouraging sign, but he’ll have to keep making that improvement as his ability to make consistent contact is what stands right now between him and a successful big league career. He’s young and he has the power/arm scouts look for in a right fielder, but his contact rate has to keep getting better.

Rick (DC): 

    I’ve never heard a comp on Luis Garcia. What type of player do you think he can be, or what is a potential comp?

J.J. Cooper: I’m not a fan of forcing comps on a player unless it comes naturally, but I will say that Garcia is one of the more advanced young hitters in low Class A. He has a little bit of a thicker lower-half, so picture a well-built second baseman as far as a body comp more than a quick-twitch shortstop.

DR (SALLY Land): 

    I was surprised to see Oneal Cruz have so few strikeouts (relatively) this season. If he can refine his approach some and keep the power, is this an above-average ML OF?

J.J. Cooper: You’re moving him to the outfield pretty quickly considering he’s a shortstop right now and some scouts believe he could end up as an above-average third baseman. Cruz has the highest ceiling of anyone on this list. He has a chance to have massive power while providing defensive value (either at third base or in right field). But the caveats that come with a long-limbed hitter apply in heavy doses here. He will always strike out because hitters with his kind of unavoidable length to his swing and massive strike zone always do. The key is to have the batting eye to draw walks and the hand-eye and pitch recognition to punish hittable pitches. Aaron Judge has made that work very well, Cruz has shown signs he can do some of the same things.

John Jacob (Jingleheimerschmidt): 

    I’m leery of putting too much stock in what Tyler Phillips did this year, given that he’s relying on command and a plus changeup — pitchers with his profile seem to dominate the lower levels, then get hammered once they get to AA or AAA. Tell me why I should expect something different from Phillips.

J.J. Cooper: That’s definitely a risk. I’m a leader of the “worry about plus changeup pitchers who dominate in the low minors” club. It’s something I learned from following Jon Connolly and others many years ago. But Phillips isn’t pitching with a 40 fastball. It’s a legit 50 fastball at least and he commands it/manipulates it and gets strikes with it. I do think that Phillips lack of a plus fastball (at least yet) or plus breaking ball does limit his ceiling and add some risk, but the curveball also has a chance and his feel for pitching gives him the opportunity to continue improving and adjusting as he climbs the ladder.

Ben (Lake in the Hills, IL): 

    When was the last occasion in which your Sally League’s top 20 was considered a higher-ceiling list than the Midwest League’s?

J.J. Cooper: It’s been a while. In 2015, Moncada-Mateo-Albies-Devers-Toussaint-Kopech et al (with Rhys Hoskins at 20) was probably a tick better than Gleyber Torres-Nick Gordon-Ian Happ-Brent Honeywell-Sean Reid-Foley (with Paul DeJong and Harrison Bader in the 11-20). But lately the Midwest League has been dominating this pseudo competition.

J.J. Cooper: Thanks everyone. Back to working on the next issue of the magazine. We’ll have Midwest League Top 20 Prospects list tomorrow followed by the New York-Penn League, Northwest League and the rookie leagues next week.

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