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AL Central Prospect Notebook For May

AL Central Prospect Notebook

Twins’ Emmanuel Rodriguez Opens Eyes With Early Outburst

He’s not particularly tall and he’s stockier than most teenage players, so Emmanuel Rodriguez hardly fits the physical profile of a home run-hitting center fielder. Yet here he is, slugging his way up the Twins’ system.

“You have to look at tools, not just body type,” said Jeremy Zoll, the Twins’ assistant general manager who oversees player development, “and he’s got tools that get your attention.”

Specifically, Rodriguez hits the ball a long way. That tool earned the Dominican outfielder a $2.7 million bonus during the 2019 international signing period.

“If you’re not an up-the-middle shortstop type, the other thing that gets you real money in this system is power potential,” Zoll said. “He might have been the premier power guy in that (international) class.”

Now, the 19-year-old Rodriguez is one of the premier power hitters in the Florida State League, where he was hitting .241/.440/.574 with five home runs through 17 games for Low-A Fort Myers.

That follows a 10-homer debut in the Florida Complex League last summer.

“He has unbelievable bat speed, twitch skills. His mechanics are really strong,” Zoll said. “Even with the year lost in 2020, last year’s numbers didn’t surprise us. But to see him build on that this spring is pretty exciting.”

With a career .377 on-base percentage, Rodriguez has an eye for the strike zone. But last year he tended to chase too much and struck out nearly 37% of the time. He had cut that rate to 29% early this season.

Rodriguez was also trying to use his power to do more than pull the ball.

Now, can the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Rodriguez cover enough ground to stay in center field?

“We’re going to give him every chance. He’s comfortable out there and does a good job,” Zoll said. “There’s not much he’s done that hasn’t impressed us.”

—Phil Miller

Guardians' Tanner Bibee Shows Early Poise

One of a pitcher’s most underappreciated traits is his ability to handle adversity. Early in 2022, righthander Tanner Bibee had shown plenty of poise.

“For a young player in pro ball, his composure is pretty remarkable,” High-A Lake County Greg DiCenzo said. “A lot of times you see guys try to take things into their own hands when things aren’t going well behind them defensively. Some pitchers try to do too much.

"Consequently, they let what’s going on behind them affect how they execute pitches and attack the next hitter.”

Lake County led the Midwest League in errors in April, but the 23-year-old Bibee pitched around the miscues.

“He’s really good at being able to compartmentalize and make his pitches to each batter. He’s shown really good composure,” DiCenzo said.

Bibee also showed excellent command of the strike zone. In his first three starts for Lake County he had 18 strikeouts and two walks over 11.2 innings. His fastball sat 94-95 mph, while his slider showed plus potential.

“His strikeout-to-walk ratio is an indicator of his ability to execute his pitches, and that pounding the zone with his array of pitches is essential,” DiCenzo said. “In spring training, he was super consistent, the ultimate competitor.

"He has the ability to locate his fastball in and around the zone, and his secondary stuff complements it very well.”

Cleveland drafted Bibee, now 23, in the fifth round out of Cal State Fullerton last year. In his initial starts of 2022, he made a seamless transition to pro ball and may be just beginning to hint at his potential.

“He’s really consistent with his delivery. He knows who he is as a pitcher and never tries to do more than he’s capable of,” DiCenzo said. “He has three pitches he can lean on, and he does that effectively.

"The biggest thing is he’s able to locate his fastball, elevate it when he has to, come inside when he has to. For a young pitcher, that’s sometimes hard to grasp and execute with consistency.”

—Jim Ingraham

White Sox Pleased With Colson Montgomery’s Early Returns

In high school, shortstop Colson Montgomery was used to being the best.

Whether it was baseball or basketball or football, Montgomery was a bona fide star at Southridge High in southern Indiana.

He dropped football after his sophomore season to concentrate on baseball and basketball, and the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Montgomery could have played both sports in college.

That possibility changed when the White Sox drafted Montgomery with the No. 22 overall pick last July.

In his first full year as a professional baseball player, Montgomery has some catching up to do.

“Everybody’s good,” he said. “Everybody’s here for a reason. That kind of jumped out at me and it really showed me how hard you’ve still got to work.”

Bailing hay on the family farm instilled a strong work ethic in Montgomery, and his prolific talent was already kicking in at Low-A Kannapolis.

Over his first 14 games, the 20-year-old Montgomery hit .236/.353/.382. On April 19, he drove in five runs against Fredericksburg. Two days later, he hit his first professional home run.

There's still a lot of ladder to climb, but Chicago is thrilled with Montgomery's early progress.

“His at-bats are impressive,” White Sox farm director Chris Getz said. “He's under control in the box, takes pitches, makes good passes at the ball when appropriate, can drive the ball to all gaps and we certainly have seen some power as well.”

Even though Montgomery is big for shortstop, Chicago has no plans to move him to another spot.

“The way his feet and hands work, (he has) plenty of arm, he looks like a major league shortstop,” Getz said.

After debuting in the Arizona Complex League last year and slashing .287/.396/.362 in 26 games, Montgomery reported to Kannapolis in a good mental place.

“I’m really pleased with how I performed out there (in Arizona),” he said. “I feel like I’m talented, just as talented as some of these other guys out here, so my confidence is still pretty high.”

—Scot Gregor

Royals’ Maikel Garcia Improves Profile Through Strength, Discipline

Double-A Northwest Arkansas shortstop Maikel Garcia has been viewed as an interesting prospect since joining the Royals organization in 2017.

His skill set has always intrigued, but the question of whether he would add enough strength to his lean frame was the biggest sticking point.

Garcia has consistently added to his original listed weight of 145 pounds and now checks in at just over 180. Garcia said through interpreter Christian Colon, one of the Royals' coaches at their Double-A affiliate, that his primary focus after the 2021 season was his strength and conditioning.

Garcia spent one full month in the gym without touching a bat or glove. While lacking home run power, his increased strength has allowed him to drive balls deeper into the gaps.

Garcia’s most impressive skill at the plate is his outstanding plate discipline, which has improved every year.

“It makes sense to just pick out a good pitch,” Garcia said. “The more you’re in the zone, the better it’s going to be . . . I’m always trying to swing at my pitch and not the pitcher’s pitch.”

Northwest Arkansas manager Chris Widger, who also managed Garcia last year at High-A, has noticed the young hitter’s development.

“He’s recognizing where his strike zone is more and he has a lot more walks now,” Widger said. “He’s not even offering at those pitches that are off the plate.”

Even while climbing to Double-A, Garcia had improved his walk rate to a career best 20% through 20 games.

Solid plate discipline isn’t the only tool that comes naturally to Garcia, who has consistently been graded as a plus defender at shortstop. His natural skills in the field make it easier for his coaches.

“When you get a guy like this,” Colon said, “you just keep your eye on him, but you stay out of his way . . . You let him be what he is, and so far, it’s been good.”

—Bill Mitchell

Talent, Confidence Separate Tigers’ Cristian Santana

The Tigers made a statement by investing a franchise-record $2.95 million into 17-year-old Dominican shortstop Cristian Santana, one of the top talents available in the 2020-21 international signing class.

Santana displays advanced pitch recognition, mature plate discipline and instincts that could very well make him a future infield staple in Detroit.

But as with all teenage prospects, patience is required.

Santana showed big power in 54 games in the Dominican Summer League last year. He hit.269/421/.520 with nine home runs.

Alan Trammell, continuing his role as a roving instructor with the organization, knows a thing or two about the challenges of growing as a young shortstop. Santana caught his eye very quickly.

“Right away, the confidence is something that he has that you like to see,” Trammell said of Santana. “I mean, (he’s) still a long ways away, but he has confidence. And I think that's what separates the younger players, the ones who can step it up and maybe even skip a couple of levels or a level or so.”

That confidence helped Santana earn a spot with Low-A Lakeland to open the season. The 18-year-old was the second-youngest player on an Opening Day roster.

Standing at 6 feet, 165 pounds, Santana projects to add muscle to an already deceptive level of power. While his defensive ability hasn’t particularly jumped off the page, the organization sees enough to keep Santana at shortstop.

“There's always going to be questions,” Trammell said. “Do you think you're rushing them? I'm going back to myself 45 years ago, when The Tigers felt like I was one of a few players that they kind of earmarked to say, ‘Yes, we think he can handle it.’ And I'm glad they did.”

Santana hit just .153 with one home run through 17 games but had drawn 11 walks.

“He's all ears, all eyes, and he's a very talented young man,” Trammell said. “So let's see how it plays out, but he's a very good-looking player. No question about it.”

—Emily Waldon

Vinnie Pasquantino (Tracy Proffitt/Four Seam Images)

Fantasy: FAAB Targets For Week Six

Ten names you need to know for FAAB bidding in fantasy leagues this Sunday, May 15. Options range from redraft stash suggestions to emerging prospects fit only for the deepest of dynasty leagues.

AROUND THE DIVISION

* The White Sox promoted second baseman Yolbert Sanchez to Triple-A Charlotte after he hit .353/.508/.373 in 14 games for Double-A Birmingham.

* The White Sox also promoted righthander Johan Dominguez Birmingham to Charlotte. He had allowed just two earned runs over his first combined 12.2 innings while piling up 20 strikeouts.

* Young Royals pitching prospects Frank Mozzicato, Ben Kudrna and Shane Panzini, the organization's top three draft picks in 2021, all began the season at extended spring training in Surprise, Ariz. The Royals want to manage the innings of the trio of high school pitchers. All three participated in minor league spring training and began EST with one-inning stints as they prepare to report to Low-A Columbia when ready.

* Triple-A Omaha first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino’s stock continues to rise. With the Royals getting very little production at first base in MLB, the lefthanded-hitting Pasquantino may be on the cusp of a callup after hitting .282/.398/.507 through May 1, drawing 14 walks while striking out 10 times.

* The Tigers promoted 2018 second-round outfielder Parker Meadows from High-A West Michigan to Double-A Erie. Over 14 games with West Michigan, the 22-year-old slashed .230/.288/.525 with four home runs and seven RBIs.

* Tigers righthander Beau Brieske made his MLB debut on April 23. The 24-year-old allowed three earned runs, walked a pair and struck out three over five frames in his debut. Brieske opened the season with two appearances for Triple-A Toledo.

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