American League Central Prospect Notebook For June

Milan Tolentino’s Bat Does The Talking For Guardians In Low-A

In a Guardians system flush with talented infielders, it might be easy to get lost in the shuffle. 

With his hot start, 20-year-old shortstop Milan Tolentino is making sure that doesn’t happen to him. 

The 2020 fourth-rounder starred at Santa Margarita High in Orange County, California, and has had no trouble transitioning to pro ball.

Through 35 games for Low-A Lynchburg he hit .373/.474/.492 with one home run and eight stolen bases.

“We are really excited about Milan,” Guardians assistant general manager James Harris said. “He is putting up quality at-bats so far this year. His approach and instincts in the box have allowed him to have offensive success in Low-A.”

Standing 6 feet, 180 pounds, the lefthanded-hitting Tolentino must develop his power stroke in pro ball after receiving below-average grades in that regard as an amateur.

Tolentino also was showing growth in pitch recognition and strike-zone judgment. He had dramatically improved his walk (16%) and strikeout (18%) rates compared with his 19-game pro debut in the Arizona Complex League a year ago.

Tolentino comes from a baseball family. His father Jose Tolentino was a member of Texas’ 1983 College World Series winners and played professionally for 15 years. He is currently a Spanish-language broadcaster for the Angels.

In the field, Milan has the versatility and athleticism to play any of the infield positions. His focus this season has been on shortstop and third base, with some time at second base.

“He has solid arm strength at shortstop and third base,” Harris said, “but he’s moved around due to our depth in the middle of the diamond—and to add to his versatility.”

—Jim Ingraham

Tigers’ Dylan Smith Is Comfortable In The Spotlight

Righthander Dylan Smith is no stranger to playing on a big stage. 

The two-sport star for Stafford (Texas) High was drafted by the Padres in the 18th round in 2018. But rather than sign with San Diego, Smith opted for Alabama, where he matured into the Crimson Tide’s staff ace as a junior in 2021.

The Tigers called Smith’s name in the third round last year. 

“I honestly knew I would probably be around the top three rounds,” Smith said. “I just didn’t really have an idea of what team. I had a lot of different interests from a lot of teams. I kind of just went along with everything and the process.”

Knowing the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Smith’s ability to manage the pressure of the spotlight, the Tigers sent the 22-year-old to High-A West Michigan to begin his pro career in 2022.

He recorded a 2.54 ERA through his first 39 innings, to go with 37 strikeouts and five walks. Smith said his focus has been on out-thinking the opposition. 

“It’s a little bit of a cat-and-mouse game,” Smith said. “In college, it was easy to get guys to chase more, because you have a really good slider or curveball. Now, some guys actually sit on those pitches and they are more selective.”

Mixing a fastball, curve, splitter and slider, Smith has taken the adaptation in stride.

“My curveball grip is pretty much a new pitch I learned in spring training this year,“ Smith said. “I felt like that’s been the biggest thing for me. Just learning how to throw the pitch with a different grip and to get some variation between my slider and curveball.

“I want to go out there and keep pounding the zone, getting ahead of guys, and getting guys to get themselves out, versus me having to get my pitch count all the way up and dominate guys.”

—Emily Waldon

Davis Martin Opens Eyes In Unexpected MLB Debut For White Sox

The White Sox have a bounty of starting pitchers in Chicago.

General manager Rick Hahn rattled off the names Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, Johnny Cueto and Vince Velasquez.

He didn’t forget to include another name.

“Let’s have some Davis Martin love here,” Hahn said, “for what he did in a quick spot start that was unexpected for him.”

Needing an emergency starter in mid May with Lynn on the injured list with a knee injury, Giolito on the Covid-19 IL and Kopech on paternity leave, the White Sox called up Martin from Triple-A Charlotte.

Starting against the Royals in Game 2 of a road doubleheader, the 25-year-old Martin made a memorable MLB debut by striking out seven, walking one and allowing one run in five innings.

“He was impressive,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “He did so many good things. He has a right to feel good, and (to) look at his big league future sooner rather than later.”

Talk about a rapid rise. Martin wasn’t even invited to big league camp this spring.

Drafted by the White Sox in the 14th round in 2018 out of Texas Tech, Martin began the season with Double-A Birmingham and opened eyes with a 2.50 ERA in five starts.

After being promoted to Charlotte and making two more starts, Martin got the surprise callup.

With an improved fastball and a changeup that has impressed the White Sox, Martin has instantly become one of the system’s top pitching prospects.

If Chicago’s rotation needs help later this season, the call is very likely going to the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Martin.

“The fun part is getting out there and competing, seeing if your stuff plays at the highest level,” Martin said. “Once you get on the mound, it’s go time. 

Martin valued working with veteran catcher Yasmani Grandal, who he said “calmed me down and helped me take it one step at a time.”

—Scot Gregor

Twins Lefthander Cade Povich Exceeds Expectations 

Lefthander Cade Povich had the look of a professional pitcher before the Twins even drafted him, and the reason is easy to sum up, Alex Hassan said.

“Strike-throwing,” the Twins farm director said. “He worked in the zone with not just one pitch, but three and sometimes four of them. Strikes are a great place to start for a young guy.”

Especially if he can add a second valuable quality: velocity. 

Povich, the Twins’ third-round pick last July out of Nebraska, came to camp armed with more of it this spring. After working in the low 90s in college, Povich unveiled a four-seam fastball that touches 95-96 mph when he needs it.

“He’s been a real surprise, really since the day he arrived in the system,” Hassan said. “He started throwing harder than expected right away, in (eight innings at) instructional league last fall, and it’s really carried over. 

“He’s a lefthander with four pitches. His velocity has jumped up. He has a lot of weapons that excite us.”

The Twins were so excited that they skipped Povich over Low-A and assigned him to High-A Cedar Rapids. It was a lot to ask of a 22-year-old pitcher whose college career amounted to just 102.1 innings in two Covid-impacted seasons, but Povich had thrived. 

Through seven Midwest League starts, his ERA was 3.58. And the velocity, which the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Povich uses high in the zone in two-strike counts, has paid off with 46 strikeouts in 32.2 innings, with just nine walks.

“He’s a hard worker,” Hassan said. “He committed to his workouts, and he came to camp with noticeably more muscle.

“He’s working with a complete four-pitch mix: fastball, slider, curve and change. The fastball has some movement, and his changeup, playing off that velocity, has been a really good pitch. He has fit in fast.”

—Phil Miller

Luca Tresh’s Offense, Leadership Skills Bloom For Royals

Royals catcher Luca Tresh came into his first full season in the organization with a plan to keep himself ready to catch the bulk of games for High-A Quad Cities. 

The 17th-round pick from North Carolina State last year signed for a well above-slot $423,000. Tresh believes his performance in his final collegiate season suffered because he wasn’t ready to catch all 56 games of the season, which ended with a trip to the College World Series.

Catching takes a tremendous toll on a player’s body, but Tresh’s wear and tear was more mental. He became the primary catcher after previously sharing the position with Patrick Bailey, the Giants’ first-round pick in 2020, in his first two years in Raleigh.

“My body physically was perfectly fine to catch a full season,” Tresh said, “but I don’t think I was there mentally last year.”

Tresh’s plan for improving his mental state of mind was quite simple.

“I read a lot about the mind,” Tresh said. “I did that this past offseason, and that helped me a ton . . . just trying to strengthen my mind and trying to build it up . . .

“That gets me in a better mental state when I feel like I’m drifting away.”

Tresh is also working to improve his hitting this season and was adapting to the Royals’ hitting program. Adherence to the program had helped Tresh develop a better approach at the plate.

Through 31 games he hit .250/.333/.457 with six home runs.

“You get so much info from all of that,” Tresh said. “It helps you slow things down a little bit and it gives you a better game plan going into the game.”

Catchers are expected to be leaders on the field, and Tresh believes he does so by leading by example. Quad Cities manager Brooks Conrad attests to that.

“He’s a good teammate and he talks to his pitchers,” Conrad said. “I think he’s really blooming in that area as well.”

—Bill Mitchell


Alec Zumwalt, the Royals’ senior director for player development and hitting performance, was moved to the MLB staff full-time to oversee all hitting efforts in the organization. Zumwalt replaces Terry Bradshaw, who was fired as hitting coach, a position he held since 2018.

— The Royals’ top two draft picks in 2021, lefthander Frank Mozzicato and righthander Ben Kudrna, were both moved in May from extended spring training to Low-A Columbia. Mozzicato made his pro debut on May 18 with three scoreless innings against Myrtle Beach. Kudrna followed three days later with 3.2 innings against the same Pelicans team. He dominated hitters with a fastball up to 98 mph.

— The Tigers’ Kody Clemens recorded a hit in 34 of his first 43 games for Triple-A Toledo. He was seeing time at second base, third base, left field and first base. 

— After suffering a right foot fracture at the end of spring training, Tigers top prospect Riley Greene was cleared to begin a rehab assignment with Low-A Lakeland in late May. The outfielder will eventually join Triple-A Toledo and presumably make his MLB debut later this season.

— Triple-A Charlotte manager Wes Helms has been placed on indefinite leave, according to the organization. No reason was given by the White Sox or Knights, and Julio Mosquera has been serving as acting manager.

— The White Sox optioned first baseman Yermin Mercedes to Triple-A Charlotte in early May after activating him from the injured list. He missed more than six weeks with a hamate fracture in his left hand.

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