American League East Prospect Notebook For July
Orioles’ Jordan Westburg Continues Shining After Promotion To Triple-A
The first four-hit game of Jordan Westburg’s professional career on June 24 became his first five-hit game with a double in his final at-bat.
Success is coming quickly for Westburg, the 30th overall pick in the 2020 draft out of Mississippi State.
The Orioles promoted Westburg from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk on June 6. He made the jump with friend and fellow shortstop Gunnar Henderson.
In 72 games at the two levels, Westburg hit .282/.355/.546 with 16 home runs.
“Westburg’s been really good,” Norfolk manager Buck Britton said. “Mr. Consistency is what Westburg is. Smart baseball player.
"Both (he and Henderson) are doing a really good job offensively. They’ve got a chance to be two guys who can really hit for us.”
Westburg played shortstop in college, but he’s also been used at third base and second base in the Orioles' system. Britton is tasked with providing ample starts at shortstop for both Westburg and Henderson under a plan devised by the Orioles.
“They kind of give us a player matrix every week, as to where they’d like guys to line up,” Britton said. “Obviously, throughout the week things happen where someone might not be feeling good, can’t post, but as far as our two shortstops go, I’m told for them to split time.
"So Jordan will get three and Gunnar will get three, and how I go about manipulating that throughout the week is up to me.
“I’m somebody who likes to at least give them back-to-back days, especially at shortstop. It’s the hardest one.”
Baltimore will inherit the challenge down the road, no later than 2023. The organization's draft picks and international signings under head of baseball operations Mike Elias have strengthened their infield depth, particularly up the middle.
“It’s a good problem to have, right?” Britton said. “A couple guys who are young, who can really play that shortstop position. We’ll see what that looks like in a year or two.”
Catcher Anthony Seigler Emerges For Yankees After Early Struggles
When the Yankees drafted catcher Anthony Seigler in the first round in 2018, they knew he could defend. They also knew he was an exceptional athlete.
The question from some inside and many outside the organization was simple: Would he hit?
He’s finally starting to answer that question.
Seigler has been one of the better Yankees player development stories this season. He has overcome multiple injuries and lost development opportunities to show that all he needed was just a little bit of time.
“He’s gotten a lot stronger,” Yankees minor league hitting coordinator Joe Migliaccio said. “He’s much more physical than he was.”
That’s one thing. He’s also just become a smarter, better hitter.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Seigler put up an .860 OPS through his first 25 games at Low-A Tampa.
That earned him a promotion to High-A Hudson Valley, where he really turned it up with a .954 OPS in his first 26 games.
Through 56 total games, Seigler hit .253/.430/.433 with seven home runs, 14 stolen bases, 55 walks and 45 strikeouts.
The Yankees drafted Seigler 23rd overall out of Cartersville High in Georgia and signed him for $2.8 million. He ranked as the Yankees’ No. 26 prospect heading into 2021, but he was squeezed out of the top 30 in 2022.
“With a lot of the guys who get drafted out of high school, they just take more time to become who they’re going to be,” Migliaccio said. “Now, he’s 23 years old and he’s starting to fill out and use that strength that he was building in the weight room.”
Migliaccio added: “Anthony is an awesome guy. When he shows up to the park, it’s to get better. There’s no going through the motions. He shows up to do his work. He puts in quality work day in and day out.”
Epic Power Surge Pushes Red Sox Prospect Niko Kavadas To High-A
When the Red Sox drafted Notre Dame first baseman Niko Kavadas in the 11th round in 2021, there were few questions about his lefthanded power potential.
Kavadas blasted 22 homers in 47 games as a senior, but even that gaudy number hardly prepared anyone for the 23-year-old’s incredible performance at the plate in early 2022.
Assigned to Low-A Salem, Kavadas’ foremost trait through May was a discerning eye that helped him to a .419 on-base percentage.
In June he erupted to hit .400/.538/1.013 with 14 home runs in 25 games. That hot streak began in Salem and continued after a June 24 promotion to High-A Greenville.
The lefthanded hitter had totaled 19 homers through 71 games while hitting .295/.462/.643.
“As locked in as one could be,” Salem manager Luke Montz said of Kavadas.
Kavadas developed his approach at Notre Dame, where he practiced by dividing the plate into thirds and focusing on two-thirds of the zone—middle-in or middle-away—while refusing to expand off the plate.
By narrowing his hitting zone, Kavadas believed he was positioning himself to tap into what evaluators describe as 70-grade raw power.
“If it's in a zone that I feel like I can handle and I feel like I can set my sights on, I'm ready to launch it,” Kavadas said. “I go to the plate and every time I step into the box, I think I'm going to leave the yard.”
In his outrageous June, Kavadas worked a 22.6% walk rate while also striking out 24.5% of the time. More than one out of every four balls he put in play—14 of 54—cleared the fences.
The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Kavadas now must prove himself at higher, more age-appropriate levels. If he makes the most of his contact events, he could become a three-true-outcomes thumper. If not, his development could stall at the upper levels.
Kavadas had made a compelling initial statement about the possibility of the former outcome.
An Improved Approach Has Boosted Blue Jays’ Max Castillo
At 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds, righthander Max Castillo is a big man. He was a big kid, too, and those around him noticed.
“All the teammates made fun of me because I was round and big like a potato, so they started calling me ‘La Papa,’ ” the 23-year-old said through Blue Jays interpreter Hector Lebron. “I guess that's my nickname now.”
‘La Papa,’ Spanish for The Potato, is also inscribed along the thumb of the glove Castillo used when he made his MLB debut on June 19 after he had earned a callup from Triple-A Buffalo.
The jump by the Venezuela native, for years an intriguing prospect who produced steady if unspectacular results, came after a major step forward at Double-A New Hampshire this spring.
Over his first six starts, Castillo attacked more aggressively with a fastball that averages roughly 94 mph. He was also more deliberate with his slider, which serves as a fine complement to his excellent changeup.
The adjustment in approach earned him the bump to Buffalo.
In five games with the Bisons, Castillo struck out 29 batters over 27.1 innings while allowing just two runs, making him an obvious option when the Blue Jays needed some length in the bullpen.
Castillo’s debut against the Yankees didn’t start well. The first two batters he faced were Kyle Higashioka and Marwin Gonzalez, and each took him deep.
He settled down from there and didn’t allow a run over his next three appearances, including four innings of seven-strikeout ball at Milwaukee on June 25 before getting optioned back to Triple-A on July 2.
Castillo’s gains this season are fueled by an improved daily routine.
“That’s the key and why I was getting the results I was having . . . I've been working a lot now on my secondary pitches and I've been throwing the breaking ball more because I'm going to need it to play at this level.”
Rays’ Austin Vernon Has Extra Motivation To Succeed
Austin Vernon has a large presence as a 6-foot-8, 265-pound reliever.
He also has the potential to make a big impact if he keeps doing what he’s doing.
The hard-throwing righthander has made a big impression after the Rays made him a 10th-round pick as a fourth-year collegian out of North Carolina Central in 2021.
He showed his stuff during a post-draft stint in the Florida Complex League, striking out 17 and allowing one run over 11 innings.
But an extensive trial-and-error overhaul of Vernon’s mechanics this spring—including specific changes to make his slider shorter and harder to gain more separation from his fastball, and to improve his changeup—made a big difference.
“I took a little bit of what they wanted and a little bit of what I was doing before and sort of threw it together, and when I got to (Low-A) Charleston the first week of April everything just clicked,” Vernon told Neil Solondz of Rays radio.
Vernon dominated for three months in the Carolina League, striking out 91 in 58.2 innings over 15 games to go with a 1.69 ERA. Opponents hit .156.
He earned pitcher of the month honors in the Carolina League for May, followed by a promotion to High-A Bowling Green on July 8.
“Austin challenged opposing lineups each time he took the ball this year in Charleston,” Rays farm director Carlos Rodriguez said. “. . . He’s got four pitches that he can throw for strikes, including a fastball he can run to 97 (mph) and a plus changeup.
"He gets a lot of swings-and-misses, and after watching him perform throughout the first half we felt it was time for him to face a higher level of competition.’’
Vernon has been proving himself at each step of his journey, having followed his older brother Andrew into baseball. He was also the last player to be drafted out of North Carolina Central before the program dropped baseball.
His goal now is to take the Eagles name all the way to the majors.
Underrated Minor League Hitters With Traits To Target In Fantasy Leagues
Underrated players showing some combination of bat-to-ball skills, plate approach and impact in games, with legitimate skills that pass the eye test.
AROUND THE DIVISION
— Orioles outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the second overall pick in 2020 whose professional debut was delayed after his diagnosis of myocarditis, played in his first affiliated game on June 10 for Low-A Delmarva. Before he could make his debut, Kjerstad recovered from a hamstring injury sustained in a March intrasquad game.
— Orioles catcher Connor Pavolony, a 2021 seventh-rounder out of Tennessee, was hit by a pitch on June 16 and fractured his left hand. Pavolony had posted a .350 on-base percentage at High-A Aberdeen.
— Red Sox righthander Thaddeus Ward threw two no-hit innings on July 1 in the Florida Complex League, his first game action since having Tommy John surgery in June 2021.
— Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas remained sidelined into July at Triple-A Worcester after suffering a high ankle sprain on May 17.
— When Rays second baseman Jonathan Aranda made his MLB debut on June 24, it was a developmental success story for the organization. The 24-year-old signed in July 2015 out of his native Mexico for $130,000 and worked his way through eight levels of the minor leagues.
— Rays second baseman Curtis Mead, the Australia native acquired from the Phillies in November 2019, continued his impressive trajectory with late-June promotion to Triple-A Durham.