American League East Prospect Notebook For June

Blue Jays’ Ricky Tiedemann Quickly Impresses In Pro Debut

Lefthander Ricky Tiedemann began turning heads the moment he arrived at the Blue Jays’ development complex last summer.

This season, the 2021 third-rounder out of Golden West (Calif.) JC was promoted to High-A Vancouver after six dominant starts for Low-A Dunedin. 

“His stuff is elite,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. “Big velo with a lot of athleticism behind it, so the spin rate is high and his slider is elite, too. 

“He has the stuff to compete right now in the major leagues. It’s a matter of just being really consistent with it and building up a workload.” 

Atkins tends to be judicious with praise for young pitchers, but the 19-year-old Tiedemann has earned it. 

Undrafted out of Lakewood (Calif.) High in the five-round 2020 draft, Tiedemann grew into his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame in junior college, while pushing his velocity into the 89-92 mph range and touching 94. 

Once Tiedemann arrived in Dunedin, Fla., he was “able to use resources very quickly and easily,” which led to further gains on his fastball, Atkins said. 

At Dunedin, he sat 96 mph and touched 98, allowing him to strike out 49 batters with just 13 walks in 30 innings while allowing six runs on 11 hits. 

“He has a great routine. He works very hard. He understands how to play catch,” said Matt Buschmann, Toronto’s bullpen coach and minor league pitching coordinator. 

“Those things to me are the most important, and (they are) why I’m so excited and on top of that, yeah, he does throw hard, gets swing-and-miss and has three really good pitches.”

Given that Tiedemann threw just 38 innings at Golden West last summer, the Blue Jays intend to be particularly mindful of his workload. His first six starts lasted five innings and he topped out at 80 pitches. 

The priority, said Buschmann, “is getting him used to playing professional baseball and pitching for five months straight and dealing with the ups and downs that the season brings.”

Shi Davidi

Orioles’ Gunnar Henderson Cashing In On Lofty Potential

The Orioles viewed Alabama high school shortstop Gunnar Henderson as a project of sorts when drafting him in the second round in 2019 out of Morgan Academy in Selma.

Now, he is beginning to look like the organization’s shortstop of the future.

Henderson is maturing physically and as a baseball player in his age-21 season with Double-A Bowie. Through 44 games he hit .310/.454/.559 with seven home runs and 12 stolen bases.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Henderson had 40 walks and 32 strikeouts. The lefthanded batter had cut his strikeout rate nearly in half compared with 2021. 

“I think in particular the walk-to-strikeout ratio with the power that he’s showing is very intriguing,” Orioles vice president and general manager Mike Elias said.

Bowie manager Kyle Moore tapped the brakes while heaping praise on Henderson.

“His upside is huge, obviously,” Moore said. “He’s the one guy in there who, he could be a household name, but he’s just so young. Players like him really got hurt not playing in 2020.” 

Moore estimates that most players who reach Double-A have three full seasons of at-bats under their belt. Henderson had played only one full season in 2021 and had spent 2020 at the Orioles’ alternate training site. 

“I’m really impressed with how he’s handled himself in a Double-A lineup,” Moore said. “I’ve been really proud of him for that. And again, his upside is just enormous. I still think it’s super early, though. He’s so young. He has so few professional at-bats. 

“He just needs to keep doing exactly what he’s doing, putting his nose in there every day—play third, play short, try to get as many Double-A at-bats as he can, and see where he’s at when he’s 21 years old.”

Roch Kubatko

Yankees’ ‘Super Funky’ Sikkema Finally Healthy, Thriving

When Sam Briend hears about Nestor Cortes and the welcomed surprise he’s been in the Yankees’ rotation, it’s usually about the bells and whistles and not the engine. 

They talk too much about Cortes’ funky arm slots and the mind games he plays with hitters, but not enough about his unique fastball or just that he’s a flat-out good pitcher.

“That’s kind of how I think of TJ Sikkema,” said Briend, the Yankees’ director of pitching.

Finally, Sikkema is getting a chance to prove his worth to the Yankees, who signed him for $1.95 million as a 2019 supplemental first-round pick out of Missouri.

Healthy and strong with Tommy John surgery behind him, Sikkema impressed in minor league spring training and in early work with High-A Hudson Valley. 

After overcoming a lat issue that landed him on the injured list for a month, the 23-year-old lefty had a 2.00 ERA in four outings.

“On one hand, he’s got real stuff, right?” Briend said. “The fastball is live. He’s got a good changeup, a good slider. And then, on the other hand, he’s super deceptive. He’s super funky. He’s hard to get a read on.

“He might come from a higher (arm) slot. He might come from a lower slot. The deception certainly is unique. You don’t see a lot of guys throwing from multiple slots. To be able to command it and use multiple pitches from them.” 

People tend to attribute Sikkema’s success solely to his funk and deception. Briend cautions against that analysis.

“That’s probably the most unique, funky thing about him,” he said. “Then the stuff is electric at the same time, too.”

Of course, Sikkema has just 19.2 career innings under his belt. He made four appearances in 2019 before the need for Tommy John shut him down. There’s work to be done.

“There are growth opportunities,” Briend said. “Even though the slider has been playing well, I think that can play up a touch more.”

Brendan Kuty

Marcelo Mayer Lives Up To Advance Billing For Red Sox

A right wrist injury made it difficult for shortstop Marcelo Mayer to stay on the field during the first two months of the 19-year-old’s first full professional season. 

Yet somehow, his time on the sidelines for Low-A Salem only strengthened the impressions of the considerable talent that made him the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 draft out of high school in Chula Vista, Calif.

Mayer hit .333/.397/.491 during the first two weeks of the season, then missed the next two weeks with soreness in his right wrist. In his second game back, he hit three doubles. 

He played four times in 10 days, then missed another 10 days while letting the wrist rest—an MRI confirmed the diagnosis of a sprain—and returned to the lineup on May 30. 

In his first game back, Mayer went 1-for-2 with a double and a walk.

“It’s pretty unbelievable to be able to do that,” Red Sox hitting coordinator Reed Gragnani said. “He’s shown no signs of anything bothering him. It’s amazing. He gets out of bed with three doubles.”

When Mayer was an amateur, the ease of his actions both at short and in his lefthanded swing stood out from an early age.

Mayer has shown the ability to react to pitches in a wide range of locations to drive balls in the air from line to line. He had smacked 11 doubles through 19 games while hitting .329/.391/.500. 

Despite a 28% strikeout rate, Mayer shows the potential for a plus hit tool with gap power that projects to grow into above-average home run totals for a shortstop.

“That swing plane produces loft to all fields,” Gragnani said. “There’s really not a place that he can’t get the bat to the ball and manipulate his barrel to.”

Mayer’s defense has lived up to advance billing. His fluidity and first-step quickness create range to complement a strong arm. 

Boston’s focus now is on having Mayer settle into a healthy pro routine in which he stays on the field, but everything about the start of his pro career suggests his top prospect reputation fits.

Alex Speier

Rays’ Carson Williams Makes Smooth Transition To Low-A 

At this time last year, Carson Williams was dealing with the kind of important issues that go along with graduating from high school.

Now it’s inside fastballs, breaking balls off the plate and tricky-hop grounders that have his attention.

The transition to pro ball for the Rays’ 2021 first-rounder out of San Diego’s Torrey Pines High has gone well, with the 18-year-old shortstop starring for Low-A Charleston.

At the end of May, Williams was hitting .298/.396/.556 with five home runs and 13 stolen bases. He ranked among the Carolina League leaders with a .952 OPS.

“He’s made a really nice impression,’’ said Carlos Rodriguez, the Rays’ vice president of baseball operations, who oversees the minor leagues. “So far at Charleston, he has been able to make the adjustments and really settle into just the daily grind that exists in full-season baseball.”

The jump to full-season ball as a teenager can be challenging, even for one drafted 28th overall.

But Rodriguez said Williams had the benefit of growing up in Southern California, where prep teams play extended schedules, and of signing quickly so that he could work out in Port Charlotte, Fla., before an 11-game pro debut in the Florida Complex League.

Rodriguez praised Williams for improving his running and working hard on his defense during the offseason, “trying to show that he is a bona fide shortstop” in the Rays’ deep system. 

Williams’ offense remains a work in progress. He was drawing a fair amount of walks and working counts, but he also had struck out nearly 35% of the time.

“That’s part of the maturation, part of the development process,” Rodriguez said. “We’re really pleased with his potential to impact the ball, and he’s somebody we’d look to hopefully continue to grow in that mold and be able to find ways to get on base and to slug. 

“So from an offensive standpoint, he definitely hasn’t been overmatched. And I’m looking forward to what he’s going to be able to do the rest of the year.’’

Marc Topkin


— Rays second baseman Cooper Kinney, drafted out of high school in the supplemental first round last year, is targeted for either a late-season or instructional league return after a spring shoulder injury that required surgery.

— Rays shortstop Tyler Frank made an impressive comeback. He spent May with Double-A Montgomery after missing three full years after having multiple left shoulder surgeries and, as a result, switching to hitting lefthanded.

— Orioles righthander Carter Baumler, who had Tommy John surgery four months after being drafted in the fifth round in 2020, began his professional career at Low-A Delmarva. He was the only pitcher chosen by the club in the abbreviated draft and signed for $1.5 million.

— The Orioles promoted Cuban second baseman Cesar Prieto from High-A Aberdeen to Double-A Bowie after he hit .340/.381/.619 with six doubles and seven home runs in 105 plate appearances. The Orioles signed Prieto for $650,000 during the January international signing period. That amount tied for the second largest in Baltimore’s signing class.

— After his promotion to Triple-A Worcester, righthander Brayan Bello struck out 10 batters in each of his first two outings, becoming the first International League pitcher this season with multiple double-digit strikeout games.

— Righthander Bryan Mata joined Low-A Salem at the beginning of June to start a rehab assignment, 15 and a half months after having Tommy John surgery.

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