American League West: August Prospect Notebook
Rangers’ Anthony Gutierrez Makes Big Impression In Pro Debut
The Rangers believed in January that they had landed one of the three best players on the international market when they signed Venezuelan outfielder Anthony Gutierrez for $1,997,500.
He’s proving them right in his first pro debut.
The 17-year-old Gutierrez showed that the Dominican Summer League was no match for his advanced skill set, and he was on his way to doing the same thing in the Arizona Complex League.
Gutierrez made his ACL debut on July 11 and finished the month batting .325 with an .849 OPS in his first 11 games against the best pitching he said he had ever faced.
One of his four extra-base hits was a triple off rehabbing MLB reliever Pedro Baez.
“They throw a lot more fastballs down there (in the DSL),” Gutierrez said. “Here they’re able to mix it up a little more.”
One of the only things Gutierrez doesn’t do exceptionally well is identify offspeed pitches, but the same can be said of just about every 17-year-old.
But he punishes fastballs with good bat-to-ball skills and an ability to get leverage in his swing from his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame.
He’s going to get bigger, too. Gutierrez doesn’t turn 18 until Nov. 25, and the Rangers will help him find a way to keep weight on what for now is a lean body.
Gutierrez might outgrow center field, but the Rangers aren’t convinced of that yet.
They are convinced that he is a more advanced prospect than others from recent international signing periods. He could reach Low-A Down East before the season ends.
“We want to challenge him in Arizona, and we'll see how the next two-to-three weeks play out,” Rangers vice president Ross Fenstermaker said. “My guess is he's going to show us again that he's above this level.”
Astros Key In On Control Artist Jayden Murray At Deadline
After trading for one of his former organization’s most under-the-radar prospects, Astros general manager James Click felt his cellphone buzz.
The text message came from a friend in the Rays organization who wasn’t ready for 25-year-old righthander Jayden Murray to go.
“He told me whoever was pushing for him over here (in Houston), I should take him out for a steak dinner at Vic and Anthony’s,” Click joked.
Murray was the only prospect the Astros acquired in the three deals they made at the trade deadline.
Murray signed for $3,000 as a 23rd-round senior sign in 2019 out of Dixie State in Utah. The Astros acquired him in the three-team deal that sent Jose Siri to the Rays and High-A righthander Chayce McDermott to the Orioles while importing Trey Mancini.
Murray’s above-average command and above-average fastball allowed him to reach Triple-A just before the Rays traded him. The Astros assigned him to Double-A Corpus Christi.
“Jayden has a lot of potential,” Click said. “He has a really nice fastball to start out the foundation. We feel like he could be a factor for us in the very near future . . .
“He has all of the ingredients we look for in somebody who has the potential to come out here and get outs in the big leagues.”
Last season, Murray led all minor league pitchers with at least 90 innings with a 0.71 WHIP. This season he recorded a 3.24 ERA and 1.19 WHIP through 80.2 innings with 73 strikeouts and 23 walks.
Murray does not miss many bats, but his ability to leverage counts and sequence and command his pitches allows him to overcome it.
He can run his fastball up into the mid 90s, but it sits around 92-93 mph with good carry. Murray’s slider is his out pitch and he has occasional feel for a changeup.
Murray could earn a 40-man roster spot this offseason if he keeps pitching well.
Mariners’ Prelander Berroa Hard To Hit When Throwing Strikes
Prelander Berroa has only been in the Mariners’ system a few months.
But it hasn’t taken long for the hard-throwing 22-year-old righthander to establish himself as one of Seattle’s most intriguing young arms.
The Mariners acquired Berroa from the Giants in a May 11 trade for utility infielder Donovan Walton. Berroa earned a late-July promotion to Double-A Arkansas after dominating the Northwest League this season.
With his devastating fastball-slider combo, Berroa posted a dazzling 37% strikeout rate over 17 High-A starts for Eugene and Everett.
Berroa’s fastball sits in the mid 90s and touches 99 mph, with both run and ride. He pairs it with a mid-80s slider that serves as a nasty swing-and-miss weapon.
“His stuff (is) absolutely electric,” Everett manager Eric Farris said.
Berroa initially signed with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic in 2016 and was traded to the Giants in 2019.
He made his full-season debut last year at Low-A San Jose, logging a 3.56 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 98.2 innings.
Berroa then made the jump to High-A this season and overpowered opposing hitters with 97 strikeouts in 65.2 innings.
At the time of his promotion to Double-A, Berroa led the NWL with a 2.06 ERA, 37% strikeout rate and .153 opponent average among pitchers with at least 60 innings.
“His ability to locate his slider has just been a huge plus for him all season long,” Farris said. “He’s totally confident in that pitch and willing to use it at any time, and it’s a big swing-and-miss pitch for him.”
Berroa will need to improve his overall control and command. His High-A walk rate this year was 14.5%.
“For him, it’s just all about throwing strikes (and) getting ahead of hitters,” Farris said. “And when he’s able to do that, he’s very, very hard to hit.”
—Cameron Van Till
Third-Rounder Ben Joyce Provides Huge Upside Potential For Angels
The Angels veered into the fast lane with their third-round pick in the July draft, taking flame-throwing righthander reliever Ben Joyce out of Tennessee.
Joyce, who signed for an over-slot $997,500, threw the hardest pitch ever recorded in college baseball in May, a 105.5 mph fastball that was a few ticks shy of Aroldis Chapman’s MLB-record of 105.8.
With a heater that sits in the 101 mph range and an 83-86 mph slider with plenty of sweep, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Joyce could provide the kind of overpowering, late-inning arm the Angels bullpen needs.
But with such potential comes considerable risk.
The 21-year-old Joyce had an eight-inch growth spurt in his senior year of high school that led to growth-plate issues and a shoulder injury, and he had Tommy John surgery in 2020.
But Joyce’s upside was too attractive for the Angels to resist.
Joyce was dominant this season, putting up a 2.23 ERA in 27 games and striking out 53 and walking 14 in 32.1 innings.
His four-seam fastball, delivered from a low three-quarters slot, tends to flatten out and is more hittable at the lower end of his velocity range. Of the 18 hits he gave up this season, five were homers.
Joyce’s command of his slider has wavered. Though just two Southeastern Conference batters put it in play during the regular season, it’s more of a chase pitch that is not thrown consistently for strikes.
Joyce’s recent usage makes it difficult to predict if he can handle the workload of a pro reliever. He pitched on back-to-back days only once during the regular season and usually had three or four days between outings.
He has thrown just over 50 innings since 2019 because of the pandemic and elbow surgery.
Joyce is working on a split-fingered fastball and cut fastball and is not deterred. He believes he will be durable enough to handle the physical rigors of pro ball.
Athletics’ Hogan Harris Shows Promise In Return
There is one big goal for 25-year-old lefthander Hogan Harris this year.
To stay healthy.
The Athletics are excited about the pitcher Harris could become with good health.
Oakland drafted the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Harris in the third round in 2018 out of Louisiana-Lafayette. He has endured several injuries, notably a Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss the 2021 season.
Harris is back this year, and he was being handled with care.
He started at High-A Lansing, where he pitched 13 innings in seven starts before moving to Double-A Midland, where he has had a longer leash. Harris usually pitches three or four innings.
In late June, he threw five shutout innings against San Antonio.
“He’s gone through a lot and he’s coming back with a vengeance,” A’s minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said.
What excites the A’s is that Hogan’s fastball has that second kick, where it seems to speed up at the end, Patterson said.
“The ball jumps out of his hand at 93-94 (mph),” Patterson said.
In addition, Hogan throws a plus changeup with big movement and armside run. He has a big, slow curveball that tickles the strike zone in the low 70s.
In the past, he has thrown a slider, but the A’s want him to focus on a three-pitch mix and see where it takes him.
The A’s are grooming Harris as a starter, but his health issues could eventually move him to the bullpen, where Patterson believes he could become a weapon.
Harris grew up in Lafayette, La., and played college ball for the Ragin’ Cajuns. As a sophomore in 2017 he put up a 2.66 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 67.2 innings and seemed destined to be a high draft pick.
Then oblique injuries limited him as a junior in 2018, and he lasted until the A’s picked him in the third round.
Matt's Prospect Breakout Team For 2023
These are my picks for the young players most likely to break through to Top 100 Prospects status in 2023, one player at each position.
AROUND THE DIVISION
— Rangers outfielder Aaron Zavala, the 2021 second-rounder out of Oregon, and shortstop Luisangel Acuña, Ronald’s little brother, were promoted from High-A Hickory to Double-A Frisco. Zavala posted a .424 on-base percentage and an .864 OPS at Hickory, while Acuña hit .317/.417/.483 with 28 stolen bases.
— The Rangers’ Josh Jung was doing work at third base during his recovery from surgery on his left shoulder and expects to be able to play the field upon his return this season. The Rangers initially ruled that out after his Feb. 23 operation. He started a rehab assignment July 28 in the Arizona Complex League, serving only as DH.
— In his first appearance since a bout of bicep inflammation, Astros righthander Forrest Whitley struck out three batters across 1.2 innings for Triple-A Sugar Land on Aug. 4. Whitley bumped 96 mph with his fastball and sat around 93-94.
— Astros 2022 first-rounder Drew Gilbert, an outfielder from Tennessee, homered in his first professional at-bat in the Florida Complex League.
— The Mariners dealt top shortstop prospects Noelvi Marte and Edwin Arroyo to the Reds as part of the blockbuster trade for all-star righthander Luis Castillo. Marte slashed .275/.363/.462 with 15 home runs in 85 games with High-A Everett this season. Arroyo tore up the California League, hitting .316/.385/.514 with 13 homers in 87 games for Low-A Modesto. Seattle also dealt pitching prospects Levi Stoudt and Andrew Moore in the trade.
— A pair of 17-year-old Mariners prospects have excelled at the plate in the Dominican Summer League this season. Cuban outfielder Lazaro Montes was slashing .299/.425/.625 with nine home runs through 45 games. Colombian shortstop Michael Arroyo was hitting .354/.488/.554 with four homers through 42 games.
— The Athletics made Arizona catcher Daniel Susac their first selection in the July draft, taking him 19th overall. He abandoned switch-hitting to focus on his righthanded swing this year.
— Athletics second-round pick Henry Bolte caused something of a stir when he said he grew up an A’s fan and was inspired by all-time great Rickey Henderson. “I like to play a hard nine,” Bolte said. “I like to go out and put pressure on the other team.” Bolte grew up in Palo Alto, about a 40-minute drive from Oakland.