American League West Prospect Notebook For July
Astros’ Enmanuel Valdez Develops Into A Complete Hitter
The Astros found the raw version of Enmanuel Valdez some time in 2014.
He trained in the Dominican Republic and caught the eye of Astros international scout Jose Lima. He and then-international director Oz Ocampo signed the undersized second baseman based on his bat alone for $450,000.
Eight years later, Valdez is among the organization’s fastest-rising prospects, perhaps even on the precipice of MLB readiness.
The 23-year-old lefthanded hitter has one of the organization’s most advanced hit tools.
“He has had a consistent swing path throughout his time with us,” Astros general manager James Click said. “That, combined with his very good hands, allow him to make contact to all fields, to get to the fastball up and still make contact when he’s out front on offspeed.”
Valdez broke out at Double-A Corpus Christi this season, compiling a 1.122 OPS across 44 games to earn a June 7 promotion to Triple-A Sugar Land, where he homered in his first two at-bats and struck five in his first seven games.
“He’s got a very quick bat and that leads to impacting the baseball,” Click said. “I feel like he’s made strides in most areas of the game. He continues to put together good at-bats, not chase pitches, put the bat on the ball.
“He’s certainly turning himself into a really complete hitter.”
Valdez has a stout lower half with obvious power in his 5-foot-9 frame.
Through 69 games, he hit .331/.427/.618 with 18 home runs, 44 walks and 67 strikeouts.
Valdez’s defense is below-average and his long-term position a matter of debate. In addition to second base, he has played third base, left field and some first base and right field this season.
“There is growth left in terms of the defensive side of things,” Click said. “With the work ethic he has, there are a variety of places he can fit.”
'Driven' Jonatan Clase Shows Wide Array Of Skills At Low-A For Mariners
Between the canceled 2020 season and an injury-plagued 2021 campaign, 20-year-old outfielder Jonatan Clase experienced very little game action the past two years.
He was making up for lost time this season.
Clase showcased his intriguing skill set in Low-A Modesto, hitting .266/.352/.448 with seven home runs and 28 stolen bases through 61 games.
“I think what we’re seeing this season is what we really felt we had in the person and the player,” Mariners farm director Andy McKay said.
“He’s got some real power in his bat. And he’s a plus defender in the outfield and a switch-hitter who can run. There’s a lot to like about the player—and especially (with) the age.”
After signing in 2018 out of the Dominican Republic, Clase hit .300 during a strong 2019 pro debut in the Dominican Summer League. But he played just 14 games over the next two years, due to the pandemic and repeated leg strains.
Despite the setbacks, Clase stayed productive.
Clase added muscle to his 5-foot-8 frame, which undoubtedly played a role in his increased power at the plate. According to McKay, Clase had blasted some of the longest homers in Seattle’s farm system this season.
Clase also took up switch-hitting last year, something he reportedly had not done since he was 14. He’s still inflicting most of his damage from the left side, but McKay has confidence in his future as a switch-hitter.
“I think it’s going to work, and I would expect (it stays) with him for his career,” McKay said.
Clase’s greatest weapon is his blazing speed, and he’s a skilled bunter, but he will need to reduce his strikeout rate, which had reached 31% this year.
“He’s a very driven kid,” McKay said. “We are really excited about what he’s doing right now and what he can continue to do.”
—Cameron Van Til
Unique Fastball Helps Rangers’ Winston Santos Shine
The best and most exciting pitching prospects in the Rangers’ system all play in the state of Texas.
Top prospect Jack Leiter and fellow righthander Owen White were at Double-A Frisco, just northeast of Globe Life Park, while Cole Winn and Cole Ragans were in the rotation at Triple-A Round Rock, three hours to the south..
A case could be made that 20-year-old Low-A Down East righthander Winston Santos had the biggest breakthrough so far this season.
Santos signed out of the Dominican Republic for just $10,000, and three years ago was barely reaching 90 mph with his fastball while pitching as an amateur.
He’s now topping out at 96 mph and usually sits 93-95 with cutting action, while also throwing a good changeup. Those two pitches helped him post a 4.15 ERA and 61 strikeouts over his first 60.2 innings this season.
Santos had his best start of the season on May 29, when he allowed one run on two hits in seven innings while striking out 10 and not issuing a walk.
"He's been able to build up the velocity," Rangers vice president Ross Fenstermaker said. “It's just a unique fastball in his (arm) slot, the way that it plays, and it's pretty effective. He can really pitch with the fastball, moving all around with good command.”
Santos’ breaking ball is still a work-in-progress. The Rangers are helping him refine the pitch, which has varying characteristics from start to start.
“He's still working on a breaking ball profile,” Fenstermaker said. “It's been a curveball. It's been a slider. It's been a spiker. But he's got a good changeup and he's really able to throw strikes.”
Angels’ Ky Bush Positions Himself For Possible 2022 MLB Debut
Improved fastball command and a more effective curveball and changeup have positioned 22-year-old lefthander Ky Bush for a promotion to Triple-A and, possibly, a callup to Anaheim later this summer.
The Angels drafted the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Bush out of St. Mary’s in the second round in 2021. Through 14 starts for Double-A Rocket City, he recorded a 3.34 ERA to go with 67 strikeouts and 20 walks in 67.1 innings.
During a four-start stretch from May 28 to June 17, he went 3-0, 0.75 and allowed 13 hits while striking out 23 and walking five in 24 innings.
“That means he’s managing his pitch counts,” Angels minor league pitching coordinator Buddy Carlyle said. “He has a presence on the mound, too. He’s stoic, a big-bodied kid.
“He’s got a little intimidation factor, which is always good.”
The best two offerings in Bush’s four-pitch mix are still a fastball that sits around 94 mph and touches 96 with some late riding action and an 82-84 mph slider that has more downward than sweeping action and plays well off his fastball.
He had thrown his fastball in the zone nearly 55% of the time, a mark right around the MLB average.
“But he’s grown more and more comfortable with his curve, and he’s starting to use his changeup a lot more, too,” Carlyle said. “He’s always had the changeup, but he’s using it more and having conviction in it.”
Bush throws his changeup at about 85 mph and curve in the high 70s. He has added some velocity to the latter pitch this season.
The Angels have shown a willingness to call up players with minimal minor league experience.
They jumped lefthander Reid Detmers from the first round of the 2020 draft to Anaheim about a year later. It was a similar story with righthander Chase Silseth, an 11th-round pick in 2021 who made his MLB debut this season.
If Bush doesn’t follow a similar trajectory, he should at least reach Triple-A Salt Lake by August.
Athletics’ Jack Cushing Uses His Stuff For Maximum Effect
When righthander Jack Cushing saddles up to take the mound, the cowboy drafted out of Georgetown usually finds a way to deliver.
Cushing has been on a fast rise the last two seasons. Drafted in the 22nd round in 2019, he began 2021 in Low-A Stockton and had jumped to Triple-A Las Vegas near the end of June this year.
“He will pitch in the majors,” Athletics pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Cushing began the year by posting a 3.19 ERA in 10 starts for Double-A Midland. He found the going tougher in the hitter’s paradise that is Las Vegas following his promotion, allowing 10 home runs through 19 innings.
Overall, Cushing had run a 5.51 ERA through 15 starts to go with 67 strikeouts and 21 walks in 78.1 innings.
Cushing does not overwhelm with intimidating stuff. His fastball, changeup and slider would all grade about average.
“He’s able to throw offspeed pitches when he’s behind in the count,” Patterson said. “He’s not usually behind in the count. His first-pitch strike rate is about 70%, and his (one-ball, one-strike) rate is also about 70%.”
Cushing’s fastball averages 90 mph, but he is able to use it to different sectors of the plate. Patterson said he is particularly effective pitching inside.
“He’s quick to the plate, a good fielder and a competitor on the mound,” Patterson said. “He has all the intangibles that make for a quality pitcher.”
The offspring of two Air Force parents, Cushing was born in Enid, Okla., spent time in Colorado and attended Marcus High in Flower Mound, Texas, near where his family owns a cattle ranch.
He pitched four years in college with Georgetown, twice earning a spot on the Big East all-academic team.
Patterson said the next step for Cushing will be to add another weapon, perhaps a cutter, to give him an extra tool that could make him a successful MLB starter.
Discipline Makes All The Difference For Mariners' Jonatan Clase
Swinging at the right pitches and tightening his righthanded swing led to a quick promotion to Double-A for the 20-year-old Clase.
AROUND THE DIVISION
— Astros third baseman Joe Perez began a minor league rehab assignment in early July after missing more than a month with an oblique injury.
— Astros righthander Forrest Whitley allowed six earned runs and five hits across 2.2 innings during his first appearance at Triple-A since 2019. Whitley is off the injured list after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery he had in March 2021. He is expected to pitch in the Sugar Land rotation.
— Mariners outfielder Gabriel Gonzalez, who signed for $1.3 million out of Venezuela in 2021, got off to a hot start in the Arizona Complex League. The 18-year-old hit .366/.441/.512 with two homers and six doubles through 23 games.
— Mariners first baseman Robert Perez experienced a power surge during his second season in Low-A Modesto. The 22-year-old Venezuelan blasted 18 homers through 77 games. He slashed .260/.350/.507 with 35 extra-base hits.
— Rangers outfielder Bayron Lora, who signed for $3.9 million in July 2019, is serving an indefinite suspension from Major League Baseball. According to the Rangers, MLB has been looking into Lora’s “off-the-field behavior” since May 12. The 19-year-old is on administrative leave and has been placed on the restricted list.
— The Rangers use a piggyback system at Low-A Down East, where $10,000 signing Emiliano Teodo out of the Dominican Republic was standing out. The 21-year-old righthander throws his fastball at 98 mph with a changeup and curveball that is tad too firm, but he had a 3.05 ERA through his first 38.1 innings.
— Rangers righthander Alex Speas, the 2016 second-rounder, continued to be away from the organization while the Rangers gave him space to determine if he wants to continue his career. Speas, who hit 102 mph in 2019 while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, has never pitched above Double-A.
— Rangers righthander Dane Acker, one of three players acquired in the Elvis Andrus trade in 2021 with the Athletics, was expected to return to action in late July after completing his rehab from Tommy John surgery. His fastball was sitting in the upper 90s before the elbow injury.
— Athletics righthander Garrett Acton has made an impression this year as the closer for Double-A Midland. Pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said he was throwing 95-98 mph with a good changeup. Acton had converted six of eight save attempts. He had 42 strikeouts in 27.2 innings.
— Athletics third baseman Jonah Bride hit .315 for Double-A Midland, then .392 for Triple-A Las Vegas through his first 33 games. That was enough to convince Oakland to call him up to try and add life to an anemic lineup. Bride plays first base, third base, second base and catcher. He went on the injured list in late June with a shoulder injury.