American League West Prospect Notebook For May
Mariners’ Edwin Arroyo Gets Up To Speed Quickly
As an ultra-athletic and highly skilled shortstop, Edwin Arroyo’s calling card is elite defense.
But over the first month of the season, the 18-year-old Puerto Rico native’s loudest statement came from his bat.
Through 25 games with Low-A Modesto, the Mariners’ 2021 second-round pick slashed .300/.398/.550 with five home runs, three triples and four doubles.
It’s a massive jump from his pro debut last summer in the Arizona Complex League, where the switch-hitter batted .211 in 21 games.
Perhaps the biggest difference? Arroyo had cut his strikeout rate from 30% to about 18%.
“Last year, there was a temptation to chase hits and kind of get away from the plan (of) getting a good pitch to hit,” said Modesto manager Austin Knight, who managed Arroyo last season in the ACL.
“And so I think just with time in our system and a little more experience, he's recommitting to that process as often as he can—getting a good pitch to hit and putting a good swing on it.
“And (then) with his talent and skills, good things are bound to happen.”
Arroyo’s hot start included a stretch of five homers in eight games. That power surge may have been surprising to those outside the organization, given Arroyo’s 6-foot, 175-pound frame.
But not to Knight.
“He's a strong kid,” Knight said. “In the weight room, he has put up good numbers. (He’s) obviously very twitchy. And you can just watch BP and see that the ball comes off his bat a little differently.”
If there’s a surprise, Knight said, it’s seeing Arroyo perform to this level at such a young age. He’s three years younger than the average position player in the California League.
“Some of the things that he's doing, we knew he was capable of,” Knight said. “But the fact that it's happening so soon may be slightly surprising.
“He's already shown the ability to learn quickly and to ask questions. He's hungry . . . And that's been as impressive as maybe anything.”
—Cameron Van Til
Angels’ Werner Blakely Refines His Plate Approach
The Angels hope a hamstring strain that sent Werner Blakely to the injured list on April 24 is merely a small bump in the road for the 20-year-old infielder, who raised his profile with a hot start for Low-A Inland Empire.
Blakely, a 2020 fourth-rounder who signed for an over-slot $900,000 out of Detroit’s Edison High, hit .319/.450/.532 with two home runs in 14 games.
The lefthanded hitter struck out 16 times and walked 11. His 34% strikeout rate was an improvement over the 47% rate he had in the Arizona Complex League last season in 44 games.
“Werner has done a nice job refining his approach at the plate, and that has led to more consistent hard contact,” Angels farm director Joey Prebynski said. “He has continued to get better at controlling the strike zone and creating a more consistent path to the baseball.”
One scout used the words “tool shed” to describe Blakely’s skill set, body and high-end athleticism. At 6-foot-3,185 pounds, he has the long, lean and wiry frame of his idol—and fellow Michigan prep—Derek Jeter.
There is some debate among scouts whether Blakely, who will play shortstop, second base and third base this season, might be better suited for center field. Blakely has good hands and feet, and he has the actions and arm strength to play the infield. He just needs to work on a quicker release.
Offensively, Blakely has plus bat speed and raw power and a patient approach. His hand-eye coordination, ability to use the whole field and a natural uppercut in his swing should produce more power as his body matures.
He also has the speed and instincts to develop into a basestealing threat, as he showed by swiping six bases in six attempts to start this season.
Athletics Come Naturally To Oakland’s Denzel Clarke
When you are the son of an Olympian, the nephew of an Argonaut and the cousin of two Guardians, it is just natural there would be high expectations.
Outfielder Denzel Clarke started his first full pro season with a bang, hitting .291/.378/.521 with five home runs through his first 29 games for Low-A Stockton.
This is what you might expect from an athlete with quite a family pedigree, despite a big interruption in his progress.
The Athletics drafted the 6-foot-4 Clarke in the fourth round in 2021 out of Cal State Northridge. The native Canadian lost nearly all of his sophomore season and part of his junior year because Covid forced shortened schedules.
“He played in college, but he doesn’t have a ton of experience,” A’s farm director Ed Sprague said. “As he gets to play every day, he’s finding a little bit of rhythm. We certainly like him. He’s got all the tools, plus strength and speed.”
Because of the shortened spring training, the A’s have not had much of a chance to evaluate the righthanded hitter and thrower. Clarke appears to have plus power, speed and defense, with at least an average arm for center field.
His hit tool is developing after he hit .298 in three college seasons.
“He can really run,” Sprague said. “He can beat out ground balls to the left side.”
Clarke succeeded in 10 of his first 12 stolen base attempts.
What is most noticeable is his athleticism. He is the son of Canadian heptathlete Donna Smellie Clarke, who competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
His uncle is Kevin Smellie, who played for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League in the early 1990s. His cousins Josh and Bo Naylor are members of the Guardians organization.
Another cousin, Gavin Smellie, competed in the 2012 London Olympics in the 4x100 relay.
“He’s good to work with, and he wants to be a good player. He works hard at it,” Sprague said. “He needs to find his legs and get some confidence. He’s doing some things now you knew were in there. Developing consistency will be the next thing.”
Hard-Working Wilyer Abreu Excites Astros With Swing Change
One day last August, outfielder Wilyer Abreu approached High-A Asheville hitting coach Rene Rojas with a request.
Abreu had hit throughout his minor league career, but he wanted to make a swing adjustment and unlock more power. The two worked on Abreu’s load, with the goal of getting more rhythm in the lefthanded hitter’s hands.
Rojas warned him the tinkering could take weeks to manifest outside the batting cage.
In the first game Abreu applied it, Astros assistant general manager Pete Putila happened to be in attendance. Abreu struck a mammoth home run and barreled another ball into the gap, too.
“It was like five or six miles per hour harder than he’d ever hit a ball,” Putila said. “It was pretty apparent we had unlocked something there.”
Abreu has continued the ascension, blossoming into one of the early breakout performers in Houston’s system.
He slugged .529 with a .967 OPS across his first 15 games for Double-A Corpus Christi, leading many in the organization to believe the swing adjustments and newfound power are real.
Abreu’s production tapered off after that. Through 28 games he was hitting .213/.393/.383 with three home runs.
The Astros signed Abreu out of Venezuela for $300,000 in 2017. The 22-year-old has always hit but never could generate a ton of power from his 6-foot, 217-pound frame.
Abreu controls the strike zone well and, before the swing adjustment, had no problems making contact. He did suffer a dip in contact rate last season after implementing his swing changes, but Putila said the team is encouraged by his early showing at Double-A.
Abreu is a natural corner outfielder with an above-average arm. He lacks the top-end speed to stick in center field but is serviceable there. Putila lauded Abreu’s reads and routes to fly balls.
“It’s exciting because he’s not a one-dimensional player,” Putila said. “He’s always hit. He has a feel for the strike zone, a really good feel for the barrel to make contact.
“Now he’s unlocked this power to go along with his defense. He’s really worked hard over the years and it seems like it’s all coming together.”
Rangers Show Patience With Leody Taveras To Ensure He’s Ready
Round Rock outfielder Leody Taveras was one of the hottest hitters at Triple-A early this season.
Taveras exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2020 but was still just 23 as he made his case to return to MLB. He hit .362/.393/.600 with four home runs and five stolen bases through 25 games.
But Taveras remained in Round Rock through mid May.
Rangers general manager Chris Young said that he values the idea of letting prospects develop in the minors even when the big league club might be better served with the young talent.
The Rangers also want to make sure the early-season performances in the minors are sustained for more than just a few weeks. Anyone seeking a callup must earn it rather than just standing in line for his name to be called.
“I think the beauty of our depth is we’ve raised the floor of the organization,” Young said. “I think last year we ran into situations where guys were on the big league roster simply because, one, we didn’t have other options or, two, they weren’t performing yet there was nowhere else to turn.
“I think we’ve created a higher floor where there are going to be other options, and if guys aren’t performing to the level that’s required to be a major leaguer, other guys are going to get those opportunities.”
Taveras made the Opening Day roster for the second straight year in 2021 but was sent to Round Rock after an abysmal 4-for-46 start in April.
He fared well at Triple-A, finding power that he had never shown, but he was only mildly better when recalled by the Rangers in mid August.
Taveras played in the Dominican League last winter but was not exposed in the offseason to new Rangers hitting coach Tim Hyers and offensive coordinator Donnie Ecker.
They started working with Taveras in spring training but saw that he would need time in the minors to work on changes they wanted to see him make.
Taveras will need to keep working on them—and keep hitting—to earn another chance with the Rangers.
Wilyer Abreu's Versatility Intrigues Red Sox
Outfielder Wilyer Abreu's broad skill set appealed to the Red Sox to help broaden the depth of the organization's 40-man roster.
AROUND THE DIVISION
* After starting as a third baseman, Jordan Diaz has worked mostly at first base and left field this season for the Athletics at Double-A Midland. Diaz has shown impressive hitting skills, and the challenge remains finding a position.
* Athletics third baseman Zack Gelof was off to a scorching start for Double-A Midland, hitting .339/.391/.517 with four home runs through 26 games. He was Oakland's second-round pick in 2021 out of Virginia.
* Astros righthander Hunter Brown struck out 35 and walked 14 in his first 24 innings for Triple-A Sugar Land.
* Astros outfielder Jordan Brewer, who battled both foot and shoulder injuries since his third-round selection in 2019, was fully healthy and showing the type of power Houston presumed they were getting. Brewer had eight extra-base hits in his first 21 games with High-A Asheville
* Rangers shortstop Luisangel Acuña didn’t make it out of the season opener with High-A Hickory before being placed on the injured list with a strained hamstring. He didn’t play again in April but returned to action on May 5.
* Rangers second baseman Justin Foscue was assigned to Double-A Frisco a few weeks into the season after recovering from back stiffness that slowed him early in minor league camp. Foscue homered and drove in five runs April 21 and was batting .302/.392/.571 through 17 games.
* Mariners righthander George Kirby, the organization's top pitching prospect, tossed six scoreless innings in his MLB debut against the Rays on May 8. The 2019 first-rounder from Elon struck out seven batters, walked none and allowed four hits. Kirby, who battled in spring training for a big league rotation spot, was called up after posting a 1.82 ERA and 34.4% strikeout rate in 24.2 innings to open the season with Double-A Arkansas.
* Mariners righthander Matt Brash, who beat out Kirby in spring training for Seattle’s No. 5 starter job, was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma on May 5. The Mariners plan to transition him to the bullpen for the rest of the season, according to Seattle manager Scott Servais. Brash, who skyrocketed into one of baseball’s top pitching prospects with a breakthrough 2021 season, struggled with control in his five starts with the Mariners. He posted a 7.65 ERA with 17 walks in 20 innings.