David Festa, Jhonkensy Noel Among 10 Less Heralded Statcast Standouts (May 13)


Image credit: Twins RHP David Festa (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins via Getty Images)

Every Monday morning we’ll highlight 10 players who stood out to us based on their underlying Statcast metrics. These are not full scouting reports, but can often serve as good early indicators of prospects who might be ready to break out, or are demonstrating MLB-ready skills.

Last week, we talked about some well-known, MLB-ready talent in Triple-A, as well as some lesser-known relief prospects, including Kyle Nicolas, who was called up shortly after. This week, we’re going to constrain ourselves to players who aren’t as well known, but are showing some some interesting traits.

You can access the data below via Baseball Savant.

Related prospect rankings

10 Statcast Standouts

David Festa, RHP, Twins

We lead this week’s installment with a 6-foot-6 pitcher sporting a 3.00 ERA and 48 strikeouts in just 30 innings pitched so far this season. Festa had one of his best games on May 11, going six scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts.

David Festa May 11th

The filled-in bubbles indicate pitches that induced whiffs, and we see that Festa had all three of his main pitches working for him on Saturday, inducing swings and misses with ease.

Let’s dig into Festa’s arsenal, starting with his four-seam fastball. There are four main ingredients I look for when looking at four-seam fastballs: velocity, vertical movement compared to the arm slot, the ability to attack the top of the zone, and release extension. Festa’s fastball has easy plus velo, averaging 95.3 mph, and he has good shape, with roughly 2 inches of IVB above what we’d expect given his arm angle. Last season he was at 94.8 with 17.1″ of IVB, this year he’s added half a tick and the 2″ of ride, which has been the key difference. He also gets plus-plus extension at nearly 7 feet.

Festa’s command still appears to be somewhat scattershot. Ideally, we’d want the three boxes at the top of the zone to be the largest boxes, but he’s all over the place. All in all, this is a fastball that will play in the major leagues from a pure stuff perspective, though he probably needs more time to refine his command.

A good vertical fastball is a tremendous base for a starter, but Festa’s best pitch is probably his slider, which has tremendous amounts of gyro spin. Gyro spin is spin that doesn’t contribute to movement, and is critical for creating a pitch that resists gravity less and will correlate strongly with swing and miss. He also throws it hard, averaging 87 mph, along with an elite 18.5″ of vertical separation off of the fastball. That adds up to a pitch that he uses as his primary offering and is dominating Triple-A batters with a 44% whiff rate and a 21.5% swinging strike rate.

Festa looks like he has good command of the changeup, rarely missing at the top of the zone. It’s his primary pitch against lefties, and it’s chewing them up with a 40% whiff rate and 19% swinging strike rate. Lefthanded batters won’t be able to touch a pitch down and away with 14 inches of armside run. The two home runs he gave up on the pitch were on mistakes where he didn’t get it to the bottom third of the zone or just below.

Festa is tall and has three plus pitches, as well as a curveball he can drop in for a called strike every now and then. I think he needs some more time to refine his command, but he has major league-quality stuff with a very bright future.

Jhonkensy Noel, OF, Guardians

The 118.4 mph exit velocity would have been the sixth-hardest hit ball in the major leagues this season, behind exit velocity kings Giancarlo Stanton, Oneil Cruz and Shohei Ohtani. While that’s just a singular data point, maximum exit velocity is a great indication of the power a player is capable of producing, and in Noel’s case, it demonstrates that he has an elite power ceiling. That’s the good news; the bad news is that he’s not yet very consistent in getting to that power, with mediocre average exit velocities and a merely plus 90th percentile exit velocity. This is likely due to his hyper-aggressive 60% swing rate, which might be what’s holding him back. He needs more time in Triple-A to refine his approach, but the raw power is elite.

We see that Noel pretty much swings at everything. While it’s not easy to develop a better approach, if he would try to reduce his chase rates and increase his zone swing rates, he’d go from a fringe prospect to a very exciting one.

Landen Maroudis, RHP, Blue Jays

Maroudis was a nice find by the Blue Jays in the fourth round of last year’s draft and looks like a classic sinker-sweeper type from a low slot. Right now, he’s trying his hand at being a four-seam/gyro slider pitcher.

The gyro slider has great shape metrics, but the performance is held back because it doesn’t get a lot of vertical separation from the fastball. He’s got an extremely low arm slot, so while the IVB doesn’t look great, it’s not far off from being a decent pitch, but that would require one to two more ticks and 2-3 inches more ride, which are not easy things to add.

I’d love to see Maroudis develop a sweeper as a weapon against righties, as his arm slot should be a good fit for the pitch. His key to making the major leagues looks like a kitchen sink path, throwing a whole bunch of pitches with command. As a young pitcher with five pitches already, he might find a lot of success throwing six to seven different shapes without a true out pitch.

Cade Smith, SP, Yankees

Not to be confused with Cade Smith of the Guardians, Smith looks to be another late-round steal for the Yankees, with a very exciting profile.

We see a classic high-vert fastball with an absolutely filthy bullet slider that averages negative vertical movement. The slider has tremendous vertical separation off the fastball, elite gyro spin levels, and good velocity at 86 mph, and it’s not a surprise that it’s dominating Low-A with a 52% whiff rate and a 27% swinging strike rate. The fastball gets an elite 18 inches of induced vertical break from a low, 5.5-foot release height, allowing it to perform despite average velocity.

He does a great job attacking low with the slider, but he may need to improve his command of the pitch as he moves up the ladder.

He does a decent job commanding the changeup to lefties, but hasn’t had a great deal of success with the pitch.

Joe Rock, LHP, Rays

Any time the Rays trade for a pitcher, we should probably pay attention. Rock is a 6-foot-6 lefty who utilizes a very low slot to throw four pitches that have garnered swinging-strike rates above 13% so far this season.

Given the arm slot, the Rays have him throwing a sinker as his primary pitch. He’s managed to add more depth to the pitch, while adding over 4 inches of run, averaging 18 inches of armside movement.

Rock does a great job pitching low with the sinker, and it’s been quite effective at getting whiffs from righties.

He doesn’t command the fastball as well against lefties or righties, and it doesn’t have bat-missing shape, even from his arm slot. He does, however, do a good job throwing the pitch for strikes.

The slider has a lot of potential, but the command isn’t great yet.

Rock’s changeup looks like a viable weapon against righties, either down and away or just below the zone, with very few misses in the zone. Rock might also be a candidate for a sweeper to help against lefthanded hitters. He’s not going to be an exciting pitcher, but he looks poised to join the legion of unheralded arms the Rays turn into gold.

Omar Alfonzo, C, Pirates

We talked about Alfonzo’s dramatic year-to-year improvements a couple of weeks ago, so now’s a good time to check in if those gains have indeed held up over a larger sample size.

Alfonzo’s whiff and swinging strike rates have come back down to earth, and now match what he had last season, but he’s done that while boosting all of his exit velocity metrics by at least 2 mph and increasing his average launch angle by 6 degrees, suggesting roughly 60-grade power. He looks ready to be challenged at the next level.

Juaron Watts-Brown, RHP, Blue Jays

How about a seven-pitch pitcher for the seventh player we talk about? Let’s take a look:

Pitch classification in the minors is not perfect, and I’m not entirely sure the slider and cutter are actually different pitches. If they are, they are both elite offerings, with whiff rates north of 50% and swinging strike rates of 20% and 25% respectively. The fastball has decent shape at 17.8 inches of IVB (about 2 inches more than the average from his arm slot), but is limited by its 92.6 mph average velocity.

His curveball and changeup are both performing absurdly well, and the curve looks to be a great pitch with -10 inches IVB at only 13 mph slower than the fastball. His sinker also gets more ride than his four seam, which is not something you see often.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of Watts-Brown, but once he learns to command his vast repertoire, he could be an extremely interesting arm.

Ernesto Mercedes, RHP, Mets

Most sliders sit around 2 inches each for vertical and horizontal break, but Mercedes gets -7 inches of IVB on his version, which is close to Pete Fairbanks territory. Unfortunately, he has no ability to command the pitch:

Mercedes is the type of pitcher who could jump into a late-inning, high-leverage role with a moderate jump in command, as he has the makings of an absolutely elite slider. We’ll keep an eye on him and see if he improves his command as the season progresses.

Luis Serna, RHP, Yankees

Can a pitcher with a 6.97 ERA in Low-A be fascinating? Yes. Serna throws a sinker which averages 17 inches of IVB, but he uses it like a four-seam fastball and attacks the top of the zone.

That hasn’t been a particularly successful approach for him given the velocity of the pitch, so he may be better suited to switching to his four-seamer which gets even more ride. This looks deliberate, so perhaps the Yankees are working towards something there.

Serna has three effective secondaries that he plays off the high sinker, but it’s an open question if this approach can work without a big jump in velocity. I’m mostly interested in the sinker’s unusual movement and approach. It may be an indication of a pitching development philosophy within the Yankees org, who have a had a lot of success in recent years developing lesser-known arms. I’ll be keeping an eye on him.

Chen-Wei Lin, RHP, Cardinals

We’ll end this list with perhaps the highest-upside arm we’ve talked about. We talked about Lin a month ago, and the profile remains similar, high velocity, with some questions about fastball shape.

Lin zips his fastball in at 96-97 mph, but it has “dead zone” shape, with below-average ride and hasn’t been a dominant swing-and-miss pitch in Low-A. He has tried a sinker, but it hasn’t been very effective. I think the fastball will be decent enough if he can hold the velocity and continue to add another inch or two of ride.

He throws a hard changeup at 88.4 mph, but a slow bullet slider at only 84 mph. Given the fastball velocity, the slider needs to be closer to the changeup in terms of velo, and will go from a mediocre pitch to a plus pitch. The raw ingredients are there for a major league-quality arm, but he’ll need to continue to improve his pitch shapes to be more than just a velocity monster.

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