Found In Translation: Seven Underappreciated Hitting Prospects Positioned For 2023 MLB Success
Age. Level. Production. Tools.
Those are the foundations of prospect evaluation, analysis and ranking.
More difficult to factor with precision are adjustments for minor league players’ run environments and home park contexts.
The Low-A level provides a perfect illustration of the value of run context. A run created in the Florida State League, where 4.6 are scored per nine innings, contributes more to winning—and is thus more valuable—than a run created in the California League, where 6.1 are scored per nine innings.
In this piece, I identify seven minor league hitters who have more potential than their surface statistics indicate, based on the results of a basic translation called offensive winning percentage projected to age 25, which you can read about here.
The reason these players have more potential is simple: They create runs in league and park contexts where runs are more scarce.
Using the OW25% translation following the 2021 season turned up notable 2022 rookies including Vaughn Grissom of the Braves, Michael Massey of the Royals and Jack Suwinski of the Pirates. None entered the season ranked as Top 100 Prospects and, in fact, none were ranked as Top 10 Prospects in their organizations.
A year ago, the OW25% system also liked a number of other 2022 MLB debuts, including the Cardinals’ Juan Yepez and the Rays’ Jonathan Aranda as well as less obvious picks such as utility types Eguy Rosario of the Padres, Oswaldo Cabrera of the Yankees and Romy Gonzalez of the White Sox.
None of the players written about here are included in the BA end-of-season Top 100 Prospects. But if they keep hitting, all seven of them could play their way into 2023 MLB relevancy.
Justyn-Henry Malloy, OF, Braves
Age 22 season: .295/.406/.467 (150 OPS+)
Double-A Mississippi (42 G) | High-A Rome (71 G)
Mississippi is a tough place to hit. It’s part of the reason why recent Braves scouting and development successes Michael Harris II and Vaughn Grissom snuck up on people. Those players’ Double-A numbers didn’t pop off the page, but when placed in the context of a hitter’s park in a hitter’s league, they took on a more favorable light. Malloy could be next in line. The 2021 sixth-rounder out of Georgia Tech shows good feel to hit and knows the strike zone. His power has been solid in Rome and Mississippi parks that play big, lending optimism that extra-base production can be part of his MLB game.
Osleivis Basabe, 3B/SS, Rays
Age 21 season: .335/.395/.477 (139 OPS+)
Double-A Montgomery (51 G) | High-A Bowling Green (55 G)
The Rays added Basabe when they traded Nate Lowe to the Rangers after the 2020 season. He has steadily hit his way up the minor league ladder in the two seasons since, reaching Double-A in late June. Basabe is a line-drive hitter who owns a career .320 average and .379 on-base percentage. He runs and throws well and is more than capable at each infield position. What he hasn’t shown is home run power, but that could be an adjustment away because he’s a strong athlete.
Tyler Gentry, OF, Royals
Age 23 season: .330/.428/.546 (158 OPS+)
Double-A Northwest Arkansas (62 G) | High-A Quad Cities (35 G)
The 2020 third-rounder out of Alabama has turned in his first healthy pro season this year after dealing with a knee injury in 2021. The results indicate he has taken to the Royals’ revamped hitting development program, which has graduated a host of young big leaguers this season, led by Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez and Vinnie Pasquantino. Gentry has shown an aptitude for hitting, getting on base and producing power. As a player with all-around ability but not necessarily a carrying tool, he may become more of a solid righthanded-hitting corner outfielder than a true standout.
Justin Dirden, OF, Astros
Age 24 season: .319/.401/.591 (160 OPS+)
Triple-A Sugar Land (20 G) | Double-A Corpus Christi (92 G)
Few organizations can match the Astros when it comes to turning college performers into pro prospects and, often, big leaguers. Jeremy Peña, Jake Meyers and Chas McCormick are recent examples. Hunter Brown dominated Triple-A this season and recently made an oustanding MLB debut. Houston may have uncovered another find in Dirden, a lefthanded-hitting outfielder whom it signed as an undrafted fifth-year senior out of Southeast Missouri State in 2020. He turned 25 in July this year during what has been an all-around breakout season. Dirden has hit for average, got on base and hit for plus power. He can play all three outfield spots and could at minimum hit his way into a strong-side platoon role.
Angel Martinez, SS/2B, Guardians
Age 20 season: .283/.380/.482 (135 OPS+)
Double-A Akron (13 G) | High-A Lake County (77 G)
Because of his youth and the generally pitcher-friendly nature of the leagues in which he plays, Martinez flies a bit under the radar. But if one takes a step back and examines the bigger picture, Martinez's upside becomes clear. He is a 20-year-old, switch-hitting middle infielder who has reached Double-A this summer on the strength of a .380 on-base percentage with 12 home runs, 47 walks and just 65 strikeouts in 90 games. The son of former big league catcher Sandy Martinez, Angel is a high IQ player who gets the absolute most out of his solid-average tools and ability.
Casey Schmitt, 3B, Giants
Age 23 season: .291/.372/.500 (150 OPS+)
Double-A Richmond (20 G) | High-A Eugene (93 G)
Like Ke’Bryan Hayes before him, Schmitt is such a strong defender at third base that he’s essentially a shortstop manning the hot corner. The Giants took that idea a step further this year when Schmitt started 40 games at short at High-A in Marco Luciano’s absence before shifting him back to third at Double-A. The 2020 second-rounder out of San Diego State’s bat has come alive this season, especially in his first three weeks with Richmond. Schmitt tends to make good swing decisions and now his power is materializing in games, giving him the look of a future everyday third baseman.
Colt Keith, 3B/2B, Tigers
Age 20 season: .301/.370/.544 (167 OPS+)
High-A West Michigan (48 G)
If not for a shoulder injury that stalled his season on June 9, Keith would probably be a well-known prospect right now. Instead, he still qualifies as more of a sleeper—even though there was nothing sleepy about Keith’s early-season performance in the Midwest League. West Michigan plays as one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in one of the more pitcher-friendly leagues, giving additional heft to the young lefthanded hitter's raw statistics. Drafted out of high school in the fifth round in 2020, Keith swings at strikes and has begun tapping into his power as his body and approach have matured. That points to an exciting future outlook for the athletic infielder who was also a prospect on the mound as an amateur.