Jhonkensy Noel, James Wood Headline 10 Statcast Standouts (June 24th)


Image credit: (Photo by Ric Tapia/Getty Images)

Every Monday morning we’ll highlight several 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 broke out some new charts that allowed us to dive deep into a bevy of interesting hitters, headlined by Jace Jung. This week we’ll talk about:

  • An ascendant Guardians slugger who doesn’t fit the mold
  • The best prospect in baseball?
  • An interesting sidearming lefty
  • Some Double-A data!
  • Another look at a 6-foot-8 Tigers Pitcher
  • Drake! Baseball edition.
  • A player we dropped from the Top 100
  • A different Guardians prospect who fits the mold
  • An Astros prospect with almost twice as many walks as strikeouts
  • A 6-foot-6 Phillies lefty, with back-to-back 10-strikeout starts

You can access the data below via Baseball Savant.

Related prospect rankings:

10 Statcast Standouts

Jhonkensy Noel, 1B/OF/DH, Guardians

This is the second time Noel graces this list. Given his scintillating June numbers, he warrants a deep dive and the headlining spot.

Noel gets to his power thanks to a powerful 6-foot-3, 250-pound frame with a massive lower half that allows him to absolutely crush baseballs.

Noel is an extremely aggressive hitter, but he also makes a fair bit of contact. Let’s begin by looking at how he approaches four-seam fastballs. He saw 286 four-seamers through Saturday’s games.

Noel clearly has a swing geared to make contact low in the zone. He has zero swings and misses over the plate, bottom third and below. However, we can clearly see his aggression is all over the place without a clear plan of attack. He also appears to have a clear hole in his swing against four-seam fastballs up in the zone, which will likely be exploited when he gets the call to the majors.

Against breaking pitches, we see he’s both able to punish in-zone misses, as well as make contact against pitches just below the zone. A disciplined hitter will have bigger boxes in the zone than out of the zone…but Noel will just swing at everything.

So what makes Noel such an intriguing power bat, one that breaks the archetype of hitter that the Guardians supposedly covet? Let’s first take a look at Noel’s 2023 breakdown, so we can see where he has improved year over year.

Last season, Noel chased a lot, but also struggled to make contact, in and out of the zone. Gold coloring is good, purple is bad, and his discipline and contact metrics were a sea of purple. However, despite all that, he managed to make above-average quality of contact while being young for the level. Despite his terrible chase rates, he also had below-average zone swing rates. That’s a recipe for disaster.

This year, he is repeating Triple-A and has made some significant improvements.

We see a host of positive changes, so let’s go through each piece:

  • Chase rates are the same year to year, which is likely who Noel is as a hitter
  • Chase contact up significantly (about 6%) and up against all pitch types
  • Overall contact up slightly, likely still held down by the chase rates
  • Zone contact slightly improved, still below MLB average, even against Triple-A pitching
  • Zone swing% is up dramatically, around 7%, and is the key driver to his success this season
  • Launch angles are up, average exit velocities are up and top-end exit velos are up, leading to significantly higher quality of contact.

I think Noel could use some more time at Triple-A to work on fixing his swing. He looks like the type of hitter that will need a season or two of major league plate appearances to figure things out, and will either boom or bust once he gets there.

James Wood, OF, Nationals

Is James Wood ready for MLB pitchers? In a word, yes. Wood provides an excellent contrast to Noel. Here’s his aggression chart against four-seam fastballs.

Wood is extremely disciplined, hunting his pitches and clearly swinging more at four-seam fastballs up in the zone.

Against breaking pitches, we see some chase just below the zone, but he absolutely mashes mistakes, hitting five of his home runs against breaking balls in the zone.

Examining how a lefty like Wood performs against lefthanded pitching is a key ingredient. Similarly, how well do they read pitches off lefties? Wood passes this test and then some:

We see a poor chase rate against same-handed sliders, but that’s offset by his extreme quality of contact against the pitch. The high swing rate might indicate an inability to properly identify lefthanded sliders out of the hand, but he’s making about MLB-average contact against them, and absolutely crushing the ball when he does.

An area of concern might be the zone contact against four-seam fastballs, which he also struggles to hit in the air. But if the only plan of attack is to throw four-seam fastballs to a player averaging 98 mph on the pitch, I don’t envy the pitchers that have to gameplan Wood.

Righthanded pitchers facing Wood have to hope he doesn’t hit the ball in the air. He looks like an absolute righty-killer. He’s a 6-foot-7 behemoth that is young for Triple-A, making tons of contact, including an excellent 87.6% zone contact rate against righthanded pitchers. He clearly sees the ball better when he has the platoon advantage, not chasing against any pitch type, at the expense of some in-zone aggression.

James Wood’s singular flaw? He doesn’t lift the ball yet. This is not something that’s easy to fix, and may ultimately prevent Wood from being a 40-homer hitter, but he hits the ball so hard, the few times he does get it in the air, he’s going to hit those out. Wood is a unique blend of high-end physical tools, defensive projection and contact ability that point to a potential superstar future. I’m not sure there’s a better overall prospect in the minor leagues right now.

Kai Peterson, LHP, Blue Jays

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what a one-pitch pitcher looks like. Fortunately for Peterson, it’s a pretty good pitch, albeit one he struggles to command strangely against opposite-handed batters. He’s an extreme side-armer:

What’s quite interesting is that he gets much better results against righties than lefties, which is the exact opposite of what I’d expect:

He’s using the sinker more like a four-seam fastball against lefthanded batters, with decent command, but needs to hit the top of the zone to get whiffs. Against righties, he gets whiffs out of the zone as well, but that may not persist as he moves up the ladder.

He looks like the type of pitcher that should be a Lefty One Inning Guy. It will be interesting to see how he performs as he moves up the ladder. He certainly knows his niche, but he’ll have to improve against lefties to fill it.

Thomas Bruss, RHP, Tigers

Bruss made his first appearance in this series about a month ago. Since then, he’s started mixing in more of what looks to be a plus changeup. Baseball Prospectus rates the changeup as -1.5 runs/100 pitches, which means it will prevent 1.5 runs more than the average pitch per 100 pitches, including an incredible 59% expected whiff rate on swings. Let’s visualize what that looks like:

We’re looking at three distinct pitch shapes, with the changeup getting a lot of swing and miss. The fastball still has great velocity, averaging 96.5 mph, and he’s getting slightly above-average ride on the pitch. It won’t overwhelm batters, but it is very promising. As we wrote last month, it’s the type of pitch that goes from average to plus-plus if he can find two inches of ride (not an easy thing to do). The changeup is currently running a tremendous 37% swinging strike rate (whiffs/pitch) and a 60% whiff rate (whiffs/swing), backing up the StuffPro evaluation. The slider looks like an average or better pitch as well, given the fastball velocity and the true gyro spin.

My confidence in Bruss as a potential big league arm is growing. While I’d love to see him promoted soon, that will also mean we lose publicly available Statcast data on him until he gets to Triple-A. With pitchers, the raw ingredients are often more instructive than the raw performance. Bruss has a lot going for him in that respect, given the massive 6-foot-8 frame and the velocity. If he’s still in the FSL in a month, will check back in again.

Jairo Iriarte, RHP, White Sox

We had a rare Double-A Statcast game, so we can take a look at Iriarte’s Statcast data:

Iriarte throws a sinker, but I don’t think it’s a particularly good pitch. It’s more of a rising sinker, which can be tricky to make work, and it only got two whiffs on 47 pitches in his Statcast start. However, the two four-seam fastballs he threw were very promising, getting roughly 2-3 inches more ride than expected given his extremely low arm angle, and with almost 1 mph more velo than the sinker. His slider is a true weapon, ranging from a deathball with -4 inches of IVB and almost no horizontal break to a sweepier version. The pitch might play up more if he switches to the four-seam fastball shape more often.

Drake Baldwin, C, Braves

I get very confused when Baseball Twitter starts talking about a non-baseball Drake. So I’d like to gently steer us back to an actual Baseball Drake: Braves catcher Drake Baldwin, who was recently promoted to Triple-A. The early data look really good:

Baldwin has put up a 90th percentile exit velocity close to Coby Mayo, but with much less swing and miss. That’s plus to plus-plus power with superb contact skills as a catcher. He’s not particularly young for the level, nor is he getting the ball into the air, but he ticks two important boxes: the ability to impact the ball, and the ability to make contact.

The sample sizes are quite small for Baldwin, but that’s a lot of gold coloring for the contact and discipline metrics, which means I’m a fan of (this) Drake.

Thomas Saggese, 2B, Cardinals

Saggese recently dropped out of Top 100, so let’s give him a little bit of love in this series and see if his demotion was justified from an analytical lens.

Saggese’s poor chase rates jump out. They are running well above MLB-average, even against Triple-A pitchers. He mitigates that somewhat with his tremendous contact skills (in and out of the zone), but it’s likely holding back his quality of contact. While he’s able to hit the ball at optimal launch angles, he doesn’t hit the ball very hard. He’ll be challenged to hit more than 20 homers in a season.

The chase rates represent a large problem that he’ll need to fix before he can be a reliable big leaguer. However, if he can rein it in, his contact skills look like legit, and he’s not far off from being a major league regular. He isn’t currently playing like a Top 100 Prospect.

Angel Martinez, 2B/SS, Guardians

Martinez was recently promoted to the majors, so let’s dive in and see why.

Martinez is a switch-hitter, and the story is much the same from both sides of the plate. He doesn’t chase, makes an incredible amount of contact, but it’s a clear hit-over-power profile. I expect pitchers will simply challenge him in the zone with fastballs, given his inability to impact the ball. However, supreme contact and plate discipline skills can often carry a profile. This is the archetypal Guardians hitter. It’s not a surprise that he got the call before his much more powerful teammate Noel.

Will Wagner, 3B, Astros

Wagner has 38 walks to only 22 strikeouts in Triple-A through Saturday’s games. I checked those numbers about eight times to make sure I wasn’t misreading them. So is that a fluke, or a legit skill? Let’s take a look:

Wagner is a lefty, but shows incredible patience against lefthanded pitchers. His 16% chase rate is extremely low, somewhat offset by a very passive 49% zone swing rate. When he does swing, he makes a lot of contact, though there hasn’t been much impact against lefties. He really shines with the platoon advantage:

He’s far more aggressive against righthanders, with an elite 93% zone contact rate, paired with about major league average exit velocities. I love seeing drastically different approaches vs lefties and righties. It suggests that the batter has a gameplan, and the ability to follow their plan. Wagner seems like a high-probability strongside platoon, with perhaps the approach needed to survive against lefthanded pitching.

Mavis Graves, LHP, Phillies

We close out this week’s installment with a 6-foot-6 lefty in the Phillies org coming off of back-to-back 10-strikeout games. Let’s take a look at his pitch shapes:

We see a true five-pitch mix, headlined by a four-seam fastball that is not a very good pitch from a stuff perspective with below-average shape at only 91 mph. His sinker also looks like a below-average pitch with the current shape and velocity. So why am I writing about Graves? He has three very good secondaries, especially against righties, and he may be able to fix his sinker to give himself a viable fastball. His changeup has gotten a 50% whiff rate against righthanded batters so far this season, and he mixes it in about the same amount as his sweeper and slider, which are currently getting 46% and 39% whiff rates against righties.

Against lefties, he mostly throws his sinker, though he mixes in a few four-seam fastballs. Sinkers are tricky pitches to master, but some tweaks to his spin axis could make the pitch have more depth and more run, which could transform it into at least an average pitch. I’m working on some sinker research, and my results suggest that you want to maximize horizontal break, and it’s especially important to breach 16 inches of horizontal break, as that’s where it starts to be good against both righties and lefties. Right now, his spin axis is close to the four-seam. He’ll need to learn how to throw it more horizontally.

His gyro slider (FC in the chart above) has chewed up lefties, with a 70% whiff rate. His sweepier slider hasn’t been nearly as effective. I like the building blocks for Graves. He has a complete arsenal as long as he can fix one of his fastball shapes, most likely the sinker.

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