National League Central: August Prospect Notebook
All-Around Play Propels Cubs’ Kevin Made To High-A
Nico Hoerner and Ed Howard IV received plenty of attention with their distinction as first-round picks. The Cubs’ signing of Cristian Hernandez for $3 million out of the Dominican Republic gave the organization a plethora of young shortstop talent.
Now, fellow Dominican shortstop Kevin Made is climbing the Cubs’ depth chart. He signed for $1.5 million in 2019 and because of the pandemic didn’t make his pro debut until 2021.
So far, the 6-foot, 155-pound Made has answered the challenges presented to him despite not turning 20 until Sept. 10.
Several opposing scouts marveled over Made’s strong arm in the Low-A Carolina League, and his nine home runs in 57 games earned the 19-year-old a promotion to High-A South Bend on July 22.
“Made has above-average bat speed and strength, which lead to his impressive exit velos and power,” Cubs vice president of player development Jared Banner said.
“He's striking out at a well below-average rate on the year, which is a reflection of his barrel control and pitch recognition improvements this season.”
Made played in one game for Low-A Myrtle Beach in April because of right elbow soreness but upon his return hit .266/.354/.451 with nine home runs in 57 games at the level.
By contrast, he hit only one homer in 58 games at Low-A a year ago.
“He has an impressive baseball IQ with the ability to slow the game down,” Banner said. “That's why we felt comfortable challenging him in South Bend despite his youth.”
Hoerner has played exceptionally well in Chicago and at age 25 could hold the shortstop position for several seasons.
That would give Made ample time to continue his progress as an elite defender and respectable hitter.
“We think he's an impressive young shortstop who will be able to stay at that position,” Banner said.
Pirates’ Carlos Jimenez Shows Exciting Upside In Low-A
The pair each received around $3 million as part of the Pirates’ dynamic approach to the 2021 draft.
Not to be lost in the shuffle behind those bonus babies is 20-year-old Venezuelan righthander Carlos Jimenez, who had a 3.36 ERA and 76 strikeouts through 56.1 innings for Bradenton.
“I think he’s on the way to establishing himself as a real pitching prospect in the organization,” Pirates farm director John Baker said.
Jimenez is a 6-foot-2 righthander who signed in July 2018 and made his U.S. debut last year, pitching well in the Florida Complex League. That performance led the Pirates to push him to a full-season rotation this season.
Jimenez’s fastball sits 94 mph and has an above-average spin rate. His best pitch is his changeup, which sits around 86 mph with slider movement.
He throws his changeup as often as his fastball and gets a lot of swings and misses. He also mixes in a high-spin curveball that generates whiffs.
Jimenez has used his stuff to dominate Low-A hitters. He has struggled with control, walking 5.1 per nine innings. That’s largely due to inconsistent command at a young age..
“I think the first time under the lights for a player, we don’t want to put too much stock in command the first year,” Baker said.
The Pirates believe Jimenez can improve his command this offseason with work on finding consistency in his delivery and release point.
If he can improve his command, Jimenez might emerge as one of the best pitchers from the Bradenton staff.
“The spin on his pitches, and the swing-and-miss on everything, it will be really exciting when he’s in the zone all the time,” Baker said.
Cardinals First-Rounder Cooper Hjerpe Has A Chance To Move Quick
The Cardinals tend to trust what they see in a Power Five Conference pitcher’s performance. That principle intertwined with the organization’s goal to use modern tech to reveal potential in the first round of the draft.
St. Louis drafted Oregon State lefthander Cooper Hjerpe with the 22nd overall pick.
The windfall of advanced metrics on Hjerpe’s fastball and breaking ball assured the Cardinals that his stats weren’t deceptive. His mechanics were.
Throw in the Cardinals’ recent preference to lean left when acquiring pitching and Hjerpe, pronounced “Jerpy,” offered one more appeal.
His fastball wasn’t all that moved with above-average acceleration.
He could, too.
“You can really see by his velocity, by his walk rate, by his strikeout rate, that this is someone who knows how to pitch and has the weapons to matter at the highest level,” said assistant general manager Randy Flores, the Cardinals’ draft director.
“He has a chance to move quick for us.”
The 21-year-old Hjerpe won a handful of major awards as the top college pitcher in the nation after striking out an OSU school-record 161 batters in 103.1 innings. He finished 11-2, 2.53 as a junior.
Hjerpe’s lanky, lean and whippy delivery can be unnerving for lefthanded hitters, and it adds to the counterintuitive movement on his pitches for righthanded batters.
Since Hjerpe’s days in youth baseball, no coach urged him to change his delivery, but a visit to Driveline did shift how he used his stuff. The same data the Cardinals used to increase their interest in Hjerpe was what he used to ditch his curveball and craft a sharper, top-shelf slider.
Hjerpe’s slider complemented his fastball because, from the batter’s perspective, they both came from the same spot and then veered dramatically.
That combo led to him striking out 40% of the batters he faced, but not at the expense of his control. He walked just 5%.
“I have full belief in myself to do well, honestly,” Hjerpe said. “If you need me in any spot, I’m ready for it. I just want the ball.”
Hard Work Pays Off For Reds’ Chase Petty On His Way To High-A
When the Reds acquired hard-throwing righthander Chase Petty on March 13, Opening Day was a mere three weeks away.
Petty had been the Twins’ first-round pick in 2021 but was now joining a new organization after being traded to the Reds for veteran Sonny Gray.
“There was actually some discussion whether we should start him in the Arizona Complex League or whether or not we should start him in (Low-A) Daytona,” Reds vice president of player development Shawn Pender said.
“We decided that with the quality of his stuff, and his maturity and competitiveness, that he had shown that we felt we ought to get him to a higher level to challenge him. “
Petty headed to the Florida State League to start the season and rose to the challenge that was presented to him. After a small hiccup in early May, the 19-year-old was dominant over the final 11 starts he made for Daytona, recording a 2.45 ERA in 44 innings.
Overall, he posted a 3.18 ERA with 60 strikeouts and 23 walks in 65 innings. His 60% groundball rate was the second highest in the FSL.
That performance earned Petty a promotion to High-A Dayton, where he was the youngest pitcher in the Midwest League when he arrived.
Petty throws a 92-95 mph sinker that has topped out at 97. He also throws a slider in the low-to-mid 80s and a changeup in the mid 80s.
“We’re very pleased with his progress,” Pender said. “What has stood out to us is his work ethic, his concentration, his work in bullpens, his willingness to follow the individual development plan that we’ve worked on with him has been beyond his age.
“He’s taken accountability for his own development, and you love to see that from a young kid.“
Brewers Follow Familiar Script With First-Rounder Eric Brown Jr.
The Brewers have shown a preference for up-the-middle players in the first round of the draft.
This year Milwaukee took Coastal Carolina shortstop Eric Brown Jr. with the 27th overall pick. They signed him five days later for an under-slot $2.05 million.
Past Brewers first-rounders include center fielders Sal Frelick (2021), Garrett Mitchell (2020), Corey Ray (2016) and Trent Grisham (2015); shortstop Brice Turang (2018) and second baseman Keston Hiura (2017).
“Nobody says, ‘We have too many shortstops.’ Or even too many center fielders, because those guys are the best athletes,” Brewers vice president of domestic scouting Tod Johnson said.
“You can always put them at other spots, and they have even more defensive ability relative to that position . . . It’s certainly a pretty big factor and it’s worked out pretty well, I think.”
The 21-year-old Brown headed straight for the Arizona Complex League, where he received a brief orientation to professional baseball. He should finish the season at Low-A Carolina or High-A Wisconsin.
“I'm ready to get going,” Brown said while touring American Family Field. “As soon as I signed that paper, I knew that I'm officially a Brewer.
“Let's get to work.”
Brown joins a number of shortstops already in the Milwaukee system, including Turang at Triple-A Nashville, Eduardo Garcia at Low-A and Freddy Zamora—who was out for the season—at Double-A Biloxi.
“We see him at shortstop, and we think he has a really good chance to stick there,” Johnson said. “And if he doesn’t, he has a great fallback to play second base.”
MLB Draft Buzz: The Latest News, Rumors And Rumblings Around The 2022 Draft
Here is all the latest news, rumors and rumblings about what teams are thinking, which players are rising and falling and which surprise picks could be in store in the draft.
AROUND THE DIVISION
— The Pirates traded lefthander Jose Quintana and righthanded reliever Chris Stratton to the Cardinals, getting righthander Johan Oviedo and first baseman Malcom Nuñez in return. The Pirates plan to stretch Oviedo out and use him as a starter. The first base position is wide open in Pittsburgh, and Nunez stepped up this year with 17 home runs in Double-A prior to the trade.
— High-A Greensboro’s Endy Rodriguez was one of the hottest hitters in the Pirates’ system, batting .373/.489/.773 with eight home runs in July. He has also been getting a lot more work behind the plate since 2021 first overall pick Henry Davis was promoted to Double-A. Rodriguez started the year rotating between left field and second base when he wasn’t catching. Now, he was catching three games in a row more consistently, and spending less time overall at the other spots.
— Reds third baseman/outfielder Carlos Sanchez signed in January and had performed in the Dominican Summer League in his pro debut. The 17-year-old was hitting .408/.560/.495 with two home runs, 10 stolen bases, 35 walks and 19 strikeouts in 35 games.
— The day after the Aug. 2 trade deadline, Cardinals top prospect Jordan Walker made his first professional start in left field. This was not a coincidence. The Cardinals intend to give Walker, a natural third baseman, starts at all three outfield spots for the remainder of the season to see if that is a viable route to get the 20-year-old’s bat in the big league lineup.
— For the 11th consecutive year, the Cardinals went over their assigned draft bonus pool of $6.85 million, but again they kept their overage under 5% so as not to trigger penalties. The Cardinals and Cubs are the only teams in the NL Central to have spent beyond their bonus cap in each of the 11 drafts of the bonus pool era.
— Brewers second baseman/outfielder Tyler Black, a 2021 supplemental first-round pick, is done for the season after suffering a fracture of his left shoulder blade attempting a diving catch in center field. He hit .281/.406/.424 with four home runs in 64 games for High-A Wisconsin.
— Brewers outfielder Joe Gray Jr. l was leading High-A Wisconsin with 12 home runs despite a .188 batting average through 94 games. A Lasik procedure gone awry was ultimately found to have negatively affected his vision. It has since been addressed.