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National League East Prospect Notebook For June



Logan O’Hoppe Decision To Turn Pro With Phillies Pays Off

Four years ago, Logan O’Hoppe had to weigh one dream against another.

Playing ball at East Carolina, his father’s alma mater, was one of them. Getting his pro career started was the other.

Many teams backed off the high school catcher from Long Island, N.Y., in the 2018 draft because of his college commitment. But the Phillies took a gamble and drafted O’Hoppe in the 23rd round. They signed him for $215,000.

O’Hoppe popped 17 homers last season, primarily at High-A Jersey Shore, and continued his hot hitting at Double-A Reading in 2022. Through 40 games, he hit .294/.406/.532 with eight home runs.

“I think I was forcing things the first month, maybe because I always heard Reading was a bandbox,” O’Hoppe said. “Then I started using the whole field better.”

After last season, he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League. He was supposed to be the team's second catcher but moved to the top spot when the Braves carried Shea Langeliers on their taxi squad throughout their World Series run.

“I lucked out,” said O’Hoppe, who took the extra reps and hit .299 with three homers and a .960 OPS in 22 games in the AFL..

At 6-foot-2, 213 pounds, O’Hoppe has a physical presence behind the plate. He gets high marks for the way he communicates and connects with pitchers. Under the tutelage of catching coordinator Bob Stumpo, he has begun throwing to second from his knees and says it has quickened his release.

Though he still roots for ECU, O’Hoppe is happy he signed with the Phillies. The club is too.

“I was set on school, then I heard my name called and a switch flipped in my head,” O’Hoppe said. “East Carolina was my dream school, but when my name was called, I realized that playing professionally was an even bigger dream.”

Jim Salisbury

Changeup Is Key To Success For Braves’ Jared Shuster

Two years ago, the Braves drafted Wake Forest lefthander Jared Shuster in the first round. He was the first of three pitchers taken.

The other two—righthanders Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder—have already reached Atlanta.

But that doesn’t mean the 23-year-old Shuster is a disappointment. Through nine starts this season, he had shown why he was drafted 25th overall. Shuster posted a 2.06 ERA with 51 strikeouts and 11 walks in 48 innings for Double-A Mississippi.

His success this season comes on the heels of a 4.44 ERA he compiled mostly at High-A Rome in 2021. His lackluster results left him overshadowed by Elder, who earned MLB starts this April, and Strider, who leaped four levels last year and whose strikeout prowess has translated to the majors.

The Braves are still bullish on Shuster, who tossed just 73 innings last year and 26 in the pandemic-shortened 2020.

“Through no fault of his own, I think Jared Shuster probably gets a little bit overlooked at times, given that (Elder and Strider) have reached the big leagues,” Braves farm director Ben Sestanovich said.

“Shu got all the way to Double-A last year, started Game 1 of that (Southern League) playoff series in Mississippi. I still think it’s the best changeup in the system. We’re excited for Jared.”

Heading into his draft year of 2020, Shuster was a raw prospect. His collegiate ERA exceeded 6.00, but he had made an enormous leap in the Cape Cod League a summer earlier.

His velocity had jumped from the high 80s to consistently hovering in the mid 90s.

Shuster’s changeup was his calling card dating back to college. It produced a 64% whiff rate in 2019, his final full collegiate season.

It’s a key reason for his success now. The pitch helped him strike out eight consecutive hitters in a mid-April outing that saw him fan a season-best 12 hitters in five innings.

If his performance continues, Shuster should earn a promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett this summer. That would put him firmly on the radar for a potential MLB opportunity.

Gabe Burns

Powerful George Soriano Brings Promising Arm To Marlins’ Stockpile

Confidence can be as powerful as a mid-90s fastball.

George Soriano has both, though that hasn’t always been the case for the 23-year-old righthander.

In his first season in Double-A with Pensacola, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Soriano struggled with control in his first few turns at the level, walking 11 in 11.1 innings over three starts.

But in his next two starts, he walked a total of two batters in 11 frames.

“George was a little unsure of himself at this level,” Pensacola pitching coach Dave Eiland said. “He was pitching tentatively, not attacking as much as he should. He was trying to figure out if he belongs, which is natural for the first time at this level.

“But once he started attacking hitters, he proved he was more than good enough.”

Soriano’s velocity has made a significant jump from last year, when he sat 92-94 mph. Pensacola manager Kevin Randel said Soriano averaged 96 mph in a six-inning start and touched 98.

“It’s like two different Georges,” Randel said of Soriano’s slow start and subsequent turnaround. “We kept encouraging him.”

The Marlins have been patient with Soriano, who signed for just $55,000 in 2015 out of the Dominican Republic.

Last year, he recorded a 3.43 ERA in 89.1 innings to go with 114 strikeouts and 37 walks.

Despite the rough start this year, Soriano’s ERA was down to 3.42 after six starts for Pensacola.

“His fastball beats hitters at the top of the zone,” Randel said. “His slider is a weapon, and his changeup is average or above. His profile is more bullpen, but he will get every opportunity to stay in the rotation. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get the call next year.”

Eiland said Soriano is working on a mechanical adjustment. Namely, Soriano wants to avoid getting too loose with his front side, which causes his arm slot to drop and his pitches to flatten.

“When he goes north-south with his front side instead of east-west, he’s really good,” Eiland said.

Walter Villa

Connor Grey Could Help Bolster Mets’ Rotation Depth

Connor Grey’s uptick in velocity this season is only one reason the Mets are excited about the 28-year-old righthander.

“He’s a guy who can throw any pitch at any time for a strike,” Mets farm director Kevin Howard said.

“He can really throw and really spin the ball wherever he wants and when he wants it, and that is really his biggest strength.”

From a velocity standpoint, the 6-foot, 180-pound Grey has seen his fastball jump from 90 mph to the 93-94 range, perhaps placing him in the mix as the organization stockpiles rotation depth.

Tylor Megill arrived last June without much fanfare and helped bolster the Mets’ rotation deep into the summer. Howard views Grey as somebody with that kind of potential.

Over a three-start stretch beginning on May 12 for Syracuse, Grey pitched 17.2 scoreless innings in which he allowed 12 hits, struck out 12 and walked four.

A 20th-round pick from St. Bonaventure by the D-backs in 2016, Grey signed with the Mets in June 2021 following his release from Arizona in 2020 and subsequent time in the independent American Association. He reached Double-A Binghamton in his first season in the Mets system.

After the season, Grey’s fastball began showing increased hop.

“He’s just a guy who had a lot of room for improvement in that area as he learned how to take care of his body,” Howard said. “And how to increase intent in some of those areas with his throwing program . . . his body took to it well and he was able to increase that velo.

“I think he created a lot of value for himself. (He put in) a lot of hard work in that area, and he continues to work on a changeup that he didn’t have in past years either. Now with that three-pitch mix, I think he’s definitely put himself on the map, and you never know if he’s an option for us or not.”

Mike Puma

Nationals’ Seth Shuman Succeeds In New Organization

Seth Shuman’s athletic career included a cameo in a packed Southeastern Conference football stadium, so progressing through the minor leagues doesn’t seem all that frenetic.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Shuman, a 24-year-old righthander acquired from the Athletics at last year’s trade deadline as part of the return for Yan Gomes and Josh Harrison, was once a freshman quarterback at Georgia Southern.

He started one game for the Eagles in 2016 and played in three others, including their visit to Mississippi’s Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Now as one of the most talented arms on the High-A Wilmington pitching staff, Shuman is not nearly as intimidated. He recorded a 2.92 ERA with 25 strikeouts and seven walks through his first 28.2 innings.

“He’s one of those quiet confidence-type guys, where he has a slow heartbeat,” Wilmington pitching coach Mark DiFelice said. “It’s been fun to have him around, learn his style of things and go from there.”

The former major leaguer DiFelice and Shuman both played for the same college baseball coach. Rodney Hennon, who coached DiFelice at Western Carolina, has been the Georgia Southern coach since 2000.

At Valdosta (Ga,) High, Shuman’s baseball coach was his father Bart. Shuman considered the Eagles as his best option to play two sports, and then he elected to stay at Georgia Southern even after the football team went to a more option-heavy offense. In the spring of his freshman year, Shuman decided to concentrate on baseball.

“I almost considered transferring, but I really liked the baseball coach and baseball program at Georgia Southern, and I felt like they gave me the best opportunity to get to the next level,” Shuman said.

The Nationals believe Shuman has the repertoire to climb still more levels. Shuman, Oakland’s sixth-round pick in 2019, throws a 91-95 mph fastball, an above-average slider, a changeup and a curveball.

“Our analytic department is working with him as far as what quadrants of the strike zone profile best with his fastball,” DiFelice said. “We like his slider probably over any of his other secondary pitches, but he does a great job of throwing all of his pitches for strikes.

Lacy Lusk

Ezequiel Tovar Billmitchell

2022 MiLB First Half Offensive Breakout Performers

Geoff Pontes breaks down position players who've improved year over year using wOBA.

AROUND THE DIVISION

— Braves top prospect Michael Harris II was called up from Double-A Mississippi in late May, a move influenced by his strong play and the scuffling MLB team’s dire need for outfield help. The Braves were optimistic that the 21-year-old Harris would become a young big leaguer. Now, he has an opportunity to entrench himself in center field.

— One Braves pitching prospect who caught eyes early in the season was 21-year-old righthander Royber Salinas, who dominated opposition at Low-A Augusta—1.52 ERA in five starts with 52 strikeouts and 12 walks—to earn a promotion to High-A Rome.

Salinas came back to earth in High-A, where he had a 6.27 ERA in five outings, but his 87 strikeouts across 42.1 innings remains eye-popping. He has a three-pitch mix, highlighted by his slider. He’ll need to trim the walks—he had issued 25 in 42.1 frames—but he has raw ability.

— Nationals switch-hitting catcher Drew Millas, part of the trade that sent Yan Gomes and Josh Harrison to the Athletics, was hitting .206/.275/.349 through 16 games for Double-A Harrisburg. He started his season at Low-A Fredericksburg on a rehab assignment for an intercostal strain.

— Nationals second baseman/shortstop Viandel Pena, a 21-year-old switch-hitter, was off to a fast start at Low-A Fredericksburg. Through 35 games, he was hitting .293/.399/.483. He had stolen 12 bases in 13 attempts.

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