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National League East Prospect Notebook For May

NL East Prospect Notebook

Phillies' Francisco Morales Excels After Move To Pen

Following a template they used with Seranthony Dominguez four years ago, the Phillies moved hulking righthander Francisco Morales to the bullpen. The conversion from starter to reliever has produced early success, enhanced Morales’ prospect status and could speed his path to the majors.

“The transition is allowing him to get to his stuff quicker," Phillies farm director Preston Mattingly said. "With the stuff he has, he has a chance to pitch at the back of games.”

The 22-year-old Morales ranked near the top of the international market when the Phillies signed him for $720,000 as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela in 2016. He had been plagued by delivery and control issues throughout his career, especially in 2021, when he walked 6.5 per nine innings and had a 6.94 ERA at Double-A Reading.

Phillies officials had pondered a move to the bullpen before. They pulled the trigger in February.

Morales, back at Double-A, opened the 2022 season with 13.2 scoreless innings in his first seven games before being touched for a run in his eighth. He had 23 strikeouts and six walks through 14.1 innings.

The move to the bullpen has allowed Morales to simplify his delivery by working from the stretch. He’s streamlined his pitch mix to his power fastball and power slider.

“He’s leaning into what he’s always been good at,” Phillies director of pitching development Brian Kaplan said.

Morales' fastball has touched 99 mph and his slider was up to 91 in big league camp. The pitch sits in the high 80s and has sharp, downward bite. Kaplan called it dominant.

Don’t be surprised if Morales works his way from Double-A to the majors quickly, like Dominguez did after his conversion to the bullpen in 2018.

At 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, Morales has the physique and the stuff to be an intimidating presence at the back of a bullpen if he continues to improve.

“This is something Francisco wanted,” Mattingly said. “He loves the role.”

—Jim Salisbury

Jeremy De La Rosa Makes A Big Impact With Nationals

For a 20-year-old, Low-A Fredericksburg center fielder Jeremy De La Rosa has shown a take-charge attitude.

“He’s taking leadership of the outfield, showing his teammates where to go and reading swings really well,” Fredericksburg manager Jake Lowery said.

De La Rosa was off to a .296/.380/.511 start with five home runs and seven stolen bases in 20 games.

The Nationals signed De La Rosa out of the Dominican Republic for $300,000 in 2018. They challenged him the next summer by sending him to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League to start his career.

In 2020, De La Rosa was part of Washington’s 60-man player pool and was able to work on his game at the team’s alternate training site.

The lefthanded hitter and thrower showed plus power against far more experienced competition during the first summer of the pandemic.

Last year with Fredericksburg, De La Rosa hit .209/.279/.316 with five home runs in 87 games. He had a 34% strikeout rate, which had dropped to 27% this season. His walk rate had risen from 8% to 12%.

“He’s hit the ball extremely hard,” Lowery said. “Even his exit velocity on ground balls has been hard. He’s hitting a lot of balls 95-plus (mph) and squaring them up. And he’ll take a walk when he needs to.”

The 5-foot-11 De La Rosa has speed to go along with his strength and is dynamic on the bases and in center field.

“He has been great as the backside runner with Jacob Young,” Lowery said in reference to the Nationals' 2021 seventh-rounder out of Florida. “The two of them are getting on base and then wreaking havoc on the bases.”

—Lacy Lusk

Marlins’ Bryan Hoeing Wins Big By Sticking With Baseball

When Bryan Hoeing was a freshman at Batesville (Ind.) High, he got a recruiting visit from basketball coach Brad Stevens, who had just led Butler to the 2011 NCAA championship game.

“Bryan could shoot from anywhere,” Batesville basketball coach Aaron Garrett said.

Now, just over a decade later, Hoeing is taking his shot in a different sport.

Hoeing made his Double-A debut on April 10 and struck out 10 batters in 5.2 innings.

“I couldn’t help think of everyone who has helped him get this far,” said his mother Donna who made the trip to Pensacola, Fla., to watch her son, who was promoted to Triple-A on May 3.

Hoeing’s story is bittersweet.

He was just 3 years old when he lost his father John, who suffered from epilepsy.

Donna has fought off breast cancer twice and has raised her sons Mike and Bryan on her own.

“It was tough growing up without a dad, but my mom did a great job,” Bryan said.

Hoeing comes from an athletic family.

Donna was a four-year starting shooting guard at Ball State. Her sister Cindy Lamping was a starting guard at Purdue.

Hoeing could have gone Division I in basketball, too, but chose baseball.

It hasn’t been easy for the 25-year-old.

Starting during his senior year of high school, Hoeing endured three surgeries—two on his knee and one on his elbow—in five years.

The Marlins drafted him out of Louisville in the seventh round in 2019.

Hoeing used the inactivity of the 2020 Covid year to change his diet. He dropped 15 pounds—down to 210—by cutting out sweets. He also hit the weights and got stronger, cutting his body fat from 17% to 10%.

His fastball sits 93-94 mph, and he throws a low-90s sinker, a mid-80s changeup and a low-80s slider. The key happened this past winter, when he changed his slider grip to put more pressure on his middle finger.

“Last year, I didn’t know who I was as a pitcher,” Hoeing said. “I’m finally pitching instead of trying to blow it by guys.”

—Walter Villa

Mets' JT Schwartz Shows Polished Hitting Approach

JT Schwartz’s size and position might scream “slugger,” but the 22-year-old first baseman is more attuned to contact and strike-zone discipline.

The early reviews at High-A Brooklyn this season were positive overall for the 6-foot-4, 215-pound lefthanded batter. Over his first 22 games, Schwartz hit .211/.371/.324 with one home run.

“He’s a big, strong kid,” Mets farm director Kevin Howard said. “But he’s not like a swing-and-miss power type of first baseman.

"He’s a good hitter. He has a good feel for the strike zone and he’s got a good feel for hitting the ball where it’s pitched, being able to make contact in different parts of the zone. He’s a really unique, polished type of first baseman.”

A fourth-round pick from UCLA in 2021, Schwartz played 25 games last season at Low-A St. Lucie, where he hit .195/.320/.256. The Newport Beach, Calif., native won the Pacific-12 Conference batting title last season with a .396 average. His .514 on-base percentage was the second highest for a season in UCLA history.

“I think he prides himself on being a tough out,” Howard said. “It’s rare to see from a big guy like him who has power, but I think he understands approach and what pitchers are trying to do to him. He knows how to be a difficult out.”

Schwartz projects defensively as an average to above-average first baseman, according to Howard.

“He could actually play third base in a pinch," Howard said. "He’s athletic enough to do that, but I don’t anticipate us putting him over there much—but (in) an emergency he can play over there. He’s that good of an athlete."

—Mike Puma

Braves' Vaughn Grissom Firmly On Prospect Radar Following 2021 Breakout

Shortstop Vaughn Grissom put himself on the prospect radar last summer, turning a promising stint at the alternate training site in 2020 into a productive campaign at Low-A Augusta.

Grissom, who turned 21 in January, hit .319/.418/.464 with 17 doubles and seven homers across 87 games at Augusta and High-A Rome. He played just 12 games at Rome but hit .378 to finish the season.

Buzz has built for Grissom since he was drafted in the 11th round in 2019 out of Hagerty High in Oviedo, Fla. He played 44 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2019 before his development was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

That didn’t stop Grissom from impressing. He was among the more frequently mentioned names at Atlanta's alternate site. He looked worthy of the hype during his first full minor league season last year. He was even briefly in major league camp this spring.

“Performance-wise, he kind of put himself on the map last year,” Braves assistant general manager of player development Ben Sestanovich said. “I think he’s in a great spot. He finished last year in Rome and is starting there again this year.

Sestanovich noted that Grissom has a development trajectory similar to outfielder Michael Harris II, the system's top prospect. Both were drafted out of high school in 2019 and had their progression interrupted in 2020.

“And then, you know, this is kind of their sophomore year of pro ball, even though they were drafted (three) years ago," Sestanovich said. "For all these guys, I think it’s just gaining experience in higher levels and through the system. It’s something we’re really excited to watch.”

Grissom has impressed offensively by making consistent contact and showing plate discipline. The Braves are focused on two areas of his development: power and fielding.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Grissom had 12 career home runs through 151 games, including two this year in 20 games. Attention to his offensive production will become more acute if he slides over to third base, which is a possible outcome.

—Gabe Burns

Ricky Tiedemann (Mike Janes Four Seam Images)

42 Players Making Significant Jumps Up Top 30 Prospects Lists

Breaking down players who made a jump up their team's Top 30 Prospects list.

AROUND THE DIVISION

* The Nationals' Leandro Emiliani, a 22-year-old from Colombia, won a Carolina League player of the week honor and was hitting .273/.360/.682 with four home runs in 11 games for Low-A Fredericksburg. “He’s extremely passionate about his defense, and he has some power,” manager Jake Lowery said. Emiliani and Branden Boissiere, a 2021 third-round pick from Arizona, were splitting time at first base.

* Nationals righthander Cole Henry, a 2020 second-rounder out of Louisiana State, pitched 13 scoreless innings over his first four starts for Double-A Harrisburg. He had allowed three hits and four walks while striking out 16.

* The Braves made just four selections in the 2020 draft, but it looks like they hit on them. Righthanders Bryce Elder and Spencer Strider already had reached the majors. Lefthander Jared Shuster and outfielder Jesse Franklin appeared on track to eventually reach the highest level. The organization landed Elder, Strider and Franklin largely due to injuries hurting their stock.

* Braves lefthander Jared Shuster was off to a nice start at Double-A Mississippi, posting a 1.88 ERA with a 28-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his first four starts of the season. Another pitcher finding early success in Mississippi was 24-year-old righthander Darius Vines, a 2019 seventh-rounder. Vines had 24 strikeouts in his first 23 innings.

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