Image credit: Elly De La Cruz (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
As loyal Baseball America readers know, every week during the minor league season brings with it an edition of the Prospect Hot Sheet, the aim of which is to rank the 20 best-performing prospects of the week.
Each edition of Hot Sheet also includes one Helium prospect, a rising talent who might not yet be ranked among a team’s Top 30 list, or at least not near the top. These are the kinds of prospects savvy players will stash in their leagues in an effort to beat the rush.
They’re also the kinds of players who show up on Top 30s, Top 100s and, eventually, big league rosters. Here are the players we highlighted in 2021, including what we wrote at the time and a quick update on how they’ve fared since they appeared on the list.
Please note that although some of these players have since been included in trades, their organization at the time of the Hot Sheet’s publication will be how they’re listed in this article.
Luis Rodriguez, Mets
What We Said Then: If you’re looking for a sneaky, under-the-radar sleeper prospect most people have never heard of, Rodriguez is a good name to know. Rodriguez signed out of the Dominican Republic for $75,000 on July 2, 2019 when he was 16, so with the 2020 minor league season washed out, he didn’t make his pro debut until this year. Once he got ramped up and ready to pitch in games in August, he quickly generated buzz as a 6-foot-3, 190-pound lefty dialing his fastball into the mid 90s as an 18-year-old, mixing in a slider and a changeup as well.
Update: Rodriguez had Tommy John surgery in March and has missed the entire season.
Cody Freeman, Rangers
What We Said Then: The Rangers curiously tried to convert Freeman to catcher despite his small stature and the fact his glovework and instincts in the infield were some of his best traits. Freeman caught this year and struggled until he went on the injured list in late July. Since returning from the IL though, he’s played the infield exclusively and taken off … A shortstop in high school who was seen as a potential plus defender at second base, Freeman has the rare ability to play all around the infield. Now that he’s back doing what comes naturally to him defensively, he’s showing what he’s capable of offensively.
Update: Freeman has underwhelmed this season at High-A Hickory, where he’s hit 13 home runs and made a fair amount of contact but overall produced an OPS of just .678 in 102 games. He spent most of his defensive time at catcher and third base.
Jean Pinto, Orioles
What We Said Then: Pinto came to Baltimore as one half of the package used to bring Jose Iglesias to the Angels. Iglesias has since been released by the Angels, but Pinto may just be beginning to pay dividends … Pinto works with a full four-pitch complement fronted by a fastball up to 94 and a sinking changeup that currently stands as his best offspeed. Both his slider and curveball show promise as well.
Update: Pinto has still shown swing-and-miss stuff, but needs to harness his arsenal a bit better to help his pitches play up. He allowed just 79 hits and struck out 103 in 91.2 innings, but he also issued 46 walks, or 4.5 per nine innings.
Gabriel Gonzalez, Mariners
What We Said Then: Gonzalez was one of Seattle’s big international signings from its 2021-22 class when the signing period opened this year on Jan. 15. So far, the results have been outstanding … It’s a bigger, physically mature body type for his age, but Gonzalez has handled himself capably in center field so far, with the offensive upside to carry him on a corner as well.
Update: Gonzalez has continued to establish himself as one of the best prospects in the Mariners’ system. He was a standout in the Arizona Complex League, where he hit .357/.421/.548 with five home runs before a promotion to Low-A.
Ian Lewis, Marlins
What We Said Then: Get ready for another prospect on the rise out of the Bahamas. Lewis was one of Miami’s top international signings from what’s shaping up to be an excellent 2019 international class, with righthander Eury Perez and shortstop Jose Salas also in the mix. A $950,000 signing, Lewis is a quick-twitch athlete with plus speed, good body control in the field and a switch-hitter who showed good hitting traits as an amateur, but he was physically behind his peers.
Update: Lewis stayed back in extended spring training when the Florida State League season opened and didn’t debut until May 10. He performed admirably in the FSL, where he produced a slash line of .265/.347/.368 with a pair of home runs and 16 stolen bases in 17 chances. He’s stymied by lefthanders, however, and might fit better at second base than shortstop.
Jorbit Vivas, Dodgers
What We Said Then: Vivas has impressed with his advanced feel for the strike zone and knack for contact since he signed with the Dodgers for $300,000 out of Venezuela in 2017. Now that he’s gotten stronger and started hitting for power, he’s rising quickly as one of the top young hitters in a deep Dodgers system … Though he isn’t particularly big, he’s grown from 145 pounds when he signed to 171 pounds this year and just keeps getting stronger. Vivas uses his hands well in his swing, manipulates the barrel to all parts of the zone and is a tough out who competes hard in the box. He has a long track record of performing in games and is extending that track record, loudly, in his first full professional season.
Update: Vivas was a contact machine this year in a return to High-A Great Lakes, where his 129 hits were second in the Midwest League. The only player with more MWL hits was his teammate, Eddys Leonard. He’s also one of 14 qualified players outside the complex leagues with more walks than strikeouts.
Zak Kent, Rangers
What We Said Then: When Kent left Virginia Military Institute, he was a pitcher with feel, a decent breaking ball and a fastball that was a below-average pitch. Kent made it all work at VMI, and he struck out 132 batters in 97 innings as a junior. But that year, he sat at 87-89 mph and topped out at 92. Two years later, Kent still relies on his breaking ball, but it’s 5-6 mph harder than it was in college. So is his fastball, which now regularly touches 94-95 mph. Welcome to player development in the 2020s. Kent has been one of several pleasant developments for the Rangers. His slider is a plus pitch at least now, and his fastball is average if not better. When Kent is on, he uses his fastball up and in to keep righthanded hitters honest, and then he spins his slider off the plate. They tunnel well together, so hitters end up with a lot of bad swings on unhittable breaking balls.
Update: Kent’s season has been inconsistent, but such is life when pitching in the hitter-friendly Texas League. Scouts still believe in his stuff, but he’ll have to continue to work to get ahead in counts in order for his mix to play to its peak. He’s put together two excellent starts since moving to Triple-A.
Elly De La Cruz, Reds
What We Said Then: Few players are rising faster than De La Cruz. He began the season playing in the Arizona Complex League, but a .400/.455/.780 11-game stint there necessitated a promotion to Low-A Daytona … De La Cruz may be able to stick at shortstop, but more likely he’s a third baseman or a rangy outfielder. He’s a 19-year-old who has some young player issues—his aggressiveness will need to tone down, but wherever he plays, De La Cruz has already caught the attention of scouts both in Arizona and in Florida.
Update: Few players have been more impressive this year than De La Cruz, who continues to wow scouts and fans alike with his mixture of power and speed at the top of an extraordinarily loud set of tools. In the final week of the season, he’s threatening to hit 30 home runs while stealing 40 bags.
Michael Stefanic, Angels
What We Said Then: A nondrafted free agent signing out of NAIA Westmont (Calif.) in 2018, Stefanic is following the Mike Brosseau path of an NDFA who was supposed to be an organizational roster filler but instead hits his way to the majors … He has shown exceptional barrel control, rarely swings and misses, doesn’t chase out of the strike zone and has shown growing power, impressing even in the context of his hitter-friendly environment. Stefanic needs to improve his lateral mobility to stay on the infield and have a position, but his bat alone has put him on the cusp of the majors.
Update: Stefanic continued his role as a player who reliably gets the bat on the ball and rarely strikes out. In doing so, he earned his first big league callup on July 3.
Baron Radcliff, Phillies
What We Said Then: A fifth-round pick out of Georgia Tech last year, Radcliff is currently hitting .197 at Low A Clearwater. It may seem odd to indicate that a player with college experience hitting under .200 in Low-A is an upward ascent, but there is more than meets the eye. Radcliff does have a .414 on-base percentage, which is remarkable considering his batting average … What makes Radcliff even more notable is how hard he hits the ball. Radcliff’s 112.8 mph exit velocity on a home run is tied for the fourth hardest hit ball in play measured in the Low-A Southeast league this year. His median exit velocity of 95.45 mph is fourth best in the league as well.
Update: Radcliff’s big-time power continued to show up this year with High-A Jersey Shore, where he swatted 15 doubles and 17 home runs. He will have to cut down on the whiffs to amplify his power even further, considering his 163 strikeouts were the most in the South Atlantic League.
Euribiel Angeles, Padres
What We Said Then: The Padres couldn’t spend more than $300,000 on an international player in 2018 as a penalty for having exceeded their bonus pool for their 2016 class. They gave Angeles $300,000 on July 2, 2018, and after Angeles made his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2019, the Padres challenged him this year with a jump to Low-A Lake Elsinore … Angeles has good bat speed and feel for the barrel from the right side, with a chance for more power if he becomes a more selective hitter to learn which pitches he can drive.
Update: Angeles was dealt to the A’s in spring training as part of the deal that brought Sean Manaea to San Diego. With Oakland, Angeles has been nondescript. He’s made plenty of contact but without much impact, producing a .278 average but just a .669 OPS at High-A Lansing.
Luis Perales, Red Sox
What We Said Then: Two years ago, the Red Sox signed Perales out of Venezuela when he was 16 on July 2. He was a small signing—under $100,000—but he had a loose, easy delivery, good arm action and fast arm speed with a fastball that touched 90 mph by the time he signed. Perales has yet to pitch in an official game, but he has been on an upward trajectory since then. After signing in 2019, he pitched in the Tricky League (an unofficial league for July 2 signings) and increased his fastball to 95 mph, showing a mid-70s curveball with tight spin as well and ranking as Baseball America’s No. 27 international signing in the 2019 class.
Update: Perales was one of the standout arms in the Florida Complex League this summer and earned a late-year promotion to Low-A Salem. He got his outs with a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s that was backed by a curveball and changeup that each project to be at least above-average. He’ll need to sharpen his control and command as he moves up the ladder.
Angel Martinez, Guardians
What We Said Then: Two years ago, Martinez made his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League and ranked as the No. 7 prospect in the DSL. Now, Martinez keeps rising, with a blend of savvy and skills in the middle infield … His high baseball IQ is apparent in all facets of the game, from the way he manages his at-bats to how he runs the bases and his internal clock at shortstop.
Update: Shocking though it may be, the Guardians have another talented middle infielder on their hands. Martinez’s 2022 season, split between High-A and Double-A, has included contact, impact and on-base skills that show up both in the stat lines and more analytical metrics.
Joey Estes, Braves
What We Said Then: Estes is one of the players who made himself a better player over the long coronavirus layoff. His fastball is getting swings and misses up in the zone with excellent hop and ride. His breaking ball is better, and he’s added a dastardly changeup as well. He shows the potential for three plus pitches, and he carries himself with a healthy swagger on the mound. He likes to challenge hitters and for now, hitters don’t have an answer. For a 16th-round pick out of high school, he already qualifies as quite a find.
Update: Estes was part of the package the Braves sent to the A’s to acquire first baseman Matt Olson. The righthander led the Carolina League in strikeouts in 2021 but hasn’t been quite as dynamic in 2022. Estes’ fastball, which sits in the mid 90s, is excellent, but he’ll need to show a bit more consistency with his slider in order to reach his full potential.
Ken Waldichuk, Yankees
What We Said Then: Waldichuk was the Yankees’ 2019 fourth-rounder out of Saint Mary’s in California. In 2021, his first full season as a pro, the lefthander has yet to allow a run. He’s done his job using a low-to-mid-90s fastball thrown with angle and deception out of a crossfire delivery. He pairs the fastball primarily with a slider thrown in the same angle as the fastball, which amplifies its effectiveness. In a vacuum, the slider doesn’t grade as a potentially plus pitch, but it acts that way thrown off of his fastball. He also shows a curveball and a changeup, but his fastball and slider are his bread and butter.
Update: Waldichuk is the third player on this list who was acquired by the A’s in a trade. He moved from New York to Oakland as part of the package that made Frankie Montas a Yankee. He works with a dynamic mix from the left side fronted primarily by a mid-90s fastball and a nasty slider. He’ll need to throw more quality strikes in order to reach his ceiling as a regular rotation piece.
Eury Perez, Marlins
What We Said Then: Perez ranked as a Top 100 international signing in the 2019 class at No. 92 after landing a $200,000 deal with the Marlins out of the Dominican Republic. The summer before, Perez was an extremely skinny 6-foot-5 righthander throwing in the mid 80s, a Projection 101 candidate to throw significantly harder once he packed on some pounds. He started to fill out after signing, reaching 92 mph once he joined the Marlins, and he’s only grown taller, stronger and seen his fastball grow, to the point where he’s now throwing in the low-to-mid 90s. Unlike most extra-tall teenage pitchers, Perez has impressive body control and coordination to be able to repeat his delivery and throw strikes.
Update: Perez opened the year at 18 years old in Double-A, which says a whole lot before he even threw a pitch. After a couple of early uneven starts, Perez was positively tremendous before an injury paused his season. His mix of stuff and command is among the best in the minors, making him one of the top overall pitching prospects in the game.
Leonel Valera, Dodgers
What We Said Then: For the first four years of his career, Valera was one of the many defensively gifted but light-hitting shortstops that are a dime a dozen in the low minors. But he arrived at instructional league last fall significantly stronger and caught evaluators’ attention with his newfound ability to impact the ball, markedly enhancing his future outlook … Valera still has some swing-and-miss issues he needs to conquer as evidenced by his 29 strikeouts in 75 plate appearances, but his ability to now do damage on contact, combined with his impressive shortstop defense and athleticism to play all over the field, at least now gives him a chance at a major league future.
Update: Valera didn’t do much in his 42 games at High-A, but the switch flipped somewhat when he moved to the Double-A Texas League. With Tulsa, the 23-year-old showed impressive tools but a huge amount of swing and miss as well, which resulted in 13 home runs and 22 stolen bases in 85 games, but also a 33.2% strikeout rate in the same span.
Miles Mastrobuoni, Rays
What We Said Then: … Mastrobuoni just strings together consistently solid at-bats with a simple swing that generates line drive contact. He’s also showing his defensive versatility by playing a little bit of everywhere. He may be a little overmatched at shortstop, but he’s played there, third base and all three outfield spots already. He’s the kind of well-rounded player the Rays seem to produce in bushels.
Update: Mastrobuoni has been one of the catalysts all season long for Triple-A Durham and is currently among the International League leaders in batting average, hits, doubles, total bases and runs scored. He’s improved greatly against lefties at Triple-A this season, leading to an increased chance he carves out a role in the big leagues.
Rafael Ohashi, Blue Jays
What We Said Then: At just 18 years old, Ohashi is the second-youngest player in the Low-A Southeast League, just behind Jupiter’s Eury Perez … Ohashi impressed Blue Jays officials with a combination of skills and makeup—he emerged from the pandemic in excellent shape—and the team rewarded him with a stateside debut.
Update: Ohashi missed part of this season with injury but has performed well when healthy despite a lack of knockout stuff. He’s allowed more than two earned runs in just one of his 11 outings this year, but has pitched five innings on just two occasions.