These MLB Prospects Lead Their Age Groups In Home Runs, Strikeouts
One of the most important lenses through which to judge prospects is the combination of age plus level. If a player is one of the youngest at his level and still produces better than his more experienced competition, it's a pretty good sign that the player has a bright future.
The brightest stars in the big leagues right now zoomed through the minors, running roughshod over older competition. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., for example, starred in the Rookie-level Appalachian League as a 17-year-old and now, at just 22 years old, is leading the majors in batting average and on-base percentage and is just one spot behind Shohei Ohtani for the lead in slugging percentage.
In the beginning of the year, Baseball America published its annual list of the youngest players in each league on Opening Day.
Now, roughly halfway through the season, it's instructive to take a look to see how some of the younger players in the minor leagues are performing relative to their peers. The list of home runs by age group, for example, shows a lot of the biggest names performing quite well.
*Ages are as of Opening Day
|19||Marco Luciano/Orelvis Martinez||Giants/Blue Jays||15|
|21||Mark Vientos/Bobby Witt Jr.||Mets/Royals||16|
|22||Jo Adell/MJ Melendez||Angels/Royals||19|
Luciano and Martinez leading their age group is unsurprising; they are two of the most talented prospects in the minor leagues, after all. Both are also having outstanding summers. Since June 1, Martinez's 1.066 OPS ranks fourth in all of Low-A. Luciano's 10 home runs in that span place him in a three-way tie for fourth with Tyler Soderstrom (A's) and Anthony Volpe, Top 100 prospects both.
Pages' power is also unsurprising. He's a toolsy prospect tucked among the Dodgers' robust farm system and has long been lauded for his power. There are rough edges to polish, but 29 extra-base hits in his first half-season above the Rookie levels is impressive.
Bobby Witt Jr. is ... well ... Bobby Witt Jr. He's one of the very best prospects in the game, has plus tools across the board and opened the eyes of even casual observers during big league spring training. Vientos' outburst was a little less expected. He was an excellent prospect to enter the year, but had hit just 11 home runs at Low-A during the 2019 season.
Vientos was the fifth-youngest position prospect in the Double-A Northeast on Opening Day, pushed up a level by the presence of fellow third baseman Brett Baty at High-A. Vientos had always been noted for his raw power. This year, he's unlocked it in games.
Melendez was part of a group of Royals prospects who scuffled badly at High-A Wilmington in 2019. In particular, Melendez hit .163/.260/.311 with nine home runs in 363 at-bats. After working hard over the lost season, he and fellow 2019 Wilmington teammate Nick Pratto have come back with a vengeance.
Melendez's 19 home runs complement the 15 hit by Pratto and the 16 from Witt Jr. for a total of 50 homers in the first test of Double-A for all three, giving Northwest Arkansas a case as the most intriguing team of the first half.
Now, let's take a look at the pitchers. Here are the leaders by age group for strikeouts.
|21||Grayson Rodriguez/Reid Detmers||Orioles/Angels||97|
When we say Perez is one of the biggest eye-openers of the first half, we mean it literally. The 18-year-old stands 6-foot-8 and has already intrigued evaluators as one of the better pitching prospects in a well-stocked Marlins' system. His fastball already bumps 98 mph, and he's spent the summer developing a breaking ball and a changeup.
Entering his first pro season, Harrison was already the Giants' top pitching prospect. Selected in the third round of the 2020 draft, Harrison was wooed away from a UCLA commitment and then immediately saw his velocity jump during instructional league. The lefty now sits in the mid 90s and complements the heater with a burgeoning slider and changeup. There are control and command issues to polish, but 87 whiffs in his first 56.1 innings are quite good.
Walston was an upside play the moment he was drafted out of high school in North Carolina. His raw stuff was just waiting to be polished, and the D-backs showed their trust in him by bumping him to short-season Hillsboro for the team's playoff run to close the 2019 season. Like Harrison, Walston has command and control questions to answer in the long term, but he's whiffed better than 11 hitters per nine innings at each of his two stops this year.
Rodriguez is the pitcher version of Bobby Witt Jr. in that he's doing exactly what he needs to do to reinforce the high ceiling he's had his entire career. The Texan has cut down hitters at High-A and Double-A this season with little to no mercy, with his latest gem coming at the expense of the prospect-heavy Erie SeaWolves, whose lineup boasts two of the brightest young players in the minor leagues in Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene.
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Detmers, however, has been even better than expected. He was pegged out of college as a lefty who could command the strike zone with excellent pitchability but stuff that wouldn't necessarily drop anyone's jaw. Out of the pandemic, his fastball has bumped up a couple of ticks, and the results have come in kind.
Not only are Rodriguez and Detmers tied with 97 strikeouts, but they are 1-2 among full-season minor leaguers in swinging-strike rate. Rodriguez leads with a 20.4% clip while Detmers has earned a 19.5% rate.
Cavalli impressed evaluators during spring training as well, and has continued doing so during the regular season. He throws an incredibly easy upper-90s fastball, and complements it with an array of offspeed pitches he can use to get swings and misses. In fact, his swinging-strike rate is third among full-season minor leaguers, just behind Rodriguez and Detmers, at 19.4%.
Finally, Waldichuk has been one of the bigger breakouts in a Yankees' system full of players who've come out of the lost 2020 season looking rejuvenated. The lefthander ranks third in the minors in strikeouts, which evaluators say he comes by thanks to an extraordinarily funky delivery that helps his stuff play way up. Put even more simply, hitters simply do not touch his fastball, which sits in the low 90s but can run a few ticks higher.