Image credit: (Photo by Chris Conduto/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Last week we took a look at some hitters from the lower levels that RoboScout believes the market is undervaluing. We continue that series today by looking at upper-level hitters that meet the same criteria.
Because they are in the upper levels, it is quite possible that they will spend some time in the majors in 2024 and get a chance to be productive.
Kala’I Rosario, OF, Twins
RoboScout ranked Rosario second among all High-A hitters in their age-20 season, trailing only fellow Twins farmhand Emmanuel Rodriguez. That puts Rosario ahead of more notable names such as OF James Wood, Rays SS Carson Williams, Padres SS Jackson Merrill and Rockies SS Adael Amador. All four ranked among the top players in their respective systems to close out 2023. Judging by the pedigree of his peers, we wouldn’t blame you for assuming Rosario, who closed out 2023 as Minnesota’s No. 13 prospect, was more highly regarded than he is. His lower ranking is due mostly to being lower on the defensive spectrum than others.
Still, Rosario hit the seventh-most homers (21) among High-A batters and RoboScout projects that 2023 performance to translate to a 25-homer bat at his peak in the majors along with a league average wRC+. For context, Steamer projects Brandon Drury and Mark Vientos to also be ~25 home run bats with a ~100 wRC+ in 2023. Although Rosario has the lowest contact rate (66%) of the group, only four High-A hitters with 150 or more plate appearances in their age-20 or younger season had a contact rate over 65%, a 90th percentile exit velocity above 103 mph, a chase rate under 22%, and an above average barrel rate: Twins OF Emmanuel Rodriguez, Red Sox OF Roman Anthony, Royals C Carter Jensen and Rosario.
Carter Jensen, C, Royals
Jensen, another member of that exclusive age-20 or younger club listed above, is also underrated and carries a contact rate that is 9% better than Rosario’s despite being a year younger. RoboScout has always liked the Royals catcher more than the consensus on account of his young age and excellent Statcast metrics. His contact rate, barrel rate, 90th percentile exit velocity and chase rate have all been above-average or better for the level over the last two years. That’s even more impressive considering how young he is at each level.
That being said, Jensen has chronically underperformed his Statcast metrics so far in his career and has trouble generating damage against breaking and offspeed pitches. He has struggles at times to block pitches defensively. There’s optimism he can stick behind the plate, though, because he threw out over 32% of potential base-stealers in the Midwest League last year. All the typical caveats of a young catcher’s long development cycle apply to Jensen. It may be a slow burn, but RoboScout likes what it sees.
Tyler Black, 2B/3B, Brewers
Black put up huge numbers in Double-A early in the season, showing a fantasy-friendly power/speed mix at third base. At the time, though, he seemed to outperform his Statcast metrics, as his exit velocities were weaker than his power output suggested. Those numbers converged as the season progressed and his Statcast power output slowly crept toward his production. Overall, Milwaukee’s third-round selection in 2021 posted a 146 wRC+ with 14 homers and a stunning 47 steals at Double-A Biloxi over 385 plate appearances.
That sort of production for a 22-year-old in Double-A, accounting for minor league park factors, suggests a peak MLB production of approximately 110 wRC+ with 15 HRs and 30 SBs. Black has excellent pitch recognition, a solid hit tool and plus speed. His Steamer projection is eerily similar to Brice Turang (but with about 0.040 points of additional OBP and SLG) and Zack Gelof with slightly less power and more speed. In other words, Black is essentially a no doubt top-50 fantasy prospect and a fantasy relevant option for 2024.
Wes Clarke, 1B/C, Brewers
Let’s stick with another member of the Brewers organization in Biloxi. Clarke had the seventh-highest barrel rate of all Double-A hitters with at least 100 plate appearances. Unsurprisingly, the (likely) first baseman finished with the second-most homers in Double-A, tying Yankees 1B Tyler Hardman and trailing Cardinals 3B Chandler Redmond. Clarke’s contact rate is right around average among the 25 Double-A leaders in homers, yet he had the second-lowest chase rate and ninth-highest 90th percentile exit velocity among that player grouping. He has carried over the production to the Arizona Fall League. If he continues his performance, he may not be underrated for long.
Luken Baker, 1B, Cardinals
Baker is the highest-rated hitter in Triple-A per RoboScout, yet is not considered a Top 100 Prospect. That is the definition of an underrated RoboScout find. The Cardinals elevated Baker after he hit 33 homers with a 180 wrC+ over 380 plate appearances with Triple-A Memphis in his age-26 season. His big league performance didn’t quite meet expectations, but his Statcast data suggests this was likely small sample variance.
The righthanded slugger had a 74% contact rate, a 90th percentile exit velocity over 106 mph and a barrel rate over 20%. His chase rate was also right on average for Triple-A hitters. To put this in perspective, only three hitters with 200+ plate appearances in the minors met that criteria in 2022: Corbin Carroll, Curtis Mead, and David Hensley. Carroll and Mead were in their age-21 seasons, but that’s pretty select company for the Cardinals slugger. Using the same filters for 2023 – but also requiring an xSlugging Percentage > 0.450 and lowering the minimum threshold to 180 plate appearances – there were only six players under the age of 28 that met that criteria: Baker, Wyatt Langford, Coby Mayo, Haydn McGeary and major leaguers Nolan Jones and Jonathan Aranda.
Spencer Horwitz, 1B, Blue Jays
Horwitz is another player that reached the majors in 2023, hitting one homer and posting a wRC+ of 106 across 44 plate appearances in two stints. RoboScout ranked Horwitz 12th in Triple-A, ahead of names like Jackson Holliday and Colton Cowser. So, why isn’t he held in higher regard? He doesn’t have all that much power, hitting 10 homers in 484 plate appearances for Triple-A Buffalo and 38 career homers over 1,729 MiLB plate appearances. He’s older than typical top prospects at 25 years old. But he had more walks than strikeouts last year and an OPS of .945 (90th percentile amongst Triple-A hitters with over 100 plate appearances).
With his plus contact rate and plus barrel rate, RoboScout projects him to hit .260 with a wRC+ of 112 in the major leagues. Steamer agrees, giving him a 115 wRC+ projection that would rank fifth on the Blue Jays, ahead of Brandon Belt, Matt Chapman, Daulton Varsho and Davis Schneider. He may not be as good defensively as them, but his offensive projection is in the vicinity of Brendan Donovan and Jeff McNeil — and arguably better than DJ LeMahieu and Edouard Julien. That’s a solid on-base contributor to a major league team that isn’t receiving the appropriate accolades from the fantasy community. One final interesting note? In 2022, Horwitz posted a higher exit velocity and max exit velocity than Julien while maintaining the same in-zone contact rate. There may be more power lurking in Horwitz’s bat.