Welcome to Big Hype Prospects. Every Friday, we’ll use this space to look at a select few top prospects. Some will already be in the Majors. Others will be making their way towards a promotion. And, occasionally, we’ll catch a guy at just the right time for their debut. Speaking of which, we have one of those below.
Five Big Hype Prospects
Kyle Bradish, 25, SP, BAL (AAA)
15 IP, 1.20 ERA, 10.20 K / 9, 1.80 BB / 9
Bradish started tonight’s game against the Boston Red Sox. The right-hander, originally acquired in the Dylan Bundy trade, features a four-pitch repertoire headlined by a 95-mph fastball. Like many pitchers of this era, he works up in the zone with his heater. Multiple scouting reports mention he’s not good at locating the pitch lower in the zone. That’s fine – a high fastball pairs well with most breaking balls. Bradish throws two – a vertically-oriented curveball and a sweeping slider. Like many pitching prospects, his changeup rates as a definite fourth-best offering. Beyond his stuff, a key aspect of his success is a funky delivery (rear view and front view). Scouts note Bradish tends to work deep counts. We should expect relatively short starts on average.
Something to monitor is his ability to generate called and swinging strikes. While the top-level results from his three minor league starts were golden, the ways he succeeded varied. He did not draw many whiffs in the first two starts. His third appearance included plenty of misses, but he also allowed three runs. Bradish should be considered to have a wide range of plausible outcomes.
Oneil Cruz, 23, SS, PIT (AAA)
74 PA, 1 HR, 6 SB, /197/.284/.318
When Tim Dierkes suggested I write this column last weekend, he not-so-subtly used Cruz as an example. His brief 2021 debut included a ball hit 118.2-mph. Only six players produced a harder-hit baseball – Giancarlo Stanton, Manny Machado, Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge, Franchy Cordero, and Pete Alonso. Cruz needed just five batted balls to join them. His size and batted ball profile are reminiscent of Judge – if the Yankees slugger could play a passable shortstop and steal bases too!
The Pirates broke our hearts by optioning Cruz to Triple-A so he could work on his “outfield defense.” Notably, he has played only two games in left field. The rest of his starts have come at shortstop. Which makes sense – the Pirates do not really have a notable shortstop, and Cruz is a perfectly acceptable defender.
While the defense excuse fell flat, it does appear Cruz can benefit from more seasoning. Aside from his six steals, he’s struggling offensively. His 31.1 percent strikeout rate is bloated when compared to a 12.1 percent swinging strike rate. Often, this indicates some type of passivity. I suspect he’s taking too many hittable early-count pitches. His batted ball data is also strange. I do not have access to granular information on minor league batted balls, but we can see he’s hit 51.2 percent of his contact to the opposite field. Most of the rest is pull side with very few balls hit up the middle. Such extremes are virtually never observed in successful Major Leaguers. That’s not to say Cruz is doomed. If anything, his batted ball outcomes will probably regress toward normality. It’s also worth noting he’s a physical unicorn. Perhaps he’ll also statistically thrive in a truly unique way.
For now, Cruz is a hot streak away from a promotion. He’s shown a pulse over the last six days (.231 / .286 / .385).
Adley Rutschman, 24, C, BAL (A +)
7 PA, .167 ./. 286 / .333
Rutschman quietly began a rehab assignment earlier this week. The FanGraphs prospect crew gave him a rare 70-FV grade, essentially stating they believe he’s already one of the best players in the sport. He’s a switch-hitter with above average discipline and contact skills. He’s also lauded for his defensive chops behind the plate. If his game has weaknesses, it’s merely-good power and below average speed. Based on a batted ball profile oriented to fly ball contact, he should still push 20 or more home runs annually in a full season.
The Orioles have two potential paths to follow. It’s expected that, once promoted, Rutschman will be in the Majors for good. The club could try to hold off until sometime in July, thereby dodging Super Two status. A likelier outcome, based on comments made by GM Mike Elias, is a rapid climb from High- to Triple-A followed by a quick promotion to the Majors. Prior to injury, the Orioles signaled willingness to promote him on Opening Day. The present tandem of Robinson Chirinos and Anthony Bemboom has 10 hits in 71 plate appearances and lacks Rutschman’s defensive capacity.
Triston Casas, 22, 1B, BOS (AAA)
88 PA, 4 HR, .225 / .354 / .437
The 8-12 Red Sox have a bit of a conundrum. Casas, their top prospect, is off to a respectable start at Triple-A. Meanwhile, Bobby Dalbec has struggled mightily in the Majors. Dalbec is a hot-and-cold hitter who slumped through the entire first half of 2021 before emerging as one of the top sluggers in the second half. His power-driven approach is volatile and could possibly benefit from a jump-start in Triple-A.
Casas features elite plate discipline. Scouts drool over his breaking ball recognition. Oddly, he’s running a 19.4 percent swinging strike rate this season, a sign his much-ballyhooed pitch-recognition isn’t in top form at the moment. Even so, Casas could be on the shortlist for promotion. His approach offers a higher floor than that of Dalbec, which could help the team to win more ballgames in the short term.
Corbin Carroll, 21, OF, ARI (AA)
79 PA, 4 HR, 5 SB, .344 / .456 / .641
In the Majors, we usually point to elevated BABIPs as a reason why a hitter will probably regress. For a minor leaguer, it just as often signals when they’re done with a level. Thus, Carroll’s .429 BABIP leads me to believe he’s ready for a promotion. Although he’s only the 19th-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline – one spot below teammate Alek Thomas – scouts I’ve spoken with believe he may be the number one prospect in baseball once Bobby Witt Jr., Julio Rodriguez, Spencer Torkelson, and Rutschman are no longer qualified. The skill set is even more exciting for fantasy baseball enthusiasts. Carroll, a lefty, combines discipline and contact skills already believed to be above the Major League average with elite speed and gap power. He’s credited with a line-to-line approach, although he can also generate potent, pulled contact.
The present trajectory is of a high-average and OBP hitter with potential for 15-25 home runs and over 25 stolen bases. Barring injury or an unforeseen setback at Triple-A, we should see him later this season.
Alek Thomas (22): While Carroll may be the spicier prospect, Thomas is already on the cusp of promotion to the Majors. He’s hitting .263 / .329 / .500 in 85 Triple-A plate appearances.
Nolan Gorman (22): Is anyone hotter than Gorman? He’s already bashed 10 home runs in 77 plate appearances. A 32.5 percent strikeout rate partly backed by a 14.2 percent swinging strike rate is the only blemish to his .343 / .390 / .800 triple-slash. A suspension of Nolan Arenado could be an excuse for a brief trial run.
Grayson Rodriguez (22): The top pitching prospect in the minors has nothing left to prove in Triple-A. Baltimore is carefully managing his workload. He’s yet to face 20 batters in a game. He has a 2.45 ERA with 13.75 K / 9 and 1.47 BB / 9.
Bobby Witt Jr. (21): Even Mike Trout was not great in his debut. Witt Jr. has shown a pulse over his last seven games, hitting .310 / .333 / .379 with three steals in four attempts. The power will play sooner or later.
CJ Abrams (21): Abrams skipped Triple-A and it shows. Once Luke Voit and / or Wil Myers are healthy, Abrams could be sent to the farm to get back on track.