As the 2020 season rolls on, at least for most teams, rookies and prospects have become a huge part of this abbreviated season. The only major “deadline” for prospects we’re really waiting on at this point is the Super Two deadline which is a date that won’t be known immediately as it depends on how many rookies get called up and it’s calculated based off a percentage of the rookie class and what date that percentage was reached. So knowing how big a role prospects and rookies are playing for their teams this year, it’s a good idea to take a bit deeper look at who are leading in some of the advanced stats and whether they have a shot at sticking to those numbers or not as well as hitting on some prospect news.
Jake Cronenworth, UTIL SD - The former seventh-round pick was involved in the Rays-Padres deal for Tommy Pham and even before the trade was perhaps the least focused on player involved despite his multitude of talents. Cronenworth is a true utility player having already played three positions for the Padres in the last week and he can play outfield and third base as well. The other thing he can do...hit. He’s boasting a .344/.364/.750 slash line through 33 plate appearances this year and he’s topped 100 mph exit velocity on 10 of his 27 batted balls making his average exit velocity rank 58th in all of baseball (minimum 10 BBE). Cronenworth’s barrel rate and sweet spot rate are both at least double if not triple the league average at this point in the season with a barrel rate of 18.5-percent (6.3 league average) and sweet spot of 63-percent (32.7 league average). The speed is there too as he ranks in the 95th percentile of major leaguers and we haven’t even touched on his most hidden skill...he can work on the mound too. The right-handed pitcher also hits the mid-90s with his fastball while also possessing an above-average curveball and cutter. The lefty-hitting, righty-pitching utility man worked as an opener for Triple-A Durham in 2019 and could be used out of the pen for the Padres as well while still being a very good weapon in the batting order.
Sean Murphy C OAK - Murphy was getting overlooked coming into 2020 in the catching spot that was already considered shallow with only really three good bats at the position. However, so far in 2020, Murphy is putting up some interesting advanced stats while the batting splits aren’t great. The backstop ranks fifth among all qualified hitters (2.1 PA per team game) in hard hit rate at nearly 62-percent and ranks sixth among catchers in Barrels per batted ball (9.5-percent) and in Barrels per Plate Appearance (5.0-percent). He’s seen about 70 fewer pitches this season than he did last year after the call up, but his Barrel Rate, Exit Velocity, Launch Angle, and BB Rate are all higher than last year, in some cases twice as good. If he keeps these numbers up it’s just a matter of time before the slash line starts ticking up in the right direction but what would really improve it would be if he dropped his 32.5-percent K-rate back down to the 26.7-percent it was last year while still keeping the 15-percent BB-rate.
Jordan Romano RHP TOR - Romano has taken the relieving world by storm this year in what has been an odd start to an odd season for the Blue Jays with games on the road despite being the home team and now playing back at their Triple-A park. Romano struggled last year when he came up in a reliever role after having been groomed as a starter in the minors, but this year with a better mindset about his role, he’s flat out dominating. He posted seven-straight hitless appearances and that’s just the start. Romano’s K-rate of 41.7-percent and .202 xwOBA are both in the top-five percent of all pitchers. Now for some even deeper stats; when he throws his fastball, Romano gets 7.5 feet of extension and on the slider that figure is 7.3 feet which are both third in the majors in 2020 and give the hitters far less time to react to the pitch. Not only does the extension give hitters less time but so does the tick up in velocity adding 1.5 mph to the fastball and 3.5 mph to the slider which has boosted Romano’s chase rate to 36.2-percent and his whiff rate to 39.1-percent, both big improvements over last year. He is becoming a real shutdown option for the Blue Jays in their pen and may in fact be a closer candidate going forward.
Josh Staumont RHP KC - For the righty, it’s never been a question of stuff, it’s also been a question of can he harness that stuff and be effective? Well this year he’s answering that question in spades. The fastball-curveball combo that Staumont has is elite as both pitches are at least plus offerings but this year they’ve stepped up even more. The fastball is averaging 98.5 mph which is tied with Jacob deGrom and Dustin May for velocity but has also reached nearly 102 mph and is the fastest pitch thrown this year. The high spin-rate on the pitch gives it late life and makes it very hard to barrel up. The curveball has a remarkable spin rate of 3,000 RPM which helps him achieve the 70.6-percent whiff rate he has on the pitch so far. He’s combined for a 43.8-percent K-rate and 42.1-percent whiff rate with both pitches and that ranks him in the 96th and 97th percentiles respectively and gives him the 14:3 K:BB ratio the righty has posted. There’s never been a question of stuff with him and now that he’s figuring out how to harness it, we may be looking at the Royals’ next closer.
James Karinchak RHP CLE - It’s increasingly rare that a player lives up to the hype that is heaped upon them before really making it to the top of professional sports. Karinchak hasn’t had that problem though. He came off a record-setting year last year in terms of K/9 at a ridiculous 22.0 per nine innings mark but he’s backed that up, for the most part, in the majors in 2020. In the 7.1 innings pitched in the majors this year, he’s posted 13 strikeouts and just three hits with a 0.00 ERA. Karinchak ranks in the 99th percentile for K-rate at 50-percent, 98th percentile of hard-hit rate at just 10-percent allowed, and 92nd percentile of all major leaguers in whiff rate at 43.8-percent. There are two pitches he uses to get those numbers and they are really remarkable in two different ways. The fastball, at 95.3 mph, has the most rise, 3.6 inches, of any fastball in the majors and the least fall off of 9.8 inches. The curveball also ranks near the bottom in movement both in drop and break. So, the two pitches look similar but have way different velocities and the tightness of the curveball break gets enough deception that it’s a struggle for hitters to hit or square up. His stuff can very easily fit in a high-leverage or late inning role for the Indians.
Jeison Guzmán SS KC - Guzman got a call up for the Royals this week to get another bat on the active roster after optioning Chance Adams to the alternative training site with Bubba Starling still on the IL and Erick Mejia isn’t able to come back up yet. Guzman hasn’t played above Class-A to this point but did impress at Summer Camp, especially on the defensive end side of shortstop. Since April of 2019, Guzman is hitting .273/.313/.404 at Lexington with seven homers and 15 steals in 121 games. Guzman’s stay might be a short one given their upcoming schedule and how they could reshuffle their pitching needs or bring Erick Mejia back up but him being up now certainly says the confidence they have in the 21-year-old Dominican who they signed for $1.5 million in the 2015-16 signing period as a 16-year-old. He’s a typical hit-speed-defense shortstop whose power is trying to develop but still grades at a 40-grade.
Brendan McKay LHP TB - McKay is being shut down for 7-to-10 days with shoulder inflammation in his throwing shoulder. It’s something he dealt with last year and it appears it’s come back and could be a product of him missing a big chunk of Summer Camp with a positive Covid test. Before coming up to the Rays he’d thrown a 20-pitch live BP and done some short outings at the alternate site, but it wasn’t enough to abate the inflammation issue. Watch his recovery from this carefully because he ultimately may not have enough starts to make an impact for your team this year.
Phillip Evans 3B PIT - Evans had gotten off to a great start in his first week with the Pirates batting .400/.429/.550 with a homer. However, a violent collision with Gregory Polanco in foul territory ended his season with a concussion and a broken jaw. He wasn’t in the Pirates’ Top-30 prospects by most accounts but they found him valuable enough to put him on the 60-man player pool but he’ll have to work his way back from the jaw injury before he can start making more progress next year.