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Minors  | General  | 11/28/2022

PG Down on the Farm: AL East

David Rawnsley     
Photo: Grayson Rodriguez (Perfect Game)
The minor leagues have gone through huge changes over the past few years, from the canceled 2020 season to the complete realignment of leagues and teams as Major League Baseball essentially took over operations.  More on-the-ground changes will continue to happen as minor league players will become unionized for the first time and as Major League Baseball continues to use the minor leagues as a testing ground for potential rule changes.

The bones of player development remain the same, though, and following the top prospects as they progress from their days in high school and being evaluated at Perfect Game showcases and tournaments to the minor leagues and on to being Big League standouts remains unchanged.  Over the next two weeks, we’ll be looking at one top prospect per organization, while updating the prospect we highlighted in the same series last year.  This year’s schedule is as follows:



American League East: November 28
American League Central: November 30
American League West: December 2
National League East: December 5
National League Central: December 7
National League West: December 9


American League East

Baltimore Orioles -- RHP Grayson Rodriguez

High School:  Central Heights HS, Nacogdoches, Texas
Travel Team:  Dark Knights
Final PG Class Ranking:  27
Drafted:  2018, Baltimore, 1st round (11th overall)
Highest 2022 Level:  AAA
2023 Age:  23

Rodriguez matured early as a player and was a three-time Texas 3A All-State selection and was named the Texas 3A Player of the Year as both a junior and senior.  Listed at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Rodriguez was equally dominant as a right-handed pitcher and left-handed hitter, going 14-1, with a 0.38 ERA with a .511-11-53 line as a junior and 11-0, 0.19 ERA and 479-9-49 as a senior.  It was certainly possible that he would have been a two-way player in college if he had attended Texas A&M.

Rodriguez played both ways at the 2017 PG National Showcase but graded out significantly higher on the mound.  He was up to 92 mph on his fastball and showed advanced pitchability, throwing four pitches for strikes. 

The key for Rodriguez between his junior to senior summer and the 2018 draft was the same formula that it seems like more athletes, especially pitchers, are finding.  Rodriguez changed his body over the offseason, getting leaner and stronger and relying less on his size and skills and more on his athleticism.  He came out from the beginning of the spring throwing in the mid-90s with increased power to his breaking balls while having the same advanced feel for pitching as before.  He vaulted to near the top of the high school pitching rankings and the Orioles took him even a bit before his projected landing spot, grabbing him with the 11th overall pick and signing Rodriguez to a $4.3M bonus.

Rodriguez has been completely dominant since he reached professional baseball.  He struck out an eye-opening 161 hitters in only 103 innings in 2021, walking only 27 hitters between High A and AA.  While he was slowed by a mid-season lat strain in 2022, Rodriguez went 6-1, with a 2.20 ERA in 14 AAA starts, striking out 97 hitters in 69 innings.  He throws in the 95-98 mph range and reaches triple digits, while his slider and changeup are both plus offerings as well.

Although his lat strain has been his only injury, the Orioles have always been extremely conservative with Rodriguez’ usage from day one, rarely if ever extending his pitch counts or letting him go through an order more than twice.  He’s only thrown 292 professional innings since signing.  While his stuff and record of success clearly portray him as perhaps the top pitching prospect in baseball, it will be interesting how the Orioles, who are now looking to win after their surprise 2022 success, treat their prized pitching prospect.

2021 Featured PG Player:  INF Gunnar Henderson

2022 Update:  Henderson posted a .946 OPS (.297-18-76, 22 SB’s) between AA and AAA, forcing a September call-up that saw him cement a 2023 starting spot, hitting .259-4-18/.788 OPS.  He remains eligible for the 2023 Rookie of the Year and will be among the early favorites.


Boston Red Sox  --  INF Matthew Lugo

High School:  Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, Manati, P.R.
Travel Team:  Toronto Blue Jays Scout Team
Final PG Class Ranking:  28
Drafted:  2019, Boston, 2nd round
Highest 2022 Level:  AA
2023 Age:  22

Lugo was not the prototypical Puerto Rican prospect growing up.  Although he went to the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy, he was different because he was Beltran’s nephew and grew up closer to the game.  Lugo was older than most of his peers and had just turned 18 on his draft day.  He was more physically developed than many young Puerto Rican prospects, with a chiseled 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame that didn’t need much projection.  And Lugo was fully bilingual, with a Miami scholarship that seemed like a natural fit for him if he didn’t sign out of high school.

His talents on the field had the same type of maturity as his resume did off the field.  His report from the 2019 PG National Showcase summarizes it well:

Outstanding high waisted projectable athletic build. 6.46 runner, very light on his feet defensively, has a very quick first step with quick twitch actions and is fast and light on his feet, stays balanced well with smooth hands and a quick transfer, charges the ball well. Right-handed hitter, hits from a wide base with good rhythm to his swing, loose swing with good extension and plenty of present bat speed, smooth and projectable with very sound present hitting mechanics to help him grow. Very good student, verbal commitment to Miami. Nephew of former MLB star Carlos Beltran. Selected to play in the 2018 Perfect Game All-American Classic.

The Red Sox selected Lugo in the second round in 2019 with the 69th overall pick, about where he’d been projected to go, and signed him to a $1.1M bonus.  His first two minor league seasons, interrupted by the pandemic off-year, were solid but undistinguished.  But as many players experience at the same age, Lugo’s power and ability to drive the ball exploded as a 21-year-old, as he hit .282-18-82 with 26 doubles and 10 triples in 2022 while throwing in 20 stolen bases as well, and finishing the season in AA.  It was a power jump that was easy to project from evaluating the 17-year-old Lugo.

Boston has been very middle infield-oriented in the draft the past couple of years, picking shortstop Marcelo Meyer, second baseman Nick Yorke and shortstop Mikey Romero, along with corner infielder Blaze Jordan, in addition to Lugo over the last three years.  While Lugo made about 70% of his starts at shortstop in 2022, he also started games at both third and second base throughout the year. 

2021 Featured PG Player: 1B Triston Casas

2022 Update:  Casas made his MLB debut in early September and showed his power potential and patience at the plate, hitting five home runs in 76 at-bats while drawing 19 walks.  He’ll be favored to be the Red Sox opening day starter at first base in 2023.


New York Yankees  --  C Austin Wells

High School:  Bishop Gorman HS, Henderson, Nev.
College:  Arizona
Travel Team:  FTB Tucci/Team Phenom
Final PG Class Ranking:  65
Drafted:  2020, New York Yankees, 1st round (28th overall)
Highest 2022 Level:  AA
2023 Age:  23

Wells gained immediate notoriety on the scouting circuit when he was a part-time starter as a freshman at Bishop Gorman High School, annually one of the top prep programs in the country.  He hit .415-0-26 as a sophomore starter and saw his power blossom as a junior, hitting .500-8-47 with 14 doubles in 37 games.

Wells' performance at the 2017 PG National Showcase made him an easy choice for that year’s All-American Classic.  His National Showcase report reads as follows:

Strong athletic build, pretty mature physically. Left-handed hitter, nice load and shift into contact from a spread start, loose extended swing, has bat speed, hits to all fields, polished hitter who sees the ball well at the plate, has been a high performance hitter in the past. 6.97 runner, good athlete behind the plate with quickness in his actions, has a quick release and makes accurate throws, 1.91 best pop time. Good student, verbal commitment to Arizona. Selected for the 2017 Perfect Game All-American Classic.

Wells missed his entire senior year, however, with an injured right elbow but was drafted anyway by the Yankees in the 35th round.

Given his maturity as a hitter, it was no surprise that Wells was an immediate success at Arizona, hitting .353-5-60 with a 46:43 walk-to-strikeout ratio as a freshman.  He followed that up by hitting .308-7-26 in the Cape Cod League and was named that league’s top prospect.  Old for his class, Wells was a draft-eligible sophomore after the pandemic-shortened 2020 college season and the Yankees, following up on their earlier interest in Wells out of high school, picked him in the first round and signed him to a $2.5M bonus.

Wells’ bat has been as advertised in two years in the minors while advancing to the AA level.  He’s hit a combined .270-36-141 with a .881 OPS in those two years and very interestingly is a perfect 32/32 on stolen base attempts as a professional.  Those stolen base numbers take on added luster when it’s noted that he was a perfect 15-for-15 in college as well.

That type of offense on a catcher is potential All-Star material, but scouts are near unanimous that Wells offense is ahead of his defense behind the plate.  Despite those concerns, Wells hasn’t seen an inning of action at any position aside from catcher and DH during his two years as a pro.  Left field and first base are logically the defensive options, but the Yankees don’t seem to be inclined to rush the decision.

2021 Featured PG Player:  SS Anthony Volpe

2022 Update:  The Yankees' primary reason for not participating in the deep shortstop free agent waters the last two years is their top prospect, Volpe.  He got off to a very slow start last spring but recovered to hit .249-21-65 between AA and AAA, with 35 doubles and 50/57 stolen bases.

 
Tampa Bay Rays  --  RHP Taj Bradley

High School:  Redan HS, Stone Mountain, Ga.
Travel Team:  East Cobb Astros
Final PG Class Ranking:  77
Drafted:  2018, Tampa Bay, 5th round
Highest 2022 Level:  AAA
2023 Age:  22

Two things stand out about Bradley during his high school days.  First, he was exceptionally young for his class to the degree of being almost uniquely young.  His age on draft day 2018 was 17 years, 2 months.  He would have been a relatively young 2019 if he’d been in that class.

Secondly, he spent most of his high school development with the East Cobb Astros and Redan High School as a primary outfielder.  His PG resume is full of All-Tournament honors, with an even distribution of player and pitcher designations.  At the major tournaments, however, it was clear he was an outfielder first.  At the 2017 WWBA 16U National Championships, he had 26 at-bats over 11 games but only threw one inning.  At the 2017 WWBA 17U National Championships, he was named All-Tournament after hitting .385-1-4 with seven runs scored, but didn’t pitch at all.

When Bradley did pitch, he generally worked in the upper-80s while touching 90 to go with a mid-70s curveball, but control was a problem, as he walked well over a hitter per inning his junior summer.

Not surprisingly considering his age (16 through most of his senior year) and his athleticism, Bradley exploded as a pitcher as a senior.  He worked 90-93 mph with a 77 mph curveball and 86 mph change while dominating at the PG High School Showdown in March and touched 95 mph frequently during high school outings later that spring.  The Rays liked him the best and picked in him the fifth round, paying him over twice slot at $747,500 to sign him out of a South Carolina scholarship.

Bradley threw well in two years of rookie ball prior to the pandemic, but really exploded as a 20-year-old in A ball in 2021, leading all minor league pitchers with a 1.83 ERA while going 12-3 with 123 strikeouts and only 31 walks in 103 innings.  He dominated AA to start the 2022 season (3-1, 1.70 ERA in 74 innings) and finished the year strongly in AAA while going 7-4, with a 2.57 ERA with 141 strikeouts and 33 walks in 133 innings overall.  Bradley’s basic raw stuff includes a mid-90s fastball that will touch higher, an upper-80s cutter/slider that is his strikeout pitch, and both a changeup and curveball.

Tampa Bay is very well known for holding their young starting pitchers back with a very conservative approach, but they seem to be making an exception with Bradley, who has moved through four levels in two years and won’t even turn 22 until late in spring training.

2021 Featured PG Player:  2B Xavier Edwards

2022 Update:  Edwards played all of 2022 at AAA, appearing in 20+ games at all three major infield positions to establish his utility credentials.  He hit .246-5-33, with the five home runs easily establishing a career high.  With the Rays having a log jam of infielders at the upper levels, Edwards was recently traded to the Marlins.

 
Toronto Blue Jays  --  INF Addison Barger

High School:  King HS, Thonotosassa, Fla.
Travel Team:  Toronto Blue Jays Scout Team/FTB
Final PG Class Ranking:  163
Drafted:  2018, Toronto, 6th round
Highest 2022 Level:  AAA
2023 Age:  23

Barger is the poster boy (well, poster man now) for how much a player can improve through high school as he grows and physically matures.  With Perfect Game holding so many 13U/14U showcases across the country, Barger’s performances and progression, taken in perspective, are important to point out.

Barger’s first PG showcase was the 2014 National Underclass Main Event.  Barger had just turned 15 years old and was listed at 5-foot-5, 130 pounds in his report.  He ran an 8.81 and threw 74 mph both from the infield and on the mound.  His report notably comments favorably on his footwork and balance on defense and the fact that he squared up mid-80s pitching in the games.  He was graded out as a PG 7 despite his lack of speed and size due to his present skills.

A year later, Barger again competed at the Main Event and was listed at 5-foot-7, 145 pounds.  He didn’t run but threw 80 mph from the infield and was up to 77 mph from the mound and picked up a 7.5 PG Grade.

Move forward another year and a half, and Barger is playing in the 2017 National Showcase and is now a strong bodied 6-foot, 175-pound athlete who is crushing balls with a fluid left-handed swing and throwing 94 mph from the infield while picking up a 9.5 PG Grade.  Barger ended his career with an outstanding Jupiter performance, hitting .462 with four walks in six games playing for the Toronto Blue Jays Scout Team.

It goes to figure that the Blue Jays scouts saw something in Barger during Jupiter that really stuck out to them, as the team invested a sixth round pick in the 2018 draft on Barger after he hit .354-2-22 as a senior and signed him to a $271,000 bonus, right on the slot for that pick.  Barger had been committed to Florida.

Barger began showing his offensive potential in 2021, hitting .244-18-82 in 96 games in A ball, but struck out 129 times.  He really blossomed in 2022, blasting through A and AA and finishing the season in AAA, while hitting over .300 at all three levels and ending the year with a cumulative .308-26-91 numbers in 124 games with significantly improved walk to strikeout numbers (48:131).

Defensively, Barger split time between shortstop and third base in 2022 but notably played five games in the Arizona Fall League at second base.  The Blue Jays are set for the immediate future on the left side of the infield with Dante Bichette and Matt Chapman, so seeing if Barger can handle the position seems like a good play.

2021 Featured PG Player:  INF Jordan Groshans

2022 Update: 
Groshans had his first healthy season since being drafted in 2018, appearing in 120 games and making his MLB debut with Miami after a mid-season trade.  He still hasn’t tapped into his power potential and hit only 4 home runs in almost 500 plate appearances in 2022.