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Minors  | General  | 12/3/2023

PG Down on the Farm: NL East

David Rawnsley     
PG DOWN ON THE FARM
 
It’s the time of the year again (i.e. the off-season) for the annual PG Down on the Farm feature.  We identify a top prospect in each of the 30 Major League organizations with as much Perfect Game background as possible and delve into that PG history for some insight into his development as a prospect.  Some of them might be high profile, high draft pick, ex-PG All-American talents who fans have been long familiar with.  Others might be more obscure prospects who have significantly improved either in college or as professionals.

The idea isn’t to necessarily pick the best PG background prospect in each organization but the one who might be closest to the big leagues.  Sometimes that is the same player, other times not.



And there is plenty of variation among organizations in their quantity and quality of prospects, whether it be those with PG backgrounds or not.  There are multiple Baltimore Orioles prospects that would be easy choices to profile this year.  The annual struggle to identify a Houston Astros prospect is just that.  We’ve listed the last two year’s profile choices, along with a quick summary of how last year’s prospect performed in 2023.  We’re proud to note that both of last year’s ROY picks, the Diamondbacks Corbin Carroll and the Orioles Gunner Henderson, were profiled in 2022 and 2021 respectively.

The profiles will be organized by League/Division and run on the following schedule.

American League East  (November 27)
American League Central  (November 29)
American League West  (December 1)
National League East  (December 4)
National League Central  (December 6)
National League West  (December  8)



National League East

 

Atlanta Braves  --  AJ Smith-Shawver

High School:  Colleyville Heritage HS, Colleyville, Texas
Travel Team:  Stix Baseball
Final PG Class Ranking:  151
Drafted:   2021, 7th round, Atlanta Braves
Highest 2023 Level:  MLB
2024 Age:  21

Smith-Shawver was anything and everything but a pitcher during his high school development, making it all the more ironic, if not downright shocking, that he made his big league debut in 2023 at age 20 in a pennant race with barely 100 innings of professional development under his belt.

First, football is king at Colleyville-Heritage High School in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Smith-Shawver spent two years as the Panthers starting quarterback, throwing for 5,132 yards and 43 touchdowns between his junior and senior seasons.  In part because of his quarterback duties, Smith-Shawver rarely pitched during the spring and summer and instead was a third baseman, where as a sophomore he played along side Bobby Witt Jr. on the left side of the Colleyville infield.

Smith-Shawver played in couple of early summer WWBA tournaments a year from 2017 to 2019 before football took over his sports schedule but never pitched during any of those events, just playing infield and picking up a couple of All-Tournament mentions along the way.

Smith-Shawver finally took the mound at three PG tournaments in the summer of 2020 and he was electric in his first two outings, working 91-95 mph on his fastball to go with an upper 70’s slider and generally throwing lots of strikes.  As happens, this scout happened to see his third and by far worst outing, which in retrospect looking at the tournament dates (August 10-14) was well after Smith-Shawver had started football practice.  He was 90-94 mph with a 78 mph curveball but it was more 90 than anything and Smith-Shawver had no clue at all where the ball was going, walking eight hitters in 2 2/3’s innings.  It wasn’t a good look at all.

With football at least temporarily done, Smith-Shawver threw more his senior year but didn’t get huge draft buzz as he was considered a good bet to attend Texas Tech, where he had the opportunity to play both sports.  The Braves liked him more than anyone, though, and picked him in the seventh round and signed him for a well-above slot $997,500 bonus, the second highest bonus of that round.

It would be easy to assume that the Braves plan for Smith-Shawver would be to throw him back into the core of their development program and start him in AA in 2024 as a 21-year old with the idea of getting him stretched out to 100+ innings and continuing to improve his change up and command.  But Smith-Shawver seems to have defied all normal plans and development thus far in his pitching career, so who can tell?


2022 Featured PG Player:  LHP Jared Shuster

2023 Update:Shuster was given an extended chance to fill an open spot at the back of the Braves injury-riddled rotation and went 4-3, 5.81 in 11 starts and 53 innings.  He posted almost the same numbers and ratios in AAA as well.  The Braves traded him to the White Sox as part of the Aaron Bummer deal in mid-November.

2021 PG Player:  OF Michael Harris II 



Miami Marlins  --  SS Jacob Amaya

High School:  South Hills HS, West Covina, Calif.
Travel Team:  Dodgers Scout Team
Final PG Class Ranking:  152
Drafted:   2017, 11th round, Los Angeles Dodgers
Highest 2023 Level:  MLB
2024 Age:  25

The first time that this scout saw Jacob Amaya play was at the 2014 Sunshine West Showcase in Chula Vista, California.  To say that I was impressed would be an understatement, as I rarely give players coming out of their freshman year, especially those who run a 7.08 and play in the middle of the field, a PG Grade of 9.5.  But that’s what I gave Amaya after that event.  His report read:

Medium frame, lean athletic build with a high waist. Strong athletic defensive actions, attacks the baseball, good carry on his throws, accurate throws on the run, sound fielder, impressive defensive tools for age. Loose hands and easy bat speed at the plate, ball carries already and projects for further power development. Leg lift trigger, showed a good in-game approach at the plate and the ability to adjust to off speed stuff, swung the bat well in games and BP. Interesting young prospect to follow. Named to the Sunshine West Top Prospect Team.

Amaya only played in a couple of PG tournaments over the next two years before returning for the 2016 PG National Showcase.  While his measurable tools (7.01 sixty, 89 mph IF arm strength) weren’t anything special, it was just as obvious that Amaya was a standout player as it had been two years previously, especially on defense.  My report (PG Grade 10) read:

Jacob Amaya is a 2017 SS with a 6-0 180 lb. frame from El Monte, CA who attends South Hills HS. Medium athletic build, has some strength and is pretty mature physically. 7.01 runner, very polished defensively, very quick hands with a very quick transfer, gets rid of the ball right now, advanced footwork coming through the ball, can throw from multiple slots with arm strength and accuracy, has the tools to play shortstop but would be fun to watch turning double plays at second base. Right-handed hitter, busy hand load, open stance, short swing with an inside hand path, simple shift into contact, line drive approach and hits the ball out front, can use more lower half to generate more raw bat speed. Mature player with skills. Verbal commitment to Cal State Fullerton.

Amaya didn’t make it Cal State Fullerton, an idea school for him in 2017, because the Dodgers picked him in the 11th round and signed him for a $247,500 bonus.

Not surprisingly for his type of player, Amaya has grinded up every rung of the minor league ladder while remaining impressively healthy.  His worst season was in AA in 2021 coming off the pandemic but he reestablished himself as a solid prospect in 2022 by hitting .261-17-71/.795 OPS while playing his normal plus defense at shortstop.

Needing more of a sure thing at shortstop after Gavin Lux was injuring in spring training in 2023, the Dodgers cashed in their six years of development time with Amaya, trading him straight up for a 33-year old version of himself in Miguel Rojas.  Amaya had another very solid 2023 season, entirely in AAA, and will be in line for any openings in the Marlins middle infield in 2024.

 
2022 Featured PG Player: LHP Jake Eder

2023 Update:  Eder didn’t recover from his 2021 elbow surgery as quickly as hoped, especially with his command.  The Marlins ended up trading him straight up for White Sox slugger Jake Burger, a move that helped their drive to the playoffs.

2021 Featured PG Player: LHP Daxton Fulton



New York Mets  --  RHP Christian Scott

High School:  Calvary Christian HS, Parkland, Fla.
College:  Florida
Travel Team:  Elite Squad
Final PG Class Ranking:  123
Drafted:   2021, 5th round, New York Mets
Highest 2023 Level:  AA
2024 Age:  25

Scott was raised in some of the top high school age development programs in the country in Calvary Christian Academy during the spring and a combination of Elite Squad and the Florida Pokers during the summer.  He spent four years on the Calvary Christian varsity, going a combined 22-2, 1.64, including 11-0, 1.44 in 63 innings as a senior.

Scott pitched in over 20 Perfect Game tournaments during his high school career as well, along with a number of high-level showcases, including the 2016 Junior National Showcase and the 2017 National Showcase.  While Scott generally pitched in the 88-91 mph range as a starter, he aired it out in his short National appearance and pretty much sat at 94 mph with his usual four-pitch mix and a steady flow of strikes.  It actually served as a good preview of his future college career.  His report from that National read:

Christian Scott is a 2018 RHP/1B with a 6-4 177 lb. frame from Parkland, FL who attends Calvary Christian Academy. Long and lean athletic build, very projectable physically, high waist. Nice delivery with good tempo, 3/4's arm slot, deep arm action through the ball, works downhill well. Fastball up to 94, maintained velocity well and was working up to 94 the whole outing, gets good running life through the zone. Light change up with the proper slot and release and some fading action. Curveball and slider have tight spin and some sharpness, more slider oriented in the games. Has all the pitches to refine and is around the zone while working mostly arm side. Very projectable young pitcher with a very live arm. Very good student, verbal commitment to Florida.

Scott worked almost exclusively as a long reliever in his three years at Florida, going 4-2, 3.00 in 26 appearances and 54 innings as a junior in 2021, notably walking only 9 hitters in those 54 innings.  A couple of reports by PG scouts during 2021 had Scott generally working 91-93 with his fastball and 81-84 with his slider and pretty much splitting those pitches on a 50/50 ratio during his outings.  Scouts had long thought Scott, who had filled out to 6-foot-4, 215-pounds, had the arsenal and athleticism, if not the opportunity at pitching-load Florida, to become a starter.

The Mets were one of those teams and picked Scott in the fifth round and signed him for a $350,000 bonus.  After a choppy 2022 season getting lengthened out and redeveloping his long ignored non-slider secondary pitches, Scott took a big step forward in 2023 and established himself as one of the Mets best starting pitching prospects.  Pitching mostly in AA, Scott went 5-4, 2.54 in 19 starts and 87 innings, allowing only 67 hits and 12 walks while striking out 107 hitters.  Scott’s fastball reported sat in the 93-95 mph range consistently to go with plus slider, solid change up and developing curveball.



2022 Featured PG Player: 3B Brett Baty

2023 Update:  Baty was essentially given the Mets starting third base job and like most things with New York last year, this failed, as Baty hit .212-9-34/.597 OPS in 108 games while also posting a negative bWAR on defense.

2021 Featured PG Player: 3B Mark Vientos

 

Philadelphia Phillies  --  RHP Orion Kerkering

High School:  Venice HS, Nokomis, Fla.
College:  South Florida
Travel Team:  Florida Burn
Final PG Class Ranking: 403
Drafted: 2022, 5th round, Philadelphia Phillies
Highest 2023 Level: MLB
2024 Age:  23

Kerkering will start the 2024 season with a couple of very unusual numbers on his resume.  First, he will have more innings thrown in the playoffs (5 1/3) than he threw for the Phillies in the regular season (3).  Second, he will have thrown more college innings in his draft year (67) than he did in total in the minor leagues before making his big league debut (60 2/3). 

That’s another way of saying Kerkering has made quick work of going from a unheralded college swingman and fifth round draft pick at South Florida to being a part of the bright lights of baseball in October.

Kerkering was a regular at PG tournaments for the powerhouse Florida Burn team while in high school and was also a starter for two-time Florida State Champion Venice High School during his junior and senior seasons.  He posted some impressive strikeout numbers for the Burn, especially at the 2017 WWBA World Underclass Championships, where he struck out 15 hitters in 7 innings over two games while only walking one.  Kerkering generally worked in the upper 80’s on his fastball and threw an upper 70’s/low-80’s slider that was big enough to often be mistaken as a curveball.

Kerkering relieved in 32 of his 33 games at South Florida in 2020 and 2021, saving six games, but was moved to the starting rotation half way through his junior season in 2022 and threw well, striking out 91 hitters in 67 total innings although posting a 5.72 ERA.  The additional exposure as a starter was probably key to his eventually becoming a fifth round pick and receiving a $322,500 signing bonus.

The rest, as stated, is a quick story and proof that having a dominant plus pitch that can be thrown for strikes, as Kerkering has with his slider, may be the fastest single path to the big leagues.
 

2022 Featured PG Player:  RHP Andrew Painter

2023 Update: Painter looked like he was going to start the 2023 season as a teenager big league starting pitcher before injuring his elbow late in spring training.  He didn’t have TJ surgery until July 25, essentially guaranteeing he’ll miss all of the 2024 season as well.

2021 Featured PG Player:  RHP Hans Crouse

 

Washington Nationals  --  3B Brady House

High School:  Winder-Barrow HS, Winder, Ga.
Travel Team:  Team Elite
Final PG Class Ranking: 1
Drafted: 2021, 1st round, Washington Nationals
Highest 2023 Level:  AA
2024 Age:  21

There are very few players over the last two decades who one can say are true Perfect Game Royalty, young men who have garnered top honors since their young teen days, performed and dominated at every event and every stage while also playing the game with the energy and happiness that paints them as future leaders and stars.  Brady House is certainly one of them.

House grew early and was already listed at 6-foot-1 and a solid 175-pounds when he was named to the 2017 14U Select Festival roster as a 13-year old, an honor he repeated as a 14-year old in 2018.  House went on to headline the 2020 All-American Classic roster and was ranked as the number one overall prospect in the 2020 class in the final PG class rankings.  He garnered 24 All-Tournament honors across PG play, including four MVP trophies and played on eight tournament champions with Team Elite, including both the 2018 and 2019 WWBA 16U National Championship teams.

If you are a fan of performance, check out House’s numbers at PG events through his four years in high school.

2017: 25 games, .508-1-18/1.349 OPS

2018: 35 games, .395-5-21/1.239 OPS

2019: 33 games, .420-1-25/1.204 OPS

2020: 41 games, .426-4-31/1.197 OPS

In 15 pre-pandemic games in House’s junior year at Winder-Barrow (Ga.) High School, he hit .653-4-20.  As a senior, he followed that up by hitting .549 with eight home runs and 21 stolen bases while drawing 28 walks versus only 9 strikeouts.

I remember seeing House play early in his senior year at the PG High School Showdown and remarking to myself how he looked and played like Mike Trout at that level.  Now, Rule 1A in scouting is never to compare teenagers to all-time greats but that’s what my impression was then.  He was bigger than everyone else on the field, he was the best athlete on the field in every way and he played harder and with a bigger smile than anyone on the field.  I quickly self-corrected on the comp (Austin Riley would have been much more appropriate at the same age, in fact a Grade A comp) but it has stuck with me.

An underlying question with House in his prospect development was always what future position he would play.  Despite growing to 6-foot-4, 215-pounds, House always played shortstop, where his mid-90’s arm off the mound was his best tool.  But most considered him a future third baseman.

The Nationals grabbed House with the 11th overall pick in the 2021 draft and signed him out of a Tennessee scholarship for an even $5M signing bonus.

House’s minor league career has been marked by the same type of offensive production that has always been his trademark, including a .303 career average and a .324/.833 OPS in 36 games in AA as a 20-year old in 2023.  It’s also been marked by a series of relatively minor injuries, including a bad back in 2022 and a sprained left wrist in 2023 that have cut his playing time by about 50%.  House also made the full-time switch to third base in 2023 after playing exclusively at shortstop his first two professional seasons.


2022 Featured PG Player:  OF James Wood

2023 Update:   Wood played two-thirds of the season as a 20-year old in AA and showed his prodigious tools and high ceiling, hitting a combined .262-26-91 with 18 steals along with playing solid defense in centerfield, especially for a 6-foot-7, 240-pound athlete.  His 173 strikeouts in 129 games was the only significant concern.

2021 Featured PG Player:  RHP Cole Henry