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General | Professional | 12/2/2020

2020 PG Alum Debuts: NL Central

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Ke'Bryan Hayes (Perfect Game)
The 2020 Major League season was obviously unique for any number of reasons.  One side effects of the expanded rosters, the taxi squads, the compacted schedule and the increased doubleheaders is what seemed like an exceptional number of Major League debuts, especially for what was only a 60-game schedule.  The lack of a 2020 minor league season also makes it very difficult to predict who might be in position to make their big league debuts in what everyone hopes is a “normal” 2021 season.
 
In this six-part feature, we will look at some prominent Perfect Game Alumni who did make their Major League debuts in 2020 and speculate on which Alumni will make the jump during the 2021 season.  The schedule will be broken down by division and as follows:
 
Monday, November 30:  National League East 
Wednesday, December 2:  National League Central
Friday, December 4:  National League West
Monday, December 7:  American League East
Wednesday, December 9:  American League Central
Friday, December 11:  American League West
 
(* denotes Perfect Game All-American)
 
Notable 2020 Debuts
 
OF Dylan Carlson (Cardinals)

Carlson was a four-year starter at Elk Grove High School in the Sacramento area, playing in one of the top programs in the state for his father, Jeff.  He played in the 2014 PG Junior National Showcase along with the 2014 PG Underclass Games and also played for Chandler World at the 2015 WWBA 17U National Championships.  He received a PG 9 grade at both the above showcases and until the beginning of his senior season, was considered a solid two-way prospect with a scholarship to Cal State Fullerton as his likely near term baseball destination.  Carlson was also an elite level student.
 
A couple of things changed dramatically, however.  Carlson was exceptionally young for his class and got much stronger as a 17-year old senior.  A switch-hitter, he’d always had a power approach at the plate, especially from the left side, but with added strength it translated into more actual power.  After hitting two home runs in three years and 98 high school games, Carlson blasted nine as a senior to go with 13 doubles.  Formally a first baseman, Carlson also switched to centerfield and immediately began showing outstanding instincts in the outfield.  The scouts noticed and Carlson rocketed up draft boards in the spring and was eventually selected 33rd overall by the St. Louis Cardinals, receiving a $1.3M bonus.
 
Carlson’s professional career has followed much the same path as his high school career.  His first three seasons didn’t stand out performance-wise but he exploded as a 20-year old in AA and AAA in 2019, hitting .292-26-68 with 20 steals, more than doubling his career minor league home run total.  Carlson was called up to the big leagues in mid-August and hit .200-3-16 in 35 games the rest of the season while playing extensively at all three outfield positions.
 
 
*3B Ke'Bryan Hayes (Pirates)

Hayes was a Perfect Game regular his entire high school career, playing in over 25 events including the 2014 Perfect Game All-American Classic.  He was ranked 19th in the 2015 high school class heading into the draft.
 
The son of 14-year Major League veteran Charlie Hayes, there have been very few high-level high school prospects over the last decade who have been as fundamentally sound and well drilled as Hayes.  A big and strong athlete who was listed at 6-foot-1, 207 pounds as a senior, Hayes occasionally frustrated scouts with his lack of power numbers and how rarely he looked to turn and pull the ball, but watching Hayes take numerous batting practice rounds over the years, you knew the power was there but Hayes was just too disciplined to change his swing to show it yet.  It was also obvious at an early age that Hayes was going to be a plus defensive third baseman, as he had first step quickness, impeccable footwork and a 90 mph arm off the mound.
 
The Pirates selected Hayes with the 32nd overall pick in the 2015 draft and signed him out of a Tennessee scholarship for a $1,855,000 bonus.  Hayes took a step by step progression up the minor league ladder from 2015 to 2019, showing gap power with very high contact rates, the expected defensive skills and even stealing 27 bases one year.  With almost 500 minor league games under his belt, Hayes was ready when called up to Pittsburgh on September 1, 2020.  Despite playing only 24 games, Hayes led all National League rookies in WAR at 1.8 while hitting .376-5-11.  He finished 6th in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting but will retain his ROY eligibility for 2021 and enter the season as the likely favorite for the award.
 
 
*LHP Robert Kaminsky (Cardinals)

Many thought that Kaminsky would be the fastest high school player to the big leagues from the 2013 class.  The 2012 PG All-American was ranked second in the final 2013 class rankings and was armed with a fastball that reached 94 mph and perhaps the best curveball in the class.  Plus, the New Jersey native had an aggressive, all business approach on the mound that helped fuel his success.  His performance at the 2012 PG National Showcase was one of the most impressive ever in the 20+ years of that prestigious event.
 
Kaminsky was drafted 28th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013 and traded to Cleveland for outfielder Brandon Moss in 2015.  He went 11-7, 3.28 in AA for the Indians in 2017 but missed almost all of 2018 with an arm injury and moved to the bullpen when healthy.  Re-signed as a free agent by the Cardinals in 2020, Kaminsky appeared in five big league games, posting a 1.93 ERA.  He has since been designated for assignment by the Cardinals and is a free agent again.
 
 
OF Mark Payton (Reds)

Payton’s journey to the big leagues has been a long one.  He first appeared at a PG event at the 2007 Midwest Underclass Showcase, when he was listed at 5-foot-7, 155 pounds.  A high energy performer on the field, Payton almost led Cangelosi Baseball to an improbable WWBA World Championship in 2010 and although Payton was named the Jupiter MVP, his team fell to the Christian Yelich-led ABD Bulldogs in the finals.
 
Payton spent four years at Texas before being drafted as a senior in 2014 in the seventh round by the Yankees.  After being acquired by the Oakland A’s in the minor league Rule 5 draft in 2019, Payton saw his power numbers explode, hitting .334-30-97 in AAA, eclipsing his previous career home run high of 10 in 2016.  The Reds selected him from the A’s in the Major League Rule 5 draft in 2020, returning him once to the Oakland roster but later reacquiring him in early August and bringing him to the big leagues for an 18 at-bat debut.
 
 
C Tyler Stephenson (Reds)

Stephenson entered his senior season at Kennesaw High School as a solid catching prospect with a scholarship to Georgia Tech that virtually everyone probably thought he’d fulfill.  Always a strong defensive catcher with an especially strong arm, the 6-foot-4, 205 pound Stephenson made swing adjustments that shortened and sped up his right-handed swing and blossomed at the plate that spring.  He hit .425-9-26, with many of his best performances in his most heavily scouting games and it was obvious as early as the PG High School Showdown in March that Stephenson draft stock was rising quickly.  He ended up the spring as the sixth ranked player in the PG class rankings and was drafted in the first round with the 11th overall pick by the Reds, signing for a $3,141,600 bonus.
 
Catching in the minor leagues is tough on young catchers and Stephenson spent three years in A ball, battling some minor injuries and starting to further develop his power before reaching AA in 2019 and hitting .285-6-44 in 89 games.  He was called up to make an emergency start for Cincinnati on July 27 and became the 126th player in Major League history to hit a home run in his first Major League at-bat.
 
 
Potential 2021 Debuts
 
*C Mario Feliciano (Brewers)

A native of Puerto Rico, Feliciano was one of the youngest players in the 2016 draft class.  He was also one of the most athletic catchers in that class, despite a birthday that would have otherwise put him firmly in the 2017 class.  Feliciano had a present strong body that gave him very good raw bat speed and power but also had 6.83 speed in the sixty and could play all over the field defensively.  He stood out at the 2015 PG National Showcase and was selected to play in the 2015 PG All-American Classic. 
 
The Brewers picked Feliciano, who had been ranked 41st in the final class rankings, at the end of the second round with the 75th overall selection in 2016 and signed him for a $800,000 bonus.  He has moved very quickly through the Milwaukee system, starting 104 games in Low A ball as an 18-year old and reaching AA as a 20-year old 2019 while hitting .270-19-81.  He was also the full-time starting catcher for Carolina in the Puerto Rican Winter League as a 19-year old.
 
 
*3B Jonathan India (Reds)

India was a well-traveled high school prospect, appearing in about 20 PG events and playing in the 2014 PG All-American Classic.  He was an all-around talent, with very good athleticism and a particularly strong bat for a middle infielder but India was perhaps best known for the energy he brought to the field and the way he performed against high level pitching.  He had a strong commitment to Florida, although he was picked by the Brewers in the 26th round of the 2015 draft.
 
India started for Florida from the beginning of his freshman year and put together two solid seasons along with playing in the Cape Cod League both summers.  No one expected his huge junior season, however, as India hit .350-21-52 with 60 walks and 15 stolen bases and was named the 2018 SEC Player of the Year.  The Reds grabbed India and his right-handed bat with the fifth overall pick and signed him for a nearly $5.3M bonus.
 
India reached AA in his first full season in 2019, hitting .259-11-44 overall in 121 games but was hampered all season by minor injuries, including one to his wrist.  Reports out of the Reds camp during 2020 indicated that India was showing all the strength and bat speed that had gotten him drafted two years previously.
 
 
*LHP Nick Lodolo (Reds)

Lodolo’s defining characteristic in high school was his very young and physically immature body.  He made his first PG appearance just after his freshman year ended at the 2013 Sunshine West Showcase and threw mostly in the mid-70s with his fastball.  He grew two inches and gained 25 pounds before the 2014 All-American Underclass Games but was still 6-foot-5, 175 pounds when this scout filed this report:
 
Slender well-proportioned build, very young look, eminently projectable physically. Silky smooth arm action, long and loose, extended 3/4's to mid-3/4's arm slot, pitches from the third base side of the rubber and is a big cross body on release, low effort and smooth delivery mechanics. Fastball topped out at 84 mph, gets good sink and tail to fastball and spots it to both sides of the plate. Tends to get under curveball with a soft, sweeping shape but spots that pitch as well. Flashed a developing change up. Worked quickly and pitched with maturity while fielding his position well. Just a matter of time before he gets stronger and gets really good, follow carefully.
 
Lodolo was still mostly in the upper-80s with all those same characteristics when he was selected to play in the 2015 PG All-American Classic.  Pro teams saw the same thing that the Perfect Game scouts did in Lodolo’s immense projection and the Pirates selected him with the 41st overall pick in 2016, only to have Lodolo choose not to sign and further develop at TCU.  Develop he did, going 18-10 in his three years in college, including striking out 131 hitters in 103 innings as a junior.  Now carrying 205 pounds on his still long and lanky frame, Lodolo regularly worked in the mid-90s by that point.  The Reds picked him with the seventh pick in the 2019 draft and signed him for a $5,432,400 bonus.
 
Lodolo made easy work of his professional debut that summer, striking out 30 hitters in 18 innings without allowing a walk.  While it’s almost a certainty that Cincinnati will want their top pitching prospect to get some more innings under his belt in the minors to start the 2021 season, it’s easy to imagine Lodolo and his polished plus stuff getting a call-up at some point during the summer.
 
 
*OF Calvin Mitchell (Pirates)

Mitchell was a four-year starter at Southern California’s storied Rancho Bernardo High School and finished his career with 29 home runs, including 12 as a junior and 11 as a senior.  A left-handed hitter with present strong 6-foot-1, 200 pound build, Mitchell not only had a fluid and easy swing with plus bat speed, he was also a very mature hitter who worked mostly gap to gap but had the pitch recognition skills as a teenager to know what pitches he could turn on and lift.  He played in the 2016 PG All-American Classic and was ranked 10th in the 2017 class heading into the draft.
 
Mitchell was only considered an average athlete, however, with 7.0 speed and a 40 grade throwing arm and a likely left field future, so he slipped a bit from his pre-draft ranking before being picked by the Pirates with the 50th overall pick in the middle of the second round and signing for  $1,357,300 bonus.  Mitchell had been slated to attend San Diego State if he hadn’t signed.
 
Once in pro ball, Mitchell has taken a very uniform progression, spending full seasons in Rookie Ball, Low A and High A, where he hit .251-15-64 as a 20-year old in 2019.  If there had been a 2020 season, it’s very reasonable to assume that Mitchell would have had a strong building season in AA and been ready for a 2021 shot at the big leagues on the fluid and young Pirates roster.  Notably, Mitchell has been playing right field almost exclusively since he reached A ball, showing that he is likely a better athlete and defensive player than first thought.

 

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