Minors | General | 12/7/2021

PG Down on the Farm: NL East

David Rawnsley     
Photo: Daxton Fulton (Perfect Game)
It’s been especially difficult to follow the minors over the past two years, with the pandemic-canceled 2020 season and the complete restructuring of the minor leagues by Major League Baseball in 2021. So, over a two-week period, Perfect Game will be taking a look at former PG standouts who are continuing to build their baseball skills and resumes in the minor leagues in an attempt to bring things into a bit more focus.  One player from each organization will be highlighted, with the schedule as follows: 
American League East: November 29
American League Central: December 1
American League West: December 6
National League East: December 7
National League Central: December 8 
National League West: December 10

National League East 
Atlanta Braves: OF Michael Harris II
High School: Stockbridge HS (Ga.) 
Travel Team: MLB Breakthrough Series 
Final PG Class Ranking: No. 86 (2019) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 3rd round, Atlanta Braves (2019), $548,000 
Highest 2021 Level: A+ 
2022 Age: 21 
Harris’s overall prospect ranking in high school was complicated by the questions of whether he was a primary pitcher or primary outfielder and he was a true 50/50 guy, although he is still listed in the PG records as a primary left-handed pitcher, even as he establishes himself as a promising outfield prospect.  And it’s not hard to defend his being considered a primary pitcher based on his track record as a teenager.  He was named the Most Valuable Pitcher at two events, the 2018 Ways to Play Powered by MLB and PG, and the 2018 WWBA Labor Day Classic at Lakepoint (Upperclass), regularly sitting in the 90-93 mph range to go with a 75-77 mph breaking ball and a smooth athletic delivery. 
But Harris was just as accomplished as an outfielder.  He was a 6.75 runner with tons of bat speed and promising power potential, not to mention a plus outfield arm, and showed a patient and mature approach at the plate.  He dominated high school competition at Georgia’s Stockbridge HS just as much as he did in the PG travel circuit, hitting .442-8-45 with 30 steals over three high school seasons and striking out 75 hitters in 45 innings on the mound as a senior. 
The Braves liked him best as an outfielder and he has hit ever since signing.  Harris quickly overmatched the Gulf Coast League as an 18-year-old in 2019, hitting .349-2-16/.917 OPS in 31 games before being promoted all the way to Low A to finish the season.  He came back in 2021 to hit .294-7-64/.798 with 27 steals at the A+ level while continuing to show outstanding barrel control and playing mostly centerfield on defense.  Harris will likely start the 2022 season in AA at age 21 with lots of prospect momentum behind him. 
Miami Marlins: LHP Daxton Fulton 
High School: Mustang HS (Okla.) 
Travel Team: Midwest Elite 
Final PG Class Ranking: No. 18 (2020) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 40th overall, Miami Marlins (2020), $2.4M 
Highest 2021 Level: A+ 
2022 Age: 20 
Fulton was clearly the top prep left-handed pitching prospect in the 2020 class heading into draft day, with an extra-long 6-foot-6 frame, a fastball that had touched 93-94 mph with more to come and huge downhill angle to the plate from a high three-quarter slot that gave his curveball extra tilt and the chance to be a plus pitch.  Fulton also had outstanding athleticism (he hit .428 in PG events and was All-State Oklahoma as a first baseman as a junior) and a solid ability to throw strikes and repeat his delivery. 
The problem on draft day was that Fulton hadn’t thrown a pitch in almost a year, having hurt his elbow the proceeding August at the USA Baseball Trials and having undergone TJ surgery shortly afterwards.  In his last appearance before his injury, Fulton had struck out the side at the 2019 PG All-American Classic, sitting 90-93 mph. 
Fulton’s high ceiling potential and the fact that he’d already resumed throwing put him in the Day One mix for many clubs, though, and the Marlins made him their second round pick and paid him like the first rounder that he would have likely been if fully healthy. 
Miami was confident enough with Fulton’s health, raw stuff and maturity to skip him over rookie ball altogether in his pro debut in 2020, starting him in A ball and letting him make his last five starts in A+.  Fulton’s raw stuff was very consistent with what he’d already established and he ended up striking out 84 hitters in 78 innings as a 19-year-old against far older and more experienced hitters. 
The Marlins have built an impressive young stock of pitching prospects, so there should be no urge to hurry Fulton through their system.  But it’s fun to imagine a Big League rotation with Fulton and the very similar Trevor Rogers starting every fifth day. 
New York Mets: SS Mark Vientos 
High School: American Heritage HS (Fla.) 
Travel Team: Elite Squad 
Final PG Class Ranking: No. 16 (2017) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 59th overall, New York Mets (2017), $1.5M 
Highest 2021 Level: AAA 
2022 Age: 22 
If it seems like Vientos has been around forever as a prospect, it’s understandable.  A 2016 PG All-American, Vientos was a second round draft pick in 2017 and didn’t blow up statistically and run himself up prospect lists until the 2021 season.  But that is understandable, too.  Vientos by age should have been a member of the class of 2018 and it’s simply taken some time to grow into his young 6-foot-4, 185-pound frame and mature into his tools. 
To put things into perspective, the Mets have another highly-acclaimed third base prospect, Brett Baty, their first round pick in 2019 (12th overall).  Baty is actually older than Vientos by four weeks despite graduating from high school two years later. 
Vientos' most promising tool has always been his right-handed power potential, a tool that usually takes the longest to develop.  While he hit 11 home runs in 2018 and 12 (along with 27 doubles) in Low A in 2019, Vientos’ power really exploded in 2021.  Splitting time between AA and AAA, he hit .281-25-63/.933 in 83 games, even performing better in AAA in than AA. 
Interestingly, and probably not coincidently, Vientos and Baty both started playing left field occasionally in 2021, with Baty shadowing Vientos one level below during the season.  Based on their high school athleticism, Vientos seems the likely candidate to be better in the outfield defensively.  But having both prospects represents a wealth of riches at the hot corner for the Mets. 
Philadelphia Phillies: RHP Hans Crouse 
High School: Dana Hills HS (Calif.) 
Travel Team: BPA 
Final PG Class Ranking: 9th (2017) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 66th overall, Texas Rangers (2017), $1,450,000 
Highest 2021 Level: MLB 
2022 Age: 23 
Crouse was always one of the more entertaining pitchers in the 2017 class along with being one of the most talented and his live wire personality on the mound has stayed with him to this day.  In high school, Crouse would regularly work 92-94 mph with his fastball to go with a wipeout slider and he topped out at 96 mph with his fastball at the 2016 PG All-American Classic. 
Crouse’s delivery screamed reliever from the beginning, with a very compact arm action and a high effort release with plenty of head violence.  But Crouse had an advanced ability to repeat his delivery considering his mechanics and strikes were never a problem, especially with his slider.  He would also throw in all varieties of hesitations and variables into his windup to throw off hitters.  I remember him, in the middle of a dominating performance at the 2016 Tournament of Stars, throwing in an extra-long hesitation into his delivery, storking over the rubber for multiple counts before dotting the outside corner with a 95 mph fastball and hearing scouts around me say “that’s not really fair.” 
Crouse was solid in his first three years in the Rangers organization, limiting his walks while striking out over a hitter per inning and reaching High A as a 20-year-old.  He had elbow surgery to remove bone chips during the 2020 canceled season and came back strong in 2021, starting the year in AA with an improved changeup and a fastball that was touching 99 mph at times.  The Rangers included him in their salary dump trade with the Phillies that included Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy at the trading deadline and Crouse made two short late season starts in the pennant race for the Phillies, taking the loss in both games. 
The Phillies' 2022 starting rotation looks very solid to start the season, but the top of their minor league system is very thin with pitching prospects, which gives Crouse a realistic chance of contributing next year.  Scouts still talk about his best future role being out of the bullpen and that could still happen as well. 
Washington Nationals: RHP Cole Henry 
High School: Florence HS (Ala.) 
College: Louisiana State 
Travel Team: Louisiana Knights/Marucci Elite 
Final PG Class Ranking: No. 79 (2018) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 55th overall, Washington Nationals (2020), $2M 
Highest 2021 Level: A+ 
2022 Age: 22 
Henry was a big and strong right-hander in high school who grew into his body and into his fastball at an early age, jumping into the upper-80s just after his 15th birthday while filling out his 6-foot-4, 205-pound build.  Henry’s signature event on the PG circuit was at the 2017 WWBA World Championship pitching for the Louisiana Knights, where he worked four innings in his start, striking out nine hitters while working at 91-94 mph with a curveball up to 80 mph. 
As an older high school senior, Henry chose to attend LSU knowing that he would be draft eligible again after his sophomore year.  He had a solid freshman year, going 4-2, with a 3.39 ERA in 11 starts covering 58 innings, striking out 72 and allowing on 18 walks.  PG had eyes on him during one of his four starts in 2020 before the college season was shut down and Henry showed both better stuff, including a fastball that sat 94-95 to go with a plus curveball, and more importantly, a much more polished ability to spot the ball than he had previously shown.  The scouting community saw the same thing and Henry used his two more years of eligibility to leverage a well-above-slot signing bonus of $2M. 
Henry appears to be on the fast track in the Nationals system despite missing time in 2021 with an elbow strain early in the year.  He dominated eight A+ starts (1.88, 63 Ks in 43 innings) and got 19 more equally dominant innings in the Arizona Fall League to cap off his year.  Henry and the Nationals' 2020 1st round pick, Cade Cavalli, are the team’s two top pitching prospects and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them both start the year together in AA. 
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