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Minors  | General  | 12/5/2022

PG Down on the Farm: NL East

David Rawnsley     
Photo: Andrew Painter (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

Atlanta Braves  --  RHP Jared Shuster

High School:  Tabor Academy, New Bedford, Mass.
Travel Team:  Northeast Baseball
Final PG Class Ranking:  346
Drafted:   2020, Atlanta, 1st round (25th overall)
Highest 2022 Level:  AAA
2023 Age:  24

Shuster is the prototypical late developing pitcher from the Northeast.  He traveled frequently from Massachusetts to national PG age group events throughout high school for Northeast Baseball, working mostly in the low- to mid-80s until a bump and velocity in the summer before his senior season to 87-91 mph brought him into the PG national rankings at No. 346.

Wake Forest recruits the Northeast heavily and put Shuster on the mound frequently as a freshman and sophomore, but despite a by-then plus fastball, Shuster didn’t have the command or the secondary stuff to be successful and he posted a near-7.00 ERA in 102 innings over those two seasons.  Schuster landed a spot in the Cape Cod League, however, and made the adjustments to go from an arm strength guy to a top prospect, going 4-0, with a 1.41 ERA in seven starts, striking out 35 versus only 5 walks in 32 innings.

The pandemic limited Shuster to only four starts as a junior, but by then he was topping out at 96-97 mph to go with a changeup and slider and filling up the zone with all three pitches.  Only his lack of track record and uncertainly about his slider limited his draft ceiling and he lasted until near the end of the first round, where the Braves gave him a $2,197,500 bonus as the 25th overall pick.

Atlanta has moved Shuster aggressively, starting him in High A in his first year and advancing him to AAA for the last two months of the 2022 season.  He went 7-10, with a 3.29 ERA between AA and AAA in 2022, striking out 145 versus only 38 walks and 108 hits allowed in 139 innings and sits on the cusp of making his Major League debut in 2023.

2021 PG Player:  OF Michael Harris II

2022 Update:  All Harris did was win the National League Rookie of the Year, posting a 5.3 WAR season despite not being called up until May 28.  An eight-year/$72M contract with two team options could keep him with Atlanta through the 2032 season.

Miami Marlins  --  LHP Jake Eder

High School:  Calvary Christian Academy, Ocean Ridge, Fla.
Travel Team:  Astros Scout Team/FTB
Final PG Class Ranking:  43
Drafted:   2020, Miami, 4th round
Highest 2022 Level:  N/A (AA in 2021)
2023 Age:  24

Eder has been on the cusp of being a top prospect at all three levels of baseball thus far, but still hasn’t quite made it.  Perhaps 2023 will be the year when the hard throwing left-hander gains both the prospect attention and his first shot at the Big Leagues.

Eder was a well-known prospect in high school, with a very athletic 6-foot-4, 210-pound build and a fastball that would touch 94 mph.  He choose to attend Vanderbilt despite being picked in the 34th round by the New York Mets.  His report from the 2016 PG National Showcase reads as follows:

Very athletic well-proportioned build, plenty of projection still there physically. Smooth delivery with a long stride out front, body tends to get ahead of his arm, arm is very loose and smooth coming through, low effort release, high 3/4's arm slot creates angle and plane, bit cross body on release. Fastball topped out at 91 mph, lots more velocity in there, could easily end up as a mid-90's left hander, showed the ability to get to both sides of the plate with his fastball. Soft curveball spin at present, effected by long stride out front, has feel for locating curveball but can improve getting out front with it with adjustments. High ceiling young pitcher. Good student, verbal commitment to Vanderbilt.

Eder worked as a mid-week starter as a freshman at Vanderbilt but went 1-4, with a 5.45 ERA in 33 innings.  He was switched to the bullpen as a sophomore and threw much better, going 2-0, with a 2.97 ERA in 19 games with four saves, including a three-inning save in Vanderbilt’s national championship victory in Omaha.  He was back in the starting rotation as a junior and had gotten the season off to a fast start when the season was shut down due to the pandemic.

The Marlins had seen enough of Eder to pick him in the fourth round of shortened 2020 draft and sign him for an above-slot $700,000 bonus.

Eder must have blown the Marlins player development staff up during 2021 spring training, because they skipped him over rookie and A ball completely and started him in AA.  Eder wasn’t fazed at all, posting a 1.77 ERA in 71 innings while striking out 99 hitters and allowing only 43 hits.  His fastball was working in the 93-96 mph range and touching higher to go with a mid-80s power slider and solid changeup.  It looked like Eder would finally take that final step to Top Prospect, except that his elbow barked in August and he had to undergo TJ surgery.

Eder didn’t pitch in games at all in 2022 while recovering, so it will be almost 20 months at the beginning of the 2023 season since he last faced live hitters.  If he returns at anywhere near the talent level he showed pre-surgery, it could be a short road to the Big Leagues when he does.

2021 Featured PG Player:  LHP Daxton Fulton

2022 Update:  Fulton continued his own strong comeback from 2019 TJ surgery, going 6-7, with a 3.80 ERA with 150 strikeouts in 118 innings between High A and AA.  Fulton was very young for his high school class and will pitch at 21 years old in 2023.

New York Mets  --  3B Brett Baty

High School:  Lake Travis HS, Spicewood, Texas
Travel Team:  Northeast Baseball
Final PG Class Ranking:  9
Drafted:   2019, New York Mets, 1st round (12th overall)
Highest 2022 Level:  MLB
2023 Age:  23

Baty came into the 2018 PG National Showcase as one of the better-known hitting prospects in the 2019 class.  He had hit .392 as a freshman starter at powerhouse Lake Travis HS in 2016, hit .667 at the 2017 WWBA World Championships and .600 at the PG Fall National Championships.

It became very obvious the next spring that not choosing Baty for the PG All American Classic was a miss, as Baty enjoyed one of the best high school seasons ever, hitting .602-19-50 with 49 walks in 39 games for the 37-5 Lake Travis team.  After being a projected top-10 pick by many, Baty slipped a bit to 12th overall, where the Mets signed him out of a Texas scholarship for a $3.9M bonus.

Baty has yet to hit for the plus power projected of him as a professional, but his hitting approach and barrel-to-ball skills have been even better than anticipated.  He hit .315-19-60/.943 OPS between AA and AAA in 2022 and earned a mid-August promotion to the Major Leagues, where he famously hit a home run in his first big league at-bat. 

And every summer since 2018 the same question is asked among PG veteran scouts during the discussions for that year’s All-American team.  That question is basically “Is there a Brett Baty in this class and if so, who is he?” 

2021 Featured PG Player:  3B Mark Vientos

2022 Update:  Vientos put up his second straight strong upper-minor league season, hitting .280-24-72 in 101 games in AAA and making his Big League debut in September.  As a corner infielder with the Mets, his path may be blocked at the Big League level, however.

Philadelphia Phillies  --  RHP Andrew Painter

High School:  Calvary Christian Academy, Pompano Beach, Fla.
Travel Team:  Elite Squad
Final PG Class Ranking:  10
Drafted:   2021, Philadelphia, 1st round (13th overall)
Highest 2022 Level:  AA
2023 Age:  20

One of the best aspects of working in the Perfect Game model is watching players develop over a multi-year period.  For Andrew Painter, that baseball resume is about as long as it gets for a pitcher.  He made four appearances in 13U tournaments with Elite Squad in 2016 and was listed at 5-foot-9, 160 pounds and threw in the low-70s with a mid- to upper-50s curveball.

I first saw Painter throw as a freshman at Calvary Christian Academy in the spring of 2018.  Calvary’s coach, Alan Kunkel, now the recruiting coordinator at Alabama Birmingham, told me, “Keep your eye on this kid, he has a chance to be something special.”  He was special enough to throw 23 innings (with 38 strikeouts) for the No. 1 ranked high school team in the country that year.  Painter was a gangly 6-foot-4, 190 pounds at that point and threw in the mid-80s the day I saw him.  That summer he was touching 90.

Painter was one of the top prospects at the 2019 PG Junior National Showcase, showing three quality pitches in a 90-94 mph fastball, a mid-70s curveball and a low-80s changeup and had the ability to spot all his pitches.  Now 6-foot-6, 210 pounds with broad shoulders and plenty of room to get stronger.

Fast forward a year to the 2020 PG National and Painter had grown even more, now standing 6-foot-7, 225 pounds.  He had also added a slider to his curveball, added a couple of miles per hour to his fastball and further developed his changeup into perhaps the best such pitch in the 2021 high school class.  He was the top pitching prospect in the class.

Painter went 6-1, with a 0.31 ERA with 91 strikeouts and 14 walks in 45 innings as a senior and maintained his draft stock well throughout the spring.  The Phillies signed him with the 13th overall pick out of a Florida scholarship for a $3.9M bonus.

Despite Painter’s steady progression on the mound and the potential for more, no one could have predicted his 2022 season.  He blitzed through three levels and was just as dominant in AA over his last five starts (37 Ks in 28 innings with 2 walks) as he was in Low A to start the season.  His final numbers showed the story pretty well, 6-2, 1.56 ERA with 155 strikeouts, 25 walks and 67 hits allowed in 103 innings.

Painter won’t even turn 20 years old until after Opening Day, yet there is already talk about potentially pitching in the Big Leagues with the National League champion Phillies in 2023. 

2021 Featured PG Player:  RHP Hans Crouse

2022 Update:  Crouse missed almost all of the 2022 season with right biceps tendonitis, throwing only 12 minor league innings.

Washington Nationals  --  OF James Wood

High School:  IMG Academy, Olney, Mary.
Travel Team:  Dirtbags
Final PG Class Ranking:  6
Drafted:   2021, San Diego, 2nd round
Highest 2022 Level:  A
2023 Age:  20

Wood was a very active participant in the PG travel circuit and one of the most fun players to watch develop in the 2021 class.  He had an extra big and long body that ended up 6-foot-6, 225 pounds by the time he graduated, but all his athletic actions were smooth and graceful, from his route running in the outfield to his powerful, leveraged left-handed swing.  Wood came from a strong basketball background and did everything on the baseball field with a basketball player's grace and size.  “High Ceiling” was on every scout’s mind when they watched Wood play.

And everyone did see Wood play during his senior spring, as he played on a loaded IMG team that featured seven 2020 or 2021 PG All-Americans, including top juniors and future first rounders Elijah Green and Jackson Ferris.

Wood struggled a bit his senior spring season which caused him to drop in the draft more than he should have and there was plenty of talk that he might end up at Mississippi State.  The Padres love high ceiling talent, however, and drafted Wood, who finished sixth in the final PG class rankings, in the second round and signed him for a $2.6M bonus.

Wood’s 2021 rookie league debut quieted all talk about his spring performance as Wood, who was now listed at 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, hit .372-2-22/1.000 OPS in 26 games and even was a perfect 10/10 in stolen bases.  He was just as good in Low A for the Padres to start the 2022 season, hitting .337-10-45/1.054 with 15 steals in 50 games before being included in the blockbuster Juan Soto trade with the Nationals.

Two interesting side bits about Wood.  He has played center field almost exclusively as a professional, which might make him the second biggest center fielder in all of baseball.  And secondly, he was reunited with his IMG teammate, Green, on draft day, giving the Nationals, along with former PG All-American Robert Hassell III, also acquired in the Soto trade, perhaps the most dynamic and athletic trio of outfield prospects in baseball.

2021 Featured PG Player:  RHP Cole Henry

2022 Update:  Henry missed most of the 2022 season with a sore shoulder and eventually underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in late August.