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Minors  | General  | 12/7/2022

PG Down on the Farm: NL Central

David Rawnsley     
Photo: Jordan Walker (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


Cincinnati Reds  --  SS Edwin Arroyo

High School:  Arecibo Baseball Academy, Arecibo, P.R.
Travel Team:  FTB/Giants Scout Team
Final PG Class Ranking:  34
Drafted:   2021, Seattle, 2nd round
Highest 2022 Level:  A
2023 Age:  19

The Reds system is absolutely loaded with shortstop talent and it can be argued that their top seven prospects are all left-side infielders.  That makes it unlikely that Arroyo, who is still only 19 years old, will be in the Big Leagues the next few years as the talent line figures itself out.  But he probably has the best chance among the group to stick at shortstop for the long-term defensively.

Despite being one of the youngest top prospects in the 2021 class, Arroyo established himself early as the top Puerto Rican in the class and was a 2020 PG All-American.  He ran 6.53 at the 2020 PG National Showcase while throwing 96 mph from the infield in drills and showing pure shortstop actions on defense.  One of Arroyo’s more unique tools, however, is that he is completely ambidextrous; he’s basically equally accomplished from both sides of the plate and pitched both right-handed and left-handed in games at PG tournaments.  He’s still listed as a SS/LHP in the Perfect Game database.

Arroyo moved from Puerto Rico the Florida to attend Central Point Christian Academy as a senior so as to be better seen by scouts before the draft.  He was ranked No. 34 in the 2020 class going into the draft and went No. 48 overall to the Mariners, who signed him out of a Florida State scholarship for a $1,650,000 bonus.

Arroyo started off the 2022 season in Low A and tore up the California League for the first three months of the season, hitting .316-14-67/.899 OPS in 87 games to go with 21 stolen bases.  That power, which also included 25 doubles and 10 triples on the year, was not something that scouts had projected happening for years to come.  The Mariners then packaged Arroyo along with three other minor leagues, including their top prospect, shortstop Noelvi Marte, to the Reds for right-hander Luis Castillo at the trade deadline.

It will be interesting to see how the Reds handle their wealth of riches on the left side of the infield, which also include Elly De La Cruz, one of the highest ceiling talents in all the minors and their last two first round picks, Matt McLain and 2021 PG All-American Cam Collier.

2021 Featured PG Player:  RHP Graham Ashcraft

2022 Update:  Ashcraft was called up to the Big Leagues in late May and remained in the Reds rotation the rest of the season, making 19 starts and going 5-6, with a 4.89 ERA in 105 innings.


Chicago Cubs  --  1B Matt Mervis

High School:  Georgetown Prep, Potomac, Md.
College:  Duke
Travel Team:  Tri-State Arsenal
Final PG Class Ranking:  257
Drafted:   N/A
Highest 2022 Level:  AAA
2023 Age:  25

If Mervis wins the Cubs first base job this spring, which is a distinct possibility, it will complete one of the most surprising and fastest ascensions from non-prospect to Big League starter in recent memory.

Mervis was an active player on the summer travel circuit while in high school for the Tri-State Arsenal and also participated in the 2014 PG Junior National Showcase and 2015 PG National Showcase.  A big left-handed hitter who was a primary third baseman with a low-90s arm on the mound, Mervis’ National report read as follows:

Mervis is a 2016 3B/1B/RHP with a 6-4 230 lb. frame from Potomac, MD who attends Georgetown Prep. Extra large athletic build, very strong. Lefthanded hitter, open stance, has a short and simple swing especially for his size, looks to pull the ball, keeps his hands tight in his swing, can back spin the ball and shows serious pull side power at times, has potential to be a big run producer. Best defensive fit is at first base, is mobile there with good footwork and a strong compact arm with a quick release, 7.31 runner. Has pitched in the past and been up to 91 mph. Excellent student, verbal commitment to Duke.

The local Washington Nationals ventured a 39th round pick on Mervis in the 2016 draft, but Mervis moved on to Duke.  His power never really showed itself during his four years as a Blue Devil, as he didn't get many at bats his first two years and hit .274-6-31 as a junior.  His 2020 senior season was cut short by the pandemic and Mervis went undrafted in the abbreviated 2020 draft.

The Cubs signed him as a free agent before the 2021 season and Mervis did nothing to show that he wasn’t going to be using his Duke degree, hitting .209-9-44 mostly in Low A.

Something clicked for Mervis before what was likely his last chance.  He dominated High A for the first month of the 2022 season (.350-7-29) before doing the same thing in AA for two months (.301-14-51), then not skipping a beat over the last two months in AAA, hitting .297-15-39.  All told, Mervis led all minor league hitters with 36 home runs (.309-36-119) while striking out less that 20% of the time.  As a follow up, he blasted six home runs in 17 games to lead the Arizona Fall League as well.

The Cubs' two primary first basemen in 2022, Alfonso Rivas and Frank Schwindel, combined for 11 home runs and a .632 OPS in almost 600 at-bats, so the bar for Mervis to clear to get in the lineup is extremely low without a Cubs trade or free agent signing.  It certainly would be a great story.

2021 Featured PG Player:  OF Brennen Davis

2022 Update:  Davis missed three months of the season after undergoing back surgery, although he did make a short but successful return to action in the Arizona Fall League.


Milwaukee Brewers  --  INF Brice Turang

High School:  Santiago HS, Corona, Calif.
Travel Team:  Playa Vista Orioles
Final PG Class Ranking:  13
Drafted:   2018, Milwaukee, 1st round (21st overall)
Highest 2022 Level:  AAA
2023 Age:  23

Turang comes from about as athletic a family as can be imagined.  His father, Brian, played parts of two seasons in the Big Leagues with the Mariners.  His mother, Carrie, played in two Women’s College World Series with Long Beach State.  His sister, Brianna, topped that, playing in three Women’s CWS with Oklahoma.  Three other sisters played college sports as well.

So it really wasn’t a surprise when Turang was a precocious athlete himself.  He was named the Player of the Year for USA Baseball in 2014 after hitting .553 as the starting center fielder on the USA 15U National Team.  He was also named the National Freshman of the Year in 2015 after hitting .475-2-27 for Santiago High School.

A scouting report on Turang from his high school days would emphasize his speed, his hit tool and his easy athletic actions at shortstop, while downplaying his well below-average power and his fringy arm strength.

The Brewers took him in the first round in 2018 with the 21st overall pick and signed him for a $3.4M bonus.  Turang had been committed to Louisiana State and it wouldn’t have been a surprise at that point if he had forgone pro ball for three years.

Turang’s progress up the minor league ladder has been steady and unspectacular, up until 2022, at least.  Playing the entire year in AAA in 2022, Turang over doubled his career total in home runs (13) while also setting career highs in doubles (24), batting average (.286) and OPS (.772).  He also stole 34/36 bases and made only 11 errors in 131 games while mixing in some games at second base, third base and center field in addition to shortstop.

Milwaukee is in the middle of a major roster shakeup this off-season, and Turang should be going to spring training fighting for a starting spot at any number of positions.

2021 Featured PG Player:  OF Joe Gray Jr.

2022 Update:  Gray’s swing-and-miss issues dominated his 2022 season as he struck out 177 times en route to hitting .193-15-54 in High A.


Pittsburgh Pirates  --  C Henry Davis

High School:  Fox Lane HS, Bedford, N.Y.
Travel Team:  Tri-State Arsenal
Final PG Class Ranking:  231
Drafted:   2021, Pittsburgh, 1st round (1st overall)
Highest 2022 Level:  AA
2023 Age:  23

Davis has definitely not taken a linear path as a prospect up to this point.  He was a very active part of the travel circuit during his high school days, competing at the 2016 PG Junior National Showcase and the 2017 PG National Showcase along with playing in about 20 PG tournaments.  Listed at 6-foot-1, 182 pounds as a junior, Davis was a lean athlete with lots of quick twitch actions and was an outstanding defensive catcher, showing elite-level arm strength and overall actions.  His defense, at that point, was significantly ahead of his offense.  He ended his high school career ranked No. 231 in the 2018 class rankings and went undrafted.

Davis immediately stepped in as a starter for Louisville as a freshman in 2019 based on his defense.  He handled the bat very well that first year, hitting .280 while striking out only 18 times in 148 plate appearances, but also produced only eight extra-base hits.  He came back much stronger for his sophomore season and matched those eight extra-base hits in 14 games before the season was canceled.  By the start of his junior season, Davis was up to 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and emerged as one of the top hitters in the 2021 draft class, hitting .370-15-48 with a 31:24 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

Ironically, by that point Davis was seen by scouts as an offense-over-defense prospect, albeit at a key defensive position.  It was a complete turnaround from his evaluation three years prior.

There was no clear-cut No. 1 prospect going into the 2021 draft, although a prevailing opinion was that high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer was the highest ceiling talent.  The Pirates were motivated to go under slot for the first pick to spread their bonus pool money around for later picks and they succeeded, saving almost $2M on Davis, who accepted $6.5M bonus as the first player selected.

That money was later spent to draft and sign high school prospects LHP Anthony Solometo and RHP/SS Bubba Chandler to well over-slot bonuses in the second and third rounds.

Davis’ first full season was hampered by persistent problems with his left wrist and he only managed to play in 59 games, hitting .264-10-42/.852 OPS mostly between High A and AA.  The wrist was originally broken by a pitch in late May, one of 20 HBPs that Davis endured during his abbreviated season.  He returned healthy in the fall and had a strong Arizona Fall League season.

2021 Featured PG Player:  RHP Quinn Priester

2022 Update:  Priester made starts at all four levels, mostly in AA, going a combined 5-5, with a 3.89 ERA in 90 innings overall.  He’s the Pirates' top pitching prospect and will pitch all of 2023 at 22 years old.
 

St. Louis Cardinals  --  OF/3B Jordan Walker

High School:  Decatur HS, Stone Mountain, Ga.
Travel Team:  Team Elite
Final PG Class Ranking:  2
Drafted:   2020, St. Louis, 1st round (21st overall)
Highest 2022 Level:  AA
2023 Age:  21

Every year there are top prospects where the Perfect Game scouting staff and the MLB scouts disagree about in their real (PG) and theoretical (MLB) rankings.  This is only natural.  There haven’t been many players, however, where the gulf seemed any larger than with Jordan Walker.

It’s easy as a Perfect Game scout to think that you might occasionally see too much of a player, especially compared to Big League scouts.  Walker played in well over 100 games in PG tournaments over a five-year period in addition to attending a half dozen high-level showcases and playing in the 2019 PG All-American Classic.  He definitely qualified as a player PG knew extremely well on the field.  Walker was essentially a five-tool talent and still very projectable physically.

When Walker was listed as the top prospect in the 2020 class from August 2019 until just before the 2020 draft (he dropped to No. 2 behind Zac Veen), a large number of pro scouts were basically shocked and many found a way to let the PG scouting staff know about it.  In retrospect, it was because they didn’t really know Walker’s sixth tool; his makeup and character.

Walker’s father attended MIT and his mother attended Harvard.  Walker was an outstanding student who was signed with Duke and was a Duke-level student academically.  He also ranks among the most eloquent and well-spoken young men ever to come through Perfect Game.  Walker’s ability to speak on big world issues, as he often did with Daron Sutton on Perfect Game TV, showed a level of maturity that few achieve at that age.  It was obvious that he was going to be successful at whatever he set his mind to in life, and that just happened to be baseball.

Walker had dominated high school baseball as a junior, hitting .519-17-60 with 24 stolen bases, and he was off to the same start as a senior (.452-4-15 in 16 games) when the pandemic shut down the 2020 season.  The Cardinals on the advice of the late scout Charles Peterson, picked Walker a bit ahead of where he was projected, grabbing him with the 21st overall pick and signing him to a $2.9M bonus.

Walker’s outstanding 2021 full season debut (.317-14-48/.936 OPS in 82 games) proved immediately that Walker was a far more polished hitter than many scouts had projected.  The Cardinals were impressed enough to start him in AA in 2022 even though he played the first six weeks of the season as a teenager, and Walker responded, hitting .306-19-68/.898 to go along with 31 doubles and 22 stolen bases.

With what was now one of the game's top prospects playing the same position in the same organization as the best third baseman in baseball, Nolan Arenado, the Cardinals took advantage of Walker’s athleticism and aptitude by switching him to the outfield late in the season and through the Arizona Fall League.  He now projects as a right fielder moving forward, although he did play eight games in the AFL in center field. 

2021 Featured PG Player:  INF Nolan Gorman

2022 Update:  Gorman made a successful transition from third base to second base (also caused by Arenado’s presence) and made his MLB debut in late May after hitting 16 home runs in 43 AAA games to start the season.  He held his own in the Big Leagues until fading late, hitting .226-14-35/.721 OPS overall.