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Minors  | General  | 12/9/2022

PG Down on the Farm: NL West

David Rawnsley     
Photo: Corbin Carroll (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

Arizona Diamondbacks --  OF Corbin Carroll

High School:  Lakeside HS, Seattle, Wash.
Travel Team:  Canes National
Final PG Class Ranking:  6
Drafted:   2019, Arizona, 1st round (16th overall)
Highest 2022 Level:  MLB
2023 Age:  22

You often heard scouts talking about Carroll being “pound for pound” the top prospect in the 2019 class.  The problem was, of course, that Carroll might have weighed 165 pounds as a senior and looked like he was a couple of years younger as well.

There was no question about Carroll being a pure center fielder on defense and one of the fastest players in the class.  He ran a 6.33 at the 2018 PG National Showcase and had unlimited range in center field on defense.  What scouts couldn’t wrap their minds around was that the smaller, baby-faced Carroll also had some of the best and certainly most usable power in the 2019 class as well.

The left-handed hitting Carroll certainly proved his power at PG events during the summer and fall of 2018, hitting seven home runs in 27 games, including three at the heavily scouted Ways To Play event held in conjunction with Major League Baseball just prior to the WWBA World Championships.  He displayed the same over-the-fence power at non-PG events and went on to hit .540 with nine home runs as a senior in 2019.

Still, Carroll dropped a bit in the 2019 draft, going 16th overall to the Diamondbacks, who signed him to a $3.7M bonus to buy him out of a UCLA scholarship.  The pick was seen as an interesting one for Arizona, as they had just picked a very similar player, Alek Thomas, in the second round the year before and looked to be cornering the market on 5-10 left-handed center fielders.

After crushing his post-draft debut season (.299-2-20/.896 OPS, 18 SBs), Carroll essentially didn’t play for the next two seasons.  Everyone missed the 2020 campaign, although Carroll did play in Arizona’s camp and he missed all but a week of the 2021 season after tearing his right labrum while hitting a home run.

With only 216 pro plate appearances and at 21 years old, Arizona had enough confidence in Carroll to start him at AA and he quickly showed that he wasn’t going to spend much time in the minors.  He hit .307-24-62/1.036 with 67 walks and 31 steals in 93 games between AA and AAA and was promoted to the Big Leagues in late August.

Carroll made an immediate impression in Phoenix as well, hitting .260-4-14/.830 and playing with the energy that gets one immediately noticed as a fan favorite.  Impressively, Statcast had Carroll as the fastest player in the Major Leagues for the 2022 season in terms of home-to-first running times, as Carroll averaged 4.01 seconds.

Carroll fell just short of using up his rookie status and will undoubtedly enter next year as the favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year.  The Diamondbacks, perhaps by design, will also have one of the most dynamic young outfields in the game with Carroll, Thomas, Jake McCarthy and Dalton Varsho all on the rise.

2021 Featured PG Player:  OF Alek Thomas

2022 Update:  Thomas was Arizona’s regular center fielder after his early May call-up, playing Gold Glove-caliber defense while hitting .231-8-39.  His presence at Chase Field after just finishing a road trip to present the 2022 PG All-American Classic MVP Award to Ryder Helfrick deserves special recognition.

Los Angeles Dodgers  --  RHP Nick Nastrini

High School:  Cathedral Catholic HS, San Diego, Calif.
Travel Team:  San Diego Show
Final PG Class Ranking:  255
Drafted:   2021, Los Angeles, 4th round
Highest 2022 Level:  AA
2023 Age: 

Nastrini has never really been considered a top prospect until now, which doesn’t make him the exception with the Dodgers organization, who seem to specialize in taking pitchers from the prospect hinterlands and turning them into potential Big League standouts. 

Nastrini was a solid all-around prospect at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, playing first base and outfield as well as pitching.  He just hit at the 2016 PG Underclass All-American Games and came back as a pitcher at the 2017 PG National Showcase, working with an 88-91 mph fastball to go with a short upper-70s slider and a pretty advanced changeup.  Nastrini was a pretty typical polished SoCal right-hander with some physical ceiling.  He didn’t garner much draft interest and ended up at UCLA.

Between injuries and the canceled 2020 collegiate season, Nastrini only threw a combined 62 innings, including in summer ball, in his first two college seasons, but entered the 2021 season more mature physically with a 92-94/T97 mph fastball and a place in UCLA’s weekend rotation. Nastrini struggled to throw strikes after two strong starts to begin the season, walking 38 hitters and throwing nine wild pitches in 31 total innings.

The Dodgers, as they often do, saw something in Nastrini that they thought was fixable and picked him in the fourth round and signed him to an over-slot $497,000 bonus.  It must have been a quick fix, because Nastrini went out after signing and struck out 32 hitters in 14 innings while walking 7.

With a fastball that now works at 96-97 mph and touches triple digits and two swing-and-miss breaking balls, Nastrini was one of the most dominant pitchers in minor league baseball in 2022.  He still walked 55 hitters in 116 innings between High A and AA but also struck out 169 while only allowing 75 hits.  So basically, Nastrini went from being unusable at the college level to being one of the top pitching prospects in baseball in essentially a year.

2021 Featured PG Player:
  RHP Bobby Miller

2022 Update:  A healthy Miller will make his MLB debut in 2023 after going 7-7, with a 4.25 ERA in 23 starts between AA and AAA and striking out 145 hitters in 112 innings.  His raw stuff, including a fastball that reaches triple digits regularly, is among the best in minor league baseball, especially for a starter.

Colorado Rockies  --  C Drew Romo

High School:  The Woodlands HS, The Woodlands, Texas
Travel Team:  Banditos
Final PG Class Ranking:  2
Drafted:   2020, Colorado, 1st round (35th overall)
Highest 2022 Level:  High A
2023 Age:  21

Romo was a four-year starter at Houston-area powerhouse The Woodlands High School and was known early as the top catcher in the 2020 high school class.  He especially stood out for elite-level defensive actions, as the former shortstop had quick and fluid actions and a very strong and accurate arm.

The PG National Showcase is an environment where the faster baserunners like to show their tools on the bases.  Romo started the first game of the event and threw out runners in each of the two innings with 1.95 throws right on the bag.  That shut down the base stealing aspect of the showcase, at least when Romo was behind the plate.  His report from the 2019 National reads:

Strong athletic build with even some room to get stronger. Very advanced catching skills and tools, game actions in drills, stays low and compact extremely well, polished footwork, big arm strength, puts the ball on the bag, consistent 1.76-1.80 in drills and 1.94-1.98 in games. Switch hitter, more natural and comfortable left-handed but continues to make strides right-handed. Has a clean shift left-handed with good hip torque to generate bat speed with little tension or effort, stays compact and smooth, mid field to pull side contact, same easy swing mechanics right-handed, consistently on time without quite the strength he has from the left side. Rare high school catcher who will get serious first round consideration if everything continues to progress over the next year. Outstanding student, verbal commitment to Louisiana State. Named to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic.

That report was certainly prophetic about Romo’s status in the 2020 draft, as he was a rare high school catcher to get first round consideration and went 35th overall to the Rockies, who signed him away from LSU with a $2,097,800 bonus.

While Romo’s defensive skills and potential were unquestioned, there were plenty of questions about his bat despite him being a switch-hitter and having good overall strength.  He quickly answered those questions by hitting .314-6-47/.784 OPS with 23 stolen bases in his debut season and followed that up by hitting .254-5-58/.693 with 18 steals in 101 games in High A in 2022.  It’s worth pointing out that it is extremely rare for young catching prospects to hit well in A ball given all the other demands on them and the physical difficulty of the position while they are still maturing.

Romo looks ready to start the 2023 season at 21 years old at the AA level.  Notably, the Rockies don’t have another true catching prospect in their minor league system, making Romo their obvious catcher of the future.

2021 Featured PG Player:  OF Zac Veen

2022 Update:  Veen remains the Rockies' best prospect after hitting .245-12-67 with 50/54 stolen bases as a 20-year-old between High A and AA.  Like Robert Hassell (below), his ceiling will be determined by how his power develops.

San Diego Padres  --  LHP Jason Groome

High School:  Barnegat HS, Barnegat, N.J.
Travel Team:  Tri-State Arsenal
Final PG Class Ranking:  1
Drafted:   2016, Boston, 1st round (12th overall)
Highest 2022 Level: 
2023 Age:  24

Groome has had quite a winding path during his baseball career, going from being the most celebrated and talked about prospect in the 2016 high school class to a largely forgotten player who threw three innings over a three-year period (2018-2020) to perhaps having a chance to re-start his career as a 24-year-old in 2023.

The then-6-foot-6, 180-pound Groome was clearly the top prospect in the 2016, with as high a physical ceiling as many scouts could remember on any pitcher in the last generation.  He was very young for the class (17 years, 9 months on his draft day) but threw mid-90s for strikes with clean, low-effort mechanics and great extension out front.  His upper-70s curveball was a second potential plus pitch and scouts could endlessly dream on his projection into his adult years.

Groome’s senior season was filled with turmoil, as he decided to move home to Barnegat, N.J., after playing at IMG Academy as a junior, then was forced to miss half of Barnegat’s games due to controversy over transfer rules.  Groome also decommitted from Vanderbilt and signed with Chipola Junior College.

After being talked about as a potential first overall pick, Groome slid all the way down to 12th overall and the Red Sox, who signed him for a $3.67M bonus.

Groome had a difficult first full season, going to the DL multiple times for minor injuries and finishing 3-9, with a 5.69 ERA in only 55 innings.  It went downhill from there, as Groome underwent TJ surgery before throwing an inning in 2018 and then only threw four innings in 2019 after recovering.  The 2020 season was lost to the pandemic.

Groome has been healthy since baseball restarted in 2021, starting 48 games across three levels, including the last 13 in AAA, and striking out 274 hitters in 240 total innings.  His body and stuff has notably changed since he was a young teenager, as he’s now listed at 6-foot-6, 262 pounds and works mostly in the low-90s, occasionally hitting the mid-90s, and depends heavily on a solid slider as his go-to pitch.

Groome’s career might have received a key break when he was included in last summer’s Eric Hosmer trade.  He not only threw very well in his 10 AAA starts for San Diego (3.19 in 55 innings with better command), he joined an organization that is pretty barren in terms of pitching depth.  There has been talk that Groome may even be converted to a reliever, something he’s never done in his career, to see if he can regain his velocity in shorter stints.

2021 Featured PG Player:  OF Robert Hassell III

2022 Update:  Hassell was one of the prospects included in the Juan Soto trade and is Washington’s center fielder of the future.  He hit .273-11-70 with 24 steals between High A and AA as a 20-year-old and scouts are just waiting until his projectable plus power kicks in.

San Francisco Giants  --  RHP Trevor McDonald

High School:  George County HS, Lucedale, Miss.
Travel Team:  Louisiana Knights
Final PG Class Ranking:  39
Drafted:   2019, San Francisco, 11th round
Highest 2022 Level:  High A
2023 Age:  22

McDonald was a true pop-up prospect for the 2019 draft.  He had thrown in the 2018 WWBA 17U National Championships and worked in the 86-89 mph range to go with a hard slider.  He decided to attend the 2019 World Showcase and despite pitching in some of the worst weather PG scouts can remember, was electric, with four pitches flashing plus, including a fastball that topped out at 95 mph despite the elements.  His report read as follows:

Athletic build with good length and some present strength, projects well physically. Simple on-line mechanics, mid 3/4's arm slot, uses his lower half well, low effort release, repeats his mechanics well. Topped out at 95 mph on his fastball, big jump from upper 80's last summer, has outstanding sinking and running life on his fastball, works low in the zone. Threw two different types of breaking balls, upper 70's curveball was tight and sharp, low 80's slider had shorter off the barrel actions. Potential plus change up in the mid-80's with big diving life. Has four present potential plus pitches and fills up the zone. Elite level performance and put his name into the 2019 draft in a big way. Excellent student, signed with South Alabama.

McDonald was outstanding that spring as a senior, going 8-2, with a 1.78 ERA with 105 strikeouts in 51 innings, including a pair of 15-strikeout games in the Mississippi playoffs.  He dropped to the 11th round, where the Giants drafted him and signed him for the equivalent of second round money, $797,000.

After throwing only four innings after signing and missing the 2020 season like everyone else, McDonald predictably struggled with his command in 2021.  He broke out in 2022, though, going 6-3, with a 2.31 ERA with 120 strikeouts and only 85 hits allowed in 101 innings.  Interestingly, he split his time between starting and late inning relief, opening up the potential for a quicker rise through the minor leagues as a reliever.  McDonald still has a complete four-pitch mix, including a fastball that is now touching 97, but his sinker/slider combination might play up better out the bullpen.

2021 Featured PG Player:  LHP Kyle Harrison

2022 Update: 
Harrison is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball after striking out 186 hitters in 113 innings between High A and AA as a 20-year-old.  Most of those innings were in AA, so he certainly has a chance of making a big league impact in 2023.