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Minors  | General  | 12/8/2023

PG Down on the Farm: NL West

David Rawnsley     
It’s the time of the year again (i.e. the off-season) for the annual PG Down on the Farm feature.  We identify a top prospect in each of the 30 Major League organizations with as much Perfect Game background as possible and delve into that PG history for some insight into his development as a prospect.  Some of them might be high profile, high draft pick, ex-PG All-American talents who fans have been long familiar with.  Others might be more obscure prospects who have significantly improved either in college or as professionals.

The idea isn’t to necessarily pick the best PG background prospect in each organization but the one who might be closest to the big leagues.  Sometimes that is the same player, other times not.

And there is plenty of variation among organizations in their quantity and quality of prospects, whether it be those with PG backgrounds or not.  There are multiple Baltimore Orioles prospects that would be easy choices to profile this year.  The annual struggle to identify a Houston Astros prospect is just that.  We’ve listed the last two year’s profile choices, along with a quick summary of how last year’s prospect performed in 2023.  We’re proud to note that both of last year’s ROY picks, the Diamondbacks Corbin Carroll and the Orioles Gunner Henderson, were profiled in 2022 and 2021 respectively.

The profiles will be organized by League/Division and run on the following schedule.

American League East  (November 27)
American League Central  (November 29)
American League West  (December 1)
National League East  (December 4)
National League Central  (December 6)
National League West  (December  8)

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks -- SS Jordan Lawlar

High School: Jesuit Prep, Dallas, Texas
Travel Team: Dallas Tigers
Final PG Class Ranking: 3
Drafted: 2021, 1st round, Arizona Diamondbacks, 6th overall
Highest 2023 Level: MLB
2024 Age: 21

Lawlar’s prospect story is so similar to Chicago Cubs “PG Down on the Farm” feature Pete Crow-Armstrong that it is uncanny. Presumptive Top Prospect/First Round pick from an early age, polished middle of the field defender, PG All-American, Vanderbilt commit, first round pick, missed first year with non-throwing shoulder injury, two standout minor league seasons with eerily similar stat lines, short MLB bench debuts in pennant races.

An outstanding performance at the 2017 WWBA 14U National Championship led to an invitation to the 2017 PG 14U National Showcase, which then led to a spot on the roster for the 2017 PG Select Festival. Lawlar also participated for the Dallas Tigers in many WWBA tournaments and showed out at the 2018 Junior National Showcase and the 2019 National Showcase. His National Showcase report read:

Jordan Lawlar is a 2021 SS/OF with a 6-2 185 lb. frame from Irving, TX who attends Jesuit College Prep. Very athletic build with good present strength. 6.45 runner in the sixty. Has very easy and smooth actions in the middle infield, hands are very quick and clean at the ball, rounds the ball with maturity and has a quick exchange and release, plays defense in an easy comfort zone with an advanced inner clock. Right-handed hitter, hits from a slightly open stance with a short and quick inside swing, ball comes off the barrel hard, high contact middle of the field approach that can grow as he gets stronger, projects well offensively. Elite level student, verbal commitment to Vanderbilt. Named to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic.

Lawlar was named the Texas Gatorade Player of the Year in 2021 after hitting .412-6-37 with 32 stolen bases for Jesuit Prep and entered the draft as the third ranked player in the PG draft rankings in what was a historic year for prep shortstops. Four of the top five players in the PG rankings; Brady House, Marcelo Mayer, Lawlar and Khalil Watson, were all shortstops. The fourth ranked player, right-handed pitcher Jackson Jobe, was a recently converted shortstop to the mound.

The Diamondbacks did make Lawlar the third overall high school pick (after Jobe and Mayer) and the sixth overall pick, signing him for a $6,713,300 bonus.

Lawlar has clearly established himself as one of the top young shortstop prospects in the game and the Diamondbacks also clearly have not hesitated to give big league opportunities to their young top prospects. It will be interesting to see what the team does at shortstop from the start of the 2024 campaign.

2022 Featured PG Player: OF Corbin Carroll

2023 Update: Carroll had a rookie season for the history books, knocking 25 home runs while stealing 54 bases (in 59 attempts) while leading the National League in triples and winning the NL Rookie of the Year. And, of course, leading the Diamondbacks to the runner-up spot in the World Series.

2021 Featured PG Player: OF Alek Thomas

Los Angeles Dodgers -- RHP Kyle Hurt

High School: Torrey Pines HS, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.
College: Southern California
Travel Team: San Diego Show
Final PG Class Ranking: 27
Drafted: 2020, 5th round, Miami Marlins
Highest 2023 Level: MLB
2024 Age: 26

Hurt was a very active member of the PG circuit, pitching in seven showcases during his high school career along with numerous tournaments for the San Diego Show. He was already throwing in the low 80’s coming out of eighth grade with a mature three-pitch mix and usually pitched up one or two age groups with the Show. His most impressive PG performances may have been at a pair of PG Underclass All-American Games in 2014 and 2015. His report from the 2015 Games read:

Kyle Hurt is a 2017 RHP/1B with a 6-2 205 lb. frame from Rancho Santa Fe, CA who attends Torrey Pines HS. Big and strong athletic build, although still young in the face, still has some physical projection to him. Low energy mechanics with good balance and athleticism in his delivery, ball comes out of his hand very easily from a 3/4's arm slot. Fastball up to 92 mph, maintained his velocity well, gets good run and sink but thrown to spots as well. Very nice change up with lots of life, has confidence in the pitch and looks to almost toy with hitters with it. Tends to drop his arm slot to mid-3/4's on his curveball but gets quality spin and bite on this pitch, will have to make adjustments in his CB release at the next level but should have no problems with that. In complete control this outing and was very impressive. Verbal commitment to Southern California.

Hurt went on to pitch at the 2016 PG National Showcase and was named to play in the 2016 PG All-American Classic, where he topped out at 95 mph in his inning of work. He missed a significant chunk of his senior season at Rancho Santa Fe High School due to a knee injury and went undrafted in the 2017 draft.

Hurt started for Southern California from the start of his 2018 freshman season but didn’t resemble the pitcher he projected to be in high school, as he struggled to throw consistent strikes and found plenty of hard barrels. His three-year college numbers, including the pandemic shortened 2020 season, were 9-13, 5.06 in 30 starts and 172 innings, with 170 strikeouts and 107 walks.

Because Hurt was big (6-foot-3, 240-pounds) healthy and still threw hard, the Marlins picked him in the fifth and final round of the 2020 draft, signing him for a $300,000 bonus. He never threw an inning in the Marlins system, though, as they traded him early the next spring to the Dodgers along with lefty Andrew Vesia for right-hander Dylan Floro.

After two years of struggling with minor injuries and the same lack of command that impacted his college career, the Dodger Magic with pitchers finally caught up with Hurt in 2023. Pitching both as a starter and out of the bullpen between AA and AAA, Hurt struck out an absurd 152 hitters in only 92 innings and cut his walks down to close to 4 per 9 innings (44). Still armed with a three-pitch arsenal, with his change up as his best secondary pitch, Hurt could fill any number of roles with the Dodgers moving forward.

2022 Featured PG Player: RHP Nick Nastrini

2023 Update: Nastrini was in the middle of a year in AA for the Dodgers (5-3, 4.03 in 73 innings) when he was included in the trade to the White Sox that returned right-handed pitchers Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly to Los Angeles.

2021 Featured PG Player: RHP Bobby Miller

Colorado Rockies -- UTL Sterlin Thompson

High School: North Marion HS, Ocala, Fla.
College: Florida
Travel Team: Gatorball
Final PG Class Ranking: 55
Drafted: 2022, 1st round, Colorado Rockies, 31st overall
Highest 2023 Level: AA
2024 Age: 23

Thompson didn’t play in as many Perfect Game tournaments as most top Florida high school prospects but always stood out when he did, with a very projectable 6-foot-3, 190-pound build and a sweet left-handed swing that was always on time. He saved his best tournament for last, hitting .471-1-6 with four extra base hits at the 2019 WWBA World Championships.

Thompson’s only PG showcase was the 2020 World Showcase held in mid-January before the Florida high school season, later canceled by the pandemic, was set to begin. It was obvious that Thompson, who was signed with Florida and getting plenty of scouting attention, was ready for a big senior season. His report from that event read:

Large frame with a very projectable, strong build; ran 60 yard dash in 6.86 seconds. Hits from slightly open stance, direct well-timed shift into swing, beautiful left-handed swing with easy bat speed and whip, gets on plane early and stays there, very good raw power right now with limitless power projection, free and easy with violence in hands, consistent hard barrels to all fields. Worked out in the infield, footwork stands out, solid mobility with good chance to play left side of the infield long term, hands work well out front, clean in any direction with hands, charge play was done well, multiple slots with accuracy and zip, clocked up to 90 mph on throws. Excellent student, committed to Florida, named to 2020 World Showcase Top Prospect List.

Thompson was old for his class and knew that he would be draft eligible after his sophomore year, which impacted his draft status for the shortened 2020 draft. He started immediately for the Gators as a freshman in 2021, playing right field the entire season and hitting .301-5-27/.866 OPS. Thompson split time between right field and second base as a sophomore and improved in every area offensively, hitting .354-11-51/1.006 OPS with 16 doubles and 37 walks.

The Rockies took Thompson with the 31st overall pick and signed him for a $2,430,500 bonus.

It’s been interesting to observe how the Rockies are developing Thompson defensively. He started his first full pro season at High A and played third base almost exclusively in his 59 games at that level. When the Rockies moved him to AA, he played mostly at second base, with occasional games at third and in left field. During the Arizona Fall League, Thompson split time between right field and second base. The defensive shifting didn’t bother Thompson’s bat at all, as he hit .293-13-56/.863 OPS in 94 regular season games and .338 in the Arizona Fall League.

It's also interesting to note that perhaps the closest comparison among present big league players to a early 20’s Sterlin Thompson is Rockies third baseman Ryan McMahon, who has also seen extensive action at second base in his career and who could undoubtedly play corner outfield if called upon earlier in his career.

2022 Featured PG Player: C Drew Romo

2023 Update: Romo put up another solid year at the plate on his road to be the Rockies catcher of the future, hitting .254-13-48/.754 OPS at AA as a 21-year old and finishing the year with four games at AA.

2021 Featured PG Player: OF Zac Veen

San Diego Padres -- C Ethan Salas

Hometown: Caracas, Venezuela
Signed: 2023, Padres
Highest 2023 Level: AA
2024 Age: 18

Salas was one of the great stories from last summer’s minor league season. He made his debut at 16 years old (DOB: June 1, 2006) in full season A ball and hit .267-9-35 in 48 games in the California League before eventually ending the year in AA.

Salsas was far from an unknown before that, however. He was originally born in Kissimmee, Florida but moved to Venezuela as a child while also spending plenty of time back in Florida. He played in numerous Perfect Game tournaments as a 10-11 year old in 2016 and 2017 with a listed size of 5-feet, 83-pounds. He played at 2020 PG 13U National Showcase, having grown to 6-foot, 148-pounds and this scout saw all his drills and games and wrote this report.

Long and lean athletic build, very projectable build. Outstanding present catching skills and tools for his age, stays very quiet behind the plate with very sound fundamentals, blocks with excellent technique and results, plenty of raw arm strength with a quick release, makes accurate throws, has all the elements to be an elite level defender behind the plate. Left-handed hitter, has simple swing mechanics with a loose and fluid swing, good timing in his swing, made consistent square line drive contact, just a matter of time before the strength and bat speed kick in.

Going beyond the official report, with a PG grade of 9, the most impressive aspect of Salas’ game was his maturity and skills on defense. Everything he did was so easy and so balanced, it was obvious that he could already slow the game down, an amazing rarity on a player that young. Salas went from the 13U National Showcase to also play in the 2020 13U PG Select Festival in Oklahoma City.

Salas was understandably considered one of the top international prospects in the 2023 signing class and signed with the Padres for a $5,600,000 bonus, taking up almost all of San Diego’s international signing pool allotment.

2022 Featured PG Player: LHP Jay Groome

2023 Update: Groome went 4-10, 8.55 in 30 starts at AAA and being bypassed for numerous open spots on the Padres big league staff throughout the year.

2021 Featured PG Player: OF Robert Hassell III

San Francisco Giants -- LHP Carson Whisenhunt

High School: Davie County HS, Mocksville, NC
College: East Carolina
Travel Team: Carolina Rockies
Final PG Class Ranking: 500
Drafted: 2022, 2nd round, San Francisco Giants
Highest 2023 Level: AA
2024 Age: 23

Whisenhunt is from a small rural North Carolina town (Mocksville, pop. 5,900) but was well exposed on the travel circuit from 2016 to 2018, playing for a number of different travel clubs. He was already listed at 6-foot-3, 180-pounds at 15-years old when he was named All-Tournament at the 2016 WWBA 15U National Championships while pitching for Team United. Looking at his raw stuff from that event, an 80-83 mph fastball and a 74 mph change up and no mention of a breaking ball, it is very similar to what Whisenhunt throws today as his pitch mix, minus 10-12 mph.

Whisenhunt bumped the velocity up to 86-88 mph and began mixing in a mid-70’s breaking ball to go with his fastball/change up mix for most of 2017 and 2018 while competing in events such as 2017 WWBA 16U National Championships, the 2017 and 2018 WWBA 17U National Championships and the 2017 WWBA Underclass World Championship. He saved his best stuff for his last Perfect Game appearance, throwing two innings at the 2018 WWBA World Championships for Canes American while topping out at 89 mph with an 81 mph change up.

As a senior at Mocksville High School, Whisenhunt went 8-0, 0.98 while striking out 96 hitters in 50 innings, although he also walked 39 hitters. He was ranked 500th in the final PG rankings and went undrafted and headed the 200 miles across North Carolina to attend East Carolina.

Whisenhunt’s career at East Carolina was at best disjointed. He threw to three hitters as a freshman before the pandemic shut down the 2020 season. Having filled out to 6-foot-4, 215-pounds and working in the 91-94 mph range with his fastball, Whisenhunt established himself as one of the up and coming college pitching prospects in the 2022 class as a sophomore, going 6-2, 4.06 in 13 starts and 62 innings while striking out 79 hitters, many of those with a change up that induced a 59% swing/miss rate.

A potential first round pick entering the spring of 2022, Whisenhunt was suspended for the entire season after testing positive for PED’s, a punishment that is very unusual in college baseball to say the least. Whisenhunt threw bullpens for scouts late in the spring and strongly benefited from the later draft dates, picking up 16 innings in the Cape Cod League before being picked in the second round (66th overall pick) by the Giants and signing for a well over slot $1,866,220 bonus.

The Giants were conservative with Whisenhunt to start the 2023 season, moving him step by step through both A levels to get him to AA by mid-season but limiting his pitch counts, so Whisenhunt only threw 58 innings over 16 starts (1-1, 2.45, 83 strikeouts vs. only 37 hits allowed) before his season ended a month early with an elbow sprain.

Whisenhunt’s limited innings over his college and professional career would euphemistically be touted by scouts as having a “fresh arm” but the reality it that he still has to prove he can throw a full season’s work load as a 23-year old, which may hold him back a year as a prospect. Still, he is considered the Giants second best pitching prospect after fellow southpaw Kyle Harrison and has a mid-rotation projection if he can continue to improve his curveball to go with his outstanding fastball/change up combination.

2022 Featured PG Player: RHP Trevor McDonald

2023 Update: McDonald struggled to stay healthy in 2023 but was outstanding when he took the mound, going 3-2, 1.33 in 47 innings, mostly at High A.

2021 Featured PG Player: LHP Kyle Harrison