by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Each year we see prospects rise seemingly from obscurity and morph into prominent prospects. Sometimes we’ve seen signs of the emergence before and sometimes we haven’t, but either way we all know it’s going to happen the question is who will it be this year? While we don’t have much data to go on, let’s take a look at two pitching prospects who have shown signs of breaking out over the first few weeks of the year:
Jefry Rodriguez – Washington Nationals
Rodriguez showed signs of taking a step forward last season, but an 80-game suspension for “testing positive for a metabolite of Clomiphene, which is considered a performance-enhancing substance by the Minor League program” (as per MILB.com) helped to overshadow his performance. The biggest question has always been his control, which makes sense for the 6’6”, 232 lbs. right-handed pitcher, but in his 57.0 innings at High-A in ’17 he posted a solid 3.00 BB/9. He’s shown even more over his first two starts at Double-A, with 3 BB over 12.0 IP, and if he can maintain these levels the upside is tremendous.
Rodriguez has always shown groundball ability, with a career 1.36 GO/AO (51.7% groundball rate in ’17, 55.9% over his first two starts). He also has big time stuff, with the potential to see his strikeouts climb. While he hasn’t necessarily posted gaudy strikeouts thus far, he’s shown the ability to induce swings and misses (SwStr%):
- 2016 – 12.2%
- 2017 – 14.9%
- 2018 – 12.9%
He was described by MLB.com prior to the season by saying:
“A tall and physical righty with an electric arm, Rodriguez boasts an effortless plus-fastball that touches 97 mph and sits 93-95 with angle and sink. His above-average curveball is a hammer, standing out for its power as well as the late downer action that helps him miss bats.”
It’s possible he ultimately transitions to the bullpen, where he could emerge as a closer of the future. Time will tell, but he’s shown signs of emerging and there’s a chance he puts it together and moves quickly.
Upside Grade – B/B+
Lincoln Henzman – Chicago White Sox
A closer in college, the 2017 fourth round draft pick is easy to overlook. However as MLB.com described him:
“Henzman has the three-pitch mix to make it in the rotation. When he keeps his heavy 90-95 mph fastball down in the zone, batters struggle to lift it, as evidenced by his 2.3 groundout/flyout ratio during his debut. His changeup has similar action, resembling a splitter and grading as a plus pitch at its best, while his cutter reaches the upper 80s.”
He continues to show groundball stuff, with a 59.5% groundball rate over his first two Single-A starts. He’s also showing swing and miss upside (22.2% O-Swing%) and pinpoint control (1 BB over 12.0 IP). He is 22-years old (he’ll turn 23 in July), so you could argue he’s simply old for the level. Still, he owns a 2.04 GO/AO since being drafted with 27 K vs. 10 BB. If he were pitching in a shallower system he’d likely garner more attention, but don’t make the mistake of overlooking.
Upside Grade – B
Sources – MILB.com, MLB.com, Fangraphs
Missed our Top 100 prospect rankings? Make sure to check it out by clicking here. Also don’t miss all of our 2018 Preseason Positional Prospect Lists: