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:
Josh Rojas – Second Baseman – Houston Astros
A 26th round selection in 2017, Rojas obviously doesn’t come with much fanfare. You can argue that he was old for the level (he’s currently 23-years old, and will turn 24 on June 30), but that shouldn’t take away from the strong performance he had at High-A to open the year:
.311 (28-90), 1 HR, 10 RBI, 20 R, 12 SB
While the power doesn’t jump off the page, he added 11 doubles and 1 triple. He was also a perfect 12-for-12 on stolen base attempts, but none of that is the most impressive numbers he’s posted. What was? His 13 K vs. 15 BB, which came courtesy of a miniscule 4.8% SwStr%. Contact? Speed? A little bit of power? That all comes together for an ideal top of the order bat, and one that could make an impact.
The strong performance has led to a recent promotion to Double-A, and while it’s only been five games (16 AB), everything he had been showing appears to be translating:
- Approach – He has 3 K vs. 3 BB
- Power – He has yet to hit a home run, but he has 1 double and 1 triple (.500 SLG)
- Speed – He is 1-for-1 in stolen base attempts.
At his age he has the potential to move quickly, though where he fits in Houston remains to be seen. It appears that they are grooming him for a utility role, as he’s seen time at 2B, 3B, SS and in the OF, so maybe he’s the next Marwin Gonzalez type? Maybe he’s used as part of a trade to help bolster the bullpen? Regardless, the production is there and he needs to be on all radars (especially as speed is down across the game).
Sam McWilliams – Right-Handed Pitcher – Tampa Bay Rays
While he wasn’t drafted by the Rays, could he be the next pitching prospect that Tampa Bay can develop? They always appear to be churning them out, and now they have the opportunity to do it again.
McWilliams was originally drafted by the Phillies, before being shipped to Arizona in exchange for Jeremy Hellickson. He’s now on the move again, being sent to Tampa Bay just days ago to complete the Steven Souza trade. He has not yet made an appearance for his new team, but his first taste of High-A (as part of the Arizona organization) yielded eye-opening results:
25.2 IP, 2.10 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 11.22 K/9, 2.10 BB/9, 52.5% GB%
Standing 6’7” it’s impressive that his control is where it is already, and that’s been consistent since being selected in the 8th round in 2014 as he owns a career 2.0 BB/9. While the groundballs were down last season (1.07 GO/AO), overall he owns a 1.30 so seeing that bounce back shouldn’t be a surprise. Where the 22-year old has grown this season is in his strikeout rate, something that’s been a slow build (SwStr%):
- 2016 – 6.1%
- 2017 – 10.3%
- 2018 – 19.8%
Obviously the jump this season may be a bit unrealistic, but seeing the trend is promising all the same. Even with a regression, assuming he can maintain an 8.00-8.50 K/9 at the upper levels with his control and groundball ability makes him intriguing to follow.
Sources – MILB.com, Fangraphs, Baseball Reference
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: