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 at Double-A:
Dennis Santana – Los Angeles Dodgers
He’s coming off his “worst” start of the season, allowing 3 ER on 4 H and 4 BB over 4.2 IP, but it does little to drag down the overall numbers. Through 8 starts (38.2 IP) he’s posted a 2.56 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with some impressive metrics behind it:
- Strikeouts – 11.87 K/9
- Control – 3.26 BB/9
- Groundballs – 54.0%
The strikeouts come courtesy of a 16.5% SwStr% and while you can argue that there’s a little bit of luck behind the numbers (.258 BABIP) there’s obviously a lot to like. Is the right-hander the next “great” Los Angeles starting prospect? The question is going to be his control, which obviously wasn’t sharp recently. The owner of a 4.3 BB/9 over his minor league career (6.3 over seven starts at Double-A in ’17), MLB.com’s scouting report echoes the sentiment of a high upside starter with significant questions surrounding him:
Santana sits at 93-95 mph and tops out at 98 with a fastball that features so much sink that it creates a lot of strikeouts and groundouts, but the life on his heater also makes it difficult for him to command. His hard slider gives him a second plus pitch at times, though he still must improve his changeup to give him a weapon against left-handers. He did make some strides with his changeup late last season. Santana has a low arm slot and a crossfire delivery that also hamper his ability to throw strikes, and his walk rate jumped from 2.3 per nine innings in high Class A to 6.3 in Double-A. Los Angeles has moved him from the third-base side of the rubber to the first-base side in an attempt to get him more centered toward the plate.
Left-handed batters are hitting .146 against him this year and prior to his most recent outing there wouldn’t have been concern about his control. How he bounces back will be key, but as of today there’s reason to believe in his development. He threw 118.1 innings last season and will probably be capped at around 150 this season and arriving at Triple-A should be expected (with an outside shot of seeing Los Angeles before the year is out, even as a reliever).
Sean Reid-Foley – Toronto Blue Jays
One of the bigger disappointments of 2017 (5.09 ERA over 27 starts at Double-A), Reid-Foley has clearly turned things around early on in 2018. All he’s done is gone 5-0 with a 1.88 ERA over seven starts (38.1 IP) back at Double-A, showing all of the skills we look for:
- Strikeouts – 10.80 K/9
- Control – 3.99 BB/9
- Groundballs – 53.4%
Obviously the control is pinpoint, and it’s actually a step back from what he did last season (3.6 BB/9). That shouldn’t be a complete surprise either, as MLB.com described him by saying:
“While Reid-Foley’s deceptive delivery and arm action make him particularly tough on right-handed hitters, they also give him below-average control, leading many to project him as a reliever long-term. The Blue Jays, however, believe Reid-Foley’s physicality, stuff and feel for pitching will give him a chance at becoming a mid-rotation starter.”
Right now it’s hard to argue with Toronto’s opinion, but he needs to prove that he can consistently throw strikes. With a 14.1% SwStr% there’s no questioning the strikeout stuff (especially with a solid four-pitch mix) and he brings more than enough in terms of groundballs, so even without control he could be a #3-4 starter in an MLB rotation today. Improvement there will go a long way, though it’s still a work in process (5 BB over 4.0 IP in his most recent start).
He threw 132.2 innings last season, so getting to 165-170 this year is a fair expectation. That could put him in the mix late in the year, though at the very least he’ll get his first taste of Triple-A before long.
Sources – MILB.com, MLB.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: