As we move into the top 10 and transition towards the cream of the crop, today’s installment features two 2013 draftees out of high school, and then two more recent additions who won’t turn 20 until the late in the 2020 season.
12. Reese McGuire, catcher, age 25 in 2020 (DOB: 3/2/1995), grade: 40+/45, last year: 25th
McGuire just barely retains rookie eligibility with 128 at-bats and 36 pre-September days (90 total having been called up most of the last two years); between that, his age and his profile he’s only a prospect in a technical sense. It’s fitting then to have Elvis Luciano in a similar range in the opposite situation.
The (on-field) surprise thus far in his MLB career has been the juice in his bat, seven home runs and a .242 ISO for the Blue Jays. He’s never shown anywhere near that kind of power on an extended basis before, in fact generally well below average power. So that’s probably due to regress, though who knows for sure with the way baseballs are flying. The projection system also don’t like his chances to maintain a .330 BABIP either, which makes sense as a slow catcher though thus far has been earned with a lot of line drives.
Defensively, he’s been very good as advertised. Even if the bat regresses a ton, absent injuries, he still looks like a guy who has a long career as a backup. If he can hit even a little, he could be a platoon guy or fringy starter (role 45), and if there’s some staying power in the offensive breakout he could be a regular. Recall there’s some real pedigree as the 14th overall pick in 2013 and catchers are often slower to develop.
That combination of very high floor, with a some chance for more vaults him back up the list, surpassing his 15th place in 2018. He should formally graduate by the end of the first series, but even if by some confluence of events he didn’t, it would still be his last year on the list.
11. Patrick Murphy, RHP, age 24 (DOB: 6/10/1995), grade: 45, last year: 13th
It’s been quite the ride for Murphy, after he missed his senior year of high school after having Tommy John surgery, pitched very little in 2014-15, but then ascended through the system as he’s been mostly healthy since. In 2016-17, posted very good ERAs in Vancouver and Lansing, though with mediocre peripherals. In 2018, that clicked into place as he bumped his strikeout rate to 22.5% in Dunedin en route to a 2.64 ERA.
Murphy got off to a rough start in New Hampshire in 2019, with a 6.11 ERA after four starts, before everything seemingly clicked. He was flat out dominant over his next five starts, posting a 1.59 ERA with 39 strikeouts (31%) against just four walks in 34 innings. Stuff-wise it was electric, his fastball sitting mid-90s while touching 96-98, and a hellacious wipeout power curveball that looked much improved from 2018 and was piling up swings and misses.
He got touched up his last start in May before another gem to start June, and it seemed just matter of time before he went up to Buffalo, with Toronto very much in range late in the season. Until yet another curveball, as a toe tap in his delivery was ruled illegal, and would no longer be allowed. As detailed in the link, Murphy tried to adapt his delivery on the fly, which didn’t go well. He returned after some time working on, but had some shoulder issues, and missed the last third of the season other than a relief outing in late August.
Admittedly, I’m the most bullish on Murphy. I see two plus pitches in his fastball and curve, and while the change-up is nothing special it’s better and I think enough to play overall as a starter. Barring that, if he did end up in the pen, the stuff is there for a high leverage closer type. However, between his injury history and now reworking his delivery and potential issues stemming from that, there’s significant risk too. This will be his last year on the list regardless, but in hindsight it’s possible the risks will not have been properly damaged. It would be a real shame if his career was derailed by a pretty ticky tacky (even parsimonious) interpretation of the rules.
10. Adam Kloffenstein, RHP, age 19 (DOB: 8/25/2000), grade: 45: last year: 12th
Kloffenstein was selected in the 3rd round of the 2018 draft, though receiving the signing bonus of a late first rounder. The reports were exciting, a 6’5” righty with above average present velocity, including a two seamer/sinker with downward movement as part of a wide arsenal of five pitches including three secondaries. The building blocks were promising, but more importantly more refined than just a thrower with big raw stuff as many young pitching prospects are.
Kloffenstein put together a strong 2019 for Vancouver in his first assignment, posting a 2.24 ERA in 64.1 innings with 64 strikeouts (25%) against 23 walks (10%) while generating a promising 60% ground balls. Moreover, he really turned it on down the stretch. His first month was fine, but honestly somewhat underwhelming as he only threw 19.2 innings with mediocre peripherals.
From July 15th onward, as the throttling of his workload was loosened, he pitched at least five innings in each start, with a 1.61 ERA and 27% strikeout rate. And that’s despite a couple of dynamic outings slipping away and going sideways towards the end. The stuff was as advertised, as he sat low-90s with his fastball, holding the velocity to the end of outings and touching up to 95. In the one televised outing at the end of the year he looked really good, I don’t recall seeing the slider but he had good feel for the curve and the change-up was promising.
The biggest thing will be staying healthy, but Kloffenstein projects as a durable starting pitcher. If it all comes together, the ceiling would be a frontline (role 60) #2 pitcher, and maybe some outside chance of more (Fangraphs last year noted some scouts thought there was more projection there, he was on the younger side of the draft class especially coming from Texas). A more reasonable expectation would be for a midrotation (role 50) starter with a solid well rounded arsenal. So far, so good.
9. Miguel Hiraldo, IF, age 19 (DOB: 9/5/2000), grade: 45/45+, last year: 20th
Hiraldo was the other half of Bluefield’s dynamic middle infield duo last year, hitting .300/.348/.481 before a late season promotion to Lansing once the season ended since he was going anyway for the Crosstown Showdown. The power was particularly impressive for an 18-year-old, with seven home runs and 28 total extra base hits. The caveat being that reports indicate he’s physically pretty filled out, so there’s less projection than would normally be the case.
Hiraldo’s not just selling out for power though, he’s shown a good ability to square up balls, hitting above .300 in both main stops as a professional. There’s some swing and miss, while he kept the strikeouts down to 14% in 2019, that’s reflective of an aggressive approach at the plate that minimizes deeper counts and strikeouts (his walk rate was 5.5%). There’s some parallels to Richard Urena’s offensive profile in 2015-16, and concomitant risk that it doesn’t hold up as well at upper levels.
Defensively, he’s played most at shortstop though more second base last year. The reports didn’t have him profiling as a SS, and nine errors in under 200 innings and a .883 fielding percentage suggest they’re right. The thinking is third base is the best fit given a good arm and less speed, but I imagine there’s some risk of moving to the outfield. This ranking is a little too rich for me personally given how far away he is, and some of the riskier flags in his profile, but we’ll see how far his bat can take him.
The most valuable player/prospect a year from now will be
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