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Taking Wing

Mesa Solar Sox v Glendale Desert Dogs Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Just two prospects this week, because I’m a bit behind. One is a long time farmhand taking a step forward as he reaches the high minors, the other is a new acquisition who might be rebounding after early stumbles as a Jay.

Leo Jimenez, RHB SS, AA New Hampshire

Jimenez went on a tear last week, hitting .333/.391/.667 with four doubles and a home run. He’s actually been hot for a month now, since returning from a brief 10 day absence, hitting .307/.354/.557 with 10 doubles and 4 homers. He’s now hitting over .300 for the season.

Jimenez’ game is powered by a combination of plate discipline and excellent bat to ball ability. He’s walking less this season (7.7%), but that has more to do with increased aggression at the plate ending at bats with balls in play before he has time to walk or be struck out. His 13.4% strikeout rate is his lowest since rookie ball, and in the 96th percentile among all hitters with 100+ AA PA this season. He’s swinging and missing just 7.9% of the time, in the 91st percentile and in line with what he’s done in the past.

Another area of improvement has been in the distribution of his bated balls. Jimenez has always been a line drive and fly ball hitter, and this season his 23.8% line drive rate is in the 75th percentile while his 34.6% ground ball rate is in the 26th. He’s popping up a lot less, though, with 14.8% of his fly balls being fielded by infielders compared to over 20% last year. Only 30 other players in AA (among 338 with 100+ PA) are hitting fly balls more than 40% of the time but popping up less than 15%. He’s also pulling the ball a bit less (45% of the time, below average for the first time in his career) and using the middle of the field more. For a player without big power (about 7.5% of his fly balls have left the yard in each of the past two seasons, which would be in the 20th percentile for MLB hitters), spraying line drives around the park is a good recipe for doubles production and a strong BABIP.

Jimenez is a solid shortstop, so he doesn’t need to hit much to have a role. On the other hand, with his limited power he’s going to need to hit for average and be a real OBP thread to justify every day playing time. Hitting like this in AA is a good start to proving he can do it.

Alex De Jesus, RHB 3B, A+ Vancouver

The other piece in the Mitch White-Nick Frasso trade from last year’s deadline, De Jesus struggled in his first few months in the Blue Jays system. In the past month, though, he’s broken out of that prolonged slump, hitting .313/.398/.603, with a 25.5% strikeout rate and a 13.3% walk rate. This week he extended the hot streak with three doubles and two home runs, while walking four times in 22 PA.

The biggest change appears to be that he’s making more contact. His 13.7% swinging strike rate is still below average (199th of 322 hitters with 100+ PA in high A this season), but it’s miles better than his 19% rate with the Jays last year, and even on his 14.9% rate with the Dodgers before the trade.

He’s also pulling the ball a bit more (46%, above average for the first time since rookie ball) and elevating it more (36% ground ball rate, down from 41%). In contrast to Jimenez, power is central to De Jesus’ offensive game. He has above average raw power at 21, and most evaluators expect it to be at least plus by the time he matures. His 12.5% home run per fly ball rate is in the 71st percentile among all high A players, in spite of playing in a relative pitcher’s league.

De Jesus’ overall batting line is still a touch below league average, because of how bad his first month was (.170/.255/.330, dragged down by a .224 BABIP). There appear to have been real improvements under the hood, though, and this month they’ve started to show up in the results. He still has a long way to go, and his contact rate remains a risk even with improvements, but there’s potential here for a three-true-outcomes slugging third baseman profile that could play at the major league level.