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Taking Wing Retrospective Part Two

Toronto Blue Jays v Miami Marlins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Yesterday, I looked at all the hitters I’d written up between the end of May and the beginning of July. Today, let’s look a little farther back at the players profiled earlier in the season.

May 23

  • Dylan Rock: I may have put a curse on Rock by writing about him. He was injured in the Fisher Cats’ game that night and didn’t play again for almost two months. Rock began a rehab assignment down at the complex on July 13th and has progressed as far as playing two games with A level Dunedin.
  • Alan Roden: Things have only improved for the Jays’ 2022 third round pick since his write-up. In 193 PA with Vancouver from May 23rd, he cut his strikeout rate even further to 8.8%. While his power output is still limited, he has added three home runs and 17 total extra base hits in the interim. His .344/.456/.494 line in that span was 60% better than the Northwest League average, and he went 12 for 14 stealing bases as a kicker. That performance earned him a promotion to New Hampshire, where he’s gotten on base six times in his first 10 PA.
  • Chad Dallas: The positive news with Dallas back in May was that he’d made progress in taming his previously high walk rate and been promoted to AA. In seven starts since, he’s had a bit more trouble, issuing free passes to 12% of batters he’s faced. He’s also not striking out as many batters (36 over 34.2 innings, a bit over 23%). Neither change is catastrophic or anything, the strikeout rate is still solid and while the walk rate is elevated it’s not insurmountable. It’s a slip in performance, not a collapse. Dallas has been on the temporarily inactive list for the past week, and hopefully when he returns he can recapture the form he showed in Vancouver early in the season.

May 11

  • Sem Robberse: Early in the season, Robberse had taken a significant step forward with his strikeout rate, up to 25% from around 20% in 2022. In 11 starts since the 11th, that rate has slipped back to 21%. He’s still keeping the walks under control, at 8%, but the extra contact and some trouble with home runs has raised his ERA to 4.47 in that span. Robberse is holding his own as a starter in AA at 21, which is relatively impressive even though he hasn’t maintained his hot start. The criticism of him as a prospect, though, is that he lack major bat missing stuff. He does have strong command, and looks like he has the physical capacity to keep adding strength and hopefully maintain or even build on the velocity gains he showed in the spring. The ebbing of his results may just be a result of fatigue eating into those gains, in which case continued development could allow him to reach back for better stuff more consistently. He did induce 14 swinging strikes in his start on Thursday night in 84 pitches, in his first game after a week off for the all star break, which is a good sign.
  • Adam Kloffenstein: Robberse’s rotation mate has fared better as the season has progressed. Kloffenstein has pitched 59 innings in 11 starts over the past two and a half months, maintaining a tolerable 9.3% walk rate and a strong 26.8% strikeout rate. He’s also still keeping more than half of opponent contact on the ground. His 3.52 ERA in that period is a run higher than it was in the first month, but is still quite solid and backed up by his peripheral stats. The revival in Kloffenstein’s prospect stock this season after the pandemic and two straight years of struggles has been a great surprise all year.
  • Steward Berroa: Early on, Berroa looked like he’d improved across the board, cutting his strikeouts significantly while upping his walks and power. Unfortunately, only the walks have really stuck as the season has progressed. His swinging strike rate has jumped to 10.8% for the season after sitting at 8.1% in early May, and since the write-up his strikeout rate has ballooned to 29%. The little bit of power he showed has also fizzled, as he’s hit just one home run and a dozen total extra base hits in almost 200 PA over the past couple of months. Sped remains his calling card, and he’s stolen 24 bases in 29 tries since mid-May, but that’s really the only thing floating his profile right now. Berroa has always run well enough that he could have a potential specialty role as a defense only center fielder and ace pinch runner. The early season returns suggested he might hit enough to justify that role and maybe even a bit more. Lately, though, that’s looking more like a hot streak than a real change.

May 4

  • Rafael Sanchez: Sanchez started red hot in A ball, his first taste of real American pro ball after a year spent at the complex following his departure from Cuba. The 23 year old Sanchez made two more starts with Dunedin before being promoted to slightly more age appropriate competition with High A Vancouver on May 19th. With his new club, he’s looked a lot more ordinary. Over 9 starts and 41.2 innings, he’s struck out 37 batters and walked 14 (21% and 8% respectively). A hard luck .350 BABIP has spiked his ERA to 5.40, although the underlying numbers suggest he deserves better. Sanchez remains interesting. He seems to know where the ball is going, and as I noted in his write-up, while it isn’t monster stuff he has three pitches with some interesting traits. The dip in his performance is probably partly due to a combination of adjusting to the US, getting deeper into the season after throwing fewer than 60 innings last season, and no longer getting to feast on kids two to four years his junior. He’s still holding his own, now facing college players and minor league veterans who are little closer to his experience level (though he’s still older than the typical real prospect in High A).
  • Spencer Horwitz: April was a pretty typical month for Horwitz, as he walked about as much as he struck out, hit for average, and produced modest power for a first baseman. In the months since, he’s continued to do about the same. He’s struck out 35 times and walked 36 in 238 PA (15% in both cases), and is batting .310 over that stretch. His power is still limited, although he did club two home runs last night to raise his season total to 6. His isolated power since early May is just .125, which would be in the 23rd percentile of International League hitters over a full season. Horwitz did earn a brief call up to the big club in mid June, taking 10 PAs in 3 games. True to form, he got a couple of hits and walked a couple of times. Horwitz’ profile remains odd. He’s a first baseman (he dabbles in left, but doesn’t look especially promising there) without power, which is normally not a prospect, but his knack for contact and knowledge of the zone might just be enough to earn him a role if he keeps hitting near .300 and getting on base. At the very least, his performance this year justifies keeping him around as a call-up lefty bench bat.
  • Damiano Palmegiani: Palmegiani began the season doing a Horwitz impression, walking almost as much as he struck out but producing minimal power. Since, he’s reverted more to his typical form. His strikeout rate has remained manageable at 23%, and his 10% walk rate has been solid even if it’s a drop off from 22%. He’s found his power, though, with 9 home runs and 24 total extra base hits in 242 PA. It all adds up to a .254/.333/.459 line that’s 15% better than the Eastern League average. Those numbers are more solid than great for a corner infielder, and Palmegiani is a little older than the typical AA prospect at 23. Still, though, it’s been a very solid and consistent year for a player who’s steadily exceeded expectations as he’s climbed the ladder after entering the system with no expectations as a 14th round pick.

Thoughts on the System

Of 17 guys I’ve profiled, by my count from this retrospective eight have fallen off, four continue to perform solidly but not at the level they were when I wrote about them, and four have stayed very hot or actually improved (with a DNF for Rock, who essentially hasn’t played). This is the first year I’ve done this exercise, but those feel like pretty good ratios to me. I write this column by picking players who have intrigued me with their recent performance, so almost by definition they’re at a peak at the moment of the write-up. You’d expect most players, even ones who are genuinely improving, to tail off somewhat after that. That about a quarter of the potential breakouts seem real, and another quarter are maintaining strong seasons even after returning to earth, feels like progress in a sport where most prospects fail. It hasn’t all been up, and there are of course high profile prospects I haven’t written about because they’ve been bad all year (e.g. Yosver Zulueta) or hardly played due to nagging injuries (Ricky Tiedemann), but there’s definite ongoing growth in the system.

Next week, and as long as there are several teams playing from which to pick players, I’ll go back to profiling new guys who have caught my attention. Hopefully we’ll keep finding gold.