After a two-month absence for a torn thumb ligament, Sal Frelick is back, having first played three games for the Brewers' lowest minor-league affiliate before joining Triple-A Nashville on Wednesday.
You may remember Frelick was my top prospect to stash points out, it's almost certain the 23-year-old would have been called up to replace an injured Garrett Mitchell in late April if he hadn't succumbed to an injury of his own. Given how little the Brewers have gotten from players like Brian Anderson and Luis Urias, it's still possible Frelick gets the call as soon as he's ready., and, as Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"I think Sal's job is, one, to get healthy," manager Craig Counsell said Saturday. "He's got to log some at-bats at a minimum, for sure. He's got to get to Triple-A and play for a while at a minimum. And then Sal's job is to play well enough to say, 'Hey, he's got to be here.' Pretty simple."
It's worth pointing out that Frelick is a specialized player, lacking in power but having a plus-plus hit tool and plus speed. It puts a limit on his ceiling but should make him useful still in all Fantasy formats. Suffice to say that if he hits the ground running at Nashville, it won't be long before he's back in my ...
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
2022 minors: .304 BA (484 AB), 32 HR, 114 RBI, .955 OPS, 40 BB, 137 K
2023 minors: .357 BA (185 AB), 17 HR, 46 RBI, 1.145 OPS, 21 BB, 47 K
Every week, we wonder why Encarnacion-Strand hasn't joined Elly De La Cruz and Matt McLain in the majors yet, and every week, the numbers just keep getting better. What stands out most to me is that in his first 28 games, he had three walks compared to 36 strikeouts, but in his last 16 games, he has 18 walks to 11 strikeouts. It's a complete about-face and leaves the Reds with few excuses not to call him up ... one would think. After all, they've been the most aggressive team about promoting prospects this season, and it's put them within shouting distance of first place in the NL Central. And yet, Encrnacion-Strand remains at Triple-A.
Something has to give here -- and soon. The production has gone from exceptional to absurd. We knew Encarnacion-Strand had next-level power. It was apparent from his minor-league numbers last season and the show he put on in spring training. But now, he's entering rare company with the batting average as well. His career minor-league mark is over .325, and as Baseball America points out, there have been only 10 other players to achieve that threshold over 800-plus plate appearances since 2010, and includes guys like Mike Trout, Vladimir Guerrero, Wander Franco, Julio Rodriguez and Jose Altuve. I don't even care if Joey Votto is on a rehab assignment. Encarnacion-Strand has more to offer the Reds at this point.
Colton Cowser, OF, Orioles
2022 minors: .278 BA (510 AB), 19 HR, 18 SB, .874 OPS, 94 BB, 174 K
2023 minors: .329 BA (161 AB), 8 HR, 5 SB, 1.018 OPS, 42 BB, 49 K
Unfortunately, Aaron Hicks' unexpected competence at the plate has given the Orioles further excuse to keep Cowser down. It stands to reason Hicks won't sustain it for long, but if he sustains it long enough for Cedric Mullins to make it back from a groin injury, it may not matter. Then again, does any of this matter? The Orioles can end this anytime they want. They've chosen to keep their DH spot flexible even though Anthony Santander would be best suited there, so they could easily rearrange their outfield to accommodate Cowser once they've decided he's ready. This is presuming, of course, that Hicks has faded into the background by then. Cowser hasn't done anything particularly notable over the past week, but he remains a prospect who excels in all facets offensively.
Grayson Rodriguez, SP, Orioles
2023 majors: 2-2, 7.35 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 45 1/3 IP, 21 BB, 56 K
2023 minors: 2-0, 2.81 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 16 IP, 10 BB, 18 K
When the Orioles sent Rodriguez back to the minors a couple weeks ago, he seemed almost too obvious to feature in my Five on the Verge. But since he's rostered at about the same rate as Christian Encarnacion-Strand now, it's probably worth clarifying that there still isn't a minor-league pitcher more deserving of a stash. Of course, that's easier to say when he does things like this:
The video is of him striking out 10 over six innings in his most recent start for Triple-A Norfolk, and as the tweet points out, he set a record for most swinging strikes in any Triple-A start this year with 28 (according to Statcast). It isn't just him picking on weaker competition either. The 23-year-old long regarded as the game's top pitching prospect has an actual plan for returning to the big leagues.
"It's getting back to commanding the fastball down in the zone, up in the zone," Rodriguez said, also citing a need to improve the shape of his breaking balls. "I kind of shied away and went soft a lot, threw a lot of cutters, and that's really not my game. I'm getting back to the basics and establishing the fastball and putting guys away."
2022 minors: .263 BA (415 AB), 21 HR, 20 SB, .888 OPS, 82 BB, 121 K
2023 minors: .258 BA (213 AB), 13 HR, 2 SB, .905 OPS, 49 BB, 52 K
With Mike Zunino in perpetual slump mode, Naylor has begun to trend almost daily on Twitter as Cleveland fans clamor for his call-up. When you see the pressure mounting externally in that way, you know it's there internally as well. Part of me wonders if Naylor will ever get a fair shake given that the Guardians have long held their catchers to an impossibly high standard defensively -- they traded away Francisco Mejia when he was arguably the top catcher prospect in baseball, you may remember -- but the data doesn't actually support Zunino being a standout defender anymore either. And he's certainly a liability at the plate, batting .177 this year and .182 over the past five years.
Recent comments made by assistant GM James Harris, as reported by Zack Meisel of The Athletic, offer reason for optimism. The one that stood out most was this: "Yes, he can probably come up here and be great right away. I hope that's the answer. But if you can spend a little bit of time and be sure, we're hoping that that's going to set us up for the future."
It's unusual phrasing for a member of the front office and lends credence to the idea that service time manipulation is in play. We're right about at the Super 2 threshold (which doesn't have a specific date, for what it's worth), so the Guardians may want to drag things out just a little longer to be sure Naylor is on the right side of it, especially since he got a small amount of service time last year. But certainly in two-catcher leagues, it's time to think about stashing him away. He showed off his wheels with two steals Wednesday after being a 20/20 guy last year, and his on-base skills should help make up for his shortcomings in batting average.
Michael Busch, 2B, Dodgers
2022 minors: .274 BA (552 AB), 32 HR, 118 R, .881 OPS, 74 BB, 167 K
2023 minors: .313 BA (176 AB), 7 HR, 39 R, .968 OPS, 32 BB, 45 K
Max Muncy has sat out the last couple games with a hamstring injury, and while the Dodgers are talking like he won't need an IL stint, it may be wishful thinking seeing as it's a Grade 2 strain. The good news is that they've been grooming Busch as Muncy insurance for a while now, having the usual second baseman play nothing but third base this month. It's fitting because he's long been compared to Muncy as an offensive-minded infielder whose best attributes are patience and power. It's also fitting because he's on a serious heater right now, batting .472 (17 for 36) with four homers, two triples and five doubles over his past nine games. And the home runs have been some titanic taters.
Busch was of course up in late April/early May and didn't play much then, so even if Muncy goes on the IL, we can't be certain it's the 25-year-old's time to shine. But there are worse gambles you could make in a deep Rotisserie league.
Five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Jonathan Aranda, 2B, Rays
2022 minors: .318 BA (403 AB), 18 HR, .915 OPS, 45 BB, 100 K
2023 minors: .321 BA (187 AB), 9 HR, .963 OPS, 35 BB, 51 K
Aranda's profile -- modest power, no speed -- makes him a difficult prospect to size up, and it's worth pointing out that his brief stints in the majors last year didn't amount to much. But one thing he has to be able to do with that profile is hit for average, and I think the reason he has yet to be called up this year is because he wasn't doing that at Triple-A Durham. But now he is. The 25-year-old has multiple hits in seven of his past nine games, raising his batting average from .267 to .321.
He capped the performance with a two-homer game Wednesday, and the exit velocities, it's worth noting, have been impressive all season -- maybe not enough to make him a power hitter, given his low fly-ball rate, but enough to raise optimism about his ultimate ceiling. We'll see if the Rays make way for him.
Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF, Cubs
2022 minors: .312 BA (423 AB), 16 HR, 32 SB, .896 OPS, 36 BB, 102 K
2023 minors: .293 BA (184 AB), 8 HR, 16 SB, .878 OPS, 14 BB, 47 K
The real-life son of the mom from Little Big League has gone full big league over his past 15 games, batting .365 (23 for 63) with four homers and five steals. He's still at Double-A, so he probably isn't about to play savior for a team that's out of the race anyway. But a strong showing would put the 21-year-old on a path to competing for the starting center field job next spring. While supremely athletic, Crow-Armstrong has long raised doubts about his power potential, but his fly-ball rate this year is 20-25 percentage points higher than last year. And the results are beginning to show.
Jacob Misiorowski, SP, Brewers
2022 minors: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 7 BB, 3 K
2023 minors: 2-1, 2.31 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 35 IP, 15 BB, 56 K
While Misiorowski isn't one of the dozen or so pitching prospects that everybody knows, he's a popular choice among prospect hounds to become that. And if his work at the lower levels this year is any indication, he may become that sooner than later. The control for the 6-foot-7 righty, while not amazing, has been better than advertised. Meanwhile, he's held batters to a .108 batting average with an 18 percent swinging strike rate. Only two of his 11 starts have lasted five innings, which is pretty typical for a pitcher at this stage of development, but it's clear the stuff is playing, highlighted by a high-90s fastball that appears even faster because of his long reach.
Drew Thorpe, SP, Yankees
2023 minors: 5-1, 2.91 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 58 2/3 IP, 20 BB, 71 K
The Yankees have been working on upping Thorpe's velocity since drafting him in the second round last year. The right-hander had an excellent changeup but not much of a fastball to go with it, which seemed correctable given his size and athleticism. He's still working mostly in the low 90s, but it's clear that High-A hitters are overmatched by the 22-year-old. His latest outing saw him strike out 12 over seven shutout innings. He allowed just one hit over eight innings in the outing before. He's proven to be efficient and has generated whiffs at a nice rate, but the real test will come with his next move up the minor-league ladder.
Davis Schneider, 3B, Blue Jays
2022 minors: .253 BA (383 AB), 16 HR, 17 SB, .823 OPS, 65 BB, 116 K
2023 minors: .267 BA (191 AB), 14 HR, 5 SB, .938 OPS, 37 BB, 54 K
Schneider didn't seem like much coming into the year, just a 24-year-old with some on-base skills and defensive versatility. Maybe he'd get a shot in the majors as a utility player at some point, but maybe not. Now, it seems all but certain. His power production has exploded at Triple-A Buffalo, putting him among the minor-league leaders with 14 home runs. And it's not just the results that have improved. His average exit velocity is up 3 mph from a year ago, putting him just shy of 91. That's some high-quality contact. Meanwhile, he still has those on-base skills, having reached at a .392 clip. With exposure to second base, third base and left field, he could be of real use to the Blue Jays down the stretch.