In this section, we'll give you scouting reports on MAJOR LEAGUE CALLUPS, mostly starters that will be making their pitching debuts. If you want an update or scouting report on any call-up, be it pitcher or everyday player, feel free to ask on Twitter or email me anytime and I would be happy to oblige.
Jefry Rodriguez (RHP - WAS)
Jefry Rodriguez came into the league as a highly projectable arm with mid-rotation upside but his tenure with the Nationals has been dogged by inconsistency and suspension. At 6’6” and 232 pounds, Rodriguez has an excellent starter’s frame and lightning-fast arm speed. He can fire mid-90s fastballs to both sides of the plate with outstanding plane and can reach back for near triple-digits heat. At peak, the pitch is near plus-plus. Rodriguez backs that up with a hammer curveball that more consistently flashes plus. The changeup is the clear third pitch here and he’s had trouble consistently harnessing it, though after returning from an 80-game PED suspension last year, the pitch featured more deception and separation and began to flash average. Rodriguez has always had difficulty in repeating his delivery, as it’s taken time for him to grow into his large frame. Many projections have him destined for the bullpen, but in Rodriguez’s case, he may just be a late bloomer. His fastball has now found more sinking life, the curve is flashing plus more often, and he’s finally holding his velocity deeper into games. The last frontier for Rodriguez is honing the command of his repertoire. He’s still only 24 years old and while he currently projects more of a setup-type reliever, the Nationals have not given up on him as a starter. However, this is still a Double-A pitcher making a big leap so watch before betting unless the price is too good to pass up. Versus the Orioles, he’s almost surely going to be overrated or overpriced.
Rodriguez’s minor league line:
467.2 IP, 4.35 ERA, 7.5 K’s/9, 3.9 BB’s/9, 24 HR, .247 oppBA, 1.38 WHIP.
2018 STATS: Harrisburg (AA) — 10 gs, 3-3, 4.33 ERA, 52.0 IP, 8.8 K’s/9, 3.5 BB’s/9, 6 HR, .242 oppBA, 1.29 WHIP
Wilmer Font (RHP - TB)
Okay, bear with us here. There’s a wide variety of opinions on the 6’4”, 265-pound Font, as he’s a former Tommy John survivor who first appeared in the majors back in 2012 and eventually out of professional baseball in 2015. Font would make it back to the minors with Toronto before ending up in the Dodgers organization, where he had primarily been a starter over the past two seasons. Scouting the stat line can be a foolhardy endeavor, and Triple-A is not the majors, but it’s hard to write off what Font did, especially last season in the PCL with 11 K’s/9 and outstanding control over 25 starts while striking out 10+ five times. The major change last season for Font was the Dodgers having him use his four-seam fastball more up in the zone. The pitch has little life, especially when he’s trying to keep it down, but up in the zone the pitch tends to rise slightly. There’s also a slider in here that’s an above-average pitch, so the clear path to success would seem to be in the bullpen, as his change remains rudimentary. Font has never been able to translate whatever minor league success he’s had at the major league level, including last year after his incredible PCL campaign. It remains to be seen if he could stick long term in the rotation with a fastball that major league hitters can likely feast off of. A few organizations have given up on him too, as he’s been with Toronto, Los Angeles, Oakland and now Tampa Bay. L.A and Oakland gave up on him in 2018. Font has pitched 23 innings of relief this season over 14 appearances and has a BB/K split of 8/18 with a 10% swing and miss rate. He brings an 8.53 ERA to the table and that’s in a relief role. The Rays are using a collection of relievers to form a start and have been doing that for close to three weeks now and it’s not working, as they have lost seven in a row and 11 of their last 18 games since starting reliever Sergio Romo in back-to-back games. Font may go one inning, two innings or more but neither he nor the Rays can be recommended at this time.
Jalen Beeks (LHP -BOS)
In his first six starts for Triple-A Pawtucket, the left-hander recorded strikeout and walk rates of 40.9% and 6.3%, respectively, the former of those representing the highest mark among all qualified minor-league pitchers. He’s basically the Josh Hader or Andrew Miller of the International League, except in a starting capacity. One reason Beeks is unlikely to replicate that sort of performance in the majors is because no one has every replicated that sort of performance in the majors but man, are these numbers hard to ignore. Beeks has 80 K’s in 56 innings at Pawtucket with just 14 walks issued. Throw in 41 hits in those 56 frames for a BAA of .197 and one can’t help being intrigued by this profile.
After being selected in the 12th round of the 2014 draft out of the University of Arkansas, Beeks has made a steady rise through the system, putting together solid performances at every level while tweaking his mechanics and arsenal along the way. This year, Beeks has been especially dominant in Triple-A Pawtucket, striking out 35.4% of hitters while cutting his walk rate down to 6.2%.
Beeks is undersized for a starting pitcher, part of the reason why many people suspected he would end up in the bullpen long-term, an outcome that is still a possibility. He has a strong lower half and has filled out his 5-foot-11, 195-pound frame with no remaining projection. Since he entered the organization, Beeks’ delivery has drastically improved. Even though there is still effort, he does a good job repeating it over the duration of his outings. Beeks gets added deception from his front side when he extends his front leg during his leg kick. Beeks has a quick arm, and from the stretch he will vary his times to the plate, sometimes utilizing a slide step while other times using a leg kick of varying heights.
Beeks’ fastball sits 90-92 mph, topping out at 93 mph with life. The pitch jumps on hitters and elicits numerous swinging strikes from both right and left-handed hitters. The key to Beeks’ increased strikeout rate has been the development of his cutter, which gives him a secondary pitch that grades out better than average.
With Drew Pomeranz on the disabled list and struggling, it remains to be seen whether this is a one-time spot start for Beeks or an audition for a longer-term role in the Red Sox rotation. Beeks has made major strides this year, but still has some developing to do, especially improving his command and consistency from outing to outing. Beeks has done a good job working deep into games, going at least six innings in five of his last six starts, but along with that, his home runs allowed have also increased. This year, his home run-to-fly ball rate is 13.7%, a career high, which may not bode well at the major league level. When on, Beeks will show four average-to-better pitches and the makings of a back-end starter arsenal. He has shown the ability to miss bats at a high level in the minors, but it remains to be seen how it will translate to the major league level. You sees, despite the incredible strikeout rate, Beeks’ swinging-strike rate ranks 51st among that same population of starting pitchers in the minors and while that doesn’t render his present achievement any less remarkable. It merely suggests that it’s unlikely to translate directly to the majors. Worth watching for sure but as a -170 favorite in his MLB debut, he cannot be recommended.
Zack Littell (RHP - MIN)
Needing another arm for a doubleheader, the Twins are calling up 22-year-old right-handed Zack Littell to make his major league debut for what is assumed to be a spot start. The 6'4", 220-pound Littell was drafted by Seattle before being traded to the Yankees and then to Minnesota. He was notable in 2017 for leading the minors in wins when he put up a 19-1 mark. Showing the vagaries of Wins as a category, so far this season he is 1-4 despite a similar skill set. Those skills include four pitches in his arsenal: a fastball, slider, curve and a change-up. The fastball can reach as high as 97 mph, though it tends to sit in the low 90s. He is able to locate his pitches well, leading to plus control year after year. He is also a groundball pitcher. While he doesn't have any pitch that can be considered plus, he has a good feel for his pitches, he sequences them well, and he can induce weak contact. His curve is his best second pitch, one he can use as an out pitch. Littell doesn't have the highest ceiling, and he was hit hard (.308) in Double-A this season. He is only 22, and he only has 28 innings at Triple-A, so heading back to Rochester is inevitable and the moment here might be just a little too big for him.
Littell's career minor league line:
589.1 IP, 3.28 ERA, 2.2 BB’s/9, 8.2 K’s/9, 30 HR, .257 oppBA, 1.22 WHIP.
2018 STATS: Rochester (AAA) 5g–4 gs, 1-1, 2.57 ERA, 28 IP, 3.2 BB’s/9, 9.6 K’s/9, 2 HR, .200 oppBA, 1.07 WHIP
2018 STATS: Chattanooga (AA) – 5 g, 5 gs, 0-3, 5.87 ERA, 32 IP, 2.7 BB’s/9 12.5 K’s/9, 3 HR, .308 oppBA, 1.52 WHIP
Walker Lockett (RHP – SD)
The Padres are deep. They’re so deep that they ran with two Arizona League teams in 2017. Because they have so much talent in the low minors, we can expect quite a bit of variance. Some of these guys may be perennial All-Stars or may fizzle out at AA or AAA. Other organizations are full of prospects that have succeeded at AA and beyond. That’s not where the Padres are wealthy, but the Padres are prospect-rich nonetheless. The Pads took three guys in the Rule 5 Draft this year which will put those guys on the fast track to MLB production and one of those guys is today’s starter, Walker Lockett.
Entering the 2017 season, all signs pointed toward Lockett as the first rotation call-up from the Pacific Coast League. A year earlier, the sinker-balling Lockett was the Padres’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 10-9 with a 2.96 ERA, 123 strikeouts and just 24 walks over 164 innings. He was a go-to arm during El Paso’s championship run, started the Triple-A Championship and was added to the 40-man roster after the season. He turned in a quality start in his lone big league start in spring training, started well against the big league team in an exhibition at Lake Elsinore and got on a roll at El Paso after three rough starts to open the season. Then a lower back strain shelved Lockett from late May to mid-August. Once healthy, Lockett made four starts in rookie ball (5.40 ERA) and allowed three earned runs in eight innings in two playoff starts for El Paso. The last was five shutout innings in a win that allowed the Chihuahuas to avoid a sweep at the hands of Memphis in the PCL finals. After posting a 7.71 EREA in four appearances in the Arizona Fall League, Lockett entered camp looking to recapture momentum lost in 2017.
Lockett’s got your standard back-end kit of pitching tools: a low-90s sinker that he commands pretty well, a couple secondaries he can sequence and execute with, a nice frame, and a pretty clean delivery. He had some shoulder woes earlier in life, and missed time last season with a strained lower back and he hasn’t been quite the same since. In 10 starts for Triple-A El Paso this season, Lockett compiled a 5.31 ERA with 50 strikeouts and 18 walks issued in 59.1 innings. He has posted a 4.14 ERA in parts of seven Minor League seasons but do note that almost all of his minor league numbers came at extreme hitter’s parks, especially at Triple-A this year, last year and in 2016 in the Pacific Coast League. Worth watching and maybe even worth betting if the price is right.
Dennis Santana (RHP - LAD)
The Dodgers called up 22-year-old Dennis Santana to fill out the pitching staff, likely on a temporary basis. The Dodgers are high on the former converted position player (SS), adding him to their 40-man roster last offseason. With Kenta Maeda going on the DL, the Dodgers called up one of their top prospects. So far in 2018, Santana has taken a big step forward. His fastball sits low-to-mid-90s with reliever plane. His mid-80s slider is his best pitch. It has significant, late, two-plane movement. His change is a work-in-progress and scouts aren’t sold he can develop it into anything more than a show me pitch. Most pundits see him more in a relief role long term. However, the Dodgers believe he’s made strides with his changeup and is likely a starting pitcher long term. Upon navigating one’s browser to Santana’s player profile, one is confronted not only by his excellent pitching numbers, but also his record as a batter. This is because Santana originally played shortstop as a professional. Signed in March of 2013 for $170,000, Santana didn’t start pitching until 2014. His profile has been on the ascent in the meantime. Santana was recently promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he’s recorded strikeout and walk rates of 31.1% and 4.4%, respectively, over two starts and 11.0 innings. That would be 14 K’s in 11 innings with just two walks issued. At Double-A, he struck out 51 batters over 38 frames before his promotion to Triple-A. Let’s not ignore however, that he was pitching in Single-A at the start of 2017 so this is a raw pitcher making his debut at Coors field and he’s favored. That can’t be recommended.
Oklahoma City (AAA) – 2 gs, 1-1, 2.45 ERA, 11.0 IP, 1.6 BB’s/9, 11.5 K’s/9, 0 HR, .238 oppBA
Tulsa (AA) – 8 gs, 0-2, 2.56 ERA, 38.2 IP, 3.3 BB’s.9, 11.9 K’s/9, 4 HR, .183 oppBA
Shane Bieber (RHP - CLE)
With the way the Indians’ schedule is currently set up, Bieber will start just one game, then return to Triple-A Columbus. They don’t need a fifth starter for a while due to the schedule, so Adam Plutko is likely to return from Triple-A when they do need one in June. But for now, with the way the stars have aligned, Bieber is here for one night (May 31) and one night only, on his 23rd birthday, to make his Major League debut.
Bieber checked in as the No. 5 prospect on the Cleveland list prior to the beginning of the season. He was a fourth-round pick out of UC Santa Barbara in 2016. He began last season just a few miles away from Progressive Field in Lake County, then advanced to High-A Lynchburg, where he showed off his stuff in the Carolina League. He finished the year in Double-A Akron, started there again this season, and then moved on to Triple-A Columbus a few short weeks ago. Yeah, it’s been a whirlwind for Bieber, but he’s conquered pretty much every level along the way. He’s walked just 15 batters in 262.2 innings of pro ball.
Bieber has plus-plus control, that much we know. The fastball will typically sit in the low 90s, around 91-93 mph, but he can bump 95 with it when he needs to. He’s always been a fast worker and pushes the pace on the mound, delivering from a three-quarters arm slot with above-average arm speed. When he graduated college, there were some questions about whether or not the fastball velocity would ever play up beyond 89-91, but it certainly has. He’s gotten stronger and added to his frame. The secondary offerings are intriguing enough, with a curveball, slider and changeup mixed in there. The curveball has made some strides this season, while the changeup and slider still seem like they’ll be average to perhaps slightly above-average offerings in the future. But when you don’t walk anyone, enjoy a high groundball rate, and spot the fastball wherever you want, the secondaries don’t all need to be plus pitches to succeed. He’s charting a course as a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter. There is no question that Bieber is heading back down after one start. It’s hard to determine if the moment will too overwhelming and/or how he’ll respond. As a favorite on the road, he can’t be recommended but there are worse favorites than the Indians at a small price so you make the call. We’ll put him on our “watch list”.
Frankie Montas (RHP –OAK)
The A’s are going to find out what they have here and make a decision on Frankie Montas. Montas was originally drafted by the White Sox before being traded to the Dodgers in a three-team deal before being traded again to the Athletics. Back in December of 2015, the Dodgers made a three-team trade with the Reds and White Sox with Todd Frazier as the headline name in the deal, going from Cincinnati to Chicago. The Dodgers received Frankie Montas, second baseman Micah Johnson and outfielder Trayce Thompson from the White Sox. The Reds got Jose Peraza, Scott Schebler and Brandon Dixon from the Dodgers. We point that out because the Dodgers have a history of being very patient with talented pitchers and they gave up on Montas too. In August of 2016, Oakland traded Josh Reddick and Rich Hill to Los Angeles for Frankie Montas, RHP Grant Holmes and RHP Jharel Cotton.
Montas has appeared in 117 minor league games since 2010 with 101 of those coming as a starter. This year, Montas has started nine games for Nashville in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, where he went 1-5 with a 4.39 ERA and a BB/K split of 13/33 in 41 frames. Montas is impressive in his ability to look bigger than his height (6-foot-2) and weight (185 pounds) suggest. He sits on the precipice of thick and fat, with thick legs, a large trunk, a soft midsection, and a pair of broad shoulders that complete his intimidating frame. Velocity is Montas' calling card, as the big righty can touch 102 mph on occasion, but when he reaches back for extra velocity, his pitches can flatten out and he’s prone to losing control.
Montas has the stuff to be a dominating reliever, but the major question that has always surrounded him is whether he can develop some semblance of command. His mechanics feature a lot of moving parts, hindering both the command he currently has and making it more difficult for him to improve on this in the future. Montas' foot strike on landing is almost pointed straight at third base while his head is almost pointed at first. As you might imagine, this makes it difficult to control where the ball is going. Some still see the promise of a starter lying dormant within Montas, but everything about him suggests a potentially dominant relief future rather than a starter and the A’s want to find out. Frankie Montas is exhibit 5,927,014 that velocity doesn't guarantee success. His 99 mph fastball just doesn't faze the opposition and LHBs have destroyed him, which will likely push him into a "ROOGY" role (relief specialist or righty, one-out guy) if changeup doesn't develop. Can miss bats, which keeps a glimmer of hope, but still a long way to go and if the Dodgers gave up on him, we’re not recommending backing him.
Elieser Hernandez (RHP – MIA)
Elieser Hernandez (RHP) came off the DL last week to make his major league starting debut and threw five solid innings against the Dodgers. That was the day that Caleb Smith was pushed back and there was a late change of pitcher. Hernandez also pitched three innings of relief earlier this season before hitting the DL. His pitching line against the Dodgers looks good (5 IP – 3H – 1ER) but at that time, the Dodgers were in a horrific funk so we’re not going to put emphasis on that start. As a Rule 5 pick from the Astros, Hernandez must stay with the Marlins throughout 2018 or be offered back to the Astros. Prior to his start against the Dodgers, he threw three relief innings and yielded six hits and one run with one strikeout.
In 2017, Hernandez pitched respectably in High-A by posting a 28% strikeout rate and 3.56 xERA as a 22-year-old. Hernandez is only 6-foot even and is untested against hitters above A-ball, but he’s shown some promise. He’s pitched in both High-A and Double-A with little success this year but that's a long way from MLB hitters. Overall in 15 innings, he had a 4.80 ERA with eight walks and 15 strikeouts. Hernandez is raw as raw can be and as a Double-A pitcher (barely), he carries far too much risk for our liking. He’s really just a High-A pitcher making the leap to the majors and if has early success, he’ll be baseball’s version of the Golden Knights. Raw pitchers like this will get outs but he figures to get lit up too. He’s a pass for now.
Ariel Jurado (RHP- TEX)
Ariel Jurado is not close to being major-league ready and gets the call here as an emergency starter that will very likely be sent back down afterward. Jurado’s delivery and command are good, but the fastball is still low-90s at best, and he has yet to find a major-league-quality breaking ball. His changeup flashes plus at times but it might not be a major league out pitch if all it does is flash. This is a profile that has been tested by Single A and Double-A only and Jurado hasn’t passed it yet. Jurado made six starts at Double A Frisco this year after starting 27 games for the same team last year. Last season he posted a 4.59 ERA and while his numbers are predictably better this year (2.37 ERA), it’s a small sample and he only has 18 K’s in 35 Double-A innings. If dude can’t whiff Double-A batters, how in the world is he going to get out MLB hitters? Ariel Jurado was ranked the 12th best prospect in the Rangers organization before the season started. That means that 10 starters should probably get the call before him but Jurado is first up because he is the most “available” right now. The White Sox are very tempting to play here at a pick-em but they also have a pitcher capable of giving up 10 runs. Playing over the total is probably the right play here.
Anthony Banda (LHP - TB)
Prior to being a part of the trade that sent Steven Souza to Arizona, Banda had been the Diamondbacks’ No. 7 prospect. He debuted last season to mixed results, and started 2018 with a primary goal of working on his control. Walks remain the central concern in his profile, as he has continued to struggle with the free passes thus far in Triple-A Durham, and has a career minor league walk rate of close to 4 BBB per nine in 680.2 minor-league innings. As a LHP armed with a mid-90s fastball, a plus curve, and a career strikeout rate of 8.9/K’s/9 covering various farm stops, the upside and appeal is obvious. He has logged nearly 150 IP in every pro season since being drafted in the 10th round in 2012 out of San Jacinto Community College, so durability isn’t a major concern. Considering the current rebuilding state of the Tampa organization, Banda will be given the opportunity to succeed if he can find the plate with greater consistency. If not, then more time in Triple-A this year can be expected. He makes his debut today (May 15) in KC against a Royals nine that is one of the best teams in the game at not striking out. That’s a problem for Banda if he can’t find the plate but the good news for him is that his cound opponent, Ian kennedy is pure rat shit. Tough call to go with Banda but a tougher one to play Kennedy. We’ll watch from the rail.
Banda’s 2018 STATS:
Durham (AAA) – 7 gs, 4-2, 3.50 ERA, 36 IP, 4.0 BBs/9, 11 K’s/9, 1 HR, .262 oppBA, 1.47 WHIP
Freddy Peralta (RHP – MIL)
Continuing to fly under the radar, Freddy Peralta made a case for more attention in 2017. Promoted to Double-A just after his 21st birthday in June, he finished the season with 63.2 IP at Biloxi where he dominated Southern League hitters. One reason for the lack of hype is that Peralta has no show-stopping pitches. The fastball tops out at just 92, but he cuts it, runs it, sinks it, and can move it all around the zone. The changes in speed and movement allow him to keep hitters off balance. He is especially good at locating up in the zone to put hitters away. He also has a potentially plus slider with good late bite that he throws 84-86. He is looking for a reliable third pitch and can flash average with both a curve and change, but neither pitch has any consistency right now. He finished the 2017 season throwing 120 innings and posting 169 strikeouts across two levels. At Triple-A Colorado Springs of the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League this season, Peralta has whiffed 46 batters in 34 innings covering seven starts. He also went 5-1 with an excellent PCL ERA of 3.31.This is a kid that has moved up the ranks rapidly, as he was in Double-A Ball last year and less than a year removed will make his MLB debut at Coors Field. At a big price against Jonathan Gray, he might be worth a bet. Your call.
Career Minor League stats:
92 G, 67 GS, 400 IP, 332 hits, 20 HR, 162 BB, 470 K’s, .219 BAA, 1.22 WHIP
David Hess (RHP - BAL)
David Hess is a 6’2”, 180-pound right-hander out of Tennessee Technological University, drafted in the fifth round in 2014. The 24-year-old has a four-pitch mix with no plus, swing-and-miss offering. His fastball is his best pitch, but it’s an average offering that comes in the low-90s and results in a lot of fly balls. The rest of his repertoire (slider, curve, change) are all below-average to fringe-average, with the changeup likely his second best. Hess was third in strikeouts in the Eastern League last year, and posted a respectable 3.85 ERA, but that K-rate is unlikely to hold up at the highest level. While Hess has been a starter in the minors and the team likely still projects him there, the profile makes more sense coming out of the pen, where he can get a little more ginger on his stuff. He’s up now to start one of the two games of a DH and will likely head back to Triple-A Norfolk in short order.
Hess’ career line: 463.1 IP, 4.14 ERA, 7.2 K’s/9, 2.4 BB’s/9 45 HR, .254 oppBA, 1.32 WHIP.
Domingo German (RHP – NYY)
Jordan Montgomery will be shut down from throwing for two to three weeks, and then hopefully begin rebuilding arm strength for a return. Domingo German relieved Montgomery in his abbreviated May 1 start, and all indications are that his four-inning appearance (four hits, 4/1 K/BB) cemented the opportunity to continue in Montgomery's rotation slot for the near term. Domingo now makes his MLB starting debut here after pitching 14 innings in relief this year and 17 innings in relief last year.
Originally signed by the Marlins in 2009 out of the Dominican Republic, German was shipped to the Yankees in the Martin Prado trade before the 2015 season. He then missed 2015 due to Tommy John surgery, but since getting back on the field in late 2016, has climbed through the upper minors quickly before making his MLB debut in 2017. Last year, he was slated for the Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre rotation, but was called upon as one of the extra arms needed after C.C. Sabathia went on the DL and the bullpen was taxed. German's got the stuff to succeed as a starter at the highest level. He throws a four-seam fastball and sinker that both top out at 97 mph,
His fastball has two-plane movement and is lethal when located, running away from lefties and back over the outer third against righties. His command slips due to mechanical inconsistency (release point) or just struggling to harness all the movement. His slider is nasty with a hard break when it’s right. It is a swing-and-miss pitch particularly versus righties. His changeup is his third pitch but he maintained his arm speed well enough to induce soft contact with the pitch. His feel was inconsistent, and while it is not likely to miss bats, it plays up when mixed with two bat-missers in his fastball and slider. He only needs his change to be average to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
German has 18 K’s in 14 innings this year but one must consider that it came in relief. Relievers always get more K’s than starters because they only face a handful of batters and give it everything from the first pitch on while starters have to pace themselves. What concerns us is German’s 29%/34%/37% groundball/line-drive/fly-ball profile that is playing with fire at Yankees Stadium. That is some hard hit balls and not a lot of grounders. He also posted a 1.47 WHIP over his 14 frames and we would not recommend getting behind him when he’s favored like he is today (May 6) in his starting debut.
2017 stats at Scranton Wilkes-Barre (AAA):
14 g, 13 gs, 8-6, 2.88 ERA, 76.1 IP, 9.6 K’s/9, 3.7 BB’s/9 9 HR, .222 oppBA
Adam Plutko (RHP - CLE)
At 6’3” and 200 pounds, Plutko’s fringe-average offerings combine with above-average command have allowed him to move up the ladder as a pitchability guy. The 26-year-old’s fastball is a low-90s average offering, but he can spot the pitch to both sides of the plate. His best secondary offering is a plus change that he’ll throw to both righties and lefties. Plutko rounds out his arsenal with two distinct breaking balls in a slider and curve, both fringe-average though the slider is ahead. His repertoire plays up because he knows how to sequence his pitches well and has a smooth, clean delivery that can log innings. The warts, however, complicate the ultimate profile projection, as batters have been able to square Plutko when they connect and much of the contact has resulted in elevated contact. He gave up 24 HR in 135 innings last season alongside a .295 oppBA with 53 walks issued. He had a brief taste in the majors last year did not fare well (5 H, 3 ER, 1 HRA, 3/2 K/BB in 3.2 IP). His numbers this year in 30 minor league innings are better, as he’s allowed just 18 hits and three jacks while striking out 25 batters and walking seven. That said, we have to consider that the weather has been cold all along the East Coast and Plutko may have benefitted from such. He gets the call today only because the Indians are playing a DH and will likely be sent back down afterward. Unless those minor league numbers this year are legit, and we doubt they are, Plutko is not playable as a favorite.
Plutko’s minor league line with five different teams over four years is:
543.2 IP, 3.71 ERA, 3.5 BB’s/9, 7.6 K’s/9, 64 HR, .245 oppBA, 1.16 WHIP.
Nick Kingham (RHP -PIT)
Kingham was Pittsburgh’s No. 10 prospect entering the season. This is his ninth pro campaign after being drafted in 2010 out of high school and 2018 has showcased his best skills. In four starts with Triple-A Indianapolis, Kingham has put up a 1.59 ERA, 10.7 K’s/9 while walking only seven and striking out 27 in 22 frames. That has earned him a short-term promotion necessitated by the Pirates’ double-header on April 25th. As matters currently stand, the fifth-starter spot in Pittsburgh is occupied by Steven Brault (with Joe Musgrove also on schedule for a May return), so it will likely take injuries or other circumstances for further starting opportunities with the big club to materialize. If he can maintain his increased skills, though, then Kingham will continue to be first in line if and when those spot starts arise. Aside from his good control, Kingham throws strikes with all three pitches thanks to a clean and repeatable delivery. He throws his changeup with the same arm speed and good deception. Kingham’s best pitch is his curveball. He also throws a plus changeup that helps him to keep left-handed hitters off balance in the batter’s box. Kingham has an easy delivery that he can be duplicated rather effortlessly, this is a big reason he is a strong strike thrower and has great control. Kingham is able to be effective by keeping batters uncomfortable and making it difficult to read his pitches. Kingham spent the entirety of 2017 pitching for the Triple-A Indianapolis where he started 20 games, 19 of which were starts, logging 113.1 innings for the Indians. In those 113.1 innings , heallowed eight home runs, he showed the great control he has had throughout his minor league career averaging 2.30 BB/9, and he averaged 7.39 K/9. This led to Kingham owning a 4.13 ERA and a healthy 3.59 FIP at Triple-A. Typically, the Pirates do not rush starters to the bigs but they say this kid is major league ready and after TJS surgery back in 2015, he’s never looked better. He’ll go up against Luke Weaver in his MLB debut today (April 29) and he’s a nice pooch maybe worth considering but in no way would we recommend paying a price to fade him. Watch closely.
His career minor league numbers spanning 721.2 IP are as follows:
3.37 ERA, 2.5 BB’s/9, 7.7 K’s/9, 1.18 WHIP
2018 STATS: Indianapolis (AAA) – 4 gs, 1.59 ERA, 22.2 IP, BB/K split 7/27, 0 HR, .190 BAA, 1.18 WHIP
2017 STATS: Indianapolis (AAA) – 20 gs, 4.13 ERA, 113.1 IP, 2.3 BB’s/9, 7.4 K’s/9, 8 HR, .270 oppBA, 1.31 WHIP
Eric Lauer (SD – LHP)
Eric Lauer may come as advertised, polished, mature, calm, collected, and with an obvious plan on the mound and consistency in his mechanics and command. The former first round draft pick (2016) out of Ohio’s Kent State University can carve up lineups and his free, easygoing demeanor on the mound is a sight to see considering he’s still just 21 years old. Lauer sits 89-92 mph but can touch a bit higher than that; see him throw and you feel there’s a lot more in the tank should he choose to exert himself and reach back for it, too, though he rarely does. The lefty has command of four pitches. Lauer’s fastball shows cutting action and can wreak havoc on right-handed batters at times just as lefties. He couples it well with a changeup that has good arm-side fade and some depth, and Lauer can command the pitch to both sides of the plate, making it effective to induce ground balls and weak contact against hitters from each side of the plate.
He throws two breaking balls—a slider and a curve—with the slider being far more advanced to this point. The slider is tight, sitting 77-82 mph with good tilt and hard, late movement. Lauer commands this one as well as his changeup, giving him two off-speed pitches that flash above-average and can keep hitters honest and off balance. The curveball is still something of a work in progress. It can morph into a slurve and command of the pitch is far from the other three in his repertoire, but because he has those other three good pitches, Lauer can flash the curve here and there to make it work well enough when he needs a breaking ball with a bigger hump.
The Padres are high on Lauer for good reason; the lefty is polished and calm on the mound, repeats his mechanics very well, and clearly understands how to sequence hitters to the point where he can be a top of the rotation starter for years. His ultimate ceiling will depend on things like how his curveball develops, of course, but Eric Lauer has a high floor and he’ll get every chance to have a major impact on the Padres’ big league club. In 18 frames for Triple-AAA El Paso of the Pacific Coast League (an extreme hitter’s league), Lauer allowed just 11 hits (.172 BAA), struck out 19 and walked six while pitching to a 3.00 ERA. He’s a starter to watch but do keep in mind that he’s raw, as he’s moved up the ranks quickly after starting at A-Ball at the beginning of last year. He subsequently carved up Double-AA ball before making the move to Triple-AAA for three starts this year and dominating there too.
Walker Buehler (RHP L.A. Dodgers)
The Dodgers promoted the 23-year-old to the majors late last year to pitch out of the bullpen. In order to both prep him for the majors as well as protect his prized arm, Buehler was moved from the rotation to the bullpen in early August, shortly after his elevation from Double-A to Triple-A. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2015—shortly after his selection in the 1st round of the draft—he returned late in the 2016 season. Few could expect him to regain his velocity and crisp breaking pitches in such a short time, but Buehler has vastly exceeded expectations. He was always a top prospect in college, but his arm injury caused him to fall in the draft. The time away seems to have helped him, as he’s back to throwing in the 94-97 mph range. With an athletic delivery that he consistently repeats, he peppers all quadrants of the strike zone with quality pitches. His fastball borders on double-plus status while both his curveball and slider/cutter also have plus moments. Buehler easily and frequently misses bats with most of his pitches and he works quickly and efficiently, thus preserving his arm. His fastball not only has plus velocity, but it exhibits late movement that makes it almost impossible to make hard contact against. There are some concerns about his durability due to his slight build and previous Tommy John surgery. However, he makes pitching look easy and has such advanced command and control that he has an extremely bright future. The expectation is for Buehler to pitch at or near the top of the rotation for many years to come. This prized prospect was handled with care, but dominance in minors eventually led to brief MLB trial last year and he’ll now make his starting debut here. An obvious gem that is priced like one but cannot be recommended at these prices at such an early stage of his career.
Jaime Barria (RHP - LAA)
Needing starters, the Angels announced that 21-year-old Jaime Barria will make his major league debut when he starts on April 11 against the Rangers. It's a rapid rise for the youngster who went from High-A to Double-A to Triple-A in 2017, having success along the way with a four-pitch mix that is not plus, but effective enough. The 6'1", 210-pound right-hander will likely only be a back-end of the rotation starter, but that is valuable to the Angels too. Barria's fastball tops out at 94 mph, but he pounds the zone with it. His change-up is solid, as is his low-80s mph curve, and he works in a slider. His strikeout history shows that he won't get a lot of strikeouts, but he can get enough to be effective with his four-pitch mix. He certainly won't hurt himself with walks for his control has always been sharp. He is strong and durable, useful traits for a team looking for healthy pitchers. Yet if he doesn't succeed this time around, he's young enough to head back down to Triple-A and get more innings there. The Angels aren't hoping for a lot with Barria, and other starters are ready to help out soon, but this is a major league arm sooner or later. It's just a matter of how effective he can be, but a No. 5 or No. 4 starter would be very helpful. Just expect league average results instead of dominance, and that's what Barria can deliver. In six minor league seasons his ERA is 4.22 with a 1.23 WHIP in 394.1 IP.
2017 STATS: Salt Lake (AAA) – 3 g, 3 gs, 2-0, 2.45 ERA, 14.2 IP, 1.8 BB’s.9, 8 K’s/9, 0 HR, .208 oppBA
2017 STATS: Mobile (AA) – 12 g, 12 gs, 1-6, 3.21 ERA, 61.2 IP, 2.2 BB’s/9, 6.9 K’s/9, 8 HR, .256 oppBA
Andrew Kittredge (RHP - TAM)
Andrew Kittredge made the Tampa Bay bullpen out of a spring training where he struck out 12 of the 53 batters he faced while walking only two. The 28-year-old right-hander had a terrific 2017 in Triple-A Durham before being called up by the Rays and putting up decent numbers in 15 innings. Now he joins a starting totation that was originally four and that will be asked to work harder than most. Although Kittredge has four pitches, he is mostly a fastball/slider pitcher. His fastball can reach 94 mph while his slider sits in the mid-80s. Early in his minor league career he put up ugly WHIPs from elevated hit and walk rates, but his skills have come together to put up decent numbers since last year. He has a career 3.99 ERA, 9.7 K’s/9, 2.9 BB/9 in 411.0 IP minor-league innings. Just keep in mind he’s a reliever that has just two starts over his last 46 appearances, thus making the risk too high.
2017 STATS: Tampa Bay (MLB) – 15g, 0gs, 0-1, 1.76 ERA, 15.1 IP, 8.2 K’s/9, 2 HR, .220 oppBA
2017 STATS: Durham (AAA) – 41g, 2gs, 6-1, 1.45 ERA, 68.1 IP, 10.3 K’s/9, 2 HR, .200 oppBA