Big Hype Prospects: Walker, Vargas, Hall, Frelick, Wiemer

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Rejoice! The offseason is officially behind us. Pitchers and catchers who are involved in the World Baseball Classic report today. The rest report on either 2/15 or 2/16. Fresh prospect news should start to trickle in soon. The WBC will give us additional opportunities to see prospects in competitive action. Not only do some top prospects participate in the contest, the outflow of players to international games means there are more opportunities for game reps in big league camps.

Five BHPs In The News

Jordan Walker, 20, 3B/OF, STL (AA)
(AA) 536 PA, 19 HR, 22 SB, .306/.388/.510

One of the most dynamic prospects in the league with a penchant for barreling the ball, Walker is in the process of converting to outfield in deference to Nolan Arenado. As we covered recently, the Cardinals don’t exactly have an opening in the outfield either. Walker also doesn’t have a spot on the 40-man roster yet, further complicating his path to the Majors. While fans are undoubtedly clamoring to see him early this season, a successful stint at Triple-A will almost certainly be required to force the issue.

If there’s any caveat about Walker, and this is nitpicking, it’s an elevated ground ball rate. Since he has special power, Walker could very well tap into an elite HR/FB rate like Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton to overcome a few extra bouncers. He’s expected to post above average BABIPs on account of the angle and quality of his contact.

Miguel Vargas, 23, 2B/3B, LAD (MLB)
(AAA) 520 PA, 17 HR, 16 SB, .304/.404/.511

Another third baseman by trade set to shift positions, the Dodgers have announced Vargas will man the keystone. The less fleet-footed Max Muncy will play third base. This is a conversion that usually works out for reasonably athletic young players like Vargas. The athletic requirements for the two positions are similar. Third basemen generally need more arm strength. Second basemen should have sharper footwork. Vargas projects as a roughly league average third baseman, and that likely holds true at second base too.

An evaluator I consulted doesn’t believe Vargas is a future star, though he does appear to be a high-probability core performer. While they’re not particularly comparable, these are the same sorts of comments I received about Jake Cronenworth prior to his debut in San Diego. There are some feel-based aspects to Vargas’ game that could allow him to exceed his physical limitations.

DL Hall, 24, SP, BAL (MLB)
(AAA) 76.2 IP, 14.67 K/9, 5.75 BB/9, 4.70 ERA

Hall posted the largest workload of his professional career last season. He tossed 98 innings in total across four levels including a brief debut in the Orioles bullpen. He’ll be offered an opportunity to compete for one of two open rotation slots in Baltimore. Hall’s stuff is filthy, and he works deep counts seeking strikeouts. He’s also prone to walks. His errant command shouldn’t be viewed as a permanent characteristic just yet. Like many pitching prospects, Hall has struggled with injuries throughout his ascent. Further setbacks could force a bullpen role – as we’ve seen happen with A.J. Puk. Conversely, a healthy stint might be the ticket for unlocking just enough command to carry his superb stuff as a short-burst starter. Notably, Hall’s stuff did not play up out of the bullpen.

Sal Frelick, 22, OF, MIL (AAA)
(A+/AA/AAA) 562 PA, 11 HR, 24 SB, .331/.403/.480

The Brewers could graduate a fresh outfield of the future this season. Roster realities, an uphill battle in the NL Central, and pricey left fielder Christian Yelich will complicate the juggling act ahead for General Manager Matt Arnold. None of Frelick, Joey Wiemer, or Jackson Chourio are yet on the 40-man roster.

Frelick is a prototypical leadoff hitter with above average discipline, speed, and feel for quality contact. His power rates as below average, though it remains possible he’ll make adjustments to unlock decent pop. Presently, there are doubts Frelick will stick in center field. He’s sufficiently athletic but has iffy instincts. Some players overcome this shortcoming. Others do not. His path forward as a left fielder is more fraught – both due to the presence of Yelich and his lack of impactful power.

Joey Wiemer, 24, OF, MIL (AAA)
(AA/AAA) 548 PA, 21 HR, 31 SB, .256/.336/.465

Wiemer stands out on a field. Not only is he a large man, he can fly around the diamond. The profile looks like a big-man version of Tyler O’Neill. He’s expected to be the sort of volatile player who will at times carry a team and at others slog through deep slumps. Presently, his game power is inconsistent. He appeared to make an adjustment late last season to a more balanced contact profile. That could also be a small sample artifact. Things to keep an eye upon in Triple-A and when he debuts include his line drive rate, pulled contact, and infield fly rate.

Three More

Jackson Chourio, MIL (18): It’s not yet confirmed if Chourio received an invitation to big league Spring Training. On the shortlist for number one prospect in baseball, I don’t believe I’ve seen this level of hype since the days of Mike Trout. He’s still learning center field where he’s physically capable but inexperienced. His bat is expected to play at any position. Most encouragingly, he made a number of key in-season adjustments last year – a trait which bodes well for his further development.

JJ Bleday, OAK (25): Bleday, whose least appealing attributes were covered last week, was recently acquired by the Athletics. Oakland is less inclined to feign competitiveness than Miami, meaning Bleday should have a fair chance for regular reps. However, the A’s have quite a few outfielders at present including Ramon Laureano, Tony Kemp, Seth Brown, Esteury Ruiz, Cristian Pache, and Conner Capel among others. Bleday might need to await the nearly inevitable trades of Laureano and Brown.

Ezequiel Tovar, COL (21): Tovar recently spoke to the media about his pursuit of an Opening Day role with the Rockies. Per his comments, he might parlay a strong Spring Training into an active roster spot. Given his youthful age, Colorado could be tempted to seize any excuse to manipulate his service time. A late April debut would secure control over his age 27 season. Tovar is not yet a finished product as a hitter, though his defense is considered excellent.

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