One of the best overall experiences in Major League Baseball has come to an end for another year. With the Championship Game Saturday between Salt River and Peoria the fall season introduced us to some very exciting players that I have profiled the past few weeks.
The Arizona Fall League has always been a premiere development opportunity for professional baseball. It is, indeed, a “finishing school” for many players.
Today I will provide another group of prospect scouting profiles. Next week, Report #7 will be my final edition of scouting profiles regarding this year’s Arizona Fall League class.
SAM HILLIARD-OUTFIELDER-COLORADO ROCKIES
AGE: 24 B/T: L/L HT: 6’5″ WT: 225 pounds
Left-handed hitting Sam Hilliard is a 15th round selection of the Colorado Rockies from the 2015 First Year Player Draft. He attended Crowder College in Neosho, Missouri and Wichita State University. He was drafted by the Twins organization when he was a student at Crowder Junior College, but chose to go to Wichita instead. A strong left-handed pitcher, Hilliard has converted to a strong-armed right fielder as a professional for the Rockies.
An imposing figure at the plate, Hilliard has strength throughout his frame and can be considered a potential power hitter. He is surprisingly fast for his frame and he has an outstanding arm from the outfield. He’s a good fielder, but his hitting still needs work.
Hilliard did very well this fall in Arizona. He concludes the season with a .328 batting average. In addition he hit two home runs and drove in 14 runs.
The problem for Hilliard has been a great number of strikeouts. In 2018, playing for Hartford in Double-A, Hilliard struck out a whopping 151 times. In 2017, it was 154 times at Class-A Advanced. The year before at Class-A Asheville, he struck out 150 times. The pattern has existed now for three consecutive seasons, and you get the picture. He struck out only 15 times this fall in his 64 at-bats which was a very good sign.
Hilliard’s power continues to develop. In the past three years he has hit 17, 21 and nine home runs. The drop-off to nine this past year is reason for concern, but the potential for big home run numbers still exists.
Hilliard is a good athlete, there is no doubt about that. The question boils down to his ability to make consistent contact and hit. From his work this fall, those issues may be answered soon. If he continues on his current path, Hilliard could be developing a place for himself on the Rockies roster of the future.
Scouting summary: A strong, athletic, left-handed hitting outfielder with power potential. A good defender with a strong and accurate arm and some speed to chase down balls.
Scouting grade: 50
THAIRO ESTRADA-2B/3B-NEW YORK YANKEES
AGE: 22 B/T: R/R HT: 5’10” WT: 185 pounds
The Yankees signed Estrada out of Venezuela in 2012, and he began playing for the organization’s Rookie Ball team in the Gulf Coast League at age 17. Mainly a second baseman or third baseman, Estrada has also played some shortstop along the way in parts of five minor league seasons. He has enough range to play shortstop on a consistent basis and the Yankees could feel confident using him anywhere in the infield with the exception of first base.
A good contact hitter, Estrada has shown to be dependable in putting the ball in play and making things happen. In fact, he has struck out only 211 times in his entire six years as a stateside professional. His bat control and his quick hands are features of his offensive approach. But questions remain about his ability to hit quality pitching.
He finished this fall hitting only .238.
The other solid feature about Estrada’s game is his ability to play well defensively with range and a good, strong arm. He is very polished in the field with good baseball instincts. In my evaluation of him, Estrada fits best at second base.
On the offensive side, Estrada does not have much power. He has the speed to get his share of doubles and triples, which adds to his offensive production. He is a .283 career hitter, a statistic that adds to his attractive position as a steady major league quality player. I didn’t see that type of hit tool this fall.
Estrada doesn’t walk very often. However, when a player can put the bat on the ball as Estrada can do, it is not likely there will be too many bases on balls in his game. That’s the case with Estrada. He doesn’t walk very often because he’s consistently putting the ball in play.
Estrada has enough speed to steal bases, but he needs instruction on technique. He can easily take an extra base and use his speed to score runs.
Estrada is blocked somewhat with the Yankees due to the presence of so many quality infielders on the roster. Players like Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, both young and just starting their careers are ahead of him on the depth chart. And of course, even though he is recovering from surgery, Didi Gregorius looms large on the roster. So, if Estrada is to become a member of the 25-man Yankees roster, it may well be as a utility infielder. But for now, Ronald Torreyes, Tyler Wade and Hanser Alberto are on the club’s 40-man roster, making even a utility role difficult for Estrada to achieve.
The more I watch Estrada, the more I am convinced he would be an excellent trade target for lots of baseball teams. He is a very steady, confident and capable infielder with development time remaining, but a bright future. Still very young, he is the type of player that does things well and is fundamentally sound and versatile enough to help a team seeking infield depth.
Estrada did not make the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars roster.
Scouting summary: A good all-around utility type infielder with range, a strong arm and speed. A solid contact hitter, Estrada does not show power at this stage of his development and he struggled to hit this fall.
Scouting grade: 45
ZACK BURDI-PITCHER-CHICAGO WHITE SOX
AGE: 23 B/T: R/R HT: 6’3″ WT: 205 pounds
Burdi was a first round selection of the White Sox in the 2016 draft. Taken out of the University of Louisville, Burdi was the 26th player taken overall.
Strictly a relief pitcher to this point and seemingly a closer in waiting, Burdi has pitched parts of three seasons in the White Sox organization.
The younger brother of Nick Burdi (Pittsburgh organization) who also closed games at Louisville, Zack has an outstanding power arm. It isn’t unusual for him to throw his four seam fastball at 100 miles per hour. He also throws a very effective slider and a very solid changeup. But it is his fastball that makes everything else work. Basically, Burdi relies on his fastball/slider combination to retire hitters. Burdi’s fastball grades as an 80, the highest grade on the scouting scale.
Zack is still coming back from Tommy John surgery that he had in 2017. His appearances in the Fall League were very limited due to his recovery. He threw only 4.2 innings in five appearances. He struck out five and walked one. He yielded no runs and only two hits. Prior to coming to Arizona, Burdi threw in seven games for the White Sox summer Rookie League club and made enough progress to be included in the Fall League.
Burdi’s fastball has a tendency to flatten out when he gets that velocity too high. He is best suited pitching in the high 90’s where the movement is greater. When his ball is straight, he gets hit.
As is the case with virtually every high velocity pitcher, it is his control and command of his fastball that will take him where he needs to go. With time and patience, both those features will improve because he has the ability to be very good with continued repetition facing good hitters. Of course, patience will be required.
Burdi has a minor league strikeout average of 12.6 per nine innings in parts of three seasons. He also has a walk rate of 4.8 walks per nine innings, which tells the story of what he needs to improve to reach his potential. He has to find better command and control.
Burdi is very much a work in progress and there is little doubt the White Sox view him as a closer in their future plans. He has innings to make up following his surgery and a measured and careful pace is required. But his arm, his history as a collegiate closer and his makeup bode well for his career.
Burdi was still limited in his Fall League work load and didn’t participate in the Fall Stars game.
Scouting summary: A high velocity closer in waiting still recovering from recent Tommy John surgery with a blazing fastball and a solid secondary repertoire. Lacks consistent command and control but has the capability of improving those critical areas.
Scouting grade: 50
NICO HOERNER-SS-CHICAGO CUBS
AGE: 21 B/T R/R HT: 6’1″ WT: 200 pounds
Nico Hoerner was the Chicago Cubs 1st round draft pick out of Stanford University in the 2018 draft.
Hoerner completed his rookie season in 2018 playing for three teams in the Cubs organization. He played on their Arizona Rookie team (three games) their Short Season team (seven games) and their Class-A team (four games). In those 14 games, he hit a combined .327 in 60 plate appearances. He hit two doubles, two triples and two home runs. It was a very successful rookie year for Hoerner. He also walked nine times. He struck out only four times, a good sign for his future.
It strikes me as unusual that a player with so little professional experience would be in the Fall League, but it also tells me Hoerner is on a relatively fast track, perhaps playing only two more minor league seasons, if that many.
In his Fall League experience, Hoerner hit very well. He finished the season at .337 with two doubles, four triples and a home run. He drove in eight. But he also made four errors.
There is little doubt Hoerner has a combination of a very solid hit tool and speed. That means that he will be getting the most out of balls hit in the gap as we have seen with his doubles and triples here in Arizona.
Hoerner has some power potential, but I view him less as a home run threat than I do as a solid hitter who is capable of a very good on-base percentage that leads to scoring runs. He can be a table-setting infielder with speed who makes things happen. He sees pitches well and has good pitch recognition. His quick hands and solid eye-hand coordination are assets of his offensive approach.
Defensively, Hoerner does not have the range or arm strength we see from today’s shortstops. I believe he is ideally suited to play second base where his strong bat can be the emphasis of his game and he doesn’t have the pressures of the more difficult defensive plays required of a shortstop.
Scouting summary: A solid hitting middle-infielder with good speed and average defensive ability. Power could emerge, but high on-base percentage from a natural hit tool will be his calling card.
Scouting grade: 50
JORDAN YAMAMOTO-PITCHER-MIAMI MARLINS
AGE: 22 B/T: R/R HT: 6’0″ WT: 185 pounds
Right-hander Jordan Yamamoto was chosen by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 12th round of the 2014 draft out of St. Louis High School in Honolulu, Hawaii. Then, in January 2018, he was traded by the Brewers along with infielder Isan Diaz and outfielders Monte Harrison and Lewis Brinson to the Marlins for outfielder Christian Yelich. Harrison is also playing in this year’s Fall League. My scouting profile on Harrison will be posted next Sunday.
I have watched several of Yamamoto’s starts in Arizona. I am conflicted by his inconsistency game-to- game and even inning-to-inning. I watch his delivery and wonder why he doesn’t repeat good mechanics from pitch-to-pitch? Then I look at the scoreboard and he hasn’t yielded much in the way of runs or hits. I do, however, notice his high walk rate. That is a product of the inconsistency and departure of solid mechanics.
Yamamoto features four pitches in his repertoire. His fastball sits between 87-89 miles per hour, but he is able to add a tick to his velocity to 90-91 as the game progresses. That is either by design or he just gets stronger. He has a curveball that is a nice secondary offering and compliments his fastball. It has good, late break and can bend the knees of the hitter. He shows a sharp breaking slider that works for him as well. His changeup doesn’t have enough contrast to his fastball at 80 miles per hour, and I haven’t seen him use it that much this fall. Improving that pitch and increasing the use of the changeup may improve his results.
My overriding concern with Yamamoto is the fact he is very hittable. His offerings are often too straight and his lack of velocity makes him vulnerable when he misses his location. Falling behind in counts requires him to get too much of the plate to overcome the situation.
There are times when Yamamoto seems to “fling” the ball to the plate without a good finish. He fails to extend his arm and cuts off his delivery too soon. Other times his follow-through and extension are excellent. The net result of the inconsistency is wildness and a lack of command.
In parts of five minor league seasons, Yamamoto has a walk rate of 2.5 per nine innings. This fall, in 26 innings pitched, he has walked 13 for a walk rate of 4.5 per nine innings. That’s what I have seen. That’s what has led me to my overall evaluation regarding his command issues.
Watching him as I have, I have been conflicted about his best role. While I feel he has enough skill to pitch at the major league level, if he remains a starting pitcher I view him as a back of the rotation, No. 5 starter. If he goes to the bullpen and works in relief, I think he could thrive as a long, early innings reliever.
In today’s game, Yamamoto could be an ideal pitcher on a club that uses the bullpen early in games or even to start games as Tampa Bay did this past season. Realizing his velocity increases as the game progresses doesn’t impact that evaluation.
Yamamoto was on the Fall Stars Game roster, but did not appear.
Scouting summary: Undersized righty with a good repertoire but lacking in command. Inconsistency in his delivery leads to poor counts. Flashes signs of enough quality to win a major league role.
Scouting grade: 45
JON DUPLANTIER-PITCHER-ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
AGE: 24 B/T: L/R HT: 6’4″ WT: 225 pounds
Duplantier was a 3rd round pick of the Diamondbacks out of Rice University in the 2016 draft.
He is currently ranked as the top Diamondbacks prospect.
Duplantier has a complete repertoire that includes a fastball that sits between 92 and 95 miles per hour. He supports that pitch with a good slider, a solid curveball, and a changeup that appears to be a work in progress. His fastball is a grade 60 in my evaluation with his slider and curve being above average.
Duplantier does a very good job of using a sinking fastball that helps him induce ground balls. His issues occur when he can’t command the pitch and it gets too much of the plate, or if he becomes wild and walks hitters. There is a fine line of location for Duplantier that he must achieve or he gets in trouble. This fall I have seen him have to work out of plenty of trouble, both from walks and from base hits.
Athletic and strong, Duplantier has a very solid frame to endure lengthy outings. However, when he was in college he had a shoulder injury that cost him time on the mound. Those shoulder issues seem to be in the rear view mirror now, as he appears to be delivering the ball with no sign of pain. This past season he missed some time with biceps tendonitis. That’s a warning sign to me, given his shoulder history. I have some concerns about his health going forward.
There are several keys to Duplantier’s future. First and foremost, can he stay healthy and throw that repertoire for strikes? When he gets in trouble, can he get out? While those are the keys for every pitcher, they seem to be even more critical for Duplantier because his frame, his athletic ability and his overall makeup offer such good potential. But his injury history cannot be ignored.
Overall, Duplantier doesn’t seem as advanced to me as some may think. I believe he needs more development time to sharpen the command of that sinking fastball and learn the sequencing of his secondary pitches. I would say at least another minor league season would do wonders for his future.
Duplantier appeared in the 2017 Futures Game and he was the 2017 Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year. He pitched for the East Team in the AFL Fall Stars Game and was credited with a blown save for yielding a run and a hit in the 2nd inning. The hit was a loud triple by the Yankees Estevan Florial.
If he stays healthy and doesn’t have additional shoulder issues, Duplantier has the upside of a middle-rotation starter.
Scouting summary: A strong right-hander with a good and complete repertoire that features a solid sinking fastball. Refinement of his command and sequencing will finalize his development. A promising mid-rotation starter.
Scouting grade: 55
FALL LEAGUE TIDBITS
Tyler Nevin, a top prospect of the Colorado Rockies finished with the top batting average in the league at .426. Nevin didn’t homer during the season, but he had three doubles and three triples among his 23 hits. He played in 17 games and had a huge pinch-hit to help send his Salt River team into the Championship Game representing the East Division.
Three players finished the fall with six home runs to share the league lead. They included Braxton Davidson of the Braves, Will Craig of the Pirates and Keston Hiura of the Brewers.
Kansas City Royals outfielder Nick Heath won the stolen base crown with 13. He had one more stolen base than the Tigers Daniel Woodrow.
Brewers prospect Heston Hiura had the most hits for the season with 31. That was one more than the Cubs Nico Hoerner and the Pirates Cole Tucker.
Peter Alonso of the Mets, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Blue Jays and Connor Marabell of the Indians led the league in doubles with seven.
Oakland Athletics prospect Skye Bolt and Chicago Cubs prospect Nico Hoerner tied for the league lead in triples with four.
Forrest Whitley of the Astros led the league in strikeouts with 36. He threw 26 innings in his six starts.
The Tigers Gregory Soto led the league in innings pitched with 29. He started seven games.
Royals reliever Armando Hernandez finished the fall with a sparkling 1.10 ERA in his 16.1 innings of relief work. He struck out nine and walked eight. Eduardo Jimenez of the Tigers (1.32 in 13.2IP) Jesus Tinoco of the Rockies (1.72 in 15.2 IP) Garrett Williams of the Giants (1.88 in 24 IP) and Evan Krucynski of the Cardinals (1.99 in 22.2 IP) also fashioned ERAs under 2.0. Williams and Krucynski managed to achieve their low ERAs as starting pitchers. Williams had an outstanding 3-0 record.
The Royals Scott Blewett went 4-0 for the fall, registering the highest number of wins in the league. He also had a very fine 2.49 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Blewett struck out 21 while walking only eight.
Next week I will feature scouting profiles of another group of Fall League players. In addition I will include my All Fall League Team for each position.
I invite you to follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff for all the latest updates and opinions regarding what should be a very exciting Hot Stove winter.