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The 2019 Viva El Birdos Top Prospects List: More Who Missed

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Even more prospects!

St Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Morning, all. Hope you survived Snowmageddon 2019 alright; I have all-wheel drive to cope with the nightmarish hills in my immediate vicinity, and more importantly the option to just sit on the sofa and eat canned Spaghetti-O’s ‘til the apocalypse if I really want to. (I inherited a bit of a food hoarder thing from my mother; I have enough canned soup and the like piled up to survive for weeks, maybe even months without grocery shopping, aside from needing moist cat food.) So I weathered the storm just fine, and even ventured out to get some very nice winter scene photography done. Hopefully this morning finds you well also.

Anyhow, let’s hit some more prospects who missed out on making the big list, in rapid-fire fashion.

Scott Hurst, OF

5’10”, 175 lbs; Left/Left; DOB: 25 March 1996

Drafted 3rd Round 2017; Played at Peoria/Palm Beach 2018

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Scott Hurst was one of the tougher cuts to make from the big list personally, as he remains one of the more exciting players in the whole system to follow, at least to me. Playing primarily at two levels, Low A Peoria and High A Palm Beach, Hurst put up above-average batting lines at both stops, heavily aided by sky-high BABIPs. Still, with a fantastically natural batting stroke from the left side and easy plus speed, Hurst has the profile of a high BABIP hitter, so perhaps there isn’t quite as much regression coming as there might be from some other players.

The tools for Hurst are undeniably impressive; there might not be anything lower than a 55 on his card if we go raw power over game power. He’s a plus runner, capable of playing at least an average center field if not better. He has one of the strongest throwing arms in the system, capable of generating high 90s velocity from the outfield. He packs a solid bit of batting punch into a modest frame, and generally gets the ball into the air at a fairly high rate. His batting eye is a plus, as well, as Hurst doesn’t chase much and understands what he should and should not be swinging at.

The downside? Well, it’s twofold: Hurst has not shown much in-game power to date, hitting just four home runs in close to 300 plate appearances this season, and Hurst has simply been unable to stay on the field consistently. He missed nearly two full years during his college career, and was once again a training table constant this past season. The lack of power production limits his ceiling, despite him possessing the pure physical attributes, and for all his dynamism he cannot improve and advance if he can’t stay healthy.

Jake Walsh, RHP

6’1”, 190 lbs; Right/Right; DOB: 20 July 1995

Drafted 16th Round 2017; Played Low A/High A 2018

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Walsh is the latest in a long line of older college performers who come into the system and run circles around low-minors competition. (If all goes well, we’ll be having this same conversation this time next year about Perry DellaValle.) Think of Mike O’Reilly after his 2017 season, when he absolutely dominated Low A competition on the strength of modest stuff and a ruthless capacity for exploiting the strike zone. The problem? When O’Reilly got to Double A in 2018, the competition caught up and he stopped striking anyone out. These feel guys who dominate low-level minor league hitters usually top out right around that Double A level, but every once in a while one slips through and just keeps performing all the way up the ladder. Someone has to turn into Tanner Roark or Kyle Hendricks, after all.

As for Walsh himself, it’s a fairly standard repertoire, with an 89-92 mph fastball and very solid curve making up the bulk of his attack. He’s got a little changeup, too, and it’s okay. He fills up the strike zone very effectively with his fastball, and the curve has enough drop to qualify as an out pitch when he’s going good. What’s worrisome about Walsh is that we already see his strikeout rate dropping in a big way from Low A to High A; he struck out over 27% of the batters he faced in Peoria, but only 17.6% in Palm Beach. To his credit, he walked basically no one in Palm Beach, so the drop in Ks could have a lot to do with approach, if he was simply throwing everything in the zone, but it’s also telling that so many of these types of pitchers start to see their stuff level off right around the High A level.

For my money, Walsh’s best long-term fit is relieving, which he did in 2017 out of the draft. I’m sure the organisation will try to develop him as a starter, but a permanent bullpen move is, to me, the most likely path forward. Maybe the stuff in that role plays up more, he can push his fastball into the 93+ range, and focus on just working fastball/curve. He has the ability to pound the zone, if only the stuff were a little less vulnerable. I do think his fastball plays better up than down in general, and he could be a high swing and miss/popup guy if things work out.

Angel Rondon, RHP

6’3”, 185 lbs; Right/Right; DOB: 1 December 1997

Signed IFA 2016; Played State College/Low A 2018

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Rondon might be the pitcher in the system I’m most eager to see more of in 2019, because as of yet I just don’t have enough of a feel for him to really rank aggressively, given how limited my looks at him have been. It’s interesting having him here next to Jake Walsh, as the two really represent two opposite ends of the spectrum as far as player development; Walsh is the late-round college draftee with middling stuff but great feel, trying to outsmart and outcompete the talent around him, while Rondon is the athletic lottery ticket, the kid signed at sixteen with long levers and intriguing athleticism where you’re betting on the ceiling as he grows into his body.

Rondon hasn’t been pitching all that long; I believe he was primarily an outfielder before signing with the Cardinals, but they liked his pure arm talent and pushed him toward the mound. So far, that appears to have been a wise move, as Rondon reached Peoria this past season and had little trouble adjusting to the higher level of competition. After striking out a ton of hitters in 2017 but also posting very high walk rates, Rondon made a lot of progress this year in beginning to dial his approach in. The strikeout rate fell some (though to his credit it increased again as the year went on), but he cut his walk rate by over half and just generally did a much better job of moving into the zone, trusting his stuff to get outs rather than nibbling at the edges and trying to induce every hitter to chase something well off the plate.

Rondon’s best trait is easy natural arm speed, which at the moment translates to a low-effort 92-93 on the gun, and I think there’s probably a little more velocity yet to come. His best pitch, or maybe just my favourite of his pitches, is a changeup that has sharp downward, splitter action. I haven’t seen him throw it for a strike yet, which will be the next step, but the pitch must be extremely hard to pick up, as hitters just don’t seem to see it well at all. He looks like he can spin the ball just fine, but his breaking ball at this point is very much a work in progress. I’d say it’s more of a curve than a slider, but it’s definitely one of those breakers that wanders between the two. Refining his command of the change and dialing in the shape on his breaking ball will be the things I hope to see Rondon accomplish this coming season, and if he does he will definitely not be popping up in the just missed section of the list again next year.

Patrick Dayton, LHP

6’0”, 170 lbs; Left/Left; 20 July 1995

Drafted 25th round 2017; Played at Low A 2018

So, what’s so great about this guy?

When Patrick Dayton was drafted out of Kent State in 2017, I hadn’t honestly heard his name at all up to that point. Once I dug in a little, though, it didn’t take long for him to become one of my favourite picks in that draft, along with fellow lefty reliever Jacob Patterson, due to the combination of where they were picked and what kind of upside I believed they might have.

Dayton moved up to full-season ball in 2018, and all I can say is, so far, so good. The only speed bump for him this past season was a stint on the disabled list, but when he was on the mound the lefty was nothing short of dominant.

He works from a low 34 arm slot that drops almost to sidearm at times, and it gives him unbelievable angle to his breaking ball(s). His fastball has great sink as well, generating lots of groundball contact, but it’s the big, sweeping breaker that will make him successful going forward. I honestly don’t know if Dayton throws both a curve and a slider, or if he just manipulates the one breaking ball back and forth a la Zach Duke, but he can really vary the speed and angle of attack extremely effectively. He struck out almost 35% of the batters he faced in 2018, and wasn’t really protected from opposite-handed hitters, either, as he threw just under 35 innings in only 20 appearances. The ceiling for Dayton is a lefty reliever, but we’ve seen what relievers cost on the free agent market these days, and a guy with this kind of strikeout punch is nothing to turn up one’s nose at.

Johan Oviedo, RHP

6’6”, 210 lbs; Right/Right; DOB: 2 March 1998

Signed IFA 2016; Pitched at Low A 2018

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Okay, first off, that 210 number isn’t accurate. Johan Oviedo is a huge dude, a legit 6’6”, and will need to watch his conditioning. He looked a little soft this year, and getting in better shape might help him avoid quite so many ups and downs physically.

It was a weird year for Oviedo, who started the season like a house on fire in his first couple starts, then tanked in the middle, with not only his results being bad but his stuff backing up notably, and then rebounded toward the end, finishing on a high note with his stuff edging back into elite territory in August. The aggregate numbers were mediocre: a 4.21 FIP, 21.8% K rate, 14.6% BB rate. However, he also made 23 starts, threw over 120 innings, and pitched better down the stretch than he did for most of the first half of his season. In other words, by the end of 2018 Oviedo was actually trending up, despite having an overall frustrating campaign.

At his best, Oviedo brings a pure power arsenal to the mound, combining a fastball that can reach 97 on a steep plane with a power curveball that he can throw either in or out of the zone and hitters have very little luck even making contact with. The changeup is, um, did I mention how good the curveball is? The problem with all of Oviedo’s pitches, really, is how much trouble he seemingly has repeating his delivery (not an unheard of issue with very tall pitchers), which costs him the ability to consistently put the ball in the strike zone. When he misses, he misses up, both with the fastball and curve, but usually far enough up that hitters take the pitch, rather than jumping on it.

Probably the most worrisome aspect of Oviedo’s profile to date has been how inconsistent his velocity is. He jumped on to the radar throwing 97 as an amateur, and after the Cards signed him he looked like a classic huge arm with little command. In 2017, though, he started off the year looking that way, but by the end of his first season stateside the velocity had ticked down to 93-94. Perhaps just fatigue at the end of the year, the reasoning went. Then this past season, however, Oviedo’s velocity dropped again, all the way down to 90-91 at times during the first half of the year, only to rebound markedly toward the end. In his last start of the season he sat 95, touched 98 twice according to the one first-hand report I have, and just generally looked like a huge dude throwing hard again. Why his velocity varies this much is anyone’s guess at this point; if pressed for my opinion I would say it’s a combination of Oviedo not being in very good shape and struggling with his mechanics start to start. The command obviously comes and goes, but losing the delivery can even lead to a marked lack of stuff on a given night if the pitcher in question can’t find his mechanics, and I think that’s what happens to Oviedo.

It’s going to be a fairly slow process for Oviedo to mature and learn, I think; he was raw even by seventeen year old standards when he signed, and he needs to develop better work habits and a more consistent routine. He’s still just 20, though, so there’s plenty of time for him to get there. The size and stuff could make him a high-level workhorse of a starter, if he can continue to grow and acquire the requisite skills to get there.