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Tuesday, May 30, 2023
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Big Hype Prospects: Painter, Graceffo, Herrera, Thomas, Wesneski

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My Rule 5 coverage didn’t go to plan. While I successfully tabbed first overall pick Thad Ward, he was the only Rule 5 eligible player chosen of the 25 we evaluated. Ryan Noda was left off due to his age. All the others chosen were not on my radar.

With the Winter Meetings behind us, we’ll swing into full offseason mode here at Big Hype Prospects with a focus on young players affected by recent news.

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Five BHPs In The News

Andrew Painter, 19, SP, PHI (AA)
(A/A+/AA) 103.2 IP, 13.5 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.56 ERA

The Phillies had what can only be described as a successful Winter Meetings, checking off all three boxes on their offseason wishlist. With Taijuan Walker joining the rotation, the club reportedly intends to leave the fifth slot as a battle between Bailey Falter and their stable of prospects. Though he’s younger than Mick Abel, Griff McGarry, and other candidates, Painter is under consideration for an early-season rotation role. He turns 20 shortly after Opening Day. While Falter is the odds-on favorite for the fifth slot, that assumes no preseason injuries to their planned rotation.

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Painter carried an unusually large workload for a teenager including two late-season outings of 26 or more batters faced. He made short work of three minor league levels. He gives every appearance of Major League readiness, though a stint in Triple-A might prove beneficial.

Gordon Graceffo, 22, SP, STL (AA)
(A+/AA) 139.1 IP, 9.0 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 2.97 ERA

The Cardinals pursuit of a catcher ended with the signing of Willson Contreras. In negotiations with the Athletics for Sean Murphy, Oakland apparently requested Lars Nootbaar, Brendan Donovan, and Graceffo. The right-hander has an effective four-pitch repertoire coupled with above-average command. While the details differ, this is basically the same starter kit as Zac Gallen – a deep array or weapons with the means to use them all effectively. Graceffo ran into some speed bumps in Double-A, posting a 3.94 ERA with a 5.07 FIP in 18 starts. He’s on pace to debut in late-2023 or at some point in 2024.

Ivan Herrera, 22, C, STL (AAA)
278 PA, 6 HR, 5 SB, .268/.374/.394

Long considered the heir apparent to Yadier Molina, Herrera isn’t quite far enough along in his development for the Cardinals to hand him the keys. He looked overmatched in a tiny 22 plate appearance Major League sample. While the acquisition of Contreras could render him expendable, the Cardinals have resisted trading touted prospects in recent seasons. It’s entirely plausible St. Louis will treat Contreras as an expensive stopgap to be traded if ever Herrera surpasses him. Herrera draws mixed reviews for his defense with most reports considering him below-average but passable. His athleticism suggests he could be a late bloomer behind the dish. Plate discipline and contact skills are his carrying traits as a hitter. Though he’s no slouch in the power department, he doesn’t hold a candle to Contreras’ exit velocities.

Alek Thomas, 22, OF, ARI (MLB)
411 PA, 8 HR, 4 SB, .231/.275/.344

No longer technically a prospect by the prevailing definition, Thomas is nevertheless prospect-aged and sufficiently talented. His Major League debut didn’t go to plan, but he held his own thanks to positive defense and baserunning. Thomas’ batted ball profile is built for generating high-BABIPs and batting averages, but he slumped to a .263 BABIP in the big leagues. Part of his minor league success included plus plate discipline. He was below average in this regard in his debut, a sign he didn’t adjust well to sharp scouting reports.

Arizona’s outfielders will be in-demand all winter long, especially once the remaining quality free agents like Andrew Benintendi and Michael Conforto sign.

Hayden Wesneski, 25, SP, CHC (MLB)
(AAA) 110.1 IP, 8.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 3.92 ERA

The Cubs signed Jameson Taillon last week and were reportedly among the finalists for Kodai Senga before he signed with the Mets. Their focus on upgrading the rotation could leave Wesneski without an Opening Day role in the Majors. Acquired in the Scott Effross trade, Wesneski finished 2022 with a lovely 33-inning stint with Chicago. He pitched to a 2.18 ERA with a 3.20 FIP. Wesneski wields a five-pitch repertoire of three fastballs, a slider, and a changeup. They bleed together in a way that stymies hitters despite a lack of overpowering stuff. One scout I spoke with believes the Cubs are better suited than the Yankees to get the most from his particular approach. Whether or not Wesneski opens in the rotation, he is an important part of the club’s 2023 plans.

Five More

Ryan Noda, OAK (26): The second overall pick in the Rule 5 draft, Noda is highly likely to slot into the Athletics lineup and never look back. He’s been among the top minor league performers for his entire career. Notably, he has always been old for his levels. He uses discipline as a weapon and has made steady gains in other facets of his game over the years. He even steals bases, though nobody will confuse him for a speedster. Think of him as vaguely similar to a more athletic Dan Vogelbach.

Dominic Fletcher, ARI (25): Though not nearly of the same pedigree as their other in-house options, Fletcher looks the part of a second-division starter or adequate fourth outfielder. He’s slowed to the point that center field is no longer a fit, and his modest power isn’t ideal for a corner outfield role. His batted profile yields high BABIPs, and his discipline improved last season. He could be a draw in trade discussions, and Arizona shouldn’t mind shopping him given their depth.

Keyshawn Askew, TBR (22): True to his name, Askew brings the funk from the left side. Acquired in the Brooks Raley deal, Askew profiles as a likely future reliever who seems destined to flummox hitters for years to come. He throws a sinker and slider out of a quirky sidearm armslot. The Rays love to collect unusual pitchers. There’s yet a chance they keep him stretched out as a starter.

Michael Busch, LAD (25): An accomplished minor league hitter, Busch has slow-burned through the Dodgers system. He’s considered a poor defensive second baseman but might get a chance there nonetheless due to the club’s intention to stay out of Carlos Correa’s market. He hit .266/.343/.480 (102 wRC+) with 21 home runs in 504 Triple-A plate appearances last season.

Jacob Amaya, LAD (24): Amaya is a more defensively able option at second base if Gavin Lux is indeed shifted to shortstop on a full-time basis. After torching Double-A pitching, Amaya was merely decent at Triple-A. He’s shown consistently above-average discipline but there’s often a notable lack of impact when he connects. For a team with Dodgers standards, he looks more like a utility man than a starter. Lesser clubs might happily count him as a regular.

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