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Big Hype Prospects: Jones, Mauricio, Vientos, Song, Brown

This week on Big Hype Prospects… baseball is happening, and we are eagerly awaiting the results.

Five BHPs In The News

Druw Jones, 19, OF, ARI (—)

Jones is on pace to make his minor league debut this spring. The second overall pick of the 2022 draft, Jones missed the season with a shoulder injury sustained during batting practice. He’s widely considered a Top 25 prospect despite never appearing in a professional game. Like his father Andruw, Jones profiles as a speedy, defensively able center fielder who might grow into serious power within a few years. Andruw Jones debuted as a 19-year-old in 1996 and posted a 31-homer, 27-steal campaign as a 21-year-old in 1998. The younger Jones is unlikely to reach the Majors this year, especially in a system with such an impressive collection of young outfielders. However, he has the traits to explode through the lower levels this season.

Ronny Mauricio, 21, SS, NYM (AA)
541 PA, 26 HR, 20 SB, .259/.296/.472

Mauricio profiles as a volatile prospect, one whose days in the Mets system might be coming to an end. His defensive ability at shortstop is fringy, but it’s the only position at which he has extensive experience. The Mets have opted to keep him at shortstop where he’s blocked long-term by Francisco Lindor. There’s no clearer signal of their intent to trade him (in this writer’s opinion).

As a hitter, Mauricio lacks discipline and breaking ball recognition. Despite a 26/20 campaign, there’s reason to believe his apparent power and speed will play down. For one, he’s not actually fast. He was caught 11 times last season and is 39-for-66 (59%) for his career. Although his max exit velocity would rank among the Top 50 hitters, his unrestrained approach hints at a high bust rate. Mauricio is still a valuable prospect, but he’s not the sort of blue-chip asset teams want for their best trade assets.

Mark Vientos, 23, 1B/3B/DH, NYM (MLB)
(AAA) 427 PA, 24 HR, .280/.358/.519

Vientos made modest strides with his plate discipline in the last year. He profiles as a bat-first prospect who is ultimately destined for first base or designated hitter duties. It’s not yet clear if he has enough bat to sustain regular work at those positions. Right-handed hitting first basemen tend to have a high bar to clear. Often, they’ll eventually matriculate, but it can sometimes require a few stops along the way. The Mets’ own Darin Ruf followed this path. C.J. Cron serves as a happier example of this profile. He finally found lasting success with the Rays in his age 28 season after four years of treading water in Los Angeles. Due to his defensive limitations, Vientos has a narrow window to stake any claim to third base reps ahead of Eduardo Escobar or Brett Baty. Pete Alonso is only signed through 2024, and the designated hitter mix led by Daniel Vogelbach isn’t exactly the Mets’ strong suit.

Noah Song, 25, SP, PHI (—)

They don’t come more mysterious than Song. Once a touted draft prospect who fell due to a military commitment, the Phillies selected Song from the Red Sox in the latest Rule 5 draft. It’s the second time Dave Dombrowski has selected him in a draft. Now cleared for baseball duty, the Phillies will have the challenging task of deciding if he can serve as their eighth reliever. When we last saw him in 2019, Song featured a plus fastball, slider, and curve along with a developing changeup. We don’t know how those pitches grade out today, and I’ve yet to observe him this spring. Assuming the fastball and at least one breaking ball are viable, it’s possible they could hide Song in the bullpen, send him to the minors to stretch out in 2024, then reassess matters from there.

The first step in that chain, carrying Song on the active roster, is a doozy. The Phillies are coming off an improbable NL Championship in which they barely scraped their way into the postseason. All signs point to another uphill battle in 2023. Every roster spot counts. Using one on Song rather than a “proven” option like Bailey Falter could be the difference.

Hunter Brown, 24, SP, HOU (MLB)
(AAA) 106 IP, 11.38 K/9, 3.82 BB/9, 2.55 ERA

With Lance McCullers set to miss the start of the season, Brown is expected to make the Astros rotation. We can intuit they’ll carefully manage his workload. In fact, they were already doing so last season. At Triple-A, he made 14 starts with nine relief appearances. The Astros juggled the workloads of Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy in much the same way last season, albeit less obviously. Brown more than held his own in 20.1 Major League innings. He averaged nearly 97-mph with his heater while recording 9.74 K/9, 3.10 BB/9, a 68 percent ground ball rate, and a 0.89 ERA. In the minors, he typically posted just north of a 50 percent ground ball rate. He’s a stuff-over-command starter who might fit best in short bursts.

Three More

Forrest Whitley, HOU (25): One of the options for the fifth starter slot, Whitley managed 40 innings in affiliated ball last season for the first time since 2019. He’s yet to broach 100 innings in a season, making a reliever role likelier if only for workload management purposes. Whitley struggled in his return to Triple-A. He once possessed five above average offerings and an ace-like ceiling.

Ethan Small, MIL (26): Small is a large left-handed changeup specialist with shaky command. Used as a starter throughout his four-season minor league career, the Brewers have now committed to preparing him as a reliever. This is his best opportunity to contribute in the short term. Even with Aaron Ashby sidelined, the Brewers have six quality starting pitchers on the big league staff.

Drew Gilbert, HOU (22): A 2022 first-rounder, the left-handed Gilbert dislocated his right elbow in a wall collision. He’s expected to be full health to start the season. A capable center fielder with discipline, contact skills, and non-trivial pop, Gilbert’s performance this season could cement a spot on Top 100 prospect lists. This is also a profile that often falls into a fifth-outfielder bucket. Consistent hard contact could serve as a forward indicator of his career trajectory.

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