Featured Photo: Mason Denaburg, RHP, Nationals
Editor’s note: Players are listed with the affiliate with which they ended the 2018 regular season.
Jorge Guzman, RHP, Marlins (High A Jupiter, Florida State League)
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/182 B/T: R/R Age (as of September 1, 2018): 22y, 7m
Guzman was one of the prospects Miami received from the Yankees for outfielder Giancarlo Stanton before the 2018 season. He’s arguably the hardest throwing starter in the minor leagues, though serious control issues (15% walk rate this season) were behind fairly pedestrian numbers by the 22-year-old in the Florida State League in 2018. Guzman impressed over a three-inning outing at Marlins Park during instructs, but there’s still plenty of reason to be skeptical about his future in the rotation.
His power fastball sits 98-to-100 mph, routinely touching triple-digits and drawing a crowd behind the plate to look at the radar gun. Guzman can blow his heater past almost anyone at this level, though big league hitters will be able to make him pay for elevated heaters in fastball counts. The pitch has explosive riding life that powers through the zone, showing plus movement and run when he can angle it down to the lower-third. He doesn’t command his fastball much, but the times it’s low in the zone hitters don’t have a chance. Guzman won’t ever need to be pinpoint over the plate considering his velocity, but simply getting ahead in counts and throwing basic strikes can be a struggle. A power slurve in the 85-to-88 mph range has tilt somewhere between curve and slider, but it flashes hammer action at best and could develop into an out pitch. Guzman is working on his changeup during instructs, throwing it frequently to get game reps with the pitch. He isn’t comfortable landing the change for a strike but it’s showing progress, flashing separation and dive in the high-80s at best.
The Marlins will give Guzman every chance to develop as a starter, and the team’s distance from contention affords him more time to add polish in the minors. Though the control/command will likely always be below-average, the absolute best-case ceiling is a power mid-rotation starter who gets away with fringy pitchability for the rotation because of an 80-grade fastball. In my mind, that outcome would be more likely if Guzman were 19-20 and not 22-23 given his longstanding control issues. Realistically, he’s a high-leverage ‘pen arm with the potential to close games.
Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles (Rookie GCL Orioles, Gulf Coast League)
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/220 B/T: R/R Age (as of September 1, 2018): 18y, 9m
I saw Rodriguez late in the GCL season and wrote this spotlight at the time. I caught another look during instructs, and the Orioles first-rounder this year didn’t disappoint across an efficient two innings of work. His fastball sat 93-to-96 mph, showing consistent heavy life and run. The pitch absolutely explodes at times when Rodriguez commands the top of the strike zone. He doesn’t yet command his heater well to spots over the plate, but the ability to throw strikes with the pitch has improved since signing. Rodriguez is young and athletic enough to make alterations to his delivery, and there’s no reason he can’t develop average command in time. Both his slider (80-to-84 mph) and curveball (75-to-77 mph) show at least average upside, the slider potentially a tick above. It’s impressive that a pitcher this young is able to get distinct action on two breaking pitches and land both for strikes. Rodriguez wrinkles a developing circle-change; it’s a distant fourth pitch in his arsenal, though one that shows separation and occasional fade and can keep improving.
Baltimore has bolstered their minor league pitching corps significantly in the last two years, and selecting Rodriguez in the first round this June is a big part of that. His ceiling is as high as any arm in the pipeline save for LHP D.L. Hall, who the O’s took in the first round just the year before Rodriguez. The ingredients are here for a workhorse mid-rotation starter, and he has shown enough present polish since turning pro that I anticipate Rodriguez starts 2019 in Delmarva’s rotation.
Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Rays (Rookie Princeton Rays, Appalachian League)
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/200 B/T: L/L Age (as of September 1, 2018): 18y, 9m
After being selected with the 16th overall pick this past June, Liberatore pitched 27.2 dominant innings in the GCL before making two starts with Princeton in the Appy League. I saw the lefty in a quick instructs look, where he flashed four pitches and showed impressive polish and poise.
Liberatore fills the zone with a free-and-easy delivery that will grow into command in time. The fastball worked between 91-to-94 mph, showing lively hop and above-average movement when he was able to throw downhill. His body and mechanics ooze projection, and there’s more velocity coming as he gets stronger. His signature curveball was as good as always, showing sharp 2-to-7 shape and two-plane depth in the mid-70s. Liberatore threw a handful of changeups at 84-to-85 mph, selling the pitch with fastball armspeed and flashing above-average circle action at times. He wrinkled a true slider at 82-to-83 mph with distinctly different velo and movement than his curveball. It’s impressive to see a pitcher his age know how to use four pitches, and Liberatore kept his deep arsenal around the plate.
The Rays will likely be cautious with Liberatore, though his mix of present stuff and polish could earn him a full-season assignment to begin next season. His ceiling is sky high, a potential mid-rotation lefty who can miss bats and eat innings.
Mason Denaburg, RHP, Nationals (Rookie GCL Nationals, Gulf Coast League)
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of September 1, 2018): 19y, 0m
Denaburg was pitching his way into the top 15 picks this spring before a bout of tendonitis shut his season down early. Washington pounced on a premium talent that fell in the draft, inking Denaburg to an over-slot bonus with the 27th overall pick. He didn’t pitch in the GCL after signing, but I caught a quick look at the righty during Instructional League.
At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Denaburg has an ideal pitching frame with a nice mix of present physicality and future growth potential. He pitches from a semi-windup and finishes fairly clean down the mound, though there’s some occasional balance issues that pull him off-line right now. Denaburg struggled to repeat and find the zone in this look, but there were no mechanical red flags that lead me to believe he will have trouble ironing out parts of his delivery with time. The fastball worked in the 90-to-94 mph range, showing consistent run and angle. Denaburg has touched 96-97 mph in the past, and it’s likely his heater ticks up a bit as he builds pro mound time. He threw a handful of curveballs at 78-to-80 mph with tight spin and flashes of sharp 10-to-4 shape. He has shown a changeup in the past but didn’t break it out in this viewing.
This was not his best outing, as Denaburg walked two hitters and allowed an earned run in his inning of work. It’s never a good idea to over-think instructs results, especially for a teenage pitcher who was getting his first live game action in a few months. All the tools that attracted the Nationals to him were on display: an athletic and projectible frame with the potential for two above-average pitches. I imagine Washington will bring him along slowly, though it would be a good sign if he starts 2019 at Class A Hagerstown. The upside is a #3 or #4 starter, though he’s young and raw enough that the MLB ETA is still at least 3-4 years away.
Shane McClanahan, LHP, Rays (Rookie Princeton Rays, Appalachian League)
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/188 B/T: L/L Age (as of September 1, 2018): 21y, 4m
The flamethrowing lefty had arguably the best raw stuff of any college pitcher in the 2018 Draft, but control issues and inconsistent performances last spring dropped him to the 31st overall pick. He looked as advertised across a two-inning instructs look, flashing numerous plus pitches with plenty of present wildness and inconsistency.
McClanahan pitched from an upbeat semi-windup, landing closed and turning away at the top of his delivery. He finishes with some effort and pulls off-line, two factors that detract from his ability to locate. His fastball sat 95-to-96 mph and touched the 97-98 mph range, though its movement was inconsistent: variables in McClanahan’s delivery cause him to both run and cut the heater depending on how closed he is at release. His command grades near the bottom of the 20-80 scale, though he’s athletic enough to improve both the quality and consistency of his strikes with mechanical adjustments. A hard, slurvy breaking ball in the low-80s had sharp three-quarters slant, though he rarely landed the pitch for strikes. His changeup graded as another pitch that flashed above-average potential, same as the fastball and breaking ball. Thrown at 84-to-87 mph and sold like the fastball, McClanahan gets devastating separation and dive action on his changeup at times.
The stuff is hard to argue, with 70-grade velocity backed up by two secondary pitches that have swing-and-miss upside. That said, McClanahan’s control has a long way to go in order to fit a starter’s profile at the big league level, and he was wild enough in my look that I wondered if he’s even ready to begin 2019 in a full-season affiliate’s rotation. The Rays will give him every chance to start, and there’s still time to reach a mid-rotation ceiling if he can throw more strikes. If not, it’s easy to envision McLanahan’s power stuff from the left side making an immediate impact from the bullpen.
Braxton Garrett, LHP, Marlins (Class A Greensboro, South Atlantic League)
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/190 B/T: L/L Age (as of September 1, 2018): 21y, 0m
Garrett was the 7th overall pick in 2016, though he didn’t pitch that summer after signing. He was strong through four starts with Class A Greensboro in 2017, succumbing to Tommy John surgery in June of last year. He’s building back mound time this fall during Instructional League, and I caught a quick one-inning look at the lefty.
Garrett’s polished semi-windup pounds the zone with an advanced three-pitch mix. He generated velocity free and easy, working in the 90-to-92 mph range with his heater in this look. The pitch had angle to the lower-third, and Garrett spotted strikes down in the zone to both sides of the plate. His best off-speed pitch is a shapely high-70s curve that could be an above-average pitch. He’s able to land it for a strike and has feel to lengthen the pitch against same-side hitters. Garrett only threw one changeup at 84 mph, but has shown a polished third speed in the past.
Miami’s farm system has improved dramatically in the last year, and getting Garrett back on the field in 2019 only adds to that crop of prospects. Coming back from TJ with only 15.1 pro innings under his belt, it’s tough to pinpoint where he’ll start next season and if he’ll be ready for a full-season assignment. The ingredients are here for a #4 starter, and a full season of health and pro reps will help solidify Garrett’s prospect status.
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