Power fuels Prospect Team of the Week

April 25th, 2022

The 2022 Minor League season is in full swing with teams from coast to coast now over two weeks into their campaigns. Across the levels, performers are separating themselves with breakout showings.

Our second edition of the MLB Pipeline Prospect Team of the Week has arrived, paying homage to those who surged over the last seven days at all eight defensive positions, left- and right-handed starting pitchers and in a relief role. Eligible Minor League players must be ranked among their club's Top 30 prospects on Pipeline's lists. (Those in the Majors do not qualify.) This week, just one organization features multiple selections -- the Dodgers’ white-hot Double-A middle infield pairing -- while several clubs put their first entrants onto the weekly honorees.

This is the Prospect Team of the Week for April 18-24:

Catcher: Shea Langeliers, Las Vegas Aviators (Triple-A)
Athletics No. 2, MLB No. 58
.417/.482/.750, 6 G, 10-for-24, 2 HR, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 6 R, 3 BB, 5 K

Langeliers isn’t the highest-rated catcher in the A’s system -- that distinction goes to Oakland’s No. 1 prospect Tyler Soderstrom -- but he is the closest to the big leagues with Soderstrom at High-A. Knocking on the door of the Majors at Triple-A, Langeliers is making noise with his bat to complement his already impressive defensive tools, which include a 65 fielding grade and 70-grade arm on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. The backstop kicked off his week with a 4-for-5 day in his team’s April 19 series opener against El Paso, lashing two doubles, and then continued to rake throughout the six-game set. Langeliers reached in five of six games, adding another multihit affair with three knocks on April 21. Acquired from Atlanta in the trade that sent Matt Olson east, Langeliers played 97 games between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett last year, slashing a combined .256/.339/.494.

1B: Alex Binelas, Greenville Drive (High-A)
Red Sox No. 22

.353/.500/.941, 5 G, 6-for-17, 3 HR, 1 2B, 5 RBI, 5 R, 5BB, 8 K

Having arrived in the Red Sox system from the Brewers in December as part of the trade that swapped big league outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Hunter Renfroe, Binelas looks right at home. Though he squeaked onto this week’s list by playing the minimum at first base (two out of his six total games with two more at third and one as designated hitter), the honor is deserved. Binelas was just 1-for-9 over his Greenville team’s first three games against Winston-Salem before busting out in the final two with five hits in eight at-bats, including two homers and a double. The Louisville product walked in all five games, as well, just one shy of his total through the season’s first eight contests.

Also receiving votes: Michael Toglia (Rockies)

2B: Michael Busch, Tulsa Drillers (Double-A)
Dodgers No. 3
, MLB No. 66

.391/.533/1.087, 6 G, 9-for-23, 5 HR, 1 2B, 9 RBI, 10 R, 6 BB, 10 K, 1 SB

Busch and his double play partner Jacob Amaya were each on fire as Tulsa took four of six on the road at Springfield, racking up 9.25 runs per win. Busch belted five homers in five games, racked up hits in five of six and tallied multiple knocks in three. The second baseman also drove in at least two runs in four different games. In the lone contest of the week in which he didn’t notch a hit, Busch walked a season-high three times, matching a career-best number he last achieved on May 15, 2021. Busch’s big week boosted his average from .267 entering play on April 19 to .321 after the weekend and his OPS from .939 to 1.234.

3B: Josh H. Smith, Round Rock Express (Triple-A)
Rangers No. 7

.450/.522/.850, 5 G, 9-for-20, 2 HR, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 7 R, 3 BB, 3 K

For the second straight week, a Texas prospect gets the nod at the hot corner. Struggling to find his way with just four hits through his first seven games, Smith has discovered his stride. The Rangers prospect has hits in nine straight, including all five he played over the award period which featured three multihit performances and at least one RBI in four contests. Like Binelas, Smith played just two games at this position over the week and flexed his defensive versatility with time at shortstop and also in center field. Sent to the Rangers by the Yankees in the deal that sent Joey Gallo to the Bronx, Smith is already proving himself at the Triple-A level after playing just 30 games at Double-A following last summer’s trade.

SS: Jacob Amaya, Tulsa Drillers (Double-A)
Dodgers No. 19

.455/.478/1.091, 5 G, 10-for-22, 3 HR, 1 3B, 3 2B, 8 RBI, 6 R

Like Busch, Amaya was tough to get out for Springfield pitching and helped his team’s offensive outburst throughout the week. Though the shortstop started strong with four hits including a double and a triple in his first three games, Amaya’s biggest showing came on Saturday night when he went 5-for-5 with two home runs, two doubles and six RBIs. The 2017 11th-round pick got off to a slow start this year with a .200/.355/.360 slash line through his first eight games of the season but had lifted those marks to .349/.440/.767 by the end of play on Sunday. Amaya was added to the Dodgers’ 40-man roster in November after posting an impressive .333/.463/.556 slash line over 19 games in the Arizona Fall League.

OF: Nelson Velazquez, Tennessee Smokies (Double-A)
Cubs No. 16

.455/.520/1.227, 6 G, 10-for-22, 4 HR, 3 2B, 1 3B, 9 RBI, 5 R, 3 BB, 4 K

Coming off a breakout 2021 campaign in which he led the Cubs system in total bases, RBIs and slugging percentage, Velazquez is proving it wasn’t a fluke. Now riding a seven-game hitting streak for Tennessee, Velazquez ripped off hits in each of his six contests against Rocket City, with six knocks coming in his first two games of the series. The outfielder’s April 20 performance featured a 4-for-4 line with two homers, two doubles, five RBIs, three runs scored and a walk. Velazquez is back at Double-A this season after finishing last year there, posting a slash line of .290/.358/.581 in 34 contests with the Smokies. Like Amaya, Velazquez captured a 40-man roster spot last offseason after starring in the AFL, where he was named Most Valuable Player after leading the showcase circuit with nine homers and a 1.191 OPS.

OF: Joshua Mears, Fort Wayne TinCaps (High-A)
Padres No. 10

.368/.455/1.263, 6 G, 7-for-19, 5 HR, 2 2B, 10 RBI, 7 R, 1 BB, 6 K,

A second-round pick of the Padres in 2019, Mears had already been climbing the rankings in his system and is now in the midst of possibly his best season yet. The outfielder’s torrid week contained three multihit games, two of which featured two homers apiece and all of which came with at least two RBIs. Mears’ line for the week shows six games played, but all of his production came in his first four. The 21-year-old logged only two at-bats in the second game of a Saturday doubleheader and left Sunday’s series finale at Lansing in the first inning after being hit by a pitch in his first plate appearance. Mears’ OPS jumped from .842 to 1.167 with his big week.

OF: Jerar Encarnacion, Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Double-A)
Marlins No. 22

.500/.615/1.050, 6 G, 10-for-20, 3 HR, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 7 R, 5 BB, 2 K, 2 SB

The only selection this week with multiple stolen bases, Encarnacion put up some of the most impressive numbers of any honoree. While tallying hits in half of his at-bats, the outfielder also more than doubled his strikeout total by posting at least one walk in four out of five games from April 19-23. Encarnacion saw an 11-game hitting streak come to a close with an 0-for-4 showing on Sunday but still managed to bat an even .500 with a .571 on-base percentage and .929 slugging percentage over the stretch. The 24-year-old has eight multihit games out of the 15 he’s played this season and is vastly outperforming his 63-game stint at Double-A last year when he batted .222/.308/.400. After his team’s six-game series split with Montgomery last week, Encarnacion is now hitting .367/.441/.667 this season.

LHP: Matthew Liberatore, Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A)
Cardinals No. 3
, MLB No. 42

1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K, 0.29 WHIP

Last year came with its ups and downs for Liberatore, who pitched in 22 games (18 starts) at Triple-A and went 9-9 with a 4.04 ERA. This season, the southpaw has dealt with some of the same but put together his best outing of the year by far on Saturday. Liberatore fanned nine and faced just two over the minimum while allowing only two singles through seven innings in Memphis’ eventual 8-0 win over visiting Omaha. Liberatore worked his longest start of the season on 91 pitches, 57 for strikes and generated six outs on the ground against two on the fly. The 2018 first-rounder dropped his ERA from 6.28 to 4.22 with the win, his second of the season.

RHP: Andrew Painter, Clearwater Threshers (Single-A)
Phillies No. 3

0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 14 K, 0.20 WHIP

Pitching away from a complex for the first time this season, Painter has been simply dominant through three outings, and his Saturday start was his best yet. The right-hander littered his line with strikeouts, fanning No. 3 Yankees prospect Jasson Dominguez to start the game to set the tone. After Antonio Gomez doubled to left field one batter later and Madison Santos followed with a fly out to right, Painter embarked on a jaw-dropping string. The right-hander retired the final 13 batters he faced via strikeouts, eight swinging and five looking. Through his three starts this year, Painter has allowed just one unearned run on four hits over 12 innings pitched, striking out an eye-popping 30 while walking only three.

RP: William Woods, Gwinnett Stripers (Triple-A)
Braves No. 21

0-0, 0.00 ERA, 3 G, 0 GS, 2 2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K, 0.0 WHIP

The season’s second reliever of the week belongs to Woods, who racked up 2 2/3 scoreless innings across his first three appearances for Gwinnett on the road at Jacksonville. Woods fanned three batters on April 20, two more on April 22 and another pair on April 24 to keep his stellar season rolling. Since allowing three runs in each of his first two appearances of the year on April 8 and 14 for Double-A Mississippi against Montgomery and Biloxi, Woods has thrown scoreless ball since and gotten a promotion to Triple-A in the meantime. In 7 2/3 total innings, the right-hander has struck out 14 batters while only issuing two walks.