Inbox: Is this Rockies prospect the next big thing?

June 10th, 2022

As we hurtle toward the 2022 Draft, we at MLB Pipeline continue to split our focus between the top prospects already in pro ball and those who hope to join them in July. So this week’s MLB Pipeline Inbox is another hybrid effort, with a pair of queries about Minor League guys and a duo of Draft questions.

What makes Ezequiel Tovar so good and why is he worthy of his future top 10 ranking? Thanks, I'll hang up and listen. -- @Crowitzki

First-time caller, long-time listener? We tackled talking about Tovar on this week’s Pipeline Podcast, so give the episode a listen for a fuller response. I will try to synopsize what we discussed here.

We do love your confidence that he’ll be a top 10 prospect eventually and don’t necessarily disagree that he might be that talented. We all saw him more than hold his own in the Arizona Fall League, even if his offensive numbers don’t look great. And there was no question about his ability to defend in the big leagues immediately.

The 20-year-old shortstop has taken a huge step forward so far this year as one of the younger regulars in Double-A, especially in the power department, and he's already in double digits for both home runs and stolen bases. We recently added him to the Top 100 and up to No. 3 on the Rockies' Top 30. Honestly, the only thing that might keep him from being a top 10 prospect is if he makes it to the big leagues too quickly for us to adjust. Stay tuned to find out.

Is Quinn Priester flaming out? -- @panthermichael

I’m sorry, what? And no, this isn't some kind of Pittsburgh bias because I live here. We still have Priester ranked at No. 48 on our Top 100 and for good reason. Yes, it's true that his stuff backed up a little bit in 2021 as he threw more innings than he had ever thrown before in his career, but the Pirates were very pleased with his progress given his age and level he was at (High-A). He's just getting back to competitive play now after an oblique injury suffered in Spring Training kept him off the mound. He threw three hitless innings in a combined no-hitter for Bradenton in his 2022 debut on Thursday, where he topped out at 96.6 mph with his fastball.

I'm sure the Pirates will continue to build him back up with every bit of caution, as they should, with him eventually landing at Double-A Altoona, where everyone hoped he would begin the season before he got hurt. The jump to that level is obviously a difficult one, so he'll have to prove he can succeed there before I have full belief in his ability to be a big league starter, but there has been nothing that has shown otherwise to date. To jump to a “flaming out” conclusion because of an injury, especially one that is not arm related, is quite a leap.  Keep in mind that the 2019 first-rounder is still only 21, and will be until mid-September. He is still considerably ahead of the curve age-wise, assuming he stays healthy and pitches most of the rest of the year in the Eastern League. Note to Pirates: Priester seems like a very good candidate for the Arizona Fall League, and I think I can speak for the entire MLB Pipeline staff when I say we would love to see him out there.

Considering that all of your mock drafts have had the Angels drafting a pitcher at No. 13, is it fair to say that’s the industry expectation? If so, is a college arm also the expectation or could it be a high school arm like Lesko/Porter or even Rocker? -- @Trohtani

To date, Jim Callis and myself have done a total of 6 mock drafts of the 2022 first round. In all six of them, we have given the Angels a pitcher at No. 13. Considering they used every single one of their 2021 selections on pitchers, it seems like the safe bet, right?

In all seriousness, we are still pretty far out from the actual Draft, and the amount of information flowing is somewhat limited. That said, and I don't want to speak for Mr. Callis here, the combination of what other teams think the Angels are looking at and folks we talk to within the Angels organization have us both believing they are targeting an arm for that first-round pick.

In five of our six projections, we had a high school arm going in that slot, with Jim giving the Angels Cooper Hjerpe a few weeks back as a “safer college pick.” My gut says they would prefer a college pitcher if at all possible. The issue is with this year's class, injuries have decimated the college crop that might belong in that part of the first round, which is why we have been putting high school arms there more often than not. Kumar Rocker is certainly an intriguing name to consider, as he just pitched for the first time in Indy ball last week. I think there may be too many hurdles to clear for him to go this high, and I'm not sure how much risk the Angels will want to take.

Let’s say you are Brooks Lee’s agent. Why should Brooks Lee be the number one pick to the Orioles over the other prep bats available? Make your pitch. -- @A837361

This would be an enviable position to be in because even if Brooks Lee doesn't go No. 1 overall, he's going to go pretty high and get a sizable bonus from whatever team takes him in the top five or so picks -- not that this makes it a done deal, but we've had him going No. 4 to the Pirates in our last five combined mock drafts. He's currently No. 5 on our Draft Top 200, the top college player on the list.

And that's part of the pitch, for sure. Lee is one of the best pure hitters in the entire class and he's done it everywhere he's been, including two very strong seasons at Cal Poly and a huge showing with a wood bat in the Cape Cod League in 2021. So there’s a ton of track record compared to the high school players, and as the son of a college coach, he grew up around the game at a high level and thinks like a coach on the field. So the big pitch is that Lee is the type of college hitter who has the chance to move quickly through a system. So if you want a bat to join Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson in the big leagues in a hurry, then Lee might be your guy.