Inbox: Projecting O's prospect battery; '22 Draft chatter

May 12th, 2022

As we’re into the second month of the Minor League season and we’re also just two months away from the 2022 Draft, our focus is often split between the two. So this week’s Pipeline Inbox tries to live in both worlds, with a pair of Minor League prospect questions, followed by two Draft-related ones. Enjoy!

What is the reason that so many highly touted prospects are struggling in their MLB debut? Were they rushed? Development issues due to all the lost time? Or is this par for the course? -- @METSNEXTYEAR

The guys answered this question in detail on this week’s Pipeline Podcast, so give it a listen to hear their more detailed breakdown. In a nutshell, it’s been hard for most people to hit in the big leagues. I do wonder what the 2020 shutdown actually will mean developmentally for all Minor Leaguers, but we won’t really know what conclusions to draw about that for years, and I have a feeling it’s going to depend on each player.

As for all the struggles, it’s still really early. Yes, the strikeout rates and struggles with approach are concerning, but please don’t press the panic button on any of these guys. We’re talking less than 30 games played and that’s not enough to set off too many alarms. Case in point: It does look like Julio Rodríguez is starting to figure it out, hitting .342/.372/.488 in 11 games in May.

Be patient. Even if some have to go down to the Minors, like C.J. Abrams did, do not despair. They are not the first, nor will they be the last, top prospects to struggle at first, only to return later and reach their potential (Looking at you, Mike Trout).

Would the tandem of Grayson Rodriguez and Adley Rutschman be to the future generation as Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina is to the current generation? -- @StevieDAles97

That is putting a lot of pressure on the future Baltimore battery, but sure, why not? Even if your question brought up unpleasant memories of analogies on the SAT. Wainwright and Molina were both high school players taken in the 2000 Draft, with Wainwright joining Molina in the Cardinals organization during the winter of 2003 and the pair played together in Triple-A Memphis in 2004, with Molina getting to St. Louis that year and Wainwright making his big league debut the following season, in 2005.

In the interest of time, I didn’t research how many times Molina caught Wainwright in the Minors, though they recently moved into third place all-time in career starts as a battery and they are tied for the all-time lead in victories for a battery.

Rutschman and Rodriguez have already worked together 14 times, most recently as featured prospects in the Pipeline Game of the Month on Thursday, so they’re already hitting the ground running. To expect that they’ll both be on the same team for as many years as Wainwright-Molina have been might be unrealistic, but I think there’s a very good chance they’ll be as exciting a big league battery as we’ve had in some time. Maybe they don’t compile the 200+ wins Waino and Yadi have amassed, but if they can stay healthy and in Baltimore, it sure will be fun to watch how close they can come. They do have that potential.

What do Parker Messick and Bryce Hubbart have to do to get more respect in the Draft rankings? -- @WiedenmannWeep

Currently, Messick comes in at No. 49 on our Draft Top 150 while Hubbart is at No. 65. That puts both Florida State lefties in the second round, which is nothing to sneeze at. But let’s dig in a little more.

The question comes up, I’m sure, because both have been pitching well in the Seminoles rotation. Both have ERAs well under 3.00, both have been very tough to hit (Messick’s batting average against is .189 while Hubbart’s is .213) and both have been missing bats while throwing strikes. Messick’s 128/12 K/BB ratio in 77 1/3 innings is particularly impressive.

One key thing to remember is that evaluations by teams, and our rankings that try to reflect what the scouting industry is saying, aren't going to be based on performance, though that obviously comes into play, especially in a strong college conference. Hubbart has had issues with the strike zone in the past, though not this year (2.0 BB/9). He has slightly better pure stuff than Messick, who is more of a feel-for-pitching guy with a really good changeup.

We had them where we did because Hubbart has some reliever risk, even if he’s answering that question more and more this spring, and Messick has a limited ceiling because of the lack of wow stuff. That doesn’t mean both can’t or won’t be big leaguers, and both might be starters. There have been many second-round picks (and beyond) who have gone on to long careers in big league rotations. We will have a couple of updates on our list as we expand to 200 soon and then to 250. If this duo keeps performing well, it wouldn’t surprise me if they float upwards on our rankings and it wouldn’t shock me that even if they didn’t, teams who covet college performers will consider either or both of them ahead of where they rank.

I know that you don’t draft for need in the first generally, but given the Tigers’ recent offensive struggles, do you see them going off high school pitching like you mocked to them recently, and maybe leaning towards a college bat to get them to the Majors sooner? -- @bigsullyt

You kind of answered the question yourself in terms of not drafting for need, but there are a few arguments to be made here. One could take the early struggles of Spencer Torkelson and say, “Hey, maybe a college bat that gets to the bigs fast isn’t all that great?” I wouldn’t be one of those people as I think he’s going to be just fine. At the same time, the Tigers would also have a high school bat they took in Riley Greene in the big leagues if it hadn’t been for injury, so there’s no reason to rule that out.

As for what I said in that first mock, where I gave them prep right-hander Brock Porter out of Michigan (Who doesn’t like a local boy done good story?), it is WAY too early to draw any conclusions from that. Could it happen? Sure. But know that oftentimes we put a player in a spot mostly to reflect that he belongs in the conversation at that point in the first round. In his most recent mock, Jim Callis gave the Tigers Cam Collier. That’s Lou’s kid, who graduated high school early and has been more than holding his own at Chipola Junior College. And Jim said the Tigers do seem to prefer a bat as of right now.

All of this can, and likely will, change as we still have more than two months before the Draft. So stay tuned, but know that even if the Tigers do take a hitter, it’s not because they need offensive help in Detroit. It’s because they feel he’s the best player on the board at the time.