With the countdown to Opening Day into the single digits and rosters being trimmed every day, MLB Pipeline looks at some prospects who have impressed during Spring Training.
Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo discussed this very topic on the latest Pipeline Podcast, breaking down players into four categories -- Top 100 hitters, Top 100 pitchers, Non-Top 100 hitters and Non-Top 100 pitchers. Here are eight players who stood out to them.
Top 100 hitters
Zac Veen, OF, Rockies No. 2 (MLB No. 27): He’s coming off a strong Arizona Fall League campaign, and he’s carried that over into the spring. ... He’s interesting because he is doing Zac Veen things, and then also showing the things that he needs to work on. What he needs to work on is his approach -- two walks, 16 strikeouts. He’s gotten a lot of playing time, 48 at-bats. Some injuries in the Rockies outfield have given him the opportunity to play a lot more, to the point of when I was there all the way in the beginning of March, it was a little bit of buzz or noise that maybe he would sneak onto the Opening Day roster just until someone was ready.
Now, that’s a bit rich for me, especially since he didn’t really set the world on fire in the Minor Leagues last year -- especially once he got up to Double-A, but what he has done is continue to steal bases, eight steals in nine tries. And he's hit. He's hit .271 with a homer and a couple of doubles. The impact still hasn’t come as much, but he’s been playing with the new rules regarding how many times you can throw over, and things like that, for a while. He likes to run, but he’s not a burner. He's not one of the fastest prospects, but he has shown that even in big league games he understands how to steal bases and he’s second among all players in big league Spring Training games with his eight stolen bases. -- Mayo
Jasson Domínguez, OF, Yankees No. 2 (MLB No. 47): We saw him in the Fall League and he didn’t really do much in the Arizona Fall League, which is a hitter’s circuit. And, I kind of wrapped my head around, OK, we call him The Martian because he has these otherworldly tools, and they’re good tools but they’re not unbelievable tools. And that maybe he’s more of a solid across the board guy than a star.
And again, I’m not going to say that just because he played great in 25 plate appearances in big league camp as a 20-year-old means that we need to start comparing him to Mickey Mantle again, but man, what a great spring for Jasson Domínguez. He hit .455, four home runs, walked as much as he struck out, made a lot of contact, and really impressed the Yankees. Aaron Boone, I think the quote he told reporters when he sent him down was that he didn’t expect he’d be sending Jasson Domínguez down too many more times. I don’t think it’s out of the question we could see him in New York at some point this year, even though he just turned 20. He had a really solid year last year as a teenager, 16 homers, 37 steals, got to Double-A. And, again, I don’t know if this guy is going to be the greatest player of all time and that type of hype, but he could be a guy who hits .270 with 25 to 30 homers per season. ... He has looked great this spring. -- Callis
Top 100 pitchers
Brandon Pfaadt, RHP, D-backs No. 4 (MLB No. 59): I was lucky enough that I saw him pitch in what I think was his Cactus League debut, and this is a guy who split the year last year between Double-A and Triple-A, and threw really well in Reno, which never happens. And he has been quite good this spring with a 3.75 ERA over 12 innings, so the earned run average doesn’t matter that much but he struck out 15 in 12 innings. He’s only given up eight hits and four walks, his average against is .195 -- he’s looked like he belongs.
So I think that he is going to impact Arizona’s rotation at some point during this 2023 season. I think if they needed to break camp with him in the rotation that would be fine … so I think he is going to get an opportunity at some point soon and I could very well see him being the first guy they call upon if they need a starter. -- JM
Gavin Stone, RHP, Dodgers No. 5 (MLB No. 56): It’s interesting, Juan Toribio had a story on him the other day for us and he noted that Stone isn’t in the mix to earn a spot in the rotation on Opening Day because the Dodgers are planning on going with Ryan Pepiot or Michael Grove because Tony Gonsolin is hurt. And I guess it’s because those guys have been in the big leagues, and Stone has not, so they would have to open a spot on the 40-man roster, but if it was based purely on merit then the guy should be Gavin Stone.
Again, I don’t place a ton of faith in Spring Training stats, given the small sample size and very little is competition. But, that said, Gavin Stone hasn’t given up a run in four outings, he struck out 14 in 6 2/3 innings, which I think is pretty good. It’s not a fluke, this is a guy who led the Minors in ERA last year and ranked fifth in strikeout rate. And, it feels like I talk about this in every other episode, what a great job the Dodgers do developing guys. This was a former fifth-round pick, signed for $97,500 as the second to last pick in the 2020 Draft. And he's gone from having a 91-93 mph fastball in college, now he sits 94-96, hits 98, with a ton of induced vertical break on the fastball. He got rid of the curveball in college and the Dodgers helped him come up with a solid mid-80s slider, and the most impressive pitch he has -- and the one that’s come the farthest -- he barely ever used a changeup in college and now he’s got a plus-plus changeup in the mid-80s with devastating tumble when he throws strikes. So, this guy has got three really good pitches and he throws strikes and he performs. So, I don’t know what more Gavin Stone has to show before he gets his shot in Los Angeles. -- JC
Non-Top 100 hitters
Christian Encarnacion-Strand, 3B, Reds No. 7: He’s already been sent down, but talk about a guy making an impression in his first Spring Training with a new organization. He came over from the Twins in the Tyler Mahle deal last year, hit really well. And lots of times a guy gets traded and he comes over and he struggles because of new surroundings. But he continued to hit well last year, he had a huge year, 32 homers and 114 RBIs, and the Reds have been really impressed because he showed a better feel to hit than they thought. The raw power has always been there and he went 15-for-26 in big league camp with the Reds, that’s a .577 batting average, he hit four homers and drove in 14 runs over 12 games.
The reason why I thought it was worth bringing him up even though he was sent down is because the Reds, right now, have Spencer Steer, who is going to be their third baseman in all likelihood, and Steer struggled defensively. Now, the thing with Encarnacion-Strand is I don’t know if he can play third long term, and one of the reasons they sent him down was so he could get more reps at first, where he is not going to play in Cincinnati while Joey Votto is still active. But, I think he is going to hit his way up at some point. And whether it’s a start at first to let Votto have a day off or DH, a couple of starts at DH or a start or two at third, I think he is going to show that what he is doing is for real. He’s barreling up baseballs on a regular enough basis to feel confident that he is tapping into that easily plus-raw power. -- JM
Casey Schmitt, 3B/SS, Giants No. 4: He’s impressed not just as a hitter but as a defender too, and, what is interesting about him defensively, is last year when Marco Luciano was hurt they needed him to play shortstop and he looked really good at shortstop as well. And the reason I bring that up is because Brandon Crawford is having knee problems again and the Giants are looking at guys like Thairo Estrada who can play short … and they’ve been working Casey Schmitt out at shortstop at big league camp and he's looked good there. I think he’s a potential Gold Glover at third, he was also a pretty good relief pitcher in college at San Diego State too, just a very versatile athlete.
And he’s had a great spring at the plate as well, he’s hitting .441, six extra-base hits, I think he’s fifth among all prospects in total bases at Spring Training. And I don’t necessarily think he’s going to make the Opening Day roster, but if Crawford is out for a while, Casey Schmitt, even though he is their third baseman of the future, might be their best shortstop of the present. That’s not out of the question. And he really made some strides offensively last year too. In his pro debut in 2021, he had a broken nose, he had a wrist injury, and that kept his numbers down. But last year he hit .293 with 21 homers and got to Triple-A. … If he keeps hitting, we know he can field, I don’t think he’s too far away from being a Top 100 Prospect consideration. -- JC
Non-Top 100 pitchers
Ben Joyce, RHP, Angels No. 11: He’s been such an interesting player/prospect since last year in the Draft as a guy at Tennessee who could throw 105 mph but got hit more than he should. Didn’t pitch a lot, long injury history, so he didn’t pitch on back-to-back days, or in high-leverage situations. We talked about him a lot and he’s in big league camp and he’s been impressive from the get-go. He finally gave up some runs (in his last) outing, but only gave up one hit, so he’s now appeared in six games and he’s give up two hits, over 5 2/3 innings, but he’s missing bats. Yes, he’s walking some guys.
The outing before last he hit 104 mph. I think the most encouraging thing for those wondering, well, how’s it going to work? We talked about him a lot where just throwing hard alone isn’t going to be enough, and he can get hit. It's that he’s added in a harder cutter that he’s still learning how to throw, but he’s had some success in big league camp with it. So, this is a guy who's going to be put at a higher level, I probably would start him at Double-A, but it’s already accelerated how quickly they think that he could help them. ... Obviously any time a big league staff sees a guy averaging well over 100 mph with the fastball and has other swing-and-miss stuff, as long as he is somewhere around the zone, they’re gonna want to get him to the big leagues.
I think they’re going to want to try to get him to the big leagues sooner rather than later and see how he plays. … He has opened a lot of eyes on the Angels' big league staff this spring. -- JM
Dylan Dodd, LHP, Braves No. 10: He was on our 2021 Draft Top 250, left-hander in the Braves system. Wound up being a third-round pick that year. Former two-way player in junior college, was Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year at Southeast Missouri State. Last year, his first full season in pro ball, he struck out 153 guys in 142 innings, got to Triple-A. And the rapport on him is kind of similar to what it was in college, he was one of those guys, he was an area scout favorite, but he can just really really pitch.
He’s got a low 90’s fastball, probably the best attribute about it is his ability to command it. He has a slider and a changeup that are probably more average and solid, but he has really good feel for mixing offerings and locations and he keeps hitters off balance. He’s added a couple of ticks of velocity, and he’s been lights out in Spring Training. He’s pitched four times, he’s given up one run in 13 innings, he’s got a 15-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio, and it looks like either he or Jared Shuster is going to open the season as Atlanta’s fifth starter. Jared Shuster has been exceptional as well, but one of those two guys looks like they’re going to open the season in Atlanta’s rotation. And whichever one doesn’t, I think we’re going to see pretty quickly. -- JC