This week on Big Hype Prospects, I’m playing it fast and loose with “big hype” in order to focus on a few Spring Training battles.
Five BHP in Nea
Will Brennan, 25, OF, CLE (MLB)
(AAA) 433 PA, 9 HR, 15 SB, .316/.367/.471
A favorite of mine and my main contact with Baseball America, Brennan is in a roster battle Oscar Gonzalez and Myles Straw This spring. Between average discipline and a keen feel for contact, he’s the latest Guardians prospect to walk in more than he gets out. The left-handed hitter looks like a future double machine, even if his home run is a little underwhelming. His defense is solid in the corners and passable in the center. With Straw on the roster and a ball-oriented pitching staff, he’s not ideal for center. The lack of home potential is an odd look for an outfield corner, yet his feel for hard contact hints at a three- or four-win player in similar form to his team-mate Stephen Kwan. After Gonzalez defied expectations last season, it will be interesting to see how the Guardians distribute playing time.
Cade Cavalli, 24, SP, WSH (MLB)
(AAA) 97 IP, 9.65 K/9, 3.62 BB/9, 3.71 ERA
Cavalli debuted last fall and struggled in his only appearance. He brought out his impressive repertoire with four above-average offerings, but his below-average command was showing as well. This is a profile that tends to find success in the Majors after a sometimes long adjustment period. The Nationals will look to shore him up after only throwing 101.1 total innings last season. He is expected to break camp with the club. Don’t be surprised if opportunities are taken to give him extra rest or limit his innings per start. The design should resemble its use Josiah Gray Last season. He threw 148.2 innings in 28 starts. As a starter-over-command, it has some of the same pointers as Dylan Chase.
Justin-Henry Malloy, 23, 3B, DET (AAA)
(A+/AA/AAA) 591 PA, 17 HR, 5 SB, .289/.408/.454
After opening up three levels in 2022, the Braves included Malloy in the Joe Jimenez trade. Atlanta’s recent track record with prospect trades is rather incredible. For the most part, they kept the winners and cleared the delays. Including Malloy in a trade for a reliever with a checkered past could be seen as a negative sign. I polled two scouting contacts and got different takes. One doesn’t think Malloy hits the ball well enough to be a regular prospect. The other is more optimistic about the discipline of the plate bearing the profile. Malloy walked in 16.4 percent of plate appearances last season while keeping his swinging strike rate under 10 percent. It has an extreme contact draw approach with a roughly balanced 20/40/40 liner/ground/fly mix. Malloy looks like a Max Muncy starter kit – just remember that Muncy finally broke out at age 27. There’s no guarantee Malloy will find the barrels and hard contact rates that drive Muncy’s success. On the other hand, he has a decent shot to make the roster later this season.
Logan O’Hoppe, 23, C, LAA (MLB)
(AA) 447 PA, 26 HR, 7 SB, .283/.416/.544
Acquired at Brandon Mars trade, O’Hoppe competes Max Stassi and out of options Matt Tice for the angels who get to work. Other than a brief 16-catch debut, O’Hoppe spent all of last season in Double-A. This spring, he neither thrived nor embarrassed himself at this point. His 2022 explosion seemed built on a wave of discipline at the plate. That he improved further when he joined the Angels affiliate, including a .306/.473/.673 line in 131 plate appearances, is a positive sign. Assuming the club avoids injury, it could be tempting to give O’Hoppe further seasoning in Triple-A. There seems to be no room for all three of Stassi, Thaiss and O’Hoppe on the roster. While he is the master of the future, sticking with Thaiss in the short term makes some sense.
Conner Capel, 25, OF, OAK (MLB)
(AAA) 409 PA, 20 HR, 21 SB, .264/.364/.422
A favorite of mine to earn an extended appearance at some point this season, Capel is already over the top JJ Bleday This spring. Capel is performing well after a successful 2022 split between St. Louis and Oakland. There’s every chance Capel is the best outfielder in camp right now. He was inconsistent throughout his minor league stint, sometimes showing discipline or overaggressiveness, contact feel or sharp pace, and a power- or speed-based profile. Considering his long and fascinating journey, it is difficult to know who exactly he will become in the future. That he’s experimented with so many ways to play suggests he’s highly adaptable, a trait that bodes well for Major League success. While other franchises would consider Capel a capable backup, the Athletics should have starting opportunities available throughout the season.
Ji-Hwan Bae, PIT (23): In the mix for the Pirates starting second base job, Bae is off to a slow start this spring. So is his competition. When Bae is on, he displays an above-average contact-sensing eye. While he doesn’t produce much power, he should get on base enough to disrupt pitchers with his speed.
Jo Adell, LAA (23): Adell is expected to start the season in Triple-A respecting the veteran Angels outfield. This will activate his final minor league option. It’s his last chance for regular playing time before playing waiver wire. Adell can still carry the ball, but it looks like he would benefit from joining a non-promoter willing to release him unrestricted. His spring stats to date do not suggest he will be upset Taylor Ward the Hunter Renfroe for playtime.
Yainer Diaz, HOU (24): An aggressive free-swinger with strikes, Diaz pulls half-heartedly Salvador Perez. In the minors, he has shown the ability to make high quality contact despite a spread approach. He seems prone to breaking balls. Diaz is making an effort to join the Astros as their backup — one who could provide more earnings than defense. Martin Maldonado.