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2021 Minor League Season Recap Part 2: Super Young Guys at the A Level

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MLB: Player Headshots 2021 USA TODAY NETWORK

In Part 2 we’re looking at prospects who were significantly younger than the competition (Part 1 can be found here) These players are usually international signings or high school draftees who rocket through the system. Putting an extremely young player with older competition signals that the organization thinks highly of him. Back in 2013, the Astros put Rio Ruiz and Carlos Correa in Quad Cities to start the season, even though they were teenagers. In these contexts, prospect-success has a different metric.

Given the loss of short-season leagues, more prospects ended up being extremely young for their league. Below I’m profiling four players from Asheville who were 20 or younger during the season, and four teenagers at Fayetteville.

ASHEVILLE YOUNGSTERS

CARLOS HURTADO (C): The Astros signed Hurtado at age 16 out of Venezuela in 2018. He spent two years in the DSL. He only accumulated 28 total ABs across Fayetteville and Asheville. His placing may say more about a lack of catching depth than about his status. Most players his age would have been held at the development complex so they may prize his maturity and receiving skills. Will be worth keeping an eye on in 2022.

JULIO ROBAINA (P): Signed out of Cuba at 16, the lefty threw 5.2 innings as an 18-year old at QC in 2019. In 2021 he accumulated 77 IP across two A levels. After getting promoted to Asheville, Robaina seemed to improve. Although his ERA rose a bit to 3.90, his WHIP went down from 1.28 to 1.21. There are some nice numbers: only 4 HR across those innings. In Asheville his walk rate was 5% while he K’d 30% of hitters. His GB rate was 55%. Those were only 32 IP, but that’s not nothing, and a 20-year old who is missing bats and is flashing elite control while keeping the ball down is nothing to sneer at. I imagine he sneaks into offseason top 30s. Fangraphs ranked him #32 in April and noted his athleticism while slapping a 35 on his command.

COLIN BARBER (OF): Barber could also fit in the injured category since he only played 16 games. It was kind of insane that they put him in Asheville right away. Across 53 PAs he struck out a ton (42%) but also hit 3 HR. He has a power/speed combo that justifies his 4th round selection in 2019. A real bummer that he didn’t play more as his season ended in May. Let’s hope he gets in a winter league.

JAIME MELENDEZ (P). Melendez turns 20 next week and he enjoyed quite the ride, pitching across both A levels and ending up in Corpus. The Mexican 2019 signee simply destroyed the competition in A ball, posting 5/38 bb/k ratio across 18 innings in Fayetteville. He plateaued in Asheville (32 IP) and Corpus (7.2IP), still missing bats but yielding hits and struggling to find the zone. He still yielded only 3 HR across 58IP, and his advanced stats, albeit in an extremely small sample size, says he was unlucky in Corpus (FIP and xFIP 2 and 3 runs lower than his 5.87 ERA there). At 19 he struck out over 14 of batters in A+ and AA in 40 IP. He’s listed at 5’8” and so odds are stacked against him being a starter at the MLB level, but he came out of nowhere to land at 19th on the MLB.com ratings.

FAYETTEVILLE YOUNGSTERS

YOHANDER MARTINEZ (SS) Another Venezuelan signed at 16, Martinez made a strong impression in the GCL in 2019, when he drew 40 walks and stole 19 bags in 66 games. In 2021 he logged 43 games in Fayetteville, where his selectivity paid off (27 walks, 32 Ks), allowing him to achieve an OBP of .400. His lack of power kept his OPS at .696 and he only swiped 4 bags. Still, he’s a teenager in A ball.

MIGUEL PALMA (C): Also born in 2002 in Venezuela, Palma spent most of 2021 in the FCL, where he drew walks at such an absurd rate that he posted a .406 OBP despite hitting .196. Consider him our own Yasmani Grandal. He kept walking in Fayetteville, where, propelled by a .444 BABIP he put up a 308/472/410 slash across 53 PAs.

CRISTIAN GONZALES (SS): The Dominican is more familiar to readers of this site. He had more trouble controlling the strike zone in a larger sample size (6.7 walk%, 30.6 k?% across 123 PAs)

ALEX SANTOS (P): profiled in Part 1, but he was also a teenager in full-season ball.

CARLOS CALDERON (P): A teenager for a couple more weeks, he signed out of the DR in 2018. After showing decent control in the FCL he moved up to A ball where across 28.2 IP he walked 16.4% and K’d 33% of hitters. That’s a two-true outcome pitcher, as he only yielded 1 HR. His control got worse as the season went along but he also had some dominant games amidst stinkers. I suspect a strong age-20 season will have him banging on the back end of the top 30 this time next year.

CONCLUSION: These youngsters haven’t been overly impressive statistically, but if they perform well they’ll be at an age that will quickly bring them notice.

Future installments include:

Part 3: Pitchers in A and A+ who impressed

Part 4: Hitters in A and A+ who mashed

Part 5: Good-looking Pitchers an AA/AAA

Part 6: Hitters who Mashed in AA/AAA

Part 7: Your Time was Too Short: The Walking Wounded

Part 8: Risers and Fallers in 2021 (a kind of conclusion)