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Five MLB prospects living up to the hype

This week on Big Hype Prospects, we bounce between the low and upper minors to check in on a couple of handfuls of notable prospects.

Five Big Hype Prospects

Marco Luciano, 20, SS/3B, SFG (A+)
222 PA, 10 HR, .268/.342/.470

Once considered the “next big thing,” Luciano has turned out to be less athletic than originally believed. When he added strength prior to 2021, he lost speed and flexibility. He still has a bright future, but there are a number of questions related to his future position, ability to make contact, and work ethic. Teams can overlook questionable range at shortstop, but Luciano also suffers from an errant arm, making a move down the defensive spectrum more likely. The work ethic concerns seem overblown to me — sometimes players draw negative reviews because they take their failures in stride. Fans, in particular, often equate tantrums with caring and wistful shakes of the head with a lack of care. Scouts too sometimes rush to judgment.

He has only 249 plate appearances this season because he missed more than two months with a lower-back strain. Since returning on August 4, he’s batting .243/.341/.419 in 85 plate appearances. All told, he’s performed on par with expectations for a 20-year-old top prospect in High-A. His swing is geared for high exit velocity, fly-ball contact. He profiles as a future 30-homer threat. Keep an eye on his strikeout rate as he advances into the upper minors next season.

Josh Jung, 24, 3B, TEX (MLB)
(AAA) 106 PA, 6 HR, 1 SB, .273/.321/.525

Listed as a “snub” in last week’s edition of Big Hype Prospects because he wasn’t yet in the majors, the Rangers have finally called upon their top prospect. Jung was on the cusp of an Opening Day assignment with Texas before an injury held him out until late July. Curiously, he’s actually performed poorly lately. After an initial thrashing of Triple-A pitching, he’s batting just .197/.232/.288 (.300 BABIP) over his last 69 plate appearances. Much of his recent woes can be boiled down to a 1.4 percent walk rate and 36.2 percent strikeout rate, both of which are uncharacteristic.

Jung is a hard contact machine that uses all fields. He generates substantial pull-side power. His overall profile is reminiscent of peak Josh Donaldson — a plus defender who can hit for average and power with a mid-lineup role. Given his ongoing slump, his debut might include a hiccup or two.

Alec Burleson, 23, OF, STL (MLB)
(AAA) 470 PA, 20 HR, 4 SB, .331/.372/.532

With Dylan Carlson on the injured list, the Cardinals get an opportunity to decide if Burleson will be a part of their postseason roster. A 2020 draftee, he raced through the minors without any setbacks. He’s a free-swinger with above-average plate coverage and an ability to use all fields. He’s a below-average runner who might best fit as a designated hitter long-term. We might find his aggression is exploited by major-league pitchers. While his swing is often described as uncomplicated or simplistic — a trait usually associated with middling or worse power — Burleson is able to generate plenty of pop. The next step in his development is to improve his swing decisions.

Tink Hence, 20, SP, STL (A)
52.1 IP, 13.93 K/9, 2.58 BB/9, 1.38 ERA

The Cardinals have printed outfielders in recent years, and they’ve historically done well developing pitchers too. Hence has drool-worthy stats in Low-A, but it’s worth noting he’s pitching once every seven days. When he does appear, his outings are brief. He faced 16 batters on September 7, which also happens to be a career-high. He usually sees between 11 and 13 batters. It’s assumed Hence is being handled carefully due to his string-bean frame. He’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds. The FanGraphs crew compares his appearance to Triston McKenzie (6-foot-5, 165 pounds). For now, we can set workload concerns aside, but he’ll eventually need to work on a five-day schedule and face 20 or more hitters.

Hence wields a fastball and curve that fit the current meta. He works up in the zone with the heater and drops in the curve. It’s worth noting that hitters typically adjust to popular pitching strategies within a couple of seasons. Hence might find his approach is less effective in 2025 than similar pitchers are experiencing today. He’s still working to develop a third offering. His changeup remains a work in progress per reports, drawing adjectives ranging from nasty to inconsistent.

Bo Naylor, 22, C, CLE (AAA)
(AA/AAA) 461 PA, 17 HR, 20 SB, .259/.397/.480

Naylor was generally well-regarded as of 2019. After the lost COVID year, he played so poorly in 2021 that some evaluators considered him a bust. Case in point, Baseball America ranked him 59th overall in their August update. When FanGraphs profiled Cleveland’s system in mid-April, Naylor ranked 28th — that’s just among Guardian farm hands.

He responded this season by thriving in Double-A and more than holding his own in Triple-A. The brother of fellow Guardian Josh Naylor, Bo has a discipline-forward approach that includes decent pop and a surprising feel for contact. As a left-handed hitter, he can take advantage of the friendlier aspects of Progressive Field’s park factors. The profile offers shades of former Guardians catching prospect Carlos Santana. Naylor happens to be a plus defender behind the dish, making a move down the defensive spectrum unnecessary. Like Santana, Naylor is liable to combine a poor batting average with a plus on base and slugging percentages. He has above-average foot speed for a catcher.

Five More

Shane Baz, TBR (23): Baz has just 40.1 big league innings split across two seasons so he’s still technically a prospect — and debatably the top pitching prospect. He’s eyeing a late-September or early-October return from an elbow sprain. At his best, he has a potent four-pitch repertoire though he still has room to improve his consistency. If he appears again this season, it will likely be as a high-leverage reliever.

Robert Hassell, WSH (20): A contact of mine casually mentioned a lot of the shine has come off Hassell this season. Despite struggling with the Nationals High-A affiliate, Washington opted to promote Hassell to Double-A based on his larger success with the Padres High-A club. Since arriving in Double-A, he’s batting .221/.310/.312 with a homer and a steal in 87 plate appearances. Personally, I’m starting to get Andrew Benintendi vibes. The swing is “sweet” but the quality of contact is not.

Logan O’Hoppe, LAA (22): O’Hoppe was the standout hitting prospect in the Phillies system heading into the trade deadline. However, Double-A Reading is notoriously hitter-friendly. It was unclear if his breakout was a product of the venue. Fast-forward 101 plate appearances, and it sure seems like O’Hoppe is the real deal. Since joining the Angels, he’s batting .297/.475/.689 with nine home runs and more walks than strikeouts.

Zac Veen, COL (20): Veen thrashed High-A pitching to the tune of .269/.368/.439 with 11 home runs in 400 plate appearances. The carrying trait, however, was his 50 steals in 54 attempts. He earned a promotion to Double-A where he’s made another 108 plate appearances. He’s struggling to adjust to the level — possibly due to fatigue. In 108 plate appearances, he’s batting .196/.269/.258 with one home run and four steals in nine attempts. It’s not super common for 20-year-olds to receive 508 plate appearances. The fatigue explanation passes a smell test.

Noelvi Marte, CIN (20): It’s been a while since we last checked in on the contentious shortstop. He’s continued to perform well with the Reds, making incremental gains to his plate discipline and contact rates. He’s batting .292/.397/.443 in 126 plate appearances with Cincy’s High-A affiliate. Where he’ll eventually fit in a system that includes the inestimable Elly De La Cruz remains to be seen, but he’s certainly trending towards a long major-league career. Across both franchises, he has 520 plate appearances with a .279/.371/.458 triple-slash, 19 home runs and 23 steals.

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