Here is the introductory post to this series, explaining our methodology.
If you’d like to view these prospect grades in greater detail, you can do so here.
30. Jose Natera (SP) — 2 points
Scouting Report: Jose Natera posted an 81% groundball rate through 28 innings in the Dominican Summer League last spring, landing him on our watch list. Yes, it was the DSL, and yes, GB rates are elevated in rookie ball. But 81%. Holy crap. Even when guys did manage to lift the ball, they popped out in the infield half the time. The FIP inputs were no joke either: he fanned 28% of the opposition while yielding only a 3% walk rate. Pretty sick for a true seventeen year old.
Eppler rushed his teenage ass to Arizona in July, and the numbers plummeted. Strikeouts remained respectable, but walks spiked and the batted ball numbers lost their luster. He leaked runs. Still, he was a seventeen-year old Venezuelan dumped midseason into Scottsdale’s arid sprawl, so we’ll reserve judgment. At 6’1”, 180, he’s no Elvin Rodriguez, the willowy, infinitely-projectable arm we shipped last season to Detroit in exchange for Justin Upton; but Natera just turned 17 so, well, who knows. Really, who knows, because aside from the occasional mention as a guy to watch, there isn’t a (free) verifiable source out there on him. The new baseball/fantasy website Statsplus.net purports to have the Natera scoop, putting impressive future potential grades of 60 (plus) on both a 92-94 mph fastball and a cutter. Tack on a potentially average curveball, squint a little, and we can begin to project Natera into the middle of an early-to-mid 2020’s rotation or at the back end of the bullpen. Still, that’s just one source, and an unproven one at that. I will be very impressed with Statsplus LLC if their scouting report is confirmed in the coming weeks by the more established prospect websites.
At any rate, Natera’s a perfectly respectable lottery ticket, and makes last month’s loss of better-known Wilkel Hernandez more palatable. Attrition is high with teenage arms, and the Halos’ player development folks haven’t struck gold years with guys like this, but I’m happy to see them newly devoted to stockpiling projects. Sometimes these guys become K-Rod or Ramon Ortiz. —rghan
29. Torii Hunter, Jr. (OF) — 6 points
Scouting Report: When the Angels initially drafted Torii Hunter Jr., it seemed like a favor to a former fan favorite Torii Hunter. All the Jr. version of the Angels legend did was proceed to rake in his first taste of professional ball, hitting .352/.432/.441 with 13 out of 15 stolen bases, and 48 runs scored in 53 games in the Pioneer League.
The Hunter Jr. has the frame you’d expect from a Notre Dame wide receiver, mostly because, well, he was a Notre Dame wide receiver (6’2’’ and 180 lbs.). This is basically his calling card: he’s raw as they come but offers some untapped potential. For someone who hasn’t been able to focus solely on baseball, he’s got a pretty good idea of what he’s doing at the plate (23 BB’s and 43 K’s), and has plus speed which should help his overall profile, even if the power never does come. He’s such a terrific athlete, he should be able to hit for some more power the more he plays and matures physically.
He also uses some of that athleticism in center field, much like his old man. After being the teams leading wide receiver in 2015 with 28 catches, 363 yards, and 2 touchdowns, he’ll be able to utilize those skills to be a center fielder.
Hunter seemed like a “good graces” sort of selection in the 23rd round of the draft, but he’s shown he might have been a pretty solid value that late in the draft. Draft athletes and turn them into baseball players is an old mantra in the sport, and the Angels seem to be doing that with guys like Torii, Brandon Marsh, and Jahmai Jones. —CK
28. Joe Gatto (SP) — 15 points
Scouting Report: Gatto has slowly climbed the ranks of the Angels minor league system, making two stops in both Burlington and Orem. He has also been promoted mid-season each of the last two years and hit High A Inland Empire last summer where he pitched to a 3.43 ERA and an 8.6 K/9. Last year looked to be a big step forward for Gatto as he totaled a career high 128.2 innings with career lows in ERA (3.43) and WHIP (1.399).
Working with a plus fastball, the 21 year old looks to be grasping the nuances of pitching as a whole and doing better as the competition increases. He discussed his approach in this interview with HH last year.
But, overall, if he can continue improving his secondary pitches and keep up his current pace of one promotion per year we could be seeing the 22 year old in big league camp in 2020. The secondary pitch to really watch for is his curveball. It has a sharp break to it and really falls of the table. With a little better command of that pitch, Gatto could turn into a solid starting pitching prospect, or at worst an interesting bullpen piece with two plus pitches. —JJ
27. Cole Duensing (SP) — 17 points
Scouting Report: Duensing often gets compared to a right-handed version of Tyler Skaggs which is certainly not a bad thing. They both stand at 6’4” but Duensing, who is still only 19, is about 35 pounds lighter than Skaggs who was also rather lanky when drafted. Both pitchers also have 3 primary pitches: Fastball, Curve, and Changeup. Taylor Blake Ward says Duensing has the best curveball in the system and when you combine that with a currently average changeup and above average fastball, you have a very solid pitch repertoire. Duensing is only 19 years old, so should fill out his athletic frame a bit more and also should increase his fastball velocity (which currently sits in the low 90s) a few more ticks. Duensing makes his delivery look easy with very repeatable and smooth mechanics (see video below).
Duensing put up some respectable numbers as a 17 year old in Tempe, but had a rough time this past season. Sure Orem is not very pitcher friendly, but Duensing had a 10.74 ERA and 1.85 WHIP in 32.2 innings of work. Duensing started out the year with some rough numbers over 8.2 innings in Tempe with an 8.3 BB/9 and 3.1 K/9 rate but he improved on those numbers in Orem with a 4.7 BB/9 and 6.1 K/9. He also gave up 9 home runs which equates to almost 3 per full 9 inning game and he hit 7 batters. Those numbers are not great, but Duensing has age to his advantage and the Angels can take their time with his development.
Duensing has shown some inconsistencies and rawness to his pitches, but still has a high ceiling as a #3/#4 starter. Duensing is one of those guys who you watch pitch and can just tell he has major league potential. He’s been projected to reach the majors in 2021 which would be his age 22 season, but that could easily get bumped back to 2022 depending on how long it takes for Duensing to develop better consistency and polish. —JD
Fun fact: Duensing was drafted just 3 rounds after his best friend from Kansas, Nonie Williams.
26. Connor Justus (SS) — 19 points
Scouting Report: Drafted in the 5th round in 2016, Justus is fulfilling his calling card as a skillful up-the-middle player on the defensive end. Playing 113 games at shortstop, Justus recorded 20 errors for a .954 fielding percentage. While these aren’t exactly trustworthy metrics, they illustrate Justus’s continuation of good run prevention through a strong arm and quick first step.
On the offensive side, Justus shows incredible plate discipline with an on-base percentage 117 points above his batting average, walking 12.2% of the time. Lack of contact, however, is presently the issue preventing him from reaching his potential. While his .261 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) indicates he got unlucky this season (MLB average hovers around .300), a long swing path to the ball that will tend to lead to weak contact, routine popups, and jammed ground balls as opposed to ground balls. A 22.4% strikeout rate, 40.3% groundball rate, and 16.4% line percentage are all concerning numbers, figures that can be mended with a little less plate selectivity and a swing revamp.
Justus will have to condense his swing, but his high makeup should instill additional confidence in his abilities. Defensively, he is already ready for the big leagues and could contribute as a bench piece sooner than later. It’s more likely the Angels will move him along in accordance with his offensive performance, however, as Justus’s offensive profile will determine his role at the major-league level. —RS