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Second Half A-Ball Six Pack (Pt. 2)
Nate Handy does a deep dive on 6 Single-A Prospects
*Editor Note: Because Nate is so in-depth and adds video, which is awesome, we have to break this post into two parts. Because these post are sent via email, Gmail limits the size. So I am breaking it into two parts.
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C/1B/DH Tayden Hall
A Carolina (Mil)
20 yo, 0% Fantrax
Enough of all this Mets banter, we need a shout-out to a Brewer in this six-pack. The Brewers haven’t been shy about investing in quirky guys over recent history, and former big leaguer Toby Hall’s son is another one. It’s not illustrated here, but Hall’s initial setup is as open as you’ll ever see (it’s even toned down a bit since last season), but as is illustrated, he gets himself into a good hitting position, making it an inconsequential quark. Hall’s profile as a hitter isn’t run of the mill, either. We’re talking about a high-contact hitter who doesn’t chase and seems to pepper the opposite field, at least that was the look during his brief nine-game stint in high A, post his selection in the 2022 draft (9th round out of junior college). Hall walked more than he struck out in college and that trend continues in pro ball.
Hall’s spent the majority of 2023 on the IL and has recently come back so we’re just starting to get to see him in Carolina. As a one-and-done junior college with some prep recognition but not tons, Hall isn’t well known, and part of the allure is simply seeing more. Paired with all this intriguing plate skill is whether this large-bodied lefty can park ‘em. He hasn’t yet, and this double via Keon Moreno may be the hardest ball I’ve seen him hit, at least to the pull side:
To my amateur eye, it seems fair to wonder if there’s efficiency in the transfer of energy from the lower half in that swing. There are common lefty idiosyncrasies in there, like hips that seem to go too fast, but a young hitter who, at least for a minute, showed high A pitching wasn’t too much and continues to own the strike zone, with an ability to rack up hits when the ball gets deep on him intrigues. It’s been only 45 pro games across three levels, but Hall owns a .297/.435/.377 slash. There hasn’t been enough to go rostering Hall, but he’s one of the more interesting B-side watches the rest of this season. Is there a lefty catcher swiss army type here with the offensive ability to start garnering dynasty interest? (Reports of him capable of playing corner outfield exist.) It may never get to must-roster appeal, but if you play in large leagues, especially, it’s not hard to understand how such a type could get interesting in the upper levels, and his skillset might get him there sooner rather than later.
SS/2B Diego Velasquez
A San Jose (SF)
19 yo, 1% FantraxRoster
We’re four cold ones deep, let’s get a little spicier. Velasquez was recently named the Giants' #17 prospect by the previously mentioned, esteemed publication. Admittedly, I have not watched as much as I would like, but I saw enough to burn a roster spot in several leagues while investigating more, just in case someone like Chris caught wind and my chance slipped away. The teenage Venezuelan, true middle infielder has slashed .303/.391/.438 with six home runs. Splitting time equally between 2B and SS, he’s become a fixture atop the lineup, typically slotted two-hole. It might be fair to wonder if the sparse reports out there are a bit dated on Velasquez.
Said reports have been a fruitful B-side hunting ground in the past. Reputations of being an athletic switch-hitting Venezuelan with a middle infield glove who may not have the strength or plate skills to ascend on that side of the ball…and then starts showing otherwise have produced some bangers. Tovar is the latest. Tovar ditched switch-hitting, but Velasquez keeps doing so, and from both looks and the stat line, there doesn’t seem to be a drastic difference, at least against these arms. Velasquez only hit two rookie ball home runs over two seasons, and he’s hit six to date, four from the left side and two from the right. There may be more natural pop from the right side, but as shown below, he can send it from the left side too:
You can maybe see it here, but a long-looking bat is being swung a lot. I don’t say that in a literal sense, but hitters who stay well-balanced and put the bat to the ball, not the body, can give that illusion. Throw out all the talk of park factors in the league explaining the bump in power, this guy is showing up bigger than listed with solid-looking technique from both sides of the plate and producing. Switch hitters have two swings to develop, but Velasquez isn’t struggling and has the look of a budding true prospect in their system, if he isn’t already, which I suspect he is. The Giants can be a hard system to predict in way of promotions, but Velasquez may get run as a teenager in high A before the season’s end. I don’t think it’s crazy talk to consider him a top-500 prospect or better. Dynasty owners don’t seem to be treating him as such. It’s been my experience young hitters from the Cal or Northwest Leagues who don’t already come with a name…it can take the rest of the country time to catch up.
2B Manuel Pena
A+ Hillsboro (Arz)
19 yo, 1% Fantrax
Sometimes you’re not synced up with the rest of the dynasty prospecting world, and sometimes that can be wonderful. Unbeknownst to me, Pena turned heads as an 18-year-old in the ACL last year. He went on to spend 30some games in Visalia with unremarkable production but started hitting top 30 lists. He’s now started hitting some fade lists while I’ve just started paying attention. Despite lackluster production over 88 A ball games, it didn’t stop Arizona from promoting him. They weren’t shy to challenge him more after he went .327/.381/.442 his last 25 games with Visalia. There’s been a lack of home runs, with only three on the season. Two of them happened in his second high A game. Those two at-bats are here:
Yet what appeals to me, might be the same appeal to his organization, as challenging a guy with sound technique at the plate might make a lot of sense. Pena caught my attention as a guy who might be keeping some real top-shelf balance through his swing. If you can imagine driving a pole down the backside of a hitter's jersey, forcing him to stay in a spot, not wasting motion, and maybe biomechanically transferring energy efficiently, Pena might be a great example. His head stays beautifully still. He’s strong too. It’s a profile that fits the bill of a potentially heavy-hitting left-handed second baseman.
Pena is aggressive, maybe too aggressive, but that doesn’t scare me, nor does the lack of production thus far. If he’s a good hitter, why doesn’t he hot good, right? Hard for me to guess as I’m still sleuthing, but if there are hitters I’m going to stay bullish on despite production, it’s sound-looking guys like Pena.
I don’t think rostering Pena is something we need to be too aggressive with right now, but I’m wondering if giving this kid more than he can handle is a bit intentional, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it just “clicks” pretty quick here and we find ourselves amidst a young “pop up” gem. The D’Backs seem to be treating him like they expect it to come together. Pena has shown the ability to hit the ball hard to all fields. He’s a hitter the stat line isn’t gonna alert folks to, but the film does, at least for me, and that may be the right way to go B-siding these days.
So as trade deadline season is approaching (or arriving) and we start to head into the last few months of A ball, a few names to think about. Maybe some spec spots come up for you in large leagues and you’re out of ideas or watching these guys may be an appetizer to a big 2024. All six are still very young, and the bones have developmental meat. Every big “pop-up” flashes some glimpses, particularly down the stretch of the previous season. At least the B-sides I’ve been on that hit did. And you never know who might put in the work during the offseason and come out banging. Most of the time, it’s not the ones I really think are going to. Is B-siding like this better than taking blind dart throws? I have no idea, but I think our B-side history would put the odds at one of these guys booming. We may find ourselves with a juicy free trade chip, at the least. Cheers.