Digging For Diamonds 2021: Round One
Welcome to a revamped version of Digging For Diamonds, a series with a long history here at TDG. This year we’ll be releasing articles twice a month with prospects outside our top 100. We’ll give you deep dives on longshots and who we think should be on your radar. Each author will be trying to sell you on why you should monitor their selection, and at the end of each article, we’ll be asking for you to vote on which prospect you found to be this week’s “diamond.” Thanks for reading, and I hope we fill your season with interesting players you can stash away for your watchlists or for that godforsaken 24-team league you play in.
Adam Kloffenstein, SP Toronto Blue Jays
Analysis by Ken Balderston
Drafted out of high school in the third round of the 2018 draft, Kloffenstein, at the time, threw a fastball in the low 90’s along with a slider, curve, and change. A big body at 6’5” and 243lbs, he was what scouts call ‘projectable’ which, with a pitcher, usually means that he could add velocity or improve control. Two years later, Kloffenstein managed to do both and add a third pitch. He now throws a four-seam fastball touching 99 MPH, a sinker that’s been compared to Blake Treinen’s at 97 MPH, and the slider and change both routinely touch 90 MPH as well.
There’s a great story behind Kloffenstein’s lost 2020 season, having spent the year in the ‘Covid League’ in Texas after being the odd man out for the last spot at the Blue Jays alternate site. While many players would have just heeded the team’s advice to stay in shape and wait by the phone, Adam took the initiative to get permission to play ball with professional athletes in a competitive league. Rather than throw bullpens for three months, he played competitive ball with former major league and Triple-A players, who played pro ball in Japan. He was the youngest player in the league by 4 years, and the main takeaway was he learned a lot.
His pitching coach was Roger Clemens. While Roger reportedly didn’t tinker with his mechanics, he talked to Adam about being aggressive with hitters and how to stay sharp physically. Hence, he’s fresh every time he takes the mound. Fernando Rodney talked to him about locating his pitches and that big league hitters can hit 99 if you don’t locate the pitch. This kind of experience for a kid bound for A-Ball and only two years out of high school is priceless, especially when we note that he himself admitted that his biggest need was to improve mentally to get to the big leagues.
The stuff is all Adam’s, though, having arrived in the ‘Covid League’ with it (real name the Constellation Energy League). The increase in velocity unlocked in his time with the Blue Jays and his growth as a player. But a seven-mile-per-hour increase in velocity while also adding a pitch is a huge step forward. Kloffenstein’s goal is to reach the big leagues with five 70 grade pitches, and he figures he already has three pitches that are on their way to being elite. If he falls short and has five 55 or 60 grade pitches, the world of fantasy baseball would still be drooling over the possibilities.
Andy Pages, Outfield, Los Angeles Dodgers
Analysis by Kyle Brown
Andy Pages (pronounced Pa-Hez) is one of those prospects who is criminally underrated on account of the lost season in 2020. Pages was one of the better hitters coming out of Cuba in 2017 and signed with the Dodgers for $300,000. His 2018 numbers were not spectacular, but he did show off some excellent baseline skills in his first turn of professional baseball. His walk-rate was 12.9% in the Dominican Summer League and jumped to 17.6% in his 10-game stateside debut to end the season. The wRC+ for his 42-game DOSL stint was a lovely 151.
Prudence and serenity are needed when looking at any player’s DOSL numbers, but Pages backed up his professional debut by annihilating the Pioneer League to the tune of .298/.398/.651. The Pioneer League (may it rest in peace) was a league where every stadium was somewhat elevated, leading to some big power performances by several players (see: Brenton Doyle). That said, I had a chance to watch a lot of Andy Pages this offseason and I came away very impressed with his plate approach, ability to elevate the ball, and his lightning-quick hands. Pages’ aggressive approach is evident when you watch him. He tries to jump on every first-pitch fastball and send it flying, but after that first pitch, he seems to focus up and really hunt for balls that he can elevate and drive. When you look at his 53.5% fly-ball rate and his 19 home runs from 2019, it’s pretty clear that he is good at hitting the right pitches.
His swing has significant loft and uppercut, something that might be exploited as he moves up levels, but I am not yet worried about the 28.3% whiff-rate he tallied up in 2019. His hands are ridiculously fast and his ability to get the barrel on the ball is preternatural. As he matures and continues to refine his already advanced approach, the home runs will continue to fly. On top of all that, he knows how to take a walk, and his robust 2019 numbers came against competition that was 2.6 years older than Pages. ALL. SYSTEMS. GO.
A normal minor league season in 2020 would have likely exposed Pages to the fantasy industry. This would have led to a severely inflated price compared to what he can be had for at present. The Dodgers have an incredible amount of minor league talent, so it is easy to see how a player like Pages might not be on everyone’s radar just yet. Capitalize on that and get yourself an emerging power bat in an incredible organization.
Mark Vientos, Third Base, New York Mets
Analysis by Patrick Magnus
When We Were Young
What’s great about youth? Remember all the things you were going to do? There were so many possibilities. So much potential. You were going to get that job, marry that person, live in that place, and grab whatever else you could—Ya’know, all the usual junk that gets perpetuated by cultural norms, neocolonialism, and capitalism. Now, look at how it turned out? I’m guessing you didn’t quite get everything you wanted, but hey, you got some of it, right? How much did you have to give up? How much of yourself did you lose along the way?
Enough to be reading my portion of this article, so there’s that. No judgment here though, I’m a bald 36-year-old white man writing about pretend baseball. We’re good as far as I’m concerned.
Ah, Yes, Youth, and its Fond, Fond Memories of Potential.
Dynasty players sure get excited about youthful players, and Mark Vientos was the youngest player drafted in 2017. The Mets saw a big bat with a ton of potential like you did with your younger self. Even now, as I write these words, I am furthering the narrative of what fortunes are in the future for Mr. Vietnos and for our dynasty teams. We’re only young once- we might as well dream on what comes next.
Bombs are what comes next—the power to all fields and 2019’s highest minor league exit velocities. Ah, now do you see it? The room to dream? The problem is there are some real concerns about the hit tool. Fangraphs slaps a future value of 40 on it, and he’s had concerning strikeout rates at shallow levels of the minors. Here I’d like to you find whatever self-help mantra you’ve adopted as you’ve aged out of optimism and put it to use because I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
In my opinion, there remains some hope for the hit tool, like there was still hope that time you woke up in your car after a long night of questionable decisions, but you didn’t drive home. Vientos has been stupidly younger than his competition. Between 2.3 and 3.3 years younger. During that time, he has claimed to be working on going the other way with his swing, and live looks seem to mention that as well. However, it doesn’t really show up in the data, as he’s had pull rates in the mid-forties every season. However, if you squint, and maybe use a bit of your imagination, take a gander at how his spray chart has progressed.
It’s not perfect by any means, but I believe the HR distribution shows off his true power potential. This isn’t a guy dependent on a pull approach, and he crushes the ball to dead-center or right field as well.
He’s been young for his level, and he’s in the midst of refining his approach. That’s the deal. That’s why he should be on your radar. Is there a risk? He wouldn’t be a part of this article if there wasn’t. This goes beyond the strikeout rates as well because we are, after all, talking about the Mets. There are some concerns about his defense, and this is an organization that is already rostering bat-first-defense liabilities. How many players like this can they roster, and what does this mean for playing time for the aspiring power bat?
Vote for Vientos
My guess is that Vientos gets a cup of coffee this September. For the past two years, he has been invited to Spring Training, and this year he impressed in the limited plate appears he had this Spring (1.778 OPS). He also spent the offseason trying to increase his agility as he wants to improve his play at third. Throw him on your watchlist, and monitor his play. If he starts to displays a decent strikeout rate and improved defense, well, then you can bet it’ll be much harder to scoop him up off waivers. Don’t let someone else beat you to it, or you’ll be missing out. Again.