Digging for Diamonds: Round 2
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 highlighting prospects outside our top 100. We’ll give you deep dives on long shots 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 installment’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.
Last Week’s Diamond: Adam Kloffenstein with 45.64% of the vote.
Peyton Burdick, Outfielder, Miami Marlins
Age: 24, Highest Level: A-Ball
Analysis by: Patrick Magnus
Who are We After Covid?
They say after the pandemic you can be a different person. The months and months of solitude, while likely filled with junk food, video games, tv, but hopefully some self-reflection as well, have changed you in some way. Honestly, it’s hard for me to even fathom the current situation in America and much of the world, as I am currently residing in China [ that’s right- I’m interesting!]. So as rich and developed countries roll out their vaccinations, I don’t blame the majority of individuals for wanting to get their life back to normal. Still, things are not normal yet, and as I watch packed ballparks full of people, and read headlines about bars and restaurants opening all the while ICUs are filling up, well, I don’t know that a whole lot of people will come out of this any different than before.
Who’s to say though? While we have history to reflect on, this is likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the majority of us. We’ve watched as the world, our lives, and the sport we love has changed in ways we never thought they would. This includes the minor league system which has been restructured. Truthfully, no one knows what to expect from players who have missed a year of development. Do we expect players who managed to get some playing time at the alternate sites to have an edge over those who didn’t? Will we need extra patience with players who struggle mightly when they return to “normal” play? No one can know how it will all shake out, but yet here we are, digging for diamonds nonetheless because we love this game and so do you.
Who Were We?
In the spirit of embracing some normalcy, let’s reflect on a time when it was a bit easier to spot a potential breakout prospect. While the dregs of the minor leagues have always been murky, perhaps never more so than now. So let’s revisit a simpler time. You know, before 2020.
My target this week is none other than Peyton Burdick. Burdick first crossed my radar on an episode of Dynasty’s Child when Shelly, Keaton, and I attempted to target players outside of the first round who could be potential impact fantasy players. Burdick jumped out to me, as he was a righty-power bat who had shown tremendous patience at the plate. Some scouting reports have Burdick slapped with 70-grade power AND an above-average hit tool. I don’t know about you, but that certainly sounds like a potentially viable fantasy bat to me.
The outfielder was drafted by the Marlins in 2019 in the third round and signed at slot. Prior to being drafted he missed 2017 in the NCAA while recovering from Tommy-John, but bounced back with a strong campaign in 2018, in 2019 winning the Horizon League Player of the Year. He ended his time in the NCAA with an OPS of 1.050. He rewarded Marlin’s investment by mashing through Low-A and High-A with an OPS just under 1.000.
Who Will We Become?
Noteworthy details of Burdick’s performance in pro-ball include that he was older than his competition at both levels, his mostly power with a pull approach, and there are some reports that Burdick continues to struggle with breaking-ball recognition. While that may cast some skepticism on his ceiling, another thing his performance gave us was batted ball data. Burdick had an average exit velocity of 90.8, and an average launch angle of 16.1 degrees according to Fangraphs. The power, while pull-heavy, is legit.
Burdick likely begins the year at Double-A, and this season will be a revealing one. While analysis will take extra diligence thanks to the fog of our collective pandemic recovery, the big thing to watch is if the hit tool will hold up against tougher competition. However, if you wait too long you’ll likely have a tougher time acquiring him as a strong performance will be sure to create buzz. Again, a power bat, with patience, and an above-average hit-tool won’t remain under the radar much longer if those reports are accurate. We had a pretty good idea of who this potential masher was before his development was put on pause, let’s hope as we come out on the other side of this Burdick still possesses the potential that caught my eye before.
Armando Cruz, Shortstop, Washington Nationals
Analysis by Jordan Rosenblum
In fantasy baseball, uncertainty is not inherently good or bad. With more unknown, there is greater downside, but also greater upside. Uncertainty is a particularly relevant concept for international free agent (IFA) signings. We know very little about this group beyond the signing bonuses they receive. Baseball America eschews talent rankings of IFAs in favor of signing bonus rankings, explaining that an overall lack of information makes talent rankings somewhat futile (while they rank IFA signings by signing bonus, they did begin to release overall FYPD rankings in 2020). Ben Badler elaborates on Baseball America’s approach: “I do not believe it would be honest or fair to anyone—the players, the clubs or our readers—to publish a talent ranking yet, given the realities of how players are now being scouted in Latin America…Rather than force a talent ranking right now that wouldn’t meet our standards, I think an honest approach that adds the most value is to look at the 2020-21 international market as a whole, with our 2020-21 international board sorted by expected signing bonus.” Signing bonus is no panacea, either, as Badler describes an uncompetitive market where players commit to clubs at very young ages before most teams even get a look at them. Still, signing bonus can be taken as a sign of a single team’s enthusiasm for a given player.
If one concludes from Badler’s words that one ought to give signing bonus considerable weight in IFA analyses, Armando Cruz is impossible to ignore. He ranks #2 overall by signing bonus at $3.9 million, behind the much more advanced Cuban star, Pedro Leon (for a full list of FYPD players by signing bonus, click here). Yet, Cruz is typically available outside the top 60 in FYPD drafts, and guys with lower signing bonuses, Carlos Colmenarez, Cristian Hernandez, Wilman Diaz, Pedro Pineda, and Yoelki Cespedes, tend to get a lot more love on prospect lists. This is mostly because analysts tend to view Cruz as a defense-first shortstop without much offensive upside, though some are more optimistic on his offensive potential, with analysts emphasizing a “split camp” or a lack of consensus on his bat.
While the skeptics on Cruz’s offensive potential could certainly be correct, and he is a volatile player to analyze, it is important to remember that everyone is operating off very limited information. The only thing we know for sure is that the Nationals really like him, both by the massive signing bonus they awarded him, and the organization’s own testimonials. In an article in The Washington Post titled, “The Nationals’ top international signing wows with his glove, and the team is bullish on his bat, too,” Washington’s assistant GM for international operations, Johnny DiPuglia, discusses Cruz: “Some scout experts say he’s not going to hit, but I disagree…I think he’s going to hit. I think he’s got really good balance, really good barrel awareness. He’s a risky hitter. He hits the ball to all fields. His hands play at the plate.” The Nationals have shown a good eye for young talent in the Dominican Republic in the past too, signing Victor Robles ($225,000) and Juan Soto ($1.5 million) to much smaller signing bonuses than what they gave Cruz.
In sum, I don’t think you should ignore scouting reports and draft Cruz ahead of Colmenarez, Hernandez, etc., mostly because you don’t have to–Cruz tends to be available a lot later on. After pick 50 in your FYPD draft, few players, perhaps none, offer as much boom-bust potential as Cruz.
Aldo Ramirez, Pitcher, Boston Red Sox
Analysis by Bob Osgood
There are many paths to becoming a rotation piece in Major League Baseball. The best (and worst) part about prospect writing is that we can use history to guide us towards certain attributes that provide a solid foundation towards major league success. In the case of Red Sox right-handed prospect Aldo Ramirez, he possesses so many qualities that provide that solid foundation to build off of. Where does it go from here? Who knows, his age ends in “teen.” But if we’re digging for diamonds today, these are the types of jewels that I gravitate towards:
Has pitched effectively at each level? Check.
Has pitched effectively, while being at a younger age compared to his opponents? Check.
Throws strikes? Check.
Commands at least two pitches, and is developing at least a third pitch with potential? Check.
Increasing strength and velocity. Check.
Change-up is best secondary pitch? Gravy.
Two, three, four of these qualities give something to dream on. All of those make me think things are trending in the right direction and we have a potential diamond on our hands. Ramirez’s rights were purchased by the Red Sox from Mexico in early 2018 for $550,000 shortly before his 17th birthday. He made his minor league debut that summer in the Dominican Summer League allowing only one earned run in 23 innings (0.39 ERA), along with only ten hits and three walks (0.57 WHIP) with a modest 17 strikeouts. His age-18 season in 2019 is where Ramirez was sent to Low-A and more than held his own at Lowell in the New York Penn League. In 13 starts (and one relief appearance), Ramirez went 61 2/3 innings, going 2-3 with a 3.94 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9 and 9.2 K/9.
At the time, Ramirez threw in the 90-94 MPH range. Then last year, in a lost season for most, Ramirez returned to fall instructs bigger and stronger. Per Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs, “He was sitting 92-94 at Instructional League and was topping out at 96 without having lost any command, or having begun to overthrow his breaking ball, or anything of that nature.” Well, alright! What about the change-up? Per soxprospects.com, “Best secondary pitch. During 2020 Fall Instructs, pitch was very effective and elicited lots of weak contact on the ground. Potential plus-to-better offering.” At the end of instructs, vice president of player development Ben Crockett said that “(Ramirez) got quite a bit stronger during his time away (in 2020),” while echoing the 94-96 MPH readings.
As with anyone who didn’t have any true minor league action in 2020, it will be interesting to see how Ramirez can handle a full-season assignment, expected to begin in low-A Salem and turning 20 shortly after the start of the May 4th minor league season. If he can throw 100 innings while maintaining the velocity gains reported at instructs, while showing improvements with his curveball, I’ll be moving Ramirez way up into my Top-200 prospects and perhaps even higher.