Digging for Diamonds: Round 5
The name of the game is getting in early. Right? Is there a better feeling than finding a player you believe in, and watching him succeed? I know it’s the part of playing dynasty baseball I enjoy most, and I’d wager that most of you enjoy it as well. So, welcome back to Digging for Diamonds. An article series based entirely on finding prospects outside the TDG’s top 100 prospects that we present for your satisfaction. We think they’re worthy of your hearts and minds, and spill ours to share about their potential. However, we do need something in return.
Here’s the deal. We’re looking for this season’s best under-the-radar prospect, but we want your help. Each week a few writers will present you with a case as to why a particular player needs your attention. Your job is to vote on which prospect has piqued your interest the most.
You get a bunch of prospect info, we get some bragging rights. Deal? Make sure to vote in the poll at the end of the article. We’ll announce who moves on in the next article.
Now, let’s dig in.
Kyle Nicolas, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Age: 23 Highest Level: AA
Analysis by Ken Balderston
After being selected #61 overall by the Miami Marlins, Nicolas was someone who caught my eye as a late-round target in FYPD/Supplemental drafts last offseason. While relatively overlooked by the industry, I liked the size (6’4” 223 lbs) as someone who could one day shoulder a heavy workload, and someone who could debut relatively soon given he was already 22 after playing college ball at Ball State. Getting to the big leagues in a hurry could be in the cards, as he had a successful debut in 2021, reaching AA and putting up a 2.52 ERA in 39.3 innings and a 50:25 K:BB rate. After an offseason trade to the Pirates in the Jacob Starling deal, Nicolas was sent back to AA but this time flashing better command, dropping his walk rate from 5.72/9 down to 2.92/9 in 24.6 innings in 2022. The strikeouts are still there (9.85/9) and he also lowered his WHIP to 1.01.
As you might have guessed from his build, Nicolas’ calling card is a power fastball, sitting in the high 90’s, and can touch triple digits. It’s a pitch that plays well up in the zone with the ability to miss bats and power past hitters. He complements his fastball with a power slider hitting high 80’s and will touch 90. It’s a pitch that breaks late and is effective darting out of the zone. Two pitches Kyle will need to work on to stay in the rotation are a change and a curve that need to develop consistency and better location to be thrown with regularity. It does appear he’s working on both pitches to become playable, and the curve has shown some promise at times this year.
Nicolas is still a relatively obscure name in prospect circles but has put impressive numbers in a small sample of professional appearances. The repertoire hints at a high upside and it’s encouraging he’s working on both secondaries to improve. Kyle Nicolas likely has a floor of a high leverage reliever, but if he can continue to firm up his pitches and keep the walks down, I could see him as a top 50 SP in a few years. Considering he’s likely on your waiver wire right now, the cost is low and the upside and proximity make him worth adding in leagues rostering over 200 prospects. Act now, because looking ahead with some optimism, if he gets bumped to AAA later this summer expect him to be on many other owners’ radars as well.
Angel Martinez, Infielder, Clevland Guardians
Age: 20 Highest Level: A+
Analysis by Brian Shanks
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2018 for $500,000, son of former major leaguer Sandy Martinez, Angel should be on everyone’s radar before he becomes too well known. He impressed in the Dominican Summer league with a .306/.402/.428 slash line at 19 years old in 2019 to go with a strikeout percentage of 13. I don’t know how to feel about DSL stats but they are worth giving yourself another platform to fall in love with a young player. My thoughts are they better have extremely high stats at this level or it’s a watch and see until full season ball before the add. Luckily for Angel he had terrific stats and I am all in.
I’m interested to hear other people’s thoughts on the “lost” year of 2020 but it really could have been a good thing for a lot of the younger guys. Could it have been a year for their bodies to develop and mature? Absolutely. The down side to it is lots of rust to knock off and haven’t felt baseball games with the new body type. This is one huge reason I am taking 2021 stats with a grain of salt especially for these kind of guys that were in the thick of a maturity year and either had the major league ball club around them the whole time or they had the chance to be around strength coaches and nutritionists for a full year without having the wear and tear of a full baseball schedule to deal with. That being said, Angel dealt with 2021 decently with a slash line of .241/.392/.437 adding 7 home runs and 13 stolen bases in 377 at bats.
Right now he is in Single-A+ and doing exactly what I would like to see with a high batting average (.287) while containing those strikeouts (22%) and getting on base (.392). I hear key words like coachability, quick wrists, bat speed and I quietly start offering draft picks for guys of his caliber before he becomes too valuable. Right now he is bouncing between shortstop, second base and third base but I believe his future home will be second. He has the chance to develop into 15-20 home runs with enough speed to get 10 stolen bags while producing a mid-high batting average. I am very excited to be wrong on those stat lines because he could blow them out of the water.
Jordan Diaz, Oakland Athletics, DH
Age: 21 Highest Level: AA
Analysis by Patrick Magnus
This guy is a potential sleeping giant. Though, only metaphorically speaking, as he is 5-10. Diaz offers a profile similar to that of previous Digs Diamond Ezequiel Tovar. He is a bit shorter than your average MLB player, but he makes an incredible amount of contact. Diaz’s more considerable scouting red flags are that he lacks speed, and the consensus on his defense is it’s terrible. Combine that with lackluster power, and you have a good hitter who just won’t profile at the corners or any position really. He’s seen almost all his at-bats in the DH spot this season.
Here’s where things get interesting, though. Diaz makes a TON of contact. Every scouting report I’ve read, and all the grainy internet footage I’ve watched, make that abundantly clear. Here’s some praise from MLB Pipeline:
“Diaz has shown above-average bat speed through the zone, which helps offset his high leg kick during the setup of his swing.”
“He already possesses some of the best bat-to-ball skills in the organization. Also showing good plate discipline, Diaz brings quite an advanced approach to the plate, especially for his age.”
Now, Oakland’s farm system is a straight-up trash fire. Save for the force that is Tyler Soderstrom. However, the numbers he’s produced back up Pipeline’s analysis, as he’s batted .276 with a .326 OBP throughout his tenure in the minors. But what makes Diaz my nominee for this week’s diamond is that last year AND this year, he has punished baseballs—barreling them with authority rather than slapping them into the gap.
That homer is from 2021 in High-A, and what kept Jordan Diaz from making our top 200 prospects list and many other top 200s was the concern that his contact-oriented approach and his sudden power surge would be exposed as he faced more advanced pitching. That has not happened.
Have a game, Jordan Diaz.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) May 8, 2022
Take a look at growth as a power hitter from 2019 to 2022. Check’s most of the boxes for me.
Level PA HR BB% K% ISO WOBA
A- 300 9 6.0% 15.3% .166 .340
A+ 365 13 6.8% 15.9% .195 .361
AA 139 6 6.5% 15.1% .246 .381
In my opinion, Double-A is a make-or-break level for players. Diaz has already smacked six homers in his first 139 plate appearances, and that .246 ISO is *chef’s kiss.* Even more promising is that he’s only 21 years old and a good 3.3 years younger than his competition in Double-A. I’m not the only believer either; the A’s added Diaz to their 40-man roster this season. They see something in the skillset as well. If he finishes the season anywhere near his current pace, he’ll undoubtedly be in the top 100 consideration next year, and the sleeper appeal that he has now will be gone, as analysts already know this dude can hit. Make him this week’s diamond. You won’t regret it.