Digging for Diamonds: Round 7
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.
Jackson Merrill, SS, San Diego Padres
Age: 19 Highest Level: A
Analysis by Ross Jensen
MLB Pipeline’s 79th ranked draft prospect, Merrill exceeded draft expectations by becoming a 1st round pick by the Padres in the 2021 draft (27th overall). In 120 2021 plate appearances, Merrill performed competently in his Rookie level debut, showing his natural feel for hitting with a .280 batting average. At barely 19 years old, Merrill stepped things up dramatically this season in Single-A, slashing .393/.452/.518, albeit in just 63 plate appearances before being sidelined by an injury. In his 2022 small sample, Merrill has shown off a dramatically improved plate approach, striking out in just 12.7% of his plate appearances (6 walks and 8 strikeouts overall).
While Merrill has the frame to grow into more power, so far it hasn’t played much of a role in his career. To date, he only has one career home run. Do not let that deter you from taking a deeper look, however, as there is ample evidence suggesting that power is generally the last element to become a part of a player’s profile – Mookie Betts, for example, had only 1 home run in his first 300 minor league plate appearances. With a clean stroke and a superior eye, the skills are there for Merrill to find similar power down the road.
Merrill was underrated prior to the draft and and continues to be now. That means there’s an opportunity to add him for less than he’s worth. I have been targeting Merrill in deeper leagues and you should too.
Noah Miller, SS, Minnesota Twins
Age: 19 Highest Level: A
Analysis by Brian Shanks
Noah Miller was born November 12, 2002, the same year I graduated high school…..that is a tough realization. Drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 1st round, number 36 overall in the 2021 MLB draft out of Ozaukee HS (Fredonia, WI). In 2021 he got his first taste of pro ball at the Rookie level and was a touch overwhelmed with a slash line of .238/.316/.369. But at the tender age of 18 I’m not too concerned with slash lines. This year he is in Single-A, and while the batting average hasn’t been eye-popping, he is doing things that I love to see from young players, primarily controlling the strike zone. As of today the average is sitting at .239 but the on-base percentage is at .378. He has 61 strikeouts in 241 at bats coming out to be a 25 percent clip which is certainly manageable when you couple it with 42 walks (17%). That’s a strong foundation to work with while getting your feet wet among other professionals.
In the pre-draft process he posted a 6.94 second 60 yard dash and that is starting to be showcased with the 13 bags he has swiped so far. I do have to mention that when I’m scouting players I’m a sucker for high baseball IQ and/or high work ethic guys and that is being said a lot about Noah in the early stages. There is plenty of work to be done with the bat but he should turn out to be a high average guy with some sneaky power while playing shortstop through his professional career. By the way, he is the younger brother of Owen Miller who plays for the Guardians as we speak, and I whiffed big time on that one. Fool me once, your fault, fool me twice, my fault.
John Rhodes, OF, Baltimore Orioles
Age: 21 Highest Level: High A
Analysis by Colin Coulahan
When looking at prospects in the Orioles system it’s easy to get so wrapped up in high-upside players such as Grayson Rodriquez, Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, and Coby Mayo that you miss players like John Rhodes. Rhodes was drafted 76th overall in the 2021 draft after posting a .294/.417/.548 line in 69 college games, between SEC and Northwoods league play. The 6’0’, 200-pound outfielder first started getting attention in 2020, before the NCAA shut down. Before the premature end of the season, Rhodes had an insane 1.157 OPS and was able to repeat that performance in the Northwoods League that same year, hitting enough for a .996 OPS.
Rhodes put up decent numbers in his first taste of professional ball last year, hitting two home runs with 11 steals in 29 games while showing a solid approach. It was good enough for a .715 OPS. This he’s turned the power up a notch, almost doubling his ISO from .106 to .198, and hit three home runs. The approach has gotten even better, with more walks than strikeouts (12.6% K% & 15.1% BB%) and the swinging strike rate is a minuscule 7.3%. He’s also stolen 11 bases.
The plate discipline is probably Rhodes’s best tool which leads the way for him to make a high amount of contact. There is power in his bat as well, team evaluators have reported “top end” exit velocities. This, combined with the approach and good hit tool is a recipe for success. If Rhodes can add loft to his swing without sacrificing his plate discipline he can be a great fantasy asset, contributing to all categories.