I don’t mean watching in a literal sense, because… you know. But I was given a thought exercise by a friend, to try and give four “undervalued” minor league players (two pitchers, two position players). With the caveat that I’m not sure I am entirely clear on what “undervalued” means, I aimed for prospects who were outside the top-100 of any major outlet prospect rankings. I’m also not sure I entirely like the idea of “value” for players, since it’s a very centered on the team’s perspective, in a way asking “who could we acquire for minimal loss in a transaction.”
With that being said, I took this and ran with it. I tried to find four players who I feel like are going to be good at the major league level that weren’t exactly consensus top-100s. This is something I’ve never tried before because I’ve never fancied myself a scout, nor do I think it’s easy to predict how a player can develop. But I’m giving it a shot now. Below was what I wrote up, with some revisions/edits and with a brief explainer of how I tried to come to my prospect evaluations.
The short comings of this exercise are going to be obvious: I haven’t seen most of these players in live action and even if I did I’m not sure I could provide any insight into why you should believe in them. So, essentially I’m scouting batting lines with age as a consideration. Any measurable(s) I can find by way of body type or how hard they’re hitting the ball, spin rate of pitches or things like SwingingStrike% are what I’m focusing on. This is by definition #amateurhour. For what it’s worth, I wrote this back in November of 2021.
The four minor leaguers I view as undervalued are Estevan Florial, Bowden Francis, Konnor Pilkington, and Eddys Leonard. I am still fully on Florial, despite the lack of results and his perpetual prospect status. I believe he has high upside still despite no longer being a top 100 prospect. According to Loegenhagen’s 2021 scouting report he’s still athletic enough to handle center field defensively, with a strong arm. He’s measured with a HardHit% of 40 percent on the BOARD in the positional scouting section. The biggest hurdle seems to be lack of contact with a long swing (again according to the above scouting report), but I think he’s worth a team acquiring as a low risk, high upside centerfielder, though his 40 man status complicates that acquisition. He never played above A-Level before last year and he still can draw walks, consistently hovering at around 10 percent BB% for his career. He looked much better in a very small 11 game sample in the MLB last year though seemed to still have his strikeout issues in AAA. If there’s an adjustment that can be made to shorten his swing (which seemed to be the main note in his scouting report) while still maintaining his hard contact, then with his defensive ability he could be a valuable center fielder for someone to take a risk on.
Konnor Pilkington had the second highest SwingingStrike% (15.5 percent) in AA and AAA last year and ranked 6th in K% at 30.6 percent according to FanGraph’s BOARD but was in the back end of Cleveland’s prospect rankings. Over his minor league career he’s also effectively limited homeruns, with one small spike with Chicago in AA last year, but usually never giving up more than 1 per nine innings. He may be more advanced at these levels because he was drafted out of college, so I’d like to talk to someone who’s actually seen him pitch in person to understand what drawbacks or risks there may be. I’d also like to see pitch data if possible to see if the measurements track with the stat line. So far, he’s handled being a starter so I’d like to see him continue as a starter until he faces some adversity. MLB Pipeline reports his velocity is more low 90s, which is definitely a factor to consider but with a plus change-up as a lefty. Pilkington was traded to Cleveland this past deadline and if anyone can produce good pitchers, they’re a good bet to get something extra out of him.
Bowden Francis has one of the highest fastball spin rates on the BOARD at 2600 rpm and seems to maintain a low 90s velocity. Though less so than Pilkington, Francis seems to miss bats with a swinging strike% at 12.8 percent and a K% at 24.9 percent. He does gives up a fair amount of fly balls (FB% over 50 percent in 2021), which may limit any upside. The video I found from his 2019 season showed him with fairly good command of his breaking pitches but a less effective fastball. Both he and Pilkington are noted as potential back of the rotation arms, which given the way rotations are trending with bullpen games isn’t a bad thing for a team to have.
Eddys Leonard wasn’t ranked in the Dodgers farm system going into 2021 but took a step forward, especially with regard to his power and drawing walks at Low-A and High-A as a 20 year old. While the California league is still considered a hitter’s league, Leonard continued his production after being promoted with 22 homers and 29 doubles between the two levels. Additionally, he’s been used at multiple positions including third base, shortstop, second and centerfield. He’s measured at 5’11 and 160lbs, so I’d be very interested to see if there’s any more physical growth possible and if there’s a position he ends up sticking with full-time of if he can fill in at multiple positions as needed. He has a very large Pull% at 50% and that may cap potential power growth, but I can see Leonard having high upside going into the higher levels in 2022.
Of these four, I’m highest on Leonard. Just looking at similarly aged players (20 years or younger) at Class A/Class High-A dating back to 2016, Leonard ranks in the top 20 of hitters in terms of wOBA (.416 A, .400 A+) and wRC+ (145 at both levels). Both lists contain some very good major leaguers currently, with some who finding their way to the league as well. He did strike out, but not excessively. One thing I think works in his benefit is that the Dodgers used him at four positions last year: second, shortstop, third base and centerfield. I’m sure he’ll find a permanent home, but all of those positions are where you want a good defender, rather than say corner outfield or first base. Leonard ended up being ranked in the top-100 of Keith Law’s prospect list and 48 on the ZiPS 2022 top-100.
For what it’s worth, Francis and Leonard were added to their teams’ respective 40 man rosters, which actually means they’re locked out right now, along with Florial who is already on the 40 man. Jarrett Seidler had a good insight into prospects who will be affected by the lockout. This is exacerbated by the fact that many lost the 2020 season due to the pandemic. My hope would be the lockout is solved for everyone’s sake, but as mentioned before, it’s not looking great. If the 2022 season happens, then these are four players I’m going to be tracking throughout.