The topic of farm systems and prospects usually revolve around future potential and what that player may contribute in the future, but I’d also be remiss to ignore the players who recently graduated into the majors this past season. Three notable prospects saw their first extended action in at the MLB level and are hoping to take the lessons learned from last season in order to take that next step in development. Typically a player’s first season is about getting their bearings in at the MLB level and seeing how they handle facing off against the best baseball players in the world. The second, which is where these guys fit in, is making the adjustments and firmly establishing themselves at this level.
The former 1st round pick spent the entire season up in the majors although it was a rocky first season thanks to the team yo-yoing him around the diamond. At the same time, he put up a mediocre .267/.328/.404 (96 wRC+) with only 42 XBH in 545 trips to the plate and ultimate was a replacement level player. Long term those numbers won’t cut it, especially given his draft pedigree, but at the same time we’re hoping for more progression in Year Two. The good news is his defensive value should jump simply by taking him out of the outfield and moving him to his natural position of first base. With a steady position, I’m also hoping that allows him to focus on getting more power out of his bat.
The good news is Smith has very good plate discipline and doesn’t chase out of the zone very much. The issue is a grounder-heavy batted ball profile that will limit the amount of damage he can do at the plate. Without game-changing speed, that profile will result in a lot of outs and also a prime double play candidate in the lineup. For him to get more value out of the bat, Smith will need to be able to generate extra base hits at a more prolific rate. It appears that Smith has also filled out a bit and added more muscle, which we’re hoping is a sign of things to come.
Rojas finally got a chance to be a regular in the lineup and his bat definitely showed up. Over 550 PA, Rojas batted .264/.341/.411 with 46 XBH and a 102 wRC+, which was good enough to get him regular playing time. The issue was the team kept yo-yoing him around the diamond because he couldn’t hold down a position. That included looks at second base, right field, shortstop, and third base, although I don’t think he plays any significant innings at short stop with Ketel Marte moving back to the infield and Geraldo Perdomo on the 40-man roster. In 2022, the team should just focus on him sticking at one position and just letting it work from there. The good news is right field is open for him to take an everyday role where his speed, athleticism, and arm strength play up. Given that Rojas didn’t have significant LHP/RHP platoon splits, I’m fine with him getting starts against most lefties.
On the offensive side of the ball, Rojas’ xwOBA is a definitely concern, as he put up a .299 mark over that time vs. his .327 wOBA in 2021. That particular stat isn’t necessarily predictive from year to year though, so it’s not too worrisome although batted ball luck can change in a hurry. In Year Two, we’re hoping to see more power out of the bat to keep him in the lineup. Rojas had surgery in the off-season to clean up the AC joint in his left shoulder, an injury he suffered in early July, which sapped a lot of his power in the second half of 2021. Rojas has the capability of being a 20 HR/20 SB guy in the lineup when full healthy, so I’ll be curious to see what the team does with him.
The first question we need answered is Daulton Varsho’s long term defensive position. Right now I see him as an outfielder masquerading as a catcher, with the former being a better position than the latter. There’s no question his bat is worth playing everyday, given how well he hit in the second half of 2021 once he got regular ABs. Getting Varsho to 500 PA in 2022 will be a challenge given the current construction of the roster behind the plate and in the outfield although trades and injuries always seem to work themselves out. I don’t think catcher is his long term position due to inadequate receiving skills and below average arm, but he has the athleticism and instincts to handle an outfield spot just fine.
The biggest area of development will be at the plate as opposed to behind it. Varsho held his own against LHP in a short sample, but struggled against RHP and particularly offspeed pitches. He has a pretty savvy offensive game that includes bunting on shifts, the ability to draw walks at a high clip, as well as borderline plus run speed that makes him a stolen base threat. Right now he is arguably the team’s best present day solution to the center field position, until Alek Thomas’ highly anticipated debut later this season. If he holds his own in center, which he has the tools to succeed at defensively, that solves a lot of short term problems for the organization. Once Thomas is up to stay, I think Varsho will get moved to left, where he should provide excellent defense for the team.
For the team to be able to make any sort of run in the middle of the decade, they will need at least one of these three players to develop into an above-average regular between now and when some of the higher ceiling guys can develop. Varsho likely has the easiest road to getting there followed by Rojas then Smith.