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Minor League Report: Hillsboro Hops

Most likeable team in the minor leagues.

Salem-Keizer Volcanoes vs Hillsboro Hops Set Number: X161331 TK1

These articles should flow out of the keyboard like they fry churros in Spain, but unfortunately life limits me to an article per week at the moment...

Most likeable team?

Yeah, I think so. Personal favourite of mine, because they actually have a mascot that can be liked by kids and adults, and they don a good combo of colours in their uniforms and hats. I actually have two Hops pictures as a background on my cell phone for 4 years now, one of them celebrating a win against a background of fireworks and another one of a pitcher in wind-up in the throwback Portland Mavericks’ uniform. It just works.

On top of that, the Hops have also been a pretty successful franchise. They were the former Yakima Bears that moved to Hillsboro and since that foundation in 2013, the team has 3 league and division titles, the last one in 2019. Until 2021 the Hops were the Class A Short Season team for the Diamondbacks and nowadays operate as the A+ team.

But, just like the Visalia Rawhide we discussed in a previous article, the Hops have had losing seasons in 2021 and 2022. In 2023 they are yet again playing below .500 and it is unlikely this will change during the course of the season.

Batting wise the Hops are the worst team in their Northwest league, being more than 2 runs per game behind the offensive leader Spokane Indians of the Rockies.

They are also the worst squad pitching wise although there is a clear indicator that separates the Hops from the rest here: it is the free passes that kill the team, with a 5.7 BB/9 well above a league average of 4.4 BB/9, and all other basic stats being around or below average.

Who are the big boys here?

Ivan Melendez: swinging for the fences.

In the post on the Visalia Rawhide Jim McLennan shared the Diamondbacks’ press release of Ivan Melendez winning minor league batter of the month. The 2022 2nd round pick in the MLB amateur draft is definitely making a name for himself on that Hops’ squad and within the organisation with a .269/.371/.572 batting line that separates him from the rest of the team.

There is some big batting going on in the Northwest League as Melendez just barely makes the top 10 of batting leaders, with 7 players currently smashing to an OPS over 1.000.

Still, it is a remarkable change in Melendez’ approach as, when compared to last year’s numbers in Visalia, his GB and FB rate have made an opposite switch: his GB% has dropped from 47.8% to 28.6%, while his FB% has increased from 28.4% to 48.6%. So he has probably increased his launch angle a bit, because the line drive % has pretty much stayed the same. There is a trade off here, as the change in approach has come with a 35.2 SO%, which looks unsustainable if he wants to be successful climbing up the ladder, but it does feel good to see a player like that turning the tables around from one season to the other.

Yu-Min Lin: wait...what...who?

Yeah, like, who is this kid??? He is numero siete on the MLB Pipeline list after getting signed for a bit over $500,000 by the end of 2021 and making his appearance in 2022 in the ACL and in Visalia.

If you wish to know what he actually does, well, he was just 18 years when he pitched to a 2.97 ERA in the California League with a 3.13 K/BB so you expect that to improve in Oregon. He was on a 5.00 K/BB until his latest outing 5 days ago, with an impressive 13 KO game against the Everett AquaSox over 5 innings. Lin is 5-11 so you could wonder if he can really add something to his 89-92 mph fastball (according to MLB Pipeline), but if he does, we might have some kind of a future mid-rotation guy in the minors.

Oh, and if that isn’t enough...he is a lefty as well.

Here is some footage of the kid so we all get to know him a bit better:

Wilderd Patino: speed, yes, but what else?

He was a 2018 international signing for $985,000 and has slowly moved up the organisational ranks until hitting A+ for the first time last season. While Rule 5 eligible he was understandably left unprotected but Patino has some traction. There is no doubt about his excellent speed, which is 8.1 this season according to FanGraphs’ speed score, well above the excellent bottom limit of 7.0. Indeed, Patino is league leader in the Northwest with 24 stolen bases thus far.

The supposed power will never come and prospect outlets have expressed concerns about his pitch recognition, but this season’s 10.9 BB% is a huge leap forward from previous seasons, and necessary as the strikeouts have dropped a bit, but are still at a concerning 27.2%. He has always beaten out the throws at a lower level, but the question is whether he can keep up that trend at AA or AAA in the following seasons if the hitting skills don’t improve. He is also Locastro-like HBP’ happy. Patino is Rule 5 eligible but of no concern of being picked.

Dylan Ray: if only he could keep them off the bases.

A 4th round signing in last year’s amateur draft, Ray was hit hard in Visalia in the final months of the 2022 season, but got assigned to Hillsboro anyhow for 2023. There is a lot to be liked: 12.03 K9, 3.79 K-BB, a manageable .233 BA against combined with a 1.24 WHIP...but then you see his 6.13 ERA and you wonder what is wrong. He gives up too many homeruns, that’s true, but above all it looks like he gets the nerves when someone gets on base, because with runners on, opponents hit a .436/.500/.615. That is combined with a .577 BABIP, so things should calm down over the course of the season, but the wildness is definitely present.

Joe Elbis: to keep an eye on.

Elbis was an international signing in 2019 for $275,000 and burst onto the scene in 2021 when he dominated the complex league with an insane 11.50 K-BB over almost 40 innings. He ended in Visalia that year where he also started last year, but soon hit the IL and didn’t pitch more than 10 innings. He started in Visalia again and didn’t impress that much, but his 2.32 ERA stood out and thus he was promoted to Hillsboro. After Lin he is the youngest pitcher on the team, but has fit in nicely, although with just a small sample size of 2 games and 10 innings. Still, definitely a kid to watch closely.

Other guys to watch.

J.J. D’Orazio: another Jose Herrera in the making.

Venezuela produces a lot of good catchers and J.J. D’Orazio, the second piece the Diamondbacks got in the Joakim Soria trade, looks to be just another one of those. D’Orazio has gotten the bulk of the catching duties in Hillsboro and has shown he can handle a pitching staff with a .997 fielding percentage and just 1 error in 28 games. The rest of the time he has spent in the DH spot where he has shown the bat-to-ball skills and eye that FanGraphs has been keen on.

D’Orazio has a .281/.369/.416 batting line for Hillsboro, which puts him third on the team OPS-wise, with a very healthy 14.1 BB% while having cut back on the strikeouts, dropping that to 17.3%. It doesn’t look like he will be much more than that, but if he can continue to keep this rolling while showing he can handle a pitching staff, within a couple of years he’ll be knocking on the MLB door. D’Orazio is Rule 5 eligible this year.

Gary Mattis: quick transition from the independent leagues.

Gary Mattis was a mid-season signing last year out of independent ball and in a very short time span moved from the ACL to Visalia to Hillsboro and ended up in Amarillo. All that in just 54 games.

Mattis is hitting a bit better than Melendez, but with less power, but at 25 years of age and with an .843 OPS he is probably in the line for a promotion to Amarillo again soon. He has been a bit lucky though, according to BABIP, so if he could cut a bit down on the strikes while upping the walks, he should be a no-doubt Double A player.

Yilber Diaz: walks and hard hits.

The Venezuelan Diaz was signed for just $10k in 2021 and in his first season looked like a complete waste in the DSL until he started mowing batters down in Visalia last season. With a 3.33 K-BB and 13.13 K9, the Diamondbacks gave him a late promotion to Hillsboro in 2022 to get a taste of A+. It was a bit of a rough landing in Oregon last year and the struggles in Hillsboro have continued for Diaz in 2023 as a pitcher, although he is projected to end up in the bullpen. Hist strikeout percentage is still a terrific 35%, but in 10 games and 35 innings he has walked 22 guys and given up 7 homeruns. Oops! He throws hard but also gives up a lot of hard contact, that’s for sure.

Spencer Giesting: troubles commanding the ball.

An 11th round pick in the 2022 MLB amateur draft, Giesting is also a member of the Diamondbacks Top prospects’ list on FanGraphs. Giesting got quite the bonus, $400,000, well above slot money so the Diamondbacks certainly saw something there. They are running him out there in the rotation, but up until now the command has been very wild, with an 8.0 BB9. Fortunately for him he has also gotten a lot of groundballs on his pitches (56%), so with a 3.89 ERA on the outside it still looks manageable, but the 1.78 WHIP says there is still lots and lots of work to do.

Will Mabrey: good early results.

He was an underslot draft pick in round 6 in last year’s amateur draft, so you shouldn’t focus on the 6th round status pedigree, although he is off to a promising start in his first season of professional baseball. Mabrey started the season in Visalia, but was promoted after 9 games, after he showed some good progress over his final 7 games there, tossing multiple innings in middle relief. The promotion to Hillsboro has done him well: his 2.8 BB9 is astonishing when compared with the rest of his reliever team mates, while he has maintained his 10+ K9. He has given up 5 runs in his last 3 outings, so we all have to be a bit wary with jumping into conclusions but Mabrey can look back at a good start of his career so far.

Other guys.

  • Anyone still remembers Levi Kelly? He was a stand-out prospect in 2018 and 2019 in the Rookie leagues and at Kane County with impressive strike-out numbers and walk rates translating into great WHIP and ERA. Then COVID and injuries struck. After spending two years on the IL and a couple of appearances in Amarillo, he was assigned to A+ and pitched terribly in Hillsboro. He was released at the beginning of May, Matt Tabor-like.
  • You say Josh VanMeter and I say Listher Sosa. Yes, we really got something in return for the player who prevented the Diamondbacks from picking first in the 2022 amateur draft. Sosa made a late season jump from Visalia to Hillsboro last season and is now in his first full season at A+, still just 21 years old. Players are hitting his stuff a lot harder than last year, so he has some adjustments to make.

Promotion of standouts from Visalia.

  • Well, you should all know by now that if I have the opportunity to mention Eric Mendez, I will not let it pass. My Dutch man from Aruba was excellent in Visalia with a 5.50 K/BB so he lasted just 10.0 innings there before being promoted. But he was hit terribly hard in Hillsboro, with all stats plummeting into abyss. That led the Diamondbacks to releasing…huh…him…at the end of May? [shocked] Seems I will have to become a Tigers fan, because that is where he has signed a new minor league deal.
  • Brett Johnson was a 10th round pick in the 2022 MLB amateur draft, hitting .229/.386/.400 in Visalia, thus drawing plenty of walks. However it was pretty much this, those or that: 24 hits vs. 26 walks vs. 38 strikeouts in 138 plate appearances. The distribution in the strikeout area has maintained itself, although in both hits and walks Johnson is struggling now. His current batting line sits at a .192/.312/.365.
  • Eli Saul is a 2022 13th round pick out of college who started well in Visalia with an 8.00 K/BB. So he was soon moved up and facing tougher competition he has been struggling to an ERA over 5. He has been moved a bit between starting and middle relief, but most of the times pitching multiple innings, so the Diamondbacks are still figuring out in what role he thrives best.
  • Another late round 2022 pick is Logan Clayton. A big dude, listed 6-5, who had no problem in getting the outs in Visalia, but in Hillsboro he has been hit very hard, Eric Mendez-like, by the competition.