Prospect Watch: South Atlantic League Producers

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

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Chad Wallach, C, Miami Marlins (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 22  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 256 PA, .343/.449/.500, 5 HR, 38 BB, 28 K

Summary
The SAL leader in wOBA also happens to be a catcher who should stick behind the plate.

Notes
Chad Wallach‘s statline speaks for itself–he’s a catcher with a .434 wOBA and 167 wRC+. Who doesn’t love that? Wallach has walked ten more times than he’s struck out, has a solid .157 ISO (including a .170 mark away from Greensboro’s friendly home park), and is coming off a truly ridiculous June (.431/.527/.611 with fifteen walks and three strikeouts). Sure, he’s 22 and in Low-A, but that’s one impressive set of numbers.

Wallach, a fifth-round pick last June out of the well-regarded Cal State Fullerton program, was known more as a defensive player than a hitter entering 2014: Baseball America mentioned him as one of the best defenders in Miami’s draft class, but he hit just .226/.294/.267 in short-season ball after signing, well below expectations for a supposedly polished collegian. Of course, Wallach’s 2014 statistics therefore serve as yet another instance of the important lesson of not making too much of short-season pro debut statlines.

But how legitimate is he as a hitter? Here’s a video I shot of one of his home runs this season. A cheap homer, to be sure, but a decent place to start when looking at what he brings as a hitter:

Wallach’s swing actually has a bit more length than you’d expect from a guy striking out just 10.9% of the time, but he’s very balanced at the plate. He’s also a selective hitter who isn’t fooled easily. While his 6’3″, 220-pound frame is a strong one, he doesn’t overswing and focuses more on ripping line drives than pummeling the ball over the fence, but double-digit homer power may come in time.

Behind the plate, Wallach has solid poise and leadership skills–fitting, as he’s the son of Dodgers third base coach and former longtime big leaguer Tim Wallach. He moves relatively well for his size and should be around average in the physical aspects of the position. He’s caught 28% of base thieves this season.

Add up that skillset, and Wallach grades out as a lesser version of Mets catching prospect Kevin Plawecki (whom I’m a big fan of). There’s nothing (other than run, but hey…catcher) he doesn’t project to be at least competent in, though he doesn’t have any elite tool or skill that really makes him a frontline prospect. His power output likely determines his ceiling–it’s not hard to imagine him rounding into an “OBP catcher” on the Ryan Hanigan/Lou Marson/John Baker continuum, but if he can manage to leverage his raw strength into average power, he has a chance to be something more–perhaps, in a perfect world, he has a little 2012 A.J. Ellis in him.

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Trey Michalczewski, 3B, Chicago White Sox (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 19   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 339 PA, .297/.379/.478, 8 HR, 36 BB, 94 K

Summary
This teenage third baseman is already developing a potent bat.

Notes
Man, I’ve gotten asked about Trey Michalczewskiton on Twitter this year. It’s not hard to understand why–I see a lot of games in Kannapolis, and if one were just to eyeball the Intimidators’ roster and statistics, the 19-year-old switch-hitting third baseman with the .388 wOBA would seem to be their prime attraction. Yet I’ve written up four other players on the squad (Robinson Leyer, James Dykstra, Cleuluis Rondon, and Danny Hayes) this year, not to mention countless other minor league oddities, while devoting nary a word to this lengthily-surnamed (for the record, it’s pronounced “Mee-howl-CHESS-key”) teenager.

So, let’s talk about Trey Michalczewski, who himself is coming off a banner June (.327/.387/.614 with six homers). First off, he looks born to play baseball. He’s 6’3″ and maybe 215 pounds of muscle and looks great in a uniform, and he moves fluidly and reasonably well for his size. Before watching him swing a bat, one might peg him for 25 homers just based on the body. His power hasn’t fully bloomed yet, as he has only eight homers this year, two of which are inside the park jobs (see one here):

That’s a homer that shouldn’t have been–here’s a triple that’s probably a homer anywhere but CMC-Northeast Stadium:

Michalczewski has a pretty swing that fits with the generally smooth aesthetic of his game. It’s low-effort with good leverage and bat speed, though he does have a pronounced bat wrap that adds some length and a fairly high legkick, two elements that combine to throw off his timing against offspeed pitches at times. While he’s hit for a good average and gotten on base, Michalczewski has amassed a 27.8% strikeout rate largely due to these issues. He does have some pitch recognition ability and patience and packs good punch from both sides of the plate.

While he has good athleticism–you get a pretty good sense of his running speed in the above videos–for his size, it is the defensive side of the ball that represents Michalczewski’s biggest challenge going forward. While he moves well forward and backward and has decent lateral range at third base, his throwing is a significant issue. Michalczewski appears to have below-average arm strength, and he has a very slow release. This stems from his always cocking his arm on his throws and releasing the ball overhand as opposed to a lower slot. Not only is his accuracy scattershot (17 errors, .907 fielding percentage), but this flaw also turns bang-bang plays into infield singles. He’s just 19, so there’s plenty of time for Michalczewski to get his throwing in line; if he does, he should be a solid-average defender at the third base position in the long run.

Michalczewski certainly has an interesting package of potential skills, but they haven’t quite coalesced yet. He can hit, but he’s striking out a lot. He’s got power potential but hasn’t cleared many fences. He’s athletic enough for third but hasn’t figured out how to make tough throws yet. He’s already made significant improvements from a watered-down pro debut, and more may well be on the way. Michalczewski will likely get a lot of chances because of his upside, and he could make good on them and turn into a solid everyday third baseman, but I’d like to see a more pronounced establishment of a carrying tool before I’m fully on board with his reaching that ceiling.

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Drew Dosch, 3B, Baltimore Orioles (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 22   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 349 PA, .314/.380/.394, 3 HR, 31 BB, 58 K

Summary
While he seems underpowered for a corner position, more power may be on the way for Dosch.

Notes
Drew Dosch can hit. He’s hitting .314, after all. He’s striking out just 16.6% of the time, getting on base at a .380 clip, and had a twelve-game hitting streak in June. He also can play third base–he’s fielding .946 there in his first professional season and boasts above-average athleticism for a corner player along with an arm that grades out as plus. He looks smaller than his 6’2″, 200-pound listing–mostly with regard to height–and I wouldn’t be surprised if he could hang in there at second base if a team gave him a couple of years to adjust (though his arm wouldn’t be as much of an asset there).

So it might surprise you to hear that Dosch’s loudest tool might be this:

It’s not easy to hit a ball out in CMC-Northeast Stadium, especially to that area, as evidenced by the Michalczewski triple above. In four viewings this year, Dosch managed to do it twice, and he also hit a couple of balls to the warning track in dead center, a place that some scouts who have attended games for over a decade at the ballpark have never seen a home run hit (though I have seen one, and the guy who hit it might be my favorite hitting prospect nobody talks about, but I digress).

But just look at that swing. It’s short and compact. No wasted motion, not much of a load, not much of a stride. It’s easy to see how Dosch is able to frequently barrel the ball like that–his swing allows him to get the bat where he wants it, and he has enough pitch recognition skills to usually direct it properly. The surprising aspect is how much the ball jumps off his bat anyway. There’s definitely some raw power here for Dosch to exploit, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him evolve into a 15-20 home run threat as he learns how to balance his natural strength with his feel for contact.

Because he plays a good third base and makes a lot of contact, double-digit homer power is really all Dosch needs to at least be the long side of a third base platoon some day (not that he necessarily needs platooning–he’s actually hit .355/.420/.419 against lefties this year in a small sample). Underpowered corner guys don’t garner a lot of attention, but Dosch may be able to buck that trend. He has several possible avenues–he could just hit enough for the power to not matter (a la Matt Carpenter, though don’t get carried away), he could find the power, or he could end up moving to second, where the offensive demands aren’t as high. A player like this is a tough one to fully get behind, because if the hit tool plays ten percent worse than expected, he falls into the “org player” zone pretty fast, but still, Dosch’s solid skillset could convert skeptics over the next couple of seasons.




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Nathaniel Stoltz is a prospect writer for FanGraphs. A resident of Bowie, MD and University of Maryland graduate student, he frequently views prospects in the Carolina and South Atlantic Leagues. He can be followed on Twitter at @stoltz_baseball.


One Response to “Prospect Watch: South Atlantic League Producers”

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  1. A different Mike says:

    Nice to see Dosch get some love. He went to a small college, but hit really well in the Cape Cod League in 2012. One of my favorite under the radar guys from last year’s draft.

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