We continue our minor-league theme this week, biding our time for the big games in the majors by talking a bit about the strides made on the farm in 2021. And so, for this week’s staff roundtable we went with the simple question of: Which minor leaguer impressed you the most this year?
I want to say that Blaze Jordan has impressed me most more than I want to do most things. He’s supposed to be a one trick pony but he’s shown several tricks! Like three or four. It’s impressive. But it’s not Nick Yorke impressive. Yorke is well on his way to top 25 prospect status and he doesn’t even have a banger name like “Blaze Jordan.” He’s just that good. That’s a great sign for the Sox and Chaim Bloom, who lives to do things like picking Yorke well about expectations and have it turn out alright, alright, alright. That’s what’s up!
Of all the Red Sox prospects who had solid seasons this year, pitching prospect Brandon Walter may have impressed me the most. Coming into the season, I really did not know much about Walter other than him being a late-round draft pick in 2019. After he was promoted from Low-A Salem to High-A Greenville in early July, though, I would say that is when he caught my attention.
From the time he was promoted through the end of the season, Walter posted a 3.70 ERA and 3.13 FIP in his 12 starts (58 1/3 innings pitched) for the Drive. While there were some blowups scattered throughout those outings, what really impressed me about the 25-year-old left-hander was his command of the strike zone. That being the case because he struck out 36.3% of the 237 batters he faced with Greenville while only walking 5.9% of them.
Among pitchers in the High-A East who accrued at least 58 innings for their respective teams this year, Walter ranked third in strikeouts per nine innings (13.27), 10th in walks per nine innings (2.16), first in strikeout rate, 10th in walk rate, fourth in batting average against (.211), fifth in WHIP (1.03), 10th in ERA, third in FIP, and first in xFIP (2.58).
Long story short, what Walter did this season stood out to me and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for him. I also think I have a soft spot for late-round draft picks out of college.
I really wanted to go against the grain here, but Nick Yorke has been too good to pass up. He’s the minor league player that has impressed me the most this season. Coming into the year I really did not expect much from Yorke. He was seen as a surprise first-round pick in 2020. When I say surprise, I mean he was ranked as the 139th prospect by MLB.com and drafted 17th overall. The pick was so confusing to the draft analysts that former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd suggested that the Red Sox may have picked someone they have no plan on signing to regain the pick in the 2021 draft, where they would have far less COVID restrictions while evaluating players. Chaim Bloom did sign Nick Yorke, and he’s done nothing but excel in his first season as a professional baseball player.
The 19-year-old second baseman started his career in Salem (A) and worked his way up to Greenville (A+). Between the two levels, Yorke has hit .325 with 20 doubles, 5 triples, 14 home runs, 62 runs batted in and a .928 OPS in 97 games. Yorke recently made MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list, coming in as the 98th best prospect in baseball. There is not much more Nick Yorke could have done in his first minor league season.
Nick Yorke’s performance has impressed me the most this year. Obviously, expectations are high for any first rounder, but Yorke was drafted well-below slot value and I wasn’t sure what we’d see out of him. However, he dominated A-ball this year with a .413 OBP and .913 OPS, and quickly earned a promotion to High-A Greenville. Despite being one of the youngest players in High-A (just 19 years old), he’s continued to get on base and hit for power consistently with a .978 OPS. Yorke is certainly looking like a steal from the 2020 draft.
My man Niko Kavadas. It’s a small sample, but his ability to get on base has been pretty impressive to me walking 15 times to only 13 strikeouts generating a .448 OBP through 15 games. The power is the calling card and it’s enough to get excited about but the ability to draw a walk and get on base makes me hopeful he’s more Kyle Swcharber and less Dan Vogelbach, although his fielding is very Vogelbach-esque level at non-existent. But if his power plays as expected with the ability to get on base we have ourselves an extremely entertaining player, and I’ve been impressed with his ability at the plate so far.
Bayleigh Von Schneider
When Nick Yorke was taken in the 2020 MLB Draft with the 17th overall selection, let’s just say there was a collective gasp. Heck, even the MLB Network analysts look dumbfounded. Flash forward to the present, and Nick Yorke looks like a burgeoning superstar. Yorke, at only 19-years-old, started his first season of professional baseball with Single-A Salem, skipping over rookie-level entirely. Yorke faced pitchers consistently older than himself, and all he did was hit.
In 76 games at Salem, Yorke hit an unreal .323/.413/.500 with an OPS of .913 and a wRC+ of 146 and mashed 10 home runs. Yorke was promoted to A+ Greenville, and he actually improved on his slugging percentage, OPS, and wRC+. Yorke ended the Greenville season hitting .333/.406/.571 with a .978 OPS and a 158 wRC+ in 21 games. Yorke will begin 2022 most likely again at A+ Greenville, but it wouldn’t be shocking if he’s quickly promoted to Double-A Portland. We might have all gasped on draft day 2020, but we might be cheering him on three years later at Fenway.
Durbin Feltman. Previously popularized for his obviously unique name, Sox fans have specifically spent the past few years following Feltman closely. And this year came with a healthy surprise, a much-improved form from Feltman, and a promotion coupled to create a formula for success for the minor league. Feltman was able to control his walk rate (from 5.44/9 last year down to 2.54/9 this year), allow the second-lowest season-long BABIP of his career (.275), and has been able to reel in a plethora of issues from the following year to improve his performance overall (including WHIP, BABIP allowed, OPS). With his bounce-back from an awful 2019 season, Feltman is back on track to arrive at the big leagues some time next year, meaning his improvements will soon be featured at the major league level, and hopefully his performance can be as electric as Red Sox fan’s love for both him and his funky name.
I’ve got to hand it to Tristan Casas. He had a fine 2019 season across A ball and, with the rest of MiLB, sat out 2020 during the weird pandemic baseball season. He got off to a 36 game start in Double A and then went to Japan! While battle the risk of a COVID infection and other world-class athletes, he walked away with three home runs and a silver medal. And then, he went back to work for the Portland Sea Dogs. While Bobby Dalbec struggled in the major, eyes turned to Casas as The Future. And he went on to finish Double A with a .395 OBP, 13 homers, and a 44:63 BB:K rate. He’s enjoying a well-earned promotion to the Worcester Red Sox and in his first game up hit a home run. Not to put too much pressure on the 21-year-old but we can probably expect some big things from him in 2022.
Can we just take a step back and look at Brandon Walter 2021 season? He was a 26th round draft pick back in 2019 who looked great as a 22-year old in the GCL after being drafted. Because of the pandemic, he did not pitch professionally in 2020 but came into 2021 with a couple extra ticks of velo. He demolished the competition in Salem and after the promotion to Greenville, he was still racking up the strikeouts. Honestly, this is the guy I’ll be watching during spring training. Does he start the season in Greenville? Does he get the bump to Portland?
Without a doubt the prospect that has impressed me the most this year is Nick Yorke. To say he hit well as a teenager would be an understatement. At both Salem and Greenville he smashed the ball to the tune of .300/.400/.500 slash line and actually hit for more power after he reached Greenville. By doing this as a 19 year old he put himself in the rarified air of prospects like Vlad Guerrero Jr. Now, I’m not saying he’s going to end up being as good of a hitter as Vladito. However, I’m bullish on him being an impact bat at the major league level and certainly deserving of his selection at 17th overall in 2020. I’ll be honest, I didn’t love his selection when the draft occurred but Mike Rikard and Paul Toboni have proven to be far smarter than I am. Nice work on this one, you nailed it guys.
I’m going to give in to a bit of recency bias and give a nod to Wilkelman Gonzalez. The young righty shot up rankings with impressive showings at the complex and in Salem, and he’s going to be bumping up against the organizational top 10 on most lists by next spring. The Red Sox have struggled in recent years in getting guys from where Gonzalez is now to the majors, but he’s the next guy to watch to try and make that leap. He’s got the repertoire for a rotation spot. It’s just about refining it all while staying healthy in the process.