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Hitting Prospects on the Rise In Double-A

In recent weeks we have seen organizations promote prospects to the Major Leagues as well as bump top performers to the next level in the minor leagues. It’s important to me to have my finger on the pulse of these promotions so you have the best opportunity to get in on the “ground floor” before the cost to acquire skyrockets out of control. Let’s dive into the top-performing hitting prospects in double-A this week.

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Double-A Hitting Prospects on the Rise

Eastern League

Heston Kjerstad, OF BAL

Baltimore’s second overall pick in the 2020 MLB draft continues to scorch double-A. Heston Kjerstad has been on a rocket the last two seasons, making up for lost time early in his minor league career. This season he has looked excellent for double-A Bowie where he is currently slashing .298/.372/.561 with 10 home runs, 27 runs scored, 21 RBIs, and three stolen bases in 43 games. The left-handed slugger has shown a solid 15.2% strikeout rate while walking 6.8% of the time. Kjerstad has been steady over the first two months of the season as the splits are almost identical.

I’ve been curious as to when the Orioles are going to promote him up to triple-A as he hasn’t really struggled. The only thing that looks like an opportunity to improve would be the walk rate for Kjerstad as he showed better rates in 2022 but that’s really nitpicking. Baltimore might just want Kjerstad to log at-bats since he missed the first two seasons of development prior to 2022. Regardless keep Kjerstad on your radar and firmly on your minor league roster for a potential late season call-up.

Colt Keith, 3B DET

The Detroit Tigers might have one of the top five prospects in all of minor league baseball in Colt Keith. The 21-year-old Keith had a fantastic season in 2022 in high-A and has only gotten better with his promotion to double-A Erie to start the 2023 season. Colt Keith is slashing .324/.394/.559 with nine home runs, 31 runs scored, 39 RBIs, and one stolen base in 43 games with the Sea Wolves. During his 203 plate appearances, Keith has managed a 9.4% walk rate (slightly down from his career average of 12.43) and a strikeout rate of 22.2%.

Colt came out the gates strong in April, slashing .286/.358/.464 in 20 games but caught fire in the month of May. In 22 games played Keith slashed .374/.437/.670 with six home runs and 27 RBIs for Erie. With the weather warming up in the Eastern League, the sky’s the limit for what Keith will do next and it would not surprise me if we see him playing for Toledo here soon.

Southern League

Noelvi Marte, SS/3B CIN

The year did not start strong for Noelvi Marte but whatever was troubling him in April has quickly disappeared. Currently with the Chattanooga Lookouts, Marte is slashing .294/.369/.494 with eight home runs, 35 runs scored, 23 RBIs, and nine stolen bases in 45 games played. The walk rate has been climbing, now up to 9.9% and the strikeout rate has been strong at 17.7%.

How bad was April? Well, Marte only slashed .234/.318/.338 in 20 games in April all while Marte’s May performance was nothing less than amazing. Noelvi slashed .343/.409/.626 with seven of his eight home runs coming in May. Personally, I’m glad to see Noelvi Marte back on track and continuing to build his case for a call-up to Louisville this season and push to debut next year.

Luis Vazquez, SS CHC

It seems like 23-year-old Luis Vazquez is putting it all together this season in AA Tennessee. If you look at Vazquez’s Fangraphs page, he has been moved all over the Cubs organization. Don’t let this alarm you as teams will sometimes move players to get them more reps at the end of a season. Regardless Vazquez seems to be coming into his own as he is currently slashing .276/.331/.462 with eight home runs, 29 runs scored, 22 RBIs, and two stolen bases in 39 games in double-A.

Vazquez has increased his walk rate to a respectable 7.5% while his strikeout rate is a bit high at 27.2% (up from 22.3% in 2022). The batted ball numbers indicate that Vazquez is hitting the ball up more as his line drive and fly ball rates have increased this season. No batted ball number has increased more than his home run to fly ball rate jumping from 6.7% in 2022 to 18.6% this year. Keep Vazquez on your watch list as he could make a jump back to triple-A Iowa by season’s end.

Texas League

Ryan Bliss, SS ARI

With all the talk about Brandon Pfaadt and the pitching prospects making their debuts in Arizona, Ryan Bliss’s stellar season has quietly gone unnoticed. Bliss was drafted in the second round of the 2021 draft by the Diamondbacks out of Auburn. The early returns for Bliss prior to this season were solid but not great but that has changed. In 42 games at double-A Amarillo, Bliss is slashing .380/.409/.603 with seven home runs, 38 runs scored and 18 stolen bases in 23 attempts.

Bliss brought his strikeout rate down to 19.2% this season but has struggled with the walk rate at 4.1%, down from 8.9% last season. This season Bliss has been elevating the ball more, raising his home run to fly ball rate to 13.5% resulting in an uptick in power production. Bliss is hitting the ball harder and driving the ball as his line drive rate and doubles (14 in 42 GP) have spiked over his production last season. There will be regression at some point for Bliss as his BABIP is insanely high at .450 but you can not overlook what he has been able to do this season.

Lawrence Butler, 1B/OF OAK

The Oakland Athletics have been abysmal this season in the major leagues. With the few bright spots making their way up the organizational ladder you can add Lawrence Butler to that list. Butler is a 22-year-old left-handed slugger that was drafted out of high school by the Athletics back in 2018. Standing at 6’3” and 210 pounds, Butler looks the part of a first base or outfield prospect. This season Butler has continued to crush the ball and improve in all facets of his game.

In 42 games at double-A Midland, Butler is slashing .309/.383/.486 with six home runs, 37 runs scored, 32 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts. One of the major concerns for Butler had been the strikeout rate, as prior to this season he never had a strikeout rate below 27.8%. This year however he has kept his strikeout rate to 18.9% with a walk rate of 10.9%. Currently, Lawrence Butler is only rostered in 10% of Fantrax leagues making him an easy stash for most leagues.

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