MLB’s Hidden Gems: 5 Underrated Rising Stars Worth Adding to Your Collection
Another Major League Baseball season is upon us, and every season brings us new emerging young stars throughout the league. Thanks to the most recent CBA, organizations are calling up top prospects straight out of spring training as they have been incentivized to forget about service time manipulation. Teams benefit, players benefit even more, and fans benefit the most. What Detroit fan would not have wanted to see Torkelson in the opening day lineup last year? The same can be said with the Yankees and Anthony Volpe.
This article intends to highlight some of the lesser known young guys in the league who may have a bright future despite flying under the radar. This does not mean to ignore the likes of a Gunnar Henderson or a Jordan Walker, and if you are able to obtain their cards, do it! But the beauty of baseball is that not every star has to be a 1st rounder or a top prospect; a 62nd round draft pick named Michael Piazza, who was only selected as a favor to his father, can go on to have a hall of fame career.
(Stats are accurate as of April 10th, 2023. Stats are subject to change as the season progresses).
1. James Outman - OF - LAD
It always feels safe to have a Dodgers player on a list like this. Why? Well it's simple, they draft and develop young talent just as much as they spend on proven talent. And that has led to 9 division titles in the last 10 years (the only one they didn't win was in 2021 when the Giants won 107 games to their 106). The point is, the Dodgers know how to pick 'em, and it seems like they landed a stud in Outman.
Outman had always flashed power, but struck out about once per game in his last 2 collegiate seasons at Sacramento State and his first 2 professional seasons in Rookie and A-Ball while failing to eclipse a .264 average. The Covid year off seems to have accelerated his growth, and despite his K-rate increasing the last 3 seasons, he hasn't hit below a .289 average in AA, AAA or the MLB since 2019. His breakout came last year, when he slugged 16 HR's with a .946 OPS in 68 AA games before being promoted to AAA and exceeding himself, hitting another 15 HR's en route to a 1.018 OPS in 57 AAA games. Outman actually saw 4 games of MLB action last season, where he went 6-13 including 5 for his first 6. A strong spring training earned him the starting CF role for the Dodgers which seems like his to lose at the moment.
Outman is off to a hot start this season, sporting a .296/.457/.778 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line with 3 HR's and 9 RBI's across the Dodgers first 10 games. He ranks in the top 10 in wOBA (weighted on base average), a metric that essentially measures a hitters overall offensive value by taking into account how a hitter reaches base, not just that they reached base. For reference, his .502 wOBA ranks him one spot higher than Aaron Judge (.490). He also ranks in the 98th percentile of both barrel % and Outs above Average. Translation: he's catching barrels and playing defense as well as anyone in the league right now, and he's doing it as the starting CF for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Outman looks like he is here to stay, and could be a force on a contending team that has proven to develop players at the highest level.
2. Drey Jameson - RHP - ARI
We didn't want anyone to think that we forgot about Drey (sorry, I had to). The right hander hails from the MAC's Ball State where he made a name for himself rocking a 13.4 K/9 number in two seasons there. He only had about another two seasons worth of starts in the minor leagues before he made his debut last year. While his minor league numbers are nothing to write home about, he did sport a 2.41 ERA in AA last year, and we'll give him a pass for his AAA numbers playing in hitter's heaven Reno and in a predominantly hitters league.
Jameson's intrigue comes from his immediate hot start at the big league level. In just 4 starts to finish the season, he went 3-0 sporting a 1.48 ERA and a strikeout per inning. He has followed up his early success with 3 relief appearance this year, earning the win in two of those and allowing just 2 solo shots in 8.1 IP while striking out 8. Let's dive into what has made him so successful
Jameson primarily throws a 3 pitch mix (97% of his pitches); a 4-seam, sinker, and slider. His slider is his go to pitch that he has been throwing 37% of the time. His 4 seam sits around 96mph with the slider averaging 84mph. The most impressive metric is his whiff %, which simply defines the # of swings and misses as a percentage of total swings. He sits in the 97th percentile for whiff rate, which is the fancy way of saying he gets a lot of swings and misses. In today's game, strikeouts are king and he has shown the ability to get batters to miss. Pair that with the versatility to both start and come out of the 'pen, and Jameson could be poised for a long tenure pitching in the MLB.
3. Garrett Mitchell - OF - MIL
Mitchell may already be in the public eye as his girlfriend Haley Cruse is a college softball legend and viral video star. He recently hit a walk-off homer against the Mets and made headlines when he told the world he usually performs better when she's not there. To say the least, she was not thrilled. But it seems like she has not attended many of his games, because he has been off to a fast start in his MLB tenure.
After being a standout at UCLA (boo Bruins, fight on!), Mitchell was fast tracked to the MLB. He only spent about a year and a half in the minors, with his best moments coming at A+ and AAA where he hit .359 and .343, respectively. He kept this trend up when he got the call last season, hitting .312 over his first 28 games with the big club and adding on 8 SB's. In just 8 games to begin the 2023 campaign, he has already slugged 3 HR's as he shows he can add power to complement his contact ability.
Mitchell ranks in the 90th percentile or above in both max exit velocity and hard hit %, which is great because hitters usually have more success when they hit the ball harder (believe it or not!). Despite already showing the ability to hit for average and promise to tack on some power, it is Mitchell's speed and defense that could help him stay around for a while. Last year he ranked in the 99th percentile in sprint speed and 96th percentile in arm strength. While he has yet to reap the benefits of the new rules and steal a base this season, he is one of the fastest players in the league and has some elite tools. Look for Mitchell to enter into that "5-tool" category and be a mainstay in the Brewers lineup for years to come.
4. Hayden Wesneski - RHP - CHC
I have to be honest, this won't be the sexiest of picks out there. While Wesneski is certainly a great young talent, he doesn't flash any tool or have any past performance that makes your jaw drop. He pitched collegiately at Sam Houston State where he amassed a 25-9 record in 3 seasons with a middling 3.56 ERA and less than a strikeout per inning. Nonetheless, he was selected by the Yankees in the 2019 draft before eventually being traded to the Cubs.
Outside of 36 innings at the High-A level as a 23 year old, where Wesneski pitched to the tune of a 1.49 ERA, his minor league numbers are nothing to write home about. Nonetheless, he got the call up last season and found some early success at the big league level. He pitched 33 innings going 3-2 with a 2.18 ERA, striking out a batter an inning and basically giving up a baserunner an inning. To dive in deeper, we can look at his FIP, which stands for Fielder Independent Pitching, and is similar to ERA but accounts for statistics that do not involve fielders (strikeouts, walks, home runs, etc). Wesneski sported a 3.20 FIP, which would have ranked top 20 in the league for starting pitchers if it qualified, ahead of Cy young winner Justin Verlander and Dodgers ace Julio Urias. Not bad for a young guy in his first few starts. With a primarily 4 pitch mix (4-seam, sweeper, cutter, sinker) and some early success under his belt, Wesneski may be atop rotations for years to come.
5. Stone Garrett - OF - WSH
It's hard not to include Stone Garrett based on his name alone. Okay, his first name is actually Gregory, but he goes by Stone and we shall ask no more questions. Garrett has exceeded his rookie eligibility, and is actually 27 years old, but is an intriguing player who I would truly assume no one knows about unless you heard of that baseball player who's name is Stone.
After playing out his entire minor league contract with the Miami Marlins, who drafted him in 2014 out of high school, Garrett signed with the Diamondbacks where he played 2 seasons between AA and AAA. In 208 minor league games for the D-backs, Garrett combined to hit 53 HR's and drive in 176 runs, while tacking on 32 SB's. He also spent 27 games at the big league level, swatting 12 XBH's including 4 HR's and putting up a .848 OPS as a rookie. Once the season ended, Stone was DFA'd by the D-backs, but he signed with the Nationals for 2023.
Despite starting the season in AAA, an early season injury has landed Garrett back at the big league level. In just 3 games, he is 7-12 including a 4 for 5 day with a HR and 5 RBI's. Stone should continue to see playing time, especially if he stays hot, as the Nationals have nothing to play for and want to see as many young guys as possible while building for the future. While it may be hard to put a lot of stock into a 27 year old just breaking through the league, Stone could be poised to back up his minor league performance and make a name for himself at the big league level.
Keep an eye out for these 5 players going forward. Baseball is littered with prospects, both highly touted and hidden gems. This article aimed to highlight some guys who aren't very high on most people's radars and may provide a potential buy low opportunity. As we have seen in the past, it's not always baseball's top 100 prospects that pan out. Each of these players has had some early success at the big league level, and it will be interesting to see how they can follow that up as the season and their careers go on!
Will Brennan - OF - CLE: A lefty bat with a sweet stroke, Brennan has shown a serious ability to hit at all levels he's been at. So far a pure contact hitter, but he's had arguably better minor league success than Cleveland's star José Ramírez did when he was coming up in the system..
Hunter Brown - RHP - HOU: Okay, this is a bit of a cheat because he's Houston's #1 prospect and has cracked top 30 in Baseball America's list, but Brown is still a name that isn't talked about much. He flashes a power fastball, earns himself a bunch of strikeouts, and has been lights out so far in the majors after killing AAA in 2022.
Jhony Brito - RHP - NYY: As a Yankees fan, I couldn't not include a Yankee on the list. Brito has been in the Yankees system since he was 18 years old, and has shown steady improvement year after year. He's off to a blazing start this season, only allowing 1 run in 10 innings of work. He has a steady 4 pitch mix lead by a great changeup. Look for Brito to continue his early success with the Yankees.
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