MLB Prospect Watch: End-of-season awards for White Sox’s Luis Robert, Marlins’ Sixto Sanchez and others

With Major League Baseball’s regular season ending on Sept. 25, we thought it would be fitting to dedicate the final Prospect Watch of the campaign to handing out awards. Obviously no real awards exist for prospects — at least at the big-league level, beyond the Rookie of the Year trophy — so we decided to invent some for ourselves.

Below, you’ll find five categories for rookie hitters and pitchers: most productive; most surprising; most encouraging; most disappointing; and most wanted. These should, for the most part, be self-explanatory distinctions; most wanted, the one possible exception, simply means the prospect who we expected to see this season who hasn’t been brought up to the majors.

Now, let’s get to it.

Most Productive Hitter: Luis Robert, OF, White Sox

In the campaign’s first Prospect Watch, we noted that Robert had star potential provided he showed the capacity to make adjustments. He’s testing the hypothesis right now with a miserable September. But Robert was good enough in July and August to earn this honor all the same. He batted .298/.348/.612 with 10 home runs and four steals in his first 133 plate appearances. Robert is a magnetic talent; his power-speed combination puts him in a special category among big-league center fielders, and he has a chance to be a perennial All-Star. If he can get back on track, he has a chance to make an impression on the national stage once the playoffs begin on Sept. 29.

Most Productive Pitcher: Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Marlins

For a relatively young franchise, the Marlins sure have had their share of phenom pitchers. Sanchez might be the latest one, as he’s looked the part in an admittedly small sample. He’s demonstrated that he has a deep arsenal, and a strong feel for both throwing strikes and changing speeds. The main concerns that scouts had about him — his height and inability to miss bats with his fastball in the minors — either haven’t mattered or haven’t carried over to his big-league stint. If the Marlins make the playoffs, there’s a real chance that Sanchez could force a higher seed to win consecutive games in order to advance.

Most Surprising Hitter: Jake Cronenworth, 2B, Padres

When Cronenworth appeared in past Prospect Watches, we described him as an interesting bench piece — a two-way player who could pass on the left side of the infield and who showed promise as a fastball-slider reliever. Some evaluators expressed the belief that he could become a Role-5 (scout speak for “a regular”) when the Padres acquired him as part of a five-player swap, and those evaluators have been proven correct. Cronenworth’s game is simple: at the plate, he has a keen eye and a simple swing that is geared for making contact and hitting line drives up the middle and to the alleys. Defensively, he has more than enough arm and range for the keystone. Cronenworth isn’t likely to keep up this level of production, but he should do enough to remain the unlikeliest starter on one of the game’s better infields.

Most Surprising Pitcher: Devin Williams, RHP, Brewers

Williams has been on prospect radars since 2013 when he was drafted in the second round. He was never able to put it all together as a starter, but it’s fair to write that he’s on the right track as a reliever. The key to Williams’ success — and he entered the weekend with a 0.43 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 21 innings — is the development of his circle changeup. He’s throwing it more than half the time and there’s been no sign of overexposure. The difference between Williams and most changeup artists is that he can also crank up his fastball into the upper 90s, making him an absolute headache to bat against. The Brewers are likely to listen on closer Josh Hader again this winter. They might already have his successor.

Most Encouraging Hitter: Kyle Lewis, OF, Mariners

Maybe it’s because he debuted last season or because he plays for a less competitive team, but Lewis tends to get overlooked in Rookie of the Year discussions. He should be in the conversation, as he’s right there with Robertnin terms of Wins Above Replacement. More important, for him and the Mariners, he’s made some improvements that bode well for his long-term prospects. Lewis is walking more and striking out less frequently (he punched out in around 21 percent of his August plate appearances) and has done so while maintaining a high level of production at the plate. Factor in that he’s also a capable center fielder, and there’s ample reason to feel good about his story to date and moving forward.

Most Encouraging Pitcher: Tony Gonsolin, RHP, Dodgers

Gonsolin started his season on a heater, reeling off 16 consecutive shutout innings before being sent to the alternate site in mid-August (because the Dodgers have that luxury). He returned a few weeks later and his numbers have really slipped since, which is to say that he has a 2.57 ERA and .611 OPS against in 21 frames. Gonsolin falls under “encouraging” because his control has improved thanks to various mechanical tweaks, including his hand slot. The Dodgers’ other rookie starter, Dustin May, gets all the attention, but Gonsolin’s development suggests that he’s going to be part of their rotation for the long haul, too. 

Most Disappointing Hitter: Jo Adell, OF, Angels

Adell entered the spring ranked as our No. 2 prospect, behind Wander Franco but ahead of Luis Robert and others who have comparatively had much smoother introductions to the majors. Adell has had alarming contact issues throughout the year. He entered the weekend with a 42 percent whiff rate, resulting in a 41.6 percent strikeout percentage. Ouch. Adell does have an above-average exit velocity when he makes contact, but it’s extremely hard to be a productive hitter when making contact on any given swing is almost a 50/50 proposition.

Most Disappointing Pitcher: Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers

Mize, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, has not taken well to the majors. If someone had told you in July that the Tigers would limit him to two times through the order per start, you would’ve expected him to post good numbers. He hasn’t. What’s more concerning is that he hasn’t demonstrated the above-average command or the outpitch splitter that served as cornerstones of his profile. Through his first six starts, he was throwing just 60 percent strikes (a few ticks below the league-average) and opponents were hitting .320 against the splitter. 

Most Wanted Hitter: Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners

We didn’t think we’d see Rays shortstop Wander Franco this season. We did think there was a chance Kelenic would make his big-league debut down the stretch — and that was before the Mariners were within a few games of breaking the sport’s longest playoff drought. We get it. Kelenic is only 21, he’s taken fewer than 100 plate appearances above A-ball and rushing him to the majors could hamper his long-term development. Still, we figured Jerry Dipoto and company might be more aggressive in order to take advantage of the situation.

Most Wanted Pitcher: MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Padres

The Padres have been aggressive all season, which is why Gore’s absence qualifies as a shocker. It seemed like a given both before and during the pandemic pause that he would debut at some point this season. There was even renewed buzz around the industry about his impending arrival around the trade deadline. Yet the season is almost over and Gore is nowhere to be found. Give A.J. Preller credit: he keeps us guessing. 

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