High-A East: Names To Know From the Season’s First Half

Yoelqui Cespedes, SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, July 11, 2021. Photo credit Scott Greene, @Scotty_Ballgame on Twitter

Believe it or not, the first half of the Minor League Baseball season is in the books. Through the first 10+ weeks of the season, we have seen plenty of prospects make names for themselves through each level, especially at the newly formed High-A East league. The newly formed 12-team league spanning Upstate New York to Georgia has its fair share of talent to keep an eye on as we approach the conclusion of the 2021 season.

Aberdeen IronBirds

The Ironbirds have seen a roster overhaul after a torrid May, and have taken a bit of a hit. Grayson Rodriguez was promoted to AA-Bowie, but Aberdeen still has some arms to watch.

Drew Rom, the Orioles’ 4th-round pick from 2018, has seen a tick-up in velocity. The strikeout numbers are roughly similar, but the walk rate is almost cut in half. On paper, Rom is the same pitcher as he was with Delmarva in 2019, but a few live looks show him starting to master a consistent delivery.

The offense has not faired as well for the most part. Adam Hall is only hitting .223 with little power (only two homers in 155 ABs). After hitting close to .300 at every level, you would like to see the average a little higher after a significant sample size.

Gunnar Henderson recently got the call up from Low-A Delmarva. I will be getting a live look at him in early August.

Brooklyn Cyclones

The Cyclones have the best roster on paper, however, that does not always translate to the best team on the field. In fact, Brooklyn currently sports the worst record in the 12-team circuit.

Brett Baty, Ronny Mauricio and Francisco Alvarez are all top prospects in the Mets system, and all three were tearing the cover off the ball for Brooklyn. Were, until Baty was promoted to Double-A Binghamton earlier in July where he’s continued to mash. Mauricio has been struggling from the confines of Mamonidies Park, which could attest to its deep nature as well as proximity to the ocean. Simply put: fly balls are not getting over the wall. Alvarez completed a three-headed monster when he got the call up from Low-A St. Lucie in late May.

All three of these prospects will be featured in an upcoming High-A piece.

Hudson Valley Renegades

HV has been arguably the most talented group in the league despite having some turnover on the roster. Josh Breaux has been on a tear since a very slow start to the season. He now has his average up above .250 with 12 long balls. He recently had a three-homer game. Expect Breaux at Somerset before the season is over.

Josh Smith is hitting .344 in 96 at bats since his promotion back in June. A second round pick in 2019 out of LSU, Smith might be a quick riser through the system.

Jersey Shore BlueClaws

The Claws are still trying to get the bats going, and as a team is just squeaking above .200 as a team. Logan O’Hoppe has been consistent through the first 10 weeks and has done a tremendous job behind the dish as well as working with the pitching staff. He has sneaky good speed for a catcher. Will be exciting to watch his development. Jhailyn Ortiz is also having a breakout season. The power comes in bunches, with five of his 11 long balls coming in the span of a week, but the walk rate is up and the strikeouts are down.

Kevin Gowdy is another name having a bounce back year. Gowdy had not won a game entering the season but has one three so far this year. Gowdy’s issue has always been control. He has 52 strikeouts and only 12 walks over 52 innings of work.

Wilmington Blue Rocks

The average might not look pretty, but I have been impressed so far with Omar Meregildo. I have gotten a few live looks at him this year where he might not have the best results at the plate, but he makes the pitchers work. The power is already flashing potential and he is still developing. Keep an eye on him throughout the rest of the summer.

Yasel Antuna has had his struggles at the High-A level. Antuna, who started the season marred in an 0-for-38 slump, has raised his average near .170. He has a good eye at the dish and is starting to put better at bats together.

Asheville Tourists

Anyone who has visited McCormick Field knows the friendly hitter dimensions. It is no surprise that the pitching staff has a collective ERA of over 6.50.

The lineup takes advantage on a daily basis, with Enmanuel Valdez leading the circuit with 16 homers. A name that has impressed me is Matthew Barefoot. The sixth round pick out of Campbell is right behind Valdez with 13 homers while posting a .293 average at the level.

Bowling Green Hot Rods

Jayden Murray, a 23rd rounder out of Dixie State in Utah, has improved his stock more than anyone in the league so far this season. Through 12 starts for the Hot Rods, Murray was 7-1 with a 1.72 ERA. The ERA still leads the league among qualified starters, and he recently got the promotion to Double-A Montgomery. The only gripe for Murray is the nearly even GO/AO ratio, but with the contact rate so low, you can live with that at the lower levels.

Niko Hulsizer has increased his stock as well and got the promotion to Montgomery earlier in July. He had 15 long balls and is on pace to shatter the 21 he hit in 2019. Jordan Qsar (13), Jacson McGowan (11), Grant Witherspoon (11), Ruben Cardenas (10), and Evan Edwards (10) make it six players who had double-digit home run totals through the first half.

Greensboro Grasshoppers

Matthew Fraizer (.322) and Fabricio Macias (.316) boast the first and third best average in the league respectfully. Frazier also sits at second in the league with his 15 long balls. Aaron Shackelford isn’t showing success with the average, but he has continued to develop his plus grade power. He currently resides in fifth in the circuit with 14 homers.

Braxton Ashcraft, a second round pick out of high school back in 2018 is holding his own at the level after skipping the Low-A level. He has 35 strikeouts in 32 innings across nine starts this season. The strikeout numbers are up and the ERA is down. Should be interesting to follow Ashcraft since he has not pitched in full season ball until this year.

Greenville Drive

Here is my chance to rave about Tyreque Reed. Through the first half of the season, Reed should be the runaway MVP, however, he got the well overdue call to Double-A Portland on the day of this writing. Reed hit .296 for the Drive while hitting 14 homers and being only one of two players in the league to crack 50 RBIs.

On the other side of the ball, Jay Groome, a former first round pick out of high school in New Jersey, continues to trend in the wrong direction. Groome, who has seen his career begin riddled with injuries, is finally having a full season. The walks are a bit concerning, but the strikeouts are up and for the most part, he is avoiding giving up hard contact. For a guy who only threw four innings over the last three years, you still have to give him a chance, but Groome needs to start moving up the ladder.

Hickory Crawdads

Blaine Crim has been a name to watch for the Crawdads this season. Crim has a .281 average with 14 homers and 47 RBI through the first half. He has continued to show the power he had shown in his debut season. To date, he has 25 career long balls in only 445 at bats.

Trey Hair has been a name that I have been following. He just got sent to Hickory in the end of June, and has gotten off to a good start after missing all of 2019 and 2020. Hair is batting .244 and has shown some power with five long balls in his first 86 at bats.

Don’t sleep on Justin Foscue though. Eight straight games with a home run (2 in one of the games) from July 9 through July 22!

Rome Braves

Jesse Franklin V and Michael Harris II are carrying the torch for the Rome Braves. Both of them reside near the top of the league with over 40 RBI each. Franklin has developed the power stroke this season as well. Last year’s third round pick out of Michigan has 15 homers while still hitting for a respectable average in his debut season. He could move quickly. Don’t be surprised if he sees a cup of coffee at Double-A Mississippi at some point this year. Harris represented the Braves in this year’s Futures Game in Denver.

Alan Rangel has been a nice surprise on the pitching side. After having less than a strikeout per inning in 2019, (121 K’s in 131.2 IP), Rangel has 78 punchouts in only 59 innings.

Winston-Salem Dash

The Dash got a big name in Yoelqui Cespedes late last month. The half brother of Yoenis Cespedes has not exactly lit up the league, but his first taste of pro ball is going well. Through his first 91 at bats, Yoelqui has hit four long balls and is batting .231. I would expect him to move slowly at first. There are some holes in his game, but he is already 23 years old and comes from a talented family.

Alex Destino and Luis Curbelo are two names to expect to move sooner rather than later in the system. Both are struggling to hit for average, but have some pop. Curbelo (12) and Destino (10) currently lead the team in homers.

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