Big Hype Prospects: Miller, Nunez, Thomas, Ramos, Duran

Building on last week’s column, we’ll continue evaluating possible Rule 5 draft targets. By nature, these are not truly “big hype prospects.” After all, Rule 5 picks rarely go on to have notable Major League careers. We’ll have a few leftovers to discuss next week.

Five Big Hype Prospects

Erik Miller, 24, RP, PHI (AAA)
(AA/AAA) 48.1 IP, 11.5 K/9, 5.8 BB/9, 3.54 ERA

At times, Miller looked like he might one day be a Top 100 prospect. At his best, he shows a four-pitch repertoire of average or better offerings from the left side. Unfortunately, errant command causes his stuff to play down. In a brief 12-inning trial at Triple-A, he allowed 14 walks, one hit batter, and four home runs. Between suspect strike-throwing ability and his late-season flop, the Phillies must have determined he couldn’t help them contend in the near future. Their 40-man roster is already crowded. Other clubs without the burden of a 2023 playoff push might be more willing to hand Miller a role, especially since he’s a southpaw. His career has been interrupted by several injuries. A healthy stretch could help him to resolve his command woes.

Malcom Nunez, 21, 1B, PIT (AAA)
(AA/AAA) 493 PA, 23 HR, 5 SB, .262/.367/.466

Designated hitters tend to escape Rule 5 scrutiny. Perhaps we’ll see new trends with the universal DH in place. Nunez has almost no defensive value even though he’s mostly played first and third base. The Pirates acquired the slugger as part of the Jose Quintana deal. Nunez mashed at Double-A last season and had a successful five-game stint in Triple-A. He showed improved strike zone judgment and is prone to hard, low-angle, pulled contact which cuts into his home run potential. He might be a more substantive Rule 5 target this time next year.

Tahnaj Thomas, 23, RP, PIT (AA)
50.2 IP, 9.24 K/9, 3.55 BB/9, 3.02 ERA

Thomas is a former top prospect whose development has plateaued in recent years. He looks like a big league pitcher and even used to brush triple-digit velocity on the regular. Lately, his fastball has sat in the mid-90s. It’s his best offering. A lack of secondary stuff continues to constrain his progression. Given his modest success at Double-A despite middling stuff, I expect some club will take a leap to see if they can teach him a breaking ball during Spring Training. There’s also a chance the right pitching lab work could help him to recover his heater.

Jose Ramos, 21, OF, LAD (A+)
407 PA, 19 HR, 2 SB, .240/.322/.467

It’s possible 26-man rosters could help a few rebuilding clubs stomach rostering a player like Ramos. He’s a tooled-up slugger who’s prone to flailing at bendy stuff in the dirt. A year ago, he was on a Top 100 prospect trajectory. If he continues to produce in the upper minors, he could still rebound to that level. A jump straight to the Majors is almost certainly doomed to fail in terms of statistical results. Any acquiring team has to be comfortable getting close to no production from the corner outfielder in 2023. Drafting Ramos is a long-term gambit.

It’s worth noting that the Dodgers dev staff is considered one of the best in the league. If they’ve failed to help Ramos lay off breaking balls, there aren’t many clubs that can confidently expect to do better.

Carlos Duran, 21, SP, LAD (A+)
48.2 IP, 12.58 K/9, 4.44 BB/9, 4.25 ERA

This is a classic Rule 5 draft profile – a good young starter coming off a solid, age-appropriate performance. His stuff could instantly pop in the bullpen. The Dodgers never got around to evaluating him as a reliever – at least not during game action. Duran features a spicy upper-90s fastball with bowling ball sink. His slider is also considered a double-plus offering. He throws a changeup and curve, both of which are developing offerings that would likely be dropped if he’s picked up as a Rule 5 reliever. Given his imposing presence on the mound, he evokes another Duran (Jhoan Duran) though he lacks that top-end ceiling. Still, Duran is one of the better bets for teams hoping for the instant gratification of finding a high-leverage reliever.

Five More

Korry Howell, SDP (24): A toolsy utility man who shows best in the outfield, Howell combines plate discipline and speed with questions about his bat-to-ball ability. Though he only has mixed success in Double-A, his speed and defensive versatility might prove attractive to another club.

Corey Julks, HOU (26): Julks is one of the most statistically accomplished players available in the draft. Last season, he hit .270/.351/.503 in Triple-A with 31 home runs and 22 steals. He’s also one of the oldest plausible picks without Major League experience. While he could patch center field in a pinch, he’s a better fit defensively in the outfield corners. The only glaring flaw in his game is a lack of standout tools. Even so, this blend of contact, discipline, pop, speed, and acceptable defense is sufficient to merit an immediate big league look.

Ryan Ward, LAD (24): Over the last two seasons, Ward has popped a combined 55 home runs in 1,001 plate appearances split between High- and Double-A. A left-handed corner outfielder, he’s trending as a righty-mashing platoon bat. While he’d ideally get some time in Triple-A, a non-contending club might tolerate having him on the regular roster as a part-timer.

Dominic Canzone, ARI (24): Like Ward, Canzone passes a smell test as a possible platoon outfielder. He eviscerated Double-A pitching before posting a merely solid .284/.349/.489 line in 364 plate appearances. Remember, the Reno Aces play in a hitters’ haven. While he doesn’t have an obvious path to the Majors with the outfield-rich Diamondbacks, plenty of clubs should be interested in giving him a spring tryout.

Edgar Barclay, NYY (24): Barclay dominated High-A as a strike-throwing bulk reliever. The southpaw has a plus changeup but lacks an impact fastball or breaking ball. Since he’s short and left-handed, he could be used as a situational reliever and mop-up man. His lack of upper-minors experience could be a deterrent.

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