MLB rising prospects: Jackson Chourio’s promotion, 200 Ks for Brandon Pfaadt

The final week featuring regular-season action from all full-season teams in the minor leagues is behind us. But fear you not. The Double- and Triple-A seasons will stretch on for a tiny bit longer. As will this column. On to this week’s edition!

These guys are on fire

• It is Jackson Chourio Time in Double A. The Brewers prospect will join Double-A Biloxi on Tuesday. The Shuckers will be his third team of the year. You might recall we introduced Chourio in this space back in June. He was in the Low-A Carolina League then, in the midst of racking up 81 hits in 62 games. In the months since, he has traveled to Los Angeles for the Futures Game and moved up to the High-A Midwest League. Although it was slightly more challenging for him to get hits to land in that league, Chourio still posted a 119 wRC+ while batting .252 in 31 games.

If you didn’t see our first look at Chourio, you should know he’s only 18. He has only played in minor-league ball in the United States since May. He completely skipped the Arizona Complex League. Last month, Chourio was the No. 3 prospect in evaluator Keith Law’s midseason rankings for The Athletic; Chourio wasn’t even in the preseason top 100. Inexperience and youth have hardly hindered the Venezuelan teen’s progress, if at all. He is striking out some, but not at a high enough rate for the Brewers to want to send him home just yet. An extra week of evaluation will be helpful to them. It would be helpful to know before the new year whether they — and the rest of the baseball world — should be considering Chourio alongside the likes of Bryce Harper, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Ronald Acuña Jr.

• Hello to Diamondbacks pitching prospect Brandon Pfaadt, who Sunday eclipsed the 200-strikeout mark for the season while flattening the competition in the Pacific Coast League yet again. Pfaadt, 23, struck out 11 batters and gave up two runs on a pair of solo homers across eight innings. The start was in Salt Lake City, one of the multiple high-elevation cities in a circuit that typically sees a lot of offensive output — except most times Pfaadt is on the bump.

Pfaadt has held opponents to a .186 average and 14 earned runs in 50 innings since his promotion last month; the line includes an eight-hit, four-run outing at Salt Lake last week.

Pfaadt, a 2020 fifth-rounder who signed for just $100,000, started the season as Arizona’s seventh-ranked prospect and third-best pitcher. With Ryne Nelson making his debut last week and Drey Jameson having a tough year in his first go around the PCL, Pfaadt seems destined to ascend the list. Let’s look to Sunday for a little bit of proof: Pfaadt drew misses on 18 of 54 swings, received 17 strike calls and produced an absurdly low average exit velocity of 79 mph on 17 balls in play. His fastball sits around 94 mph, so he isn’t overpowering hitters with a big pitch. He just commands his arsenal and fills the strike zone (69 percent strike rate in Triple A). That’s a successful formula.

• We’re not confirming there’s a correlation between Red Sox prospect Matthew Lugo’s uptick at the plate and his position change, but we’re not denying the possibility either. Lugo knocked 44 hits, including seven homers, in 31 games after moving from shortstop to third base at the beginning of August. He looked a lot more like the version of himself who was batting around .300 after the first 39 games of the year when this season-ending stretch started on Aug. 4 — but with a stronger ability to access his power. Lugo hit his seventh home run of the year in his 50th game; he hit seven in his final 31 games. He hit a career-high 18 homers on the season, a significant jump over the four he hit last year, when he showed more doubles power in Low A. Whether he’ll continue to hit for power as he faces stronger competition remains to be seen. But the trend so far suggests the more he fills out his frame, the more often he’ll put the ball over the fence.

Plays that wowed

Honorable mention goes to CJ Abrams. He may now be a major-league starter for the Nationals, but eight months ago he was Keith Law’s No. 5 prospect in large part because of his emerging defensive wizardry. I mean…

Transactions of note

• A number of notable call-ups to the major leagues were made in the last week. Among those to debut were the Cardinals’ Alec Burleson, Rangers’ Josh Jung, Mets’ Mark Vientos and Astros’ Hunter Brown.

• Others to earn their first taste of MLB playing time: Nationals catcher Israel Pineda, Padres outfielder Luis Liberato, Twins right-hander Louie Varland, Cubs righty Hayden Wesneski, Phillies utilityman Dalton Guthrie, Diamondbacks righty Nelson and Tigers infielder/outfielder Josh Lester.

• Left-hander MacKenzie Gore, who started the season as Keith Law’s 59th-best prospect, made his Nationals organizational debut over the weekend. He threw 21 of 36 pitches for strikes and gave up two hits and no runs in 1 2/3 innings in a Sunday start for the team’s Triple-A affiliate. Nats manager Dave Martinez told reporters last week the team would prefer to see Gore build up to a 75-pitch workload before permitting him to join the active major-league roster. Prior to last week, Gore had not faced batters since being placed on the injured list with left elbow inflammation in late July, when he was still a member of the Padres. The 2017 first-rounder has spent most of his time since being traded in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell deal with his new major-league team.

• Mets top prospect Francisco Álvarez was back in Triple-A Syracuse’s starting lineup Sunday. He had one strikeout and was 0-for-4 in his first game since hurting his right ankle on Aug. 23. Álvarez’s return to play doesn’t necessarily mean he will join the list of rising young stars to be called up to the Mets’ major-league club this month. He likely will need to improve on the .180/.340/.378 line he assembled in his 32 Triple-A games. But it seems a good sign that Álvarez, who received an injection in the ankle at the start of the month, made it through a full afternoon as the team’s designated hitter in his reentry to the lineup.

• Top Marlins pitching prospect Eury Pérez returned to game action Saturday after missing about a month due to a minor shoulder injury. He didn’t seem rusty in his two innings of work for Low-A Jupiter, where he struck out four of seven batters and gave up one hit. His four-seam fastball touched 99 mph and sat in its usual 96-98 mph range. He generated misses on nine of 18 swings and the three balls in play against him were hit weakly at an average of 82 mph.

• On a more somber note, the Rays shut down top infield prospect Curtis Mead for the rest of the season. Mead has missed most of the second half of the season because of a right elbow strain. He came back for a short stint at the end of August but has been sidelined since. Follow-up evaluations reportedly found no further damage in Mead’s elbow. The 21-year-old from Australia received an injection to help the healing process, Triple-A Durham broadcaster Patrick Kinas wrote on Twitter.

Odds and ends

• A-ball playoffs begin Tuesday. Championship rounds will start Sunday except in the six-team High-A Northwest League, where the Eugene Emeralds (Giants) and Vancouver Canadians (Blue Jays) will go straight into a best-of-five championship series beginning Tuesday. The five other A-level leagues will stage a best-of-three division series followed by the best-of-three championship series.

Here are the first-round matchups:

Carolina League: Fredericksburg Nationals vs. Lynchburg Hillcats (Guardians); Charleston RiverDogs (Rays) vs. Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Cubs).
Florida State League: Palm Beach Cardinals vs. St. Lucie Mets; Dunedin Blue Jays vs. Fort Myers Mighty Mussels (Twins).
California League: San Jose Giants vs. Fresno Grizzlies (Rockies affiliate); Inland Empire (Angels) vs Lake Elsinore (Padres).
South Atlantic League: Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets) vs. Aberdeen IronBirds (Orioles); Rome Braves vs. Bowling Green Hot Rods (Rays).
Midwest League: Lake County Captains (Guardians) vs. Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers); South Bend Cubs vs. Cedar Rapids Kernels (Twins).

• If anyone has video of Jasson Domínguez hitting homers from both sides of the plate Saturday night, let us know. We’d all love to see another Martian landing.

• Minor leaguers involved in unionization efforts received good news last week when MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the league would voluntarily recognize their union. Our Evan Drellich broke down what the announcement means here.

• Elsewhere at The Athletic, we have a ranking of the best performances in the Giants’ farm system, insight on Pete Crow-Armstrong and other Cubs hitting prospects and an early preview of players the Pirates might or might not protect from the next Rule 5 draft. Plus, I wrote about Eury Pérez’s journey to the top of the prospect charts and I would love for you to give it a perusal.

(Photo of Jackson Chourio: Brad Krause/Four Seam Images via Associated Press)


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