(*) FIRST IMPRESSIONS: H. Davis, Fermin, Liberatore, J. Diaz, Curry

First Impressions is a look at recent call-ups, a snapshot of their early progress so far in the majors. Initial BaseballHQ.com Call-Ups reports on all of the players in today's column can be found in the News tab on their individual PlayerLink pages (linked from the player name below). Because many of these players have accumulated less than 150 PA or 50 IP, small sample size warnings apply to the analysis here.

 

First Impression: Henry Davis (RF, PIT)

CALLED UP: 6/19/2023
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 8B
CURRENT ROLE: Starting RF
POTENTIAL ROLE: Starting C/RF
2023 MINORS STATS: Indianapolis (AAA)—45 PA, .286/.432/.514, 3 2B, 1 HR, 0.73 Eye, 2 SB; Altoona (AA)—187 PA, .282/.428/.544, 7 2B, 10 HR, 0.89 Eye, 7 SB

Year   PA   BA    xBA  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/F  Spd/SBA  HR/SB
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====  =======  =====
2022# 136  .169   N/A    7   72   N/A     N/A     95/N/A   N/A   77/N/A   2/ 2
2023  183  .224  .235   10   75   124  47/17/36   83/117   12%   93/14%   5/ 3
#Double-A MLEs

His power and plate discipline skills are on the rise:

  • Davis was the #1 overall pick in the 2021 draft, then saw his professional career get off to a rough start when he missed most of the 2022 season with a non-displaced fracture in his left wrist. He bounced back to showcase his mix of patience and power in Double-A and Triple-A prior to his call-up, but his performance has taken a step back in the majors. However, you can see positives in his skills, as his walk rate has been above average, and he's making very good hard contact, which has his xPX suggesting there is more power on the way.
  • Most of that growth has come in the second half. Over his last 132 PA, he's raised his BB% to 12% and posted a 134 xPX, though a sizable increase in his second-half fly ball rate (43%) has had a negative effect on his xBA (.224). He owned a 43% fly ball rate in Double-A, so this recent batted-ball output might be more representative of his true skill level. Raising his PX to match his xPX will help boost his xBA a little, but with a league average contact rate and a fly-ball-heavy approach, his BA ceiling might be around .240, at least in the short term—though that would also come with a solid OBP, thanks to all the walks.
  • He stole nine bases in 232 PA in the minors for 2023 prior to his call-up, and has added a little stolen base value in the majors as well. His Spd score has been near average, while his Statcast sprint speed ranks in the 75th percentile, and his MLB success rate has only been 50%. Without elite skills in this part of his game, he seems likely to remain in single digits, and if he does eventually wind up behind the plate defensively, we might see his running game dry up even further as the rigors of the position take a toll on his legs.

The 23-year-old Davis was ranked 57th on our preseason BaseballHQ Top 100 Prospects list, and is believed to have 30+ HR upside over the long term, with a higher BA not out of the question if his solid plate discipline can lead him to better outcomes. He's been worth $0 in rotisserie value so far in 2023, but the untapped power in his skills could make him more valuable down the stretch. Keeper league managers should continue to be patient with him, as he's still a big part of the Pirates' long-term plans.

 

First Impression: Freddy Fermin (C, KC)

CALLED UP: 7/14/2022, 4/21/2023, 5/3/2023
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 5C
CURRENT ROLE: Starting C
POTENTIAL ROLE: Starting C
2023 MINORS STATS: Omaha (AAA)—58 PA, .304/.448/.674, 2 2B, 5 HR, 1.22 Eye, 0 SB

Year   PA   BA    xBA  HR  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/F
====  ===  ====  ====  ==  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====
2019# 112  .232   N/A   2    2   77   N/A     N/A     66/N/A   N/A
2020  ---------------Spent at alternate training site-------------
2021^ 319  .228   N/A   6    7   78   N/A     N/A     71/N/A   N/A
2022+ 348  .202   N/A   7    8   76   N/A     N/A     85/N/A   N/A
22MLB   7  .000  .000   0    0   57     0  50/00/50    0/-14    0%
2023  170  .302  .277   9    5   77   113  43/21/36  129/132   20%
#Double-A MLEs
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs
+Triple-A MLEs

One of the most unexpected success stories of the 2023 season:

  • Fermin has never been considered much of a prospect, and yet here he is, leading the Royals in OPS in 2023. And it hasn't all been a fluke, either. xBA indicates that his batting average is a little high, due to a 35% hit rate, but that's really it for flaws in his skills. His power has the backing of xPX, and even his Statcast metrics have been above average: 89.7 mph exit velocity and a 12.1% Barrel%. Which is stunning, given his minor league MLEs—you can perhaps squint and point to small growth in his walk rate and PX, but both were still subpar as of 2022.
  • Which makes the sustainability of what he's been doing questionable, though at this point, 170 PA is a decent sample size. And he's actually been getting better in the second half, raising his HctX to 129, his FB% to 41%, and his PX/xPX to 159/150. That has resulted in a .290 xBA.
  • His platoon splits have been impressively balanced. He's hit for a higher average against RHP (.311), but that's partly due to a 36% hit rate. His OPS marks are very similar—.871 vs. RHP, .876 vs. LHP—and he's making slightly better contact against righties (78%, compared to 73%) and hitting for slightly more power against lefties (159 PX, compared to 120). There just aren't many flaws in his skills at the moment.

The 28-year-old Fermin is on a red-hot run lately (.389/.404/.741 over his last 57 PA) that led the Royals to play Salvador Perez at DH and 1B so that Fermin can catch full-time and they can get a look at what they've got in this surprise breakout. He's been a lottery ticket for any fantasy managers fortunate enough to scoop him up, but the hard reality is that this could all go up in smoke at any moment, as this is well beyond what anyone expected him to do. However, at the same time, right now there's nothing to point to, other than a small amount of hit rate luck, suggesting he's due for immediate regression. He'll be a fascinating player to watch over the remainder of 2023.

 

First Impression: Matthew Liberatore (LHP, STL)

CALLED UP: 5/21/22, 5/23/22, 6/14/22, 7/2/22, 8/23/22, 10/5/22, 5/17/23, 7/28/23
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 7C
CURRENT ROLE: Starting pitcher
POTENTIAL ROLE: Starting pitcher
2023 MINORS STATS: Memphis (AAA)—3.72 ERA, 58.0 IP/11 GS, 11% BB%, 30% K%, 18% K-BB%

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  BB%   K% K-BB%   SwK   GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/F
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  === =====  =====  ========  =====  ====
2021+ 125  3.75   N/A   6%  20%   15%   N/A      N/A    30/73   N/A
2022+ 115  4.54   N/A   7%  19%   12%   N/A      N/A    31/67   N/A
22MLB  35  5.97  5.18  11%  17%    6%   8.9%  38/24/38  35/67   12%
2023   46  5.72  5.37   9%  14%    6%   7.6%  42/22/36  32/62    7%
+Triple-A MLEs

This hasn't helped the downward trend in his prospect status:

  • Liberatore's stock has taken a hit over the last couple years, as concerns about the quality of his stuff led to downgrades and a lot of recalls and demotions. His K% has been better during his short time at Triple-A in 2023 (his non-MLE rates 23% and 24% in 2022 and 2021, respectively), but that hasn't translated to more strikeouts in the majors, as his K% and SwK have both been worse this season than last. He only has one plus strikeout pitch in his repertoire at the moment, and barely at that, as his slider sits at a 12.3% SwK, just slightly above average, on 10.3% usage.
  • To make matters worse, his control has been an issue in the majors, and his sub-indicators suggest those problems have been well-earned, as his 39% Ball% and 56% first-pitch strike rate are both quite poor. That left his K-BB% rates in the majors at troubling levels.
  • He's also having tremendous difficulty against right-handed batters, allowing a career .308 BA and .907 OPS, compared to .227 and .652 against lefties. He's walking right-handers more (10% BB%) and striking them out less (15% K%), and worst of all, 8 of his 9 HR allowed have been hit by RHB.

This has been a horrible start to the 23-year-old Liberatore's career, and his skills don't offer any reason to think he'll turn things around anytime soon. With the Cardinals out of contention, they may be content to keep putting him out there to see if he can figure things out, however given the questions that have surrounded his development as a prospect, it's fair to wonder if he might eventually wind up in the bullpen. There was a time when he was considered to be a potential frontline starter, so patience is still in order; hope for better skills over his remaining starts in 2023.

 

First Impression: Jordan Diaz (2B/3B/DH, OAK)

CALLED UP: 9/17/2022, 4/19/2023, 6/30/2023
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 7C
CURRENT ROLE: Starting 3B
POTENTIAL ROLE: Starting 1B
2023 MINORS STATS: Las Vegas (AAA)—168 PA, .308/.351/.506, 13 2B, 6 HR, 0.33 Eye, 0 SB

Year   PA   BA    xBA  HR  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/F
====  ===  ====  ====  ==  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====
2022^ 527  .259   N/A  11    3   82   N/A     N/A     82/N/A   N/A
22MLB  51  .265  .200   0    4   86    54  67/10/24   49/ 57    0%
2023  172  .253  .241   8    6   77   109  48/20/33   95/ 93   20%
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs

Positional flexibility and a good second half have made him interesting:

  • Diaz has some mild fantasy appeal thanks to his power and eligibility at second base, but his overall numbers and skills haven't been that impressive. His contact rate is down from the level he established in the minors, he's been hitting too many ground balls, which is why his PX and xPX are slightly below average despite some decent hard contact. His 91.0 mph exit velocity and 7.4% Barrel% have also been above average. He's managed to hit homers at what would be a 25-HR pace over a full season, but these don't really look like the skills of a 25-HR hitter.
  • However, there has been noticeable improvement in his second-half performance, almost all of which has come after his late June recall: over 93 PA, he's hit .277 with an .802 OPS, 9% BB%, 128 HctX, 100 PX, 111 xPX, and 24% hr/F. He's still hitting too many grounders (52% GB% in the 2nd half), and a .247 xBA suggests his BA has been inflated by some luck, but the power skill growth looks legitimate. His exit velocity has also increased: 92.2 mph in July, 93.7 mph in August.
  • His platoon splits have been surprisingly good against right-handers (.807 OPS, 9% BB%, 113 PX) and surprisingly bad against lefties (.655 OPS, 3% BB%, 74 PX), though the sample sizes are still small enough (97 PA vs. RHP, 75 PA vs. LHP) that we probably shouldn't read too much into it just yet.

The 23-year-old Diaz is making the most of this latest opportunity, his third shot at the majors since September 2022, and given that he's been playing regularly at third base recently, he could enter 2024 with eligibility at three different infield positions, depending on your league requirements. His second-half power surge bears watching, as that will likely be the key to any future fantasy value, with his batting average potential hinging on whether he'll ever move his contact rate back up into the 80s.

 

First Impression: Xzavion Curry (RHP, CLE)

CALLED UP: 3/30/2023
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 6A
CURRENT ROLE: Starting pitcher/Swingman
POTENTIAL ROLE: Starting pitcher/Swingman
2023 MINORS STATS: None

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  BB%   K% K-BB%   SwK   GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/F
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  === =====  =====  ========  =====  ====
2022^ 122  3.84   N/A   7%  22%   15%   N/A      N/A    29/72   N/A
22MLB   9  5.79  7.41  13%   6%   -6%   9.7%  30/32/38  34/72    7%
2023   69  3.39  5.30   7%  16%    9%   9.7%  29/23/48  27/76    8%
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs

His performance is unlikely to last:

  • Curry has enjoyed a remarkably successful season, first as a reliever, and since mid-July, as an opener transitioning into a starter, helping to fill holes in an injury-ravaged Guardians rotation. He hasn't put in enough innings to be of much fantasy value ($0 in R$), but his 3.39 ERA and 1.19 WHIP probably have some appeal in deep leagues. Unfortunately, his skills suggest that it has all been a mirage, aided by low hit and hr/F rates and a high strand rate, leaving his xERA nearly two runs higher.
  • Beyond the good fortune, the issue is he's an extreme fly ball pitcher who doesn't strike out a lot of batters. He throws four pitches, and only his curveball is generating a double-digit SwK (12.4% SwK on 12.3% usage). And on the negative side, that pitch also has a 54% fly ball rate.
  • The lone positive has been his above-average control, which has come with support from a 34% Ball% and a 60% first-pitch strike rate, and his BB% is an exact match for his MLE from the minors in 2022. But good control alone just isn't enough to make a pitcher successful; really elite control might move the needle a bit, but the reality is that he'll likely need to find a way to generate more ground balls or strikeouts to stay in the majors over the long term.

The 25-year-old Curry has clearly outpitched his skills so far, and regression could be on the way over the remainder of the season. (We're already starting to see it with a 5.17 ERA and 1.34 WHIP over his last three starts and two relief appearances.) If your league still allows trades, this would be a good time to sell high; if not, it might be time to start looking around for a replacement wherever you can get one.

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