FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Bichette, W. Smith, J. Suarez, Ford, Waguespack

First Impressions is a look at recent call-ups, a snapshot of their early progress so far in the majors. Initial BaseballHQ.com minor league write-ups for all of the players in today's column can be found in the News tab on their individual PlayerLink pages. Because many of these players have accumulated less than 100 AB or 50 IP, small sample size warnings apply to the analysis here.

 

First Impression: Bo Bichette (SS, TOR)

CALLED UP: 7/29/2019
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 9C
CURRENT ROLE: Starting SS
POTENTIAL ROLE: Starting SS
2019 MINORS STATS: Buffalo (AAA)—220 AB, .277/.336/.477, 16 2B, 8 HR, 0.40 Eye, 15 SB

Year   AB   BA    xBA  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO  HR/SB
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====  =======  =====
2018# 539  .281   N/A    7   81   N/A     N/A    104/N/A   N/A  140/N/A  10/28
2019  128  .336  .308    5   73    95  41/24/34  181/127   25%  107/22%   8/ 2
#Double-A MLEs

He's been outstanding, though there are still a few minor issues to iron out:

  • Bichette has enjoyed a remarkable debut, giving us a glimpse of his upside in batting average and power. xPX suggests his power output won't likely stay this high (his full-season pace would lead to around 60 doubles and 30 HR), as his hard contact rate has been slightly below average, but a 127 mark is still very good.
  • His contact rate has taken a sizable hit in the transition to the majors, and that will likely make it hard for him to sustain a .300+ BA for the remainder of the season. Even though his xBA is currently above the .300 mark, it will start to decline if his PX regresses. His rest-of-season BaseballHQ projection calls for a .286 BA, 80% contact rate, 115 PX, and .276 xBA. Long term, if he can get that ct% back up and maintain a strong LD% and elite power, he's got the tools to be a .300 hitter.
  • Speed has been his best skill in the minors, and we haven't seen all he can do there in the majors yet, though it hasn't been for lack of trying—he's simply been caught stealing 4 of 6 times. His success rate in Double-A and Triple-A was 75%, so hopefully he'll turn things around soon.

The 21-year-old Bichette looks like he could become an impact bat and multi-category contributor for many years to come. His drop in contact rate and below-average hard contact are things to keep an eye on, especially as opposing teams get a longer look at him, but they don't yet rise to the level of red flags in what is overall an impressive skill set.

 

First Impression: Will Smith (C, LA)

CALLED UP: 5/27/2019, 6/23/2019, 7/26/2019
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 8D
CURRENT ROLE: Starting C
POTENTIAL ROLE: Starting C
2019 MINORS STATS: Oklahoma City (AAA)—224 AB, .268/.381/.603, 11 2B, 20 HR, 0.82 Eye, 1 SB

Year   AB   BA    xBA  HR  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ====  ====  ==  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====
2018^ 352  .200   N/A  15    8   64   N/A     N/A    126/N/A   N/A
2019  110  .291  .296  12    9   69   105  24/22/54  224/189   29%
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs

He's been amazing, but he can't keep up this pace:

  • Smith has been on fire, smashing home runs at a nearly 60 HR full-season pace. And that's after hitting them at roughly a 50 HR pace in Triple-A. Raw power has long been his calling card as a prospect, and he's clearly taking it up another notch. But these numbers scream small sample size—he's currently 2nd only to Joey Gallo in PX and xPX among all MLB hitters with at least 100 AB, and tied for 1st in FB%. Those numbers will likely come down to earth a bit over the final month of the season.
  • Just as encouraging as the power growth is the fact that he's raised his walk and contact rates at the major league level. That bodes well for him avoiding a complete collapse as pitchers start to make adjustments, though his contact rate is still below average.
  • As his power regresses a little, so will his BA/xBA, and that incredibly high fly ball rate could start to hurt him in that regard. Over the last 31 days, even with his contact rate holding at 69% and his power skills riding high (203 PX, 186 xPX), a shift to a 17% line drive rate and 60% fly ball rate has driven his BA down to .267 and his xBA to .274.

The 24-year-old Smith wasn't initially expected to take over the primary catching role for the Dodgers this year, but his bat has simply been too good to keep out of the lineup. We've likely seen the peak of his value for 2019, though his underlying skills seem solid enough to avoid a prolonged slump like the kind that befell fellow rookie Austin Riley. Long term, Smith now looks like he could become a desirable option at a position that has been lacking in valuable contributors of late.

 

First Impression: Jose Suarez (LHP, LAA)

CALLED UP: 6/2/19, 6/8/19, 7/1/19, 7/25/19, 8/23/19
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 7B
CURRENT ROLE: Starting pitcher
POTENTIAL ROLE: Starting pitcher
2019 MINORS STATS: Salt Lake City (AAA)—3.62 ERA, 32.1 IP/6 GS, 4.8 Ctl, 8.7 Dom, 1.8 Cmd

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  SwK  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  ===  ===
2018^ 110  4.00   N/A  3.0  9.2  3.0     N/A    36/70   N/A  N/A  N/A  107
2019   63  6.71  5.30  3.6  8.3  2.3  39/20/41  34/66   22%  55%  12%   70
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs

There's potential here, but he doesn't appear ready to fulfill it yet:

  • Suarez raised his stock with a strong showing in 2018, though it's worth noting that his best work came at Double-A (3.03 ERA, 6.4 non-MLE Cmd), while walks became a problem at Triple-A (4.48 ERA, 2.1 non-MLE Cmd), a trend that has continued in 2019 in both the minors and majors. His low FpK doesn't bode well for his ability to turn things around in September.
  • He's struggling to find an answer against right-handed batters, against whom he's allowed a 1.039 OPS over 210 PA, including 15 of his 18 HR allowed. He has a 1.8 Cmd rate vs. RHB, compared to 3.8 vs. LHB.
  • His SwK offers hope for more strikeouts, and along with his work in Double-A (where he posted a 15.7 non-MLE Dom over 29.2 IP), suggests the potential for modest upside as a back-of-the-rotation starter.

Suarez is only 21 years old, and it's fair to wonder if he's been rushed a bit, given that he only threw just under 30 IP at Double-A before being promoted, and has struggled with command in Triple-A and the majors. It's unclear if he'll stay in the rotation after rosters expand, and considering his struggles vs. RHB, a September move to the bullpen might allow him to restore some confidence and lower his demoralizing ERA. His fantasy value has been nonexistent for 2019, but he's young enough that we should exercise patience to see if he can put things together in the future.

 

First Impression: Mike Ford (1B/DH, NYY)

CALLED UP: 4/16/2019, 7/2/2019, 8/3/2019
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 6C
CURRENT ROLE: Platoon 1B/DH
POTENTIAL ROLE: Backup 1B/DH
2019 MINORS STATS: Scranton (AAA)—294 AB, .303/.401/.605, 20 2B, 23 HR, 0.84 Eye, 0 SB

Year   AB   BA    xBA  HR  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ====  ====  ==  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====
2016# 143  .264   N/A   5   18   80   N/A     N/A    108/N/A   N/A
2017^ 429  .246   N/A  21   16   81   N/A     N/A    105/N/A   N/A
2018+ 367  .215   N/A  14    7   77   N/A     N/A     95/N/A   N/A
2019  105  .229  .279   9   10   81   119  34/18/48  136/159   22%
#Double-A MLEs
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs
+Triple-A MLEs

His recent success was unexpected, but his skill history is intriguing:

  • At age 27, Ford is a late bloomer and wasn't considered much of a prospect coming into the season, but he has been red-hot in August, with 8 HR, an .888 OPS, 87% contact rate, 169 xPX, and .299 xBA over 75 AB. He had flashed modest power in the minors prior to this, but has taken things to another level in 2019, both in Triple-A and the majors. What he's done so far has come with skill support, but without any prior history, we'll need to see if he can keep it up over a larger sample.
  • His plate discipline has a much stronger track record, though his walk rate has come down a bit as he's faced tougher competition. But the fact that he hasn't lost any ct% in the majors—and that he upped his rate to 87% during August—is a positive sign, and could bode well for his ability to sustain some of this power growth.
  • His batting average has been stifled by a 20% hit rate, and xBA suggests he could do a lot better. That would give his overall value a healthy boost, though if his power starts to flag, his high FB% might drag down his BA potential pretty quickly.

Ford has put himself on the fantasy radar with his August outburst, and while there are sample size and playing time questions (especially with Luke Voit back from the IL), he definitely bears watching, as his skill history offers the potential for plus patience and power with a solid BA. Keep an eye on his skills as opposing teams get a longer look at him and start to make adjustments.

 

First Impression: Jacob Waguespack (RHP, TOR)

CALLED UP: 5/26/2019, 7/16/2019, 
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 6D
CURRENT ROLE: Starting pitcher
POTENTIAL ROLE: Middle reliever
2019 MINORS STATS: Buffalo (AAA)—5.30 ERA, 52.2 IP/11 GS, 4.3 Ctl, 9.0 Dom, 2.1 Cmd

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl  Dom  Cmd  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  SwK  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  ===  ===
2017#  37  4.52   N/A  4.0  7.3  1.8     N/A    36/72   N/A  N/A  N/A   61
2018^ 124  6.38   N/A  3.6  6.5  1.8     N/A    37/61   N/A  N/A  N/A   49
2019   55  3.93  4.77  2.6  6.9  2.6  42/23/35  28/72   12%  58%  10%   73
#Double-A MLEs
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs

His skills and history don't support this early success:

  • Waguespack was not considered much of a prospect prior to his call-up, so his 3.93 ERA has been quite a surprise. But a look at his skills shows that he's been aided by a little luck here and there, with slightly low hit and hr/f rates. His xERA is nearly a full run higher.
  • To make matters worse, his below-average FpK doesn't jibe with his above-average control thus far, and his MLE Ctl rates from the minors also point toward his walk rate going up in the future, which would push his xERA over 5.00. And in August, that FpK rate has dropped to 54%.
  • His below-average Dom rate tracks with his minor league MLEs, and his SwK has been below-average as well. He throws a lot of different pitches—Brooks Baseball credits him with six, ranging in usage from 7.2% (slider) to 31.2% (four-seam fastball)—but only two are currently generating a double-digit whiff rate: his four-seamer (15.5%) and his change-up (13.7%).

Thanks to a Toronto rotation decimated by injuries and ineffectiveness, the 25-year-old Waguespack will likely remain a starter for the remainder of 2019, but he's unlikely to remain a pitcher you want on your fantasy roster (our rest-of-season BaseballHQ projection calls for a 6.00 ERA and 1.59 WHIP). And beyond this season, he looks like a candidate to move to the bullpen or become Triple-A depth. If you've benefited from his brief run of success, consider yourself lucky.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.