On Tuesday, Baseball America reported several new rules changes coming to the minor leagues in 2023. Many were tweaks of rules already in place—slight alterations to the pitch clock, locations and calibrations for the automatic ball-strike system—but a few were eye-catching.
The one that stands to make perhaps the biggest impact will be found in the Double-A Southern League, which from Opening Day until July 13 (the last day of the first half of the season) will use what MLB is calling Grip Enhanced Balls in order to help pitchers get a better feel for the ball without having to resort to surreptitious use of foreign substances.
Eight big league teams have affiliates in the Southern League, and plenty of prospects will pass through the league both during and after the period when the Grip Enhanced Balls are in play. It will be notable, then, to keep an eye on how their stuff and performance fare with both sets of baseballs.
Certainly, not all changes in a pitcher’s performance should be attributed to the baseball in play; the jump from High-A to Double-A remains the hardest in the minor leagues even under ideal conditions.
With that in mind, here are five prospects likely to open in the Southern League to pay close attention to in the first months of the season. Because a good deal of the effects of the new ball will likely be seen in underlying data, we’ve also included the velocities and spin rates from what they showed in 2022, as well as their overall strike percentage.
Mena was one of the biggest up-arrow prospects in the White Sox’s system in 2022. The righthander was one of just five teenage pitchers to throw more than 100 innings last season, and his 29% strikeout rate among that group was bettered only by Phillies phenom Andrew Painter. Mena finished the year in Double-A and is likely to return to the level to begin 2023.
Fastball: 92 mph, 2,300 rpm
Slider: 84 mph, 2,550 rpm
Curveball: 82 mph, 2,550 rpm
Changeup: 87 mph, 2,000 rpm
Strike Percentage: 63%
Dax Fulton, LHP, Marlins
In the second half of the 2022 season, Fulton turned a corner and began to show the upside the Marlins had been waiting for since they selected him with their second-round pick in the 2020 draft. After getting in better shape, Fulton advanced to Double-A Pensacola and struck out 30 hitters in 21 innings while allowing just nine hits. The cherry on top was a six-inning, 13-strikeout masterpiece that sent the Blue Wahoos to the SL…
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