Prospect Roundup: Games of July 23

Cards' Knizner homers twice; Houck turns in first walkless start

Andrew Knizner is a career .309 hitter over three seasons in the Minor Leagues. (Joshua Tjiong/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | July 24, 2018 12:25 PM

Theme of the day

Injuries and coming back from injury: Want the good news or the bad news first? Monday brought news that No. 3 overall prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his fractured left thumb. (Also, Tim Tebow is out for the rest of the season with a fractured hamate bone in his right hand.) On the bright side, top overall prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. homered for the first time since coming back from a knee injury that forced him out for five weeks, and No. 70 prospect Max Fried (blister) struck out 10 and allowed one hit in 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a rehab start for Double-A Mississippi.

Video: New Hampshire's Guerrero belts two-run shot

Who stayed hot

Red Sox RHP Tanner Houck, Class A Advanced Salem: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 78 pitches, 58 strikes -- As good as the outing was all around, the most important number for the No. 3 Red Sox prospect was his zero in the walks column. That's the first time in 19 starts this season that Houck, whose 12.9 percent walk rate is second-highest in the Carolina League, did not issue a free pass. After entering his June 14 start at Lynchburg with a 6.16 ERA, Houck has posted a 2.72 mark with 47 strikeouts and 18 walks in eight starts (46 1/3 innings) since. Houck has worked on his arsenal this season, notably throwing more four-seamers after being primarily a two-seam pitcher at Missouri. The project is beginning to generate promising results.

Who needed this one

Astros OF J.J. Matijevic, Class A Advanced Buies Creek: 3-for-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, CS -- The Astros' No. 24 prospect and 75th overall pick in last year's Draft got off to a scorching start through April and May but has since cooled off. Entering yesterday's game, he was just 9-for-59 (.153) in July and hadn't produced an extra-base hit in seven games. He changed that with his third two-homer game of the season. The 22-year-old outfielder is hitting .262/.313/.486 with 10 homers, eight steals and a 119 wRC+ in 55 games since being promoted to Buies Creek, but he'll need to develop more power as he rises through the Houston system.

The unexpected

Royals C Meibrys Viloria, Class A Advanced Wilmington: 4-for-5, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, 3 BB in doubleheader -- The Royals' No. 17 prospect started out his day by going 3-for-3 with a homer, three RBIs and a walk in Game 1 of Wilmington's doubleheader at Frederick and then reached three times (twice more on walks) in Game 2. That's pretty good for a catcher who began the day with a .230/.327/.300 line in 72 games. The three hits in the first contest tied a season-high for a single game as did the two walks in the nightcap. Viloria has done a nice job of taking free passes this season, raising his walk rate from 6.3 percent last season at Class A Lexington to 11.8 percent this year. But he hasn't done much else at the plate and is now hitting .240/.341/.321 for a below-average 94 wRC+ in the Carolina League. Right now his strength is on defense, where he's thrown out 38 percent of attempted base-stealers.

Best matchup

Shane Baz vs. Jarred Kelenic: This meeting between Kingsport and Bristol at Boyce Cox Field brought together first-round picks from the last two Drafts, but the fireworks were minimal. Baz plunked Kelenic to load the bases in the first inning and had him reach on an error in the third before striking him out in the fifth. For a matchup involving a talented right-handed pitcher and a left-handed slugger, there was so much potential for excitement here, even if both have struggled at times in the Appalachian League. Baz finished with one of his better outings of the year with a season-best-tying nine strikeouts and one earned run allowed on three hits and three walks in five innings.

Who strengthened their promotion case

Cardinals C Andrew Knizner, Double-A Springfield: 3-for-5, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R -- The Cardinals' No. 5 prospect has hit six homers in 56 games with Double-A Springfield this season. Three have come in his last two games. That's big because power has been one of the few weaknesses in Knizner's game. In 107 career games with Springfield, Knizner is hitting .314/.370/.456 with 10 homers and 25 doubles. He's also thrown out 38.5 percent of attempted base-stealers as he continues to become a weapon behind the plate. In nearly any other system, the 23-year-old backstop would be facing the challenge of Triple-A, but with Yadier Molina in St. Louis and Carson Kelly needing consistent playing time with Memphis, Knizner has been left to toil in the Texas League. If the Cardinals were clear buyers at this year's trade deadline, either Knizner or Kelly would be intriguing trade bait. With St. Louis 8 1/2 games back in the NL Central and 5 1/2 back in the Wild Card race, the team may instead choose to hang on to its catching depth.

Video: Springfield's Knizner hits second homer

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More