Knocking Down The Door: July 8, 2021

“Knocking Down The Door” is a weekly column highlighting minor leaguers who are making a case for a major league promotion. Listed below are the names of this week’s picks and the player’s team, age, level(s), prospect ranking, and last 10-14 days of statistics.

The analysis can be viewed in the embedded video of the previous day’s episode of The RosterResource Show, a weekly live stream focused on all things related to rosters, transactions, and RosterResource content at FanGraphs.

Sam Hilliard (27), OF, Triple-A Albuquerque | Colorado Rockies | Prospect Rank: n/a | June 27-July 4: 9-for-19, 4 HR, 2 2B, 8 RBI, 4 BB, 3 K

After beginning the season with three hits and two walks in 13 plate appearances, including a pair of homers, Hilliard spent most of the next three weeks on the Rockies’ bench. Playing sparingly, he went 1-for-26 with 14 strikeouts before he was demoted to Triple-A. The slump continued in the minors as he went 13-for-83 with three homers, 10 walks, and 30 strikeouts over his first 23 games. A potential breakout candidate had quickly fallen off of the radar.

But the 27-year-old has shown some life over the past month, slashing .309/.387/.732 with 10 homers and seven doubles over his last 111 plate appearances. It should be enough to earn him another shot with Colorado in the near future, although it would help if manager Bud Black would pencil him into the lineup regularly, at least versus right-handed starting pitchers.

Estevan Florial (23), OF, Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre | New York Yankees | Prospect Rank: 31 (organizational) | June 13-July 7: 21-for-60, 3 HR, 4 2B, 15 RBI, 15 BB, 17 K, 6 SB

As Brett Gardner continues to struggle through his worst season as a pro — he’s currently in a 4-for-42 slump after an 0-for-4 on Wednesday — Florial is heating up down in Triple-A. The 23-year-old was slashing .351/.479/.579 over his past 73 plate appearances going into Wednesday’s game. Here’s his lone hit from Wednesday, a two-out, two-run single to open the scoring.

Connor Thomas (23), SP, Triple-A Memphis | St. Louis Cardinals | Prospect Rank: n/a | June 23-July 4: 17.2 IP, ER, 13 H, 4 BB, 16 K

Even before Carlos Martinez was placed on the 10-Day IL with a sprained thumb ligament on Wednesday, the Cardinals’ starting rotation looked as though they would soon need some reinforcements. While Thomas isn’t the most recognizable name on the Triple-A Memphis roster — Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson are former first round picks and highly-regarded prospects — he might be the most capable at the moment. The 23-year-old lefty threw one-hit ball over seven shutout innings in his last start and has allowed only two earned runs over his last four starts combined (21 IP, 5 BB, 20 K).

Josh Winder (24), SP, Triple-A St. Paul/Double-A Wichita | Minnesota Twins | Prospect Rank: 12 (organizational) | June 18-July 2: 18.2 IP, 3 ER, 11 H, 4 BB, 23 K

Like fellow Twins’ prospect Jose Miranda, who made a splash in his Triple-A debut last week (5-for-6, 3 HR), Winder was impressive in his first start with Triple-A St. Paul. Here are some highlights below …

The 24-year-old right-hander allowed just one run and one hit over 5 2/3 innings with two walks and eight strikeouts. Over his final five Double-A starts, he pitched at least six innings four times. Regardless of whether the Twins open up a spot in their rotation by trading at least one of their veteran starters this month, Winder should get a look sometime in 2021. UPDATE: Winder left Wednesday’s start in the third inning after getting hit by a comebacker in the head/neck area. He is reportedly doing fine.

Ben Leeper (24), RP, Triple-A Iowa | Chicago Cubs | Prospect Rank: n/a | June 17-July 4: 8.1 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 4 BB, 13 K

Signed as a non-drafted free agent last July, Leeper is making quick work of the minors leagues. The 24-year-old, who underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time in 2016, has not allowed a run in his last seven appearances (8.1 IP, 4 BB, 13 K). But what’s even more amazing is that he hasn’t allowed a hit in 11 1/3 innings since being promoted to Triple-A in early June.

If 11 1/3 innings sounds familiar for a Cubs’ relief pitcher, that’s because Tommy Nance, another non-drafted free agent who signed in 2016 and debuted this season at age 30, began his career with that same total of scoreless innings. He struggled after that, however, and is currently a teammate of Leeper’s in Triple-A Iowa. In all likelihood, they’ll both be in the Cubs’ bullpen at some point in 2021.


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Lunch Anglemember
1 year ago

This is great stuff, thanks!