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On the Bubble: Forrest Wall & Josh Palacios

 

One of the most intriguing Rule 5 eligible players on the Blue Jays is outfielder Forrest Wall. Wall originally drafted as a second basemen, was a first round pick, 35th overall by the Rockies in 2014. He came over to the Blue Jays in the Seunghwan Oh trade in 2018.

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As a prospect Wall was always described as a player who had good bat to ball skills, and good speed, giving him a real high floor. The hope with players like this is that as they progress and get older and stronger they will add power. For Wall that power has never developed and his contact capabilities at the plate have declined as his strikeout rate has consistently risen as he as climbed up the minor leagues.

Year K%
2014 17.0%
2015 17.1%
2016 18.6%
2017 16.3%
2018 21.2%
2019 23.6%

This steady progression is normal for a prospect, as you face steeper and steeper competition your stats are going to get worse. There is nothing wrong with a 23.6% strikeout rate, it is just slightly concerning for a player whose top skill is his ability to make contact.

Wall has battled injuries throughout his career which has set his development back. He had a right shoulder injury which severely affected his throwing, prior to being drafted. In 2017 he was only able to play in 22 games as he separated his left shoulder, and missed the rest of the season, recovering from surgery.

Wall seems to be recovered from the injury and had a nice season this past year playing predominately in New Hampshire. He hit .270/.353/.419 good for a 129 wRC+, per Fangraphs. That earned him a promotion to Triple A. where in 14 games and 53 at bats, he hit .255/.340/.447 and a 96 wRC+. Wall’s slugging percentage went up in his short stint in Triple-A but the red flag that jumped out was he hit the ball 54.5% of the time into the ground. As a left-handed hitter with limited power, you cannot be hitting that many ground balls. Those are scooped up by the shift for easy outs. By all accounts Wall’s defence is strong so his bat plays even with limited power.

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Fellow Double-A outfielder Josh Palacios is also on the Rule 5 bubble. Palacios is a year older than Wall at 24, and had similar success with New Hampshire this year. He hit .266/.371/.416 for a 134 wRC+. Palacios like Wall has limited power. Palacios’ issue is he just pounds the ball into the ground. This past season Palacios had a 42.9% ground ball rate, which is high, but was easily the lowest mark of his career. At every other stop in the minor leagues Palacios had at least a 58% groundball rate. At the lower levels of the minors this approach can work as the fielders aren’t as good, and Palacios has decent speed so he beats out a lot of those grounders.

He made a change while with New Hampshire, doubling his fly ball rate, though he failed to see the power gains you would expect. Palacios only hit seven home runs in 341 plate appearances. He had a home run to fly ball rate of just 8.0%.

Both Wall and Palacios are nice players and decent prospects. They had good seasons at Double-A, the issue lies in the fact that the Blue Jays have so many fringe outfielders on their 40-man and have either Wall or Palacios shown enough to warrant a spot over one of those other players. Both players sound like they are good defensively, though neither looks to be elite like Jonathan Davis. Wall has some pedigree of being a high draft pick, but it’s not to the same level as Anthony Alford who peaked at 25th on Baseball America’s top 100 list.

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Wall has shown enough at the plate and has the pedigree for someone out there to take a chance on him in the Rule 5 draft. Maybe a rebuilding team takes a chance on him, Baltimore might take a look, or perhaps a team that is familiar with him takes a shot.  Colorado may still like him or even Pittsburgh now with Ben Cherington at the helm. Cherington was part of the Blue Jays when they acquired Wall in 2018. There is enough youth and upside with Wall, that it’s likely someone takes a chance on him, and tries to stash him for the season. For the Blue Jays they already so many players like this you can absorb losing him for nothing. Palacios doesn’t have the pedigree and just had his first big season; it seems unlikely a team could stash him all season. Personally I wouldn’t protect either Wall or Palacios from the Rule 5 draft.