The Columbia Fireflies have been off to a rough start in 2022. Despite the record, the team is stacked with prospect talent with Ben Hernandez, Carter Jensen, River Town, Darryl Collins, and Erick Pena. The group, as expected, is young and in full development mode. Erick Pena has shown flashes of power, but his basic toolset has still been on display with his 40.9% strikeout rate. Darryl Collins’ ++ plate discipline has been on display as he has drawn more walks (25) than strikeouts (23). Carter Jensen’s power has been as advertised coming out of the draft. Ben Hernandez is still trying to find ways to limit the walks since coming back from his injury. As I covered in an earlier article, Noah Cameron was an absolute bright spot for the Fireflies, but he recently had a much deserving call-up to High-A.
The Fireflies had a recent wave of new talent make their way toLow-A from extended spring training. The most exciting call-ups were the Royals’ 7th overall pick, Frank Mozzicato, and their 43rd overall pick, Ben Kudrna, from the 2021 MLB Draft. Before their call-up, Danny Vazquez also made his way to Columbia. Vazquez was ranked 12th on MLB Pipeline’s top 2021 international prospects, and the Royals signed him for $1.5 million during that signing period. All three of these guys are very young, but watching them all make their professional debuts is exciting.
Frank Mozzicato, LHP
Early last week I covered what we might expect from Mozzicato in his professional debut. I mentioned that he has a fastball that sits anywhere from 90-93 mph, but he had started to see velocity increases. Alex broke down in his first start on Wednesday night Mozzicatio was sitting 91-94 mph while touching 95 mph. He finished the day with three innings pitched while giving up one hit, striking out, and walking three. There was a lot to like in his start. First off, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans might have one of the best lineups in the minor leagues that features top prospects Pete Crow-Armstrong, James Triantos, Kevin Alcantara, Reginald Preciado, and a few others. The fact he was able to limit them to one hit shouldn’t be overlooked. The curveball looked as advertised, and you can see why it is considered one of the best in the system.
As seen by the three walks, he threw 63% of his pitches for strikes but did struggle with command at times. That doesn’t worry me as the 18-year-old is still learning how to go from facing high schoolers in Connecticut every day to professional baseball players. Walks in his pro debut should be the least of anyone’s worries. As Mozzicato continues to grow, they hope that his velocity will build with it. 91-94 mph can already work with his plus curveball. If he gets his changeup to be average, you are looking at a guy with a solid three-pitch mix at his age. Imagine if he ends up sitting, say 93-96 in the future. This was an excellent first start for Mozzicato, and it will be exciting to see how he builds off of this in his next start.
Ben Kudrna, RHP
If a Frank Mozzicato debut wasn’t enough for you last week, say hello to Ben Kudrna. The kid from Overland Park made his debut for the Fireflies on Saturday, and boy, it was fun to watch. Kudrna was absolutely filthy in his first outing. He went three and a two-thirds innings giving up one hit, one earned run, one walk, and striking out five. His fastball looked great in this one, and the first one was clocked in at 95 mph. As Alex mentioned, his changeup looked disgustingly good. Kudrna struggled to locate his slider but still looked like an above-average pitch. It has some great bite to it.
As I stated with the Mozzicato start, it was impressive to see him dominate this talented Pelicans lineup. Everyone on draft day was questioning the Mozzicato selection, but knowing that it allowed them to sign both him and Kudrna should make everyone very excited. It is still early, but to see this from your top two 2021 draft class signees has to make you feel terrific if you are the Kansas City Royals. Given their age, these prep arms may take the same path to the big leagues, and it will be fantastic to watch them both toe the rubber together as they work their way through the minors. It may be a few years before we see them in the show, but there’s excitement around both for the perfect reason.
Danny Vazquez, SS
Vazquez was the prized international prospect for the Kansas City Royals in the 2021 International Signing Period. He’s only played in 4 games so far, totaling 13 at-bats, but has four hits with two RBI, two walks, and a stolen base. Only 18-years-old, Vazquez still has a lot of development in play. According to MLB.com, he received comps to Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Manny Machado when they were teenagers. I always struggle with comps, and those are some big shows to live up to. He has a smooth and compact swing that could develop some power as he grows. Reports in the Dominican Summer League said the bat was already coming off his bat a bit louder. Vazquez should be a staple to stick at shortstop with his athleticism, quick feet, speed, and arm. It will be a while before we see him make his major league debut unless he takes off in the next couple of years.
Shane Panzini, RHP
Panzini, the Royals 4th round pick in 2021, was added to the Fireflies roster recently and will make his first professional start on Wednesday in Lynchburg. At the time of last year’s draft, Panzini was consistently throwing 95 mph with an insanely good breaking ball that registers great spin rates. Panzini is a bit older than Mozzicato and Kudrna, but he also has more present physicality to him that should help him in the immediate future. If you’re looking for signs of improvement on the PD side of things on the farm, Panzini may be our best look on Wednesday.
Omar Florentino, 2B
Florentino won’t get the spotlight the same way as the other guys on this list, but he was a pretty high-profile international signing back in 2018, the same class as Wilmin Candelario, and has had spurts of success at the plate in his time with Kansas City. He’s not the prospect he once was, but he’s worth keeping an eye on while he’s with the Fireflies.
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