While Philadelphia Phillies fans wait around to see if president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has any more tricks up his sleeve in free agency, one prospect in the organization's system is garnering attention — Nikau Pouaka-Grego.
As an overall group, the Phillies farm system has been up and down, with Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranking the team at No. 18 in the league after the Shohei Ohtani signing in December. On the other hand, Baseball America ranked the hitting part of the farm system fourth-best in the league.
Offensively, the Phillies have outfielders Justin Crawford, Carlos De La Cruz, Simón Muzziotti and Gabriel Rincones Jr., third baseman Aidan Miller and shortstop William Bergolla in the top 10 of their prospects, according to MLB.com's prospect rankings.
Pouaka-Grego, the team's No. 26-ranked prospect, is a second and third baseman who has the potential to be a star of the future. Jim Callis and Sam Dykstra of MLB.com are predicting Pouaka-Grego will be the organization's breakout star in 2024.
As Callis and Dykstra note, the 19-year-old was on track to have a breakthrough in 2023, but a torn ACL derailed his progress and ended his season before it even truly began. They predict his skills at the plate won't be affected by the knee injury going forward, though.
The infielder from New Zealand only played four games in the Australian Baseball League before the injury put a pause on his development.
In those four games, he had one hit in 13 plate appearances. In the Florida Complex League in 2022, however, he put on a display. In 125 plate appearances across 35 games, he slashed .301/.424/.466 with an OPS of .890, three home runs, 16 RBI, 16 walks and 16 strikeouts. He also reached base by being hit by a pitch six times.
In the Florida Complex League, he mainly played second (17 games) and third base (15 games), though he did make two appearances at shortstop as well. As a second baseman in the FCL, he put up a .951 fielding percentage. That mark fell to .941 at third and .800 at shortstop. Across 38 games between the FCL and ABL, he committed nine errors, but with more time and coaching, he should be able to improve his defense before he gets the opportunity to reach the big leagues.
In his limited action in the FCL, the left-handed hitter put up a 12.8 strikeout percentage and walk percentage, demonstrating good patience at the plate and control of his swing.
The Phillies signed Pouaka-Grego in 2022 for $250,000. Assuming the New Zealander can stay healthy, he will have plenty of time in the minors to develop. MLB.com has projected that he'll arrive in Philadelphia during the 2026 season and currently already has his scouting grade for hitting at a 50, in the average range.
In 2022, after the signing, Luke Marchioro of Baseball.com.au, passed along comments from Pouaka-Grego, including: "I couldn't be happier to sign with the Phillies. My family and I have a lot of trust in Howie Norsetter [Philadelphia's Australian scout], and he has been able to find out what makes me tick."
Following the Phillies' trade of Hao-Yu Lee to the Detroit Tigers last season, there's more room for second basemen to grow within the organization.
While Pouaka-Grego is likely a few years away from making noise at the big league level, his ability to be patient at the plate, make solid contact with the ball and get on base means he's someone to watch in the organization as he attempts to work his way back from the injury that sidelined him for all of 2023.