Short season ball has started and the pool of players who can make our Hot Prospects List has increased. We have only added one this week in George Valera. He’s has gotten off to a terrific start the season and assuming that continues, could be a consideration for our Top 100 list next season.
It’s another great list with names for deeper Dynasty Leagues as well as players who are close to the Majors. If your league has forgotten about Jesus Luzardo and he is on the waiver wire, now is the time to add him. He’s likely a couple of weeks away from the Majors, but he looks healthy and has performed well in the early going.
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1. Ronaldo Hernandez (TB, C, High-A)
Entering the 2019 season, we considered Ronaldo Hernandez to be one of the best young catching prospects in the game, ranking number 83 on our pre-season Top 100 list. The Rays challenged the 21-year-old backstop by starting him off in Port Charlotte of the Florida State League where he got off to a very poor start. At the end of April, he was batting .196 in 14 games.
As the weather warmed and Hernandez got comfortable with the level, his natural bat-to-ball skills emerged. He hasn’t shown his plus power in the league, but the FSL is a pitcher’s league, so there is no concern as the raw power is still there. As a former pitcher, he has a double-plus arm with his receiving skills a work-in-progress. It’s one reason why the Rays have been slow with his development.
The only offensive knock against Hernandez is that he is very aggressive at the plate. In 46 games, he has only walked 3.6% of the time. Ultimately this could limit his upside, but the offensive bar is very low for catchers, so his plus power and solid contact skills continue to give him a Top 5 catcher upside.
2. Sherten Apostel (Tex, 3B, Low-A)
Sherten Apostel has graduated from our hidden five list which can only be heard on our weekly “Just Prospect” podcast. After a slow start to the season, as June has rolled along, he’s really turned it up a notch hitting .306 with five home runs.
Apostel’s carrying tool is his plus power but he does have swing and miss in his game. He’s currently a below-average runner and as he fills out, his speed will likely continue to diminish. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, a move to first base could be in the cards. I do believe the bat will work at first as there could be 30 plus home run power in the bat. However, owners should temper their expectations as it could come with a .240 batting average. Since he can work a walk, his on-base percentage could add 80 to 100 points on his average.
3. George Valera (Cle, OF, Short-Season)
George Valera was one of the big bonus babies in the 2017 international signing period when he signed a $1.3 million dollar signing bonus as a 16-year-old. He only got into six games last year but started Sshort-Season ball with Mahoning Valley and immediately hit. In his first three games, he was 4 for 13 with two doubles and two home runs.
When he was signed, Valera was lauded as a five-tool talent, which you hear all the time, but in Valera’s case, it might be true. He has great bat speed and the physicality to suggest he could develop plus power in the future. He has the kind of swing mechanics that suggest solid contactability. He’s currently a plus runner but should slow as he matures.
Valera is only 18 years old and therefore the ceiling has a wide range. While he’s likely four or five years away, if it all comes together, he has star potential.
4. Drew Waters (Atl, OF, Double-A)
Drew Waters was one of the sexy names coming into the season and he has not disappointed. In 68 games, he’s hit .338 with five home runs and 10 stolen bases. With his speed-power combination, the upside continues to be a 20-20 performer, but unfortunately, there are issues lurking.
If you dig into his ability to control the strike zone, there are warning signs. He has a 27% strikeout rate while walking only 5.7% of the time. The reason he’s been able to post a .300 batting average is an unsustainable .463 BABIP. His expected average is more in the .230s. Unfortunately, an adage continues to be true – you can’t steal first.
That said, I still like Waters. He’s only 20-years-old and is one of the younger players in Double-A. He’s not Ronald Acuna and it might make sense for the Braves to slow his progression down a little. I know fans are calling for a promotion to Triple-A, but a full year in Double-A and then a full year in Triple-A in 2020 is not the worse thing for his development.
5. Anthony Alford (Tor, OF, Triple-A)
I continue to be a fan of Anthony Alford, but I’m not sure the Blue Jays agree with me. After a slow start, he’s hitting .389 in June but didn’t play last weekend. He’s a terrific athlete who should be able to steal bases in bunches with growing pop. Will, he hit enough? I think we need to find out with a long look in the Major Leagues. What, are the Blue Jays contending this year?
6. Steele Walker (CHW, OF, High-A)
Steele Walker was drafted in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft based on the impressive .352/.441/.606 stat line he produced in his junior year at Oklahoma. I had a chance to see him twice in Kannapolis this season and he was clearly too advanced for the league. He made solid contact to all fields and showed well above-average speed on the bases and in center field. He also showed some pop in batting practice but did not hit anything out of the park in his 20 games in the Sally League.
After being promoted, he initially struggled but started to put together things in June. He even started showing some in-game over-the-fence power.
Walker has tools, plays the game with enthusiasm and has started to control the strike zone better. However, in the end, I see him as a second division starter at the highest level or a fourth outfielder on a contender. He could develop 15 home run power with high single-digit stolen bases. Whether he should be owned in Fantasy League will be determined by how he hits.
7. Marcus Wilson (Bos, OF, High-A)
After Marcus Wilson posted a solid .295 average with nine home runs and 15 stolen bases in 2017, I became intrigued with a potential 20-20 performer. However, 2018 was not a good year and the Diamondbacks traded him to Boston in the deal that sent Blake Swihart to the desert earlier this season. They started him off in Double-A and it went poorly. He hit .161 in 19 games with 13 strikeouts in 65 plate appearances.
After a demotion to High-A, Wilson got his sea legs and has performed well. In 25 games, he’s posted a .880 OPS. However, a 32% strikeout rate implies that the success might be short-lived. At 22, he’s still young but he needs to make better contact or the speed-power skills that he has will never be realized.
8. Cristian Pache (Atl, OF, Double-A)
Cristian Pache is an elite defender and that skill alone should provide him with a Major League paycheck for a long time. BTW, there’s a lesson in there somewhere.
While I know many Dynasty League owners have pushed Drew Waters ahead of Pache, I’m not one of them. Pache makes better contact and I believe will have better secondary skills in the long-term (power and speed). For me, it’s not close. Plus, he’s the same age as Waters.
Assuming Pache continues to hit at a .260 clip, I believe he will get regular at-bats in Atlanta. The upside for me continues to be a 20-20 performer, but a lot of things will have to go right for him to hit that ceiling. In Double-A this year, he’s posted a .261 batting average with nine home runs and seven stolen bases. He’s been hot over the past week including hitting two of his nine home runs.
9. Nick Allen (Oak, SS, High-A)
Nick Allen was on the short list last season to make the Oakland Top 15 prospect list but just fell short. I like his swing and think he’ll hit his way to the big leagues. Plus, he’s a nice defender and at worse, could profile as a fourth outfielder. He’s a plus runner but doesn’t have a ton of power. In June, he’s hit .349 with a .524 SLG.
10. Will Smith (LAD, C, Triple-A)
In one of my Dynasty Leagues, I saw Austin Barnes being traded for a significant return. With the catching depth in the Dodgers organization, it didn’t make any sense to me. While Keibert Ruiz is still a year away, Will Smith is ready. In fact, he’s already gotten a taste of the big leagues earlier this year and did well. Plus, he’s raking in Triple-A, hitting a home run in each of his last five games. Granted, it was in Albuquerque and El Paso, he’s clearly showing enough for another potential promotion – and this time, it might just stick.
1. Luis Gil (NYY, RHP, Low-A)
It’s been hit or miss so far this year with Luis Gil. When he can control his arsenal, he’s unhittable. When he doesn’t, well, he’s still unhittable but will rack up the walks. In two starts last week, he struck out 18 while walking three in 12 innings and gave up only one earned run.
At an athletic 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, there is a lot to work with Gil. He’s got a simple delivery that when combined with his athleticism should allow him to eventually control his arsenal. It’s the bet I usually make on young pitchers and if you have the patience, they can turn into stars. It’s a big fastball with a big spin rate that can touch triple-digits. His secondary pitches are still a work in progress but assuming they develop, Gil has significant upside. The floor is a bullpen arm with a chance to see high-leveraged situations.
2. Sixto Sanchez (Mia, RHP, Double-A)
Sixto Sanchez was the lead player in the trade that sent J.T. Realmuto to Philadelphia over the winter. He missed all of April with a shoulder issue and over the month of May, didn’t have the same level of command that he’d shown in the past. However, as the calendar rolled over to June, the control and command started to return, and he’s looked dominant.
He has easy velocity (up to triple-digits) with a slider that also has a chance to be a plus offering. He’s still trying to find a consistent feel for his change-up but it’s clearly the stuff of a front-of-the-rotation arm. The only concern for me continues to be his size. He’s only 6-feet tall. It’s easy to throw a Pedro Martinez and of recent vintage, Luis Severino comparisons as pitchers with elite stuff who are small in stature. However, those examples are exceptions and not the rule. Can Sanchez be an exception? Sure, but just temper your expectations.
I continue to be bullish on Sanchez as the arm is clearly special. For me, the outcomes could be a number one starter or a very good number two, to a lock-down closer.
3. Dean Kremer (Bal, RHP, Double-A)
Originally drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dean Kremer was part of the return in the Manny Machado trade. His 2019 season started slow due to an oblique strain and he appeared rusty out of the gate. Once he got his sea legs under him, the control returned, and the stat line started to look a lot better. In his past two starts, he has pitched 13 innings, striking out 17 and walking only one.
Kremer has a good arsenal but it’s more back-of-the-rotation as opposed to front-of-the-rotation. His fastball sits 92 to 94 and will scrape higher with an average curveball. He’s still trying to find a feel for his change-up. All of his pitches play up when he’s able to throw them for strikes. The delivery has some crossfire, and while that provides some deception, it could lead him vulnerable to arm-side bats.
If you put it all together, the upside is a number four starter (maybe slightly more) or a nice bullpen arm. However, since most of the better arms in the Orioles organization are in their lower minors, he should get an opportunity in 2020 and 2021 to make a major league career.
4. Ian Anderson (Atl, RHP, Double-A)
Pitching is so hard to develop. The Braves are a testament to that. They had some of the best arms in the minor leagues in their system and while it’s still too soon to declare success or failure, so far, the jury is still out. Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Sean Newcomb, Bryse Wilson, Luiz Gohara have all had their chance but have yet to establish themselves. Only Mike Soroka has stuck in the Major Leagues in their recent crop. Don’t get me wrong, they are all talented with Major League upside, it’s just very hard to pitch at the highest level. It’s why you need depth.
Ian Anderson is yet another pitcher that will be added to this depth by 2020 and for my money, after Soroka, he has the best chance to establish himself. He has the ideal pitcher’s body at 6-foot-3, is athletic with two current plus pitches in his fastball and curveball with a change-up that has improved greatly. The walks are still a problem, but once he can solve that, which I think he will, there’s a number two ceiling.
June has told the story the best. In three starts, he has struck out 23 given up 11 hits in 17.2 innings but has also walked seven.
5. Jesus Luzardo (Oak, LHP, Triple-A)
After spending the first two months on the Injured List, Jesus Luzardo has returned and has looked as good as he did before going down with a shoulder strain in Spring Training. In two starts in High-A, he’s struck out 11 in seven innings while not giving up a walk. He now moves to Triple-A to get stretched out. It will likely take at least three starts, but assuming health, he should be able to help the big-league club in July.