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Hot Prospects – Week 11

HOT PROSPECTS 1Short 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.

Enjoy the list and please click on the baseball card to visit our partner amazon.com to explore additional information on each player.

Hitters

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.

Pitchers

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.

 

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Week 12 Waiver Wire Pickups

Waiver Wire2After surviving Air Yordan waiver wire, this week’s list looks a little flat.  While the names might not be as exciting and explosive as we’ve seen over the past several weeks, it might be more stable and predictable.  JBJ is only 25% owned?  Kevin Keirmaier is only owned in 40% of leagues.

Sometimes in fantasy baseball, we get too excited about the sexy new player and forget that many established players are collecting valuable stats for their Major League team. Take a quick look at what Josh VanMeter, Nicky Lopez, Cole Tucker, and Brendan Rodgers are doing for their respective teams.  Sometimes boring wins the day.

The full list can be found here.

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Hot Prospects – Week 10

HOT PROSPECTS 1Now that Air Yordan is promoted, the next impact player in Triple-A is none other than his teammate, Kyle Tucker.  When will he get promoted?  I have no idea, but he’s hot and could help now.

Next week, short season ball should be in full swing, so look for some really young players making our list.

Enjoy the list and please click on the baseball card to visit our partner amazon.com to explore additional information on each player.

Hitters

1. Kyle Tucker (Hou, OF, Triple-A)

Now that Air Yordan is in Houston, the drumbeat should start for Kyle Tucker.  In fact, you can argue that Tucker was even hotter than Alvarez.  In June, he’s hit .308 and slugged a crazy .769 with five home runs and two stolen bases.  Even with the injuries in Houston, he’s blocked and once their big guns start to return, well, the path is unclear.  In Dynasty Leagues, you invest in skills and let the rest take care of itself.  For re-draft leagues this year, the calculus for a promotion isn’t clear.

2. Nick Madrigal (CHW, 2B, Double-A)

After a ho-hum start to the season, Nick Madrigal is starting to do what he does best.  Hit and steal bases.  After his promotion to Double-A, the diminutive second baseman has hit .600 in his first five games with five stolen bases.  Oh yeah, he’s yet to strikeout.  He’s a unique hitter that I still have questions about because he lacks power, but he could hit .300 with 30 plus stolen bases.

3. Evan White (Sea, 1B, Double-A)

Drafted in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft, Evan White started the season in Double-A and has played extremely well.  He has demonstrated an advanced approach at the plate posting a .299/.374 average in 40 games while also slugging .455.  The power has always been the question mark, but his hand and wrist strength are allowing him to generate a ton of bat speed which is resulting in a lot of hard-hit balls.  So far, only six of them have been hit for home runs, but if you believe in the launch angle revolution, he’s a perfect candidate for that.

Once he adds loft, I think the home runs jump to 20 plus and with a juiced ball, 25 should be in range.  If you add the ability to hit for average with a high on-base percentage with more speed than you think, he has a chance to be a Top 10 first baseman in the game.  His foot speed is not just a casual mention, he’s an above-average runner, if not a tick more.  He’s never run much, but the skill is there.

White should see Triple-A at some point in the second half with a chance to see the Major Leagues in 2020.  Edwin Encarnacion will not be in Seattle in 2020 and might not be there much after July 1st, so the door is wide open for White.

4. Mario Feliciano (Mil, C, High-A)

After batting only .205 in a half season in the Carolina League in 2018, the Brewers had Mario Feliciano repeat the level.  Things have gone much better for the 20-year-old backstop as he’s posted a .281/.333/.539 with 14 home runs.  His 14 home runs lead the league and in fact, he’s lapped the league as the next highest total is seven.

With the power emerging, it’s time to put Feliciano on Dynasty League radars.  He’s not yet in the bullseye as he’s not controlling the strike zone very well.  In 58 games, he’s posted a 31% strikeout rate with a 6% walk rate.  His .281 average is propped up by an unstainable .356 BABIP.  As a backstop, Feliciano is a solid defender with a plus arm that pitchers like to throw to.

I would expect a promotion to Double-A to occur in the second half and I would furthermore expect him to struggle as he did upon his promotion to High-A.  If he can control the strike zone better, the ceiling is Top 10 catcher in the game.

5. Keston Hiura (Mil, 2B, Triple-A)

Travis Shaw returned from the IL and Keston Hiura after slashing .281/.333/.531 in 17 games in the Big Leagues was sent packing to Triple-A.  He didn’t sulk and has pounded the ball since being sent down, although a four-game series in Las Vegas surely helped.  I fully expect him back in Milwaukee if not by the end of the month, surely, by the end of July.

6. Gavin Sheets (CHW, 1B, Double-A)

Drafted in the second round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the White Sox, Gavin Sheets, son of former big leaguer Larry Sheets has shown solid on-base skills but has demonstrated very little power.  As a 6-foot-4, 230 pounds first baseman, that has made very little sense.

The White Sox assigned him to Double-A to begin the 2019 season and he got off to a very slow start.  As the season has progressed, he has picked things up, hitting .265 in May and now .343 in June.  He’s also showing more power in June as he’s slugged .543 with two home runs.  While he has plenty of strength, the swing is pretty level.  For now, that translates into more doubles-power than over-the-fence power.  Similar to his father, he’s a 30-grade runner, so speed will not be part of the equation.

7. Mike Siani (Cin, OF, High-A)

Mike Siani was number 13 on our Top 15 list last year and we noted…” we use to publish an ‘emerging prospect by system’ and if we were still doing that, Mike Siani would fit the category perfectly.”  Well, 2019 showed that our analysis was not far off.

The skills are clearly alluring.  In 54 games, while he’s only hit .224, he’s posted a respectable .330 OBP with four home runs and 19 stolen bases.  He doesn’t have a ton of power and while he has strong wrist with plenty of bat speed, the swing is more geared to contact.  I think that will work just fine as, despite his current low batting average, I think he will hit.  Of course, his plus speed and his ability to steal bases in bunches will be his best asset.

He’s really been showing off the speed this month.  In nine games, he’s already stolen nine bases and is batting .382 with a .475 OBP.

8. Kyle Lewis (Sea, OF, Double-A)

Kyle Lewis was taken 11th overall by the Mariners in the 2016 MLB Draft as a classic right-handed power hitter.  Shortly after being drafted, he tore his ACL and has just never lived up to the potential he showed in college.

Part of the problem has been staying on the field.  That has not been a problem in 2019 and we are starting to get a better handle on the potential.  Unfortunately, it’s not been great.  He really struggled in April and May hitting just .225 with three home runs and a disappointing 33% strikeout rate.  He was getting his walks though.  Things have turned around in June.  In seven games, he’s only struck out five times with a .444 batting average.  Is this a new baseline or simply a small sample size.  I’m not sure, but he turns 24 next month so, let’s hope it’s a new baseline.

9. Luis Barrera (Oak, OF, Double-A)

Luis Barrera has a little power and a little speed and has been red hot in Double-A.  In nine games in June, he’s hitting .436 with three home runs and three stolen bases.  He’s also a very good outfielder and while the skills project to be more a fourth outfielder, if he continues to hit, the upside could go up.

10. Blaze Alexander (Ari, SS, Low-A)

Drafted in the 11th round of the 2018 MLB Draft, surprisingly, Blaze Alexander made our Arizona Top 15 list.  We were betting on his bat speed and his ability to control the strike zone to drive his value.  Well, so far, he hasn’t shown much power and his 24% strikeout rate leaves a lot to be desired.

In June, he woke up.  In a brief six games, he’s hit .444 with a home run and two stolen bases.  He’s making great hard contact and controlling the strike zone better. I still like the swing and believe he will eventually hit consistently.  Furthermore, I think there is still power in the bat and he runs well, so a ceiling of a .270 hitting with 15 to 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases could be in the cards.

Pitchers

1. Mitch Keller (Pit, RHP, Triple-A)

Mitch Keller made his major league debut on May 27th and wishes he would have had an opener to pitch the first inning.  He gave up six earned runs, including a grand slam to Jose Iglesias.  After that, he pitched three scoreless innings, striking out seven.  I’m betting on the last three innings and not the first.  Since returning to Triple-A, he’s been just fine including throwing five shutout innings last week where he struck out 13 of the 19 batters he faced.

2. Tanner Houck (Bos, RHP, Double-A)

Drafted in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft, the Red Sox had Tanner Houck skip over Low-A to begin the 2018 season in the Florida State League and the results were uneven.  While he struck out almost a batter an inning, he also walked 4.5 per nine and that led to an ugly 4.24 ERA.  The Red Sox were pleased with his progress and moved him to Double-A to begin the 2019 season.  While the ERA has nearly been identical, the walks are way down and the strikeout rate is up.

The control is the key as Houck delivery isn’t great as he pitches from lower three-quarters.  While this delivery adds deception, it also increases the injury risk for pitchers who throw at the angle. Plus, glove-side bats get a longer look at what he is throwing.

That said, over his last two outings, he’s been nearly unhittable.  Given up two earned runs while striking out 18 and only walking three.  There’s reliever risk for sure given his delivery and lack of a quality change-up, but if he can remain a starter, the stuff is good enough to give him a ceiling of a number three starter.

3. Trevor Rogers (Mil, LHP, High-A)

I’ve owned Trevor Rogers in the past on Dynasty Leagues but got frustrated because, well, I get impatient.  Of course, a 5.82 ERA in 2018 gave me tremendous pause.  When you couple that with a guy who just has not been able to stay healthy, you bail…well, better said…I bailed.

This season, he’s showing good swing and miss stuff in the Florida State League with much-improved control.  The stuff still looks solid with a fastball that can scrape the mid-90s and both a slider and change-up that show promise.

It’s likely to come down to health.  I think Rogers has good enough stuff to be a big leaguer with a good chance to stay a starter.  However, if he has to move to a bullpen role, the stuff still should play.

4. Tarik Skubal (Det, LHP, High-A)

One of the breakout pitchers of 2019 has been Tarik Skubal.  It’s not like he went all “Casey Mize” on us, but instead, it’s been solid, in an understated way.  In 11 starts in High-A, he’s pitched to a 3.08 ERA with 11 strikeouts per nine while walking just over two per nine.  While it’s a shoulda-coulda thing, if you take out his two bad outings, he might just give Casey Mize a run for his money.

The stuff is good currently and getting better.  It starts with a fastball that sits 92 MPH to 93 MPH, scraping 96.  While the velocity is plenty good, especially from the left side, the offering isn’t an explosive pitch.  He can command it though, which sets up his slider that is showing nice tilt and boring action – it’s a tough pitch on lefties.  His change-up is also showing promise.  But it’s the control that is allowing all of his pitches to play-up and this is what gives me hope that he can reach his ceiling of a mid-rotation starter.

5. Rico Garcia (Col, RHP, Double-A)

I have yet to scout Rico Garcia live and have only seen his stat line in passing.  While the stats look great and I know he has a solid fastball, he makes our list because he should have been part of a shared no-hitter last week.  He started the game against Trenton and went six strong innings of no-hit ball.  He then turned it over to the bullpen and they did their job until the ninth inning.  Leading off the ninth, Matt Lipka of the Thunder decided to lay down a bunt, which he did successfully blowing the no-hitter.  On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this, but for me…it’s weak.  Come on, break up the no-hitter with a clean hit.

On Garcia, there could be something there.  Candidly, I need to do some more research.

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Week 11 Waiver Wire Pickups

Waiver Wire2I know it’s all about the Yordan Alvarez today.  The young Cuban slugger, turned all around studly hitter made his debut Sunday and didn’t disappoint.  But, he’s owned in 63% of CBS league and likely is only available in the most shallow of leagues.  However, if he’s available in your league, you know what to do.

But this week, it doesn’t just begin and end with Alvarez.  There are a number of great names to grab, including seven who are not owned in many leagues.

The full list can be found here.

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Hot Prospect Week 9

WEEKLY HOT PROSPECTS 2It’s another strong week for prospects and prospect361 has presented you with another 15 players who have been playing this past week.  As has been our practice, we are trying to limit our selections to players, not in Triple-A.   This week, we were successful in not have any Triple-A players represented.

Over the next couple of weeks, our coverage will expand as short-season balls begins.  Soon, you will see your favorite 17 or 18-year-old in our write-ups as well as some of the recently drafted players.

Enjoy the list and please click on the baseball card to visit our partner amazon.com to explore additional information on each player.

Hitters

1. Wander Franco (TB, SS, Low-A)

Is it me or is it weird to see professional athletes with a birth year with a 2-handle?  I know time is marching on, but Wander Franco was born March 1, 2001, and is arguably the top prospect in the game; and I’m being conservative when I use the word…arguably.

Franco has done everything we thought he would do in 2019.  He’s hit, showed excellent bat speed and raw power and solid, above-average foot speed.  While it’s easy to call him a five-tool player, I think that’s being lazy.  Instead, I see a player with one potential 80-grade tool in his ability to hit, a 70-grade power tool, a 50, maybe slightly less run tool, and an average defender (arm and catch) at short but a possible plus defender at second.  Is that a five-tool player.  I dunno…but, he has the making of a superstar who should fly through the minor leagues given his ability to hit.

However, unlike Vlad Jr., Wander plays for the Rays and the Rays like to slow roast their players.  In Rays’ math, he’ll spend the entire 2019 in Low-A, the entire 2020 in High-A before potentially doubling up in levels in 2021 with a major league arrival date in mid-2022.  I think he beats that by at least a year which should put him in the major leagues at the ripe age of 20.

The fantasy impact should be significant.  The potential is for a .300/.400/.550 slash line with 10 to 15 stolen bases early in his career.  I do believe he’ll move to second base and if you want a comp., look no further than Robinson Cano’s big years in New York.  Of course, add at least 10 home runs for the juiced ball.

He could be on the list every week.  For the season, he’s slashing .315/.377/.511 with six home runs, 11 stolen bases and more walks than strikeouts.  Last week he was 14 for 29 with two home runs and no strikeouts.

2. Trent Grisham (Mil, OF, Double-A)

Trent Grisham was selected in the first round in 2015 with the hope that he would be a top of the order bat who based on his ability to hit, would move quickly through the minor leagues.  Four years later, the 37 bases he stole in Low-A is a distant memory and candidly, he’s never really hit (.245 lifetime batting average).  Over the last 10 days, he’s given the Brewers a glimpse of his talent.  In 44 at-bats, he’s posted a 1.551 OPS with four home runs with only three strikeouts.

3. Griffin Conine (Tor, OF, High-A)

Everyone knows about the big three in Toronto – Vlad Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio.  All sons of former major league players.  To keep the pattern moving forward, the Blue Jays selected Jeff Conine’s son Griffin in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft.  While Griffin doesn’t have the upside of Bo and Vlad, his plus raw power got him first round money.

Unfortunately, since draft day, things have not gone well.  First, he struggled in the Northwest League hitting only .238 with seven home runs and a 27% strikeout rate.  Then, he tested positive for a stimulant and missed the first 50 games of the 2019 season.  Clearly wanting to make up for lost-time, he hit the ground running hitting .444 in his first week with two home runs.

Despite the lofty draft pedigree and obvious major league bloodlines, Conine profiles more as a second division starter or extra bat at the highest level.  His carrying tool is his plus raw power, but there are definite swing and miss in his game and defensively, he might be limited to first base.  He’s a guy to monitor but should only be rostered in very deep Dynasty Leagues.

4. Will Benson (Cle, OF, Low-A)

The second time through the Midwest League is working out quite well for Will Benson.  After batting only .180 in 2018, he’s increased his average by 100 points (.280 average) with 17 home runs and 18 stolen bases across the first two months of the year.  While the surface stats look great, the 32% strikeout rate and the .347 BABIP indicate that there is trouble brewing.  He’s clearly tooled up but needs to cut down on his strikeouts in order to let his power and speed play.

5. Jake Fraley (Sea, OF, Double-A)

Jake Fraley has put together an impressive season.  In 51 games, he’s posted a .988 OPS with 10 home runs and 14 stolen bases.   While the 10 home runs are not in line with his previous season, he has changed his approach and has added more loft to his swing.  He’s flying a little under the radar in fantasy circles and while it’s getting a little late for a potential major league promotion, the Mariners are also in sell mode, so the playing time could be there later in the summer.

6. Nolan Jones (Cle, 3B, High-A)

It continues to be hit before power for Cleveland Indians Nolan Jones.  I think that’s ok for now, but the approach is passive as he’s sporting a 20% walk rate across 53 games so far this season.   There is raw power in the bat that he demonstrates during batting practice but the approach needs to change for him to tap into it.   Perhaps that’s changing.  Over the past week, he’s 7 for 19 with two home runs.

7. Jordyn Adams (LAA, OF, Low-A)

The Angels gambled when they selected Jordyn Adams with the 17th overall pick in the 2018 June draft.  A premium athlete, Adams was also a high-end football recruit and thus, never focused his full attention on baseball.  In April, he showed his rawness.  In 21 games in the Midwest League, he hit .182 with a 26% strikeout rate.  What was interesting, is he also walked 15% of the time.  While many times you can hang your hat on a nice walk rate, but Adams was being passive at the plate and that passiveness was working against him as it put him in bad hitters count and ultimately led to poor performance.

As the season has progressed, Adams has changed his approach.  He’s become more aggressive at the plate and the results are positive.  In 25 games in May, he hit .296 with a .429 SLG.  He’s not stealing bases yet, but he’s an 80-grade runner, so that should come later.

If you believe in Adams, you believe that he’ll convert his tremendous raw talent and athleticism into baseball skills.  It’s by no means a slam dunk that this will happen, but the swing isn’t bad and that’s a big part of the battle. While Anthony Alford is not a comp anyone wants to hear, there are similarities.  BTW, I still believe Alford becomes a very good major leaguer and feel the same way about Adams.  But you must be patient.

8. Julio Pablo Martinez (Tex, OF, High-A)

I saw Julio Pablo Martinez in an early May series in Myrtle Beach and came away less than impressed.   He was small in stature, smaller than I thought and while I saw a plus runner and plus defender, I didn’t see much else.  His timing was off, and he was late on average fastball velocity.  I spoke with an evaluator at the game who confirmed that what we were seeing was not a fluke.

Well as spring is turning into summer, JPM is finally starting to heat up.  I wouldn’t call it tearing the cover off the ball, but over the past 10 days, he’s hitting .286 with four home runs and four stolen bases.  However, he’s still striking out too much and continues to be very aggressive at the plate.

From what I saw, he looks like a classic fourth outfielder.  He’s got plus speed will steal bases and can really run it down in the outfield.  However, his ability to control the strike zone has a long way to go.  Plus, I don’t see a swing that will produce much power.  With the juiced ball, that could be 8 to 10 per year.  Fantasy owners need to hope that he is still knocking the rust off and once his timing improves, his overall production will as well.

9. Jarred Kelenic (Sea, OF, High-A)

I did not like the trade for the Mets that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz for a prospect packaged headlined by Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn.  I saw two basic flaws.  One was money.  While Seattle still must pay $23 million of Cano’s remaining salary, the Mariners got out from under a huge $120 million commitment for an aging 36-year-old player with five years left on his contract.  Secondly though, was the Mets gave up a quality arm with mid-rotation starter potential in Dunn and a potential superstar in Jarred Kelenic.

Kelenic was the key to the deal and in his first full-season is giving the Mariners a taste of what could come.   He started the year in Midwest League and had few problems.  In 51 games, he posted a .966 OPS with 11 home runs and 7 stolen bases with a reasonable 20% strikeout rate and a solid 11% walk rate.  The performance earned him a nice promotion to St. Lucie where in four games, he’s continued to hit and hit for power.

The scouting report supports the production.  He’s got premium bat speed and a beautiful lefty swing that already has loft.  He’s only an average runner but should be able to steal double-digit stolen bases early in his career.  Also, his ability to control the strike zone and make hard contact to all fields is what will allow him to move quickly through the system.

Finally, is his makeup.  Everyone I spoke with about Kelenic mentions it.  The desire to get better, the desire to win, very open to instruction.  All the things you want to hear about a young player.

The major league target for him is 2021 but if he continues to perform, the drumbeat could start to get very loud by July of next season.

10. Dylan Carlson (STL, OF Double-A)

Dylan Carlson continues to roll in Double-A showing a nice combination of power and speed with the ability to control the strike zone.  In the month of May, he’s hit .304 with four home runs and seven stolen bases while striking out 22 times and walking 14 times.  He’s still flying under the radar in many Dynasty Leagues.  If he’s on your waiver wire, it’s time to fix that.

Pitchers

1. Jhoan Duran (Min, RHP, High-A)

Jhoan Duran earns his keep by having one double-plus pitch – a nasty cutter with terrific boring action.  However, his four-seamer is straight and he lacks a feel for his change-up.  While I wouldn’t compare his cutter to Mariano Rivera’s cutter, it does show the success a pitcher can have with just one pitch.  Could that be Duran?  Perhaps, but unless he expands his arsenal, he’s likely bound for the bullpen.

Until then, the Twins are starting Duran and he’s responding.  He has an impressive strikeout rate of over 11 K’s per nine but does need to continue to work on his control.  In his last two starts, he’s been shoving it. Over 13 innings, he’s given up three earned runs, striking out 22 while walking four.

The Twins usually move their pitching prospects slow, so I don’t see an arrival before sometime in 2021.  It could be as a starter, but again, long-term, I think he moves to the bullpen.  Regardless, he’s got the size, good arm strength and one knock-out pitch that should be able to get big leaguers out.

2. Alex Faedo (Det, RHP, Double-A)

If you like Alex Faedo, you see a polished college pitcher with a good strikeout rate and a walk rate with a one-handle.  If you add it up, you get the ceiling of a number two starter.  If you are on the other side of the fence, you see a low-90’s fastball that is straight and consequently a pitcher who will also be homer prone.  Those types of pitchers usually wind up being number four starters.

I’m in the second camp.  Faedo’s fastball taps out at 93 MPH and is not very explosive.  Straight fastballs without the benefit of double-plus velocity tend to get hit a long way.  Want an example?  Go look at Dylan Bundy’s pitchFX data.  In fact, Bundy might be a pretty good comp, although I would put Bundy’s secondary pitches at a grade higher than Faedo.

After a stretch of tough games, Faedo has had two solid outings.  Over 12.1 innings, he’s given up one earned runs while striking out 19 and walking three.  A trend?  If you like Alex…

3. Edward Cabrera (Mia, RHP, High-A)

Edward Cabrera continues to intrigue me.  He’s 6-foot-4, throws a hundred miles an hour but at 175 pounds, still has room to grow.  Honestly, it’s the emerging profile of a top-of-the-rotation pitcher.  I’m not saying he will develop into an ace, but with his size, downward plane and electric arm, there’s just a lot to like.

To complement his 80-grade fastball, he flashes a quality change-up and curveball.  This season, he’s shown the ability to throw both pitches for strikes and that has obviously proven to be a huge factor in his success.

He just turned 21 in April and has had little trouble pitching in the Florida State League.  In eight starts, he’s pitched to a 2.59 ERA, striking out nearly 12 per nine while walking three per nine.  His last outing over the weekend was particularly impressive.  In six innings, he gave up one earned run while striking out nine and walking two.

He’s a kid that should be owned in most Dynasty League formats that roster 125 or more prospects.  In fact, he might just make the back half of our Top 100 list.

4. D.L. Hall (Bal, LHP, High-A)

The Orioles had the number one pick in Monday’s MLB Draft and did the right thing.  They took Adley Rutschman.  That doesn’t always happen, so you must give credit where credit is due.  While Baltimore’s major league club doesn’t have any impact players, Rutschman should be one of the cornerstones going forward.  With several nice pitchers moving through the system, the pick should pay early dividends.  One of those pitchers is the Orioles 2017 first round pick, D.L. Hall.  While he doesn’t always know where the ball is going (5.66 BB/9), the stuff is flat out nasty.  In 35 innings, he’s struck out 59 batters.  Over his past two starts, he’s struck out 16 in 10 innings.

5. Matthew Liberatore (TB, LHP, Low-A)

The Rays held back Matthew Liberatore in Extended Spring Training to begin the 2019 season.  On May 16th, he made his debut and threw five innings of shutout ball striking out four and walking one.  While he’s had a few clinkers, he’s shown the stuff and control that made him the best high school pitching prospect in the 2018 MLB Draft.

At 6-foot-5, Liberatore is still primarily about projection.  His fastball has taken a small step forward, but there is likely another grade at a minimum in the tank.  His signature pitch continues to be his hammer curve that is a true swing-and-miss pitch, particularly when he throws it for strikes.

I still see Liberatore’s ceiling as a number two starter, but it is going to take a while.  First, the Rays move their pitching prospects slowly, but second, he needs the development time.   Barring injury, his major league debut is likely 2022, perhaps even 2023.

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Week 10 Waiver Wire Pickups

Waiver Wire2As the calendar turns to June, the first trade is in the books.  With trades come playing time opportunity for some and bench time for others.  It will be our job to help you navigate who to pick-up and who to leave on the waiver wire. In fact, Tim McLeod, our senior baseball writer is quite adept at this aspect of the game and will start highlighting these situations in our weekly waiver wire article.

The list can be found here.

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Hot Prospects – Week 8

HOT PROSPECTS 1As the baseball world turns their attention to next week’s MLB Player Draft, it’s easy to forget that there are plenty of players in the minor leagues that are shoving it.  This week’s list is particularly strong with strong pitching performances from a pair of Tigers pitchers as well as strong hitting performances from a pair of Astros hitters.  Believe it or not, Yordan Alvarez is not one of them.  In case you are wondering, he only hit .142 over the past week but did hit a home run on Memorial Day to go along with two hits.

If you like the list, I encourage you to listen to our podcast where I go into more analysis on each player as well as discuss five players, not on this list.  The podcast can be found here.

Enjoy the list and please click on the baseball card to visit our partner amazon.com to explore additional information on each player.

Hitters

1. Abraham Toro (Hou, 3B, Double-A)

Abraham Toro made our hidden-five list last week which can only be heard on our companion podcast to this list.  He continued to mash this week and has started to receive much-deserved helium throughout the fantasy industry.  In 23 games in May, he’s hitting .402 with five home runs, walking more than he’s struck out. Where does he play and when will he get a chance in Houston?  I have no idea.  But he’ll likely join what might be the best minor league baseball team in Round Rock in the next few weeks.

2. Esteury Ruiz (SD, 2B, High-A)

Esteury Ruiz joined the Padres as part of the Trevor Cahill trade in July of 2017.  He’s the kind of player that the Padres love to get thrown into trades.  Why?  He had yet to play above rookie ball but showed great instincts and with tools to spare.

He rewarded the Padres by hitting 12 home runs and stealing 45 bases in 2018, playing the entire season as a 19-year-old.  His .253 average showed that there was work to be done on his hit-tool as he struck out 29% of the time while only walking 7.7% of the time.

In 2019, it has been more of the same.  He’s showing great bat speed and has stolen 15 of 19 bases.  The strikeout rate and walk rate continue to show he lacks patience and is overly aggressive at the plate.  But, if you want to want to bet on tools, with 20-20 not out of the question, Ruiz is your guy.  The best news is he’s still only 20 and already in High-A which is plenty of time to hone his hit-tool.

3. Justin Dean (Atl, OF, Low-A)

Drafted in the 17th round in 2018, Justin Dean has been showing excellent skills for the Rome Braves.  Yes, he’s old for the league, but he has plus speed and enough bat speed to eventually hit double-digit home runs.  He’ll likely see a promotion to High-A in a couple of weeks and that should tell us how excited we should get.

4. Chris Okey (Cin, C, Double-A)

I’m not sure how elite of a prospect Chris Okey is, but when you hit three home runs in a game and follow that up with a grand slam in the next game, well, you get to make our list.  He really struggled in Triple-A to start the season but has been just fine with a return to Double-A.

5. Isan Diaz (Mil, 2B, Triple-A)

Originally signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014, Isan Diaz was traded along with Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison to the Marlins for Christian Yelich.  While Brinson has not panned out and Harrison has yet to turn his crazy tools into consistent production, the focus now shifts to Isan Diaz to harbor some semblance of value out of what is looking like a disastrous trade for the Marlins.

Diaz doesn’t have the elite tools of Brinson and Harrison, but he’s a better hitter.  In fact, he’s improved his strikeout rate substantially in 2019 from a career 26% rate to 21%.  The question, of course, is it a true improvement or just random improvement based on small sample size?  Time, of course, will tell.  But for now, he’s showing solid power (10 home runs) that is born out of good bat speed.  He doesn’t have a ton of speed but should be able to steal a handful of bases annually.

6. Carter Kieboom (Was, SS, Triple-A)

With the disappointing start to the 2019 season for the Washington Nationals, you have to wonder when they will become sellers.  If they do, Anthony Rendon will likely be wearing a different uniform and if that happens, it should free up playing time for Carter Kieboom.  While he’s primarily played shortstop, he’s playing more second base this year to increase his defensive flexibility.  From a fantasy standpoint, just remember, he’s a hit-first player and the power has yet to surface.  Plus, he’s an average runner.  But, he’ll hit.

7. Jonathan Arauz (Hou, SS, High-A)

After a poor start to the season, Jonathan Arauz has turned it up in May.  In 22 games, he’s slashing .301/376/.494 with three home runs.  Over the past week, he’s really turned things up going 12 for 27 with two home runs.  He’s a switch hitter who makes good contact and should be able to play all over the field with his defensive ability.  The upside is likely a utility player at the highest level.

8. Jarren Duran (Bos, OF, High-A)

Jarren Duran has been one of the biggest pop-up guys in 2019.  You can argue that he should have been already well known in prospect circles as his 2018 was pretty darn good.  In 67 games, he hit .357 with 24 stolen bases.  However, he’s turned it up a notch in 2019 batting over .400 in the Carolina League with a .541 SLG and 18 stolen bases.

Duran’s carrying tool is his double-plus speed but he has enough bat speed to eventually hit low double-digit home runs.  What has really caught my attention is his ability to control the strike zone.  He’s improved his walk rate and because he doesn’t sell out for power, has maintained a solid 19% strikeout rate.  The ceiling is a dynamic top-of-the-order hitter with a floor a fourth outfielder.  Once he is promoted to Double-A, we should quickly know what side of the equation he will fall.

9. Nick Madrigal (CHW, 2B, Low-A)

When Nick Madrigal was selected number four overall by the White Sox in the 2018 MLB draft, it was a curious pick. There was no doubt he could hit as he posted a .361 batting average in three years at Oregon State, walking 1.6 as many times as he struck out.  That’s not a misprint, he walked more than 50% more than he struck out.  He also has plus speed and he showed that by stealing 39 bases in 151 games in college.  The problem is he has no power.  His swing lacks any loft and it’s more of a slap and run approach.

He’s now played in 85 games in the minor leagues and it’s more of the same.  Well kind of.  In those 85 games, he’s struck out only 11 times and walked 21 times.  He’s also stolen 22 bases.  But, he’s only .271 with a .277 BABIP.  While you can argue that his BABIP should be higher (it was .377 in college), infielders are taking a half-step in when he’s up and outfielders, two.  Without any power, it’s unsure whether the bat will play at the highest level.  You can argue he’s Willians Astudillo 2.0, but Astudillo does have average-power.

The profile is unique, to say the least, but the ceiling is clearly unknown.  I can argue that he won’t make enough hard contact to even be a viable big leaguer.  Or, I can argue that he’ll add strength like Freddie Patek did and have enough strength to be an all-star (Patek was an all-star three times).  But, that was in the ’70s when the game was different.  Power was not emphasized and speed and contact were more important.  Could Patek thrive today?  Can Madrigal thrive?  It’s a question and one that we just cannot answer yet.

Oh yeah…sorry, got caught up in the scouting profile.  But, Madrigal makes the list by hitting .333 over the past week with three doubles and five stolen bases.  By the way, I’m more interested at this point in the three double.

10. Xavier Edwards (SD, 2B, Low-A)

If you like the profile of Nick Madrigal, then you’re also going to like Xavier Edwards.  In 41 games in Low-A, he’s hitting .373 with as many walks as strikeouts.  This season, he’s stolen 13 bags and has yet to hit a home run.  He’s really ramped it up in May, hitting .402 in 22 games.  The ceiling is a dynamic leadoff hitter in the mold of what Billy Hamilton was supposed to be but just could not control the strike zone.  The floor and more likely scenario is he’s a fourth outfielder.  But as with Nick Madrigal, you need to own Edwards as the speed and batting average could really help in many formats.

Pitchers

1. Casey Mize (Det, RHP, Double-A)

On Sunday, Casey Mize pitched eight shutout innings, allowing four hits, striking out six and walking two.  It was another excellent performance in what has been a truly dominant season for the 22-year-old right-hander.  I would love to see him pitch next Sunday in Detroit.  I think he can handle it.  But, that’s not going to happen until 2020.  Until then, we wait…

2. Adbert Alzolay (CHC, RHP, Triple-A)

Adbert Alzolay has always had good stuff, but the performance never quite measured up.  Finally, the 24-year-old righty has put together two dominant starts.  In 11 innings, he allowed two runs while striking out 15 and walking one.  While everyone is chasing Forrest Whitley, I would put a buck down on Alzolay this weekend as I think he’ll be up sometime in June.

3. Matt Manning (Det, RHP, Double-A)

When Matt Manning was walking five per nine in Low-A as a teenager, I was confident that he would figure out his control problems and reach his ceiling of a number two starter.  Er, well, kind of confident.

I loved his 6-foot-6 frame as well as his athleticism.  Together, I felt it would eventually allow him to repeat his delivery.  Once he was able to maintain his slot, the control would come.  This year, things have started to come together.  In 10 starts, he has posted a 2.10 ERA with 11 strikeouts per nine and 2.1 walks per nine.  The best part is he’s doing it in Double-A at the ripe age of 21.

He might be playing second fiddle to Casey Mize on the depth chart, but given his size and extreme athleticism, you can make the argument that his ceiling is as high, if not higher.  What I do know is that assuming health, 2020 could be a very exciting season for the Tigers as both should arrive to bring their game to the highest level.

4. Kyle Muller (Atl, LHP, Double-A)

The Braves don’t lack high-end minor league pitchers.  While Kyle Muller’s stuff might not be that of some of the arms in Triple-A, he still has the size and stuff to give him a ceiling of a number three starter.  This year, his control has been a problem.  In 10 starts, he’s walked 32, or 5.5 per nine.  However, most of the damage was done in April as May has been much better.  He’s showed much better control, striking out a batter an inning while posting a sub one ERA.

5. Logan Allen (SD, LHP, Triple-A)

With Chris Paddack making the major league look easy and MacKenzie Gore providing a strong application for my minor league Mount Rushmore of pitchers, Logan Allen simply continues to impress.  In the difficult PCL, he has dominated in May.  In four starts, he’s pitched to a 1.08 ERA, striking out 30 while walking nine.  He even managed to pitch well in Albuquerque; one of the most difficult places to pitch in all baseball.

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Waiver Wire – Week 9

Waiver Wire2Memorial Day weekend is typically the time that fantasy owners need to look at their teams seriously.  That 10th round picks that you were sure would breakout and haven’t, it might be time to move on.  Only you can make those decisions but our job is to provide names that might help you both short and long-term.

Our list this week is full of interesting names that we hope will help in your evaluation.  The list can be found here.

 

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Buy Low Pitchers using BABIP and xwOBA

Digging DeepNow that we’ve passed the quarter-pole of the 2019 season, we are starting to be able to deep dive into the underlying statistics with more confidence. A quick way to see which pitchers we could argue have been unlucky is to compare their xwOBA (derived from Stat Cast batted ball data) against their BABIP.  Because xwOBA is based on the quality of the contact that a pitcher gives up, it would stand to reason that a low xwOBA should correlate highly with a low BABIP. Therefore, a pitcher who has produced a low xwOBA (expected offensive performance against them based on the quality/velocity/angle of batted ball events) but a high BABIP (batting average on balls in play) would suggest that they are pitching very well but due to ‘luck’ factors (such as defensive positioning) they have not gotten outs where expected. Conversely, a pitcher with a high xwOBA but a low BABIP would reasonably be deemed to have been lucky thus far.

Using season-to-date data on qualified Starting Pitchers, I plotted the xwOBA (as of May 18th) on the y-axis and BABIP on the x-axis. Pitchers who have suppressed offense the most (ie have the lowest expected wOBA against) would be near the top of the graph and those with the highest xwOBA against would be near the lower part of the graph. Similarly, those pitchers who have given up the highest BABIP (batting average on balls in play) are on the right side of the graph and those with the lowest BABIPs would be in the far left of the graph. Those pitchers who have theoretically suppressed the hitting the most (low xwOBA) but for whatever reason have given up high BABIPs would be in the top right quadrant (unlucky). Pitchers in this area should have actually had better performance than they have had. Conversely, those pitchers in the lower left quadrant have actually likely over-performed (because they have had low BABIPs despite having given up high quality batted ball events) and are deemed to be lucky.

To help with the visualization, each ‘grid line’ represents one standard deviation. In other words, the average BABIP of the qualified pitchers was 0.287 (and is in the middle of the graph) and one standard deviation of BABIP (the x-axis) is 0.037; similarly, the average xwOBA (y-axis) is 0.314 (with a standard deviation of 0.034)

Beside the pitcher’s name, I have included their season ERA to date (as a quick metric of how they have done so far this year). For context, the average ERA is 3.84 with a standard deviation of 1.11. In other words, a pitcher who is one standard deviation better than average would have an ERA of 3.84-1.11 or 2.73.

xwOBA

Looking in the top right quadrant, we can see that the pitchers who are the ‘furthest’ away from the center-point (and have high BABIPs despite suppressing offense) are:

  • Blake Snell
  • Noah Syndergaard
  • Gerrit Cole
  • Eduardo Rodriguez
  • Max Scherzer
  • Zack Wheeler
  • Stephen Strasburg

The way to interpret the graph is to see that Blake Snell has an xwOBA more than 2 standard deviations better than league average (98th percentile) and has an approximate league average BABIP but despite this, his ERA is barely above league average at 3.31. All things being equal, we would expect his ERA “should” be in the top 98th percentile or around 1.90. If you look at who else is clustered at the same xwOBA as Snell in the graph, we have Tyler Glasnow (ERA of 1.86) and Luis Castillo (ERA of 1.90). Interestingly, Stephen Strasburg is also there with an ERA of 3.32.

Moving in toward the center point, we encounter Gerrit Cole (xwOBA in the top 5% but ERA barely above average at 3.56), Noah Syndergaard (top 10% xwOBA, one of the top 15% highest BABIPs against) and a corresponding 4.84 ERA. Worried owners of Thor should at least have comfort in the fact that his ERA “should” be in the low 3’s. Whether this is predictive will become clear as the season progresses, but at least be aware that his ‘true’ performance is actually still of an elite pitcher.

Similarly, we see that pitchers with ERAs far higher than their xwOBA suggests are Eduardo Rodriguez who has a better-than-league-average xwOBA but due to his high BABIP has ended up with a sky-high 4.84 ERA, Zack Wheeler (ERA of 4.85) and to a certain extent Max Scherzer (ERA of 3.72).

The luckiest Pitchers:

Taking the flipside and looking the bottom left quadrant, we find the pitchers with the highest xwOBA against (theoretically providing the least effective offensive suppression based on quality of batted ball data) but who have for whatever reason had the lowest BABIPs are:

  • Yonny Chirinos
  • Trevor Bauer
  • Shane Bieber
  • Andrew Cashner

The two biggest names that jump out are the Cleveland tandem of Trevor Bauer (ERA of 3.76) and Shane Bieber (ERA of 3.81). I think most owners would dismiss their “poor” performance (relative to their pre-season expectation) as a minor speedbump – and would expect them to bounce back and regress back to their expected talent level. Unfortunately, that narrative may actually not be true at all. The data shows that Bauer (league average xwOBA but a BABIP that is more than 1 standard deviation lower than average) and especially Bieber (xwOBA that is in the bottom (worst) 12% in the league and BABIP that is one of the lowest 12% in the league) have arguably been lucky this year. As we showed in an earlier article, xwOBA correlates highly with ERA and crudely an xwOBA such as Bieber’s “should” correlate to an expected ERA of 4.95…much higher than his current 3.81.

Looking for the lowest ERA of players in the lower left quadrant, we find Yonny Chirinos. The Ray pitcher who usually takes the bulk innings after an opener has performed very well thus far in 2019 with an ERA of 3.26. Owners (such as myself) have begrudgingly accepted his K9 is in the 6’s because his great rate stats have been extremely helpful in this current pitching environment. Unfortunately, this may all soon come crashing down as the graph shows that although he has a league average xwOBA, his BABIP (0.211) is 2 standard deviations lower than the league average of 0.287. Grasping at straws, a Chirinos owner might convince themselves that the Rays are at the forefront of analytics and may have insights into how he can continue to suppress BABIP – or that, in fact, he has not been lucky at all to have such a low BABIP but it is a product of the Tampa Bay defensive shifts. Rationally though, I think regression (to an ERA in the low 4’s) should be expected.

Andrew Cashner is an interesting name, not because he is a relevant pitcher, but because his ERA of 4.10 might have fantasy owners wondering if he actually should be relevant. Long story short, the answer is a resounding no. His xwOBA is one of the worst 5% in the league and his ERA should not be anywhere as close to league average as it is.

 

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Hot Prospects – Week 7

HOT PROSPECTS 1In this week’s Hot Prospects, I provide an analysis of the difficulty the Houston Astros face in promoting Yordan Alvarez.  While Alvarez has arguably been the best player in the minor leagues this season…ok, along with Casey Mize and Luis Robert, the calculus on his promotion is hard.

In addition to Alvarez, we provide 14 other prospects who have had great weeks.

Enjoy the list and please click on the baseball card to visit our partner amazon.com to explore additional information on each player.


Yordan Alvarez (Hou, 1B/OF, Triple-A)

With last week being prospect promotion week, to some, it was surprising that Yordan Alvarez was still in the minors.  He’s been one of the top three players in the minor leagues this year and from all discussions, I’ve had with evaluators, is ready.  In fact, the hype for promotion has gotten so high that I’ve read David Ortiz comparisons through mainstream commentators.  While I can see the physical comp, putting a potential HOF comp on a player, in my opinion, is setting him up for disappointment, particularly in the fantasy world.

Regardless, it’s time for the Astros to promote him but the calculus is hard.  He’s not on the 40-man roster and the Astros would have to make a difficult decision on the major league roster.  It’s a good problem for the team but for fantasy owners waiting for the call, it can get frustrating.  In the meantime, he continues to mash.  He’s batting over .400 with a 17 home runs and a ridiculous .850 SLG.


Kyle Tucker (Hou, OF, Triple-A)

Making the decision to promote Yordan Alvarez more complicated is the re-emergence of Kyle Tucker.  Tucker got off to a very slow start but has been mashing.  In 17 games in May, he’s hitting .355 with a .823 SLG and seven home runs.    Would the Astros promote Tucker over Alvarez?  It’s possible as he’s on the 40-man.  If they did though, I think the fantasy community might just explode.  Don’t misunderstand, Tucker is still an elite prospect and arguably has much more fantasy upside than Alvarez with 20-20 potential.  As always, I will caveat my comments about Tucker that I still wish he would eliminate the hitch in his swing.


Mark Vientos (NYM, 3B, Low-A)

Mark Vientos had a lot of helium coming into this season.  As with many young players, he got off to a very slow start hitting .227 in April with a 27% strikeout rate.  However, as the temperature has risen, so has Vientos game.  Last week he mashed, going 10-22 with three home runs.  The ceiling continues to be a major league regular with 25 home run potential and based on his ability to work a walk, a high OBP.


Josh Ockimey (Bos, 1B, Triple-A)

Given Josh Ockimey penchant to strikeout, I do not consider him an elite prospect.  What he does have is 70-grade raw power and when he makes contact like he did last week, the ball will fly out of any ballpark.  In the month of May, he’s hit six home runs but has also struck out 33% of the time.  He also walked 12 times.  If you like three true outcome players, then Ockimey is your guy.


Jonathan India (Cin, 3B, High-A)

After a breakout season in his junior year at Florida, Jonathan India shot up draft boards and the Cincinnati Reds snagged him with the fifth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.  How good was his junior college season?  In 68 games, he posted a 1.214 OPS with 21 home runs and 15 stolen bases. After he signed, the question that needed to be answered…is the bat for real, and more importantly, is the power for real.

In reviewing the swing, there is plenty of leverage, but he also doesn’t sell out for the power.  There are holes in the swing, so there will be some swing and miss, but I think there is 20 home run power, perhaps more.  Throw-in average speed and a proven ability to steal bases and there is a lot to get excited about.  The ceiling is a full-time regular with 20 plus home run potential, low double-digit stolen bases and a .260/.330 batting average.


Dylan Carlson (Stl, OF, Double-A)

Drafted in the first round (pick 33) of the 2016 MLB Draft, Dylan Carlson got off to a slow start to his career.  He’s always had the tools to be considered an elite prospect but left most of his raw power in batting practice.  But the breakout that started last season when he struck out 17% of the time has continued in 2019 and with a BABIP correction, all of sudden his batting average looks much better.

The in-game power is also starting to emerge as he’s hit seven for the season while also showing solid speed.  With a 12% walk rate, a strikeout rate less than 20% with speed and power, there’s just a lot to like with the young outfielder.  The ceiling for me is a .270/.340 hitter with a chance for 20-20 potential.


Patrick Mazeika (NYM, C/1B, Double-A)

Patrick Mazeika has gone 7 for 24 over the past week and has hit five home runs in the month of May.  The young catcher for the Mets has also been spending time at first base as many believe he doesn’t have the defensive chops to stay behind the plate.  The problem is he might not have the power to be a full-time regular at first.  However, with five home runs in 16 games, perhaps that assessment needs to re-visited.


Jhailyn Ortiz (Phi, OF, High-A)

I fell hard for Jhailyn Ortiz a few years ago as I loved the 70-grade raw power and thought he would hit enough to get to it.   Since then, he’s been striking out at alarming rates and hasn’t been able to get to the raw power that he shows in batting practice.  While he’s been hot over the past week, hitting three home runs, and from what I’ve been told, they were majestic shots, the 37% strikeout rate just will not work.  That said, Ortiz should be monitored as the raw power is very real and he’s still only 20-years-old.


Brice Turang Mil, 2B/SS, High-A)

After taking Keston Hiura with the first pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, the Brewers took another bat-first player in Brice Turang with the first pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.

Since being drafted, Turang has walked nearly as much as he’s struck out while batting .292 with a .404 OBP.  He doesn’t have much current power and unless he puts on additional weight, I don’t see that changing.  He does have plus speed and shows that on the basepaths stealing 14 bases to-date while only getting caught 3 times.

The Brewers have played him both at short and second in High-A and he has the arm strength and athleticism to play both.  The ceiling is a full-time regular performer in the major league and at worse, he’ll be utility player with significant stolen base and on-base skills.


Ronny Mauricio (NYM, OF, Low-A)

Ronny Mauricio turned 18 on April 4th.  The fact that he’s playing in Low-A is impressive enough but he’s also playing very well.  In 40 games, he’s slashing .280/.333/.348 with a 19% strikeout rate.   Last week, he went 10 for 23 with a home run.  The power has yet to emerge but the bat speed and athleticism is there.  This might be one of the final times a fantasy owner can buy cheap on a potential Didi Gregorius type talent.

Brailyn Marquez (CHC, LHP, Low-A)

Brailyn Marquez has turned it up a notch in May.  In three starts, he’s posted a 1.29 ERA with 15 strikeouts and five walks in 14 innings.  The stuff is premium with a fastball that he can run up to the upper nineties and a slider and change-up that can miss plenty of bats.  He doesn’t always throw every pitch for a strike, but there is clearly a lot to like with the 20-year-old lefty.


Casey Mize (Det, RHP, Double-A)

Casey Mize has started nine games and has had eight dominating starts and one so-so start.  The so-so start was on May 15th when he gave up four earned runs in 5.2 innings against the Richmond Squirrels.  In that outing, he struck out eight and walked only two.  Of course, he followed that outing up to pitch six shutout innings on Monday striking out six and walking one.


Kris Bubic (KC, LHP, High-A)

We’ve written many times about the Kansas City Royals burgeoning minor league pitching staff and Kris Bubic performance in particular.  He was at it again on Monday, pitching seven innings, giving up one run while striking out nine and not walking anyone.  The improved control was good to see as he had given up eight walks in the previous two starts.  I would expect him to be promoted in High-A sometime in June as the stuff is too good for Low-A.


Shane McClanahan (TB, LHP, Low-A)

The Rays took Shane McClanahan in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft and assigned the college pitcher to Low-A.  I thought he would have no trouble with the assignment but instead, struggled.  In five starts, he posted a 4.71 ERA with 16 walks in 21 innings.  However, in May things have gotten better as he has cut down his walks while also increasing his strikeout rate.  The ceiling continues to be a mid-rotation starter.


Keegan Akin (Bal, LHP, Triple-A)

The Orioles continue to audition a variety of players in Baltimore to determine who are keepers and who are not.  Keegan Akin should get his chance shortly and based on what he’s done to-date in Triple-A, could have success.  In eight starts, he’s posted a 3.60 ERA striking out over 10 per nine while walking 3.6 per nine.  His last outing was very impressive where he threw 6 shutout innings while striking out nine and walking only one.