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Hot Prospects – Week 18

With just a few weeks left in the minor league season, I thought I would start to transition the player write-ups to what you will see in our Team profiles this fall.  We have expanded the list from 10 plus an emerging prospect to a Top 15 for each team.  The write-ups will be smaller but with less background information and instead, more focus on current and future potential.  As I did with the write-up of Vlad Jr. and Peter Alonso, I will detail both fantasy strategies and scouting rationale to provide some deeper analysis.  I will not do this on all of the write-ups, not even most, but will sprinkle those narratives where it makes sense (and, ok…I have the time).

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

Vlad Guerrero Jr. (3B, Tor, Triple-A) – As we’ve stated multiple times, we could have included Vlad Guerrero Jr. nearly every week on our Hot Prospect list.  He has a chance to hit .400 with 20 plus home runs this season and is still only 19 years old.  His combination of power, plate discipline, and incredible hand-to-eye coordination point to a ceiling of that provided by Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera in their prime.  Both won MVPs and both went number one overall in fantasy drafts during their peak years.  Just saying…

The fun question to think about is where will Vlad Jr. will go in fantasy drafts next year?  If you use Ronald Acuna as a benchmark and assume that Guerrero’s hit tool is at least a grade higher and his power also a grade higher, it’s reasonable to think of his draft slot as a third or even second round pick in a mixed 15-team League.  Crazy?  Perhaps.  But, Acuna ended the draft season as a high fifth-round pick in the NFBC and after an adjustment period, is proving that the fifth round was a bargain.  Vlad Jr. could be better and in a better park.  Plus, he has the hype machine churning, perhaps even higher than Acuna this time last year.  What will I do?  If he’s sitting in the third round, I’m likely going to jump on him.  I think he’ll be that good.

Vidal Brujan (2B, TB, High-A) – I’ve already started working on my Top 15 team rankings for 2019.  What I’ve quickly realized is that the Rays system is really good.  It better be because the Red Sox and Yankees are really good and the Rays will need to pounce when both teams windows close around 2021 or 2022.  Vidal Brujan is a name that fantasy owners need to know.  He has double-plus speed and has already stolen 48 bases across Low and High-A this season.  He also has walked as much as he’s struck out.  He’s been red-hot in August, batting .458 with six stolen bases and two home runs.

Grant Lavigne (1B, Col, ROK) – The Rockies selected high schooler Grant Lavigne in the supplemental first round (pick 42) with the hope that he would hit enough to allow his double-plus power to play.  After 44 games, it looks like a huge win for the Rockies.  He’s walked nearly as much as he’s struck out and his strikeout rate has been 16.7%, which is very good for a power hitter.  While he’s slugging .576, he’s only hit six home runs to-date but he’s also showed a little bit of speed by stealing nine bases.  I don’t believe the speed sticks as he’s 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds but do believe the home run power will improve.

Before getting too excited, remember that the Northwest League is a hitters league and Asheville, which is likely where he starts next season is one of the best hitter’s parks in all of the minor leagues.  Then again, so is Coors Field, so maybe that doesn’t matter too much.

Peter Alonso (1B, NYM, Triple-A) – The Mets drafted Peter Alonso in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft after a standout college career at the University of Florida.  Scouts were mixed on him entering the draft as his power was more strength driven than bat-speed driven.  You might be asking, why is that important?  Well, with the level of velocity we are seeing in baseball, and every pitcher seemingly able to dial it up their fastball to 95 MPH, without excellent bat speed, it’s just hard to catch up to premium velocity.  Pitchers will find the holes and exploit and without the necessary bat speed, the batter will become a mistake hitter.

The good news with Alonso is that he has developed great plate discipline and has shortened his swing.  Both skills have helped him get his strikeouts under control, and both will help him compensate for not having elite bat speed.  The results:  It’s working.  He tore through Double-A and after a brief struggle in Triple-A, he’s hitting .340 with six home runs in August.  The upside is a 30 home run first baseman hitting .270.  The downside, and yes there is a downside, is A.J. Reed.  In other words, a player that gets exploited in the major leagues.  Adding to the risk, the Mets have a long history of losing patience with young players, having them ride the shuttle between Triple-A and the Majors for longer than fantasy owners would like to see.

D’Shawn Knowles (OF, LAA, Rok) – Under the leadership of Billy Eppler, the Angels have gotten serious about signing International talent.  In 2017, they signed D’Shawn Knowles out of the Bahamas for $800,000.  In his first taste of professional baseball, the 17-year-old has performed.  The Angles started him off in the AZL and after 30 games and a .301 batting average, promoted him to the Pioneer League where he played even better.  His carrying tool is his double-plus speed and to-date has stolen eight bases.  While he’s only 17, he has demonstrated an advanced approach at the plate walking at a 12% rate.  The strikeouts are a little high but as he gains experience and strength, he has the skillset to hit at the top of a lineup with 30 plus stolen bases and enough power to have double-digit power.

Colton Welker (3B, Col, High-A) – It’s always hard to get a feel for young Rockies players as their first three stops (Grand Junction, Asheville, and Lancaster) are hitters parks.  In the case of Asheville and Lancaster, you can add the adjective extreme.  Welker has hit and showed power at each stop.  To-date, it’s mostly been doubles-power but as he gains strength and leverage in his swing, many of those doubles will start to clear the fences.  On the downside, the swing can get long and therefore, strikeouts will develop, particularly as he moves up levels.  In other words, I don’t see him as a .300 hitter long-term.  What I do believe is that he can pop 25 home runs with a .260 batting average and a handful of stolen bases.  He should move to Double-A next season and that will be the real test.  For now, I think he has the California League figured out as he’s batting .500 so far in August with as many walks as strikeouts.

Shervyen Newton (SS, NYM, Rok) – When you’re 6-foot-4 and only 180 pounds, the word projection is frequently used.  That’s what the Mets have been saying about Shervyen Newton when the signed him out of Curacao in 2015.  They have been taking it very slowly with Newton and this year, he has started to show his potential.  In Kingsport of the Appy League, he’s slashed .293/.406/.486 with five home runs four stolen bases.  While the Mets have always loved his feel for hitting as well as his approach, they have to be thrilled by his developing power.  Could he develop into a power-hitting infielder, like another Curacao native, Jonathan Schoop has?  While I don’t think he has 30 home run power, I could see 20 but with a much better hit-tool.  He’s been red-hot since the beginning of August and is a nice under-the-radar prospect that fantasy owners should be jumping on.

Joe Palumbo (RHP, Tex, High-A) – Joe Palumbo has taken quite a journey to make this list.  He was drafted in the 30th round in 2013 as a reliever and pitched ok but things started to click when the Rangers moved him to the starting rotation in 2016 only for him to have Tommy John reconstructive surgery in 2017.  After surgery and a lengthy rehab, he’s back pitching and doesn’t look like he’s lost a beat.  In six starts for the Down East Wood Ducks (think East North Carolina, kind of in the middle of nowhere), he’s pitched to a 2.67 ERA while striking out 34 and walking six.  In this two starts in August, he’s pitched 10.1 shutout innings while striking out 20 and walking three.  He’s doing it with a mid-90’s fastball and a curveball that is already plus.  He’s still working on his change-up.  There’s number three starter upside here and perhaps a little more.

Michael Kopech (RHP, CHW, Triple-A) – I’ve been all over the map with Michael Kopech.  I saw him in 2017 season and clocked his 80-grade fastball at 102.2 MPH and got really excited.  I saw the athleticism and drooled.  I also saw 30-grade control and knew he had some work to do.  I even speculated that unless his secondary pitches improved and more importantly, his control improved, he might be bound for the bullpen.  I reiterated that again this year as I’ve had a chance to see him pitch twice in Charlotte.  Recently though, he’s changed.  His fastball is sitting more 97 MPH (plenty fast) and in turn, he’s developed better control.  The secondary pitches are better but still need work.  But in seven starts since July 1st, he’s struck out 56 and walked eight.  Uh, that’s pretty good.  It could be time to move the ceiling back to a number two starter.  If he doesn’t overthrow, the White Sox might have a kid that can pitch at the top-of-the-rotation…and soon.

Luis Patino (RHP, SD, Low-A) – In a stacked system like the Padres, even guys that are ranked outside the Top 10 have number three starter upside.  In case you’re wondering…that is just unusual.  Luis Patino has three quality pitches in a fastball that tops out at 95 MPH with a potential future-plus curveball and an emerging change-up.  He’s only 6-feet tall but does pitch from a high three-quarter delivery.  Home runs have not yet been a problem, but could as he moves through the system.  You can argue that the 18-year-old is ready for High-A as he’s pitching to a 2.39 ERA in 15 starts.  In August, he’s thrown10.1 innings, giving up two runs while striking out 17 and walking three.

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