Where did the season go? It’s the end of August and the minor league season will conclude this Sunday. To that end, this will be our official final article for our Hot Prospects series. It’s been fun presenting you with nearly 200 minor league players throughout these 20 weeks. Next stop is our rankings of the Top 15 prospects in each organization. As usual, we will start with the Cubs and move methodically through each system. Over the past few weeks, we have been giving you a preview of what our write-ups will look like. This week, we have done the same. We have focused less on what the player did in the past week but instead, shared the development of each player. We did use the same criteria for selecting the players, so when Kyle Tucker hit seven home runs in a week, well, he’s hot.
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Kyle Tucker (OF, Hou, Triple-A) – Kyle Tucker’s first 20 games in the major leagues have not gone well. He’s hit .154 and has yet to leave the yard. While I’m sure he’s frustrated, instead of pouting, he’s taking it out on the minor league ball (by the way, the minor league ball is different than the major league ball). Since his demotion, he’s 15 for 28 with seven home runs and for good measure, three stolen bases. He’ll likely get a September call-up to help the Astros down the stretch.
While Tucker has all the tools to become a star in the major leagues, I still must point out that there is a hitch in his swing. Yes, longtime readers, I’m sure are tired of me pointing this out. But, it does bother me. I do not attribute this to his poor major league debut as the sample size is just too small to make any determination. But, the power is real and early in his career, he’s going to steal bases. In fact, he could be a 20/20 contributor through his mid-20’s before a trail off in speed is likely. But that speed could be replaced by home runs as he’ll fill out and get stronger.
With the necessary caveat, Tucker has star potential. He could easily become a top 30 pick in a fantasy league as early as 2020. For the savvy fantasy player, yes I’m predicting a potentially monster season in 2019 that could rival Vlad Jr. and Eloy.
Jhoan Urena (OF, NYM, Double-A) – Jhoan Urena had a week, or more precisely a day. On August 23rd, the Mets outfielder went 3 for 5 with three home runs; two of which were grannies. Daily fantasy players can only drool of the thought of cleaning up had Urena done that in the big leagues.
The Mets signed the 6-foot-1 outfielder in 2011 and the early results were quite positive. He showed some pop and speed with a semblance of an approach at the plate. However, as he moved through the system, he got stuck in High-A as he was beating everything into the ground. A poor BABIP led to a low average and he was stuck. Things turned around last season and 2018, he showed continued success. He’s likely a fourth outfielder but does have some pop and speed that could make him fantasy relevant in short burst.
Ibandel Isabel (1B, Cin, High-A) – The Florida State League is a pitchers league. The ballparks are large and the wind in Florida can really whip in the summertime. Therefore, to see a kid with 36 home runs is indeed impressive. To know that amount leads all minor leaguers, well, it’s time to sit up and take notice.
Isabel’s carrying tool is clearly his 80-grade raw power. The issue, as seems to always be the case is will he hit enough to get to that power. In High-A, that’s not been a problem. However, the 36 home runs have come with a 36% strikeout rate and that will likely not play as he continues his march through the system. To be successful, he needs to cut down on his long swing and while on the surface, that seems simple to do, it’s not. He’s a kid to monitor as next season will tell us a lot on whether this was a building season or just an outlier.
Eloy Jimenez (OF, CHW, Triple-A) – Living in Charlotte North Carolina, I’ve had a chance to see Eloy Jimenez a ton this season. The first thing you notice when laying eyes on him is just his sheer size. At 6-foot-4 and a listed 205 pounds, he looks more like a tight end than an outfielder. I had seen him play over the past couple of years and could attest to the double-plus power which has been very real again this year. But what has impressed me the most this year is his much-improved approach. His strikeout rate in 207 plate appearance for the Knights is 12.1%. If he can do that at the next level, he’s not that far off from Vlad Jr. In other words, you’re looking at a Miguel Cabrera starter kit. While I’m not convinced that the upside is a .300 hitter if you told me he would hit .270 with 40 home runs annually that would not surprise me in the least.
For those of you waiting for him to make his major league debut this season, I just don’t see that happening. The White Sox have nothing to play for this season and having seven years of team control instead of six is the right baseball decision. So, we wait…probably until late April 2019.
Evan White (1B, Sea, High-A) – Through July, Evan White was doing what I thought he would do. He has an advanced approach who makes good contact and could one day hit .300. He had also hit six home runs which might be ok if he played second base. However, he’s a first baseman and that is just a problem.
August though rolled along and White hit six home runs in the month. An outlier? A result of playing in the California League? Likely, but it also demonstrates the potential. While the comp continues to be James Loney (I know, fantasy owners never like to hear that comparison), I’m still not willing to give up on the bat just yet. He’s a big, strong kid that if he can add some leverage to his swing, could change the calculus significantly. In fact, it happens all the time.
Austin Riley (3B, Atl, Triple-A) – After a slow start to his tenure in Triple-A, Austin Riley played much better as the season wore on. In fact, he’s gone 11 for 24 with three home runs in the last week starting the drumbeat again for a big league promotion. While it’s possible, I continue to believe that he’s not ready and is being overhyped in fantasy circles.
Riley’s carrying tool is his double-plus power that has shown up as more doubles-power so far, as opposed to over-the-fence power. However, there is legitimate 25 to 30 home run pop in the bat. The problem is his penchant to strikeout. He’s averaged over a 25% strikeout rate in his minor league career and in Triple-A, that has ballooned to 30%. He also does not walk a lot and together, it’s conceivable that he could hit .230 or less and struggle to receive consistent playing time. That said, I do believe he will see considerable playing time in Atlanta next season and 2020. If he can cut down his strikeout rate, then he’ll be a full-time regular, perhaps an all-star. If he can’t, then he’s not going to get full-time at-bats for a potential Championship team.
Taylor Trammell (OF, Cin, High-A) – Taylor Trammell played the entire season as a 20-year-old in the Florida State League and put up his third year of solid stats. He didn’t put up that gaudy stat line like he did with 41 stolen bases in 2017, but eight home runs, 24 stolen bases, and a .374 OBP is outstanding.
Trammell has the tools to become an explosive leadoff batter in the big leagues. He has plus speed, a very good approach at the plate and power that should start to emerge as he matures. The extra tool is his makeup. While some readers might skip over that comment, don’t. In my opinion, makeup is the most overlooked element in a prospect’s profile, mostly because you can’t measure it. But in talking with people around the game, nearly everyone says that his makeup is off-the-charts – a hard worker, positive attitude, and a good person.
The Reds should start him in Double-A next season with a chance to see the big leagues in 2020.
Tony Santillan (RHP, Cin, Double-A) – One of the big pop-up pitchers for 2018 is Tony Santillan. We’ve long big a fan of his premium stuff and athleticism, but his inability to throw strikes had been holding him back. That changed this year as he walked a batter less an inning from his minor league average. Not only did he do that in High-A to begin the season, but repeated it in Double-A where he arguably pitched better.
It’s been a while since the Reds have developed a true top-of-the-rotation starter and while Santillan is still not in the category, his combination of stuff and athleticism gives him a legitimate shot. He’ll pitch the entire 2019 season as a 22-year-old and since he still has one year remaining before the Reds have to put him on the 40-man roster, the likelihood of a call-up is not high. Of course, if the Reds surprise early in the season, the calculus could change.
Mitch White (RHP, LAD, Double-A) – Mitch White was one of the early surprise players two years ago when after an impressive Spring Training, he was dominant in several early season starts in the California League. However, injuries hit and he has struggled to make it back to the level he showed in early 2017. He started the 2018 season once again on the disabled list, not seeing game action until May. When he did pitch, he wasn’t very good. At the end of April, he was sporting a 9.69 ERA with nearly as many walks as strikeouts.
As the season progressed, White started to turn into form and by August, he was pitching to a 2.08 ERA with a 25:3 strikeout-to-walk rate. The stuff is still good and assuming his control issues are behind him, White has the ceiling of a number three or perhaps number two pitcher. He has premium stuff with a delivery he can repeat. If an owner in your league got frustrated and released White, which is totally understandable, adding him to your roster in a dynasty league is a prudent move.
Touki Toussaint (RHP, Atl, Triple-A) – When the Braves bought Touki Toussaint from the Diamondbacks in 2015 for what amounted to six million dollars, many cried foul. While his stat line for Kane County that year showed the potential, he was very much a project. Spin forward three years and those six million dollars looks like a bargain.
I saw Toussaint in high school and he had the electric arm. He also had no idea where the ball was going. The Braves were able to help him harness his premium stuff and now he’s ready for a full-time rotation spot with a chance to pitch at the very top of the rotation. The athleticism was always there, he just needed time to grow into his long and lanky body. He’s only 23 and there will clearly be some ups-and-downs, but the stuff is for real and if his one major league outing is any indication, he’s just about ready to join the ranks of some of the uber-talented young pitches in baseball.
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