As 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.
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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.
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.