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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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