With our Mid-season Top 100 behind us, we pivot back to doing our weekly Hot Prospects of the week. This week we have Luis Robert at the top of the list. I provide a detailed scouting report of my visit to see him in his Triple-A debut. Sure the ball is enhanced and Charlotte is a great place to hit, but after seeing him, he could be a special ballplayer.
There are nine more hitters and five pitchers for reading enjoyment.
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1. Luis Robert (CHW, OF, Triple-A)
In my travels, I kept missing Luis Robert. I missed him during his brief stay in Kannapolis last year. He was hurt when I attended the AFL last Fall and it rained on the day I was going to see him in Winston Salem. Finally, last week, July 11th I set my alarm for the 7:04 start in Charlotte for his Triple-A debut and I was not disappointed.
I lazily compared Robert to Yoan Moncada and while there are some hit-tool comparisons, they are not physically similar. Moncada looks like a running back, shorter and broader but Robert is built more like a lean wide receiver. While I didn’t get a chance to time him down to first, he clearly has plus speed and can cover significant ground in the outfield quickly. The bat speed is impressive with the strength coming from his wrist and forearms. He hit two home runs that night and it was easy power. Just a quick swing resulting in extremely hard contact. The Knights reported the first blast (grand slam) was hit 409 feet with an exit velocity of 110 MPH. The second shot was hit 428 feet. Again, with little effort.
The swing is simple and clean and definitely works, but the approach is aggressive. He’s up there looking to swing the pole and in his 5 at-bats, he saw 11 pitches. His stat line supports the approach as he is posting a 5.2% walk rate. Plus, there will be some swing and miss due to his aggressive approach as he will expand the strike zone. However, the tools are elite and the ceiling could be very special. How special? There is 30-30 potential with a chance to hit .260 with a .320 OBP. Also, through the magic of BABIP and how hard he hits the ball, there will likely be some variance in his batting average which in some years could put his batting average 20 to 30 points higher.
2. Trevor Larnach (Min, OF, High-A)
I was a little light on Trevor Larnach last season as I was concerned about his size and lack of premium athleticism. I did acknowledge that he had good bat speed but wasn’t sure if he’d hit enough to ever develop the plus in-game power that was lurking.
In 2019, Larmach has started to answer a number of those questions. First, defensively, he’s a corner outfielder, likely a left-fielder or even given his size, a first baseman. I do see enough athleticism for him to stay in the field. Secondly, while the FSL is suppressing his in-game power, the raw power is definitely real and I expect once he moves through the system, the power will develop. Finally, he’s controlling the strike zone better than I had anticipated. The strikeout rate is a reasonable 20.5% and he’s also shown an ability to work a walk. Net-net, I see a solid major league player with a .250/.350 batting average with 25 plus home run pop. As I said in our mid-season update where I put him at number 79, the ceiling is an everyday Major League, but not a star.
In July, he’s been really hitting the ball with a .366/.435 batting average but the power still has yet to show. Be patient owners, it’s in there.
3. Kevin Smith (Tor, SS, Double-A)
Kevin Smith was a popular addition for Dynasty League owners in 2018 as he raked in Low and High-A. While he showed good power and speed, his high BABIP and inability to control the strike zone, particularly in the Florida State League gave me pause.
2019 has not gone as well for the University of Maryland graduate. His strikeout rate has increased to 31.5% and he’s only posting a 6.4% walk rate. When you combine that with a low BABIP, the results are not good. In 72 games in Double-A, he’s hitting .195 with a .253 OBP. He is still showing some power with 12 home runs, but unless he improves his ability to control the strike zone, he’ll never be able to get to his power as he progresses through the system.
So, it’s not been good…so why is he on your list? Well, after returning to game action in July, he’s hot. In four games, he’s hitting .400 with four home runs. He still struck out four times, but his week highlights both the potential and areas of work.
4. Sheldon Neuse (Oak, 3B, Triple-A)
Sheldon Neuse has enjoyed the move from humid Nashville with normal baseballs to the desert of Las Vegas with the (clears throat), the enhanced baseball. In 135 games in 2018, he hit five home runs and in 85 games in 2019, he’s already hit 16 with a .315 batting average and a .393 OBP.
The obvious question is who is Sheldon Neuse? The best news is that Neuse has cut down his strikeout rate significantly. Several evaluators I spoke with were surprised at how poorly he hit in 2018 when he posted a 32% strikeout rate. The 22% strikeout rate is more in-line with his approach as is the 10.6% walk rate. The power is not as he’s more likely average power than plus power. If you add it all up, the ceiling is a .260/.330 average with 15 to 20 home runs. The biggest problem is he’s blocked at third. This could lead to a trade as the A’s look to upgrade other parts of their organization.
5. Cal Raleigh (Sea, C, High-A)
Cal Raleigh continues to make the parks in the California League look small. In 12 games in July, he’s hit nine home runs while driving in 18. It’s time for the Mariners to challenge him with a move to Double-A.
6. Mark Vientos (NYM, 3B, High-A)
Mark Vientos was one of the sexy pickups in 2018 for fantasy owners after showing good power and good plate discipline in the Appy League. However, after he got off to a poor start in Low-A to begin the 2019 season, owners started to flee. He wasn’t showing any power and only walked 13 times in his first 267 plate appearances.
Once the calendar turned to July, Vientos bat came alive. In 12 games in July, he’s hitting .381 with three home runs while cutting down his strikeouts and improving his walk rate. Perhaps there was an injury that he has worked through, or perhaps he was just adjusting to the level. Regardless, I still believe that Vientos can be regular third baseman at the highest level. I like the swing, there is loft and I believe he will control the strike zone enough to hit at the highest level. The upside continues to be a 20 plus home run bat with a chance to hit .260 plus at the Major League level.
7. Kristian Robinson (Ari, OF, Short-Season)
When I compiled my mid-season Top 100, I wanted to include Kristian Robinson but I just could not find a way to include him. However, given the year he had in 2018 and now in 2019, plus just his crazy tools, I will definitely find a way to include him in our 2020 Top 100 Prospect list.
At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Robinson looks like he just walked out of central casting for ballplayers. He has plus raw power and is starting to tap into that in the Northwest League. In 27 games, he’s slugging .557 with five home runs. He’s currently an above-average runner, but as he fills out, the potential of a 20-20 performer will fade. Once he hits his mid-20’s, he’ll profile more as a power hitting corner outfielder as opposed to a five-tool performer. While it’s still raw, he does show an understanding of the strike zone. However, his swing does get long so strikeouts will likely be part of the equation going forward.
8. Yusniel Diaz (Bal, OF, Double-A)
Yusniel Diaz was the big return when the Orioles traded Manny Machado last July. When he arrived in Bowie, the Orioles Double-A affiliate, things just didn’t click. He hit a ho-hum .239 with a .403 SLG. It was more of the same to start the 2019 season as he posted a .225/.312/.338 slash line in the month of April. He then hit the IL with a hamstring injury and when he returned, he’s looked like a different player.
The bat speed was back and started to hit the ball with more authority. I had a chance to see the bat speed once again in July and it was as good as was when I saw him two years ago in the California League. As the old saying goes, the ball just makes a different sound coming off his bat.
I still believe that Diaz ceiling is a Top 45 outfielder in the game with 20 plus home runs and a handful of stolen bases. Plus, I think he hits. He makes very good contact and understands the strike zone. Again, I don’t see a star, but instead, I see a solid major league regular.
9. Taylor Walls (TB, SS, Double-A)
Taylor Walls has really enjoyed his promotion to Double-A. In 18 games, the speedy shortstop has swiped nine bases in 14 attempts. Yeah, the ratio is not the greatest, but he has good speed, a little bit of pop and understands the strike zone. The ceiling is a regular second baseman in the big leagues or more likely a utility performer on a contender.
10. Riley Greene (Det, OF, Short-Season)
Riley Greene was the fifth overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft and has done everything the Tigers would have hoped. In 15 games to begin his professional career, he’s slashing .361/.451/.541 with a couple of home runs across the GCL and New York Penn League.
Greene has good bat speed and a good understanding of the strike zone that should translate into a 20-plus home run bat with a .250 to .260 batting average at the highest level. He’ll have to guard against his swing getting long and creating holes, but assuming he can keep his swing compact, the bat should play. At 18 and 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, he’s already a big kid, so long-term I don’t see stolen bases as part of the profile.
If you add it all up, he profiles as a solid Major League corner outfielder with the production level of Mitch Haniger or Max Kepler.
1. Logan Gilbert (Sea, RHP, High-A)
One of the players that just missed my mid-season Top 100 list was Logan Gilbert. The 2017 first round pick (pick 14) has been dominant this year. First in the Sally League where he had little trouble in five starts and then more impressively in the hitter-friendly California League. In 12 starts there, he’s posted a 1.73 ERA striking out nearly 11 per nine while pounding the strike zone (1.73 BB/9).
Gilbert stands 6-foot-6 with his primary pitch being a two-seamer fastball that has a lot of arm-side run and sink. It has improved as the year has progressed but generally sits 90 to 94 MPH. Because of the movement, he gets in combination with his natural plane, lower minor league batters are left befuddled. He throws two breaking pitches that have a tendency to merge into more of a slurve offering. He needs to develop a better change-up and if not, could be exposed as he moves to Double-A. All-in-all, he has the makings of a solid mid-rotation starter, possibly more if he can develop his change-up.
Since he’s flying under the radar in most Dynasty Leagues, I would be treating him like a Top 100 prospect and targeting him wherever he is available.
2. Tarik Skubal (Det, LHP, Double-A)
The first time the Altoona Curve faced Tarik Skubal, they were shutout by the lefty. They got a second look last week and I guess fared better…they scored three times but only one earned run. He still struck out 11 in five innings and only walked one. The stuff is solid with a mid-rotation ceiling and he’s obviously moving very quickly.
3. Spencer Howard (Phi, RHP, High-A)
Spencer Howard was a pitcher that I targeted in Dynasty Leagues over the off-season given the reports I received on him. Unfortunately, his season was plagued with shoulder injury that caused a couple of stints on the Injured List. However, in July he was finally back and healthy and looks every bit as good as he did in 2018. In his last two outings in High-A, he pitched 11 innings, giving up one hit while striking out 14 and walking one.
Howard has good size at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds that should allow him to handle a starter workload. The arsenal is impressive with a fastball that he can run up to the upper nineties that usually sits 94 to 96 MPH. His mid to upper 80’s hard slider is his main strikeout weapon with his change-up being a nice pitch that can keep lefties off balance.
It might come down to health with Howard. Assuming he’s healthy the size, arsenal and control point to a number two starter. However, any shoulder injury is serious and Dynasty League owners need to stay on their toes to ensure he remains pitching.
4. Luis Rijo (Min, RHP, Low-A)
Luis Rijo was originally signed by the Yankees in 2015 as a 16-year-old Venezuelan. As he has matured, his stuff has been ticking up very nicely and now he boasts a solid arsenal. Now 20 and pitching for the Twins, he has been very effective in the Midwest League. In his last two starts, he has pitched 13.2 innings giving up two earned runs, striking out 16 and walking two.
5. Justus Sheffield (Sea, RHP, Double-A)
I know it was ugly in Triple-A, but after his demotion to Double-A, Justus Sheffield has returned to his former glory. In six starts, he’s posted a 1.62 ERA striking out 40 while walking eight. I haven’t heard whether his velocity has returned, but if it has, it might be time to add him to your fantasy team.
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