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Hot Prospects – Week 19

HOT PROSPECTS 1

We were a little late getting our Hot Prospects List out this week, but as the saying goes – “Better late than never.”

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. Daulton Varsho (Ari, C, Double-A)

Daulton Varsho continues to fly under the radar in Dynasty Leagues despite showing power, speed and the ability to control the strike zone.  Perhaps it’s because he’s a catcher and owners just ignore catchers.  But, with 19 stolen bases in 2018 and already another 17 in 2019, he has a chance to be a Top five fantasy catcher in the game.

While the offensive profile of Varsho is exciting, I had a chance to see him catch in the AFL in 2018, and he’s only an average catcher at-best.  There was talk of moving him to second or even third, but that has yet to happen.  Regardless, I think the bat will play and for fantasy owners, if he can stay behind the plate, it’s going to be a huge bonanza in value.

While he’s played well all year in Double-A, he’s hitting .433 with a .900 SLG in eight games in August.

2. Kyle Tucker (Hou, OF, Triple-A)

How the Astros were able to acquire Zack Greinke and not have to give up Kyle Tucker was impressive.  No disrespect to the players the Diamondbacks got, but Tucker has a chance to be an impact performer at the highest level.  In fact, in almost any other organization, he would likely already be up and contributing.  However, he plays for the Astros and he’s blocked.  He’s clearly solved the level with 31 home runs, 25 stolen bases, and a .350 on-base percentage.  In August alone, he’s hit five home runs with a .417 OBP.

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.  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 Draft.  When will that be?  I just don’t know, but I can’t see him spending a ton of time in Triple-A again next season.  What would be the point?

3. Evan White (Sea, 1B, Double-A)

After an off July, Evan White is back to hitting well as he’s slashing .320/.346/.680 in six games in August.  I’ve come full circle on White this year as he’s hitting, hitting for power and when you combine that with exceptional defense at first, I’ve become very intrigued.  I think there’s a chance for 20 to 25 home runs with a solid batting average and on-base percentage.  Perhaps the power will not be enough at first, but let’s see what he does next year when he starts using the Major League ball.

4. Francisco Alvarez (NYM, C, Rookie)

One of the sexy pickups this summer in Dynasty Leagues has been New York Mets catcher, Francisco Alvarez.  It’s been for good reason.  The 17-year-old started the year in the GCL and after posting a 1.395 OPS in seven games, the Mets moved him to the Appy League where he has continued to play well.  It should be noted that he is the youngest player in the league as well as being the only 17-year-old in the league.

There’s a lot to like about Alvarez from both an offensive and defensive perspective.  He has a very nice compact swing with excellent bat speed that he gets from great hand and forearm strength.  I like players that generate power this way as the power will look like it comes out of nowhere.  Alex Bregman has great hand and forearm strength and at 6-feet and 180 pounds, he doesn’t look like he has 35 to 40 home run power, but he does.  While I don’t think Alvarez will have that kind of power, I think he hits with a chance for 20 home runs annually.

While on the surface, Alvarez has years until he will make his debut in the Major Leagues.  However, given what he has done in 2019, he could easily start Low-A in 2020 and be in Double-A by 2022 with a chance to be a Top 100 player.  Therefore, now is the time to invest.

5. Brett Baty (NYM, 3B, Rookie)

Brett Baty made quick work of the GCL and was quickly promoted to the Appy League.  As the 12th overall pick, it made sense.  The problem is he’s hit .180 in 28 games including striking out 27% of the time.  He’s better than this and has played better in August.  I liked the pick at the time and continue to be bullish on the young third baseman.

Josh Smith (NYY, SS, Short-Season)

Drafted in the second round last June, Josh Smith has gotten off to a fast start to his professional career.  He’s hitting .404 in 14 games in the New York Penn League with two home runs and three stolen bases.  The LSU product also has walked 12 times while only striking out three times.  If it weren’t for him starting late, the Yankees likely would have already promoted him to Charleston.

Smith has always demonstrated an ability to make good contact and control the strike zone.  In his junior year at LSU, he posted a 15% strikeout rate and a 10% walk rate.  He has a compact swing but his swing lacks loft, so the power will likely be more doubles than over-the-fence.  He’s also a solid runner and should be able to 15+ bases annually.  The ceiling is a full-time regular with solid across the board skills but without a standout tool.  If you’re looking for a comp, I’m thinking Kevin Newman, the young shortstop with Pittsburgh.

6. Lewin Diaz (Mia, 1B, Double-A)

Lewin Diaz was part of the return when Sergio Romo was traded to the Twins in July.  He didn’t waste any time impressing his new team as he went on a power tear hitting five home runs in the first 10 games of August.  The power outburst wasn’t a total surprise as he hit 20 bombs across High and Double-A while with the Twins earlier in the season.

At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds (he looks heavier), Diaz is a big kid with a swing that will naturally have holes.  However, he’s always made good contact, averaging 17% throughout his minor league career.  He’s got solid power and that in combination with his ability to make solid contact gives him some intrigue for fantasy owners.  While I’m not ready to add him in most Dynasty League formats, he’s on my watch list.

7. Tristen Lutz (Mil, OF, High-A)

Tristen Lutz has put up an almost identical year to what he did in 2018.  In Low-A, he posted a .742 OPS with 16 home runs and so far in 2019, he’s put up .783 OPS with 13 home runs in the Carolina League.  His calling card continues to be his double-plus raw power but contact issues remain.  In 113 games, he’s struck out 136 times or a 29% K/9 ratio.

So, net-net, Lutz is the modern-day player.  The big raw power that is starting to translate into plus in-game power with a lot of strikeouts.  He’s not overly aggressive at the plate, so he could potentially put up a .240/.340/.500 slash line in the big leagues.  The average and on-base percentage will be affected annually by his BABIP.  Speed will be minimal, but he could steal a hand full of bases annually.

He makes our list due to hitting .381 in August with four home runs.  Unfortunately, he’s also struck out 11 times in 10 games.

8. Nick Schnell (TB, OF, Short-Season)

Nick Schnell was selected in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft as a toolsy high-school kid that was very raw at the plate.  He didn’t get a chance to contribute much in his draft year as he was limited to 19 games due to injury.  He’s healthy now and playing very well in the Appy League where he’s slashing .292/.372/.533 with five home runs and five stolen bases.  He’s been particularly hot in August as he’s slugged .865, hitting three of his five home runs.

He has plus bat speed but his current swing lacks loft, so he’s currently more a doubles-hitter.  The concern continues to be his approach at the plate and his ability to make contact.  In 152 plate appearance, he’s posted a 30% strikeout rate and if it weren’t for a .410 BABIP, his average would have been more .230 than .290.  He’s not yet on my “own” list in Dynasty Leagues, but I am watching as I do like the combination of power and speed.

9. Josh Rojas (Ari, 2B, Majors)

Josh Rojas was the least discussed player in the deadline deal that sent Zack Greinke to the Astros.  What has Rojas done since the trade?  In eight games in Reno, he hit .514 with three home runs and a stolen base.  The Diamondbacks liked what they saw and promoted him to the Major Leagues on Monday where he made his debut on Monday night where he went 2 for 4.

So, who is Rojas and is he any good?  In short, he can hit with plus speed and a little bit of power.  Across three stops in 2019 in the Minor League, he stole 32 bases in 42 attempts with a 15% strikeout rate and a 12% walk rate.  That’s not Jose Altuveish, but it’s still pretty darn good.  He’s played all over the field this year and will likely continue that utility type role in his promotion to the big leagues.

PITCHERS

1. Joe Ryan (TB, RHP, High-A)

One of the best pitchers in 2019 has been Joe Ryan.  He started the year in Low-A and in five starts, he posted a 2.66 ERA striking out 41 in 23.2 innings.  The Rays quickly promoted him to the Florida State League where he continued to have no problems with the competition.  In 16 games, he pitched to a 1.32 ERA striking out over 12 per nine and walking just a shade over one per nine.  He might have had his best start last week when he pitched seven one-hit innings striking out 13 without walking anyone.

Ryan doesn’t have overwhelming stuff but can still run his fastball up to 96 MPH.   His curveball is already a plus offering, and it plays up because he’s able to throw it for strikes.  The change-up is not there yet but he is throwing it more and more to improve the offering.  The ceiling is a number three starter but given the improvements, he’s made this season; it could be even higher.

2. Cristian Javier (Hou, RHP, Double-A)

Signed in 2014 from the Dominican Republic, right-hander Cristian Javier is having a nice season for the Corpus Christi Hooks in the Texas League.  In 17 games, he’s pitched to 2.02 ERA striking out 13 per nine and giving up only 33 hits.  He doesn’t always know where the ball is going as he’s walked 4.6 per nine but the low hit rate suggests that batters are not picking up his pitches well.

Javier doesn’t light up the radar gun with a fastball that sits in the Low-90s, but his high spin rate provides extra life on the pitch.  The delivery also provides some funk with a fast arm action.  But the delivery also is the source of his control issues as it’s far from smooth with little semblance of a consistent release slot. But, it’s working as the hit rate tells the story.  Ultimately, I think Javier moves to the pen and that should allow his fastball to play up and provide an even better profile.

3. Kris Bubic (KC, LHP, High-A)

In an organization with surprisingly deep pitching depth, Kris Bubic continues to shine.  He started the year in the Sally League where he had no trouble.  In nine starts, he pitched to a 2.08 ERA striking out 14 per nine while walking less than three per nine.  It has been more of the same with his promotion to the Carolina League where in 13 starts, he’s pitched to a 2.62 ERA striking out 10.4 per nine while walking 2.5 per nine.  His last outing might have been his best.  On August 8th, he pitched a complete game, three-hitter, where he gave up one earned run while striking out 13 and walking one.

He has good stuff with a fastball that sits in the low-90s with a lot of downward action.  His best secondary pitch is his change-up and has proven too much for young A-ball hitters.  His third pitch is his curveball that grades out as at least average as well.  If you add it all up, he profiles as a high-end number four, perhaps a number three starter in the big leagues.  That should be plenty good enough to give him a long career and help fantasy owners alike.  Plus, with such a good change-up, he could have some early success as has been the pattern of other recent similar pitchers.

4. Matt Manning (Det, RHP, Double-A)

I continue to be very high on Matt Manning, the Detroit athletic right-hander.  This season in Double-A, he’s had no trouble with the level of competition.  In 21 starts, he’s posted a 2.57 ERA, striking out over 10 per nine while keeping his walks to a minimum (2.7 per nine).  Last week, he tossed six shutout innings, giving up four hits, striking out 10 without issuing a free pass.

While Casey Mize is the higher-rated pitcher, it’s not by much.  In fact, on our mid-season Top 100 list, Manning was only 13 spots behind Mize, checking in a number 18.  He’s got the size, premium arsenal and athleticism to pitch at the top of the rotation.

The delivery has also really taken shape.  I had a chance to scout a game in June and the extension he gets is impressive.  It reminds me of the extension that Tyler Glasnow gets and given his size, it looks like he’s on top of batters.  There’s plenty of 6’s and 7’s on the radar gun with a plus curveball and a change-up that has really improved.

He’ll likely start 2020 in Triple-A and given the injuries that Mize has endured, he could be the first one up.  Regardless, the Tigers have a great 1-2 in Mize or Manning…or vis, Versa.

5. Levi Kelly (Ari, RHP, High-A)

Drafted in the eighth round of the 2018 MLB Draft, Levi Kelly had a strong 2019 campaign.  Pitching the entire year in the Midwest League, the 6-foot-4 right-hander posted a 1.96 ERA striking out over 11.5 per nine while walking 3.3 per nine.  In his two starts in August, he’s been even better.  In 11 innings, he’s given up one earned runs, seven hits, while striking out 15 and walking four.

The Diamondbacks have managed his innings very effectively not allowing him to pitch over six innings in any one start. After April, he never gave up more than two runs in any one outing.  He’s got solid stuff across the board with a fastball that sits 92 to 94 MPH, a slider that is his primary outpitch, and a feel for a change-up.  The control is not always present and there is some effort in his delivery.  However, the Diamondbacks think he could develop into a mid-rotation starter and given his progression to-date, that seems totally reasonable.

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