As we wind up the minor league system, we present our next to last Hot Prospects of the week. We’ve covered nearly every level from Rookie to Triple-A to present 15 players that we hope you enjoy reading.
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1. Pavin Smith (Ari, 1B, Double-A)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 1B
Tools Summary: Plus hit tool, but his lack of quality bat speed gives serious question on how much ultimate power he will have
Taken as the seventh overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, Pavin Smith does not get the kind of hype that many others in his draft class have received. After posting a .282/.365/.428 in three minor league seasons, perhaps it’s time to give him a little more love. Emphasizing the point, he hit .375 with a .612 SLG in August.
Smith is solid but I just don’t see the kind of upside that will make him a star. First, he has a plus hit-tool with the ability to control the strike zone. In his 292 minor league games, he’s walked nearly as much as he’s struck out with a 12% strikeout rate. The problem is his swing is more built for contact than power as it lacks loft. Plus, he’s an average athlete and is likely a first baseman long-term. Making matters worse, he also doesn’t have a lot of bat speed, so it’s hard to project, even with the Major League superball, more than average power down the road.
Net-net, I see a high-average first baseman with 15 to 20 home run power and no speed. Is that enough to get full-time at-bats? Perhaps. The production of Brandon Belt with a better average as he strikes out a lot less might be a good comp.
2. Orelvis Martinez (Tor, SS, Rookie)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
Tools Summary: Double-plus raw power with a chance to hit for average as well
Orelvis Martinez was the Blue Jays prized 2018 International signee in 2018. The Jays were aggressive with Martinez and skipped him over the DSL and started him in the GCL to begin his professional career. He got off to a hot start but quickly cooled in July batting only .196 for the month. He’s heating up again and showing the kind of pop and ability to hit that netted him a cool $3.5 million dollar signing bonus.
3. Jarred Kelenic (Sea, OF, Double-A)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
Tools Summary: 20-20 type of skills with make-up to spare
Jarred Kelenic is flying through the minor leagues. After short stays at both A-Level stops, he’s now in Double-A as a 19-year-old. After a slow start, he’s warming up. Over the past week, he’s hitting .327 with a couple of home runs, striking out three times. On the year, he’s currently one stolen base short of going 20-20. I think that’s what he can do in the big leagues.
4. Ke’Bryan Hayes (Pit, 3B, Triple-A)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
Tools Summary: While we are still waiting on the power, he can really hit with surprising speed
Ke’Bryan Hayes had another solid season in 2019 where he hit .268 with a .336 OBP in Triple-A. However, in a league where Dilson Herrera hit 23 home runs, Hayes only managed to pound out 10. I do think there is more power in the bat and I’m still waiting like I’m sure you are as well, for him to have the blow-out season. Perhaps, it never comes, perhaps this is who he is. He’s been red hot over the past week going 12 for 23 and one home run.
Hayes’ top tool continues to be his ability to get on base. He’s a great hitter with a solid approach that should lead to a .280 average and a .360 on-base percentage at the highest level. What has always been a question is his power. Even with the Major League ball in Triple-A, he managed to only hit 10 in 2019. While I’ve talked to some evaluators who see 20 to 25 home runs upside, I continue to throttle that down to 12 to 18. But, throw-in 10 or so stolen bases a year and you have the makings of a solid fantasy contributor.
5. Dylan Carlson (Stl, OF, Triple-A)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
Tools Summary: Power-speed with the ability to get on base. The speed will fade as he matures, but the power should increase
We finally saw the blow-up year that many were expecting to see from Dylan Carlson. Scouts always loved the upside, but in his three previous seasons, he never hit more than .250 showing modest speed and power. However, when you scouted Carlson, you saw the bat speed and that he’s a solid runner who is a fine defender in the outfielder. This year it all came together in Double-A. In 110 games, he slashed .283/.365/.517 with 21 home runs and 19 stolen bases. The effort earned him a recent promotion to Triple-A where he’s been even hotter posting a 1.283 OPS with three home runs.
While I know many fantasy owners will want to label Carlson a 20-20 performer and he could be that early in his career. However, he’s not a burner and as he continues to fill-out, I think the speed will regress. I do think he’ll hit with solid strike zone awareness and he’s always posted double-digit walk ratios. This year, he averaged 10.5%.
He should get the call to the Major Leagues sometime in 2020 with a chance to put up solid numbers. Again, I don’t see a 20-20 performer, particularly in his freshman year, but would instead dial it back to a 15-15 season with a .270 average and a .340 on-base percentage.
6. Brewer Hicklen (KC, OF, High-A)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
Tools Summary: Plus runner with some good pop. Needs to cut down on strikeouts or his upside is a fourth outfielder at the highest level
While pitching continues to dominate their system, the Royals do have a few intriguing hitters with Brewer Hicklen near the top of the list. He was a seventh-round pick in 2017 that spent the entire 2018 season in Low-A as a 22-year-old where he posted a .930 OPS. When I asked about him, I got a lot of fourth outfielder ceiling reports and ultimately that might be what he is, but he’s a plus runner with some pop and could be more than that. Plus, he should get a chance to play as again, the Royals are very light in the upper minor leagues with bats.
Hicklen’s calling card is his double-plus speed. In 2019 he stole 35 bases in 47 attempts. He also hit 14 home runs. What he also did was strikeout too much. In 120 games, he struck out 28% of the time. While he did walk 11% of the time, he needs to get shorter to the ball, or the fourth outfielder ceiling I heard will indeed turn into a reality.
I’m going to be adding Hicklen to my Dynasty League teams where I have room. The power-speed upside is very real and if he can cut down on his strikeouts, there could be a full-time regular at the highest level.
He makes our list by hitting .312 in 21 August games with eight home runs and four stolen bases.
7. Jeter Downs (LAD, SS/2B/3B, Double-A)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS/2B/3B
Tools Summary: Intriguing power-speed skillset who should be able to hit
There’s a reason the Dodgers have been to two consecutive World Series and still have one of the best minor leagues systems in the game. One: they refuse to trade players who they view as stars. And, two: they have outstanding evaluators that eat up teams at the draft and in trades. Look no further than the trade of Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood this off-season. Puig and Wood had one year remaining and the Dodgers got Josiah Gray and Jeter Downs in return. Both are young and both are really good.
Downs very much liked the California League. In 107 games he hit 19 home runs with 23 stolen bases hitting .269 with a robust .354 OBP. Last week the Dodgers had seen enough and promoted the 20-year-old to Double-A where he posted a 1.099 OPS with a home run and stolen base.
While I don’t see a superstar in the Bellinger-Lux mold, I do see a full-time regular who could be a very good fantasy player. He’s going to hit as the swing works and he controls the strike zone very well. He has enough bat speed to project 15 to 20 future home run power to go along with similar speed. Conservatively, I see a 15-15 player, but would not rule out some years where he pushes 20-20.
8. Jose Garcia (Cin, SS, High-A)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Utility Player
Tools Summary: Average tools, below-average hit tool is putting his ceiling as an extra infielder
The ceiling is looking more like a utility infielder, but after two years, the Cuban born shortstop is finally playing like the Reds thought he could. In August, he’s batting .396 with three home runs and six stolen bases. It’s a very small sample size, but it is indeed encouraging.
9. Joey Bart (SF, C, Double-A)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 C
Tools Summary: Plus power but needs to control the strike zone better. Good defensively
The Giants promoted Joey Bart, their 2018 first-round pick (Pick #2) to Double-A in early August. After a slow start, he’s warmed up over the past couple of weeks including going 4 for 5 in a game on August 26th. Bart has plus power, is a plus defender but doesn’t project to hit for a high-average or be a high on-base player.
10. Kyle Tucker (Hou, OF, Triple-A)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
Tools Summary: Power-speed combination. The only concern we have is the hitch in his swing
I know it feels like the Astros have forgotten about Kyle Tucker as Yordan Alvarez has passed him on the depth chart. But at some point, they will need to move on from Josh Reddick and his .299 OBP and .374 SLG. I think that will be in 2020. Until then, Kyle Tucker continues to have nothing left to prove in Triple-A. He makes our list by stealing his 30th base to go along with 31 home runs. Think about it, the Astros have a 30-30 kid who is 22-years-old and can’t get him in the Major League line-up. The Astros are good, but not that good.
1. Robinson Pina (LAA, RHP, Low-A)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP or Closer
Tools Summary: Plus fastball/slider with poor control
20-year-old Robinson Pina is one of the best arms in the lower levels of the Angels system who has serious swing and miss stuff to go along with not always knowing where the ball is going. In 26 games in 2019, he pitched to 3.69 ERA striking out over 12 per nine while walking 4.8 per nine. He got better as the year progressed pitching to a 2.41 ERA in five August appearance striking out 32 and walking eight.
Pina has good stuff with a fastball that sits 92 to 94 MPH with a slider that is his primary out-pitch. His stuff is tough to pick up as he has an exaggerated stride to the plate that coupled with his length, can be very intimidating to batters. When he can find his release point, he can be dominating, but once he loses it, things going quickly bad. Long-term, the delivery, and control will likely work better in the pen, but he’s someone to monitor.
2. Luis Medina (NYY, RHP, High-A)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP or Closer with risk
Tools Summary: Big-time arsenal with a 100 MPH fastball. The problem is he doesn’t always know where it’s going
Luis Medina showed dominate stuff as he split time between Low and High-A in 2019. Across both levels, he showed swing-and-miss stuff striking over 11 per nine. In Low-A, he was wild, walking 6.5 per nine. However, in his brief stint in High-A, he found more of the plate. In two starts, he’s pitched to 0.84 ERA with 11 strikeouts per nine and only 2.5 walks per nine.
Medina has big-time stuff with a fastball that sits in the upper-nineties and a curveball and change-up that both look like they will get hitters out. He’s not a big kid at 6-foot-1 but his strong lower-half should allow him to stay a starter. But, it’s about control. Clearly walking six per nine is not going to work, but the delivery is ok, so in time, he should be ok. That could come in the bullpen, but the arm is special.
3. Parker Dunshee (Oak, RHP, Triple-A)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP with some upside
Tools Summary: Strike thrower with average stuff.
Entering the 2019 season, I liked Parker Dunshee as a high-floor, low-ceiling back of the rotation starter. The stuff is solid, and he has plus control but, he doesn’t have the big fastball or a wipe-out secondary pitch. Yet, he continues to pitch well.
He started the year in Double-A and continued to look great. In six starts he pitched to 1.89 ERA striking out eight per nine while walking 2.6 per nine. After his promotion to Triple-A, he continued to pitch well but 17 home runs in 17 starts pushed his ERA to 4.71. Pitching in PCL and Las Vegas, in particular, did not help, but my analysis remains with one exception. Let’s face it, pitchers perform better in Oakland. The park is big, and the air is heavy for night games. Edwin Jackson pitched to a 3.33 ERA in 17 starts in the 2018 season.
While he’s likely a fourth or fifth starter in the Major Leagues, he could out-perform his ceiling in Oakland. It’s for that reason, I would be adding him in Dynasty Leagues. Look what he’s done over the past two starts, 11.1 IP, four hits, 15K/1BB, and no earned runs.
4. Josiah Gray (LAD, RHP, Double-A)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP with some upside
Tools Summary: Athletic with plus stuff and plus control
Josiah Gray was drafted in the second round by the Reds and was dealt to the Dodgers in the Yasiel Puig trade prior to the 2019 season. He’s an athletic kid with a plus fastball and rapidly improving secondary pitches. After dominating through two levels in 2019, it looks like the Dodgers got a steal when they acquired Gray.
In fact, you can argue that Gray was the best pitchers in the minor leagues in 2019. Across High and Double-A, he pitched to a 2.09 ERA striking out over 10 per nine while walk two per nine. In a word, he was dominant. What made his stuff play even better is he pounded the strike zone while showing some fastball command.
Gray should be up in 2020 to help the Dodgers and should eventually help fill-out a rotation in a few years that will have Buehler, May, Gonsolin, and oh yeah, some guy named Clayton Kershaw.
5. Adam Kloffenstein (Tor, RHP, Short-Season)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Tools Summary: Size with good raw stuff
The Blue Jays signed Adam Kloffenstein with their third pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. As a raw but talented high schooler out of Texas, the Blue Jays have brought him along slowly. They only gave him a small taste in 2018 and limited him to 12 starts in the Northwest League in 2019.
The plan seems to be working as he pitched very well. In those 12 starts, he’s pitched to 2.16 ERA striking out 8.6 per nine while walking 3.3 per nine. He’s been particularly sharp over his past two outings striking out 15 and walking three in 12 innings while not giving up any earned runs.
Kloffenstein has good stuff with a fastball that he can run-up to the mid-90s with promising secondary pitches. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, he’s already a big boy, so there is likely not to be physical projection remaining. If it all comes together, there’s a chance he could be a mid-rotation starter but will likely fall in as a number four.