Ray Butler’s 2018 Top 200 MLB Prospects: #101-120

Written by: Ray Butler

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My #101-120 prospects are all over the place. All. Over. The. Place. But that’s okay. This marks the halfway point of my list!

120. Nick Gordon, IF, MIN, Age: 22

This might be a head scratcher for you, but here’s a question that’s beginning to be asked more and more in prospect circles: What is Gordon really, really good at? As a fantasy baseball owner, what part of Gordon’s game can you hang your hat on? The middle infielder was once viewed as a player that shared a lot of the same tools as his older brother (Mariners OF Dee Gordon) with a little more power and a little less speed. It’s true that Gordon possesses a little more pop than his older brother (though he’s never hit double digit home runs in a single season), but he only stole 13 bases last season. The K% jumped to 23.2% and he batted .270. I’m certainly not ready to write Gordon off as a potential fantasy asset, and he’ll likely be a fine real-life MLB regular. I do, however, have some genuine concerns moving forward as to whether you should own him on your fantasy team.

119. Yusniel Diaz, OF, LAD, Age: 21

In just his second professional season, Diaz was solid across the board in 2017. .292/.354/.433, 11 home runs, and 9 stolen bases. Even though he’s 21 years old, I still feel like much of the top 120 placement with Diaz is based on projection. What he ‘could’ be. The stats in his two professional seasons won’t jump off the page when you compare them to many of the other prospects on this list, but they become much more attractive and inviting when you consider that Diaz is still extremely raw and has been (on average) 3.2 years younger than the average competition at each level he’s competed. What’s more, I kind of get the sense that we’re either really close to Diaz officially breaking out, or we’re really close to deciding that he may never be the superstar the Dodgers hoped he’d be when the Cuban native signed a $15.5 million contract in 2015. I lean more towards Diaz potentially breaking out, which means you’d be ranked much higher when I release my midseason top 100 list.

118. Kevin Maitan, SS, LAA, Age: 18

So, it turns out that a 17 year old playing professional baseball (even Rookie Ball) may not exactly look like the next coming of Ted Williams. Quite frankly, Maitan looked a typical 17 year old baseball player: Lots of strikeouts and not a lot of walks. An unspectacular professional debut (even though it was just a 176 PA sample), paired with a move from the Braves to the Angels, led to a notable descension (or complete omission) on industry prospect lists for Maitan. As I’ve already claimed that it’s too early to give up on prospects who are in their early-to-mid 20s on this list, it’s certainly to early to throw in the towel on Maitan. Remember when Maitan was being compared to this generation’s Derek Jeter? It feels like yesterday. Give Maitan some time to familiarize himself with a new organization, then reevaluate his status following this season.

117. Andres Gimenez, SS, NYM, Age: 19

Long term projections for Gimenez are all over the map. The facts are this: Gimenez played in full-season ball as an 18 year old last season. He struck out only 15.3% of the time, had 14 stolen bases, and finished with a .346 OBP. If you don’t consider the fact that he only hit four home runs, those numbers are thought-provokingly impressive. I choose to believe that Gimenez will continue to develop physically, which means the power numbers will continue to improve. Seeing as Gimenez may possess one of the most advanced approaches in the minor leagues (and easily the most advanced approach of an 18 year old in full-season ball), I think the shortstop’s offensive numbers will continue to progress each season for the foreseeable future. For now, I’ll set his MLB projection at 15 HRs and 15 SBs with a .350 OBP and very few strikeouts. I wouldn’t trust the Mets organization to sharpen my pencil with a $100 pencil sharpener, but there’s a chance that Gimenez could eventually develop into a bonafide star.

116. Nate Pearson, SP, TOR, Age: 21

Possessor of a triple digit fastball, Pearson was silly good in the small, 20 IP sample he produced in Rookie Ball and Short Season A after being drafted last summer. The Blue Jays really think Pearson will someday supplant Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez at the top of their rotation someday, and the 6’6 240 pounder may have the stuff to do just that. At 21 years old, Pearson will play his first full season of professional baseball in 2018. His offspeed offerings can vary in quality from time to time, and there does seem to be some bullpen risk here. However, there’s no reason to think that Toronto won’t do absolutely everything in their power to make Pearson a top-of-the-rotation arm who could make his MLB debut as early as sometime next season.

115. Cole Tucker, SS, PIT, Age: 22

47 stolen bases. .358 on base percentage. Shortstop. Interested yet? Tucker seems to be a classic case of “please just find a way to hit 10 HRs” in fantasy circles. He’s useful and valuable regardless, but could develop into somewhat of a star with a little more pop. The Pirates swear they aren’t rebuilding, but their roster is vastly taking a new shape and will continue looking for impact bats. I think there’s a decent chance that Tucker eventually becomes a face of the new-look Bucs. He’s flying under fantasy radars, so now might be your best shot to acquire game-changing speed at an attractive price.

114. Beau Burrows, SP, DET, Age: 21

The “analytics vs. scout’s eye” debate will certainly reach its peak with Luis Urias (who you’ll read about decently soon) this preseason, but I feel like Burrows may be a close second. Analytics see a pitcher who finished with a 3.20 ERA and more strikeouts than innings pitched last season between High-A and AA. Scouts see a pitcher with one above average pitch who began to show flaws after being promoted to AA last season. Burrows’ profile is truly fascinating, and we’ll get to pick our side and watch it all unfold in 2018. After scanning a few industry lists that I trust, I find my ranking of Burrows somewhere in the middle. I find myself skeptical of Burrows’ ability to consistently fool batters as the level of competition improves, yet I can’t belittle Burrows’ success from last season. With Burrows likely returning to AA to begin the 2018 season, we’ll get a quick idea (even at the tender age of 21) as to whether Burrows is here to stay, or if his dominance of High-A hitters last season was, in retrospect, a fluke.

113. Anderson Espinoza, SP, SD, Age: 20

So, the floor is certainly lower here than it was this time last year, but the Pedro Martinez comparisons didn’t simply disappear because Espinoza (who won’t turn 20 until next month) had Tommy John surgery at the end of last season. Espinoza didn’t throw a competitive pitch last season, and he’ll miss the entirety of this season as well. There’s a lot of risk associated with a pitcher who misses two whole seasons due to injury, thus the cautious ranking here. If you play in a dynasty league, you should be doing everything you can to buy-low on Espinoza with the admission that he’s a long-term hold. The Venezuelan still has plenty of time to right the ship.

112. Dane Dunning, SP, CHW, Age: 23

I don’t get why Dunning isn’t receiving more hype. I understand that Alec Hansen is very good and has a chance to be a star, but that doesn’t mean Dunning should simply be an afterthought. When you consider that the Nationals have traded both Dunning and Jesus Luzardo (who you’ll read about later), considering their current 5th SP situation, you might get sick to your stomach. Dunning has the build to be a future innings eater in the big leagues, not to mention he struck out well more than a batter per inning last season between Low A and High A. The ERA and xFIP was almost equally impressive. The White Sox will soon be really, really good. Dunning should eventually be a fixture in one of the best rotations in baseball, even if he’s a high-end #4 SP.

111. Yu-Cheng Chang, SS, CLE, Age: 22

Yes, I see the 2017 batting average and on base percentage. Yeah, I see the strikeout rate too. Do you see the 24 home runs and 11 stolen bases though? At shortstop? Those don’t grow on trees. Even if Chang’s MLB potential is a HR-only middle infielder, I’m willing to bet that the career low .254 BABIP from last season positively regresses in 2018. I really think Chang is capable of a .330 OBP, 20 HR, 10 SB line at his peak.

110. Chris Rodriguez, SP, LAA, Age: 20

A former 4th round, 20th pick (eyeball emoji), Rodriguez’s ranking has been skewed in many lists due to the variance between his ERA and FIP. If ERA didn’t exist, Rodriguez would likely be an across-the-board top 100 prospect who will pitch most of the 2018 regular season as a 19 year old. Rodriguez’s highest placement so far has been Low-A, but the advanced peripherals are very promising despite an unsustainable BABIP. Rodriguez has hovered around striking out a batter per inning (despite being nearly four years younger than his average competition) with a low BB%. Rodriguez is also well ahead of his time in keeping the ball in the yard. The Angels system has experienced a meteoric rise over the last calendar year… don’t forget to include Rodriguez when you discuss the best names that the organization has to offer in the prospect world.

109. Mitchell White, SP, LAD, Age: 23

If you’re looking for a guy outside of my top 100 who might make the most unexpected MLB impact during the 2018 regular season, it might be White. I know the Dodgers rotation may seem packed and it may seem unlikely, but my goodness. White’s performance during his first full season of professional ball is undeniable. 2.93 ERA, 88 strikeouts in 73.2 innings pitched. Now hear me out: What if White takes the same career path as fellow Dodgers prospect Walker Buehler? White pitches well throughout the 2018 regular season, then gets promoted to Los Angeles to perform out of the bullpen in the latter stages of the regular season. Then, in 2019, White begins the season in the bullpen (to lightly restrict innings) before getting fully unleashed down the stretch. We’d all take that, right? That’s not as wild of a thought as you might think. White may have more bullpen potential than Buehler (and Buehler has a decent amount of bullpen potential), but the talent and raw stuff is simply nasty. Let’s not forget that he plays for an organization that’s known for developing home-grown arms.

108. Touki Toussaint, SP, ATL, Age: 22

I love. Touki. Toussaint. I love him. I think I’d give my right arm to see him become a big-time major league starting pitcher. I think Toussaint has some of the best pure stuff in the minor leagues, and the variance between his ERA and FIP last season allow him to be just underrated enough heading into 2018 to make him a breakout candidate. Toussaint made moderate improvements with his control last season, and I think he’ll further improve in that category this season. My biggest worry is the other arms in the Braves’ system. Toussaint relies heavily on an elite fastball and curveball, but the changeup is still developing (though scouts think it could be a major league average pitch someday). With an arsenal that’s still fully developing being paired with sketchy control at times, Toussaint could eventually become a high-leverage bullpen arm for a Braves team that will be rising to prominence just as Toussaint becomes ready to play a role in Atlanta. I’ll buy his shirsey regardless, but I hope he finds a way to remain a starting pitcher (I think he’s got a decent shot, thanks in no small part to his plus athleticism). If he does, he has one of the highest ceilings of any pitching prospect in baseball.

107. Jorge Alfaro, C, PHI, Age: 25

Patience is a virtue. Unless it isn’t. I feel like Alfaro has been a fixture on fantasy lists for nearly a decade. We thought 2016 would be Alfaro’s breakthrough season. Then we thought 2017 would be Alfaro’s breakthrough season. Neither happened. So where does that leave us heading into the 2018 season? Well, as of the middle of February, it seems like Alfaro is the favorite to be the Phillies’ everyday catcher behind the plate this season. There’s our window of hope. If Alfaro secures the job, the next step would be displaying the plus-plus power that has eluded the catcher recently (12 HRs last season, 15 HRs in 2016). I’m far from a fan of the low OBP and the high K%, but the catcher position is such a black hole that any sort of lottery ticket is worth acquiring at Alfaro’s low price. My fingers are crossed that Alfaro breaks through completely once he’s finally given an everyday shot at the big league level.

106. Riley Pint, SP, COL, Age: 20

I haven’t cared about a pitcher’s win/loss record in years, but I couldn’t help but laugh at Pint’s 3-16 record last season. Yikes. We all had (at minimum) slight reluctance ranking Pint last season due to him being a ‘Rockies pitcher’, but my goodness. The BB%. The ERA. The FIP. The ungaudy strikeout numbers. It was truly a freshman professional performance to forget for “maximum amount of ice cream I have ever consumed in one sitting.” Just as concerning as the numbers is the fact that multiple scouts noted that Pint’s 70 grade fastball played flatter than it should, which is obviously a no-no at any professional level. Regardless of anything that happened last season, Pint will pitch the entirety of the 2018 season as a 20 year old, and I’m willing to give him one more shot before genuinely evaluating my long-term stance on the pitcher labeled as the future ace of the Colorado Rockies. Here’s to hoping my ‘narrowly outside of the top 100’ ranking for Pint this preseason doesn’t feel irrationally aggressive this time next season.

105. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, PIT, Age: 21

The difference in Hayes’ 2016 and 2017 statistics are staggering. The third baseman seemed to be headed in the right direction in 2016 when he decreased his GB% and increased his FB%, but that trend reversed itself last season. Hayes’ homerun output decreased from 6 to 2 (lol) despite an increase of more than 100 PA last season, but the stolen bases dramatically increased from 6 to 27. The OBP also increased mightily from .323 in 2016 to .345 last season. All over the place. If I believed more in Hayes’ power potential, he would have been a very intriguing candidate to be a potential superstar prospect. As it stands, like fellow farmhand Cole Tucker, I’m hoping Hayes displays enough power to confidently acquire him in the near future.

104. Brett Phillips, OF, MIL, Age: 24

Despite the ranking, I’ll readily admit that it’s hard to have much confidence in Phillips 2018 season or near-future outlook. It’s certainly not all his fault, I mean, the Brewers acquired two All-Star caliber outfielders who will roam the green grass of Miller Park for the foreseeable future. So where does that leave Phillips. Hopefully? It leaves him eventually traded. Phillips’ 2017 numbers are typical Phillips numbers: Above average power, above average OBP, well above average number of strikeouts. If your team can absorb the strikeouts without skipping much of a beat, Phillips (thanks to his across-the-board contributions) can hold some major value. However, as I’ve already stated, he might need a trade in order to be a consistent big league contributor beginning this season. If you’re willing to bet on that, you were already willing to take on the strikeout frequency. My eyes and ears will be open on Phillips this season.

103. Pavin Smith, 1B, ARZ, Age: 22

A first baseman who hits .300, strikes out very little, and has untapped power potential? Yes please! Look, Smith walked more than he struck out in a 223 PA sample in Short Season A after being drafted last summer. There’s no such thing as a safe prospect, and that certainly holds true at a low-floor, high-ceiling position like first base. However, Smith’s floor might keep you comfortable at 1B for a decade. Think Eric Hosmer (ugh) with potentially more power (!!!!!!!!!). Don’t worry about the fact that Paul Goldschmidt is only 30 years old. Grab Smith whenever and wherever you can and #TrustTheProcess.

102. J.B. Bukauskas, SP, HOU, Age: 21

One of the more underrated arms of the 2017 MLB Draft, Bukauskas is an intriguing right hander who has a chance to rise quickly through one of the best developmental organizations in baseball. Bukauskas was a strikeout machine at the University of North Carolina, and, despite an unimposing build, projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter whose name you’ll misspell a countless amount of times throughout his professional career. It’ll be hard for any prospect to repeat the 2017 success of Astros farmhand Forrest Whitley, but Bukauskas is certainly a prime candidate to make the next big jump for the Astros in the world of both prospect lists and big league projection

101. Stephen Gonsalves, SP, MIN, Age: 24

I understand your lack of giddiness with Gonsalves. He’s not ridiculously young, he doesn’t have jaw-dropping strikeout numbers, and he doesn’t play for an exhilarating organization. I get it. But pitching is the most volatile position in the prospect world, a high floors will leave your heart unbroken much more often than high ceilings. I think Gonsalves is a solid #3 SP who will flash more at times; he’ll also strike out nearly a batter per inning at the MLB level. Sometimes, “you could do a WHOLE lot worse” makes more sense than “yeah, but this guy has an outside shot at being a superstar.” Gonsalves is the solid, consistent starting pitcher who will play an unsung role in winning your fantasy team a league championship someday.

On deck: Prospects #81-100…..

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Featured image courtesy of Baseball America

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