Ray Butler’s 2018 Top 200 MLB Prospects: #61-80

Written by: Ray Butler

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My #61-80 prospects consist of some of my favorite prospects heading into the 2018 season. I count a handful of guys who could be top 25 prospects this time next season…..

80. Tyler Mahle, SP, CIN, Age: 23

If you only look at the ERA in Mahle’s first 20 IP in the big leagues at the end of last season, you would think that the right-hander kicked down the door with a vengeance during his first stint in the MLB. The peripherals aren’t nearly as kind, but there have certainly been far-worse first go-arounds under the bright lights. Mahle finds himself in the midst of a competition to secure the final spot in the Reds’ big league starting rotation heading into the regular season. There are seemingly a handful of competitors vying to fill the spot, and since Mahle has the least amount of service time compared to his opposition, it’s easy to conjure up the thought that he’ll likely begin the regular season in AAA. Some folks seem to think the Reds will be the surprise team in the MLB this season (I certainly don’t), but if that theory materializes, Mahle will almost certainly play a big league role at some point during the season. Don’t fret if you have stock in Mahle and he doesn’t break camp with Cincinnati; I think he’s a solid #3 SP with a lovable floor regardless of when he finally finds his footing in the big leagues.

79. Kyle Lewis, OF, SEA, Age: 23

I strongly considered bumping Lewis down in my list due to the latest news of him undergoing arthroscopic knee injury (the latest of several issues he’s faced with his right knee), but I decided to hold steady here. This time last season, I thought Lewis and Corey Ray would ascend through prospect lists both A) together, and B) quickly. Ray barely made my #Top200 list at all, and while Lewis made my list comfortably, his future is almost equally cloudy. Lewis has barely surpassed 300 professional PA, yet he’s already received the dreaded ‘injury-prone’ label. The knee issues are truly troubling, but the Mariners are hoping (following the scope) that Lewis’s discomfort is officially in the past. If the issues are behind him, Lewis could convincingly re-establish himself as a top prospect during the 2018 regular season. If there’s another recurrence sometime this season, my ranking of Lewis will seem overly aggressive and perhaps even ignorant. I’m near the end of my rope with Lewis, but I’m giving him one more shot and reevaluating at the midseason point before beginning to wave my white flag.

78. Fernando Romero, SP, MIN, Age: 23

I’ve said it a countless amount of times already, but allow me to say it again here: Fernando Romero continues to fly under the radar amongst top pitching prospects in the game. I know it’s hard to get overly excited about a 23 year old who’s never pitched above AA, but Romero has never had a full-season of professional baseball in which he has totaled an ERA over 3.53. Romero’s professional path was decelerated slightly thanks to undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014, but the right-hander seems destined to make his MLB debut well before 2020. Look, the Twins are going to be a lot better than most people give them credit for, and as the rotation stands right now, Romero has an excellent chance to take his place in the major leagues sometime during the 2018 regular season. The walk-rate was oddly high last season, but the BABIP suggests that Romero was unlucky on balls hit in play. He may not possess the ceiling of a superstar, but Romero should eventually be a starting pitcher you can plug into your rotation without much continual stress.

77. Jesse Winker, OF, CIN, Age: 24

I know that now is a really weird time to attempt board the Jesse Winker hype train, but I think I’m finally coming around on appreciating the value he brings to the table. If you demand that your fantasy outfielders hit 30 HRs, Winker is certainly not the player for you. Heck, if you demand your fantasy outfielders hit 20 HRs, Winker might not be the player for you. But if you demand your fantasy outfielders carry a super-high floor and don’t kill you in any statistical category, than you should be all about Jesse Winker. He’s never going to be a superstar. Your fantasy team is never going to hang it’s hat on Jesse Winker. But the outfielder has finally found a path to relatively-regular MLB playing time, and your team’s non-HR offensive categories will flourish with Winker playing a role on your team. Fifteen homeruns could be the ceiling for Winker, but he’s still a valuable asset even if he’s a better real-life player than fantasy puzzle piece.

76. Tyler O’Neill, OF, STL, Age: 23

Remember those pictures of NFL safety LaRon Landry sculpted like a Greek god as he holds some sort of supplement? Tyler O’Neill is basically the baseball equivalent of that. If you haven’t seen him already, I genuinely recommend you Google “Tyler O’Neill Spring Training 2018” and have a look-see. Dude could probably flick his fingers and destroy half of us. Anywho. On the field, O’Neill finds himself in the midst of a position battle with Harrison Bader, who also made my top 200 prospect list. I’d make a prediction on the eventual winner, but trying to read Mike Matheny’s mind is like trying to guess whether or not McDonald’s ice cream machine is currently working. O’Neill’s potential ceiling projects as a slightly weaker Khris Davis. Something along the lines of 30-35 HRs with a .310-.320 OBP and a 27% K% sounds about right. That’s not every fantasy player’s cup of tea, but if it’s yours, as soon as O’Neill secures an everyday job, he’ll hold consistent value for you.

75. Adonis Medina, SP, PHI, Age: 21

The. Phillies. Have. The. Most. Underrated. Farm. System. In. Baseball. As a 20 year old, Medina ‘SON’D’ Low-A hitters during his 119.2 IP last season. Medina finished with a 3.01 ERA (there’s not a noticeable disparity between the ERA and FIP or xFIP) and 10.0 K/9 in his first full season of professional baseball. The BB% was fine, too. While Medina has officially emerged as a top 100 prospect (in most lists, anyways), I consider him more of a high-floor prospect than a high-ceiling guy. In my eyes, that simply means that Medina may never be a high-end #2 SP, but I do think there’s a relatively decent probability he becomes a solid #3 SP at the major league level. If you feel as though I should annunciate further, I currently consider Marcus Stroman, Gerrit Cole, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Berrios ‘solid #3 SPs’ at the major league level. Of course, now’s a perfect time to remind you that prospect development is rarely linear; any projection I give you could eventually (or quickly) bite me in the rear-end. As of now, Medina is one more solid full season away from solidifying his place amongst the top pitching prospects in the sport, and I suggest you invest stock in the Phillies (in general) as soon as you possibly can.

74. Jay Groome, SP, BOS, Age: 19

Blessed with one of the best curveballs in the minor leagues and a frame destined for the spotlight of Boston, Groome spent the majority of his first professional system sidelined with various injuries. The southpaw totaled only 55.1 IP last season, and outside of the K/9, the statistics weren’t too attractive whatsoever. Luckily, a 19 year old not posting jaw-dropping numbers in his first season of professional baseball isn’t jaw-dropping news to me. Groome has three potential-plus pitches as well as command that could develop into an elite tool. If he’s healthy, Groome should pitch close to 100 innings during the 2018 season. If you’re a relatively know Jay Groome owner, I encourage you to not be moved by the inevitable scolding hot-takes you’ll read following each and every Jay Groome outing during this regular season. I swear, the Red Sox’ fanbase and local media are capable of making even the most distant follower question their sanity.

73. Yadier Alvarez, SP, LAD, Age: 22

Admit it: You’ve completely mistaken Yadier Alvarez for Yordan Alvarez (and vice versa) at least once throughout your immense prospect research. It’s okay, we’ve all been there. I know Alvarez’s 2017 stats by heart. If you think I’m about to bail on a pitcher who potentially has FOUR above-average pitches after one unspectacular season, you’re out of your freakin’ mind. With the ERA out the window, the FIP comparison of Alvarez’s stints in High-A and AA last season are nearly identical. The BB/9 are unacceptable, but you probably feel better about the overall body of work when you consider that perhaps the most raw pitcher in full-season ball struck out north of a batter per inning last season as a 21 year old. Alvarez still has a loooooonnnnggggg way to go. It may be 2020 before we even think about seeing him in a Dodgers uniform during the regular season (though I think there’s a decent chance we see him at the end of the 2019 regular season). But within perhaps the best developmental organization in the MLB, I tend to believe that Alvarez will eventually (at minimum) approach his ridiculous potential. What’s his potential, you ask? I hesitate to give anyone a SP #1 label, so I’ll say Alvarez’s ceiling mimics that of a high-end #2 SP. Just know that the rock bottom floor is Alvarez never officially arriving as a major league starting pitcher.

72. Franklin Barreto, IF, OAK, Age: 21

Remember when I said I hoped Chance Sisco was ineligible for my 2018 midseason top 100 list? The same holds true for Barreto. I feel like I’ve been seeing him on lists forever, yet he’s somehow only 21. Barreto has 20 HR/20 SB potential, but the ceiling could potentially be limited by his refusal to take walks consistently. This was evidenced at the end of last season (in a small 76 PA sample) when Barreto slashed .197/.250/.352 with the Athletics despite posting a BB% higher than the number he posted in AAA throughout most of the regular season (he also had a 43.4% K% during that sample, lol). I tend to think the Athletics are on their way to being much better than they’ve been lately, and I think Barreto has a chance to be a relatively large part of their future success. However, I do question how valuable a 15/15 (or even 18/18 or 20/20) middle infielder really is if he doesn’t have the AVG or OBP to boot.

71. Kolby Allard, SP, ATL, Age: 20

I had the chance to see Allard pitch this summer for the AA Mississippi Braves. I talked about this with Max Fried and I’ll also talk about this with Mike Soroka. Why? Because nothing helps shape an evaluation of a prospect like seeing him in prospect. Plus, it’s a total #humblebrag that I got to see FOUR top 100 prospects over the course of a week (Fried, Soroka, Allard, and Ronald Acuna). I think Allard will be an above average MLB pitcher, but I find myself lower on the southpaw than most folks in the industry. I think the 6’1 190 lb. label he’s been given is quite generous (especially from a height standpoint), so I worry a bit about his future projection (yes, even though he’s only 20). I hope I’m wrong, because I could watch his curveball on an endless loop until the end of time. The Braves pitching prospects are so good that Allard excelled in AA as a 19 year old last season AND HE’S NOT EVEN THE TOP BRAVES PITCHING PROSPECT IN THIS GROUP OF 20 PROSPECTS. INSANITY!

70. Chance Adams, SP, NYY, Age: 23

I can’t confirm this one, but like the aforementioned Allard, I feel as though I’m lower on Adams than most industry lists. Why? Because I think there’s at least a 50% chance that Adams’ future is in the bullpen. From a fantasy standpoint, I hope I’m wrong. From a real-life baseball standpoint, I visualize Adams being the future prelude to the nastiness that is Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman and I get moderately giddy. Outside of his above average fastball-slider combination, I worry about the remainder of Adams’ arsenal. The repertoire, combined with the steady, slight statistical output decline as Adams has progressed through the Yankees system, leads me to believe that New York could bring him along similarly to how the Brewers promoted Josh Hader last season. Long term, I think Adams becomes a multi-inning relief mastermind that bridges the Yankees from the starter to the 8th inning. Like any prospect on my #Top200 list that I’m not necessarily sky-high on, for your fantasy team’s purposes, I hope I’m wrong.

69. Cristian Pache, OF, ATL, Age: 19

If defensive stats were included in fantasy baseball, Pache would easily be a top 20 fantasy prospect across the board. Even if he never amounts to much as a hitter, the Braves could have a future Gold Glove center fielder lurking in their farm system. For Pache, it’ll be all about the offensive development. The centerfielder played the entirety of the 2017 season as an eighteen year old in Low-A, triple slashing .281/.335/.343 with 32 stolen bases and a modest 20.2% K%. Not too shabby, right? Unless you’ve already noticed the lack of disparity in his OBP and SLG. Pache hit a grand total of 0 (ZERO!) home runs last season in 514 at-bats. Yes, he was 3.5 years younger than the average age of competition in Low-A, but the lack of power is our conundrum nonetheless. Some scouts believe that Pache’s power simply hasn’t developed yet, and with a 6’2 185 lb. frame, the homeruns will come in due time (these scouts and analysts will also note the decrease in GB% and increase in FB% last season). Others believe Pache will be forced to accrue value without being much of a homerun threat. It’s a big if (heck, Pache has 750 professional plate appearances and 0 career HRs), but if Pache can simply develop enough power to threaten double digit homeruns perennially, the on base ability and stolen bases will likely make Pache a top 20 big-league outfielder. If Pache can eventually tap-out the homerun potential that his athletic frame suggests he possesses, the centerfielder will be the 2020’s version of Starling Marte. Regardless, I’m acquiring stock in Pache whenever I can and think he has an outside shot of officially breaking through in 2018. His ranking is currently capped a little simply because of the lack of power we’ve seen so far, but Pache is one of my favorite prospects heading into the 2018 regular season.

68. Joey Wentz, SP, ATL, Age: 20

If your life was on the line and you had to correctly rank the arms in the Braves farm system, would you just give up? A 2016 first round pick, Wentz carved up Low-A hitters last season to the tune of a 2.60 ERA with 152 strikeouts in 131.2 innings pitched. And so it goes for the development of Braves pitchers. Wentz allowed 3.1 BB/9, but he also only surrendered four homeruns throughout the entirety of the regular season. I honestly don’t know what Atlanta will do with all their arms, but they certainly have the firepower to pull off a blockbuster of a trade before it’s all said and done. At 6’5 210 lbs., Wentz has three above average pitches and continually-developing command that lot of scouts view as a plus-tool in the future. I think there’s a chance that the Braves challenge Wentz with a placement in AA to begin the 2018 season, but the southpaw has a top-of-the-rotation ceiling regardless of how accelerated his journey through the minor leagues is.

67. Jesus Luzardo, SP, OAK, Age: 20

As good of a closer as I think Sean Doolittle is, I think the Athletics got the much better side of the deal that was made between the Nationals and A’s last July. And yeah, I think Blake Treinen will be a great closer in Oakland and Sheldon Neuse might someday be an average MLB player. But that’s not why. I think the aforementioned trade could eventually be known as the ‘Jesus Luzardo Trade’. Now more than two seasons removed from Tommy John surgery, Luzardo seems primed and ready to take his place amongst best pitchers in the minor leagues this season. Luzardo only threw 43.1 IP last season between Rookie Ball and Short Season A, but he compiled a miniscule 1.66 ERA and struck out 48. Regardless of sample size, those are eye-opening numbers. This season, Luzardo should near 100 IP and will get to test his skills in full season ball. He could be a top 25 prospect by Spring Training next season.

66. Yordan Alvarez, 1B/OF, HOU, Age: 21

We knew the hilariously high .449 BABIP Alvarez posted in 139 plate appearances in Low-A last season wouldn’t stick after a promotion to High-A, and I looked on with watchful eyes to see what the stat-line would look like after things normalized for the young first baseman/outfielder. The regulated numbers were much less impressive. Alvarez slashed .277/.329/.393 with only 3 HRs and a 7.5% BB% in 252 High-A plate appearances. After the dust settled, I still found (and continue to find) myself high on Alvarez; I won’t lie, a lot of it is based on the power projection. Excuse the cliché, but Alvarez is still ‘growing into his body’. At 6’5 225 pounds, the sky is seemingly the limit in the realm of homeruns, as long as Alvarez maintains a swing capable of allowing him to reach his potential. I tend to think Alvarez projects as a future first baseman for the Astros, but I’m not ready to count him out as an outfielder quite yet. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that Alvarez hits 20 or more homeruns in 2018 and finishes the season knocking on the door of a big league debut. If he repeats or nearly-repeats the 12 HR output he produced last season, prepare yourself to see a lot of “Yordan Alvarez is the next Ronald Guzman” takes this time next preseason.

65. Austin Riley, 3B, ATL, Age: 21

As a Mississippi State student at the time, I remember being absolutely livid when Riley decided to forego his commitment to MSU and instead turn pro and sign with the Atlanta Braves after being drafted in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft. Turns out, Riley probably made a wise choice. When I think about the Braves during the next decade, my main concern is that Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna won’t have enough star-power support for the Braves to be elite offensively. Yes, I know Atlanta’s middle infield will consist of Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies. I think that duo will spend most of the next decade being above-average offensively, but not elite. Riley has the chance to be the Braves third elite bat in the near future. The hot-corner 21 year old finished the 2017 season with 20 HRs and a .339 OBP in stops at High-A and AA. I feel strongly that the best is yet to come for Riley. While a late season cup of coffee may be Riley’s best shot of making his MLB debut in 2018, the Mississippi native could be the Braves’ everyday third baseman as early as Opening Day in 2019. At his current developmental rate, I think Riley could progress into an annual 25 HR hitter whose OBP hovers close to .350. He may never a fantasy superstar, but his performance will mandate being owned regardless of fantasy format.

64. Jahmai Jones, 2B/OF, LAA, Age: 20

There are distant whispers around the Angels organization and beat writers that Jones may transition from the outfield to second base (at least to an extent), and the move would indisputably make Jones one of the hottest names in the prospect-game in the blink of an eye. The Angels have Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun, and Justin Upton manning the outfield for the foreseeable future, and second base might be their weakest position of current organizational depth. If Jones officially makes the transition, he could be MLB ready by sometime next season. Jones is a plus athlete who still has some untapped power potential remaining. The right hander slashed .282/.348/.446 last season with 14 HRs and 27 SBs. He also didn’t strike out much, finishing with an impressive 18.3% K%. From a projection standpoint, I think there’s an above average chance Jones flirts with 20 HR/20 SB seasons with a nice OBP and K% in the major leagues. Those numbers retain value regardless of defensive position, but Jones would easily be near the top of the second base position from a fantasy standpoint if the rumored move actually occurs. Keep your eyes and ears open throughout Spring Training to get a better sense of the Angels’ plans for Jones.

63. Jhailyn Ortiz, OF, PHI, Age: 19

Perhaps the runner up for my ‘2018 Breakout Prospect’, Ortiz seems ready to officially bust onto the baseball scene this season. Signed as a 16 year old in 2015, Ortiz has taken baby steps the past two seasons (Rookie League in 2016, Short Season A last season) to prepare himself for full season ball, which he will seemingly begin playing this season. Based on raw ability only, Ortiz’s power may only be mirrored by that of White Sox super-prospect Eloy Jimenez. In the entire minor leagues. There are legitimately people inside of the Phillies organization who believe Ortiz will eventually be the best prospect the Phillies have developed in the last decade. If you’re looking for a question mark, I know I’m certainly interested to see his contact rate this season in full season ball. Even if the 19-year-old outfielder only develops a league-average hit tool, it would be more than enough to allow his massive power potential to manifest itself. For now, Ortiz is a complete lottery ticket who could be ranked anywhere from 10th to completely off this list a calendar year from now. I’m willing to bet Ortiz becomes a very well-known prospect soon, so you might want to jump on the bandwagon before it leaves the station.

62. Jorge Mateo, UTIL, OAK, Age: 23

I drafted Mateo prior to the 2016 season thinking I had captured lightning in a bottle, mainly because I watched his swing and surmised that he was capable of someday hitting double-digit homeruns to go along with his 40+ stolen bases on a yearly basis. What I didn’t take into account was Mateo’s modest hit-tool (and I’ve long moved on from the utility player). I think being traded from the spotlight of the Yankees organization to the Athletics was one of the best moves possible for Mateo, and I actually think his stock is headed in the right direction. Mateo’s potential reminds me of a more-powerful Billy Hamilton who plays in the middle infield. The on base percentage will never be great, and Mateo will likely strike out quite a bit more than Hamilton. However, there will always be room for a 10 HR, 40 SB (with room to grow in both categories) middle infielder on your fantasy roster.

61. Ryan McMahon, IF, COL, Age: 23

A potential 20 HR/.350 OBP hitter with a low K% whose basically been awarded a starting spot amongst one of the best lineups in the big leagues? Yes, please. It’s been a winding road for McMahon, but he finally seems to be on the cusp of becoming a household name in Denver. The Rockies are on record saying that Ian Desmond will get most of his reps in the outfield, and the team is reportedly not interested in resigning free agent first baseman Mark Reynolds. The effect? Via the process of elimination, McMahon will likely be the Rockies Opening Day first baseman. Even better, McMahon could hypothetically spell Nolan Arenado and D.J. LeMahieu just enough to retain 2B and 3B eligibility. Regardless, McMahon will almost certainly hold value in standard league fantasy formats beginning this season.

On deck: My #41-60 prospects……

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Featured image courtesy of The Athletic

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