Ray Butler’s 2018 Top 200 MLB Prospects: #21-40

Written by: Ray Butler

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Today’s #hype, tomorrow’s all stars. I could see at least five of these guys being top 15 prospects this time next season….

40. Brendan McKay, SP, TB, Age: 22

I’m a little worried that McKay is ranked a little too high thanks to the pipedream that he remains a two-way player throughout his professional career, but the talent (namely as a pitcher, where I think he ends up) is unquestionable. McKay will make headlines as Shohei Ohtani Lite, but he should be on your radar as a potentially-overpowering southpaw. The Rays swear they aren’t tanking, and McKay was amongst the most advanced pitchers drafted last summer. They likely won’t be motivated to bring McKay along quickly (unless they miraculously content in the AL East. Not happening), and they’re known for promoting pitching prospects notoriously slow anyways. But if there’s any pitcher in their first full professional season who’s capable of taking an expedited path throughout Tampa’s system, it’s McKay. The prospect of owning a two-way player is fun and all, but draft McKay with the mindset that he’ll eventually become one of the best pitchers on your squad.

39. Alec Hansen, SP, CHW, Age: 23

My thoughts on Hansen prior to last season, when I ranked him as the 172nd best prospect in baseball:

“Hansen stands 6’7 and got his professional career started on the right foot after being taken in the second round by the White Sox during the 2016 draft. The White Sox promote pitching prospects like no other, so Hansen has a shot of advancing through the system quickly if he gets off to a solid start in 2017.”

Sorry, that’s just me tooting my own horn. Hansen pitched in three levels last season, dominating in stops at Low-A and High-A before cruising through his first 10.1 IP of AA ball. Hansen would easily be the top White Sox pitching prospect if Michael Kopech didn’t exist; even though Hansen doesn’t possess a triple-digit fastball and the Tommy Hilfiger-model looks of Kopech, their ceilings aren’t crazily-dissimilar (and Hansen certainly has a higher floor). The White Sox are at least a season away from being a playoff factor, so I certainly expect Hansen to spend most (if not all) of the 2018 season in AA and AAA. A late season cup of coffee could set the stage for Hansen’s first full season in the big leagues in 2019.

38. Michel Baez, SP, SD, Age: 22

Alec Hansen stands at an impressive 6’7, but he’s not even the tallest pitching prospect in the first two pitching prospects ranked in this post. Baez has only thrown 63.2 innings of professional ball, and he’s not young for his minor league level (which will likely be High-A to begin the 2018 season), but geez. If you’re looking for absurdity, check out what Baez did against batters in Rookie Ball and Low-A last season. It’s actually hard to find something to temper just how fantastic the right-hander was (if I’m nitpicking, Baez struggled to an extent with home runs, and he’s unlikely to maintain the super-low BABIP allowed this season). Ranking him so favorably is certainly risky, but he could easily outperform even the most bullish of expectations in his first full professional season. The bottom line is that Baez has been stateside for less than two years, he has THREE plus pitches (fastball, changeup, slider), and he’s still learning the game. That’s a recipe for developing a potential superstar, even if we have to keep the volatility of pitching prospects in the back of our mind.

37. Austin Meadows, OF, PIT, Age: 23

I really hope you didn’t give up on Austin Meadows. Last season was a disaster. He didn’t flash the elite hit tool as often as he should have. He didn’t flash the plus power tool much at all. He didn’t even flash the stolen base ability as much as we thought he would. I made the mistake of underranking J.P. Crawford after he underachieved during the first half of last season, but I won’t allow recency bias to cloud the massive potential that Meadows possesses. It likely won’t have an immediate impact on his ETA, but Andrew McCutchen being traded to the Giants was a positive (albeit indirect) step in Meadows’ path. I think he’ll start the regular season in AAA Indianapolis. He obviously (more so than any other prospect in my top 40) needs to show that he won’t spend a large chunk of each season on the disabled list, but he could make his major league debut sometime this regular season. You have a fantastic opportunity to jump on Meadows’ mini #PostHype appeal. You should take advantage while you still have the chance.

36. Willy Adames, SS, TB, Age: 22

Adames probably doesn’t have the ceiling that most of my #21-40 prospects have, but the floor is that of a usable middle infielder for the next decade. Actually, Adames easily has one of the safest floors of any prospect in the entire minor leagues. At his core, while there’s not one category he hangs his hat on, Adames has 15 HR/15 SB potential (with flashes of more). At his best, Adames will be one of the best shortstops in baseball from an OBP standpoint (he’ll always be more valuable in OBP leagues than AVG thanks to an attractive BB%). The Rays (for whatever reason) re-upped their love fest with Adeiny Hechavarria this offseason, and that muddles Adames path more than it should. He’ll almost certainly make his MLB debut at some point this regular season, and he should hold at least some value (even in relatively shallow leagues) from the onset.

35. Luis Urias, SS, SD, Age: 21

Ah, yes. We’ve arrived at the most underratedly polarizing prospect in baseball. Scouts see a major league-average middle infielder who will be good at a lot but great at nothing. Lovers of analytics see a player with phenomenal on-base ability and developing power who plays a premium position regardless of whether it’s at shortstop or second base. I have two main questions when it comes to Urias: 1) Is he capable of hitting double digit homeruns at the big league level? 2) Is he capable of stealing double digit bases at the big league level? My gut tells me that Urias will hit somewhere between 12-15 HRs at his peak, but he’ll only muster 5-8 swiped bags during that time period. The truth is, if you’re in love with Urias, it wasn’t for the power or steals anyways, but for the elite AVG and OBP. It’s also tasty to remember that Urias will likely bat at or near the top of the Padres order when their immense minor league talent reaches the major leagues in totality, so he’ll likely surpass 100 runs scored on an annual basis throughout much of his major league career (I’m all-in on the thought of some combination of Manny Margot, Urias, and Fernando Tatis Jr. batting back-to-back-to-back for San Diego in the relatively near future). It’s going to be weird to live in a world in which the Padres are really good, but it certainly seems like Urias will be one of the best players on a team that should compete with the Dodgers for the NL West within the next five seasons.

34. Jack Flaherty, STL, SP, Age: 22

Even though Flaherty is amongst the top 40 prospects in all of baseball by most sites and evaluators, is still seems like he’s flying under the radar—even amongst young Cardinals pitchers. Flaherty fits the classic profile of a stud pitching prospect who is major league ready but will be relegated to the minor leagues at the start of the regular season. Truth be told, the Cardinals would almost certainly be better off with Flaherty instead of Miles Mikolas (as a Cardinals fan, I’m still flabbergasted about that deal. It’s hard to conjure up a scenario in which St. Louis isn’t doomed over the course of the next decade). Instead, the Cardinals will likely give Mikolas wayyy too many opportunities to succeed while Flaherty wastes bullets in the minor leagues. Heck, Flaherty may not even be the immediate backup plan if the Cardinals lose a starting pitcher to injury (welcome back, Alex Reyes), so while it’s far from impossible, it’s probably best to temper your expectations of Flaherty being a staple in your fantasy rotation at any point this season. There may not be a superstar ceiling associated with Flaherty when you evaluate his tools (although he’s widely considered to possess one of the best sliders in baseball) or track record, but he should pitch as a #3 SP throughout the prime of his career. Imagine a quartet of Carlos Martinez, Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty. I just got chills. Even during his worst stretches, Flaherty’s above-average command and deep repertoire of pitches make a potential move to the bullpen fairly unlikely, which is a notion that is worth its weight in gold by itself.

33. Estevan Florial, OF, NYY, Age: 20

While the future MLB value of most top 40 prospects is labeled with a “when” instead of an “if”, Florial is more of a wild card within this elite group. Since he plays in the system of the most popular team in baseball, Florial’s profile is well-known. 13 HRs, 23 SBs, .372 OBP, all as a 19 year old in Low-A and High-A. Of course, the 31.1% K% is almost equally noticeable. Florial was completely omitted from some big-time industry lists due to his contact issues last season. I choose to believe that, like most 19 year old prospects playing against competition who (on average) is almost three years older, that Florial is still a work-in-progress whose pot of gold at the end of the rainbow just so happens to be superstardom. Those ideas are not mutually exclusive. A sustained K% would certainly limit Florial’s long-term potential, but a small improvement from 31% to something like 27% would open the optimal avenues of potential for the young outfielder (especially if he can maintain the double digit BB%). Some have thrown out a 30 HR/30 SB ceiling for Florial. I’ll be more conservative and project a 25 HR/25 SB ceiling with the acknowledgement that Florial could someday be the #1 overall prospect.

32. Juan Soto, WAS, OF, Age: 19

If you’ve been on-board with us at Prospects 365 for long, you know all about my love for Ronald Acuna long before he became a household name in the prospect world. What you might not know is that Soto was actually ‘runner up’ for my breakout prospect of last season. It looked like he was well on his way to putting up dynamite numbers, but injuries limited the teenager to only 123 total PA between Low-A and Rookie Ball. In those plate appearances, Soto largely overmatched his opposition. The corner outfielder batted .351/.415/.505 with 3 HRs and a hilariously-good 7.3% K%. The most deceiving part of those numbers? The lack of home runs. Soto is a physical specimen with potential to hit 25 HRs annually without sacrificing on-base ability (just don’t expect the silly triple slash numbers he posted against lesser competition last season). Soto needs to prove his durability over the course of an entire regular season, but if he can maintain his statistical pace (or anywhere near it) while remaining healthy, we’re probably talking about a top 10 or 15 prospect before it’s all said and done. I don’t blame the Nationals for not wanting to move Soto for non-premium major league assets.

31. Kyle Wright, SP, ATL, Age: 22

Just when it seemed as though the Braves had stockpiled all the high-quality arms they would ever need when their window of contention opened, they decided to draft Wright with their first round pick in last summer’s MLB draft. Perhaps the most polished arm that the Braves have added at the time of acquisition, Wright has a very good chance of jumping from level-to-level at a rapid pace (with a chance of making an MLB debut sometime this season!). I have a hunch that there’s some underrated bullpen potential with Wright, which would pummel his fantasy value while making quite a bit of sense for Atlanta. Wright has a full five-pitch arsenal (with four pitches that scouts consider potentially above average at the MLB level), so Wright doesn’t have much volatility in right handed/left handed splits like fellow-farmhand Luiz Gohara (who you’ll read about soon). I’m certainly not trying to scare you, but if his destiny forces him to a role in the bullpen, I could see Wright being one of the best swingmen in the entire major leagues. Every good team needs one, and Wright could certainly be the multi-inning reliever the Braves rely on as they rise to prominence in the NL East. If he remains a starting pitcher, Wright has the makeup and arsenal to be a high-end #3 SP with flashes or a little bit more. Regardless, Wright will almost certainly be a very-high value pitcher in real life with a strong possibility to be high-value in the fantasy world.

30. Lewis Brinson, OF, MIA, Age: 24

I’m not at all a fan of the risk associated to Brinson’s floor, but a ceiling achievement probably means you’re drafting Brinson in the same range as a guy like George Springer. From an offensive ballpark standpoint, Brinson’s value clearly took a hit when he was traded from Milwaukee to Miami as the centerpiece in the return for OF Christian Yelich. But it’s deeper than that. Brinson now faces much less competition to land everyday playing time, and whatever the future holds in Miami, Brinson is sure to be a key piece. Now I know I’m certainly not the first person to use this comparison (the fantastic writers at Baseball Prospectus nailed it), but Brinson’s floor resembles that of Keon Broxton’s. Some pop from time-to-time, some speed from time-to-time. But lots of strikeouts and an on-base ability that doesn’t really make the reward worth the risk. If Brinson is worth the plunge for you, the ceiling is a hybrid of Springer and Starling Marte’s best qualities. That’s a guy who can put your entire team on his back for weeks at a time.

29. Triston McKenzie, SP, CLE, Age: 21

From time-to-time, I like showing you my past evaluations on prospects. Here’s what I wrote last preseason when I ranked McKenzie as my 56th best prospect.

“There’s real concern that McKenzie never fills out physically. If he doesn’t, it’s likely that he’ll be relegated to a bullpen role (see: Carl Edwards Jr.). I’m choosing to believe that he does fill out, and that he also continues striking batters out at an impressive rate.”

A year has passed, and I feel like everything in that write-up still holds true. Now, McKenzie’s slender, 165 lb. frame didn’t hinder him from destroying High-A hitters in 143 IP last season. McKenzie’s 3.46 ERA was impressive, and the FIP and xFIP were even better (not to mention he averaged 11.7 K/9 (!!!!) and 2.8 BB/9). If McKenzie can post another ~150 IP season in 2018 (in AA) with similar strikeout, walk, and runs allowed numbers, I’ll officially be on the ‘Triston McKenzie can succeed in the MLB as a 165 pound starting pitcher’ train. If McKenzie currently weighed 180 pounds, I think he’d be a top 15 prospect in all of baseball. Something to think about.

28. Mike Soroka, SP, ATL, Age: 21

Soroka is listed at 6’5 225 lbs. on most sites that list that information, but he actually looks even more like of a thoroughbred in person. Hips. Like. Tree. Trunks. I watched Soroka pitch in-person last summer, and if he had been at-age, I’d consider Soroka an extremely high-floor pitcher who pitches to contact and eats innings. But seeing as Soroka was an amazing five years YOUNGER than the average-age competition in the Southern League, it was quite impressive. I’m still not sure Soroka will ever be a premium-strikeout starting pitcher (he lacks the elite velocity at this point), but I think he has an above-average chance of being a great #3 SP with flashes of a #2 SP from time-to-time. The Braves will certainly trade pitching assets at some point to acquire positional talent when they’re ready to contend, but I have a hunch that Soroka will play in Atlanta for most of his career. From a statistical standpoint, I think Soroka’s prime will be comparable to that of Jose Quintana. Always solid, never spectacular.

27. Scott Kingery, 2B, PHI, Age: 24

Cesar Hernandez is going to rightfully hinder a top 40 prospect from playing his native position once they’re officially promoted to the big leagues. Truth is, Hernandez is an underrated MLB asset and Kingery seems to possess the versatility to excel at defensive positions other than second base. Kingery witnessed his home run total jump from 5 in 2016 to 26 (!) last season, a number that no one saw coming from the 5’10 180 lb. second baseman (if you’re wondering, Kingery has above average lower-body strength and explosive hips). Now entrenched in the top half of prospect lists, Kingery will likely begin this season in AAA with a promotion to the big leagues on the near-horizon. To go with the surprising power, Kingery also notched 29 stolen bases last season (so we’re clear, Kingery hit 26 bombs and swiped 29 bags in 2017…. all while slashing .304/.359/.530). With Hernandez likely retaining the 2B job in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future, Kingery could play third base or in the outfield at the beginning of his career (or even shortstop if J.P. Crawford flounders). After long being reluctant, I’m finally buying in to Kingery’s future. Not to mention he’ll be playing on a playoff contender throughout most of his career….

26. Luiz Gohara, SP, ATL, Age: 22

Straight up: If Gohara genuinely weighs 210 lbs. (as he’s listed on team and statistical sites), then McDonald’s has the most reliable ice cream machines in the fast-food game. It simply isn’t true. When I saw him this summer, Gohara reminded me more of a pulling offensive guard than anything in this world associated with 210 pounds. Another meteoric riser, Gohara played in four different professional levels last season, capping his season with a 29.1 IP stint in Atlanta at the conclusion of the 2017 regular season (it should be noted that the Braves needed to expedite Gohara’s path due to possible exposure in the Rule 5 draft had he not been protected). The southpaw uses a fastball-slider pairing to be a high-strikeout pitcher, but his long-term value likely rests in his ability to overcome struggles against right-handed hitters. Gohara currently finds himself in the midst of a battle with Sean Newcomb and Max Fried for the final two spots in Atlanta’s starting rotation. If Gohara continues to develop and reaches his ceiling, the common comp is prime C.C. Sabathia. That accomplishment would mean that Gohara would be a main anchor for a Braves team competing for the National League crown on a yearly basis.

25. Luis Robert, OF, CHW, Age: 21

Robert’s brief 28 game sample in Rookie Ball last season certainly isn’t going to temper the expectations for a player described as “the best player on the planet, no questions asked” by an evaluator less than a calendar year ago. Now in his first big league Spring Training, White Sox and baseball fans alike are daydreaming about Robert, Eloy Jimenez and Yoan Moncada someday forming a terrific trio for one of the most talented teams in the MLB. Robert has all tools (and then some) necessary to be a five-tool superstar. I think Robert has 60-power, 70-speed future value. The hit tool will be a work in progress for awhile (which means the K% may be suboptimal for awhile too), but Robert should benefit from a high BABIP throughout his career that will make his on base statistics tolerable (or more than tolerable) as he approaches his prime. Robert will be 21 in August, but the White Sox will almost certainly be patient with Robert’s path; their window of contention will likely officially open in 2020, and I think that’s when Robert will become an everyday MLB player (though I think he’ll likely get promoted sometime next season). The rock bottom floor is quite low, but Robert’s top-level ceiling resembles that of a 30 HR/30 SB player.

24. A.J. Puk, SP, OAK, Age: 23

There were questions about Puk’s command and ability (as a 6’7 220 lb. mammoth) to repeat his pitching mechanics consistently when he was taken with the 6th overall pick of the 2016 MLB Draft, but the former Florida Gator has put those worries to bed and is now knocking on the door of an MLB debut. I love when a prospect uses everything in his toolbox to his advantage, and Puk certainly does that. The southpaw uses his massive frame to utilize extension that most pitchers can only dream of. Puk has an above-average fastball that pairs well with a wipeout slider, and his changeup and curveball appear to be MLB average pitches at worst. Athletics manager Bob Melvin has already alluded to Puk’s big league readiness (though he acknowledged he doesn’t make personnel decisions), and a couple of sites have labeled the left-hander as a dark horse candidate to break camp in the A’s starting rotation. I think it’s much more likely he begins in AAA, but a mid-summer promotion (if he performs to potential) is certainly possible (if not likely). Puk has potential to be a strikeout-heavy #2 SP.

23. Taylor Trammell, OF, CIN, Age: 20

You already know my thoughts on Trammell. I’m all in.

22. Hunter Greene, SP, CIN, Age: 19

I wonder if there’s anyone in this world who looked at Greene’s microscopic 4.1 IP sample in Rookie Ball at the end of last season, saw his ERA, and think “Oh crap, I can’t draft this scrub!” Smh. Just think: Most fantasy baseball leagues are jam-packed full of scrubs. Greene is a prodigy. Based on talent alone, there’s potential for the teenager to someday be talked about in the same breath as Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. Seriously. The question is, do you trust a pitching prospect who’s younger than 20 years old to develop into what he’s ‘destined’ to be? Will the arm stay healthy? Will he mature physically like evaluators expect him to? If you believe the answer to both of those questions is yes, then you’ll happily pay the top-25 prospect price for Greene. If you’re a patient fantasy owner who understands that prospect development (especially for pitchers) will have its peaks and valleys, I actually like Greene’s value at this spot. Just understand that perhaps more so than any other prospect drafted last summer, the Reds will be super-conservative with Greene’s progression through their minor league system.

21. Royce Lewis, SS, MIN, Age: 19

My gut tells me there was a slight (and perhaps indirect or accidental) downgrade for Lewis out-of-the-gate because of Mickey Moniak’s disastrous start as a professional player shortly after being drafted with the first overall pick of the 2016 MLB draft. All you need to know about what the Twins think of Lewis is that they haven’t (to this point, anyways) been willing to include Lewis in any discussions pertaining to a trade for Rays ace Chris Archer. In my calculation, there’s nothing Lewis can’t do. He’ll hit for average, he has some pop, he’s a tremendous threat on the bases, he’s fantastic defensively and he’s a superb team leader. While he may never be the 30 HR middle infielder that’s so sexy within prospect circles, Lewis does possess the across-the-board skillset that could potentially make him the #1 overall prospect. The Twins have done a fantastic job of shoring up their active roster this offseason, but their main window of contention will likely open when players like Lewis and Brent Rooker emerge as big time offensive major league threats to pair with Byron Buxton’s budding stardom. Lewis and Buxton can eventually form one of the most formidable duos in the big leagues.

On deck: The final countdown, my #1-20 prospects! 

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