Ray’s Ramblings: May 14th

Written by: Ray Butler

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  • Estevan Florial hasn’t put up the gaudy counting stats a lot of folks expected from him over the course of the first month-and-a-half of the regular season, but I’m really liking what I’ve seen so far. Actually, I don’t understand the panic tweets I’ve been receiving the past few weeks regarding the prized Yankees outfield prospect. Florial is slashing .250/.354/.355 with 21 R, 1 HR and 10 RBI thru 144 plate appearances for High-A Tampa. Yes, the strikeout rate currently sits at 29.2%, but he’s also walking at a 13.2% clip. As we shift to numbers you won’t find in a box score, Florial is pulling the ball 10% less than he did last season. In contrast, He’s hitting the ball to the opposite field nearly 13% more this season than last season. Those numbers could always stabilize at percents far different than where they currently stand, but I think it’s interesting nonetheless. And even though the strikeout numbers wouldn’t suggest this notion, Florial (who I ranked 33rd in my preseason top 200 prospect list) is making what seems like a concerted effort to improve his plate discipline this season. I spoke with prospect evaluator Jason Woodell about his outlook on Florial after watching him multiple times so far this season. “The fact that (Florial’s) strikeouts and weak contact are coming from breaking balls in the zone versus out of the zone means it’s only a matter of time before he adjusts and starts hitting those balls,” Woodell said. “Florial has the loudest tool set of any prospect in the game. He just needs to put it together on the field in order to make the leap the way Juan Soto has this season.” Holy crap. If you know Jason, you know his keen eye for talent. If that doesn’t keep you on the Estevan Florial hype-train, what will? Look, Florial’s sketchy hit tool kept him completely out of a few, prominent prospect lists this preseason. His talent in undoubtedly obvious, but so was the fact that his plate approach needed to change for him to reach his full potential. Florial is in the process of making that change, and with it comes some growing pains. That’s okay. If anything, I’m more confident in my ranking of Florial than I was this preseason. Be patient. It’ll come.
  • One of the more popular questions I’ve been asked so far this season: “Who is Franmil Reyes? Can he sustain what he’s doing?” No one in professional baseball can match Reyes’ 14 HR so far in 2018, but what does his past history tell us about the outlook? At a massive 6’5, 240 lbs., Freyes (who was actually promoted to San Diego Sunday night as I was writing this) possesses 70 grade raw power. 70 grade. The outfielder hit 25 HR and had 102 RBI last season in AA while slashing .258/.322/.464. The average and OBP (paired with a 35/45 hit tool) are probably what kept Reyes off prospect lists this preseason. He’s walking nearly 5% more this season than last season while striking out more than 4% less. For a big bodied corner outfielder with sketchy bat-to-ball skills, that improvement is notable. The .353 BABIP he posted in 150 plate appearances for AAA El Paso wasn’t sustainable, but it could have dropped to .320-ish and Reyes likely wouldn’t have sacrificed much of his power output. In reality, I think Reyes’ big-league outlook resembles the numbers he posted last season in AA with improved slash numbers. In a full season in the MLB, I think Reyes is capable of hitting .275/.340/.475 with 27 HR and 90 RBI. As far as playing time is concerned, the Padres under A.J. Preller are an organization I can generally trust, so I doubt they promoted Reyes to simply use him as a full-time bench bat. I would imagine the call up spells bad news for Travis Jankowski, who’s been sneaky good in NL-only formats so far this season. It could also be bad for Manuel Margot, who has been widely underwhelming as an everyday MLB player. Franchy Cordero seems to be making some notable strides at the dish, so I doubt Reyes being promoted means anything to his playing time. Once Wil Myers is activated from the DL, your guess is as good as mine as to how Andy Green hashes out playing time in the outfield.
  • I find it very interesting that so many of you wanted me to write about Max Schrock this week. Shrock has been great so far this season in AAA Memphis, slashing .326/.368/.422 with 19 R, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 5 SB, 5.6 BB% and 9.0 K% in 144 plate appearances this season. From a fantasy standpoint, it’s hard for me to be overly giddy about Schrock. I know the Cardinals have a seeming need at second base, and I think Schrock could be a valuable real life MLB player. Second base is an underratedly shallow position in fantasy circles, but without a change in his bat path, Shrock may hit 10 HR at his absolute peak. An absolute-ceiling 10 HR/15 SB/.370 OBP/low K% second baseman does carry some value (maybe a left-handed Josh Harrison?), but he’ll likely never be a superstar for your fantasy team. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Shrock is that he made Fangraphs’ list of most compelling fringe prospects. If you know anything about the Fringe Five, you know that they typically exceed evaluator expectations. I’m not rushing to the waiver wire to add Schrock, but I know he could someday be an above average everyday MLB player.
  • I try to make my weekly articles as long-lasting as possible, so make sure you read my Ramblings from last week. It includes thoughts on Eloy Jimenez, Enyel De Los Santos, Dylan Cease, Brusdar Graterol, Taylor Trammell, Franchy Cordero, Shane Bieber, Lazaro Armenteros and much, much more. Check it out!
  • Dennis Santana is commonly known as a former two-way player who’s now pitching full time, but I’m here to tell you it’s time to take notice of what he brings to the table as a pitching prospect. Santana, who’s currently a stalwart in the AA Tulsa rotation, currently has a 2.12 ERA with 35.0 K% in 34 IP this season. For those of you who prefer K/9 to K%, that’s 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings. At 22 years old, Santana has been nothing short of electric thus far in 2018. The right hander possesses two plus pitches (a fastball and slider) and an above-average pitch (changeup) that’s aided by the effectiveness of the fastball. Santana’s command has always left some to be desired, but so far he’s only walked 7.3% of the batters he’s faced (2.7 BB/9). The Dodgers, as you know, are perhaps the best organization in baseball when it comes to developing pitchers, so I’m certainly intrigued by Santana’s amazing start this season. If he can sustain the low walk-rate while maintaining the whiffs, we’ve probably got a top 100 prospect on our hands heading into next season.
  • I’m always down to write about a Mississippi State product, so let’s talk about Nathaniel Lowe. First base is such a thin position in the prospect world, and it truly appears as though Lowe has made some substantial improvements at the plate this season. The walk rate has dropped around 2%, but that’s not nearly as important as the fact that his strikeout rate has decreased 11.5% thru 151 PA. The BABIP will unfavorably regress a certain extent, but Lowe and his 6’4, 235 lb. frame has already mustered 27 R, 8 HR and 33 RBI for High-A Charlotte. He’s slashing .379/.457/.636, so he should survive a BABIP-decrease of ~.030 or more. Lowe only hit 7 HR in his first full season of professional ball last season, so the gains this season have obviously been substantial and notable. As I said, valuable first base prospects don’t grow on trees, so it’s vital to monitor Lowe’s numbers as we head to the midpoint of the 2018 regular season. The Rays certainly have a few underrated prospects, and it’s certainly feasible to think that Lowe and Jesus Sanchez eventually combine to form one of the best pairs in the minor leagues. #HailState
  • Nothing gets the prospect-community hyped like a teenage catcher with upside, and M.J. Melendez certainly fits that bill. John Calvagno recently wrote about Melendez from a mechanical/tool standpoint, and since John is certainly one of the best in the biz, I suggest you give his work on Melendez (and every prospect he writes about) a read. A quick look at Melendez’s stats so far this season will leave you highly unimpressed, but let’s instead make an attempt to predict the fantasy value of a teenager catching prospect. Melendez currently weighs 185 pounds, and most evaluators would certainly prefer he gains ~15 pounds over time to better weather the physical toll an everyday catcher takes over the course of a 162 game season. Statistically, I’ll get the bad news out of the way first: It’s more likely than not that Melendez strikes out in around 25% of his plate appearances as a big leaguer. For now, even at its best, Melendez’s hit tool suggests he’ll carry his swing-and-miss tendencies with him throughout his professional career. The good news? As Melendez finalizes his physical development, there’s a real chance the catching prospect has 60-grade power when he makes his MLB debut. The catcher position is such a black hole in fantasy leagues that anything resembling plus power is notable, even if it includes an above-average amount of strikeouts. The more I examine the Royals’ farm system, the more I like it. Melendez, Nick Pratto and Seuly Matias should progress at similar rates throughout their minor league career. The trio should form a group of impact bats by the time they’re ready to make their big league debuts, though there’s a ton of variance between the floor of the group and the ceiling of the group.
  • I recently dropped Matt Carpenter from my fantasy team in order to add Andrew Heaney. Carpenter’s been a victim of bad luck this season, but Heaney is easily one of the most unlucky starting pitchers in baseball thru the first 1.5 months of the regular season. The southpaw’s ERA is 4.78, but the FIP is 3.45 and the xFIP is 3.34. Heaney’s BABIP against is .347, but his career mark is .294. Heaney’s ERA and BABIP sit where they’re at despite his ability to induce a career-best 22.0 Soft%. When you pair those oddities to the fact he’s striking out more than a batter per inning thru 26.1 IP, I think the southpaw is due for some fairly-substantial positive regression. Tyler Skaggs has marginally separated himself from Nick Pivetta (both are SPs I wrote about a month ago) in my fantasy rotation, but I think Heaney ranks similarly to the duo moving forward. If you need more convincing, Eno Sarris of The Athletic recently included Heaney amongst the ‘arms to buy’ according to his new Command+ metric. I would follow Eno blindly into World War 3, so it’s nice to find myself on the same page as him regarding a young-ish arm with upside.
  • The Red Sox farm system has been rather depleted (thanks to trades) the past few seasons anyways, but with Michael Chavis rehabbing from an oblique injury and Jason Groome slated to miss the remainder of the 2018 season due to Tommy John surgery, who can Red Sox fans/prospect lovers get excited about this season? How about Mike Shawaryn? At 23 years old and in AA, Shawaryn has posted a 2.88 ERA (the FIP and xFIP suggest that number isn’t a fluke) with 29 strikeouts in 34.1 IP. Shawaryn’s arsenal consists of a plus slider, an above average changeup and a fastball that must continue to develop in order for the secondary offerings to truly play to their potential. The right hander strikes me as a prospect who will eventually tag-in on the back end of a rotation and stick there for awhile. Shawaryn has a history of posting higher strike out numbers than what he’s shown so far, so there certainly seems to be some upside here as well. With data regarding how to increase spin rate seemingly improving every day, it’s easy to be bullish on a pitcher who isn’t undersized and whose fastball plays as their worst-graded pitch. Keep your eye on Shawaryn moving forward.
  • Looking for a first base option in a dynasty league format? Take a look at Tyreque Reed. One of the first lessons I learned as a prospect evaluator is to not pay too much attention to first base prospects in lower levels, but Reed has shown a lot of positive signs so far this season. What’s more, at 6’2 and 260 lbs., it’s difficult to conjure up a scenario in which Reed doesn’t develop above-average power as he continues to develop physically (he’s currently a 20-year-old in Low-A). If his walk rate and strikeout rate can resemble the numbers he posted last season in rookie ball, we might eventually have a candidate for a top-1B prospect on our hands. Add him to your dynasty league watch lists.
  • Brandon Marsh made my 2018 prospect obsession list, and like a lot of the toolsy prospects listed in the article, he hasn’t disappointed so far this season. As of Sunday morning, Marsh is slashing .296/.393/.487 with 23 R, 3 HR, 22 RBI and 4 SB. The outfielder profiles as an offensive weapon who will always possess some swing-and-miss in their swing, so the 14.1 BB% thru 135 plate appearances is awfully reassuring. Marsh has three plus tools (raw power, speed, arm), so it’s easy to be bullish here. I ranked Marsh as the 121st-best prospect in baseball this preseason, but I’m slowly beginning to realize that it may not have been aggressive enough. Marsh and Jo Adell already combine to form one of the most formidable outfield-duos in the entire minor leagues, but it’s also impressive to note that both possess the ceiling of an MLB All-Star. It’s a great time to be an Angels fan.
  • Several of you have asked us to write about a number of Angels pitching prospects. We actually published a piece earlier this week on five intriguing LAA pitching prospects. It was written by @NotBrianKenny, but I came up with a pretty snazzy title (if I do say so myself). You can read it right here.
  • I love a story like the 2018 version of Chris Paddack. The 22 year old was once included amongst several prospect lists before Tommy John surgery in 2016 caused him to miss 1.5 seasons. Now back and seemingly healthy, Paddack is posting video game numbers in High-A Lake Elsinore. In a minuscule sample of 16 IP, Paddack has struck out 26 batters without allowing a single earned run. Yikes. The 6’4 right-hander possesses an elite changeup that’s aided by an above average fastball. Paddack’s curveball also grades at 55, and the command has certainly seemed ‘plus’ so far in 2018. In his first season back from serious elbow surgery, San Diego will certainly monitor Paddack’s workload closely. That being said, I would imagine that, at minimum, the 22 year old will be promoted to AA San Antonio at some point this season. Since we’ve seen so little of Paddack so far this season, I’ll conservatively project the right-hander as a #3 SP who, at he very least, finds his footing at the back-end of a big league rotation. If I created an updated version of my top 100 prospects and released it today, Paddack would be make the list.
  • It’s really hard to argue about this Emily Waldon tweet about Christin Stewart. Granted, 2017 was a pretty ‘meh’ season for the Tigers outfield prospect. Stewart hit fewer HR last season than he did in 2016. He walked less. He reached base less. But Stewart seems well on his way to officially breaking out this season, slashing .300/.377/.608 with 20 R, 9 HR and 25 RBI in 138 AAA plate appearances. What’s more, he’s struck out 8% less so far this season compared to last season. What’s even more, Stewart’s BABIP is completely sustainable. He may not maintain this exact pace all season, but Stewart seems perfectly capable of smacking 30 HR this season if he remains in AAA Toledo all season. The Tigers have no prayer of making the playoffs this season, so there’s a chance Stewart only receives a cup of coffee or, even worse, has to wait until 2019 to make his big league debut. My gut tells me that Detroit will reward what could be an amazing performance by giving Stewart a taste of big league ball by the end of the regular season. On a slightly-lesser scale, I think Stewart could eventually become similar to Trey Mancini and Rhys Hoskins: a prospect who mashes throughout the entirety of his minor league career yet remains underrated on prospect lists. I’m buying Stewart’s offensive improvements. The outfielder ranked 170th in my top 200 prospect list this preseason, but I imagine he’ll make a substantial jump in my midseason list.
  • The stolen base numbers that Garrett Hampson has posted so far this season for AA Hartford shouldn’t surprise you. The second base prospect stole a jaw-dropping 51 bases last season, which led to Hampson’s inclusion as the 168th-ranked prospect in my top 200 prospect list this preseason. However, Hampson has already reached the halfway point of his power output from last season, posting 4 HR in only 153 PA after totaling 8 HR in 603 PA last season. Hampson only possesses 40-grade raw power, but I’d guess there’s an outside-chance he smacks 10 HR at his peak in the major leagues. The meat-and-potatoes of Hampson’s offensive profile is the speed; he’s already stolen 17 bases this season. It’s not outlandish to think he could swipe north of 40 bases in his prime in Colorado. With his walk and strikeout rates, it’s not unreasonable to think that Hampson’s tools translate to a .290/.365/.440 big-league slash with 8-10 HR and 30-40 SB if he becomes an everyday player for the Rockies. As we’ve seen with Ryan McMahon this season, there’s a ton of cloudiness when it comes to projecting the path of Colorado’s infield prospects, but I fundamentally assume that legitimate talent will always find its way onto the field. Hampson possesses legitimate talent, and that’s way more important than sweating over hypothetical scenarios focused on ETA nightmares. Hampson is well on his way to outperforming a 2017 performance that several prospect-evaluators considered somewhat of a fluke. Buy now, worry about the ETA later.
  • A rolling list of prospects who did not make my preseason top 200 prospect list BUT are worthy of adding or keeping an eye on in keeper league formats (in no particular order): Jeisson Rosario, Corbin Martin, Daulton Varsho, Lazarito Armenteros, Griffin Canning, Anthony Kay, Bryce Conley, David Fletcher, Jose Suarez, Gerson Garabito, Josh Lowe, Franmil Reyes, Jonathan Hernandez, Shane Bieber, Tirso Ornelas, Brandon Waddell, William Contreras, Austin Beck, Jasseel De La Cruz, Tony Santillan, Zac Lowther, Jalen Beeks, Chris Paddack, Cavan Biggio, Cionel Perez, Connor Wong, Telmito Agustin, Nick Neidert, M.J. Melendez, Yasel Antuna, Drew Waters, Jeter Downs, Trey Supak, Michael Hermosillo, Joe Dunand, Bryan Mata, Nathaniel Lowe, Marcos Diplan, Logan Shore, Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera, Khalil Lee, Gabriel Arias, Esteury Ruiz, Spencer Howard, Enyel De Los Santos, Alexander Canario, Ezequiel Duran, Tyler Stephenson, Tyreque Reed, Brusdar Graterol, Austin Allen, Oscar de la Cruz, Bo Takahaski, Mike Shawaryn. Feel free to ask me about any of these guys any time!

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Featured image courtesy of FriarWire

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