Written by: Ray Butler
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- Of course I’m going to talk about Juan Soto this week. Why wouldn’t I? It’s probably the biggest story in the prospect world so far this season. Some prerequisite reading: Soto ranked 32nd on my preseason top 200 prospect list (follow that link to read the write up that compliments the ranking). I discussed Soto even further this preseason when I included him on my 2018 prospect obsession list. Recently, staff writer Zach Volland and I wrote a full-profile on the emerging superstar, including thoughts on his swing mechanics, tool grades, fantasy outlook and ETA. I was responsible for his ETA, and even two weeks ago when we wrote the piece, I felt rather confident predicting the corner outfielder to make his big league debut sometime next season. Needless to say, I was wrong. I have several thoughts regarding Soto’s meteoric rise and consequential promotion to Washington as a 19 year old. To succeed offensively in the big leagues as a teenager, you must have an advanced plate approach. Soto possesses that. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo stated as much on Sunday morning, saying that Soto was only a viable call-up option thanks to his ability to lay off unhittable pitches and to drive the ball to all fields. Soto easily possessed one of the best plate approaches in the minor leagues before his shocking call up. Does that make the move risk free? Absolutely not. Soto has a whopping 278 plate appearances in full season ball. He has 23 plate appearances at a level higher than High-A. He’s been amazing, but even Mike Trout and Bryce Harper aren’t immune to opposing pitchers finding weaknesses from time to time. From an offensive standpoint, Soto has faced little adversity since making his professional debut in rookie ball in 2016. Typically, evaluators want position player prospects to experience some trial-and-error throughout their minor league career. A slump is not always a bad thing for prospects to endure and overcome. Now, Soto will likely face the first prolonged slump of his career as a major league player, in a league where pitchers will find and expose any and every blemish a hitter possesses in their approach and swing. Maybe Soto will absolutely crush it and continue to post similar numbers to what he’s tallied so far this season. I think the more likely scenario is that the outfielder faces peaks and valleys in his first season with the Nationals, with the latter perhaps being more prominent than the former. As I stated in our extensive write up on the mega-prospect, I’m ready to see how Soto responds to a slump. Now, he’ll likely have to do it on the biggest stage in the world while facing the best skillset he’s ever faced in each and every game he plays. An even-worse outcome to Soto being promoted to Washington and struggling would be for Davey Martinez to utilize the Dominican Republic native as a bench-only bat. If the extent of Soto’s first taste in the big leagues is pinch hitting in the 8th inning and starting once or twice a week, it would needlessly stunt the development of a teenager who possesses the potential to be a perennial All-Star. Believe me when I say that even if you roster Soto in a keeper league, you would much rather a future cornerstone for your team receive everyday at-bats for AA Harrisburg than 5-10 plate appearances a week for the Nationals. Now that I’ve tempered your expectations, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t super excited to see what Soto’s made of against the best pitching in the world. Each prospect is different and should be handled differently when it comes to promotion, but Soto showing that he’s capable of handling big league pitching as a 19 year old would likely play a role (even if it’s a small role) in future decisions regarding major-league-ready prospects. As far as offensive skillsets and plate approaches go, if any teenage prospect can hold their own in the big leagues, it’s Soto (and VGJ). I’m glad we’ll be able to witness Soto’s first big league experience together.
- Imagine currently playing on the same AA New Hampshire team as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. What could you get away with without anyone knowing? That’s probably how preseason top 20 prospect Bo Bichette currently feels. Now imagine playing alongside both Guerrero Jr. AND Bichette. Could the Fisher Cats send seven scarecrows to the plate and into the field alongside VGJ and Bichette and get away with it? That’s probably how Cavan Biggio currently feels. Biggio has had perhaps the best season of any 2B prospect in baseball so far this season. The son of Hall-of-Famer Craig, Biggio is slashing .297/.419/.680 with 25 R, 12 HR, 33 RBI and 5 SB. He’ll always strike out quite a bit, but the walk rate is sitting around 16%, which offsets some of the swing-and-miss that Biggio possesses. The second baseman has already surpassed his HR total from last season, largely because the FB% has increased nearly 13% from last season to this season. The 25% HR/FB obviously isn’t sustainable, but Biggio should cruise to a 20 HR/10 SB season with an OBP that should finalize north of .350. That’s notable. Biggio is 23 years old and in AA, so he doesn’t possess the zesty youth that makes so many toolsy prospects so desirable. But at a position as prospect-barren as second base, Biggio is certainly a name to remember moving forward, especially since the path to Toronto isn’t too daunting.
- If you play in a deep keeper or dynasty fantasy league, correctly deciding when to add/acquire unheralded, high-upside prospects is absolutely critical in staying a step ahead of your leaguemates. On Saturday, staff writer Marc Rodriguez published a piece focusing on the key stats that help you identify those prospects before your opposition does. Rodriguez also discussed current prospects who fit that category, including 18-year-old Tirso Ornelas. The read is well worth your time.
- Jo Adell should have made my 2018 prospect obsession list. He narrowly missed, and I remember my rationalization being that fellow-Angels prospect Brandon Marsh was more likely to raise his stock substantially than Adell. In retrospect, the uber-tooled Adell should have been included too. In 108 Low-A plate appearances, Adell has smacked 6 HR to pair with 23 R, 29 RBI and 4 SB. He’s slashing .326/.398/.611 with a 24.0 K% and 10.0 BB%. I’m really interested to see where the numbers go now that Marsh has been promoted to High-A Inland Empire, but Adell’s first season in full season ball has been fantastic to this point. The outfielder is easily one of the best athletes in ALL of baseball, and that’s evident in a swing that features explosive hands, plus bat speed and a swing bath that should produce easy power throughout every step along his professional career. Adell turned 19 in April, so the hypothetically-sketchy path to Anaheim shouldn’t scare you as much as you might think. I ranked Adell as the 41st-best prospect in baseball this preseason, and I imagine he’ll rank even more favorably when I publish my midseason update. Keeping his athleticism and upside in mind, I could probably make an argument that Adell should be owned in any league that rosters more than 30 prospects total.
- Make sure you check out my Ramblings from last week, including thoughts on Franmil Reyes, Dennis Santana, Estevan Florial, Andrew Heaney, M.J. Melendez, Brandon Marsh, Chris Paddack, Christin Stewart, Garrett Hampson and more. Yes, I cover a lot of ground in the Ramblings.
- My second straight week discussing a former Mississippi State player! Brent Rooker has had a rocky first quarter of the 2018 season. The 1B/OF prospect has 18 R, 4 HR, 19 RBI and a stolen base, but he’s only slashing .236/.269/.376 with a 29.3 K% and 3.6 BB%. Yikes. The Twins were undoubtedly aggressive when starting Rooker at AA Chattanooga this season (he had 162 full-season PA prior to this season), so a learning curve was at least somewhat expected. However, the BABIP is north of .300 and Rooker is still struggling mightily. I tend to think the slash number will eventually stabilize at numbers much more friendly than what he’s totaled so far this season, but in order for that to happen, Rooker must improve his walk rate to the 10.0% he posted in High-A at the end of last season. Rooker ranked 153rd in my preseason top 200 prospect list thanks to his massive raw power, and that’s with the knowledge that the former Bulldog will likely strike out in north of 25% of his plate appearances throughout his career. Here’s to hoping Rooker exhibits a more patient, walk-accepting plate approach moving forward. On paper, the raw power makes him a viable fantasy option if he reaches his potential.
- Let’s talk about a trio of 1B-eligible active players making waves lately. I think we may be experiencing the Brandon Belt Breakout we’ve all been waiting for for seemingly forever. He’s hitting left handed pitching, he’s hitting the ball over the fence, and his OBP is better than .400. For good measure, he’s already stolen two bases. Batting in an improved lineup, opposing pitchers have been forced to throw Belt more strikes this season. He’s responded accordingly. Matt Carpenter (who made my preseason high-value active player list) had a putrid first month of the regular season, but it appears he’s quickly turning it around. As a Cardinals fan, you always know Carpenter is getting hot when the gap-to-gap power appears. The strikeout numbers are going down, the walk numbers are going up, and Carpenter’s BABIP still sits at a hilariously-low .230. I think this weekend against the Phillies was only the start to his turnaround. With 1B/2B/3B eligibility (on Fantrax, at least), if he’s available in your league, scoop him up. C.J. Cron has always been an underrated asset when he receives ample playing time, and I think we’re seeing that holistically this season. As the full-time first baseman for the Rays, Cron has already hit 11 HR with a .332 OBP thru 193 plate appearances. He’ll never walk enough as you’d like, but as fantasy CIs or reserve power bats are concerned, you could do much worse than Cron moving forward, especially when he faces left handed pitching.
- The Blue Jays are seemingly overflowing with intriguing middle infield prospects, including 2017 draftee Kevin Smith. Smith is currently in the process of breaking out, slashing .368/.425/.658 with 30 R, 7 HR, 40 RBI and 9 SB for Low-A Lansing. Smith was reportedly considered a top 50 draft prospect heading into the 2017 regular season at the University of Maryland, but a disappointing junior campaign led to Smith being available for the Blue Jays in the 4th round of last year’s MLB Draft. The counting stats so far this season are awesome, but I’m equally impressed with the fact that Smith has dropped his K% by nearly eleven percent (currently 13.8%) while raising his BB% more than three percent (currently 9.2%). Advanced college hitters outperforming their tools in Low-A is a tale as old as time (why yes, I have watched Beauty and the Beast recently. Why do you ask), but Smith has performed his way to notability anyways. He’s not particularly close to being a top 100 prospect yet, but Smith should easily be on your radar moving forward.
- A Taylor Trammell update. Thru 163 High-A plate appearances, Trammell is slashing .297/.403/.489 with 26 R, 5 HR, 20 RBI and 5 SB. He’s struck out in 20.9% of plate appearances, and he’s walked in 14.7% of plate appearances. He may not quite be at the level of Juan Soto, but as far as prospects younger than 21 years old are concerned, Trammell possesses an elite plate approach. Over a 162-game season, Trammell is on pace to notch 20 HR and 20 SB while posting an OBP north of .400. I’d say those end-of-the-season numbers would make my prediction from this preseason true, correct? Of course Trammell’s numbers will fluctuate over the course of the season, but I’m pleased with what I’ve seen so far.
- No one seemed to notice, but the Astros may have made an organizational move recently that hinted at their plan for Kyle Tucker this season. On May 16th, Houston optioned CF Jake Marisnick to AAA Fresno, promoting Tony Kemp to take his spot. Why is that relevant? Well, it’s no offense to Kemp, but do you REALLY think the end game for the defending champions was to make Tony Kemp their starting center fielder? Of course not. The Astros just proved that they’re willing to option Marisnick, a defensive stud with some occasional offensive pop, to the minor leagues. I have no proof or inside information, but I assume Houston did this to clear the way for an eventual Kyle Tucker promotion to the big leagues. Tucker has slashed .292/.361/.447 with 30 R, 4 HR, 31 RBI and 5 SB thru 185 plate appearances for AAA Fresno. The HR-output may be slightly underwhelming, but everything else is in-line with the prospect I ranked as the 12th-best prospect in baseball this preseason. He’s only started two games in center field this season while in AAA, but I have to believe it’s only a matter of time before he’s an everyday option for the Astros in some fashion. If you have the roster space and have a need in the outfield, Tucker is a decent add-and-stash option even in redraft leagues moving forward.
- Knocking out some thoughts on a few underrated catcher prospects this week, starting with Danny Jansen. I ranked Jansen 140th in my preseason top 200 prospect list, and I’m a fan. At a position that many consider a black hole, you certainly want a player who could singlehandedly lose you a fantasy matchup from time to time. Jansen may not possess a spectacular ceiling, but he’s very, very safe. The backstop is currently slashing .305/.412/.463 with 14 R, 2 HR, 16 RBI and 3 SB thru 115 PA for AAA Buffalo. Russell Martin is currently signed thru the 2019 season, but I genuinely believe that Jansen will eventually be the Blue Jays’ everyday catcher. With a large frame, league-average framing ability and an above average arm, the 23 year old should stick behind the plate throughout the duration of his big league career. Statistically speaking, Jansen reminds me of a slightly-more-powerful Francisco Cervelli. In other words, Jansen should hit around .300 while flirting with/slightly surpassing 10 HR/season during his prime. You’ll never fall in love with him, but you’ll never file a restraining order against him either. For a catcher position some of you (me included, sometimes) wish didn’t exist in fantasy baseball, those numbers will work. Let’s hope a big league opportunity for Jansen arrives sooner rather than later.
- We’re just over a quarter of the way done with the regular season, so let’s update the progress on my article predicting the surprising and disappointing teams this season. The Phillies (my big play) and Orioles are looking good, the Giants and Rays are right in-line with their Vegas projected win total, and the Nationals and Padres are underperforming my expectations to a certain extent. I like where we’re at in the big picture. I’ll keep you updated on this post from time to time.
- Sean Murphy isn’t quite as close to a big league debut as Danny Jansen, but he’s become a notable catching prospect nonetheless. Murphy is slashing .309/.352/.537 with 27 R, 4 HR and 21 RBI thru 146 PA for AA Midland this season. I’m much more interested in the strikeout and walk numbers: Murphy has struck out in 19.2% of plate appearances while walking in only 3.4% of plate appearances. You know how I feel about prospects who don’t take walks. For what it’s worth, Murphy walked in 8.1% of plate appearances last season between High-A and AA, so I’m hoping there’s some improvement in store here. According to his Fangraphs page, Murphy possesses both above average hit and power tools, which is obviously intriguing when you consider he’s a catcher. The framing skills are only league average, but Murphy possesses a cannon of an arm. He’s expected to remain a catcher throughout his professional career. The Athletics have an fun, young core. By the time Murphy is ready to make his big league debut, Jonathan Lucroy should be a thing of the past. Bruce Maxwell certainly doesn’t seem like the long term answer behind the plate in Oakland, so I’d go as far as saying Murphy has a favorable path to the big leagues. When the contention window legitimately opens, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo should be the faces of the Athletics. It’s feasible that Murphy could join that crew. From a fantasy standpoint, Murphy could total an average close to .300 and a power total that ranges anywhere from 10-15 HR/season. He’s not quite as safe as the aforementioned Danny Jansen, but it certainly seems as though Murphy possesses a bit more upside. I can’t believe I discuss at least one catching prospect a week (this week, I’ve discussed two), but here we are!
- This past week, staff writer Zach Volland took a look at the White Sox young core and farm system. The article consists of everything from players already in Chicago, to prospects nearly in Chicago, to unheralded prospects who could eventually play a large role in bringing the Commissioner’s Trophy back to the south side. Give it a read!
- Shed Long struggled after being promoted to AA Pensacola for the second half of the 2017 regular season, which caused him to be rather under-ranked on prospect lists heading into this season. However, Long has seemingly put concerns to rest early this season, slashing .293/.358/.493 with 33 R, 5 HR, 21 RBI and 6 SB in AA. His strikeout and walk numbers are right in-line with his career marks (both are easily tolerable). In my opinion, Long is easily pound-for-pound one of the strongest prospects in baseball. At 5’8 184 lbs., Long will face concerns about his power outlook at all stops throughout his professional career. But the second baseman hit 16 HR last season between High-A and AA, and he seems well on his way to matching that number this season. Long will likely never be a fantasy superstar, but a 15 HR/15 SB/.280 AVG big league second baseman is ownable in even shallow formats, especially when playing an underratedly weak position. A combination of Nick Senzel, Eugenio Suarez and Jose Peraza will have a say in Long’s big league ETA, but as you know, #talentfindsaway, and I think that will hold true for Long sometime next season.
- 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, Sean Murphy, Chris Paddack, Cavan Biggio, Cionel Perez, Connor Wong, Telmito Agustin, Nick Neidert, M.J. Melendez, Yasel Antuna, Drew Waters, Jeter Downs, Bobby Dalbec, Trey Supak, Michael Hermosillo, Joe Dunand, Randy Arozarena, Jazz Chisholm, Bryan Mata, Nathaniel Lowe, Marcos Diplan, Logan Shore, Kevin Smith, Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera, Khalil Lee, Gabriel Arias, Esteury Ruiz, Spencer Howard, Edgar Arredondo, Enyel De Los Santos, Alexander Canario, Ezequiel Duran, Ramon Rosso, Tyler Stephenson, Tyreque Reed, Brusdar Graterol, Vladimir Gutierrez, 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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