Ray’s Ramblings: May 30th

Written by: Ray Butler

Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

Sorry for straying away from our “new article every Monday” routine. If you didn’t see on Twitter, my wife and I have been vacationing in Colorado the past week. Simply put, it’s a little bit different than West Tennessee! Kansas City, Colorado Springs, Denver and Winter Park were all amazing! Let’s get to it.

  • My boy @RushingBaseball said it best on Twitter a few days ago: Vlad Guerrero Jr. is putting up better numbers than our Road to the Show players in The Show. 70 hit tool. 70 game power. An unfathomable .426/.474/.716 slash line in AA. 29 extra base hits and only 20 strikeouts. Accomplished by a player who turned 19 only two months ago. According to Baseball Reference, Vladito is 5.3 years younger than his average competition in the Eastern League. What we’re witnessing is pure insanity. I ranked Guerrero Jr. as the 2nd best prospect in baseball this preseason with a sense of hope that he’d be my top dog by midseason. Now, I’ll be fairly angry if he’s still in the minor leagues when I release my updated list next month. So why IS he still playing for the Fisher Cats and not the Blue Jays? Whatever the reason is, don’t listen to the folks who claim it’s due to VGJ’s ‘poor’ defense. Based on reports created by people who have actually seen him in person or have studied his film this season, Guerrero Jr. is, at minimum, a serviceable MLB third baseman (defensively speaking) at this very moment. He may not be as explosive or move as well laterally as someone like Nolan Arenado, but he doesn’t have to in order to be adequate at the hot corner. Honestly, it feels like a lot of the assumptions on Guerrero’s defense consist of looking his ‘beefy’ build and thinking “Yeah, I bet that’s a player who struggles defensively.” In actuality, the Blue Jays’ playoff hopes are lessening by the day. They’ve already been labeled as a team that might ship some of their most valuable major league assets (namely Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak) to contenders before the trade deadline. If Donaldson is traded, will Guerrero Jr. finally be promoted? Or will the fact that Toronto isn’t contending make it convenient to prevent VGJ’s big league service clock from starting? Personally, I believe that if financial-based loopholes were extinguished, Guerrero Jr. would already be a big leaguer. Think about that for one second. A league that eclipsed $10 billion in revenue for the first time last season continues to allow organizations and upper-management to water-down their on-field product by finagling the service clocks of top prospects to their liking. It’s infuriating, and it’s something that absolutely must be addressed by the players in the next CBA. Sorry for the soapbox. Vlad Guerrero Jr. genuinely appears to be a generational talent, and I know his days as a prospect are numbered (whether that number can be measured in days or months is anyone’s best guess). Regardless of his final destination this season, let’s make sure we celebrate Vladito for what he is: one of the best baseball players in the world.
  • It might not be as sexy as Juan Soto’s expedited ascension, but Shane Bieber has done some pretty incredible things this season. After breezing through competition in AA and AAA, Bieber will be promoted to Cleveland for a spot start on Thursday against the Twins. It’ll be Bieber’s third level of the 2018 season, though it appears his big league experience (for now, anyways) will be short lived. Because he’s not expected to take his shoes off and stay awhile, I wouldn’t devote a large chunk of my FAAB to add Bieber in redraft leagues. Of course, it’s conceivable that Bieber pitches his way into a full-time rotation spot in Cleveland as early as later this season. I don’t think that time is now, though. My thoughts on Bieber and well-documented: he’ll go as far his command takes him. His curveball is a borderline-plus pitch, but the 23 year old doesn’t truly possess a pitch that, in a vacuum, he can lean on. Bieber’s command is plus-plus, however, and if he can locate his offerings in the big leagues like he has throughout his minor league career, there’s high floor, moderate upside, middle-of-the-rotation potential here.
  • If you haven’t got around to it yet, make sure you read @NotBrianKenny‘s piece on his five favorite arms from the Astros’ farm system. There are also three honorable mentions in the piece, including one who will probably make my upcoming midseason top 200 prospect list.
  • For a prospect who, on paper, should have been a big leaguer long before now, Willie Calhoun has had a rough go of things in 2018. Calhoun (my 43rd-ranked prospect this preseason) is slashing .266/.319/.385 with 4 HR thru 207 plate appearances in AAA. The 13.5 K% is right where we want it to be, but that number will always be offset to an extent thanks to a minimal walk rate (he’s walking at a 6.3% clip so far this season). A lot of people thought Calhoun would break camp with the Rangers. Then, those same people thought the outfielder would be in Arlington no more than a few weeks into the regular season. Who could have guessed he’d still be a minor leaguer in June? With no end in sight? Just a few days ago, Calhoun was benched mid-game for not hustling to first base after hitting a ground ball. I think it’s safe to assume that Calhoun’s .300 AVG/30 HR ceiling still exists, but when will we see it actually come to fruition in the big leagues? The Rangers seem content with their current major league roster, so Calhoun will almost certainly have to perform his way to a big league call up. Regardless of whether he was stashed in a redraft league or counted on for production in a keeper league, Calhoun has been one of the more frustrating prospects to own in all of baseball so far this season. I’m willing to bet he turns it around relatively soon.
  • Royce Lewis possesses explosive hands, lightning-fast bat speed, plus speed, above average defense and elite makeup and leadership skills. I thought I was aggressive enough when I ranked Lewis 21st in my preseason top 200 prospect list, but maybe not. The top overall pick in last season’s MLB Draft, Lewis is slashing .309/.354/.416 with 3 HR and 13 SB in 165 plate appearances for Low-A Cedar Rapids. A 10 HR/30 SB full-season campaign is not out of the question, and a .280 (or better) AVG/8 HR/25 SB full-season campaign seems more likely than not. The 6.8 BB% may seem ugly, but I’m willing to chalk it up to being a first year pro. The 19 year old should continue to creep up prospect lists, and I suspect there’s a chance he enters the 2019 season as a top 15 overall prospect.
  • Let’s stick with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, shall we? I called Alex Kirilloff “one of the most underrated prospects in the minor leagues” when I ranked him 156th in my top 200 prospect list this preseason. I think it’s safe to say I nailed the label, but I may have underrated Kirilloff a bit myself within my top 200 list. Fully recovered from the Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss the entirety of the 2017 season, Kirilloff is slashing .328/.381/.582 (outrageous) with 7 HR thru 192 plate appearances in Low-A. I’m moderately encouraged by the 7.1 BB%, and I’m ecstatic that Kirilloff seems fully healthy. A promotion to High-A Fort Myers seems inevitable, and I’m hopeful that Royce Lewis (mentioned above) won’t be too far behind. Kirilloff’s success is one of the feel-good stories of the 2018 season in the prospect world, and I’m holding out hope that the outfield prospect finishes the regular season with 20 HR and a .300 AVG.
  • Jalen Beeks is looking a lot like a late bloomer who’s destined to make an impact on the mound in the big leagues. He’ll turn 25 in July and he’s never been in the big leagues, but Beeks may be a pitching prospect worth owning anyways. Let’s get one thing straight: Beeks has always been a tad underrated, and I’d guess it’s predominantly due to his age. He struck out well-more than a batter per inning last season between stops in AA and AAA, but he’s really turned it on this season. Thru 49.1 IP in AAA this season, Beeks has struck out 36.5% of the batters he’s faced. He holds a 2.74 ERA, which is further legitimized by his 2.40 xFIP. Beeks’ curveball has become a plus pitch, and a couple of my prospect-evaluator friends have compared his major league potential to that of Kolby Allard. I admit that I probably ranked Allard a little too favorably when I ranked him 71st in my preseason top 200 prospect rankings, but even if he ranked closer to 100th, Beeks having similar potential is awfully intriguing (for what it’s worth, Beeks was not a part of my preseason top 200 list. I suspect he may make an appearance when I release my updated top 200 closer to midseason). The health of the Red Sox’s starting rotation is about as shaky as any team in the major leagues (see: David Price, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez, who all happen to be LHP), and while Boston does have a few fringe-options to occupy a temporary starting role, there’s already been some speculation that Beeks could be called-upon to fill a void in the Red Sox rotation if need be. I’d be willing to bet Beeks gets at least a temporary shot in the big leagues at some point this season.
  • Ray’s Ramblings are always long-lasting, so make sure you check out last week’s version. It includes thoughts on Juan Soto, Cavan Biggio, Jo Adell, Brent Rooker, Kevin Smith, Kyle Tucker, Danny Jansen, Sean Murphy, Shed Long and more!
  • If you roster Bryse Wilson in a deep keeper or dynasty league, you’re probably disappointed in the 3.74/3.98/3.82 ERA/FIP/xFIP slash he’s posted in the 21.2 IP since being promoted to AA Mississippi. I’m absolutely loving it. At 20 years old, Wilson is learning how to pitch in the Southern League. It’s the first time the right-hander has faced anything resembling adversity on the mound since being drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 MLB Draft. Mike Soroka faced adversity in AA last season at the same age. Kolby Allard faced adversity in AA last season at the same age. It’s a necessary stepping-stone for a pitching prospect who dominated High-A opposition early this season. Embrace the trial and error. Wilson is being forced to sequence differently against AA offenses. With only one pitch in his arsenal being graded as a plus pitch (his fastball), Wilson is in the process of finding new ways to get batters out. His HR/FB and BABIP are both due for some positive regression, and when you consider Wilson’s struck out more than a batter per inning pitched since being promoted, I’m perfectly content with the numbers he’s posted in the Southern League. This is when the rubber really meets the road for an up-and-coming pitching prospect. I’m excited. You should be too.
  • It may not be as fast-paced as we’d like, but Cristian Pache’s raw power is beginning to show. If you remember, I aggressively ranked Pache as the 69th (nice) best prospect in baseball this preseason. The teenager also made my 2018 prospect obsession list. So why the love? It’s quite simple. Pache would be an above-average MLB center fielder RIGHT NOW. He stole 32 bases and posted a .335 OBP in Low-A last season as an 18 year old. Those are the numbers of a budding superstar right? Well as you know, the problem for Pache was the fact that he didn’t hit a single home run in 514 plate appearances last season. In fact, heading into 2018, Pache hadn’t hit a single bomb in his professional career. Yet scouts and publications almost unanimously graded Pache with borderline-plus raw power. In my eyes, this preseason was the last time to buy-low on Pache. The numbers haven’t been overly gaudy so far in High-A Florida: Pache is slashing .281/.304/.395 with 2 HR and 4 SB thru 195 plate appearances. The walk rate is a putrid 3.5%, but from talking to folks who have seen Pache multiple times this season, the census is that it’s only a matter of time before everything clicks. It’s easy to forget that Pache is only 19 and still gaining experience with a new swing, and I think (and hope) we’ll witness substantial improvements soon. I remain bullish on the center fielder, and I anticipate Pache maintaining his status as a top 75 overall prospect at the midseason point.
  • I really enjoyed this piece by Rustin Dodd on Seuly Matias (it’s on The Athletic, so subscribe if you haven’t already). At 19 years old and thru 152 Low-A plate appearances, Matias (my 155th-ranked prospect this preseason) is on pace to hit 38 home runs this season. He’s also on pace to strike out 157 times. The outfielder is arguably one of the most raw prospects in all of baseball, and that’s what makes him so intriguing. It’s easy to be turned off by the .250/.322/.625 slash line, especially when you consider the 36.2 K%. Then you remember that Matias is playing in his first full season of professional baseball (also, the slugging percentage is jaw-dropping). He’s in the infantile stages of developing pitch recognition and a solid plate approach. Maybe he’s the next Dylan Cozens (statistically speaking). Maybe he’s the next Eloy Jimenez. We’re only in Chapter 1 of what should be a book chalked full of peaks and valleys for outfield prospect. Only one thing seems certain: Seuly Matias is one of the most polarizing prospects in baseball.
  • There’s not a single fantasy baseball owner who rosters William Contreras and doesn’t think along the lines of the exact same thing: “Hey, he’s got it in his blood. Maybe he’ll be like his older brother Willson.” It’s not really a fair comparison, but it’s the world we live in. Luckily, Fangraphs grades Contreras with a 50 hit tool, 50 game power and 55 raw power. Both defensive tools (field and arm) are above average, and scouts think that the younger Contreras will eventually add additional weight to his 6’0, 180 pound frame. He’s been fine offensive in his first stint in full season ball with Low-A Rome: .274/.346/.393 with 3 HR in 130 plate appearances. Catching prospects are, of course, extremely volatile, especially in the world of fantasy baseball. And at 20 years old and only in Low-A, Contreras likely won’t sniff the big leagues until his age 23 or 24 season at the very least. But if long term catcher improvements are your cup of tea, Contreras might be worth the gamble. If he can muster double digit HRs while maintaining an OBP close to .350 throughout the entirety of the regular season, you’ll begin to see Contreras’s name pop-up on prospect lists beginning next season.
  • Don’t look now, but two of my preseason top 200 prospects and 2018 prospect obsession list inclusions who I thought may have been lost causes are beginning to turn it on. Starling Heredia, currently my 166th-ranked prospect, is starting to flash the power he showed in Rookie Ball last season. Now thru 191 plate appearances, Heredia has hit 6 HR while slashing .182/.246/.341. The slash numbers are obviously rough, but I believe in Heredia’s (aka Baby Face Killa) outlook nonetheless. There’s actually a pretty good chance I discuss the 19-year-old Dodgers’ prospect again in the next version of Ray’s Ramblings (don’t worry, you’ll see). Jhailyn Ortiz, my 63rd-ranked prospect this preseason and an outfielder I predicted would be a top 50 prospect in 2019, has multiple hits in five of his last seven games. He’s only struck out three times in his last 22 at-bats, and he’s raised his slash to .237/.295/.340 in the process. Of course I wouldn’t consider either Heredia or Ortiz a ‘hit’ as far as my prospect obsession list is concerned, but I’m certainly excited about the progress we’ve witnessed recently. Let’s hope their recent performances can be sustained.
  • Bill Mitchell of Baseball America recently published a piece on Indians OF prospect George Valera. Then, fellow Baseball American Ben Badler stirred the masses when he compared Valera’s left-handed swing to that of Juan Soto. Baseball America news editor Josh Norris tweeted a side-by-side comparison of the two swings (found here if you’d like to see for yourself). I personally don’t see many similarities between the two (as @JasonAtTheGame noted, Valera’s swing is far-more reminiscent of Robinson Cano than Juan Soto), but of course the comparison stirred the masses. It’s a fool’s errand to make definitive statements about any 17 year old, but Valera *seems* to have an intriguing skillset that pairs well with solid makeup. The outfield prospect is 6’0 170 pounds, and his frame suggests he’ll add additional muscle weight as he completes his physical development. If you’re searching for a fantasy outlook, the only thing I’ll say is that it’s always good to be ahead of your leaguemates when it comes to prospects. If your league is deep enough that 150-200 prospects are rostered, Valera is probably worth taking a shot on. But if you’re *expecting* any 17 year old to someday be your version of Juan Soto, Bryce Harper or Robinson Cano, you’re likely setting yourself up for massive disappointment. I’m hopeful we get to see Valera in Short Season ball later this summer.
  • 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, Jonathan Hernandez, Shane Bieber, Tirso Ornelas, Brandon Waddell, William Contreras, Austin Beck, Jasseel De La Cruz, Tony Santillan, Matt Thaiss, Zac Lowther, Jalen Beeks, Keegan Akin, Sean Murphy, Chris Paddack, Cavan Biggio, Cionel Perez, George Valera, Connor Wong, D.J. Peters, Telmito Agustin, Nick Neidert, M.J. Melendez, Buddy Reed, Yasel Antuna, Ranger Suarez, Drew Waters, Jeter Downs, Bobby Dalbec, Trey Supak, Michael Hermosillo, Joe Dunand, Pedro Avila, Randy Arozarena, Jazz Chisholm, Dillon Tate, Bryan Mata, Luis Garcia, Nathaniel Lowe, Marcos Diplan, Logan Shore, Kevin Smith, Dakota Hudson, Ryan Helsley, Trevor Rogers, Genesis Cabrera, Khalil Lee, Gabriel Arias, Esteury Ruiz, Jorge Alcala, Spencer Howard, Pablo Lopez, Edgar Arredondo, Enyel De Los Santos, Alexander Canario, Ezequiel Duran, Forrest Wall, Ramon Rosso, Tyler Stephenson, Tyreque Reed, Brusdar Graterol, Vladimir Gutierrez, Austin Allen, Anderson Tejada, 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 Minor League Baseball

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