Ray’s Ramblings: June 11th

Written by: Ray Butler

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  • Fernando Tatis Jr.’s 2018 season can teach us all a valuable lesson about prospect patience, especially early in the season. In April, spanning 24 games and 104 plate appearances, Tatis Jr. hit a disappointing .177. He struck out in 32.7% of plate appearances. It was far from the encore performance fans and fantasy baseballers decided a season removed from the shortstop hitting 22 HR and stealing 32 bases while posting an on base percentage well north of .350. FTJ’s April numbers were also not representative of a consensus top 10 prospect, and I heard about it each and every day. “Time to panic on Tatis yet?” “Sell Tatis while I still can?” “Lol remember when you ranked Tatis 5th?” …  I haven’t heard from this folks in awhile. Since the start of May (or, when the weather started to warm up a little. Funny how that works), Tatis Jr. is hitting a scorching .349/.434/.638/1.071. He’s hit 8 HR while only striking out in 22% of 173 plate appearances. For the season, the shortstop is now slashing .282/.357/.518 with 55 R, 11 HR, 32 RBI and 7 SB. The K% is 26.0%. Not bad for a 19 year old in Double-A. In my eyes, the lesson within FTJ’s numbers is a lesson I find myself constantly preaching to a lot of my Twitter followers and blog readers: Patience is a virtue. I handle the first 100 plate appearances/30 IP in a season the same way I handle the first 100 plate appearances/30 IP after a promotion: I don’t really care about them. It shouldn’t be a foreign or intricate thought to consider prospects may need a month or so to become accustomed to a new level. In a new city. Against a different level of competition. Especially when prospects attempt to implement nuances to their swing or pitching mechanics from offseason training and practices. BE PATIENT! I guarantee that someone who reads this definitely dropped Fernando Tatis Jr. in their keeper league sometime in April. You deserved to lose him, honestly, but you can also use it as a lesson learned. Don’t let it happen again. Don’t be that guy/girl. I ranked Tatis 5th in my preseason top 200 prospect list, and he’ll be even higher in my midseason list.
  • Speaking of prospects who are raking after a slow start this season, I find myself falling more and more in love with Keston Hiura every time I see his swing. Hiura (my 42nd-ranked prospect this preseason) slashed a paltry .238/.301/.333 with only 1 HR in April while playing for High-A Carolina. Don’t worry about what he’s done since the start of May. Instead, just know that Hiura is now slashing .328/.390/.525 FOR THE SEASON. Oh, that also includes 32 ABs for AA Biloxi, because Hiura hit so well throughout the first half of May that he was promoted. He has 7 HR in 264 PA this season. What’s more, as the season continues to progress, Hiura is playing in the field on almost an everyday basis (a junior at UC-Irvine at the time, Hiura received a PRP injection in his right elbow prior to the 2017 season in hopes of recovering from a partially torn UCL. Hiura began the 2018 season as a DH in High-A but has returned to 2B increasingly frequently in May and June). The 21 year old is a 60 hit/55 raw power prospect who projects as a .300 AVG/25 HR big league second baseman. I don’t need to tell you how valuable that would be in the fantasy baseball world. The Brewers currently have plenty of middle infield options without Hiura, but I do wonder if, down the stretch of a heated playoff race, Milwaukee would consider further boosting its offense by promoting Hiura to the big leagues. It’s unlikely, but not impossible. Conservatively, at the pace he’s on right now, Hiura should knock on the door of a big league debut during the first half of the 2019 season. Hiura’s offensive prowess is for real, and I plan on ranking him aggressively in my next top 200 list.
  • 2018 has been a season to forget so far for Francisco Mejia, who’s slashing .214/.271/.333 in 216 plate appearances for AAA Columbus. In 41 defensive starts, Mejia has started at catcher in 26 games and in the outfield in 15 games. We’ll talk more about that in a minute. Fortunately, there are some signs Mejia is beginning to overcome his slow start offensively. In June, Mejia the catcher prospect is slashing .385/.385/.615 with a home run in 27 plate appearances. Go back another week, and Mejia is slashing .326/.375/.512 with only 6 strikeouts in 49 plate appearances since May 24th. The .191 AVG thru 120 plate appearances means that it’ll take awhile for Mejia’s season-long stats to normalize, but there have been marginal improvements lately. My second largest concern is the 8.2% jump from Mejia’s 2017 season in AA Akron to now. If Mejia’s power potential hovers around 15 HR, he can’t become a .250/.300/.400 player and hope to maintain his value. The largest concern (and I think I speak for us all) is Mejia’s defensive outlook. The third base experiment last season apparently didn’t go well. His offensive skillset, from a fantasy standpoint, diminishes exponentially if he transitions to the outfield. The Indians obviously believe in Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez as catchers at the big league level, so where does that leave us? In my write up when I ranked him as the 11th-best prospect in baseball, I said Mejia was ‘less safe than it would seem’, and that notion is certainly furthered if the approach at the plate has changed. I’m going to modestly bump Mejia down in my midseason top 200 list, and it’s mostly because of the uncertain outlook (and a little because of the first half offensive production). Mejia is currently 22 years old and a big league injury away from getting a look in Cleveland. This time last season, I was almost positive Mejia would break camp as the Indians’ starting catcher in 2018. Now I feel like he’s just as far away.
  • A bi-weekly update on my prediction for surprising/disappointing teams this season. The Phillies are in a bit of a rut, but our ‘big play’ still sits in pretty good shape at the moment. For now, the only pick I’m pessimistic about is our Nationals ‘over 92.5 wins’ pick, though they’ve been playing good baseball as of late.
  • Luis Urias’ numbers are interesting so far this season. A .257/.378/.395 slash (the .304 BABIP suggests Urias has been slightly unlucky compared to his past numbers, but nothing astronomical). Urias already has 6 HR, which matches his career high for a single season but is at least slightly diluted thanks to the hitter friendly parks in the Pacific Coast League. Your perception of Urias so far this season likely depends on the format of your fantasy league. Play in an AVG league? You’re probably worried, and I might be too. For someone who will never post gaudy power numbers, a .257 AVG (albeit in less than half a season) for a player on the cusp of a big league debut isn’t exactly encouraging. Play in an OBP league? I don’t have to tell you how safe of a prospect Urias is (his OBP should live north of .350 regardless of the home run output). Urias’ home is second base, but I think it’s pretty telling to eyeball what AAA El Paso has done with him defensively this season. 40 games at 2B, 10 games at SS and 5 games at 3B. Want to maximize the value of a prospect who can’t slug his way to heroics on a fantasy team? Increase his positional flexibility. Despite the mediocre slash numbers, I think Urias is nearing a call up to San Diego. The Padres are only five games below .500, and there’s plenty of opportunities to play on the current Padres infield. I’ll predict Urias gets the call sometime before August 1st. As far as the AVG inefficiencies so far this season: trust the track record. At his core, Urias is a second baseman with below-average power who should bat close to .300 throughout his big league career. With the juiced ball in the MLB, who knows what the power will look like. Don’t be discouraged by a player who’s shown what he’s capable of since 2015.
  • As far as position player starpower goes, High-A Inland Empire might be as talented as any minor league team in baseball. In passing, I’ll mention Jack Kruger (#HailState) as an underrated catcher prospect, but I’m here to talk about Jahmai Jones, Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh. All three should be ranked favorably on midseason prospect lists (I know they will be on mine), which is lovely when you consider all three are younger than 21 years old. Jones is the only member of the trio who started the season in High-A. My 64th-ranked prospect this preseason, Jones is slashing .253/.352/.419 thru 250 plate appearances. The nuance for Jones is that he’s shifted from center field to second base this season, which should enhance his fantasy value moving forward. There’s some variance depending on what league format you play in (AVG vs. OBP, you should totally be playing in an OBP league by the way), but the 6 HR and 9 SB (nice) in only 54 games speaks for itself, and the 20.0 K% is certainly acceptable. I suspect as Jones becomes more comfortable with a new defensive position, we might see a bump in offensive production as well. I also suspect Jones will be promoted to AA Mobile before the end of the regular season (though I hope Jones, Marsh and Adell mostly stay together throughout their minor league careers). Adell and Marsh both began the season at Low-A Burlington, dominated, were promoted, and have struggled in High-A in their first month. For the season, Adell is slashing .283/.339/.549 with 10 HR and 8 SB. It’s obvious that Adell is a five tool monster, so let’s hope he cuts down on the 28.0 K% he’s had in 189 plate appearances this season. Chalk it up to a teenager in his first season of professional ball? Marsh’s story isn’t too dissimilar. He’s slashing .257/.348/.372 with 3 HR and 9 SB this season despite only mustering a .198/.281/.221 slash thru 21 games in High-A. #Patience. Marsh has a slightly-more patient approach than Adell, but he doesn’t possess the raw power (as of right now, anyways) that Adell does despite being a year older. Marsh has a slightly-lower 26.8 K%, so cutting down on the swings-and-misses will undoubtedly be a notable part of Adell and Marsh’s progression moving forward. The duo ranked 41st (Adell) and 121st (Marsh) in my preseason top 200 respectively, and Marsh was made my 2018 prospect obsession list. Both will receive a nice bump on my midseason top 200 prospect list.
  • Evan White received a substantial promotion this week, getting bumped from High-A Modesto to AAA Tacoma. The 22 year old is only a call away from Seattle now, which seems odd considering he has fewer than 300 professional at-bats in his career. From a tool standpoint, White is interesting for a first baseman. His hit tool is undoubtedly plus (he’s slashing .284/.350/.409 in 243 plate appearances), but he possesses below-average power for his position (only 3 HR so far this season). The AVG and OBP for White this season feels about right when considering his big league outlook, but I suspect White will be capable of a little more power in the MLB than he’ll show in the minors. It’s nothing jaw-dropping, but I won’t be surprised if White becomes a 15-20 HR/season first baseman. Ryon Healy is currently doing an admirable job at 1B for the Mariners, but I suspect it’ll eventually be White who fills the seemingly-endless void that’s been first base in Seattle. A call up this season seems unlikely (though who knows what the Mariners will do if they keep competing), but a 2019 debut feels probable. From a fantasy standpoint, White certainly doesn’t fit the mold of a typical first baseman, but the position lacks a ton of depth, so the 22 year old is worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
  • I know Yankee fans see Justus Sheffield’s combined 2.60 ERA between AA and AAA this season and think the southpaw should take Masahiro Tanaka’s rotation spot, but I just don’t see it. I don’t see it because Sheffield’s walked north of 4.5 batters per 9 innings so far this season. The strikeout numbers are superb and the ERA/FIP/xFIP slash is good too, but the .214 BABIP allowed despite the 4.9 BB/9 in AAA suggests Sheffield (my 49th-ranked prospect this preseason) has been lucky to weave his way out of trouble in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre so far. It’s also worth mentioning that fellow top prospect Chance Adams has logged 170 IP in AAA, so strictly from an experience and progression standpoint, Adams makes more sense than Sheffield. In actuality, I think both Sheffield and Adams remain in AAA, and that’s because………
  • It’s time for the Yankees to see what they’ve got in Jonathan Loaisiga at the big league level. An undersized 23 year old, Loaisiga been electric this season while pitching at levels in which he probably doesn’t belong. The right-hander has 54 strikeouts in 43 IP between High-A and AA, combining to post a minuscule 2.30 ERA between the stops. Oh, he’s only walked four batters. The entire season. Again, that’s four walks in 43 IP. That seems good. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported on Sunday that Loaisiga was in-line for a spot start with the Yankees nearly a week ago before a rain out altered their rotation plans, so the fact Loaisiga has 23 career IP above High-A doesn’t mean too much. According to Fangraphs, the right-hander has never logged more than 68.2 IP during his professional career (and that was in 2013 when Loaisiga was a member of the Giants organization). Loaisiga didn’t pitch in games in either 2014 or 2015, and he only managed 2.1 IP in 2016. What an interesting career path. Obviously, the workload moving forward is a huge concern for Loaisiga, especially if he’s playing a role in our big league fantasy rotation. Rosenthal was the first to mention that Loaisiga may fill the void in New York’s rotation left by Tanaka, and it makes a ton of sense. It’s a bit of a bold take, but I think the right-hander may enjoy a bit of a breakout in the big leagues if he gets the opportunity. ‘Dynamic’ is the word I would use to describe both his fastball and breaking ball. You can watch a couple of GIFs of Loaisiga’s breaking ball here, along with a write up on Loaisiga’s inclusion on Fangraphs’ ‘The Fringe Five’. Continue to refresh Twitter to see if Loaisiga gets his opportunity to shine in the Yankees rotation. If he does and you have any room in your rotation, you should consider giving him a shot.
  • If you haven’t already, make sure you read last week’s version of Ray’s Ramblings. It features Sixto Sanchez, Taylor Trammell, Mitch Keller, Nolan Jones, Logan Allen, Jonathan Hernandez, Scooter Gennett and more. Read it here.
  • Calvin Mitchell seems to be gaining popularity by the week. Thru 239 plate appearances this season, the numbers don’t exactly match up to the grades given to Mitchell’s offensive skillset. Mitchell was given a 50-future hit tool, but he’s slashing .330/.387/.530 as a 19 year old in full season ball. The outfielder was given 45-future game power, but he’s already hit 7 home runs (for what it’s worth, he was given 55-future raw power). When teenagers outperform their tool grades in a full season environment, it often leads to value for dynasty owners. That’s what we’re experiencing here with Mitchell. I do want to see what happens to Mitchell’s slash once his BABIP descends from its current .410 mark, but even with a little regression, I think Mitchell has played himself into prospect list-conversation moving forward. I’m buying, and you should too.
  • Staff writer Andrew Lowe published a new piece on the site this week. Andrew always does a great job of tackling the mental, emotion and psychological aspects of playing fantasy baseball, and this piece is no different. Lowe briefly discusses a few deep-dynasty prospects worth monitoring before breaking down the emergence of Pirates SS prospect Oneil Cruz. Cruz has one of the more unique skillsets in all of baseball, and the other reports I’ve read have been absolutely glowing. You can read Andrew’s piece right here.
  • It’s so generic, but statistically speaking, you can see the outlook for Pablo Lopez change almost immediately after he was traded from Seattle to Miami (also, there’s probably a *LOL MARINERS PROSPECT* joke to be made somewhere in there). Last season, Lopez posted a 5.04 ERA in 100.0 IP at High-A with the Mariners organization (the FIP and xFIP were much better, for what it’s worth). In July, Lopez was part of the return from Seattle to Miami in a trade centered around RP David Phelps. As a member of the Marlins organization, Lopez would go on to post a 2.18 ERA in 45.1 IP at High-A for the remainder of the season. Of course that’s a substantial improvement, but it didn’t move a mountain in the fantasy world because Lopez’s perceived upside was minimal (his K/9 had never been higher than 8.0, and that’s when his ERA was north of 5). Then the start of the 2018 season happened. Now in Double-A, Lopez posted an INSANE 0.62/2.67/2.73 pitching slash with a 29.5 K% (!!!!!!!!!). What in the world? It was only a 43.2 IP sample, but those numbers alone were enough to get Lopez mentioned in prospect circles on Twitter (I’d like to think Prospects 365 was early on that one). After fewer than 50 IP in AA, Lopez was promoted to AAA. He allowed 2 ER in 6 IP in his debut, and I’ll certainly be interested to see what the numbers look like once we accumulate an actual sample. From a tool standpoint, Lopez’s calling card is his plus command. He won’t blow you away with his fastball (though he’s had success elevating the pitch with two strikes this season). His breaking balls aren’t of the wipe out variety. Lopez’s approach to pitching mimics that of Shane Bieber (the 22 year old has never walked more than 1.7 batter per nine innings). He paints; he hits his spots. That means that there’s an above average chance that Lopez is a better real-life pitcher than fantasy asset, but the numbers so far this season are eye-opening nonetheless. I want to see a larger sample of Lopez in Triple-A before making any definitive statements, but I’ve seen enough to know the right-hander is going to be a notable pitching prospect moving forward. Now is the time to acquire stock at a ground zero price point. The Marlins are the definition of uncompetitive this season, but Lopez may be just unheralded enough to be considered for a call up before the end of the regular season. If not, he’ll continue to gain experience at AAA while eyeing a 2019 big league debut. It’s always exciting when a seemingly-discarded prospect makes substantial strides, and it feels like we’re experiencing that now with Lopez.
  • It broke at about 11:00 CT Sunday night that the Mets were unconditionally releasing Adrian Gonzalez. Dom Smith is getting the nod, and I hope that means we’re about to see what Smith’s got under the hood. Knowing the Mets, this simply means Wilmer Flores is going to be the everyday first baseman and and Smith will be a bench bat, but let’s dream anyways. A lot has gone on with Smith (and most of it’s been negative) since the end of last season, but the 2017 featured the first baseman hitting .295 with 25 HR and 102 RBI between stops at AAA Las Vegas and with the Mets. Yes, the numbers were much worse when he was in the big leagues. Yes, playing in Las Vegas is like playing on the moon. I am well aware of all of that. I wouldn’t trust the Mets front office to run my lemonade stand, much less properly manage young big leaguers. But Smith is a former consensus top 100 prospect with a plus hit tool and above average raw power. The Mets desperately need a shot-in-the-arm to revive their season. Maybe Smith flops similarly to how he’s performed in his previous big league stints. Maybe Smith plays to his potential and re-emerges as a viable fantasy first baseman. The Mets are easy to laugh at, but I hope it’s the latter.
  • 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, Bubba Thompson, 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, Gavin Lux, Nick Neidert, M.J. Melendez, Buddy Reed, Calvin Mitchell, Yasel Antuna, Ranger Suarez, Drew Waters, Jeter Downs, Bobby Dalbec, Trey Supak, Michael Hermosillo, Francisco Morales, Julio Pablo Martinez, Joe Dunand, Pedro Avila, Oneil Cruz, Randy Arozarena, Micker Adolfo, Jazz Chisholm, Dillon Tate, Edwin Rios, Bryan Mata, Freddy Peralta, Luis Garcia, Nathaniel Lowe, Marcos Diplan, Dennis Santana, Logan Shore, Kevin Smith, Dakota Hudson, Ryan Helsley, Trevor Rogers, Will Benson, Genesis Cabrera, Khalil Lee, Gabriel Arias, Esteury Ruiz, Jorge Alcala, Nick Margevicius, Spencer Howard, Jeren Kendall, Freudis Nova, Pablo Lopez, Edgar Arredondo, Enyel De Los Santos, Alexander Canario, Ezequiel Duran, Forrest Wall, Ramon Rosso, Mario Feliciano, Tyler Stephenson, Tyreque Reed, Brusdar Graterol, Vladimir Gutierrez, Austin Allen, Anderson Tejeda, Oscar de la Cruz, Bo Takahaski, Mike Shawaryn. Feel free to ask me about any of these guys any time!
  • Is it really considered ‘beating the shift’ when a player hits a home run?

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Featured image courtesy of the San Diego Union Tribune

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