Ray Butler’s 2018 Midseason Top 200 Prospects: #1-20

Written by: Ray Butler

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20. Francisco Mejia, C/OF, CLE, Age: 22

I read this article from SB Nation on Mejia recently, and it really opened my eyes to what might be a sad reality for the catcher prospect and the Indians. A scorching-hot month has helped normalize Mejia’s statistics, but that seems infinitely unimportant compared to the actual outlook of the 22 year old. Cleveland seems dead-set on Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez being their big league catchers for the long haul, and Terry Francona has alluded to the notion that Mejia seems at minimum somewhat disinterested in mastering the outfield defensively. That leaves us at a crossroads and perhaps hoping the Indians move the 22 year old to a catcher-needy organization at the deadline. Mejia was recently the #coverboy of the Ramblings.

19. Hunter Greene, SP, CIN, Age: 18

Greene has allowed two or fewer earned runs in 12 of his 16 starts this season. He’s also allowed four or more earned runs in the other 4 outings. It’s been an up-and-down season for the ‘prodigy’, which probably should have been expected from an 18-year-old pitching prospect in full season ball. The immense, ace-like potential remains unharmed, and the peripherals this season are solid. I find myself more bullish on Greene’s outlook now compared to the start of the season.

18. Sixto Sanchez, SP, PHI, Age: 19

Despite being only 19 years old, I think there’s a chance Sanchez would have been promoted to Double-A by now had he not been placed on the disabled list with elbow inflammation a month ago. Sanchez has taken some big steps in his development this season; the GB% is north of 50-percent, he’s suppressing home runs, the ERA is under 3.00 and he’s striking out nearly a batter per inning despite often throwing his unperfected pitches in plus counts. As long as his elbow is genuinely inflamed and nothing is structurally wrong, Sanchez should be in Double-A by the end of the season with a chance at a big league debut next season as a 20 or 21 year old. The teenager was the cover boy of the Ramblings back in early June.

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

Puk’s season was derailed before it really ever got started thanks to a torn ulnar collateral ligament that needed Tommy John surgery to repair. Puk would likely be in the Athletics’ rotation right now if he were healthy (he was having a fantastic spring training with the big league club), but now we’ll wait until next year to witness his big league debut. If the command develops to league average, Puk’s four plus-pitches will likely propel him to SP2 territory.

16. Brent Honeywell, SP, TB, Age: 23

Much like Puk, Honeywell was almost certainly going to be a large factor in a big league rotation in 2018 before undergoing Tommy John surgery before the season ever started. If you’ve watched Tampa Bay this season, you know they’re in need of starting pitching. Honeywell may not be completely-ready for the start of the 2019 season, but the 23 year old should pair with Blake Snell to form a young dynamic duo early next season. The arsenal is full and the command is above-average. Honeywell is a high-floor pitching whose consistency will make him a staple in your fantasy rotation.

15. Yordan Alvarez, 1B/OF, HOU, Age: 21

Another aggressive bump, but Alvarez is a 55-hit, 65-raw power prospect who hit 12 home runs in only 190 plate appearances in Double-A this season before being promoted to Triple-A. Now truly only a call away from the big leagues, most evaluators assume Alvarez will eventually assume the first base throne in Houston. From a roster-construction standpoint, an eventual full-time transition to 1B makes sense for the 21 year old. For now, Alvarez is playing the majority of his games in left field. The profile will impactful regardless of what position Alvarez plays. He was featured in the Ramblings last month.

14. Keston Hiura, 2B, MIL, Age: 21

Easily one of the best pure hitting prospects in baseball, Hiura skills have been on full-display this season. The second baseman is slashing .322/.381/.523 with 9 HR and a 19.8 K% between High-A and Double-A this season. Equally as important, since being promoted to Double-A, Hiura has played second base (instead of DH) in nearly every game. The final step in the 21-year-old’s offensive development will be to increase his walk rate, but the profile should be top-notch at the big league level regardless. Hiura was featured in the Ramblings last month.

13. Michael Kopech, SP, CHW, Age: 22

There’s really no other way to say it: Kopech has been disappointing so far this season. The BB/9 is sitting at a ghastly 6.1. The ERA is 4.70 (the FIP and xFIP are north of four, too). The strikeout numbers are still sky-high, but the command has backed up to the point it was at midway thru last season. Conveniently for the White Sox, it seems increasingly likely that Kopech will remain in Triple-A for the duration of the regular season. The ceiling is still insanely high, but the floor has descended back to something like ‘Tyler Glasnow’. That thought alone should give you a little pause moving forward,

12. Jo Adell, OF, LAA, Age: 19

Adell was aggressively-ranked 41st in my preseason top 200, but now he’s comfortably inside my top 15 following a spectacular first-half of the regular season. Between Low-A and High-A, the outfielder is slashing .319/.366/.608 with 17 HR and 11 SB. The strikeout and walk rates have a little ways to go, but it’s impossible to not be optimistic about Adell’s progression. There’s a non-zero chance Adell finishes the season in Double-A Mobile. A potential Adell, Mike Trout, Brandon Marsh outfield in Anaheim makes me feel things. Most recently, the teenager was included in the Ramblings last month.

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

Trammell is perhaps the most popular prospect in the short history of Prospects 365. He was my pick for this season’s breakout prospect. I ranked him 23rd this preseason. Now, Trammell is on the cusp of breaking into my top 10 overall prospects. The counting stats haven’t quite caught up to the pristine .311/.407/.449 slash line. The wRC+ is 150. He’s striking out at middling 18.9% rate. The Reds seem content conservatively promoting Trammell thru their system, but I’m hopeful the 20 year old gets the nod to Double-A before the end of the regular season.

10. Bo Bichette, SS, TOR, Age: 20

It hasn’t been a spectacular first-half for Bichette from a triple-slash standpoint, but evaluators who had studied Bichette’s swing knew Double-A would be a big challenge for the 20 year old. What I do love to see, though, is the shortstop’s 8 HR and 26 SB thru 370 plate appearances. The 16.5 K% is sublime too. Recent reports suggest Bichette will almost certainly stick at shortstop defensively, which will obvious enhance his fantasy value at the big league level. The current .305 BABIP should ascend a little, so I expect the batting average to improve from .269 between now and the end of the regular season.

9. Brendan Rodgers, INF, COL, Age: 20

I guess you can notate this as the first time I’ve ever ranked Rodgers ‘conservatively’. Still inside my top 10, I remain extremely bullish on the infielder’s outlook. The immense game power is coming to fruition this season, and Rodgers could flirt with 30 HR by the end of the season. The 11 stolen bases this season sticks out to me; the speed grade will never be spectacular, but Rodgers could potentially use his quick instincts to swipe a handful of bags at the big league level. As you know, the 20 year old plays in one of the more blocked infields in baseball, so the blurry-path puts a tiny damper on a big time offensive profile. Rodgers was a contrarian prospect obsession for me this season.

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

I ranked Lewis 21st in my preseason top 200, so a jump into the top 10 is quite aggressive for a teenager who’s only in Low-A. But if anyone’s worth it, it’s probably Lewis. The shortstop is slashing .325/.372/.498 with 8 HR and 19 SB thru 300 plate appearances. The strikeout rate currently sits at 15.1% despite 2018 being Lewis’s first full season in professional ball, which speaks to the 19 year old’s advanced approach. The makeup is reportedly off the charts, and a promotion to High-A should be in the cards soon. Lewis was featured in the Ramblings back in May.

7. Forrest Whitley, SP, HOU, Age: 20

Behold. The top pitching prospect in baseball. Whitley possesses four plus pitches and above average command. He’s in Double-A and only 20 years old, so the current numbers might not fully suggest it, but Whitley has top-of-the-rotation written all over him. The oblique injury he recently suffered doesn’t *seem* too severe, and as long as he doesn’t miss too much time, there’s a decent chance Whitley finishes the season pitching out of the Astros bullpen. The potential here would put Whitley in the same statistical conversation as future teammates Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole. Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. He’s that good. The right-hander made the Ramblings last month.

6. Nick Senzel, INF, CIN, Age: 23

Senzel’s recent thumb surgery makes three top 20 prospects whose 2018 season ended early due to injury. In most organizations, Senzel would have suffered the injury at the big league level. In a Reds organization weary of starting their top prospect’s service clock, the infielder was stuck in Triple-A before being injured. I won’t go on a rant about how ridiculous it is that a player as talented as Senzel won’t make their big league debut until their age-24 season, but the versatile infielder has five tool potential and will be an impact fantasy player as early as 2019. My gut tells me he’ll eventually settle in at second base once he returns.

5. Kyle Tucker, OF, HOU, Age: 21

Kyle Tucker has arrived. As you know, the 21 year old was promoted to Houston this past weekend, where he should remain barring a putrid first month in an Astros jersey. Taking his place amongst an already-elite lineup, Tucker is a 65-hit, 65-raw power prospect with super-advanced base running abilities. The Astros’ top-ranked prospect has the skillset to make George Springer the second-best outfielder in Houston by the 2020 season. Tucker was the #coverboy of the Ramblings last month.

4. Victor Robles, OF, WAS, Age: 21

Robles was injured exactly three months ago today, and he finally seems close to returning to game action in Triple-A. Have you been a good fantasy player and attempted to buy-low on the future Nationals center fielder? Have you? Despite missing close to half of the regular season, Robles should be a factor in D.C. at some point down the stretch. The 21 year old is a 70-hit, 70-speed prospect. If he can find his way to 20 HR seasons, buckle your seat belts.

3. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, SD, Age: 19

There are two mysteries remaining with FTJ’s offensive profile: With a 6’3 frame, will he continue to be a 20 SB threat once he finalizes his physical development? Will the strikeout rate always sit as close to 30% as it does now? The answer to those two questions will determine whether Tatis Jr. is eventually a five tool superstar or simply a really, really good player. More than a year ago, I compared Tatis Jr. to Manny Machado. I stand by that comp now. The legacy prospect was featured in the Ramblings last month.

2. Eloy Jimenez, OF, CHW, Age: 21

At 21 years old, Jimenez might be the most pure hitter in the minor leagues. The thing is, with 80-grade raw power, the outfielder is barely tipping the scale of what he’s capable of from a home run standpoint. If I’m poking holes, I’ll mention that Jimenez has never played a full season of professional ball without spending time on the disabled list. Let’s hope he can buck the trend once he reaches the big leagues. Jimenez was the cover-prospect in the Ramblings back in May.

1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, TOR, Age: 19

All hail the impaler! Vladito is currently working his way back from a minor knee injury, but what he’s doing in Double-A (at his age) is unprecedented and unrivaled. One of the more interesting storylines in the second half of the regular season will be whether Guerrero Jr. makes his big league debut as a teenager this season or as a seasoned 20 year old next season. He has the ceiling of a hall of famer, though the majority of that production will likely come from first base. The top prospect was featured in the Ramblings in late May.

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