Written by: Ray Butler
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- Does any part of you feel bad for Victor Robles? I mean, the numbers would look different because they’re different players, but if you think ‘big picture’ at the start of the 2018 regular season, it should have been Robles becoming an everyday player in Washington D.C. earlier this season, not Juan Soto. Instead, Robles landed on the minor league disabled list early in the season, paving the way for the meteoric rise of Soto, who began the season in Low-A but now figures to post one of the best seasons in the history of baseball for a teenager. Just think: If Robles would have been healthy, Soto would (likely) still be dominating Double-A pitching. Baseball can be crazy. The former is now healthy once again, though he’s only managed 102 plate appearances in total this season. The accompanying numbers are mostly stellar: A .392 OBP, 14.7 K% and 11 SB. He’s only managed 1 home run, though, which doesn’t really make us feel any better about the 50-grade raw power most scouting entities have labeled him with. Thinking big picture, there’s little question that Robles is going to be a very good real-life player. He’ll continuously be a high AVG/OBP player. He’s going to steal a lot of bases. He should surpass 100 runs scored perennially. But what’s the power potential here? Is there a 10 home run cap? Does Robles eventually develop into a 20 home run threat? The answer to that question will likely determine his long-term fantasy value. For my money, with such a fantastic plate approach and elite athleticism, I lean more towards the optimistic outlook for Robles moving forward. The outfielder was my 4th-ranked prospect in my midseason top 200 list.
- Most requests for the Ramblings this week? That would be one Elehuris Montero. The 19-year-old is not disappointing in his first full season of professional ball, slashing .321/.379/.531 with 15 home runs and 69 RBIs (nice) for Low-A Peoria in 2018. A promotion to High-A Palm Beach should be in the cards relatively soon, and I think the advancement will provide a solid test for a prospect whose on base ability this season has vastly outperformed his scouting marks from a hit-tool perspective. The .371 BABIP for a 40-speed prospect does make me assume there’s a little luck baked into the eye-opening slash numbers, but it’s also important to acknowledge the fact the teenage third base prospect has an all-fields approach (his Pull% and Oppo% both sit at 38 percent). We’ll have a better idea of where the approach stands once he’s promoted to High-A, but Montero is currently looking a lot like a back-end top 200 prospect with plenty of time to solidify that status.
- Two Fringe Five darlings who I think will be solid big leaguers sooner rather than later: Cedric Mullins and Josh James. Since being drafted in 2015, Mullins has never posted a wRC+ less than 100 at any stop throughout his minor league journey. This season, the outfield prospect has slashed .286/.343/.462 with 11 home runs and 21 stolen bases in 480 plate appearances in stops at Double-A and Triple-A. The walk rate isn’t too gawky, Mullins is only striking out at a 13.8% clip as well. Speed is the outfielder’s only true-plus tool, which is likely why Mullins has slid under the radar of most prospect lists throughout his minor league career. And while he’ll always be a stolen base asset, the entire body of work, while it’s not chalked full of jaw-dropping tools, is sturdy enough from a holistic standpoint to lead to a valuable overall player. The slash numbers will never be overly-exciting, but there’s 15 HR/20 SB big league potential there. James is in the same mold as Freddy Peralta: a high-ceiling/low-floor arm with a plus fastball, a plus slider and spotty command. The strikeout numbers and .173 opponent AVG are delicious, but the 10.7 BB% gives any evaluator rightful pause (and from a fantasy standpoint, so does the fact he’s 25-years-old and yet to make his big league debut). In a vacuum, Lance McCullers Jr.’s recent elbow injury opens up a spot in the Astros’ rotation. James is currently not on Houston’s 40-man roster, but general manager Jeff Luhnow included James amongst the candidates to make big league starts down the stretch of the 2018 regular season. Thinking big picture, with such a sturdy big league rotation and Forrest Whitley eventually toeing the rubber every fifth day, it’s easy to see the Astros eventually converting James into a multi-inning power reliever or even trading the right-hander as part of a package for a win-now piece down the stretch of the regular season. The unsureness surrounding James’ role at the big league level has left him excluded from prospect lists since being drafted in 2014. I really think the starting pitcher potential for James is similar to what we’ve seen from Peralta in Milwaukee so far this season, though transitioning to a swing-man role for a contending team is the more-likely outcome.
- If you haven’t done so already, make sure you check out last week’s version of Ray’s Ramblings. It includes thoughts on Eloy Jimenez, Jo Adell, Kyle Wright, Kolby Allard, Wenceel Perez, Alexander Canario and more! Read it here.
- How about some pitching prospect injury updates? Around a week-and-a-half ago, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow stated that Forrest Whitley was progressing ‘as scheduled’ following a mild oblique strain in early July. While there’s still no official timetable on Whitley’s return, I still think it’s likely the right-hander will figure into the Astros’ bullpen plan before it’s all said-and-done this season. Whitley is currently my top-ranked pitching prospect in baseball. What about Sixto Sanchez? In a text message exchange with Jay Floyd of Phoul Ballz less than a week ago, Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan stated that organization is hopeful the right-hander returns to game action by the end of August. With that timeline in mind, it’s unlikely Sanchez sees a promotion to Double-A Reading before Opening Day 2019. It’s also likely the 20-year-old will pitch in the Arizona Fall League to make up for missed time during the regular season. Despite the unfortunate and dreaded ‘elbow inflammation’ injury, Sanchez’s big league ETA likely remains unaffected; the thought of a 2019 debut shouldn’t be discounted, but the right-hander should take the ball every fifth day for the Phillies beginning in 2020. Sanchez is currently my 18th-ranked prospect.
- One more prospect injury update: On Sunday, it was announced that White Sox OF prospect Luis Robert is expected to return to High-A Winston Salem sometime this week. Robert has been on the minor league disabled list since early July after re-injuring the same thumb that was initially injured during spring training. It goes without saying, but Robert performing well between now and the end of the regular season would ease some doubts that are beginning to creep into the minds of prospect fantasy baseballers. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. Robert ranked 26th on my midseason top 200 prospect list.
- Royals OF prospect Khalil Lee was recently placed on the seven day disabled list with back soreness, but let’s talk about the small sample he’s produced since being promoted to Double-A instead. In 118 plate appearance, Lee has slashed .245/.330/.353 with two home runs and two stolen bases. He’s walked in 9.3% of PA (down from 15.9% this season in High-A) and struck out in 23.7% of PA (down from 24.9% this season in High-A). It’s pretty on-par for a 20-year-old, top 100 prospect in his first 100-ish plate appearances in Double-A, especially when you factor in Lee’s unperfected hit tool. Double-A pitching will likely be the toughest test the center fielder faces in the minor leagues, so it’s great he’ll get the experience as a 20 and 21-year-old. If you remember, I aggressively ranked Lee as the 43rd-best prospect in baseball this midseason. It might take awhile for outfield prospect to officially turn the corner playing in the toughest level in the minor leagues, but the sky remains the limit for Lee moving forward.
- I mentioned this in my blog debut a couple of weeks ago, but I should have seen Triston McKenzie’s 2018 performance coming from miles away. Coming into the regular season, the right-hander had never struck out fewer than 10.0 batters per nine innings at any stop throughout his minor league career. For an entire regular season, McKenzie has never struck out 11.2 batters per nine innings. All the makings of a high-ceiling pitching prospect, right? But there’s more to the story here. The 21-year-old possesses borderline-plus command, but he lacks premium fastball velocity. Unlike his top pitching-prospect peers, McKenzie typically sits in the low 90s, mixing in a plus curveball and a still-developing changeup to round out the arsenal. I haven’t read much on his velocity sustainability this season, but in 2017, with his wiry 6’5 165 lb. frame, the right-hander’s velocity would dip into the high-80s towards the end of each outing. Lacking premium velocity and a genuinely solid third pitch, it was only a matter of time before McKenzie’s strikeout numbers began to dip. And though he deserves a little lenience as he settles in after missing nearly the first-half of the season with forearm discomfort, McKenzie’s strikeout rate his dipped a whopping 10% from last season to this season (32.8% to 22.8%). Other peripherals suggest McKenzie’s current 2.96 ERA is due for some regression; a .227 BABIP-against, a 34.6 GB% (down more than seven percent from last season) and 4.02 xFIP are at-minimum slightly concerning as we predict how the 21-year-old might fare for the rest of the season. I ranked McKenzie 22nd in my #MidseasonTop200, though I’ll certainly reevaluate at the end of the regular season.
- Saw an interesting trade executed between two prospect hounds last week: Rotowire’s James Anderson traded Angels OF prospect Brandon Marsh to Razzball’s Ralph Lifshitz for Rays 1B prospect Nathaniel Lowe. It’s interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First, the disparity between their rankings in my #MidseasonTop200. I ranked Marsh 39th and Lowe 142nd, though the gap would certainly be closer now if I were to rerank. Secondly, I think Lowe has become one of the more mesmerizing prospects in baseball to accurately value. Between Low-A and Double-A this season, the 23-year-old is slashing a mind-numbing .347/.439/.597 with 23 home runs and 85 RBIs. The strikeout rate is 14.3%. The walk rate is 13.6%. That’s over a 440 plate appearance sample. This isn’t luck. The Rays slow-cook their prospects, so Lowe is likely a mid-2019 debuter at the earliest. But the first baseman is probably a top 100 prospect already, with some room to continue rising before he makes his big league debut. Actually, Lifshitz already has Lowe 70th on his midseason prospect list. The profile is 1B-only, but we’re discussing an all-fields slugger with 30 home run potential who possesses fantastic plate discipline. I fall deeper every day.
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Featured image courtesy of photographer Rick Nelson and Minor League Baseball