Ray Butler’s 2018 December Top 100 Prospects: #21-40

Written by: Ray Butler

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For previous installments of my #DecemberTop100, check out my #81-100 prospects here, my #61-80 prospects here and my #41-60 prospects here.

40. Mitch Keller, SP, PIT. Age: 22

Every report I’ve read on Keller’s 2018 performance point to changeup usage being the reason the strikeouts were down and the walks were up for the right-hander last season. The much-needed third offering has certainly improved, and it’ll certainly be utilized when the 22-year-old makes his big league debut; hopefully, that’s sometime in 2019.

39. Casey Mize, SP, DET. Age: 21

I went back-and-forth on whether Mize or fellow-farmhand Matt Manning should be ranked more favorably in my #DecemberTop100, and there’s a chance I swap the two as I continue to evaluate leading up to the preseason. Regardless of his respective standing on prospect lists, Mize has a deep arsenal and should move quickly through Detroit’s system.

38. Francisco Mejia, C, SD. Age: 23

The Padres reported pursuit of Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto isn’t exactly a vote of confidence for Mejia, who currently figures to split time with Austin Hedges in 2019 anyways. From a fantasy standpoint, it might not be a bad time to shop around and see what return you could receive in exchange for the 23-year-old. Conversely, remember: True talent always finds a way to overcome clouded paths.

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

The first of many such cases you’ll read about in the next twenty prospects, Greene is currently in the process of recovering from an elbow injury that ended his 2018 campaign early. The right-hander will reportedly be ready for Spring Training, but don’t be surprised if the Reds slow-play the teenager’s workload this season. Greene’s stuff, athleticism and makeup give the right-hander the potential to be one of the best pitchers in all of baseball someday.

36. Alex Verdugo, OF, LAD. Age: 22

Alex Verdugo is going to be a solid, everyday outfielder at the big league level sooner rather than later (finally). From a fantasy standpoint, as has been the case for awhile now, the 22-year-old’s value hinges mightily on his ability to unlock his borderline-plus raw power in game situations. If 15 home runs is his cap, Verdugo will be a solid-but-unspectacular asset. If the outfielder can reach 20-25 home runs? Watch out.

35. Austin Riley, 3B, ATL. Age: 21

In a perfect world, you’d really like your first or third baseman to be the best player on your fantasy infield. Riley certainly has the raw power to make that possible at either position, but the disappointing strikeout rate may make that notion impossible if you roster him. Josh Donaldson is the Braves third baseman for at least 2019, so the 21-year-old may need a big league injury in order to impact your fantasy team this season.

34. Luis Robert, OF, CHW. Age: 21

It means very little because it’s such a small sample from such a raw prospect, but Robert has a career 99 wRC+ in 50 career professional games. He’s struck out in a fourth of his plate appearances. He hasn’t stayed healthy for substantial amounts of time. There’s a lot to dislike about what we’ve seen from the 21-year-old so far. But when it all clicks–and we’ve seen glimpses at times– Robert is easily one of the most electrifying prospects in the sport. It’ll be all about durability and contact rate for the outfielder in 2019. The volatility with Robert is such that I wouldn’t be too surprised if he was a top 10 prospect heading into 2020. I also wouldn’t be too shocked if he’s on the back-end of top 100 lists a year from now. Robert was included in the Ramblings in July.

33. Dylan Cease, SP, CHW. Age: 23

No preseason top 200 prospect did more for their stock than Cease in 2018, exhibiting a much-improved changeup and cleaner mechanics en route to carving up hitters in High-A and Double-A. There are still evaluators who think the right-hander is better suited for the bullpen, but another healthy, effective campaign in 2019 could officially extinguish those takes. If all goes according to plan, Cease should make his debut on the South Side at some point in 2019. The 23-year-old was last featured in the Ramblings in August.

32. Touki Toussaint, SP, ATL. Age: 22

There’s a wide-range of outcomes for Toussaint, spanning from the ceiling of a legitimate #2 starting pitcher, to a dynamic, multi-inning reliever, to one of the best closers in baseball. One thing is certain: the right-hander is ready to contribute at the big league level right now, so it’ll be interesting to hear and see Atlanta’s plan for the 22-year-old in 2019. Of course the fantasy value for Toussaint is limited if he ends up in the bullpen, but he’ll be one of the most intriguing arms in baseball regardless of his role.

31. Jesus Sanchez, OF, TB. Age: 21

There’s so much thunder in Sanchez’s bat, but the approach and aggression we’ve seen so far makes me wonder if the outfielder will ever fully-display his immense potential. A full-season versus Double-A pitching should paint a clearer picture of what can be expected from the 21-year-old moving forward. Remember this: a mediocre OBP paired with a lack of stolen bases leads to a flawed fantasy asset.

30. Jarred Kelenic, OF, SEA. Age: 19

The teenager had been definitively declared The Next Great Mets Prospect, until New York traded Kelenic and a plethora of other pieces to Seattle for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. The outfielder’s hit tool, raw power and speed have already been graded by most evaluators as above-average or plus with room to grow, and Kelenic’s skills were on full display this summer in Rookie Ball. Full season ball lies ahead for the left-handed slugger in 2019.

29. Nolan Gorman, 3B, STL. Age: 18

The strikeouts might only improve marginally as Gorman continues developing throughout his minor league career, but the game power (17 home runs in 274 plate appearances last summer) is already *well* ahead of Gorman’s 18 years of age. The hit tool will likely never be elite, so it’s important for the walk rate to remain around double digits throughout the third baseman’s career. There’s 30-40 home run potential in Gorman’s offensive profile. The teenager was a #coverboy of the Ramblings in August.

28. Mike Soroka, SP, ATL. Age: 21

The right-hander posted solid numbers in his first big league stint last season–as a 20-year-old– before a shoulder injury derailed his campaign. In total, Soroka only managed 52.2 IP last season, so it’ll be interesting to see how hard Atlanta chooses to push him in 2019. Soroka currently lacks premium velocity that leads to a plethora of strikeouts, but he’s also 21 years old and far from a finished product. The best is yet to come for the right-hander.

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

You’re aware of the story here. Great Spring Training in 2018. On the cusp of making his big league debut. Then bam, an elbow injury shortly prior to Opening Day revealed Puk needed Tommy John surgery. The southpaw missed the entirety of last season, and he’s not expected to return to competition until sometime next summer. If he returns in his typical form, the 23-year-old has top-of-the-rotation potential both in real life and on your fantasy team.

26. Luis Urias, INF, SD. Age: 21

The infielder’s poor quality-of-contact led to a hilariously-bad BABIP after Urias was promoted to San Diego in August, but the small sample may be just what you need to acquire the 21-year-old at a discounted price this offseason. Already eligible at second base, it’s been reported Urias may shift to shortstop following the Padres’ acquisition of Ian Kinsler. I really think the infielder will hit for more power at the big league level than he did in the minors, which would pair nicely with his fantastic plate approach.

25. Andres Gimenez, SS, NYM. Age: 20

Breathe. It. In. The .281/.347/.409 slash with 38 stolen bases and an 18.3 K% as a 19-year-old in High-A and Double-A is enough to make Gimenez a solid prospect, but it’s the emerging raw power that makes the teenager one of the most intriguing infield prospects in baseball. The shortstop will likely begin the 2019 season back in Double-A, and an increase in home run output could make Gimenez a top 10 or 15 prospect by the end of the season. The 20-year-old was featured in the Ramblings in August.

24. Sixto Sanchez, SP, PHI. Age: 20

An elbow injury in June sidelined Sanchez *just* when it seemed as though the right-hander was close to being promoted to Double-A Reading. After missing the remainder of the season, it was then announced the 20-year-old would be ‘skipping’ the Arizona Fall League due to a setback in his recovery. With a moderate 6’0 frame, durability issues are always terrifying. However, if Sanchez can bounce back and remain healthy in 2019, there’s a chance he’s the top pitching prospect in baseball this time next offseason. There’s some good stuff on Sanchez in this Ray’s Ramblings from June.

23. Peter Alonso, 1B, NYM. Age: 24

He’s going to have to prove he can hit the curveball consistently at the big league level, but Alonso has 35-40 home run potential and should post walk-rates that will keep his OBP solid. With new Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen aggressively pursuing ways to make his team increasingly competitive, Alonso should find his way into the middle of the Mets lineup early (if not on Opening Day) in 2019. Humblebrag: as his breakout was beginning, Alonso was a Ramblings #coverboy in April.

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

White Sox fans deserved to see Kopech succeed at the big league level last season, but the right-hander was prone to the long ball and was a victim to an unearthly .381 BABIP before suffering a devastating elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Out for the entirety of the upcoming season, Kopech will pitch most of the 2020 season as a 24-year-old who will be on an innings limit. Sigh. Staff writer Marc Rodriguez discussed Kopech in his Ramblings in August.

21. Alex Reyes, SP, STL. Age: 24

Yes, Alex Reyes somehow found a way to miraculously maintain prospect status this offseason (literally by 0.1 IP). I’m probably the high-man left standing with Reyes, but I truly believe the right-hander has some of the best ‘stuff’ in all of baseball. He’ll likely be on an innings-limit in 2019, but the 24-year-old will almost certainly post some eye-opening numbers if he can simply stay healthy (which, as we’ve seen, is much easier said than done).

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Featured image courtesy of photographer Michael Wade and MiLB.com.

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