Ray Butler’s 2018 December Top 100 Prospects: #1-20

Written by: Ray Butler

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Catching the tail end of my #DecemberTop100? For previous installments, check out my #81-100 prospects heremy #61-80 prospects heremy #41-60 prospects here and my #21-40 prospects here.

If you’ve been a fan of my #DecemberTop100, it won’t sniff the amount and magnitude of content that will be published on the site this spring. On New Year’s Day, we announced a 2019 Preseason VIP package, which gives you early-access to that content, a chance at a top-tier Bowman chrome auto card and a direct link to communicating with us everyday throughout the year. Get all the details right here, then join us.

20. MacKenzie Gore, SP, SD. Age: 19 

The odds-on favorite to be the top pitching prospect in baseball this time next year, Gore only managed 60.2 IP in 2018 due to a recurrence of blisters. An unlucky .352 BABIP-against led the teenager to posting a 4.45 ERA in Low-A, but a closer examination reveals a 3.16 xFIP, which is more predictive of what the southpaw’s future holds. Gore will pitch in the California League in 2019, which should be an interesting challenge. The Padres might be tempted to accelerate the 19-year-old’s timeline as the organization prepares to contend in the National League, but I think it’s more likely that no steps are skipped in the seasoning of one of the most promising, young arms in the sport.

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

The red carpet was rolled out and ready for Honeywell’s emergence at the big league level last season, but an elbow injury and Tommy John surgery had other ideas. The right-hander is expected back in competition sometime this summer, and his return could act as somewhat of an impact-arm trade for the Rays. The 23-year-old has ‘top-tier #3 starting pitcher’ written all over him, with flashes of more at times.

18. Brendan Rodgers, SS, COL. Age: 22

The .268/.330/.460 triple-slash with 17 home runs and a 116 wRC+ isn’t horrible, but I think Rodgers will suffer a slight descent on prospect lists throughout the industry in the upcoming preseason because we’re realizing his floor simply isn’t as high as we once thought. Don’t get me wrong: the 22-year-old’s power is massive, and he’ll max out whatever stolen base potential he’s got as a runner. But the approach is so aggressive, he’ll hit a lot of pitcher’s pitches throughout his career unless he exhibits more plate discipline.

17. Jesus Luzardo, SP, OAK. Age: 21

I kept waiting and waiting for the southpaw to meet his match last season, but Luzardo never did (don’t point out his Triple-A ERA unless the BABIP and xFIP are in your next sentence). It’s up for debate whether the 21-year-old will miss a gargantuan amount of bats at the highest level, but at minimum, Luzardo should be a middle-of-the-rotation fixture in Oakland without breaking much of a sweat.

16. Carter Kieboom, SS, WAS. Age: 21

The Nationals’ big league roster construction could mean Kieboom eventually moves to second base, but the 21-year-old’s raw power and advanced approach means he could someday be an All-Star at the position. His first bout versus Double-A pitching in the Eastern League left some to be desired, but I fully-expect sterling numbers in 2019 before he’s promoted to Triple-A. Kieboom was featured in the Ramblings in June.

15. Taylor Trammell, OF, CIN. Age: 21

My breakout prospect for the 2018 season didn’t put up the counting numbers of a superstar, but if 8 home runs, 25 stolen bases (not to mention a .375 OBP) is on the light side of what we can expect from a player with Trammell’s skill-set, the future is very bright. With fantastic plate discipline and 70-grade speed, the 21-year-old is a very high-floor player. If he ever unlocks the power we saw in the Futures Game last season, the outfielder will be a big league superstar. Trammell was mentioned consistently in the Ramblings last season, but I also discussed his skillset on the 80 Grade Podcast with Connor Kurcon and Rhys White in July.

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

I wish he would have struck out less last season, but the 20 home runs, .293/.369/.534 slash and 139 wRC+ as a 20 and 21-year-old in Double-A and Triple-A is the tale of the tape for Alvarez. Yuli Gurriel only posted a 107 wRC+ as the Astros’ primarily first baseman last season, and it’s only a matter of time before Alvarez overtakes him in Houston. Until then, the numbers at Triple-A Round Rock should be impressive. Alvarez was featured in the Ramblings in June.

13. Keston Hiura, 2B, MIL. Age: 22

One of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues, it was a relief to see Hiura ease his way back in to playing second base fairly regularly in 2018. He’s only played one full-season of minor league ball, but it would be somewhat of shock if Hiura doesn’t play at least a minor role for what should be a very good Brewers team at some point in 2019. The second baseman was the #coverboy of this Ramblings from July.

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

The 72 plate appearance sample we were given by Tucker at the big league level last season left a lot to be desired, and the subsequent numbers make it easy to forget the 21-year-old hit 24 home runs, stole 20 bases and had a .400 OBP (!!!!!!!!!) in Triple-A in 2018. It’s going to click for Tucker at some point, and probably sooner rather than later. However, it is important to note that the Astros are currently in the middle of their contention window. For now, they also have the outfield depth to make Tucker a second-tier option if he continues to underperform at the big league level. Because of these factors, if Houston is serious about acquiring J.T. Realmuto or an upper-echelon starting pitcher before Opening Day, the 21-year-old will likely be the prized return piece. It’s unnerving for there to be so many unknowns for a prospect ranked so highly, but that’s where we currently stand with Tucker. During one of the hottest streaks in baseball at any level last season, Tucker was a #coverboy in the Ramblings in June. #Patience

11. Nick Senzel, UTIL, CIN. Age: 23

An injury-plagued 2018 campaign has caused Senzel’s ranking to drop a smidge, but that’s more about the performance of others than the 23-year-old’s shortcomings. What we did see from Senzel in 44 games last season was really good, including 6 home runs and 8 stolen bases in only 193 plate appearances versus Triple-A competition. The concern I have about Senzel from a fantasy standpoint is a potential move to the outfield. The 23-year-old has reportedly begun working in centerfield, and OF-only eligibility for a player with Senzel’s skillset would tarnish his fantasy value. Thankfully, it currently appears the Reds are leaning towards utilizing Senzel as a super-utility player (second base, third base, centerfield and perhaps even shortstop) in 2019 and beyond. If this were the case, we’d probably have a more valuable version of Marwin Gonzalez on our hands.

 10. Alex Kirilloff, OF, MIN. Age: 21

Jason Woodell tweeted in September that Kirilloff is a future batting champ. I rest my case. Really though, it’s hard to poke holes in anything the outfielder did in 2018. A hilarious .348/.392/.578 triple-slash. 20 home runs. A 172 wRC+ in 130 games between Low-A and High-A. It was quite the comeback for the 21-year-old after missing the 2017 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Whatever encore he has in store for us, it’ll likely come from Double-A and Triple-A as the Twins prepare the outfielder for his big league debut. Kirilloff made the Ramblings back in May.

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

One of the top performers throughout the minor leagues last season, Adell’s 20 home runs, 15 stolen bases and .290/.355/.543 triple-slash easily overwhelms the fact he also struck out in a fourth of his plate appearances. An explosive athlete, Adell should be capable of that home run and stolen base output in the big leagues someday, even if the hit tool only settles at league average. Adell was the #coverboy of this Ramblings from July.

8. Wander Franco, SS, TB. Age: 17

No prospect had a better summer than Franco, who witnessed his prospect status ascend from the outskirts of top 100 lists to the top 10 throughout the industry. And yeah, the numbers are great, but it’s the drool-worthy reports from scouts that make his catapult seem relatively safe instead of myopic. You know me: a 7.0 K% by any 17-year-old at any level puts you on my radar. Franco posted that rate while hitting 11 home runs and reaching base at a .418-clip in only 61 games this summer. The hype is real. Franco made his Ramblings debut as a #coverboy in July.

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

You know as well as I do that Bichette gets overshadowed by the magnificence that is Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but the 20-year-old is without-a-doubt one of the most electrifying prospects in baseball. You might be a little turned off by the 11 home runs in 2019, but the hope here is that a portion of the 43 doubles in 2018 eventually evolve into home runs. Regardless of whether his eventual home is shortstop or second base, Bichette will be one of the better players on your fantasy team sooner rather than later.

6. Forrest Whitley, SP, HOU. Age: 21

You know you’re a good player when you only muster 26.1 IP in a season and it doesn’t negatively affect your prospect status. There’s a chance Whitley peaks with four plus pitches with above-average command, and he’ll pitch in an organization that’s proven it can get the most of of its pitchers. The 21-year-old is unquestionably the best pitching prospect in baseball; let’s hope he stays healthy and graduates from lists in 2019. Whitley was further-discussed in this Ramblings from June.

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

An elite player with elite makeup, Lewis’s 2018 performance lived up to the hype of a #1 overall draft pick, and then some. The hit tool, raw power and speed may all be plus, and there’s a real chance the shortstop is the #1 overall prospect heading into the 2020 season. The shortstop was featured in the Ramblings in May.

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

A freakish elbow injury led to a weird season for Robles in 2018, but it also created an opportunity for the outfielder to fly under-the-radar this offseason before really exploding onto the scene in 2019. Nationals skipper Davey Martinez recently said he believes the 21-year-old is ready to be an everyday, big league player, and Robles should be an asset for you in fantasy baseball despite being more valuable in real life. The centerfielder was a #coverboyof the Ramblings in August.

3. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, SD. Age: 20

I’m hopeful continued development leads to a more reasonable strikeout rate, but Tatis Jr. is going to be incredibly valuable both in the real world and in fantasy baseball. The 133 wRC+ as a 19-year-old in the Texas League speaks volumes. The shortstop’s 2018 season ended early due to a thumb injury, but Tatis’s stellar numbers in the Dominican Winter League should lead to a Triple-A placement to begin the 2019 season. A major league call up is on the horizon. The legacy prospect was a #coverboy of the Ramblings in June.

2. Eloy Jimenez, OF, CHW. Age: 22

The proof was in the pudding for Jimenez in 2018: .337/.384/.577 with 22 home runs and a 15.1 K%. You can poke holes and hypothesize there will be an adjustment-period for the outfielder at the big league level due to his aggressive plate approach; you can probably find even more footing if you worry about the string of injuries that have hampered the 22-year-old throughout his minor league career. Instead of stressing about the non-linear growth of prospects, let’s focus on what’s undeniably true: when he’s at his best, Jimenez will be one of the best hitters in the big leagues. The outfielder should be an everyday player for the White Sox by the end of April. Jimenez was recently featured in this Ramblings from earlier this month.

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

If Vlad Jr. could rank higher than 1st, I promise he would. I’m really not sure what you’re expecting me to say here. The hit tool is prodigious. The power is prodigious. The defense is just good enough. The teenager will likely be one of the faces of the game by the end of the 2019 season, and “best player in all of baseball” is not out of the equation here. Vladito was a #coverboy of the Ramblings in May.

The composite #DecemberTop100 list will be published on Wednesday, January 2nd. 

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Featured image courtesy of Getty Images

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