Ray Butler’s 2019 Top 200 Prospects: #161-180

Written by: Ray Butler

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For previous installments of this list, you can check out my #181-200 prospects here

Twenty more prospects to help you make it through Hump Day…..

180. Taylor Widener, SP, ARZ. Age: 24

Consider this: Widener basically struck out a whopping 31.9% of the batters he faced (in Double-A) last season with a two-pitch arsenal. Sure, he mixed in the changeup too, but the aforementioned two-pitch combo is one of the deadliest in the minor leagues. In actuality, the refinement of the changeup will ultimately determine whether Widener is an effective big league starting pitcher or a dynamite reliever. In real life, the difference is moderate at most. In the fantasy baseball world, you’re on your hands and knees praying that Widener’s powerful arsenal eventually officially expands to three pitches.

179. Sean Murphy, C, OAK. Age: 24

Statistically, Murphy reminds me a lot of fellow catching prospect Danny Jansen. The latter has done more to unlock his game power, but Murphy will likely post better AVGs throughout his career. The unfortunate difference between the two (for Murphy anyways) is that Jansen made his big league debut at the age of 23 at the end of last season. Now 24-years-old, Murphy is yet to see meaningful time at any level above Double-A. Looking at greener pastures, the Athletics do have a pretty blatant need for stability from their catcher position at the big league level, and Murphy figures to eventually fill that role. I think there’s a chance that happens sometime in 2019.

178. Evan White, 1B, SEA. Age: 22

White possesses a lot of qualities you want from your first baseman in real life. The 22-year-old hit .300 last season while walking in 9.4% of plate appearances and striking out at an acceptable 19.4% rate. Even more important, White is already one of the best defensive first basemen at any level of baseball, and he should contend for multiple Gold Gloves as a major leaguer someday (he profiles similarly to Cody Bellinger defensively and could play outfield if needed without skipping much of a beat). The only thing missing for the first baseman is 1B-type power, which is kind of important as you evaluate whether White could potentially play a role for your fantasy team. He hit 11 home runs last season, and 15 at the big league level is probably a fair cap without a mechanical adjustment.

177. Lazaro Armenteros, OF, OAK. Age: 19

It always felt like, with the expectations that were thrust upon him, Armenteros’s development would never be linear. And if that was your genuine thought process, you’re taking a deep breath after the last season. The 33.8 K% tells one story, whose ending likely ends with Armenteros landing outside the top 200 this preseason. But the 10.6 BB% and .374 OBP (don’t look at the .427 BABIP) are the saving grace and allow us to remain optimistic on teenager moving forward. It feels like this is an important season for Armenteros’s development.

176. JoJo Romero, SP, PHI. Age: 22

2018 was a weird season for Romero. In his first five starts of his age-21 season in Double-A (Reading is notoriously hitter-friendly), the southpaw posted a 7.18 ERA and only struck out 17 batters in 26.1 IP. From then until his season was ended in mid-July due to a rib injury, Romero tallied 83 strikeouts in 80.1 IP and posted a 2.69 ERA. Along the way, the left-hander’s fastball velocity dipped from 91-95 mph to 86-88 mph, then back to its original speed. Romero has a four-pitch mix and solid command, which pair to force a lot of groundball outs (52.3% last season). The 22-year-old projects as a mid-tier SP3 capable of striking out a batter per inning while inducing a lot of weak contact. Romero will be away from Reading and should be fully healthy, and the subsequent numbers in 2019 should reflect it.

175. Ryan McKenna, OF, BAL. Age: 22

A prospect who emerged last season with top-of-the-order speed and plate discipline, McKenna has a chance to bat lead off in Baltimore before he turns 24. Unfortunately, the .436 BABIP while in High-A last season tells us the 22-year-old’s spectacular .377/.467/.556 slash was likely unsustainable. The numbers took a dive after a promotion to Double-A, and McKenna went down swinging in 22.4% of his plate appearances in 60 games at the level (up from 15% while at High-A last season).

174. Malcom Nunez, 1B, STL. Age: 18

A pure hitting machine who has the chance to someday be one of the best first base prospects in baseball, Nunez posted video game numbers in the Dominican Summer League last summer. Read this without raising your eyebrows: .414/.497/.774 with 13 home runs and only three more strikeouts (29) than walks (26) in 199 plate appearances. He’ll turn 18 in March. Physically superior to his competition in the DSL, it’ll be interesting to see what the Cardinals have planned for Nunez in 2019. He played more third base than first base last summer, but I’ve been told the teenager is practically a shoe in to fully transition to first base at some point in his prospect career.

173. Jay Groome, SP, BOS. Age: 20

When he was drafted, it was widely predicted Groome would become a dynamite-pitching prospect if he could simply stay on the field. At the time, it was thought that off-the-field issues might eventually derail the southpaw’s career. In actuality, it’s been injuries. The 20-year-old has totaled only 52 innings pitched in three professional seasons, and that number is likely to remain the same until 2020 (Groome underwent Tommy John surgery in May last year). The left-hander still has youth on his side and the high ceiling still remains, but the margin for error will be much smaller when he finally returns to the mound in 2020.

172. Bobby Dalbec, 3B, BOS. Age: 23

Bobby Bombs is a case-study in the art of the Three True Outcomes, and an amazing 50.5% of his plate appearances in 2018 ended with a home run, strikeout or walk. Like the aforementioned Isan Diaz, Dalbec will always be more valuable in OBP leagues than AVG leagues. It’s not that the third baseman expands the strike zone constantly (12.2 BB% last season), it’s that he doesn’t always do damage when he sees a pitch in the zone (32.4 K%). Fortunately, the power is such that even if Dalbec only lowers his strikeout rate to 30% or thereabouts, he’ll still prove valuable in the fantasy world. The 32 home runs in 2018 are not out of the realm of possibility for Dalbec as an eventual big leaguer.

171. Spencer Howard, SP, PHI. Age: 22

Howard chewed up and spit out under-classed competition in his first full season in 2018, so it’ll be interesting to see the right-hander in the Florida State League (and perhaps the Eastern League) in 2019. At his very best, Howard can throw four different pitches that flash plus; thanks to occasionally-spotty command, at other times, Howard doesn’t locate his fastball and struggles to miss the bats his arsenal says he should. The right-hander began to make waves down the stretch of last season. He can officially announce his presence as a top-pitching prospect in 2019.

170. Daniel Lynch, SP, KC. Age: 22

A college arm who has a chance to move quickly through the Royals’ system, Lynch has a four-pitch arsenal that can be fully utilized anytime the southpaw toes the rubber. None of the pitches are earth-shattering, but Lynch’s ability to induce ground balls at a high-rate with above average command keeps the floor comfortably high for the southpaw. The Royals will likely be fairly deliberate with the progression of first round picks Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, but I’ll go out on a limb and say Lynch has an outside shot of making a big league debut in 2019.

169. Shane Baz, SP, TB. Age: 19

A scout comped Baz’s command to Tyler Glasnow’s to me when Baz was drafted in the first round in 2017. At first I thought the comparison was lazy (both right-handed hurlers were members of the Pirates at the time), but 76 IP into Baz’s career, the statement has held true. Also, both are members of the Rays now. The 19-year-old is very athletic, so hope abounds he eventually overcomes the command woes. The right-hander throws four pitches, but the fastball and slider are the calling cards. The walk rate has been so poor that it’s not a given, but I’m hopeful we see Baz in full season ball in 2019.

168. Clarke Schmidt, SP, NYY. Age: 23

It me, ranking a 23-year-old who has yet to reach full season ball inside my top 170. Careless, you may say. Reckless, you may think. I took a deeper look at Schmidt in my article discussing pitchers who could be this season’s Chris Paddack, but I’ll briefly expound here. Schmidt is going to sneak up on a lot of people this year, and I keep hearing the Yankees are ready to be aggressive with the right-hander’s path to the major leagues. This ranking allows you to be fully aware of the 2017 first rounder and take steps to secure stock before your league mates do. Don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

167. Nick Solak, 2B/OF, TB. Age: 24

Better late than never, it’s officially time to PUT SOME RESPECK ON NICK SOLAK’S NAME! Honestly though, I’m not sure what else the 24-year-old has to prove to universally be known as a viable prospect. With a hit tool and speed that are both plus or near plus, Solak hit 19 home runs and stole 21 bases in Double-A last season, all while slashing .282/.384/.450 (with a sustainable .330 BABIP) with a 12.0 BB% and 19.8 K%. Woo-wee. With the value of defensive versatility increasing by the day in baseball, Solak started nearly as many games in the outfield last season as he did at second base. He’ll start in Triple-A a 24-year-old in 2019, but there’s no reason Solak can’t make his big league debut around the same time as fellow Rays prospect Nathaniel Lowe. My gut tells me someday, the prospect community will look back on Solak’s minor league career and thinks “why didn’t we give this guy more credit?” as he makes waves in the big leagues.

166. Jeter Downs, INF, LAD. Age: 20

Man, there’s absolutely everything to love about a borderline industry top 100 prospect being traded to one of the best systems in baseball in terms of helping prospects reach their potential. I’m not as high on Downs as most are, mostly because fantasy baseball doesn’t always reward well-rounded skillsets without plus tools. You might be quick to point out the 37 stolen bases last season, but Downs benefits from strong base running instincts and is not known for his straight-line speed. It’s fair to predict Downs will be capable of posting double digit HR/SB seasons with a moderate AVG and OBP as a big leaguer someday, and he’ll likely do it while manning second base defensively.

165. Austin Hays, OF, BAL. Age: 23

Quite honestly, I’m pretty sick of having to rank Hays on my prospect lists. And it’s not simply because the 23-year-old refuses to relinquish his prospect status, but because Hays’s skillset isn’t my cup of tea anyways. In 1043 career minor league plate appearances, Hays has walked 15 times (4.3 BB%). To get away with that, you have to possess a special hit tool and either earth-shattering power or game-changing speed. I’ll concede Hays has plus power, but the speed and hit tool are only average. The 23-year-old is an above-average defender and will likely be a productive big leaguer at some point, but I think the future will prove Hays’s 2017 breakout was an outlier of his capabilities. The outfielder missed a large portion of last season with multiple injuries, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t play a role for the Orioles sometime 2019.

164. Jeremiah Jackson, SS, LAA. Age: 19

Jackson doesn’t quite fit the Angels’ prospect calling card of stockpiling supremely athletic outfielders, but that’s only because the teenager preps from the dirt defensively before each pitch. A superb athlete, Jackson was drafted in the second round last summer before hitting 7 home runs and stealing 10 bases at two rookie levels. Unfortunately, the shortstop went down swinging in 30.9% of his 191 plate appearances. The hit tool development is really the only thing that could hinder Jackson from reaching his 60-raw power, 55-speed ceiling, but we tend to believe in athletes around here. I’m going to let Jackson cook for a year before passing judgment. Our Andrew Lowe predicted the shortstop could have an Oneil Cruz-like ascension this season.

163. Parker Meadows, OF, DET. Age: 19

A high-variance, toolsy teenager whose family has history with top prospect lists, Meadows development will be all about growing one tool while desperately holding on to others. Check this out: the outfielder slashed .290/.377/473 despite striking out in a whopping 29.2% of his plate appearances last summer in Rookie and Short Season ball. The development of the hit tool will be the most important facet of Meadows’s development. But standing at 6’5 185 lbs., maintaining his current plus plus speed is nearly just as important to his sky-high ceiling. Full season ball in 2019 awaits.

162. Jhon Torres, OF, STL. Age: 19

Is that a teenage prospect with a 50-grade hit tool, massive raw power and the willingness to take a walk I see? Traded with Conner Capel to the Cardinals for Oscar Mercado in a trade that made sense for both organizations, Torres unquestionably has the highest ceiling of the three players in that trade. Get a whiff of these numbers: .321/.409/.525 with 8 home runs, a 10.2 BB% and a 19.9 K% in 44 games this summer. Despite already sporting a 6’4, 200 lb. frame, scouts think Torres could continue to grow even more throughout the next calendar year. Full season ball will tell a more complete story, but Torres has the makings to be a of future, middle-of-the-order masher in St. Louis. Staff writer Marc Rodriguez ranked Torres aggressively last month.

161. Ethan Hankins, SP, CLE. Age: 18

There’s miles and miles of development left to be had, but Hankins is currently the odds-on favorite to eventually be perceived as the steal of the 2018 draft. Standing 6’6 200 lbs., Hankins features a plus fastball, a soon-to-be plus slider, a curveball and a changeup. A shoulder injury upended Hankins’s chances of being 1.1 last summer, and he slipped to 35th overall. Surprisingly, the teenager made a couple of appearances in Rookie Ball at the end of the season, which makes you think the right-hander bounced back from the shoulder issue quicker than expected. He’ll turn 19 in May, so Hankins is currently stuck between obviously sticking to Short Season ball this season and obviously debuting in full season ball at Low-A. Selfishly, I hope it’s the latter. Our John Stewart profiled the right-hander earlier this month.

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Featured image courtesy of photographer Mark J. Rebilas and USA Today

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