Written by: Trevor Powers (@TPowerProspects)
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When a player is drafted in the first round, it seems to validate at least some of their potential, right? Typically, in a draft that lasts 40 rounds, most players selected in the first 100 overall picks tend to be well regarded by almost every team. First rounders bust frequently, whether it’s because character issues, work ethic flaws or an irredeemably-low tool.
It’s never due to lack of potential. When a team uses a highly-coveted first round pick on a player, it means the organization’s best talent evaluator sees something in the draftee worth investing in.
Draft value is often created by a word that’s become mystical and enigmatic throughout the prospect industry. Projection. What does a prospect’s development look like? We stay up at night pondering the ceilings of the prospects on our dynasty team. What we don’t like to admit is that the high school hitters we often bank on don’t always develop the hit tool or power we expect them to. Can’t miss pitching prospects (though the community is slowly coming around to #TINSTAAPP) either don’t develop a reliable third pitch, fail to harness their command or, far worse, are derailed by elbow or shoulder injuries.
The result of these wide-spanning shortcomings? The industry devalues them. Instead, we turn our attention to shiny new toys, or fresh first round picks. The same things happen again, and it becomes a vicious cycle. People forget how hard baseball is. It’s a game of failure, though those failures often headline the way a prospect is valued.
Below, I’ve outlined five prospects—three pitchers and two hitters—whom I believe are currently strong buy-low candidates in the dynasty world. Four of these prospects were first round draft picks, while the other was once the top prospect in an international draft class.
At their original peaks, these prospects were universally regarded as future valuable big leaguers. As fantasy baseball players, we are always looking for the best value possible. These prospects are all worthy a buy-low opportunity in deeper dynasty leagues. Let’s start with the highest draft pick.
Mickey Moniak, PHI, OF. Age: 20
Moniak has had some well-documented struggles. From the outside looking in, the former first-overall pick has shown very little development since being selected by the Phillies in 2016. A lot of analysts and evaluators expected the outfielder to transform his gap-to-gap power into home run power relatively quickly in his career. The development has yet to happen, with the 20-year-old only hitting 11 home runs in 1168 plate appearances in professional ball. Personally, I think Moniak’s main issue is an organization-wide problem in Philadelphia. The Phillies have recently failed to fully develop many of their highly-regarded prospects, especially hitters. J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and Cornelius Randolph are all former top-100 prospects who are yet to reach their offensive potential. Alfaro and Crawford have been traded for big league production at the position they were supposed to produce at. Williams has shown legitimate flashes of potential, but has failed to remain consistent at the big league level. Randolph is still in the minor leagues, and MLB.com currently ranks him as the 25th-best prospect in the Phillies organization.
An underrated factor that could eventually be viewed as a turning point in Moniak’s development is the addition of Jason Ochart as the Phillies’ Minor League Hitting Coordinator. In Ochart’s time at Driveline (and before), he specialized in exactly what Moniak needs: power development. His hitting philosophy is based around maximizing exit velocity and launch angle to produce the most out of every swing of the bat. A prospect with Moniak’s polish and pedigree could greatly benefit from drills and proper mechanical adjustments to maximize his bat-to-ball skills, which are still adequate (.270 AVG, 21.5 K% last season). What makes things for Moniak much easier, is he already seems to be making the necessary adjustment.
The Progression of Mickey Moniak pic.twitter.com/Swmn6RNC6T
— Jason Woodell (@JasonAtTheGame) January 3, 2019
Make sure you’re following Jason Woodell on Twitter. He was all over Moniak’s development in the second half of last season.
In the first tweet, the graphs show several positive adjustments Moniak made throughout the 2018 regular season. Namely, his GB% decreased and FB% increased. That seemed to have a direct effect on his fly-ball distance and Isolated Power. In the second tweet, you can see a difference in the intent of Moniak’s swing by the second at-bat. The bat speed looks quicker, and he looks like he is trying to punish the baseball. By the third at-bat, you can see the adjustments he made. His bat angle is much better and he is getting off his back leg more, leading to better exit velocity and more elevation. (Shoutout to the awesome bat dog in the 3rd at bat as well). The open face videos give an awesome view on how much his swing has improved.
Mickey Moniak improved his wRC+ continuously throughout 2018 and finished very strong. Don’t think I’ve seen such a linear improvement. #Phillies pic.twitter.com/bmPVRgfYS8
— Minor Graphs by Prospects Live (@MinorGraphs) December 30, 2018
As you can see, Moniak’s wRC+ trended upwards throughout the entirety of last season; because of this, there’s reason to believe it will carry over to 2019. He’s already been written off by a lot of people, but it’s easy to forget he’s still just 20-years-old. Had he taken his scholarship to UCLA, who knows where he would stand in the 2019 draft class? Moniak is very young with an untapped ceiling that might be a little higher than a lot of people perceive it to be. It’s way too early to write him off as a bust, and he is showing the proper trends for a prospect. Expect Moniak to take another step forward this season.
Jay Groome, LHP. Age: 20
Groome was widely considered the top pitching prospect in the 2016 draft class, and I’ve been a big fan of his for a while now. At one point, I firmly believed Groome’s combination of stuff and control could put him on a Kershaw-type route through the minor leagues. In my eyes, he was going to dominate minor league hitters and, barring injury, compete for a big league roster spot this season at 20-years-old.
Unfortunately, 2017 was a mess for the southpaw, headlined by family-oriented off-the-field incidents and an injury that forced an early shutdown. Despite some red flags, articles like this one kept me (and many others) on board heading into last season.
The idea that Groome moved to Florida and away from the drama that seemed to haunt him in his home state of New Jersey is important to show the maturity and focus of his commitment towards his organization and the sport itself. Working with Chris Sale and occasionally Rick Porcello during the offseason is tough to match in terms of benefits for a young pitcher.
Just as Groome’s arrow seemed to be pointing up once again, he sustained damage to his ulnar collateral ligament and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery in May of last season; thanks to the timing of the operation, he is not expected to return to competition until next season. However, as long as he regains his plus fastball/curveball combination with above average command after surgery, the top-of-the-rotation upside will remain intact. Now is the perfect time to buy-low on Groome, especially if he’s rostered by a contender in your dynasty league.
Braxton Garrett, MIA, LHP. Age: 21
Coming in at #10 on the 2016 MLB.com pre-draft rankings, Garrett was more highly regarded because of his floor than his ceiling. With three offerings that graded anywhere from 55 to 60 and above average command, it was easy to understand why Garrett was so heralded as a prep arm. Being 6’3 and weighing only 190 lbs., he was expected to add some strength which, in turn, would take his fastball to the next level. He also featured arguably the best curveball in the 2016 draft. The southpaw was universally expected to be, at worst, a valuable back-end major league starter who could thrive in the friendly pitching confines in Miami.
Four starts into his professional career, Garrett was forced to face what seems to be inevitable with so many high-profile prep arms: Tommy John surgery. Because of his age, the Marlins decided to take their time with his return and make sure he came back fully healthy. He had, what should have been, a healthy offseason this winter. He was not rushed back from surgery and feels no pressure to perform immediately. This is eerily similar to Groome’s situation, but the real question will be how quickly his pre-injury ‘stuff’ will return. If the answer is ‘quickly’, Garrett could return to top prospect lists by the end of the 2019 regular season. P365 founder Ray Butler included the left-hander amongst the candidates to be this season’s Chris Paddack.
Seth Romero, WAS, LHP. Age: 22
If you’ve ever been around a college baseball locker room, you understand that collegiate athletes are… collegiate athletes. They enjoy their time in college just as much as a normal college student. Most have their fair share of enjoyable moments in college, but most don’t experience anything close to the self-inflicted scrutiny that followed Seth Romero during his time at the University of Houston. After his Freshman All-American season, he proceeded to receive a suspension for “lack of effort in conditioning.” Romero would go on to dominate following his suspension. His junior season, he was suspended for testing positive for marijuana. A photo of Romero holding a bong while dawning his Houston baseball jersey also made the rounds. After his second suspension, he returned to the team for a couple of weeks before being permanently dismissed following an altercation with a teammate. Are you perhaps seeing a trend here?
Romero’s talent has never been an issue. It’s undeniable. The arsenal features three dynamite pitches that would play well from the rotation or bullpen. A lot of evaluators thought Romero was capable of helping the Nationals immediately after being drafted in the summer of 2017, but the stars never aligned. Then, Romero missed curfew in Spring Training last season and was subsequently sent home. He did not return until June (after completing a list of prerequisites mandated by the Nationals front office), showing the same ability to miss bats. Unfortunately, after just 25 IP, he tore the UCL in his left elbow. Like Groome and Garrett, he underwent Tommy John surgery; Romero will likely return to competition in 2020.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a prospect who’s faced as much self-inflicted adversity as Romero, and the trials and tribulations are going to be tough to overcome. If you don’t mind a little risk and tend to prefer rock-bottom buy-low opportunities, now’s your chance with Romero. He’s currently an afterthought. But if he takes the entirety of his rehab process to do some introspection and self-growth, the stuff has potential to be amongst some of the best in baseball.
Kevin Maitan, LAA, SS. Age: 19
Oh, how quickly things can change. Maitan was once regarded as one of the best international prospects ever. Graded by some as a shortstop with 60-hit, 60 raw power and a 70-arm, his tools were perceived to be as legit as they come. He was compared to a young Miguel Cabrera and Chipper Jones. The next Derek Jeter.
So what happened? Well, you probably remember the pictures that circulated around Twitter that pointed towards the addition of bad weight. Then prior to last season, the Braves were forced to release him due to transgressions with international signings. After he endured the free agent process again and signed with the Angels, Maitan began adjusting to the organization’s methodology and nuances.
There was no statistical silver lining for Maitan last season. His numbers were bad. He posted below average production in all three triple-slash categories. While that’s not ideal, Maitan was still 2.6 years younger than his average competition in the Pioneer League. Usually, prospects with the shortstop’s statistical history are practically written off, but I still believe in the talent. Because of the adversity and the turnover he has experienced, I think it is very possible for Maitan to regain his form. Hopefully, that begins this season.
These five prospects are seemingly at their lowest value imaginable. If you’re looking for a buy-low prospect, these are some of the best options. Hidden behind the injuries, off-the-field issues and organizational adversity might be some of the highest upside in the minor leagues. At least one of these prospects will someday return to top-prospect status.
Follow staff writer Trevor Powers on Twitter! @TPowerProspects
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Featured image courtesy of H. Scott Hoffmann and the Greensboro News & Record