Ray Butler’s 2019 Top 200 Prospects: #21-40

Written by: Ray Butler

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For previous installments of this list, you can check out my #41-60 prospects here#61-80 prospects here, my #81-100 prospects here, my #101-120 prospects here, my #121-140 prospects here, my #141-160 prospects here, my #161-180 prospects here and my #181-200 prospects here.

Penultimate is such a fancy word. Here is my penultimate batch of prospects from my #P365Top200…

40. Sixto Sanchez, SP, MIA. Age: 20

From what I’ve heard, Sanchez was so close to being promoted to Double-A prior to his injury last season that he practically had one foot out the door. An elbow ailment derailed the remainder of Sanchez’s season, and the right-hander also skipped pitching in the Arizona Fall League after a setback in recovery. Mum is the word on whether or not the 20-year-old will be fully healthy and ready for competition. If he’s not, the ‘reliever’ whispers will continue growing in quantity and volume. If all is well, Sanchez should start in Double-A. Whenever he returns, I’m hoping he continues to show confidence in his slider and changeup, which would undoubtedly help keep advanced hitters off the elite fastball. Checking this box would help Sanchez thrive (and pitch backwards) when facing lineups for the second and third time in an outing. Please. get. healthy. and. stay. healthy.

39. Matt Manning, SP, DET. Age: 21

In my first ever prospect list (preseason 2017), Manning ranked 83rd. In every prospect I’ve published since then, Manning has ranked no worse than 89th. For a former prep right-hander, the consistency has been remarkable. Now, Manning’s stock is seemingly skyrocketing. At only 20-years-old, the right-hander got two starts at Double-A at the end of last season. For the season, Manning struck out a whopping 31.6% of the batters he faced in 117.2 IP (11.8 K/9). If he can simply continue to develop his changeup (which, as a solid athlete, he should), there’s legit SP2 upside here. I’m desperately crossing my fingers for continued good health.

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

Evaluating Greene is currently similar to evaluating Dane Dunning; both are coming off elbow injuries, but both avoided surgery. The pair will reportedly be ready for Spring Training, but only time will tell if the duo truly avoided needing Tommy John surgery to fully-cure their ailments. Greene is as athletic as it comes on the mound, and his arsenal is highlighted by an effortless, triple-digit fastball that’s currently too straight to be a truly dynamic pitch. From an effectiveness standpoint, the right-hander’s slider is probably his best current offering. Greene also throws a curveball and changeup that could eventually grade as above average pitches. Dangerously assuming the elbow troubles are behind him, the next step in Greene’s slow-paced development will be adding movement to his lightning bolt of a fastball.

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

With Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp now across the country in Cincinnati, the time is nigh for Verdugo to finally make a consistent big league impact. In his minor league career, the outfielder has slashed .309/.367/.444 with a microscopic 11.4 K% in over 2000 plate appearances (124 wRC+). The 22-year-old will never be a consistent contributor in the stolen base department, but the 60-hit, 55-raw power tools are further highlighted by Verdugo’s ability to consistently put the ball in play. Whether it’s with the Dodgers or another organization, Verdugo will finally make a big league impact sooner rather than later. The skillset makes him an easy player to like.

36. Austin Riley, 3B, ATL. Age: 22

When the Braves drafted him as a prep bat in 2015 (a day that will live in infamy for many Mississippi State baseball fans), it was widely thought Riley would eventually transition from the hot corner to first base. Since then, Riley has worked tirelessly to develop his defensive skills, and is now considered a long-term third baseman. The raw power is what Riley hangs his hat on, and 30 home run seasons at the big league level should be attainable at his peak. The problem is the contact rate; the 22-year-old has struck out in 25.9% of his plate appearances through 426 minor league games. That number is actually an improvement from the 28.4% strikeout rate last season, so it’s fairly obvious what the 22-year-old must improve upon to reach his power-fueled potential in the big leagues. With Josh Donaldson and Johan Camargo already proven commodities and rostered in Atlanta, Riley has taken reps at first base and in the outfield this spring to increase his versatility and, consequently, his big league value for the upcoming season.

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

I feel so freakin’ slimy ranking Robert here despite the injury history and lack of notable success in game settings. But the aforementioned facts don’t hide the fact Robert is only 21-years-old and could hypothetically see Double-A pitching at some point in 2019. The outfielder has 322 career professional plate appearances and only three home runs, which is hilarious when you watch his swing and realize the raw power is obviously plus. I have Robert’s raw power, speed, defense and arm all ranked as plus, so on paper, the hit tool is the only thing missing from the outfielder becoming a complete, five-tool prospect. If for no other reason other than our sample size and comfort, Robert needs to prove his durability in 2019 and beyond.

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

Most young, position player prospects with high ceilings have the same hole in their game: their hit tool stinks. Sanchez has that hole, yet he possesses fantastic bat-to-ball skills (17.3 K% in his career). Instead, Sanchez tries to destroy pitches a little too frequently, which leads to unbalanced, soft contact against pitcher’s pitches. The career 5.8 BB% speaks to this, though the outfielder did manage to walk in 10% of his 110 Double-A plate appearances after being promoted last summer. At a chiseled 6’3 210 lbs., Sanchez certainly looks the part of a prospect who possesses plus plus raw power. The 21-year-old should see most of his at-bats in Double-A this season, which will be a needed test worth passing if Sanchez hopes to reach his gaudy ceiling.

33. Cristian Pache, OF, ATL. Age: 20

I would have bet a substantial amount of money on Pache breaking out last season (he was on my 2018 prospect obsession list), but the numbers that followed simply didn’t support that prediction. But other than a too-aggressive approach and meh pitch recognition, scouts thought the outfielder made positive strides last season. If nothing else, Pache hit the first nine home runs of his professional career. He’s a future Gold Glove winner, so he’s likely a better real life prospect than fantasy prospect, but the offensive ceiling is as high as it is underrated. I’m doubling down on Pache in 2019. He’ll likely be one of the final pieces of the puzzle that should lead to a World Series title in Atlanta.

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

I could talk about Cease’s 2018 development all day, everyday. Know how evaluators constantly discuss the need of a pitching prospect to develop a reliable third pitch? Cease followed through on that need last season, establishing his changeup (and the effectiveness of cleaner mechanics) to further-polish the qualities he brings to the mound. In 124 IP between High-A and Double-A, the right-hander posted a hilarious 32.5 K% (11.6 K/9) and an equally-impressive 2.40 ERA. With Michael Kopech seemingly sidelined until Opening Day 2020, Cease has the unique opportunity to become the White Sox’s top pitching prospect throughout the 2019 season. There’s also a chance he makes his big league debut before we turn the page to a new decade.

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

Toussaint’s 29 IP-stint with the Braves last summer showcased everything the right-hander brings to the table, including a 26.0 K% and 6.5 BB/9. With those stats filed to the back of our minds, the .180 opponent AVG and 3.78 FIP basically says everything we need to know about Toussaint: at times, the only opponent capable of beating the right-hander is himself. Out of the many Braves pitching prospect within the organization, I think it’s inarguable Toussaint has the highest ceiling. From a fantasy baseball context, he also has the lowest floor. In other words, it wouldn’t surprise me if Toussaint was the Braves’ second-best starter by the end of the 2019 season; it also wouldn’t surprise me if he was a two or three-inning swingman by August.

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

As an 18-year-old, Gorman blasted 17 home runs in his first taste of pro ball (274 plate appearances) last summer, slashing .291/.380/.570 in the process. The strikeout rate was 27.7% though, and the hit tool figures to be Gorman’s hypothetical hiccup as he continues progressing through the Cardinals’ system. Having already debuted in full season ball, there’s a good chance Gorman reaches at least High-A as a 19-year-old this season. The tool-developers within St. Louis’s system will work tirelessly in the coming seasons to improve the former portion of Gorman’s 50-hit, 70-raw offensive profile. I don’t expect the teenager to be a fast mover (the approach needs real work), but the potential fantasy outlook randomly reminds me of a left handed, third base version of 2018 Jesus Aguilar.

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

Kelenic is currently my top-ranked player from the 2018 draft class, which excites me and makes me sick to my stomach at the same time. The sixth-overall pick last summer, Kelenic utilized his five-tool skillset immediately last summer, slashing .286/.371/.468 with 6 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 251 plate appearances while in Rookie Ball. Then, in early December, Kelenic was traded from New York to Seattle, immediately becoming the Mariners’ best prospect in the process. The teenager currently grades as a 60-hit, 55-raw, 55-speed prospect in my eyes, though scouts think the outfielder could lose a step as he finalizes his physical development. It’s already been announced that Kelenic will debut in full season ball (Low-A) in 2019, where he could officially cement his status as one of the top position player prospects in baseball.

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

It’s almost unheard of for a pitcher to log five big league starts before their 21st birthday, but that’s exactly what Soroka accomplished last season. It would have been a lot more, too, but a shoulder injury forced the right-hander to the disabled list in late April, basically ending his season for all intents and purposes. Soroka doesn’t have the most explosive stuff amongst Braves pitching prospects, but the makeup and polish are so good that Soroka should easily remain in the SP3 conversation throughout his career. Continued shoulder discomfort derailed the right-hander’s chances to break camp in the big league rotation, but he’ll undoubtedly play a role in Atlanta at some point in 2019.

27. A.J. Puk, SP, OAK. Age: 24

The 6’7 left-hander put together a Spring Training performance last season that made the decision makers in Oakland think twice about relegating him back to the minor leagues instead of slotting him into the rotation; their decision was made easy when it was announced Puk needed Tommy John surgery. The 24-year-old is slated to return this summer, and I’d say it’s more likely than not we have to wait until 2020 to see Puk in a green and yellow uniform. You not need worry about the southpaw’s ‘stuff’: it’s some of the best in the minor leagues. But pre-surgery, Puk’s command had also really taken a step forward, which was the biggest hurdle the pitcher needed to clear in order to reach his top-tier SP2 ceiling. There’s a bit of burn-out surrounding the 24-year-old as he creeps closer to returning to competition, but don’t let that hinder you from properly valuing him for what he is.

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

Something that really struck me as I was researching Urias for this write-up: Take a look at his early-career numbers in Rookie Ball, Short Season and Low-A. In 106 games between those three levels (458 plate appearances), Urias slashed .298/.385/.337 with more walks than strikeouts and zero home runs. I’d bet one of the prospects currently ranked in the back-end of my #Top250 with the same attributes will ascend prospect lists the same way Urias has. The 21-year-old will begin the season as San Diego’s everyday shortstop, though he figures to shift around the diamond once Fernando Tatis Jr. is promoted to the big leagues. Call it a hunch, but to go along with a plus hit tool, I think Urias will show sneaky, league average power (or a little better) throughout his career.

25. Peter Alonso, SP, NYM. Age: 24

Alonso was basically playing a video game last season, slashing .285/.395/.579 with 26 home runs, 119 RBIs and a 13.2 BB% in 574 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. In turn, the Mets’ decision-makers drew the ire of their fanbase for keeping the first baseman in the minor leagues instead of giving him a chance to gain major league experience for a club that was nowhere close to contending at the end of the season. Alonso does figure to become New York’s everyday first baseman at some point in 2019, and he should provide plenty of power for your fantasy team throughout the next decade (30-40 home run seasons are in store here as long as he stays healthy). I do think the 24-year-old will be more valuable in OBP leagues than AVG leagues thanks to a double-digit walk rate and Alonso’s appetite for offspeed pitches away from the zone. Something like .250/.330/.530 with 30 home runs should be the expectation once the first baseman settles in to everyday life at the big league level.

24. Chris Paddack, SP, SD. Age: 23

A little self-promotion before we dive in. In January, I published an article discussing possible candidates to be the 2019 version of Chris Paddack. The right-hander’s emergence was one of the biggest prospect stories of the 2018 season, and his continued stellar performance this spring has made him a shoe-in for a big league debut in 2019. The 23-year-old might possess the best changeup in the minor leagues, and it was the main contributing factor to left-handed hitters slashing .148/.193/.227 versus Paddack last season. The numbers against right-handers were also good, though I do worry how they’ll look when facing top-tier competition if Paddack’s curveball doesn’t progress. Thankfully, the command is plus, which gives Paddack a high floor to pair with his developing upside. MacKenzie Gore has higher upside, but Paddack will almost certainly be slotted at the top of Padres rotations that should compete in the National League throughout the next 10-15 seasons.

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

One of my favorite prospects in all of baseball, Gimenez was promoted to Double-A as a 19-year-old for the final 37 games of the 2018 season. For the season, the shortstop slashed .281/.347/.409 with 6 home runs and 38 stolen bases in 504 plate appearances. The hit tool and speed are plus, and the defensive skills are unquestionably above average. My favorite part of Gimenez’s profile, however, is the power that’s on his way. It’s the weakest part of the shortstop’s game, but I think it gets to 55 before it’s all said and done. If Gimenez continues performing to his talent level, the Mets will have a VERY interesting decision to make regarding Amed Rosario’s future as early as Opening Day 2020. As I said last midseason, there’s 20 HR/20 SB-upside at the big league level here.

22. Michael Kopech, SP, CHW. Age: 23

We finally got to see Kopech in big league action last season, yet the debut couldn’t fend off heartbreak. The fireballing right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in September, ending his 2018 season and putting a stop to his 2019 campaign before it ever started. We won’t see Kopech again until 2020; thankfully, the right-hander will start next season as a 23-year-old with his entire career in front of him. With a high-spinning blur of a fastball and a borderline plus plus slider, Kopech possesses one of the deadliest two-pitch combinations in all of baseball. When he returns to full-health, the continued development and refinement of the changeup will determine whether Kopech reaches his high strikeout, SP2 ceiling.

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

Thanks to Tommy John surgery in 2017 and a torn lat in 2018, Reyes has thrown only 4 IP of big league baseball since 2016. He’s reportedly made strides in rehab this offseason, and the Cardinals are planning to prepare Reyes as a starter for the upcoming season have recently said the 24-year-old will either break camp as a big league, multi-inning reliever or be relegated to Triple-A, where he’ll be stretched out as a rotation arm. I tend to think he’ll eventually be used as a multi-inning swingman in 2019 before transitioning back to the rotation in 2020. It’s been awhile, but at full health, Reyes throws four 55-to-60-grade pitches with adequate command. Baseball deserves a pitcher with Reyes’s arsenal, and I sincerely hope this is the last time I rank him on anything other than an active player list.

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If you are anything like me, your long-time passion of baseball has trickled into a passion for golf as well. Two of my good friends have launched Tight Lies Golf, a website focused on previews and reviews of PGA Tour events, course reviews, interviews with players and much more. Their podcast (the TLG Podcast) can be found on Spotify, and they’re actively attempting to build a social media presence. You can follow them at @GolfTight on Twitter and @tight_lies_golf on Instagram. They also have a YouTube channel you can subscribe to. With the 2019 PGA Tour season really revving up the next few weeks, videos like this one are sure to put you in a golf mood. Check these guys out.

Featured image courtesy of photographer Zachary Lucy and Four Seam Images

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