Ray Butler’s 2019 Top 200 Prospects: #1-20

Written by: Ray Butler

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For previous installments of this list, you can check out my #21-40 prospects here, 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.

What better way to prepare for the weekend than reading about the final 20 prospects from my #P365Top200?

20. Brent Honeywell, SP, TB. Age: 24

A fun fact you won’t care about: Honeywell was the final prospect write-up I completed in this novelette of a prospect list. Honeywell should be an active player keeper for you this offseason, but the right-hander’s elbow had other ideas. Tommy John surgery shelved the 24-year-old early last preseason, and Honeywell won’t likely return to competition until this summer. The right-hander has the deep arsenal you dream of when you acquire a pitching prospect, and most of his offerings grade at 55 or better. When you add the above average command, you quickly realize Honeywell will be a high-value fantasy asset for the next decade.

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

A pure-hitting infield prospect, Rodgers has witnessed his stock trend downward slightly throughout the last calendar year. In 114 games last season, Rodgers slashed .268/.330/.460 with 17 home runs (474 plate appearances) and a 19.4 K% between Double-A and Triple-A. The concerns of scouts and evaluators regarding Rodgers are the plate approach and plate discipline. The infielder has developed a reputation as a free swinger, and the 6.5 BB% last season speaks to that notion. Rodgers is a 55-hit, 60-raw prospect who will end up at either second or third base at the big league level. To reach the upside that’s associated with those grades, the 22-year-old will need to develop better patience and selectiveness at the plate.

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

Despite having never played above High-A prior to last season, Alvarez only accrued 190 plate appearances in Double-A before he was promoted to Triple-A last summer. Between the levels, the 21-year-old slashed .293/.369/.534 with 20 home runs and a double-digit walk rate in only 379 plate appearances (he missed nearly a month in May due to a hand injury). That’s a homer every 19 plate appearances. Alvarez’s strikeout rate did rise in 2018, but even 24.3 K% remains consistent throughout the remainder of his career, the 21-year-old should provide more than enough value to overcome the shortcoming. Alvarez played more left field than first base last season, but scouts are skeptical he’s anything other than a first baseman at the big league level. There’s been a lot of discussion surrounding Fangraphs ranking Alvarez 125th (as a DH only on a real-life list) in their 2019 prospect list. While our M-Rod recently discussed the importance of defense even on fantasy-focused prospect lists (and I agree with this stance), I’m not quite ready to ding Alvarez too much because of his defensive woes.

17. MacKenzie Gore, SP, SD. Age: 20

A teenage pitching prospect only threw 60.2 IP and posted a 4.45 ERA last season. He’s still a top-20 overall prospect. That’s how good Gore is, and the top-of-the-rotation upside is still obvious despite an imperfect full season debut. Blisters on his pitching hand sliced up Gore’s 2018 campaign, though the light workload will be nothing more than a footnote in the southpaw’s minor league career as he continues to develop. Gore has four offerings, all of which grade at above average or better. Furthermore, the arsenal tends to play up thanks to Gore’s fantastic command. Oh, and despite Gore’s ‘rocky’ Low-A experience, the left-hander still struck out 28.4% of the batters he faced while compiling a 3.16 xFIP. There’s SP1 (!) upside here.

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

Luzardo and Juan Soto were the crowning jewels of my prospect obsession list last season (this season’s version will be published next week), the latter of which exploded onto the big league scene after only 35 plate appearances in Double-A. The former also broke out in 2018, racking up 129 strikeouts and a 2.88 ERA in 109.1 IP between High-A, Double-A and Triple-A. The changeup is the southpaw’s best pitch, but Luzardo also has the fastball, curveball, command and makeup to make him a complete pitcher. There’s an outside chance the 21-year-old breaks camp with the Athletics, but an early-season, big league debut should be in the cards regardless. The southpaw is a top-tier SP3 who will pitch like a SP2 often.

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

A year removed from sustaining a debilitating hamstring injury that derailed most of his 2017 season, Kieboom had a huge 2018 campaign, slashing .280/.357/.444 with 16 home runs in 558 plate appearances between High-A and Double-A. The 21-year-old possesses some of the most blessed hands in the minor leagues, and scouts think he’ll someday be capable of compiling 25-30 home run seasons at the big league level. Trea Turner will be the Nationals shortstop for the foreseeable future, so Kieboom figures to either move to second or third base once he arrives at baseball’s top level. The bat will play at either position, though I selfishly would love to see Kieboom become one of the best fantasy second basemen in baseball.

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

I think I’ve used this term in every prospect list he’s ever been a part of, but Hiura is a pure hitter. He will never provide much value on the base paths. He’s adequate at second base, but he’ll never be an award-winning defender in the big leagues. Hiura’s value rests in his bat, which is good, because the 22-year-old is a 60-hit, 60-raw power prospect who’s found success at the plate at all four levels he’s competed at since being drafted in the first round in 2017. The second baseman slashed .293/.357/.464 with 13 home runs in 535 plate appearances between High-A and Double-A last season, and he figures to be a strong candidate to make his big league debut at some point in 2019.

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

My breakout prospect pick last season, Trammell didn’t put up the counting stats in High-A to warrant that title. In 461 plate appearances, the outfielder slashed .277/.375/.406 with 8 home runs and 25 stolen bases. Fine numbers, but not worthy of the ‘superstar’ label. Despite that, Trammell, by most accounts anyways, still possesses a plus hit tool and game-changing speed on the base paths. The raw power remains 55-grade, and accessing it more in games could be the key in unlocking a new dimension in Trammell’s prospect status. One thing Trammell certainly has going for him is his affinity for left-handed pitching, slashing .310/.405/.405 versus southpaws last season. With an average-at-best throwing arm and peculiar route running, left field is likely the 21-year-old’s destination defensively. The outfielder will be on my prospect obsession list again this season, and Double-A should be kinder to Trammell than the Florida State League was.

12. Kyle Tucker, OF, HOU. Age: 22

I get the sense there’s a little prospect fatigue here, and after Tucker slashed a hurl-inducing .141/.236/.203 in 72 big league plate appearances last season, it’s easy to understand why the perception of the outfielder is currently a little sour. I’d rather talk about Tucker’s Triple-A numbers from last season, which are for more representative of his talent and what he’ll bring to the table at his big league peak. The 22-year-old slashed a hilarious .332/.400/.590 with 24 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the minor leagues in 2018, striking out in only 18.1% of his plate appearances to top it off. While it’s not fair to expect those on base numbers perennially through his major league career, Tucker has .280 AVG/25 HR/15 SB upside at baseball’s top level. The Astros are currently overstocked in the outfield, so if Tucker is not receiving every day at-bats to begin the 2019 season, make sure you take a deep breath and remind yourself he’s only 22.

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

Join me in hoping 2019 is the season Senzel finally shakes his unfortunate injury look. To my recollection, the 23-year-old has battled minor elbow surgery, vertigo, and an index finger injury throughout the past calendar year alone. The ailments postponed what should have been Senzel’s rookie season in 2018, but he’s primed to make his name known at the big league level this season. The utility player (the Reds seem to like him in center field for the near future) should be a .300 hitter throughout his career, and I think we’ll see more power in the big leagues than the output we’ve seen in the minors. I hope this season is Senzel’s launch pad.

10. Jo Adell, OF, LAA. Age: 20

An 80-grade athlete who’s a solid bet to contribute in every possible facet of real life and fantasy baseball, Adell was so good in his first full season of pro ball that he progressed to Double-A as a teenager. The outfielder slashed .290/.355/.543 with 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases (25.2 K%) in 440 plate appearances (three levels) in 2018. With plus defensive skills, the swing-and-miss issues are really the only thing that stands in between Adell and stardom at the big league level. The outfielder will be back in Double-A to begin the 2019 season, where he’ll have a fantastic opportunity to refine his contact skills versus some of the best pitching the minor leagues has to offer. For now, Adell being a top-5 prospect at the end of this season is a solid bet. Note: The 20-year-old recently strained his hamstring and sprained his ankle in a Spring Training game. The timetable for his return is said to be 10-12 weeks. If the Angels were thinking of perhaps aggressively promoting Adell early this season, this injury probably halts those plans.

9. Alex Kirilloff, OF, MIN. Age: 21

A 6.8 BB% in a season-long sample would normally be a red flag for a prospect ranked this high on a list, but Kirilloff was too busy teeing off on Low-A and High-A pitching to care. The outfielder slashed .348/.392/.578 with 20 home runs and 101 RBIs (15.3 K%) last season, skyrocketing up prospect lists in the process. It’s a 70-hit, 60-raw profile in my eyes, which means Kirilloff has ‘future fantasy superstar’ written all over him. John Calvagno recently tweet-comped Kiriloff’s swing to Joey Votto’s, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s not an original thought, but the 21-year-old has the tools to compete for AL batting titles throughout his big league career.

8. Wander Franco, SS, TB. Age: 18

I only threw up in my mouth a little when I ranked an 18-year-old who has never seen full season pitching this high on a prospect list, but Franco has done nothing wrong so far in his professional career. It was only Rookie Ball last summer, but I’ve got the shortstop as a 70-hit, 55-raw, 60-speed prospect heading into his full season debut in 2019. The bat speed is electric and the selectiveness is just as good; from a fantasy perspective, the only reason I didn’t consider ranking Franco higher is the general lack of experience. That will be remedied this season, and the teenager could challenge Royce Lewis for the top-overall prospect at the end of the calendar year.

7. Bo Bichette, 2B/SS, TOR. Age: 21

For the first time in his professional career, my 7th-overall ranked prospect will soon be the top-ranked prospect in his own organization. Bichette has lived in the shadow of one of the best prospects in the 21st century throughout his time in the minor leagues, but his time to shine should come sometime this season. The infielder has a skillset that should make fantasy players drool. He’s a 60-hit, 60-raw player at a premium position. He’s only an average straight-line runner, but the speed plays WAY up thanks to Bichette’s elite base running skills. I think the 21-year-old will begin making a true impact at the big league level next season, but a debut in 2019 is certainly not out of the question. Pitchers will attack Bichette differently once VGJ is no longer in the same lineup, and I’m very interested to see how the infielder adjusts.

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

The 21-year-old phenom threw all of 26.1 IP last season due to injury. Despite this, Whitley’s stock has still found a way to improve throughout the last calendar year. He’s 6’7 and has mechanics that help him use his height to his advantage. He throws five pitches, four of which grade at 55 or better. He has above-average command and knows how to maneuver his way through lineups multiple times in an outing. The Astros have already lost Charlie Morton and don’t figure to be ‘in’ on Dallas Keuchel, so Whitley has every opportunity to either break camp as a major leaguer, or get promoted within the first two months of the regular season. Either way, it’s almost a lock that the right-hander makes an impact in the big leagues in 2019. If Whitley finds a way to max out, there’s top-5 starting pitcher upside here.

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

Is it really a hot take to predict Lewis is the top overall prospect before the end of the 2019 season? My top four prospects are fairly safe bets to lose their eligibility at some point this season, so Lewis has an opportunity to swoop in and take that crown without too much conflict. It’s not too-far of a stretch to say the shortstop will someday forfeit his prospect status with all five tools grading 55 or better, but you’re here to read about the 60-hit, 55-raw, 60-speed tools that make Lewis such an appetizing fantasy asset. To say Lewis has 20 home run/20 stolen base upside might be too conservative, which is all you need to hear from about a shortstop prospect in order to fall in love. When you factor in an AVG that should settle anywhere between .280 and .320, you realize the stardom that Lewis might someday attain.

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

I think I might be in love with Robles’s 2019 outlook. After being limited to 291 plate appearances last season due to a hyperextended left elbow (following a freak outfield injury), Robles is slated to become the Nationals’ everyday centerfielder this season. The defensive skills outweigh the bat-related tools for now, but I’m ranking Robles here because I’m a believer in the long-term offensive potential. Robles’ power could legitimately tap-out at 10-15 home runs per season at peak, but the borderline plus plus hit tool and definitively plus plus speed give the 21-year-old plenty of offensive value. Even a .300 AVG, 10 home run, 30 stolen base ceiling gets you picked in redraft leagues, and I think that’s exactly what Robles brings to the table at his best. TherThe outfielder also made my high-value active player list, and you’ll be seeing his name once more as my preseason content continues to roll out.

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

It’s crazy that you can basically be the consensus 3nd-ranked prospect in baseball and be underrated, but I feel like that’s where we’re at as we rank Jimenez for the final time (hopefully). In 408 career minor league games, the outfielder has slashed .311/.359/.519 with an 18.2 K%. There’s .300 AVG/30 home run potential here, but if I’m nitpicking, Jimenez must develop more patience to make that happen at the big league level. If I’m reading between the lines of White Sox GM Rick Hahn’s quotes this offseason, it would be a little perplexing/unpleasantly surprising if Jimenez weren’t a big leaguer by the middle of May at the latest. As I bid his prospect status adieu, I’m reminded of the Futures Game in 2016, when the world first heard Jimenez’s name. We’ve all come such a long way since then.

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

Defensive skills considered, there’s a fairly legitimate argument to be made that FTJ is actually the best prospect in baseball according to overall-value categories like WAR. In a fantasy-focused list, Tatis Jr. sits here due only to the generational talent that ranks above him. It’s true FTJ has a 27.7 K% in over 1000 minor league plate appearances. But he’s also slashed .280/.358/.487 during that time, and the double-digit walk rate helps null the pain that is often associated with strikeout issues. Along with a couple of other evaluators, I’ve been comparing the 20-year-old to Manny Machado since 2017 (when Tatis was 18). That comparison still feels rock-solid, and he (along with, wouldn’t you know it, the recently-acquired Machado) should be the face of an organization that begins competing for World Series rings throughout the next decade. With Machado now in place, interesting players like Franmil Reyes, Luis Urias and Matt Strahm already in the fold and pitching prospect Chris Paddack surging this spring, Tatis Jr. could make his big league debut earlier this season than we originally assumed he would. Selfishly, I’m hoping FTJ plays a role in continuing to usher in a new, more free-spirited generation of baseball.

1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, TOR. Age: 20

If this is all she wrote for VGJ on prospect lists, it’s been one heck of a ride. In the first prospect list I ever published (preseason 2017), I ranked Guerrero Jr. 27th. In the write-up, I mentioned how I couldn’t wait to see the third baseman in full-season ball. He was 17. We’ve come a long way. We could talk about the tools, but you already know about them. You know the offensive profile has the ceiling of a future hall of famer. A hall of famer. You also know scouts are split on whether VGJ will remain at third base or eventually transition to first base, but it doesn’t really matter because he might someday be the most valuable fantasy asset at either position. It’s been an honor to watch Guerrero Jr. develop in the minor leagues, but I’m ready to see what this generational talent looks like in a major league uniform. You should feel likewise. Oblique discomfort means the 20-year-old won’t break camp with the Blue Jays, but VGJ should receive the call sometime in May (if not earlier). Let’s make a conscious effort to never take a prospect like Vladito for granted.

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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 Christian Petersen and Getty Images

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