Written by: Ray Butler
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We don’t speak in definitives in April, but there have still been some noteworthy performances in the first few days of the MLB regular season. In the first Ramblings of the 2019 calendar year, my hope is to give you some things to keep an eye on as samples grow throughout the next month. With MiLB Opening Day later this week, of course there’s some prospect chatter included too. Jack Nicholson head nod gifs abound very soon.
A friendly reminder before we dive in: before you hit send on an edgy baseball-related tweet, remember…….
Let’s make the first Ramblings of 2019 a good one.
- I will stan for Rafael Devers until the day I die. If you’ve been following @Prospects365 for any amount of time, you know this. And just like April showers bring May flowers, sophomore slumps often bring junior bounce backs for once-top prospects. We know very little about what lies ahead for my large adult son this season statistically after only 19 plate appearances, but I do know I love what I saw from the third baseman in Boston’s first series of the season. Working counts. Taking the ball to the opposite field. Success against left-handed pitching. Batting between Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez in one of the best lineups in baseball. If you watched any Boston’s series in Seattle, you probably saw the same thing I saw. Based on my eyes alone, Devers looks more comfortable at the dish than he did last season. More relaxed. More confident. For general baseball fans, it’s easy to forget the third baseman will play the entirety of the 2019 season as a 22-year-old. Heck, it’s understandable: Devers has already accumulated 750 big league plate appearances. If the increased patience and affinity to hit the ball to left field is for real, Devers is in for a monster season. I’m crossing my fingers for sustainability here.
- Speaking of potential monster seasons, Cody Bellinger slashed an unconscious .500/.524/1.100 with four home runs and a stolen base in 21 plate appearances during the Dodgers’ season-opening series against the Diamondbacks. Remember when the 23-year-old’s stock took a hit after he posted a 120 wRC+ with 25 home runs, 14 stolen bases and a .343 OBP last season (that led to this elite quote this spring)? It may have been the floor for one of the very best players in baseball. The offensive upside for the superb defender is something like 45 home runs and 15 stolen bases with a .360 OBP. LOL. An unforeseen injury might be the only thing that keeps Bellinger’s 2020 ADP outside of the top-25.
Not to be biased, but is there anything prettier than a Cody Bellinger moon shot?
— True Blue LA (@truebluela) March 31, 2019
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- Ryan Mountcastle will make his Triple-A debut later this week for the Norfolk Tides. He’ll do so, primarily, as a first baseman. The 22-year-old has never played a professional game at the position. Mountcastle primarily played shortstop in the low minors before transitioning to third base full time last season. Long considered below-average defensively, it’s fairly obvious the new decision makers inside the Orioles organization made the call to begin pulling the plug on Mountcastle as a third baseman. Despite a non-existent sample, he should profile as an adequate defender at first. As a 55-hit, 55-raw prospect, the bat should play just fine at the new position as well. Mountcastle ranked 87th in my 2019 #P365Top200. Thinking big picture, the 22-year-old becoming the Orioles’ future at first base would also mean the organization eventually plans on Trey Mancini being their everyday left fielder. Other, interesting Orioles prospect placements: Low-A Delmarva: Grayson Rodriguez and JC Encarnacion. High-A Frederick: DL Hall. Double-A Bowie: Hunter Harvey, Zac Lowther, Dillon Tate, Bruce Zimmermann, Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Diaz, Ryan McKenna. Triple-A Norfolk: Keegan Akin, Luis Ortiz. Starting pitcher prospect Dean Kremer will begin the season in Extended Spring Training after suffering an oblique injury in March.
- *whispers* Yoan Moncada is off to a blistering start. The sample is so small that important rates for the 23-year-old (SwStr% and Z-Contact% amongst others) aren’t worth mentioning yet, but a 281 wRC+ with a .462/.500/.769 slash is much better than the alternative for the first series of the season. I stressed prolonged patience with Moncada when I published this article nearly a year ago. As a matter of fact, I basically said to forget about the infielder’s status on your fantasy team until the All Star break of the 2019 season, then reevaluate and formulate a plan for his future on your roster. Shortly after I published the article, Moncada got hot and appeared as though he was making meaningful strides; of course, he then tapered off and eventually finished the season with a 33.4 K% and 97 wRC+ despite totaling 17 home runs and 12 stolen bases. Who knows what the 2019 season has in store for the 23-year-old, but even lowering the strikeout rate to the 27% vicinity (it sits at 14.3% after 14 plate appearances) would be a notable improvement for the Cuba native. I also don’t have to remind you of the immense tools or the fact Moncada’s ceiling is still that of an unquestioned superstar capable of dwarfing over both Jose Abreu and Eloy Jimenez. Keep a close eye on Moncada throughout the next few weeks.
- MiLB Opening Day is Thursday, and with it will come a barrage of tweets from your favorite prospect accounts. If you haven’t done so already, make sure you check out and bookmark my latest prospect list, my 2019 prospect obsession list, my high-value active player list and my prospect (and MLB) bold predictions.
- It’s never too early to speculate on the ‘lottery ticket’ starting pitchers who could make a gigantic impact on your fantasy team in 2019. As a matter of fact, it was around a calendar year ago that I suggested pitchers like Nick Pivetta, Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs would be viable options on your fantasy team throughout last season. Through one start apiece, guys like Yonny Chirinos, Matt Shoemaker, Corbin Burnes, Lucas Giolito, Spencer Turnbull and Frankie Montas have caught my attention. Allow me to quickly take you through the ‘why’ of my intrigue on each arm…
- Yonny Chirinos threw his splitter 23.9% of the time yesterday versus the Astros after throwing it only 15.0% of the time last season. The result was seven innings of one run ball (6 strikeouts) against one of the best offenses in baseball. A forearm injury hampered the right-hander’s 2018 campaign, but the 3.51 ERA he posted in 89.2 big league innings pitched was still eye-opening. If you play in a league that caps the amount of starts your rotation can have each week, Chirinos, who largely sees his action following a Rays opener (but started for Tampa in his 2019 debut), might be the perfect candidate for your pitching staff. With his next outing figuring to be against the Giants this weekend, the buy-low window here could evaporate shortly.
- A forearm injury sidelined Matt Shoemaker for most of last season, but his 2019 debut was stellar (albeit likely boosted by a lackluster Tigers offense): 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K. There were no significant changes in pitch usage from his track record, and his fastball velocity was actually slightly down from last season, so I need a bigger sample before putting too much stock into his basic output numbers.
- Corbin Burnes had a spectacularly weird 2019 debut on Sunday: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 12 K—and three home runs allowed. The right-hander is a former top-50 prospect, so the pedigree of a top-notch starting pitcher is certainly there. Assuming he doesn’t allow three bombs every time he toes the rubber, Burnes is certainly capable of finishing the season as the best arm in the Brewers’ rotation and a top-50 starting pitcher in baseball. Pitcher List has a a called strikes + whiffs metric called CSW. Here’s the leaders thru the first week.
So glad you guys are digging @PitcherList‘s CSW rate. Here are the Opening Week leaders:
1 Burnes- 42.5%
2 Ryu- 39%
3 Boyd- 38.8%
4 Scherzer- 38.5%
5 Nola- 37.4%
6 Verlander- 37.3%
7 Happ- 37.3%
8 Morton- 36.5%
9 Giolito- 36.4%
10 Cessa- 36.1%
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) April 1, 2019
- Lucas Giolito reworked his arm action over the offseason, and his fastball velocity was up 1.1 mph in his 2019 debut yesterday (the changeup and curveball velocity was up as well). The 24-year-old went 6.2 innings and allowed two runs on three hits. He struck out eight and only walked one. A former top-5 overall prospect, any improvements from the right-hander will certainly be notable. He was so ridiculously bad last season that it’s hard to buy back in this early, but keep your eye on each of Giolito’s next few outings. It would be awesome if he returned to the form he showed as a prospect.
- Spencer Turnbull was the focus of one of my bold predictions for the 2019 season, but a lackluster first outing (from the outside-looking-in, anyways) means the buy-low window should still be open. The 26-year-old finished with a 5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 5 K line against the lowly Tigers. Turnbull did induce this swing-and-miss, though he seemed fatigued towards the end of his outing.
— Adam Dubbin (@AdamDubbin) March 30, 2019
The offenses in the AL Central won’t be world-beaters by any stretch of the imagination this season, and Turnbull should eventually benefit from the offensive mediocrity within the division as he continues to get stretched out.
- I’m extremely intrigued by Frankie Montas. The Athletics will rely on the big right-hander to be a staple of their rotation this season, and pitching your home games in the Coliseum is never a bad thing. But it’s much deeper than that for the 26-year-old. Montas threw his fastball 1.1 mph harder yesterday than did last season (96.9 mph versus 95.8 mph), but he threw the pitch 23% less than he did in 2018. Why? Because he’s incorporated a new splitter that he threw 19.5% of the time in his season debut. He also threw his slider much harder yesterday (28.6% of his pitches) than he did last season (89.2 mph versus 86.2 mph in ’18). It’s a minuscule one start sample, but those numbers jump off the page at me. His final line against the Angels was 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 K. The only blemish was a Kole Calhoun home run. I missed out on Montas by $1 in TGFBI (and I’m kicking myself), but I’ve added him everywhere else he’s available. A top-200 prospect in the first list I ever published, the 26-year-old has a lot of things working in his favor this season and beyond.
- I was highly disappointed when I didn’t see Clarke Schmidt’s name listed on the Low-A Charleston RiverDogs Opening Day roster. I assumed the Yankees were simply going to keep him in XST to prepare him for his first meaningful competitive action since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2017. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see Schmidt listed on High-A Tampa’s Opening Day roster. The right-hander is already 23-years-old, but it’s still an aggressive placement for a prospect who’s never pitched in full season ball. I included Schmidt in this article about the candidates to be this season’s Chris Paddack, and I also ranked the right-hander aggressively (168th) in my top-200 prospect list. Lastly, the 23-year-old was included in my prospect obsession list, where I claimed he is my personal favorite to make a ‘Paddack-like leap’ on prospect lists this season. If all goes to plan, Schmidt finishes the season as a top-100 prospect pitching in Double-A. If you want to dream big, he makes his big league debut in 2019 and accumulates impact IP during the stretch run of the MLB regular season. Either way, Schmidt should be squarely on your radar.
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Featured image courtesy of photographer Kim Klement and USA Today Sports