Ray’s Ramblings: May 6th

Written by: Ray Butler

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May is a great month for a lot of reasons! Let’s get the Ramblings for the month started on a high note…

  • Your wish is my command, @DustyColoradoWander Javier is a mainstay on our Twitter timelines (and comment sections on industry sites) thanks to Dusty, but I helped out last week when I reported the following:

Javier ranked 128th on my latest top-200 prospect list, and a promotion from extended spring training to full season ball would officially kick-off one of the more anticipated prospect campaigns of the 2019 season. As I stated in his write-up on my list, it’s completely possible we consider the shortstop a 55-hit, 55-raw, 55-speed prospect who’s a staple on top-100 lists by the end of the regular season. It’s also possible the contact rate creates a glaring red flag in a full season setting and Javier struggles to make the tail-end of top-200 lists heading into 2020. Either way, the time is nigh. I just hope my source is correct and we can finally get this party started. Javier also made my prospect obsession list for the 2019 season.

  • It’s true that Brendan Rodgers is currently playing in the hitter-friendly confines of the Pacific Coast League. It’s also true that the 22-year-old is likely the victim of prospect burnout; heck, I ranked him 5th in a 2017 prospect list that included Andrew Benintendi, Yoan Moncada, Dansby Swanson, Austin Meadows, Lucas Giolito, Tyler Glasnow, Rafael Devers, Cody Bellinger and many more. But make no mistake about it: Rodgers is up to something early this season. I don’t really care about the 6 home runs in 128 plate appearances after only hitting 17 in 474 plate appearances last season. I care about the rates, which is precisely why I finally bumped him down in my latest top-200 list. The infielder has answered the widespread questions about his perceived hyper-aggressive approach (6.5 BB%, 19.4 K%, .268 AVG) quite definitively thru the first month of the 2019 regular season, posting a 9.4 BB%, 15.6 K% and .333 AVG in his first 128 plate appearances. I haven’t seen him play to confirm this with my own eyes, but it certainly seems like Rodgers is being more patient and selective at the dish this season. I’m sure it’s a little inflated by playing in the PCL, but the 22-year-old’s current 139 wRC+ would be highest mark since posting a 184 wRC+ in a 236 High-A PA-sample in 2017. It should certainly be noted that Rodgers has played 21 of his 29 games this season at second base (three at third base, four at shortstop). The versatility is nice, until you remember Rodgers is still a member of a Colorado Rockies organization that is currently managed by Bud Black. If the infielder sustains the numbers he’s already posted, he’ll be ready for a big league role by midseason. In other words, I can’t wait to see how Black distributes playing time to Rodgers, Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon in an infield that also includes Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Daniel Murphy. Pat Valaika is currently sitting at -25 wRC+ (yes, that’s negative) in 31 MLB plate appearances this season, so I have to assume he’s the odds-on favorite to get a lion’s share of the playing time at second base down the stretch of the regular season.
  • The haters will hate to see it, but Rafael Devers is currently sitting at 114 wRC+, a 24-point increase from last season. The 22-year-old is slashing .306/.387/.411 with 23 R, 1 HR, 14 RBI and 4 SB thru 35 games (and 143 plate appearances) this season. As I’ve tweeted, perhaps the most impressive part of Devers’ improvements have been his walk and strikeout rates. After posting a 7.8 BB% and 24.7 K% in 2018, the third baseman is currently sitting at a 11.6 BB% and 15.9 K% this season. If you look at the plate discipline numbers, the biggest discrepancies you see is the difference in F-Strike% (64.3% to 52.2%) and O-Contact% (61.3% to 70.5%) from last season to this season. A lot of the pushback I’ve received on Twitter revolves around Devers’ increase in GB% and decrease in Hard%. Those worries are certainly why the 22-year-old has only hit 1 home run in the first 35 games of the season, but I do suspect we’ll see a normalization as Devers continues to become more comfortable with his new, improved approach. In other words, I’m much more ecstatic about a 22-year-old drastically improving his plate discipline/approach than I am worried about a 70-grade raw corner infielder who’s going thru a 150 plate appearance dry spell in the power department. You should be doing everything in your power to grab as many Rafael Devers shares as you possibly can, regardless of format.
  • If you’ve been in my DMs the past couple of weeks asking about underrated power help for the rest of the 2019 season and beyond, you’ve likely heard me mention Josh VanMeter. The infielder (he’s played first base, second base and third base this season) hit 12 home runs in 483 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. He’s already hit 13 home runs in 131 Triple-A plate appearances this season and received his first big league call up to Cincinnati on Sunday. When a player’s power profile changes so drastically so suddenly, the first thing we do is look for signs of sustainability. Luckily, Doug Gray has already written about VanMeter’s emergence since MiLB Opening Day (Doug is a good Twitter follow if you don’t already follow him). Of course 13 home runs in 131 plate appearances is an unsustainable pace, but the 24-year-old has also improved from the 12 HR-player he was last season. If you simply assume VanMeter is a 20 home run player moving forward, and you consider the fact he’s stolen double-digit bases in every season since 2015 (he walked and stole a base in his MLB debut Sunday), we’re suddenly discussing a valuable big league player who entered the 2019 season completely unheralded. Playing time is certainly a big question moving forward (manager David Bell basically alluded to VanMeter as a spot starter/bench player with the Reds’ current roster configuration), but the 24-year-old is immediately worth a speculative add in deep leagues if possible. He’s played first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field and right field throughout his professional career, and I’m hopeful his defensive versatility helps him carve out a permanent role at the big league level at some point in 2019. If you don’t yet have access to my DMs, all you have to do is send $10 to @Prospects365 (Venmo) or askprospects365@gmail.com (PayPal). I’ll follow you from @Prospects365 on Twitter, and you’ll have a direct line of communication with me for the remainder of the 2019 calendar year (in a place your league mates can’t see). I receive/answer roughly 20-40 DM’ed questions every day and would love to have you on board.
  • If you haven’t done so already, you should really grab a Prospects 365 t-shirt. A small portion of proceeds will be donated to 4MOM, and it’s a fantastic way to support a site that works tirelessly to enhance your baseball and fantasy baseball experience. All purchases come with free shipping. Snag yours today!
  • I know Chris Owings is a superstar and future Hall of Famer, but I think it’s time for the Royals to promote Nicky Lopez and find him everyday at-bats at the big league level. A simple stat-line scout is LOL-worthy: the 24-year-old is slashing .326/.423/.453 with 2 home runs and 5 stolen bases in 111 Triple-A plate appearances early this season. Somehow, we haven’t even arrived at the best part yet. The shortstop has only struck out 3 times in 25 games. That’s a microscopic 2.7 K% (he has a 13.5 BB% to boot). Those are ELITE rates that reek of a player wholly ready to compete versus big league pitching. VIP members should already be ‘in’ on Lopez thanks to his inclusion in the #201-250 portion of my 2019 prospect list, but he should currently be widely available in most formats. The 24-year-old is only 5’11, 175 lbs. and has never hit more than 9 home runs in a full season, but I can’t help but think there’s a little untapped power potential there at the big league level. Mark me down for Lopez becoming capable of 10-15 home runs with an equal amount of stolen bases and a .280 AVG once he settles in at baseball’s top level.
  • If you haven’t checked out last week’s Ramblings, you should do so. Mac Squibb and I teamed up to give you thoughts on Jarred Kelenic, Jorge Polanco, Leody Taveras, Alex Gordon, Geraldo Perdomo, Alex Gordon, Devin Smeltzer and more. Smeltzer is looking like a huge ascender early this season. Read that article here
  • Continuing our trend of prospects who seem destined to receive a real shot to make a big league impact sooner rather than later, let’s discuss Zac Gallen. The numbers this season are hysterically good: 40.1 IP, 17 H, 5 ER, 5 BB, 48 K in six Triple-A starts. That’s a 1.12 ERA and 0.55 WHIP. Under the hood, we see exactly why the numbers have been so video game-ish. A 97.7 LOB%. A .157 BABIP. Both of numbers will drastically regress, but Gallen’s superficial numbers can still be adequate once the aforementioned LOB% and BABIP normalize (his xFIP is currently 3.28). I do like the fact the 23-year-old’s GB% has drastically increased from last season to this season (39.3% to 49.4%), and above average command means walks shouldn’t play a huge role in any future undoing at the minor league or big league level. I’m also a fan of the fact the Marlins’ rotation currently includes a Sandy Alcantara who’s sporting a 14.7 K% and 10.0 BB% (4.86 ERA, 5.22 xFIP) in 33.1 IP early this season. This means an opportunity could abound for Gallen sooner rather than later, and I optimistically think the right-hander is capable of striking out close to a batter per inning with an ERA similar to what he posted in 133.1 IP in Triple-A last season (3.65). Even if the ERA is closer to 4.00 at the big league level (with a lot of his starts coming against the gauntlet that is the NL East), the adequate rates will help Gallen maintain relative mixed league value as long as he’s got a spot in Marlins’ rotation.
  • I’m really digging this bold prediction I made on Spencer Turnbull for the 2019 season. Thru his first seven starts, Turnbull has a 2.31 ERA with 38 strikeouts (and 14 walks) in 39 IP. His record is a forgettable 2-2 lol imagine discussing pitcher records in 2019. The xFIP is 4.26, so we might see some negative regression at some point during the regular season, especially if the BB/9 sticks at 3.23 and the LOB% doesn’t remain elite. But according to fWAR, Turnbull currently ranks as the -best starting pitcher in baseball. I would love to see the slider usage increase as the 26-year-old continues to familiarize himself with taking the ball every fifth day at the big league level, but I’m pleased with where we stand on this prediction a month into the regular season.


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Featured image courtesy of photographer Parker Waters and MiLB.com

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