Ray’s Ramblings: May 21st

Written by: Ray Butler

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Sorry to rain on your parade, but Casey Mize is not the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. Apologies. If you’re confused as to why I’m bringing this up, Fantrax’s Eric Cross created a poll on Monday surveying Twitter about this very topic. In my eyes, any vote for someone other than Forrest Whitley is incorrect. Yes, I’m aware of his struggles early this season.

For those of you who have asked, I’d currently rank my top-4 pitching prospects (who have not yet made their MLB debut) as Whitley, Gore, Mize and Luzardo definitively. After that, an understandable argument can be made for Brent Honeywell, AJ Puk, Matt Manning, Dylan Cease or Nate Pearson to occupy the #5 slot. One more thing for those of you about to invalidate this debate entirely: Zac Gallen is not a top-100 overall prospect, much less a top-5 (or top-10) pitching prospect.

Now that I’m saltless, here’s this week’s Ramblings.

  • I try not to feature the same prospects in too short of a span in the Ramblings, but Yordan Alvarez is a prolific, big league slugger currently trapped in a Triple-A jersey. The season-long stats are utterly ridiculous: he’s slashing .411/.494/.884 with 18 home runs in 170 plate appearances. He’s sporting a 43.0 Hard% in 39 games. He’s striking out in fewer than 20% of his plate appearances and boasts a double-digit walk rate. The BABIP currently sits at an unsustainable .447, but that’s at least partially because Alvarez is taking the ball to the opposite field (31.8%) far more than he’s pulling the ball (30.8%). He’s unshiftable. He’s actually elevating the ball less this season (33.3 FB%) than last season (39.5 FB%), but the results speak for themselves. The 21-year-old has already played more games at first base in 2019 than he did all of last season, though he’s primarily played left field and right field throughout the past week. The Astros currently have two unmanned spots on their 40-man roster, but cracking the 25-man active roster seems like the real obstacle Alvarez must overcome in order to become a big leaguer. I have no inside information, so let’s call this complete speculation/a gut feeling: the Astros will eventually DFA Tyler White to make room for Alvarez on their big league active roster. Regardless of whether I’m right or wrong, let’s hope he debuts in Houston soon. Despite the reluctance from a select-few other evaluators, Alvarez was included in the top-20 of my 2019 prospect list.
  • I know Keibert Ruiz or Joey Bart likely take this crown, but there’s an argument to be made that Daulton Varsho is currently the best catcher prospect in all of baseball. After swatting his 6th home run of the season on Sunday, Varsho is now slashing .266/.352/.468 with 13 XBH and 4 stolen bases in 33 Double-A games. The Hard% is only 22.2%, but Varsho’s all-fields approach (28.9 Pull%, 28.9 Oppo%) and 55-grade speed means his current .276 BABIP should positively regress before the midway point of the regular season. Since his full-season career began last season, the main (perhaps only?) question surrounding Varsho (listed at 5’10, 190 lbs.) was his ability to stick at catcher throughout his career. Having seen the 22-year-old in-person around ten times already this season, I’ve been pleasantly surprised (perhaps even impressed) by Varsho’s receiving abilities. However, he’s only thrown out 17% of stolen base attempts (4 out of 20), so I’m sure that will continue to be a focal point of development moving forward. If the worst-case scenario comes to fruition and Varsho eventually moves away from catcher, I’m extremely confident he has the offensive ability to maintain fantasy relevance at other positions. As I stated in my preseason prospect list, Varsho is a 55-hit, 55-raw, 55-speed player with the talent, athleticism and potential to be an impact offensive player at the MLB level someday. My gut tells me he sticks at catcher for the foreseeable future.
  • I tweeted about this two weeks ago but would like to publish something to make it official: Gavin Lux is in the process of improving versus left-handed pitching. He wasn’t terrible last season, slashing .226/.278/.298 against southpaws in 89 plate appearances. But the 21-year-old has ascended to a point against like-handed pitching early this season that hypothetical platoon concerns might be a thing of the past; in 30 plate appearances in 2019, Lux is slashing .333/.387/.444 with the same amount of home runs (1, lol) he totaled versus LHP all of last season. And it might be true that Lux isn’t necessarily elite in any single facet of the game, but he’s darn good in just about everything he does on a baseball field. In 157 total place appearances, the 21-year-old is slashing .302/.363/.532 with 8 home runs and 3 stolen bases in 34 Double-A games. According to Rotowire, Lux is sporting an above-average 32.2 Hard%. A promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City seems on the horizon, and a big league debut in 2019 is not out of the equation if Kike Hernández or Chris Taylor are inadequate or needed at other positions down the stretch. I ranked Lux 44th in my preseason top-200 prospect list, and he’s practically a shoe-in to land inside my top-40 in the midseason edition.
  • 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!
  • Soon-to-be top-150 prospect Tyler Freeman is raking at Low-A Lake County early this season. Does a .324/.432/.511 slash wet your whistle at all? How about 3 home runs and 10 stolen bases thru 169 plate appearances in full season ball as a 20-year-old? The power has always been the ‘lacking’ tool in Freeman’s offensive skillset. But through 37 games this season, the shortstop has posted a 28.6 Hard% and .190 ISO—both of which have exceeded expectations. If walking more than striking out is your thing (I got a little aroused just typing that), Freeman is your type of prospect. The 20-year-old currently sits at a 10.1 BB% and 7.0 K% in his first taste of full season ball. Not too shabby. Freeman checked in at the tail-end of my preseason top-200 list; needless to say, he’ll comfortably make the midseason edition. I’m bullish on his outlook and ceiling moving forward.
  • Last Thursday, I published this piece on breakout-to-be Buddy Reed and the signs to look for to see brighter days ahead. Make sure you check it out
  • I’ve got a smorgasbord of active player info for you this week. Chris Bassitt continues his breakout despite zigging while everyone else is zagging. The right-hander is currently throwing his fastball at a 62.0% rate, which easily places him in the upper-echelon of starting pitchers as far as pitch usage is concerned. Even if you believe he can continue surviving as an anomaly, you surely know his BABIP (.216) and LOB% (100.0%, lol) are locks to negatively regress sooner rather than later. Once those two numbers settle, I’m hopeful we’ll still have a sub-4.00 ERA starter on our hands (the 3.35 xFIP is keeping me optimistic). Shelly Verougstraete has teased an upcoming deep dive on Bassitt, so I’m anxiously awaiting that release.
  • We tried our darnedest to warn you about Luke Weaver this preseason. He made my high-value active player list and staff writer James Schiano‘s ‘buzzless breakouts’ article prior to Opening Day. Without diving too deep into material you can click on to read, Weaver’s early-season success can basically be credited to the reasons outlined in our articles: the cutter and curveball have combined to become more prevalent in the right-hander’s usage this season, thus making him less predictable and more efficient. When you combine the expanded arsenal with improved command (2.1 BB/9 this season versus 3.0 BB/9 in his big league career), we arrive at a player who’s quickly become one of the more notable arms in the National League (he ranked 14th amongst NL pitchers in WAR before his solid effort Monday night). Now pitching in the spacious confines of the NL West (outside of Coors, of course), Weaver is set-up for continuous success for the foreseeable future. Let’s hope he can keep this up.
  • Jason Castro continues to annihilate right-handed pitching to the tune of .259/.375/.722 with 7 home runs in just 64 plate appearances early this season. That’s a 181 wRC+ for those of you who were desperately awaiting that metric. The 31-year-old is elevating the ball more in general this season, but his 50.0 FB%, 42.5 Pull% and 52.5 Hard% versus RHP have created the perfect recipe for success for the journeyman. If you play in an OBP league (the 15.1 BB% overshadow the meh BA) and don’t roster an elite catcher, Castro is basically worth grabbing just to reap the benefits of the damage he’s doing versus righties (even if that means playing a man short when he sits 2-3 times a week against southpaws). Hear me now, believe me later: Castro is a fundamentally-different hitter than what his career numbers say he is, and at this pace he can play an underrated role in you winning your fantasy league this season.
  • Andrew Heaney struck out 10 and didn’t allow a run in 4.1 innings of work Monday night, which is a comforting sign to fantasy baseballers hoping the 27-year-old returns to a big league mound by the end of the week. For the second consecutive season, Heaney dealt with preseason elbow soreness. In 2018, he was able to bounceback and finish the season sans setback with 180 IP, a strikeout per inning and a 3.68 xFIP. That type of workload won’t happen in 2019, but if all goes well, Heaney can finish his current campaign with 20-25 starts and 125 IP or so. If you believe in the skills (and you should), that’s more than enough volume to make a viable impact for your fantasy team. I was forced to cut-bait with Heaney in 2 of the 3 leagues I rostered him in, but he’ll be a welcomed-addition in my home league when he makes his 2019 debut this weekend (Angels beat writers are speculating it’ll happen Sunday). He’s available in plenty of redraft leagues, so rectify your league mates’ mistakes before it’s too late. If we’re lucky, he can be the SP3 you’ve been searching for from here-on-out.
  • If you haven’t done so already, you should really check out last week’s Ramblings. I believe it’s the longest Ramblings in the history of Ramblings. Where do I even start? It includes thoughts on Franmil Reyes, Yandy Diaz, Yoán Moncada, Oscar Mercado, Esteury Ruiz, Jordan Balazovic, (inhales) Ljay Newsome, Lazaro Armenteros, Aramis Ademan, Jose Soriano and Bo Takahashi. You can read well over 3000 words on baseball goodness by clicking here
  • So, what’s gotten into Daniel Johnson so far this season? Part of the return for Yan Gomes, Johnson has already compiled 9 home runs and 6 stolen bases in 154 plate appearances for Double-A Akron. Those are notable numbers because Johnson only totaled 7 home runs (and 22 stolen bases) all of last season (415 plate appearances). He’s slashing .271/.359/.556 thru 36 games. What’s going on, you ask? *DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEEEEEEEEE?*

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Since joining the Indians’ organization, Johnson is elevating and celebrating at a rate we’ve never seen from him before. He’s also pulling the ball more, which serves as the second ingredient for what’s quickly turning into an intriguing concoction for the 23-year-old. A 70-grade runner, we might finally be seeing the above-average raw power really begin to creep through in a skillset that also includes an 80-grade arm. The budding hype will really ascend to a new level if Johnson is able to complete the 2019 season as a 20 HR/20 SB player with a cannon of an arm. Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel made this comparison in their Indians’ prospect list, and I’m inclined to agree: Johnson might eventually remind us of Franchy Cordero. With the left-handed outfielder currently slashing .293/.431/.610 in 51 plate appearances versus southpaws this season, there’s full-time regular upside here with tools we can dream on and drool over. Shouts to James Anderson for already having Johnson inside his top-200 prospects; he’ll be strongly considered to debut on my midseason version as well.

  • He’s not nearly as touted as the other Luises playing at advanced levels for their age, but Luis Vazquez has become the everyday shortstop for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies during the absence of Nico Hoerner. Vazquez is only 19-years-old but hasn’t embarrassed himself so far in the Southern League, slashing .232/.274/.246 with 8 runs scored and 2 stolen bases in 73 plate appearances (21 games) this season. The scarce scouting reports that can be found on the shortstop have him pegged with a ‘glove-first bench player’ designation, but I find it hard to believe the Cubs believe the same thing about a prospect they inserted into a league in which the average competition is a staggering 4.8 years old than Vazquez. The counting stats are extremely modest in Vazquez’s sample, but his 6’1, 165 lb. frame has plenty of projectability left; the power output should increase as the 19-year-old continues to fill out. I liked what I saw in my recent live look.
  • It’s not a spotless offensive profile by any stretch of the imagination, but Travis Blankenhorn has a plan every time he steps into the batter’s box: pull the freakin’ ball. And despite not possessing plus speed and constantly being shifted by opposing defenses (48.9 Pull%), Blankenhorn’s stock is on the rise early this season thanks to a .299/.366/.493 slash with 7 home runs in 161 plate appearances between High-A and Double-A. The body and mobility isn’t great (6’2, 228 lbs.) for second base, but a scout I’ve conversed with told me there’s a chance the 22-year-old sticks at the cornerstone as teams become increasingly experimental with finding ways to get their bats into their starting lineup. If he moves away from second, left field is the likely destination. I caught the Pensacola Blue Wahoos live a few weeks ago shortly after the 22-year-old was promoted, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Blankenhorn is willing to make adjustments with two strikes, poking singles to left field twice when behind in the count (and facing a heavy shift to the right side) during my looks. He’s a professional hitter I’m intrigued with moving forward; some things will have to break right, but a 55-hit, 55-raw second baseman is not out of the question here.


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Featured image courtesy of photographer Jim Redman and MiLB.com

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