Written by: Ray Butler
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Due to unfortunate* (*= fortunate) circumstances, I won’t have much time to write Sunday. Instead, I’ve decided to bring you the newest Ramblings two days early. Not too shabby, right?
After I unwind a little from Cleveland next week, my plan is to publish a piece on the players, people and experiences I encounter at my first Futures Game. I’m hoping for a great experience.
Let’s get down to business….
- In a vacuum, Marco Luciano has been everything we hoped he would be early this summer. Assigned to the Arizona League (a relatively aggressive assignment for a 17-year-old who did not play in the Dominican Summer League the previous summer), Luciano is currently slashing .393/.493/.821 with 6 home runs (11 XBH) and 3 stolen bases in 14 games and 67 plate appearances. The wRC+ is a ghastly 226. Just look at this swing prospector Chris Welsh recently captured…
Over at @giants vs @Reds #AZL now. Hello Marco Luciano! Just easy power it’s stupid. Just misses a HR to LF. Settles for a double. Quick hands and wants to hurt baseballs 💪#ProspectOne pic.twitter.com/KOg7bCL2lq
— The Welsh (@IsItTheWelsh) July 2, 2019
Short to the ball. Natural loft. You love to see it, especially from a 17-year-old with the tools Luciano possesses. There are questions about his arm at shortstop, and while conversing with Chris about the teenager, he wondered if Luciano might eventually move to centerfield. Stat line scouts who moonlight as detractors might point out Luciano’s 23.9 K% at the halfway point to “stabilization” (they won’t mention the 13.4 BB%), so I asked Chris about this as well. Hopefully his response put things into perspective:
“The pitching out here is mediocre. I don’t think he’s seen super advanced stuff to make a judgement on if he’s picking up spin and his pitch recognition. He eats fastballs alive. He makes really hard contact, but he’s aggressive as you’d expect a 17-year-old to be.”
The way I see it, Luciano is either already rostered or will soon be rostered in your keeper league. If you’d like to be hesitant/reluctant on the strikeout rate of a 17-year-old in his first taste of professional ball, so be it. But that likely means you’ll completely miss out on a prospect who has the *potential* to someday take his place amongst Ronald Acuña Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr. and Wander Franco on the Mount Rushmore of recent prospects. Yes, I realize Mount Rushmore only features four former presidents. No, I don’t care.
- Luciano is an obvious riser on my midseason list, but the next two prospects I’m discussing are more along the lines of underrated risers. Jeter Downs fits that mold. The statistical profile here is… perplexing. The .258/.332/.485 slash thru 329 plate appearances leaves some to be desired, but the 14 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 73 games is enough to make your ears perk up. The eye-opener is the batted ball profile: the 20-year-old’s BABIP is only .285 despite a Hard% that ranks amongst the very best in the minor leagues (Downs’ 42.9 Hard% is tied with Julio Rodriguez and Kevin Cron, for reference). But the infielder has a historical propensity to elevate (52.3 FB% in ’19) and pull (44.3% in ’19) the ball, which traditionally leads to lower batting averages and BABIP than would be expected when analyzing quality of contact. From a tool standpoint, I docked Downs in my preseason top-200 because ‘fantasy baseball doesn’t always reward well-rounded skillsets’. That still holds true, but since then, we’ve witnessed the progression/explosion of a well-rounded Gavin Lux, who just so happens to share an organization with Downs. The Dodgers hang their hat on helping their players get the most out of their skillset, and I think we’re beginning to see that come to fruition with Downs. A 25 HR/25 SB campaign is within reach for the 21-year-old this season, and the 25 HR/15 SB mark could eventually become the expectation for Downs at the MLB level, though I may be a little too bearish on the power outlook. Despite a batting average that’ll hang in the .260-.280 range, that’s still mixed league production at second base.
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- Is Danny Jansen currently the hottest hitter in all of baseball? Are you stress-eating because you dropped him in your fantasy league over a month ago? It’s looking like patience is beginning to pay dividends for the 24-year-old, who’s slashing .405/.421/1.027 with 6 home runs and a 0 (ZERO!) strikeouts in his last ten games. That’s a 273 wRC+ for those of you keeping score at home. Okay, so we’re actually going to discuss another hitter below who’s been slightly hotter during that time frame, but it’s been awesome to see Jansen’s recent ascension, especially when you consider his momentous struggles thru the first half of the season. Now, we always look for contextual evidence to support a mini-breakout. Has Jansen made a change at the plate that’s helped bring about these ultra-positive outcomes? It appears so. From July 3rd:
Coming into tonight, Danny Jansen had added 30 points to his batting average in the previous eight games. And now just hit another homer.
I asked him about his mechanical adjustments of having a wider stance at the plate. Here’s Jansen’s explanation on it — pic.twitter.com/d1I7hlStR0
— Arash Madani (@ArashMadani) July 4, 2019
TLDR: Jansen has widened has bottom half, and it’s allowed him to feel more stable and balanced (and engaged with his back leg) at the plate. In this article from The Athletic ($), Jansen gives credit to widening his base to watching teammate Eric Sogard, who I featured in the Ramblings earlier this week. Regardless of the ‘how’ or the ‘why’, it’s certainly paying quick dividends for a catcher many thought would rise to the top of positional redraft lists by the end of the regular season. Despite the streak of unconsciousness, Jansen has been so bad offensively this season that the 2019 slash is just now up to .209/.281/.379. He’s hit 8 home runs and sports a 20.1 K% (74 wRC+). However, he gap between wOBA (.285) and xwOBA (.329) is still quite cavernous, so it’s possible Jansen very quickly (or very gradually) progresses to his expected statistical performance. The Statcast profile isn’t swoon-worthy, but it also doesn’t look like the profile of a player who’s clearly been below average statistically this season (h/t Savant).
Despite the recent bump, the 24-year-old is still available in 35% of Fantrax Leagues. If this is the case in your league, I’d consider making the transaction. I think there’s a good chance he outperforms catchers like Omar Narvaez and James McCann (and his .405 BABIP) for the rest of the season. For the sake of your mental health, I really hope you didn’t cut ties in your dynasty league.
- Another big riser on my #MidseasonTop200 will be catcher Luis Campusano, who’s taking the California League by storm this season. But before we dive into the present, let’s take a look at the past. The Padres selected Campusano in the second round of the 2017 MLB Draft. He debuted in full season ball last season, slashing .288/.345/.365 with 3 home runs (106 wRC+) in 70 games and 284 plate appearances at Low-A Fort Wayne. The 20-year-old made the jump to High-A Lake Elsinore this season, and he’s exploded. Thru 289 plate appearances, Campusano is slashing .328/.403/.516 with 9 home runs and nearly as many walks (33) as strikeouts (37). The current 153 wRC+ sits second amongst ALL hitters in the Cal League, and the 27.6 Hard% (h/t Rotowire) suggests the statistical output is no fluke. The growth in Campusano’s OPS this season is also….. notable. (h/t Minors Graphs)
Projecting catching prospects is always incredibly difficult, as we’re witnessing this season with players like M.J. Melendez and Ronaldo Hernandez. The difficulty in seeking clarity in Campusano’s outlook is increased even further when you consider the Padres already have Austin Hedges, Francisco Mejia and Austin Allen within their organization. Might Campusano become trade bait once the Padres become contenders? Will he continue ascending to the point he becomes to unquestioned catcher of the future in San Diego? 2080 Baseball’s recent report on Campusano paints a picture of a well-rounded player with adequate defensive skills. A 55-future role, above-average regular (albeit with extreme risk) who was absent from prospect lists prior to the season? Other than in deep dynasty leagues, the ground floor is still wide open here. Sign me up.
BP from #Padres prospect Luis Campusano.
The ball comes off his bat like a rocket. pic.twitter.com/dLQIq4asJA
— Jared Tims (@Jared_Tims) April 5, 2019
- This article is actually the second Ray’s Ramblings of the week, so make sure you’ve read the first. It features Dylan Cease, Miguel Vargas, Jo Adell, Yonny Chirinos, Jesse Chavez, Eric Sogard, Rodolfo Castro and MUCH more. Read it here.
- Along with Jansen, Yuli Gurriel has been hotter than wildfire lately. It’s cherry picked, but the infielder has hits in 21 of his last 24 games. And when you narrow it down to his last nine games, Gurriel is slashing .405/.436/1.054 with 7 home runs and a 286 wRC+. With his current hot streak, the 35-year-old is now outperforming his xBA, xSLG and wxOBA for the season; however, Gurriel’s track record since signing with the Astros suggests the gap between his production and expected production should either plateau or marginally widen a little more before the end of the season. The season-long slash of .275/.309/.466 with 12 home runs (105 wRC+) might lead to your league mates passing over his name on the waiver wire (if he’s available in your league), but Gurriel and his multi-position eligibility should be a steady contributor to your fantasy lineup between now and the end of September. It certainly doesn’t hurt to bat behind the likes of George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez.
Yuli Gurriel walks it off for #TogetherWe #Astros pic.twitter.com/Lb3uK9K0Xf
— Over The Top Sports (@OverTheTopSport) June 29, 2019
- Your ‘who the heck is that?’ prospect of this Ramblings is Andy Pages, an 18-year-old in the Dodgers organization who’s currently ripping the cover off the ball in the Pioneer League. An $300,000 international signing in the fall of 2017, Pages hit 10 home runs and stole 10 bases in 212 plate appearances last summer between the DSL and AZL, slashing .229/.392/.464 along the way (Pages’ low BABIP in 2018 (.230) was due an affinity to elevate and pull the ball. Think Jeter Downs, who I profiled above). The rates—a 13.7 BB% and 16.9 K%—were great for a 17-year-old, so there’s certainly a track record of performance before this season. That makes what Pages has accomplished so far this summer rather eye-opening, especially since he’s currently playing in a Pioneer League with an average age close to 21-years-old (after only playing in ten AZL leagues last summer, mind you). Thru 16 games, Pages is slashing .306/.427/.677 with 6 home runs and 3 stolen bases. Though they’re not yet stable, he currently boasts a 13.3 BB% and 20.0 K%. With a 6-foot-1, 180 pound frame, I wondered if the teenager was simply physically overwhelming opposing pitchers, which isn’t uncommon in Rookie Ball leagues. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case, as the guys at Fangraphs mentioned Pages’ raw power, impressive peripherals and impression amongst scouts *despite the fact he’s not physically remarkable* in their report on the outfielder. In the same breath, however, the report alludes to the 18-year-old’s defensive inequities early in his career. Fantasy players shouldn’t worry about this too much as Pages is extremely young and has plenty of time to development and improve, but we’d certainly like to be able to read some optimistic reports projecting him as a corner outfielder a year from now. The teenager is certainly one to keep an eye on moving forward, especially if you play in a deep keeper or dynasty league.
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Featured image courtesy of photographer Tom Szczerbowski and Getty Images