Behind the Scenes of My End of Season Prospect List

Written by: Ray Butler

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There are an infinite amount of ways a site can steer their ‘post list release‘ writing. I’ve always wanted to write a piece that gives readers insight on my thought processes and decision making as I construct my lists, and there’s no better time than the present.

This article doesn’t cover every single nuance that went into the creation of my end-of-season top-200, because that article would reach 10,000 words without breaking a sweat. Instead, I chose to discuss—if I may—the main ideas of this specific list. If I were to give you the bullet points of my latest prospect list, this is what I would want you to know.

Tony Gonsolin and José Urquidy are both top-100 prospects

And I’m not sure you can build a valid case to the contrary. I wanted to lead off with this because I feel as though it was one of the most bold stances I took on my end-of-season list (Gonsolin ranked 76th and Urquidy ranked 78th, FWIW). And I’m pretty darn glad I published the list when I did, seeing as Urquidy is fresh off five scoreless innings in the freakin’ World Series. You’re telling me I get to witness a 0.96 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 9.1 postseason IP, AND I get to keep the 24-year-old as a prospect? Instant confirmation bias is a heck of a drug. What a come-up for a player who was nowhere the near the radar entering the 2019 season.

I gave Gonsolin the slight nod amongst the duo on the list because, to my eyes, the stuff is more expansive and a tad bit better. Because of the former, Urquidy is a more likely candidate to be moved to the bullpen once Lance McCullers Jr., Forrest Whitley and impending free agent(s) signings are all healthy or ready to make an impact from Houston’s rotation. I’m not predicting Urquidy is relegated, but when you’re evaluating two similar pitchers with nearly-identical outlooks, you find weird nuances that eventually serve as tiebreakers. Gonsolin is a no-doubt starting pitcher, though Dave Roberts’ management of the big league rotation will likely always damper the 25-year-old’s workload to a certain extent. I figure there won’t be much value to be found in Urquidy’s 2020 ADP after a stellar postseason, but Gonsolin will be an ideal late-round target in redraft leagues next spring. Both will graduate between Opening Day and #MidseasonListSZN. The arrow is pointing straight up for both members of this pair, and I feel as though I spearheaded their building momentum with their respective rankings.

“Why do you hate Joey Bart?”

The biggest gripe I received from readers and viewers on this list was my ‘unfair’ rank of Joey Bart. The catcher ranked 81st on my top-200, which was actually an improvement from ranking 88th on my midseason list. Weird, I didn’t receive a single Bart criticism when I published that list in July. Now the pitchforks are out. My Bart ranking is based on two things: first, the only look I’ve ever gotten wasn’t great, despite the stage. Secondly, some people are allowing an 87 plate appearance sample in Double-A skew their evaluation of the catcher. If you think Joey Bart is going to be able to sustain full seasons of .382 BABIPs, I want you to play in every league I play in. The slash numbers are much more likely to look like the .265/.315/.479 line he posted in a 251 plate appearance sample in the Cal League earlier this season. At the worst position in fantasy baseball, that means Bart will certainly be an above average catcher who retains mixed league value throughout his career. It doesn’t, however, mean that positional scarcity is going to cause me to rank the 22-year-old higher than prospects who could prove more valuable than Bart in every offensive category outside of home runs. I almost failed to show up to the ‘fade catcher prospects in dynasty leagues’ party, but a late arrival is better than no arrival at all.

Standing by my Alex Kirilloff evaluation 

Kirilloff wasn’t bad this season, posting a 121 wRC+ in 94 games as a 21-year-old in the Southern League. He hit .283 with 9 home runs. The Hard% was also above average. Of course, those numbers dwarf in comparison to the 172 wRC+, .348 BA and 20 home runs he posted in 2018. What I know is a Spring Training wrist injury hampered Kirilloff’s offensive performance and zapped the 21-year-old’s power for most of the 2019 season. What I think is that the beginning stages of a position change defensively also played a role in Kirilloff not being able to recapture the video game numbers he posted in the low minors last season. On a lot of lists, the perfect storm Kirilloff faced in 2019 has created a perfect buy-lowish situation for you in dynasty leagues. But not here, as I ranked the 21-year-old 10th on my end-of-season list. Assuming there’s no lingering effects with his wrist, Kirilloff still has .300 BA, 30 HR upside. In the world of the juiced ball, that may be slightly conservative. I’m not worried about him offensively. In the least bit. I’m much more interested in his defensive destination at the big league level. With Lewin Diaz now a member of the Marlins’ organization, there’s now a seeming need within the Twins’ organization for a long-term first baseman. But with Eddie Rosario becoming a potential trade chip and Byron Buxton unable to stay healthy for any consistent amount of time, Kirilloff’s quickest path to the Majors may be thru right field. The bat should bounce back in a big way next season. Keep an eye on what Minnesota plays to do with him defensively moving forward.

The enigma of Tarik Skubal

Not really going to add any new thoughts here, simply want to include a short thread I recently tweeted on the ascending southpaw.

Just click on the tweet to see the remainder of the thread. To clarify, Skubal’s 2nd-ranked SwStr% throughout the minor leagues in 2019 is amongst pitchers who logged at least 100 IP. I feel like 2020 will be an especially volatile season for the 22-year-old—results range anywhere from top-25 prospect to outside of the top-150. For now, the left-hander ranks just inside the top-100.

The closeness of omitted FYP pitchers 

The 2019 draftee pitchers included on my end-of-season list, in order: Nick Lodolo, Alek Manoah, Jackson Rutledge. That’s it. That’s the list. But there are *several* others who nearly made the list and will likely be featured in the #201-250 portion of my 2020 top-200 list that will be sent to future VIP members. Namely, Daniel Espino, Quinn Priester, Ethan Small, Blake Walston and Brennan Malone (perhaps even in that order) fall in the next wave of prospects currently *just* outside my current top-200. Outside of a few anomalous outliers here and there, my philosophical strategy when ranking first year players is to exercise caution. This especially holds true for first year pitchers. If I had to set an over/under on the pitchers listed above who will be included in my top-200 a year from now, I’d make the number 3. Don’t know if it would budge if I upped the ante to inclusions inside my top-150. PS: I don’t really see a scenario in which Priester isn’t a prospect obsession of mine next season.

The top of the Red Sox’ system is improving 

Boston had four prospects inside my top-200 prior to Opening Day. That number jumped to six by midseason, and it remained that way on my end of season list. The difference? At the midseason point, the six Red Sox prospects who made my midseason list average a ranking of 156.3. By the end of the season? 124.7. That feels like a notable jump for an organization who appears to be entering somewhat of an owner-induced purgatory. I’m locked on Triston Casas. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Gilberto Jimenez, though it’ll be a slow burn moving forward. Jay Groome should (finally) return to competition next season. Bobby Dalbec made notable improvements in 2019; Bryan Mata did too. Jarren Duran exploded onto the scene this season. And now you’re telling me Chaim Bloom is the taking the helm of the front office? Notable trades are ahead, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Boston boasted a top-15 farm system by the end of next season. PS: Don’t give up on Antoni Flores yet.

Why Dustin May ‘only’ ranked 30th

Dustin May is a very good pitching prospect. There’s no debating that. But when I crowdsourced on Twitter for topics and prospects to write about in this article, a follower made the claim May should be a top-10 overall prospect. I simply don’t believe that to be true. For my money, May’s best pitch is also the pitch he struggles the most to command. The 22-year-old’s four-seam fastball is features elite spin and averaged 95.7 mph at the big league level this season, but he only threw it 38 total times (6.7%). The fastball’s .222 BAA masks a .279 xBA, just as the .333 SLG masks a .452 xSLG. Simply put, the right-hander struggles to spot the pitch the way he must in order to be successful versus big league hitters. The fall out from that fact is why I’m not as high on May’s ceiling as most others. His sinker and cutter accounted for an astounding 81.6% of his big league pitches in 2019. The offerings posted a .239 and .162 BAA respectively (though the sinker over-performed), but they didn’t miss many bats. May finished the season with a very mediocre 8.7 SwStr%, which ranked 397th amongst big league pitchers with at least 30 IP in 2019 (May finished with 34.2 IP). For reference, Dallas Keuchel finished with the same SwStr%. Felix Hernandez finished with an 8.6 SwStr%.
If you can’t tell, I’m not sold on May ever posting elite strikeout numbers at the big league level. Heck, I’m not even sure I’m sold on the right-hander ever posting above average strikeout numbers. And that’s okay—you don’t have to miss a ton of bats to be a really good pitcher at the big league level. But statistically, I think May will fall closer to the range of a Jose Berrios or 2019 Zack Wheeler than a Walker Buehler or Gerrit Cole throughout his big league career. At the end of the day, each pitcher ranked above Gingergaard in my latest prospect list has a level of upside I’m not sure he currently has in the tank. Above average big league starting pitcher? Without a shadow of a doubt. Fantasy ace who piles-up the strikeouts? Without an uptick in four-seam command, I’m betting against it.

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Featured image courtesy of CBS Sports

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