Meet the Ascenders: Prospects Who Are Destined for Huge 2020 Seasons

Written by: Ray Butler

Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

Interested in receiving more than 70,000 words of prospect and active player content for the 2020 season? Check out our recently-released VIP package

What’s the definition of a breakout? Is it a 50th-ranked prospect ascending into the top-10 over the course of a season? A 175th-ranked spec playing his way into the top-100 or top-50? What about a guy currently outside the top-500 who makes the VIP portion (#201-250) of my prospect list next season?

I spent quite a bit of time pondering those questions this offseason, and I’ve come to the following question. Which of the above scenarios constitute a breakout? All of them.

I recently battle tested this theory when I teased this article on Twitter. When I asked followers to guess who I would feature in this article, more than 75% of total guesses were various prospects… who are already inside my 2020 top-100. 25% of total guesses were prospects who are already inside my 2020 top-50. Roster sizes in dynasty leagues often correlate with depth of knowledge in the prospect world—which, in turn, correlates with what you consider a genuine breakout.

Shallow dynasty leagues (<100 prospects rostered) are undoubtedly the most popular format amongst my readers and Twitter followers. In those leagues, Kristian Robinson and Luis Robert were probably breakout prospects last season. Dynasties with around 200 prospects rostered? Dylan Carlson and Brennen Davis broke out last season. In leagues like the XDL that roster close to 600 prospects, the mini-emergence of prospects like Travis Blankenhorn and Oswald Peraza come to mind.

There are no wrong answers. And keeping that in mind, I’ve decided to change the format of my ‘breakout prospect’ article from a focus on one player in shallower leagues to multiple prospects in various formats.

Unlike my prospect obsession list (which VIP members have already received) that focuses more so on prospects who are simply worth monitoring for various reasons, I firmly believe the four prospects discussed in this article (discussed in alphabetical order) will drastically improve their stock throughout the 2020 season.

Jose Garcia, SS, Cincinnati. Age: 22

I have a theory: Jose Garcia was destined to be this season’s Dylan Carlson—until Prospect Live’s Will Scharnagl expedited the process with this fantastic article from September. The parallels with Garcia and Carlson are quite obvious. Carlson broke out analytically in 2018, but it wasn’t until he got away from the pitcher-friendly Florida State League that the breakout became evident in his surface stats. That finally happened in 2019 in the Texas League and Pacific Coast League, and the rest—as you know—is history. From a wRC+ standpoint, Garcia (131 wRC+ in 2019) was actually better than Carlson (112 wRC+ in 2018) in the FSL. But thanks to forgettable counting stats (8 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 104 games), Garcia won’t officially breakout amongst the masses until 2020 in the Southern League. Will’s article dives deeper into these facets, but everything needed for a breakout is within this profile: an average fly ball distance that continues to evolve despite facing increasingly advanced pitching, plus speed that is utilized efficiently (88.2% success rate last season) and silky smooth defense at a premium position. Even if you play in the shallowest of dynasty leagues, you’ll know Jose Garcia’s name by the end of 2020.

Noelvi Marte, SS, Seattle. Age: 18

Had I followed the same path that led me to my previous breakout prospect selections, Marte would have been the pick in 2020. If you were looking for something similar to my Ronald Acuña Jr. pick in 2017 or these articles on Taylor Trammell and Kristian Robinson from 2018 and 2019 respectively, this write-up is for you. Marte laid waste to the Dominican Summer League last summer, but prospect cemeteries are littered with underwhelming profiles that were overhyped after 300 plate appearances-worth of statistical success in the DSL. Inclusions on flag planting, up-and-comer lists must be tool-based. The louder, the better. Thankfully, Marte’s tools are like tornado sirens: loud enough to be heard from miles away. This profile hangs its hat on plus power potential and 70-grade speed, a combination that keeps prospectors up at night. Unfortunately, Marte will always be compared to fellow Mariners farmhand Julio Rodriguez. This isn’t fair to either prospect. No, Marte probably doesn’t have the hit tool to post a .326 AVG across two full-season levels as an 18-year-old. That’s okay! It doesn’t mean he has a poor hit tool. No, Marte doesn’t (yet) have the defensive polish that played a crucial role in allowing Rodriguez to skip both the Arizona and Northwest leagues last season. In all likelihood, the shortstop will play the majority of his games this season with the Everett AquaSox in Short Season ball. Heck, he may end up at third base defensively. That’s okay! Noelvi Marte doesn’t have to be Julio Rodriguez in order to be really freakin’ good. And he is. The teenager will be one of the most hyped prospects in the sport heading into the 2020 season—and with good reason. If he meets the expectations of his most bullish proponents, Marte will rank similarly to Kristian Robinson and Marco Luciano next preseason. He’s one of the few players on my 2020 top-250 list who have ‘top overall prospect’ potential.

Alexfri Planez, OF, Cleveland. Age: 18

Before the format of this article was conceived, my plan was to broaden my horizons on a breakout prospect pick for the 2020 season. You know, roll with someone a little more off-the-radar than in year’s past. That would have meant selecting Alexfri Planez as my 2020 breakout prospect. The 18-year-old is everything you could ever dream of from a ball of clay; 70-grade raw power and above average speed from a 6-foot-5 frame should be everything you need to read in order to begin acquiring ground-floor shares in your dynasty leagues. Despite the long-limbed body, Planez is athletic enough to play centerfield through at least the first few seasons of his professional career. Right field is likely the long-term defensive destination. As is true with 99% of unrefined teenagers, Planez’s offensive profile isn’t flawless. There is present noise in the swing mechanics, issues with pitch recognition and an extremely aggressive approach—all of which will likely contribute to high strikeout rates throughout the early stages of the outfielder’s professional career. These flaws epitomize why it’s so difficult to predict an ‘off the radar’ prospect explosion with any amount of certainty; they’re also the reason Planez might be a level-per-season prospect throughout the majority of his development. But sometimes it’s the slow-burning prospects who pay the biggest dividends, and one thing’s for certain here: Planez would currently be a much hotter commodity had he not fractured his left hamate bone after only six Arizona League games last summer. The injury gift-wrapped us one more offseason of acquiring ground-level shares in the teenager before Planez receives the opportunity to explode for the world to see this summer in the New York Penn League. Even if he strikes out in 30% of his plate appearances (I would hope that’s the worst case scenario), the raw tools will be extremely evident. If everything breaks right, Planez will be a consensus top-100 prospect next preseason.

Screen Shot 2020-01-04 at 6.12.28 PM

Matt Tabor, SP, Arizona. Age: 21

The risk in including a pitching prospect in any breakout-related article is obvious, but that should tell you how much I like Matt Tabor in 2020 and beyond. If we’re being honest with each other, the right-hander has already broken out statistically. He’s coming off a full season debut in which he struck out 26.8% of the batters he faced in the Midwest League—all while posting a 2.93 ERA, 2.71 FIP, 2.68 xFIP, 41.9 GB% and 22.5 K-BB% in 95.1 IP. Despite these numbers, Tabor largely remains an afterthought on most prospect lists and in most dynasty leagues. Last season’s strikeout rate is particularly interesting when you consider he only struck out 18.2% of the batters he faced in the Northwest League (A-) in 2018. What caused the jump? The creation of a much needed slider, a sharp breaking ball that tunnels well with Tabor’s high-spin fastball and plus changeup. The 21-year-old added the slider to his arsenal last offseason, and the results were evident in Tabor’s first season of utilizing the pitch. But here’s perhaps the best thing about this profile: despite adding an offering that was the main protagonist in boosting his strikeout rate by more than eight percent, Tabor’s slider might be his third best pitch. As the 21-year-old has continued his physical development, his fastball velocity has continued to trend in the correct direction. Tabor’s heater averaged 92.7 mph (T96) last season, which is a bit higher than the current perception around the prospect world. Of course that’s not the premium velocity we’ve come to expect from most of the sport’s top pitching prospects, but it’s also not the ‘finesse’ velocity of pitchers like Devin Smeltzer or Bailey Ober. When you factor in a spin rate of 2450 RPM (according to FanGraphs) and Tabor’s understanding and reliance on analytics and data, it becomes fairly easy to place an above average grade on the pitch. I especially love how the 21-year-old’s arm slot, plane and angle allow him to attack left-handed hitters on the inner third with his fastball—the same way we often see David Price attack righties with his heater. As an excellent athlete, it’s likely that Tabor’s above average stride and extension allows the perceived velocity of his fastball to be a bit higher than what is clocked on radar guns. The more you know, right? Tabor’s best offering is his changeup, a pitch with ‘splitter-ish’ qualities that has viability against both right-handed and left-handed hitters. While the fastball and slider are certainly important weapons in Tabor’s arsenal, it’s the changeup that acts as the right-hander’s ‘out’ pitch. The 21-year-old’s ranking on most, deeper lists this preseason would suggest the ceiling here is that of a backend rotation arm or future bullpen asset. I’m here to tell you this profile has mid-rotation upside. There’s three above-average-or-better pitches with favorable spin and above average athleticism with a bit projection remaining in the frame. There’s also a deep understanding of his arsenal’s movement profile and an ability to tunnel and sequence at an advanced level. Tabor’s ranking on my 2020 prospect list (VIP members already know) reflects those qualities. The California League (the right-hander’s likely destination to begin the 2020 season) is a daunting task for any pitching prospect, but—in my eyes—it’s more likely than not Tabor finishes the upcoming season as a top-100 prospect. If additional (and hypothetical) added weight leads to another uptick in fastball velocity, watch out.

Interested in receiving more than 70,000 words of prospect and active player content for the 2020 season? Check out our recently-released VIP package

Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

Featured image courtesy of photographer Aldrin Capulong and the Daytona Tortugas

Leave a Reply