Ray Butler’s 2020 Top 200 Prospects: #161-180

Written by: Ray Butler

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Happy Monday! Football season is now in the rearview mirror. Pitchers and catchers officially report in less than two weeks.

It’s beginning to feel like baseball. And as we turn the page on sports’ seasons, there’s no better way to celebrate than publishing the next installment of my 2020 top-200 prospects. If you didn’t catch the first release, you can read about my #181-200 prospects right here.

Let’s dive in.

180. Rodolfo Castro, INF, PIT. Age: 20

You can talk about the aggression at the plate if you’d like. You can talk about the current swing-and-miss issues within the profile. You can even if talk about the fact the potential stolen base impact isn’t what we thought it might be. I’d rather focus on a pair of the positives: Castro has the chance to someday hit for a massive amount of power, and he’ll do so while probably playing second base. Castro’s Hard% in 2019 was 31.8%, a rate that is well above average and quite impressive when you consider the frequency in which the 20-year-old swings the bat as well as the fact he took most of his cuts from a challenging Florida State League last season. And sure, the slash was only .242/.298/.456 and he struck out in more than a fourth of his plate appearances (26.5%). He was also more than two years younger than his average competition in the FSL and posted a 135 wRC+ (.299 BA) throughout the final month of the season. I really believe in the power here, so the upside is something like .250 with 30 home runs from second base. Reports have his right-handed swing much better than the left-handed swing, so the statistical disparity between the two are worth monitoring this season and beyond. Pirates Rank: 6th

179. Gilberto Celestino, OF, MIN. Age: 21

Part of me thinks Gilberto Celestino will become the player we think Misael Urbina will be. I love what I see here. There’s a high real-life floor: Celestino plays strong defense in centerfield, has a feel to hit and is a plus runner. But there’s also sneaky upside. The power output last season (10 home runs in 125 games) isn’t worth writing home about, but it’s also acceptable and perhaps even promising for a prospect who carries a public perception of a limited power ceiling. No one would mistake the lower half of the 21-year-old’s frame for tree trunks, but there is a notable thickness when you consider his listed size of 6-foot, 170 pounds. Celestino needs to elevate the ball more frequently to reach his full offensive upside, but there are tools within this profile worth targeting even if never hits more than 10 home runs per season at the big league level. Repeating his double-digit home run performance from last season while playing in the Florida State League would begin to raise some eyebrows around the prospect community, especially if he pairs that output with 15-20 stolen bases. Twins Rank: 9th

178. Travis Blankenhorn, 2B/OF, MIN. Age: 23

Perhaps my most underrated look of the season: a late-April Southern League look between the Diamondbacks’ and Twins’ Double-A squads. That series consisted of Jazz Chisholm, Daulton Varsho, Brusdar Graterol, Luis Arraez, Pavin Smith, Devin Smeltzer and Blankenhorn. I never featured him in the Ramblings, but I came away impressed with Blankenhorn. ‘Burly’ is probably the first word I would use to describe the frame, but the 23-year-old is athletic for his size—the 11 stolen bases and 0 CS in 2019 speak to that athleticism. By physical appearance alone, he looks out of place defensively at second base, but a Twins scout I talked to said he’s adequate at the position, and he held his own during my looks. He also mentioned left field as a fallback option, but that the organization loves Blankenhorn’s bat to the extent they’ll be creative with getting him in the lineup once he’s ready to debut in the big leagues. First base could also be a potential match. The 23-year-old has a good feel to hit—he beat the shift multiple times during my look, both times with two-strike counts. Despite the 6-foot-2, 228 lb. build, I’m not yet ready to throw a plus grade on the raw power. He could probably get there, but it wouldn’t be without sacrificing some of the hit tool. For now, Blankenhorn projects as a .270 AVG/20 HR hitter who might steal a handful of bases every season thanks to fantastic instincts. He’s a future big leaguer, and being added to the 40-man this offseason means he could (should?) see his first opportunity in Minnesota sometime in 2020. Twins Rank: 8th

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177. Blake Walston, SP, ARI. Age: 18

There’s so freakin’ much to love about Walston. He was young for his draft class—six months younger than Daniel Espino and ten months younger than Brennan Malone. There are five pitches in the arsenal, some more refined than others but five distinct offerings he throws in different counts. Walston oozes physical projection, currently checking in at 6-foot-5, 175 pounds with a frame that should easily be able to add positive weight. Once that happens, the southpaw could easily top out in the 96-97 mph range. Oh, and his fastball is currently his third best pitch (the curveball and changeup are better). Walston was a multi-sport star in high school (football), so I’m interested to see the perception of his upside after he focuses on baseball for a calendar year. The Diamondbacks pushed the left-hander to the Northwest League to finish the season, so there’s a decent chance he opens the 2020 season in the Midwest League (Low-A). As you can see, I’m pretty bullish on Walston. FYPD Rank: 27th, Diamondbacks Rank: 9th

176. Roansy Contreras, SP, NYY. Age: 20

The more I researched and asked around on Contreras, the more I liked what he did in 2019. The strikeout numbers (21.1 K%) were a bit lower than most of the other pitching prospects you’ll read about on this list, but the BB% (6.7%), ERA (3.33, which is supported by his FIP and xFIP) and home run suppression (10 HR allowed in 132.1 IP) are all super impressive, especially for a pitching prospect whose average competition was nearly three years older than him. We all know the strikeout numbers need to improve in order for the 20-year-old to become a prospect you salivate over, but Contreras has a lot of qualities we look for in promising, young pitchers. There’s still some physical projection left in the tank, so I’m hopeful the right-hander’s three-pitch arsenal (fastball, curveball, changeup) is eventually headlined by a fastball that sits 95-97 instead of the 92-94 we witnessed in 2019. Yankees Rank: 9th

175. Luis Frias, SP, ARI. Age: 21

I find myself stuck when evaluating Frias. On one hand, he’s a late-blooming pitching prospect with a high-effort delivery, and I get the sense he could become an elite reliever with arsenal consolidation and the ability to max-out for one or two innings at a time. On the other hand, he’s got one of the best lower-halves of any pitching prospect in baseball (and he weighs substantially more than his 180-pound list weight on MiLB-related websites). He has three pitches that all flash plus at times, and he only may tipping the scale of his potential. Consistency will be key for the 21-year-old in 2020, and I’m most interested to evaluate his ability to attack the zone when hitters in the Cal League (and Southern League if the Diamondbacks choose to be aggressive) are able to spit on the curveball and splitter in the dirt. If you’re looking for a pitching prospect lottery ticket who could finish the 2020 season as a top-50 prospect, Frias should be a prime candidate. Diamondbacks Ranks: 8th

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174. Canaan Smith, OF, NYY. Age: 20

Say what you will about the perception of Smith’s hit tool as being ‘meh’, but a slash of .307/.405/.465 with a 14.0 BB% and 20.5% in his Age 20 season in the South Atlantic League has gone a long way in silencing the critics in that regard. With 11 home runs and 16 stolen bases to boot, one might wonder how the heck Smith isn’t ranked higher than the home stretch of a top-200. If you look under the hood, we find Smith isn’t even an above average straight-line runner. He was able to use his instincts to effectively steal bases in the Sally. Will he be able to do the same in the FSL and Eastern League versus pitchers who are quicker to the plate and catchers with better pop times? Also, based on older reports, Smith might be limited to left field or first base defensively. This lowers the real life floor, so he’ll really have to hit to make his way to the front of the line in a contending Yankees’ organization. With a passive approach at the plate and a pitcher-friendly assignment to the FSL on deck, a statistical repeat for Smith in 2020 would likely land him inside the top-100 a year from now. Yankees Rank: 8th

173. Joey Cantillo, SP, SD. Age: 20

You can tout Cantillo’s Low-A success in 2019 if you’d like, but the reason he ranks inside my current top-200 is the projection of the pitcher he could be with further development. The southpaw will always lean on a plus changeup and a curveball that plays up thanks to a high arm slot. That’s fine, but pitchers won’t miss bats at the Double-A level and beyond without a weaponized fastball. The southpaw has a ways to go in that regard, but the pitch projects to improve because 1) Cantillo will add weight to his frame, which should add velocity to the offering, and 2) the pitch actually improved over the course of a 2019 season that featured Cantillo pitching 62.2 more innings than he did in 2018. The fastball touched 94 in a July outing after began working with a core velocity belt and made a mechanical adjustment. The pitch is low spin and is unlikely to ever miss a ton of bats, but increased velocity will likely increase the amount of soft contact the pitch induces. And since the 20-year-old repeats his arm-speed well with his changeup, a wider velocity disparity between it and the fastball should make both pitches play-up a bit. A hitter friendly California League should be a solid challenge for Cantillo in 2020; for now, he projects as a high-pitchability, high-end SP4 who strikes out more batters than his fastball says he should. Padres Rank: 7th

172. Alejandro Pie, SS, TB. Age: 18

I ranked Pie 113th on the midseason version of my prospect list last summer. I thought it was an aggressive, edgy ranking. Ahead of the curve. With hindsight, it was simply wrong. I fully believe Pie is a top-200 prospect and possesses a high ceiling, but we had not (and still have not) received an output worthy of that ranking. At least not yet, anyways. I see a bit of a slower-progressing Ronny Mauricio in Pie: a tall, wiry shortstop who hasn’t accessed much power in-game early in his career. Don’t worry, the home runs will come with age and physical maturation. This is where we meet our fork in the road: depending on how much muscle Pie adds to his frame, he could remain at shortstop and maintain his viability as a stolen base threat. He could also add enough mass to transition to third base, where his plus raw power would play just fine. In this scenario, the stolen base output would diminish or disappear all together. I like either outcome just fine from a fantasy standpoint, and that’s why he’ll remain on this list even if he doesn’t debut in full season ball until 2022. He should debut stateside sometime this summer. Rays Rank: 12th

171. Misael Urbina, OF, MIN. Age: 17

Things went exceptionally well for Urbina in the Dominican Summer League this summer. So well, in fact, I fear Urbina is now being viewed as something he’s not. The hit tool is at least above average—the outfielder possesses solid bat-to-ball skills and walked nine more times than he struck out in 217 plate appearances this summer. That’s all fine and dandy, but we need to see the approach and contact skills translate to the Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League before we ponder the word ‘plus’ when evaluating the hit tool. The 17-year-old currently projects for average power in the future, which could be a problem in real-life since he’ll likely slot in left field defensively. The speed is the biggest wild card in this profile. Urbina stole 19 bases in 50 DSL games (70.3% success rate), but he reportedly doesn’t (yet?) possess notable top-end speed. The impending ability to steal bases at higher levels will play a large role in determining his future value on prospect lists and dynasty leagues. I’m inclined to be conservative on the upside, so with the current profile, I’ll project a .280/10 HR/20 SB ceiling from left field. Twins Rank: 7th

170. Daulton Jefferies, SP, OAK. Age: 24

You can poke holes in some of the finer points of Jefferies’ 2019 return from Tommy John surgery if you’d like, but the bottom line is simple: the right-hander exceeded expectations last season. The two complaints are easy to understand: Jefferies was a 23 and 24-year-old succeeding versus hitters in High-A and Double-A, and (by design) the right-hander never hit the 4 IP threshold in any appearance last season. It’s true we need to see how the stuff holds up a second and third time thru the order, but on it’s head, 79 IP with a 3.42 ERA, 29.2 K% and 2.8 BB% is darn impressive for a pitcher who had thrown nine competitive innings since 2016. But despite the gaudy stats last season, the arsenal points to Jefferies eventually becoming a high-end SP4 at the big league level. The fastball sits 92-94 and has average spin. The sinking changeup (Jefferies’ best pitch) mostly sits 84-87; it’s a plus pitch that is the right-hander’s best bat eluder. Jefferies also featured a slider last season that grades fringe average based on video evaluation. It should be noted the right-hander’s entire arsenal plays-up thanks to plus command. In an ideal world, Jefferies will exceed 100 IP in 2020, with some of that workload coming from the big league level. The icing on the cake would be the ‘chanker’ missing more bats in Triple-A and MLB than we expect. Athletics Rank: 6th

Adrian Houser could be one of the most underrated players you select in your drafts this preseason. I dove deep into his profile this offseason. Read about him here. 

169. Anthony Kay, SP, TOR. Age: 24

With so much valuable minor league data withheld from the public eye, prospects making their big league debut often transitions many facets of our evaluations from ‘what we think’ to ‘what we know’. This is especially true for pitching prospects. So even though Kay only faced 63 batters and threw 258 pitches at the big league level towards the end of the 2019 regular season, we now have important data points such as spin rates and small-sample effectiveness versus some of the best hitters in the world. A lot of the actual statistics are too noisy to be worth much, but it’s certainly encouraging to see Kay’s Hard% allowed inside the top-100 of all pitchers from 2019 (min. 25 batted ball events), even if there was a little beginner’s luck involved. From a ‘stuff’ standpoint, everything we know about the fastball—from velocity, to spin rate, to expected outcomes in his first MLB sample—makes the pitch seem anywhere from average to quite forgettable. The 44.4 Whiff% on the changeup makes me think at least some of the actual and expected outcomes were a bit lucky. The curveball was easily the southpaw’s best pitch post-promotion (.077 BA, .154 xBA, .198 xwOBA), though—again—we need a larger sample before determining outcome viability versus big league hitters. In the end, all signs seem to be pointing towards SP4 territory. The Blue Jays have been extremely active this offseason, signing Hyun-Jin Ryu and Tanner Roark while trading for Chase Anderson. With Matt Shoemaker, Trent Thornton and Ryan Borucki also in the fold, we should probably assume Kay breaks camp in Triple-A. Regardless of his role or placement on Opening Day, the 24-year-old will almost certainly factor in to Toronto’s rotation at some point in 2020. Blue Jays Rank: 6th

168. Tyler Stephenson, C, CIN. Age: 23

Generally speaking, Stephenson flies under the radar amongst catchers throughout the prospect world. He also flew under the radar in 2019 despite ranking second amongst Southern League catchers in wRC+ (trailing only Daulton Varsho, min. 300 plate appearances). On a wider scale with the same threshold, Stephenson’s 35.4 Hard% ranked fifth amongst all catching prospects at any level. Despite being 6-foot-4 and 225 lbs., the 23-year-old holds his own behind the plate. Watching him face-off versus Varsho multiple times last season, it was Stephenson who was the superior defensive catcher. Once the latter fully realizes his power potential, this profile strikes me as one that will hover between a .250-.260 batting average with above average power for the position. Stephenson has been a level-per-season prospect since he debuted in Dayton in 2017, so it’s likely the Reds will let him cook in the International League in 2020 before he debuts in Cincinnati next season. The Reds have been actively searching for catcher help in the free agent and trade market, but it’s Stevenson who’s likely slated to fill that role in the long-term. Reds Rank: 5th

167. Ezequiel Duran, 2B, NYY. Age: 20

Duran is only 20 and hasn’t even debuted in full season ball yet, but I already have quite the history with second baseman. In my 2018 midseason list, I ranked Duran 108th (!). In the write-up, I suggested 2019 would be his breakout season. I should have listened to myself. I allowed a rough summer in 2018 (which was too small of a sample) to skew my evaluation of the 20-year-old, and I removed him from my prospect list all together until my 2019 end-of-season list. Truth be told, it was never going to be a linear process for Duran—and I paid the price for being impatient early in my prospecting career. After a really, really bad summer in 2018, the second baseman exploded back onto the scene last summer. In 66 games and 277 plate appearances in the NYPL, Duran slashed .256/.329/.496 with 13 home runs and 11 stolen bases. That was good for a 143 wRC+, so while the strikeout rate wasn’t spotless (27.8%), the growing hype surrounding the 20-year-old is everything I hoped it would be as we head for a full season debut in the South Atlantic League in 2020. I don’t expect speed output to always be part of Duran’s game, and he’s likely a level-per-season prospect with strikeout rates in the 25.0% range annually. But the raw power is plus, and the 20-year-old undoubtedly has potential to be one of the best second base prospects in baseball before debuting in the AL East. Yankees Rank: 7th

166. Kyle Muller, SP, ATL. Age: 22

It’s extremely difficult to heavily weigh the stuff and statistics when ranking Muller, because the body (a sculpted 6-foot-6 and 225 lbs.) screams “one of the best left-handed pitchers in all of baseball.” When I watch Muller in-person, it’s hard to build an argument that the repertoire won’t continue to improve the next few seasons. It’s almost as if the southpaw hasn’t fully grown into his body yet. Despite what my eyes say, we must also consider the fact Muller is suddenly 22-years-old and is coming off a season in which he walked 14.5% of the batters he faced in the Southern League. The solid but unspectacular strikeout rate (25.6%) doesn’t hide this issue. The left-hander spent a lot of his 2018 offseason working to optimize the biomechanics of his lower half at Driveline. For whatever reason, the mechanical improvements did not carry over to the playing field last season. Muller appeared to be ‘fighting it’ at different times throughout his 2019 campaign before a plant-leg injury ended his season in early August. When I saw him in June, the southpaw’s fastball sat 92-95 (T97). It’s an extremely high-spin pitch that has the ability to miss bats. With moderate arm-side run, the offering is also the foundation of Muller’s plan versus left-handed hitters. The curveball isn’t as eye-opening from a Statcast standpoint, but it’s consistently effective against righties and Muller can throw the pitch in any count. The changeup is still a work in progress, flattening out too often but missing bats with noticeable fade at its best. I hate projecting a 22-year-old more so on what’s to come than what we’ve seen, but Muller’s frame and athleticism make for a rare exception. At worst, the left-hander will utilize his FB/CB combination as a weapon from the bullpen. At best, he becomes more mechanically consistent and the changeup reaches his potential. At peak, this would make him a top-tier SP4. Braves Rank: 6th

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165. Keoni Cavaco, SS, MIN. Age: 18

People are going to over-penalize Cavaco for a poor, 25-game professional debut in the Gulf Coast League last summer, and the truthers will benefit from it. Physical projection is the name of the game for the 18-year-old, and there’s plus raw power and above average speed to go with it. Cavaco highlighted the pop-up portion of last summer’s draft, and the Twins snatched him with the 13th overall pick. There’s some awkwardness present both at the plate and on defense, though it can be at least partially credited to Cavaco still learning how to utilize his limbs. There’s a chance he shifts to either side of shortstop as he progresses to the upper levels of the minors, so make sure you include that when you attempt to buy low in your dynasty league. Don’t worry; the power should play just fine even from the hot corner. As one of the youngest players in his draft class, it’s entirely possible the Twins opt to keep their prized 18-year-old at the complex throughout the spring before placing him in the Appalachian League when Rookie Ball begins. Selfishly, I’m hoping Cavaco is instead the youngest player in the Midwest league. FYPD Rank: 26th, Twins Rank: 6th

164. Jorge Mateo, INF, OAK. Age: 24

Quite frankly, I’ve been ranking Mateo on this list far too long. The shortstop was fantastic from a counting stats standpoint in 2019, slashing .289/.330/.504 with 19 home runs and 24 stolen bases in 119 games and 566 plate appearances. But check this out: the Pacific Coast League was so hitter friendly in 2019 (even more so than normal thanks to the juiced MLB ball) that Mateo’s numbers were actually four percent worse than league average (96 wRC+). If that doesn’t perfectly sum-up the hitting environment in the PCL last season, nothing will. The 24-year-old’s problem—and at this point it is certainly a problem—is the lack of discernment at the plate. It’s true that the free-swinging approach led to a 36.1 Hard% that was near the top of the entire minor leagues, but it was also the main villain in a 5.1 BB% and 25.6 K% that will almost certainly be further exposed once he finally gets a shot in the big leagues. The aggression has become so profound—and so troublesome—that any conversation about Mateo I’ve had with a source or scout this fall or winter no longer begins with a mouth-watering anecdote about the speed. Any conversation about the shortstop now begins and ends with whether he’ll ever make enough contact versus MLB pitching to gain legitimate value both as a big leaguer and fantasy player. As it currently stands—and with Jurickson Profar now a member of the Padres—Mateo will duke it out with Chad Pinder, Franklin Barreto and Sheldon Neuse for second base duties in Oakland. Mateo is physically superior to his positional opposition, but mum’s the word on whether he’ll make enough quality contact to actually earn and keep an everyday position at the big league level. As time continues to pass without legitimate alterations or growth, the chances of this occurring appear to be slowly shrinking. Athletics Rank: 5th

163. Yerry Rodriguez, SP, TEX. Age: 22

My evaluations of Rodriguez have been all over the place throughout the past calendar year. The right-hander debuted on my prospect list last midseason (130th), but an elbow scare in July that shut the right-hander down for the remainder of the season left me with cold feet when I re-ranked in October. Thankfully, it appears the 22-year-old has—for now—avoided Tommy John surgery. I’m still extremely hesitant to be aggressive with Rodriguez’s ranking (we all remember Dane Dunning ‘avoiding’ Tommy John surgery two seasons ago), but the stuff is too good to leave him excluded from this list heading into a new season. The right-hander throws three different pitches with bat-missing ability: a high-spin fastball that tops-out at 96, a high-spin curveball and a changeup that may be the best offering of the trio. Both the heater and curveball tend to play-up thanks a three-quarters arm slot, and the angle Rodriguez creates led to a fantastic ground ball rate last season (47.1%). As a 22-year-old who’s never pitched at a level above Low-A, it’s critically important for Rodriguez to put together a full, healthy campaign in 2020. The rest will take care of itself. Rangers Rank: 7th

162. Tucker Davidson, SP, ATL. Age: 24

Like a few others prospects you’ll read about on this list, there’s simply no way I can adequately verbalize my thoughts on Davidson better in this space than I did last summer in the Ramblings following a live look. Allow me to add this: if you don’t currently roster Davidson in your dynasty league, check to see if the decreased strikeout rate in Triple-A post promotion startled his current rosterer. It was a four-start sample at the end of the southpaw’s longest professional season to date, so I’m putting absolutely zero stock in the diminished strikeouts. The 24-year-old will be back with a vengeance in 2020, and he should make a big league impact in Atlanta sooner rather than later. Braves Rank: 5th

161. Jackson Rutledge, SP, WAS. Age: 21

There’s so much to like with Rutledge. Viable fastball velocity. Two above average or better breaking balls. A build that draws comparisons to Nate Pearson. Potential to move quickly through a Nationals’ system that’s starving for legitimate talent. There’s high-end SP3 potential here, but it doesn’t come without some concerns. Even from a functional standpoint, Rutledge isn’t as athletic as Pearson. With that in mind—and with a history of hip ailments—there are real questions about how much maintenance the right-hander will require over the course of a 162-game regular season. The fastball and slider will mandate consistent success against right-handed hitters. He locates his curveball well—and it’s certainly a great pitch—but I’ll be interested to see if there are any split disparities vLHB without a reliable changeup. That numbers in the Carolina League (and Eastern League?) should be solid in 2020; the prospect world should be downright giddy if Rutledge makes it through a full workload completely unscathed. FYPD Rank: 25th, Nationals Rank: 3rd

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