Written by: Ray Butler
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Top half of the list? Top half of the list. Today is a big release as we arrive at the first portion of my 2020 top-100. You can read about my #101-120 prospects here, my #121-140 prospects here, my #141-160 prospects here, my #161-180 prospects here and my #181-200 prospects here. That’s 100 prospects and over 20,000 words worth of content for those of you keeping score at home. Several prospects in the bottom half of my top-200 were also recently discussed on Episode 3 of the Prospects 365 Fantasy Baseball Podcast.
Here’s to hoping the top half of my list only makes you slightly more upset than the bottom half.
100. Austin Hays, OF, BAL. Age: 24
There are some real life issues that are worth considering while evaluating Hays. The 24-year-old utilizes a pull-heavy, hedonistic approach—a combination that is not good for anyone who values consistent on base skills. It’s really interesting that Hays played the entirety of his big league games last season from center field, since the aforementioned offensive attributes would play even worse from either corner spot. I’m also intrigued by the notion of Hays batting leadoff for the Orioles. He won’t walk much, but it could give manager Brandon Hyde an excuse to utilize the 24-year-old’s speed, an aspect of his skillset he’s never really tapped into. It’s 30 home run power, but that potential will be largely reliant on the outfielder being patient and punishing mistakes. A 2020 line that looks something like .270 AVG/.320 OBP/25 HR/8 SB shouldn’t really surprise you. With a current redraft ADP around 300, I guess that projection means I’m back in on Hays this season? Orioles Rank: 5th
99. Simeon Woods-Richardson, SP, TOR. Age: 19
SWR reminds me a bit of Ian Anderson both from a mechanical and stuff standpoint. Each arsenal consists of three above average pitches. The over-the-top deliveries help the fastball play up in the zone, but both pitchers struggle to jam hitters inside with velocity. Woods-Richardson made my obsession list last season, and he rewarded the inclusion with one of the biggest breakouts of 2019 in the prospect world. The 19-year-old threw 106.2 IP between two levels and with two different organizations last season (he was traded to the Blue Jays from the Mets in the Marcus Stroman trade), posting a 3.80 ERA (the 2.51 FIP is much more impressive) and 29.2 K% (23.6 K-BB%) in the South Atlantic and Florida State leagues. This feels like a reliable SP3 profile that could make an MLB debut as early as its Age 21 season. I assume Woods-Richardson will open the 2020 season back in the FSL before being promoted to the Eastern League sometime this summer. Blue Jays Rank: 5th
98. Bobby Dalbec, INF, BOS. Age: 24
It’s amazing what making more contact can do for a profile and outlook, and Dalbec did exactly that last season. In 2018, the 24-year-old struck out 32.4% of his plate appearances between High-A and Double-A. Last season, that percent dropped nearly eight points to 24.7%. That’s a huge gain, and Dalbec is now perceived as a player with a undoubted big league career in front of him because of that improvement. He’s never going to hit for average, but consistent double-digit walk rates should make Dalbec an asset in OBP leagues of any depth. With Rafael Devers now officially locked-in at the hot corner in Boston, Dalbec figures to spend most of his time at first base or second base post-promotion. For what it’s worth, I personally see him grabbing the lion’s share at the former. He might still strike out around 30% of the time versus big league pitching, but that’s somehow an improvement on the perception from a year ago. Think .230/.350 with 30 home runs and a chance at multi-position eligibility. That’ll do. Red Sox Rank: 3rd
Recently, Connor Kurcon and I embarked on a data-driven journey in search of finding the players who were most affected by the juiced ball in the big leagues last season. Focusing on a certain strand of wOBAcon and a subsequently created ‘Benefit Ball’, here are our findings.
97. Seth Beer, 1B/OF, ARI. Age: 23
Sometimes, a trade can really make a prospect pop from a fantasy standpoint. It’s hard to overstate how blocked Beer was in Houston. And while one would think the 23-year-old best fits in a league that can utilize a designated hitter, the outlook here has improved drastically since Beer was traded to the Diamondbacks as part of the Zack Greinke deadline deal. The 23-year-old was assigned to my home track team post-trade, so I got several live looks before the end of the regular season. More than anything else, you need to know Beer hits the ball extremely hard quite often. His 33.0 Hard% last season speaks to that. He’s better defensively in left field than at first base, but there’s a chance he maintains multi-position eligibility at the big league level. It’s a pull-heavy approach with a lot of fly balls from a poor runner, so Beer may only hit .250 at peak as a big leaguer. But he takes walks, won’t strike out a ton and could potentially make his big league debut in 2020. It’s 30 home runs at peak. Diamondbacks Rank: 6th
96. Jhoan Duran, SP, MIN. Age: 22
I caught Duran in the Southern League late last summer, pitching against a Mississippi Braves lineup that had just lost Cristian Pache and Drew Waters to promotions. The right-hander still faced Braden Shewmake, Trey Harris, Greyson Jenista, William Contreras and Lane Adams, so I thought it was a good spot for a valid evaluation. The right-hander is a beast of a pitcher, listed at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds (it might be more) with a tree trunk lower half. This offseason, I told any contact who asked that you can ‘feel’ Duran’s mound presence because of his frame and the way he carries himself. The stuff is electric, but it still has work to do before the 22-year-old debuts in the big leagues. The fastball sits 95-97 and touches triple digits when he needs it. It’s a low spin pitch that best plays low in the zone with sinker qualities, so I worry about its future strikeout viability against big league hitters (as is typical with sinkers, it’ll be better at inducing ground outs than strikeouts). The curveball is the real deal, acting as Duran’s ‘out’ pitch that he can also throw for strikes. I also got the impression that the right-hander’s delivery (and the fact he finishes to the first base side of the rubber) allows the pitch to play even better than it already is. At 2500 RPM with solid command, it would play in the big leagues right now. He also throws a hard splitter that has sinking action, but it’s clearly Duran’s third pitch currently. If the feel improves, I expect it to pair nicely with the fastball at the bottom of the zone. Duran induced 12 swinging strikes in 85 pitches (14.1%) the night I saw him. The curveball will carry the profile, but Duran has the arsenal and body to take the ball every fifth day at the big league level. There’s mid-tier SP3 upside here, especially if Duran harnesses the splitter as he finalizes his development. Twins Rank: 5th
95. Daniel Lynch, SP, KC. Age: 23
If you’re looking for a pitching prospect who is yet to reach Double-A but could potentially make a big league impact in 2020, you’ve come to the right place. Lynch missed a month and a half last summer with a shoulder injury—two alarming words for anyone who rosters the southpaw in dynasty leagues. Pre and post-injury, the 23-year-old totaled 78.1 IP in the Carolina League, striking out 23.6% (16.5 K-BB%) of the batters he faced while posting a 47.5 GB% and 3.10 ERA (3.00 FIP). I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little concerned that Lynch didn’t miss more bats as a 22-year-old in High-A, especially since he appears to be lacking a true out pitch in his repertoire. There’s a chance this ends up being more of an SP4 profile than the (low-end) SP3 I’m currently seeing, but I can’t help but like the stuff. Both the fastball and slider are above average pitches, giving the left-hander a pair of weapons against like-handed hitters. But what I might like the most is the fact Lynch also has two weapons against righties—a curveball and changeup that both grade as average. The 23-year-old needs to miss more bats in the Texas League in 2020 to warrant a rating this high, but he’s hopefully trending in the correct direction after posting a 30.6 K% in the Arizona Fall League a few months ago. Royals Rank: 4th
94. Josh Lowe, OF, TB. Age: 22
When he was drafted, Lowe was projected as an uber-tooled center fielder with gigantic swing and miss concerns. Selected 16th overall by the Rays in 2016, the 22-year-old almost immediately began showcasing a swing with much less steepness that he showed in high school. This change slowly suppressed the strikeout woes (though it’s been a slow burn in that department), but it also hindered the power in-game. In his first two full professional seasons, the outfielder hit 14 combined home runs in 962 plate appearances, posting a 100 wRC+ in the process. But everything clicked for Lowe in 2019. Facing the toughest promotion in the minors and solid pitching in the Southern League, the 22-year-old slashed .252/.341/.442 with 18 home runs and 30 stolen bases in 121 games and 519 plate appearances (128 wRC+). He followed up that stellar performance by impressing scouts and evaluators in the Arizona Fall League, hitting a pair of home runs and stealing four bases in 15 games. The strikeouts didn’t disappear (25.6 combined K% in the Southern League and AFL), but they suddenly became much more tolerable when paired with droolworthy counting stats. Lowe’s stock has absolutely soared in dynasty leagues (especially in OBP formats thanks to consistent double-digit walk rates) over the last six months, but I actually wrote him up in the Ramblings back in April 2018. It’s understandable to worry about how the 22-year-old fits into the Rays’ long-term plans, but the skillset is well rounded (there are no left-on-left split concerns) and offers value in all three phases of the game. If he continues his offensive dominance at the start of the 2020 MiLB season, he could push his way to a contending Tampa Bay team by the middle of the summer. If you’re a big Brandon Marsh fan but miss-out on him in dynasty and deep keeper drafts, Lowe is your best bet to acquire the skillset and statistical profile. Rays Rank: 8th
You HAVE to check out my recently-released high-value infielders for 2020 redraft leagues.
93. Sherten Apostel, INF, TEX. Age: 21
Apostel was a year and a half younger than the average competition in the South Atlantic League. Then he two and a half years younger than the average competition in the Carolina League post-promotion last summer. Despite these facts, the infielder posted the fourth highest Hard% of any prospect younger than 21 years old with more than 300 plate appearances last season (per Sports Info Solutions via Rotowire, trailing only Julio Rodriguez, Triston Casas and Jeter Downs). Apostel will always hit for power, but the rest of the profile is much less obvious. The hit tool is below average, and a violent swing means there will be hurdles to clear against advanced pitching in the Carolina and Texas leagues. He also swung more frequently last season than his previous looks in Rookie Ball and the Northwest League, leading to some evaluators wondering if the Rangers asked Apostel to improve his passivity at the plate. There are also enough questions about the 21-year-old’s future defensive home that I changed the position next to his name on the list from 3B to INF. A below average runner, I’d bet smart money is on an eventual transition from the hot corner to first base. This profile reminds me a bit of Bobby Dalbec with a chance to hit for a little better average. Perhaps .250 BA/.350 OBP/30 home runs from first base at peak? Rangers Rank: 2nd
92. Ryan Mountcastle, 1B/OF, BAL. Age: 22
Fun fact: prospect evaluators who put a lot of weight into average estimated fly ball distance are really, really down on Mountcastle’s 2019 performance. Why? Cristian Pache had an average estimated fly ball distance of 306.5 feet in the Southern League last season; he hit 12 home runs. Mountcastle had an average fly ball distance of 306.8 feet in the juiced ball International League; he hit 25 home runs. I’ll let you guess which one is the outlier. It was a typical season from the 22-year-old, who sported a .312/.344/.527 slash that led to a 117 wRC+. We also have more clarity on the long-term defensive home(s), and it appears as though Mountcastle might attain 1B/OF eligibility at the big league level. The low BB%/dependent on high BABIPs profile has never been my cup of tea, especially for a below average runner with plus-but-non-elite power. We should see what it all looks like at the big league level at some point in 2020. There’s even more variance here than other minor-to-major league predictions, but I’ll have some fun and project something like .270 BA/.310 OBP/25 HR from first base and left field. Orioles Rank: 4th
91. Khalil Lee, OF, KC. Age: 21
As each month and season of development passes, it becomes less likely Lee ever accesses his above average raw power in-game. In 2017, the outfielder hit 17 home runs in 121 games in Low-A. We dreamt of a player who could reach 20/20 with relative ease throughout his professional career. In the two seasons since, Lee has failed to reach the halfway mark of the gaudy total he posted in the South Atlantic League. Last season, the 21-year-old slashed .264/.363/.372 with 8 home runs and a 28.2 K%. Of course, he also posted a double-digit walk rate—and stole 53 (!!!!) bases (81.5%). Lee is not a great runner, but at this point, it’s hard to make a case against his elite instincts on the base paths. With a passive approach, the outfielder will strike out enough at the big league level that it will always hinder the batting average, but those woes will be partly offset by a walk rate that should hover around ten percent once he settles in to an everyday role. A big league upside projection of .250 BA/.340 OBP/10 HR/30 SB feels in-line for this profile. That projection may be a little light on both counting stats, but we need to see him unlock additional in-game power and prove he can steal bases at the big league level on instincts alone before I’m willing to go much further. Royals Rank: 3rd
90. Andrés Giménez, SS, NYM. Age: 21
Giménez accessed a bit more in-game power, hitting a career-high nine home runs in 117 games and 479 plate appearances in the Eastern League. He also stole 28 bases (though the success rate was just 64%), the speed output continuing to be the most appetizing facet of the 21-year-old’s profile from a fantasy outlook. Unfortunately, the slash numbers worsened (.250/.309/.387), leading to a wRC+ that was barely above league average (105). For a second consecutive season, Giménez participated in the Arizona Fall League. In 2018, there was a consensus that the shortstop looked tired in Arizona, and the subsequent statistical performance spoke to that notion. This fall was different; Giménez was one of the best hitters in the AFL, slashing .371/.413/.586 with a pair of home runs and stolen bases in just 18 games. As esteemed philosopher Chingy once said: every time I try to leave, something keeps pullin’ me back. I still see .280 BA/15 HR/25 SB upside with above average, middle infield defense at the big league level within this profile. If the offensive environment remains the same in Triple-A, I’m excited to see what they 21-year-old can do in 2020. Mets Rank: 2nd
89. Jose Garcia, SS, CIN. Age: 22
Like a few other prospects on this list, Garcia’s outlook can better be described by an article from last season than anything I could write in this space. Last summer, site contributor Will Scharnagl coined the 21-year-old as the best prospect no one was talking about. That article lays out everything you need to know about the shortstop, though it’s also worth mentioning Garcia was included in my ‘breakout’ prospect article for the 2020 season. All aboard. Reds Rank: 3rd
88. Orelvis Martinez, INF, TOR. Age: 18
Martinez is a loud, loud prospect. There are a lot of moving parts in the 18-year-old’s swing, but it didn’t matter last summer in a Gulf Coast League with an average competition nearly two and a half years older than him. Martinez slashed .275/.352/.549 in 40 games and 163 plate appearances last summer, all while tying for second in the GCL with 7 home runs (150 wRC+). There’s honestly very little information publicly available on the 18-year-old, but a few things stuck out to me from video evaluation: The power should easily get to plus with a chance for more as he develops physically. I’m really interested to see if advanced sequencing chisels away at the many kinetic motions in Martinez’s mechanics, which would lead to some swing-and-miss issues along the way; even if this comes true, we may not see it come to fruition until the Florida State League in 2021 (and Martinez may be able to avoid this problem thanks to a patient approach). Lastly, there’s a better-than-average chance Martinez will shift to the hot corner on a full-time basis before he ever comes close to debuting in Toronto. Don’t worry; those thoughts aren’t meant to quell any of your Martinez-related excitement. This is a potential 30 home run bat at third base and one of the most exciting teenage prospects in all of baseball. Blue Jays Rank: 4th
Have you weaponized your Twitter for the 2020 baseball season?
87. Hunter Greene, SP, CIN. Age: 20
If the prospect world had to describe Greene in one sentence, it would be something like “former prep prodigy arm with a huge fastball who already has a new UCL”. And of course that’s not attempting to take anything away from Tommy John surgery rehabilitation, but that outlook is much, much better that the common, current perception of the 20-year-old. Greene underwent the operation last April, so recovery will likely rob the right-hander of at least some of his 2020 season. July-ish feels about right if we’d like to speculate about a setback-free return date for Greene, and he might even finish the season in the Florida State League. He’ll almost certainly be placed on the 40-man roster before he becomes Rule 5 eligible in December 2021, but the Reds will want a good look at their prized pitching prospect in his first full season removed from surgery. I trust Kyle Boddy and the Reds’ evolving R&D department to help Greene’s fastball become the explosive pitch its velocity says it should be. That development—along with the right-hander’s makeup, athleticism and pedigree—means the SP2 upside is still alive and well within Greene’s profile. I assume his return this summer will be a breath of fresh air for fantasy players who have held onto the uber-hyped right-hander with bated breath since the right elbow injury was originally announced. Reds Rank: 2nd
86. Tarik Skubal, SP, DET. Age: 23
A bit of a 2019 pop-up prospect in terms of top-100s, Skubal posted one of the best statistical seasons of any pitching prospect throughout the minor leagues last season. In 122.2 IP between High-A and Double-A, the 23-year-old struck out 36.5% of the batters he faced while posting a 2.42 ERA (2.11 FIP). Figure in a 1.01 WHIP and 29.0 K-BB%, and it’s really hard to poke holes in any of the numbers Skubal tallied in 2019. But if you notice, on lists that take into account anything other than statistics, the southpaw doesn’t rank as highly as his statistics suggest he should. When I talked to those who watched Skubal in the FSL or Eastern League, the concerns mostly stemmed around a high fastball usage. You always want to throw your best pitch the most—and Skubal’s heater is his best offering—but a usage that leveled off around 70-percent has some concerned about how the profile will fare in a longer stint in Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues. Factor in reports of inconsistent command and questions regarding the viability of his secondary pitches, there are valid reasons to want to see a repeat performance in 2020 before pushing our chips to the center of the table. I’m still broken from the Bryse Wilson Fastball Disaster™, so I’ll continue to operate in caution and hope to be pleasantly surprised. Tigers Rank: 4th
85. Nick Madrigal, 2B, CHW. Age: 23
I have sourced out the phrase ‘David Fletcher with more speed’ to just about every scouting and industry contact I have over the past few months regarding a description of Madrigal. I have received zero pushback. From a real-life standpoint, this is a compliment: Fletcher just finished his first, full MLB season as a 3.4 win player according to fWAR. Quietly, he was also nearly a league average hitter (99 wRC+). But outside of the tasty positional versatility, rostering Fletcher in fantasy baseball can be quite frustrating. It’s basically a solid batting average with decent runs scored contribution… and nothing else. Madrigal will contribute to the stolen base department more than Fletcher, but there’s nothing about a 13.4 Hard% or high Oppo% that makes us think the 23-year-old was simply unlucky from a power standpoint in 2019, or that more power is on its way. The second baseman has some of the most mesmerizing bat-to-ball skills in the sport (and you might be able to eliminate the ‘some of’ from that sentence). He’s going to get on base a lot, which should mean 25-30 steals per season should be quite doable once he carves out an everyday role on the South Side. A projection of .300 BA/.340 OBP/5 HR/25 SB with solid defense at second base makes Madrigal a top-100 prospect regardless of the focus of a prospect list. It won’t, however, make the 23-year-old a fantasy star at the big league level. White Sox Rank: 4th
Staff writer Adam Ehrenreich recently published the hitter portion of his 2020 sleepers and breakouts.
84. Erick Pena, OF, KC. Age: 17
When July 2nd rolled around last summer, the perceived issue for Pena—from a real-life standpoint—was a well-rounded but unexplosive skillset that would probably have to profile in right field with further physical maturation. Those issues were quickly laid to rest when the teenager debuted in instructs this fall. Eyewitness and video evaluation told a story of plus bat speed, solid hand-eye coordination and a body that should at least grow into above average raw power. Instead of a Yusniel Diaz-esque profile we thought might be in the cards for the outfielder, it appears Pena could someday be pretty special. I fully expect the 17-year-old to debut stateside next summer in the Arizona League, where we might get our first real idea as to whether Pena really has the potential to be the future top-20 prospect that’s been whispered about since his performance in instructs. It’s wild that 55-future hit, 55-raw is now on the conservative side of the projections you’ll read on Pena this preseason, but here we are. FYPD Rank: 13th, Royals Rank: 2nd
83. Brent Honeywell Jr., SP, TB, Age: 25
Honeywell has not thrown a competitive pitch since 2017. You’re probably well aware of the story, but allow me to hit the highlights: The right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in February 2018, figuring to be sidelined until the homestretch of the 2019 season. Last June, as he was throwing a bullpen while progressing through his rehab, Honeywell fractured a bone in his right elbow, ending any hope he had in helping the Rays throughout the final months of the season. That’s where we currently stand, with one of the muddiest outlooks of any prospect on this list. Kevin Cash said in December that the 25-year-old is still rehabbing from his latest injury. Honeywell figures to be ready for MiLB Opening Day this season, where I assume he’ll be slotted in Triple-A to continue working his way back to full-game shape. He’ll likely be heavily restricted from an innings pitched standpoint, so there’s a chance he temporarily transitions to the bullpen this summer, where he could help the Rays at the big league level throughout the final months of the regular season. It’s still a starter outlook long-term, though the certainty in that projection has decreased exponentially throughout the past two years. On (perceived?) skills alone, Honeywell certainly warrants an inclusion inside the top-100 on prospect lists. The inability to stay healthy and increasing risk are becoming harder to ignore, though. Rays Rank: 7th
82. Brayan Rocchio, SS, CLE. Age: 19
Less than ten years ago, Rocchio would have probably had no prayer of making a list like this one, let alone be slotted in the top-75. But as the game itself changes, so must we. A plus running middle infielder with a feel to hit (from both sides of the plate), Rocchio will debut in Full Season ball this season as a teenager. Placed in the New York Penn League last summer, the infielder slashed .250/.310/.373 with 5 home runs and 14 stolen bases (63.6%) in 69 games (nice) and 295 plate appearances. The 107 wRC+ isn’t worth writing home about, but the power output is. Standing 5-foot-10 and weighing 150 lbs., showing signs of pop in an advanced league for your age (Rocchio was three years younger than the average competition in the NYPL) is the exact quality that lands you a bullish ranking on a fantasy-focused list. It’s unlikely he ever gets to above average in-game power, but something like .280 BA/.330 OBP/10 HR/20 SB from either shortstop or second base feels like a fairly conservative projection. Rocchio was notably stronger in-game last season than he was in the Arizona League the summer before, and a similar jump in the Midwest League in 2020 would likely cement his status on this list. Indians Rank: 3rd
81. Robert Puason, SS, OAK. Age: 17
I have talked to four different people who had the chance to scout both Puason and Erick Pena. Three of the four prefer Puason. If you’re bullish and want to push the envelope, this profile could be everything you ever ask for from a fantasy standpoint. Puason is a quick-twitch, switch-hitting shortstop with plus speed and potential for plus raw power. It’s early, but there appears to be enough athleticism to stick at shortstop. The frame is ripe for projection, and Puason will likely be a physical specimen by the time he turns 20. As with most prospects of this archetype—especially considering the long limbs—there will likely be some swing-and-miss in the profile. How much swing-and-miss (we’ll get a better idea this season) will dictate the amount of risk associated to Puason throughout his development. If he can simply find a way to only strike out 25% of the time when he debuts in the Arizona League this summer, the power and speed combination could make the shortstop a top-50 prospect by this time next season—if not higher. Puason’s archetype often leads to a slow climb up the developmental totem pole, but the teenager’s raw tools could lead to massive returns for those who invest early. FYPD Rank: 12th, Athletics Rank: 4th
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Featured image courtesy of photographer Laura Wolff and the Charlotte Knights