Written by: Ray Butler
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Three. Releases. Left.
We are seventy percent of the way thru my 2020 top-200 prospect list, and I always enjoy publishing interest content on a Friday. You’re really in luck today, because this portion of my prospect list consists of some of the more polarizing prospects in the sport.
Before you dive in, make sure you’re up to date on the first 140 prospects published from this list. You can read about my #61-80 prospects here, my #81-100 prospects here, 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.
60. Mitch Keller, SP, PIT. Age: 23
Why waste time say lot word when few word do trick? I dropped a 1000+ word article on Keller’s 2019 unluckiness and 2020 (and beyond) outlook here. If you enjoy analytical deep dives, this piece is for you. Pirates Rank: 2nd
59. Corbin Carroll, OF, ARI. Age: 19
The industry (myself included) might be overrating Carroll a bit for dominating leagues his approach was too good for post-draft last summer, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a great prospect in his own right. The value here is fairly obvious: Carroll is a 60-hit, 70-run outfielder with above average defensive skills. It’s a fantastic real-life skillset will lead to a multi-win player in Arizona someday. Our task is to determine how well the tools translate to fantasy leagues. The reported exit velos are pleasantly surprising for someone as currently slight as Carroll (5-foot-10, 165 lbs.), so a future swing change might help emit more power than we’ve seen throughout the outfielder’s amateur career and post-draft professional debut. For now, an upside projection looks something like .300 BA/10 HR/30 SB from center field. If Arizona works on the swing path at some point, we could see 15-20 bombs with a slightly lower batting average. FYPD Rank: 8th, Diamondbacks Rank: 2nd
58. Riley Greene, OF, DET. Age: 19
All I’d have to mention is the fact the guys at FanGraphs appear to be ardent about Greene comping well to Alex Kirilloff, and you would leave this write-up excited. The 19-year-old is a bat-first outfielder with potential for plus hit and plus power. The Tigers put a lot on Greene’s plate post-draft last summer, moving him from the Gulf Coast League to the New York Penn League to the Midwest League in a stretch of about two months. The subsequent 121 wRC+ in his first, small stint as a professional speak to the immense skills in this profile; the 25.1 K% speaks to general lack of refinement we see in 99% of prep prospects are challenged post-draft. Of course we need to see the strikeout rate decrease before we go all-in on a prospect who won’t bring much to the stolen base department, but Greene should finish his first full professional season knocking on the door of a Double-A debut. A successful 2020 campaign would likely mean Greene ranks similarly to Trevor Larnach’s placement on this list a year from now. FYPD Rank: 7th, Tigers Rank: 3rd
57. Ian Anderson, SP, ATL. Age: 21
Anderson is an extremely difficult pitching prospect to project with much confidence. In the world of spin rates—which have become such a big indicator of top-of-the-rotation ‘stuff’—Anderson’s fastball and curveball rank near or at the bottom amongst pitching prospects in this top-100. Some of the ‘lack of spin’ worry is nullified by Anderson’s above average extension, which makes his fastball appear faster to opposing hitters than it actually is. Anderson’s curveball RPM (according to FanGraphs) would rank near the very bottom percentile amongst all MLB pitchers, but the right-hander’s over-the-top arm slot allows the pitch to garner above average downward movement anyways. The 21-year-old’s best secondary pitch is his changeup, a true weapon against left-handers with consistent fade. Because of the current arsenal and his ability to locate north-to-south better than east-to-west due to the arm slot, Anderson could potentially struggle a bit versus righties at the big league level. To avoid this problem, the right-hander will have to command his fastball consistently well—which just so happens to be one of the only things he’s struggled to accomplish throughout his development. At the end of the day, Anderson is only 21 years old and has a long track record of success throughout the minor leagues. There’s undoubted SP3 upside here, but a lot of different things would need to click for Anderson to top this label. Braves Rank: 3rd
Two thirds of my 2020 high-value active player list has been released! You can check out my league winning infielders here and my underrated outfielders here.
55. J.J. Bleday, OF, MIA. Age: 22
A modest 107 wRC+ in 38 Florida State League games last summer suppressed the acquisition price for Bleday in First Year Player Drafts this offseason, but I’m much more interested in the fact the Marlins set the tone for Bleday’s path and development with an aggressive placement in the Florida State League post-draft. Imagine missing out on a prospect like Bleday because you over-analyze a 151 plate appearance sample in a professional debut following a long, exhausting college season. The 22-year-old is an athletic, strong prospect with four above average future tools (speed being the exception). Bleday is a polished hitter with a track record of success versus advanced college pitching, so he’s fully expected to be a quick mover through an underrated Marlins system. I assume I’ll be one of the few prospect rankers who have Bleday over Riley Greene in FYPD rankings, but I narrowly prefer the polish and real-life floor the former brings to the table. The 22-year-old should be an everyday big leaguer at some point in 2021. FYPD Rank: 6th, Marlins Rank: 4th
55. Jesús Sánchez, OF, MIA. Age: 22
Sánchez flies under the radar because he’s never been statistically spectacular in the minor leagues, but he’s posted a 124-career wRC+ since debuting professionally in 2015. Scouts love the 22-year-old for several different reasons, but none more important than the fact he’s built to succeed against modern day big league pitching. In an era that features countless amount of hitters swinging under elevated fastballs, Sánchez tends to deposit that pitch into the right field bleachers. Baseball HQ’s Chris Blessing put me onto that trait, and then I witnessed it myself last summer. Sánchez also has a plus arm in right field and can drive the ball the opposite way (left field) with authority at the plate. When the Marlins acquired Sánchez last summer, they took-on two primarily responsibilities: 1) assisting the outfielder in elevating the ball more often (GB% ~50.0% last season) to unlock the full extent of his massive raw power, and 2) instilling the notion that patience at the plate is a virtue (career 6.4 BB% in 464 MiLB games). The 22-year-old is a big leaguer with his current skillset; an increased FB% and walk rate would likely means he blossoms into a star. With the Hard Hit % and Exit Velocity tabs always leaning to the right on his Savant page, Sánchez has .270 BA/.330 OBP/30 HR potential from right field at the big league level. Marlins Rank: 3rd
54. Oneil Cruz, SS, PIT. Age: 21
Baseball players like Oneil Cruz are supposed to be impossible. Six-foot-seven shortstops are largely an oxymoron in a sport with certain stereotypes and aesthetics associated to each defensive position. The long levers naturally associated with six-foot-seven hitters means they should be fighting huge strikeout rates and fringe batting averages, especially while playing in highly-advanced leagues for their age and tools. Perhaps most importantly, six-foot-seven baseball players aren’t supposed to possess the simple swing mechanics and lightning hands that are displayed with ease. To say that Oneil Cruz is an anomaly might be putting it lightly. There was quite a bit of worry that Cruz’s foot fracture in April would hinder the profile for a long, long time. An extremely long-limbed hitter with a fracture in his foot? A lot of people feared the worst. Cruz returned in late June, and two months that ensued is one of the more impressive stories of the 2019 minor league season. The 21-year-old ended up posting a 154 wRC+ in just 35 games in the Florida State League before receiving a challenging promotion to the Eastern League. Figuring to endure some serious challenge against some of the most advanced pitching in the minors, Cruz lowered his strikeout rate while nearly doubling his walk rate, finishing twenty percent above league average throughout the final 35 games of the regular season. Despite everything working against him, the infielder continues to show signs of being able to consistently adjust to various levels of pitching on the fly is a huge plus for the profile. With such long levers, it’s been long assumed the 21-year-old would struggle with strikeouts once he arrived in the upper levels of the minors. So far, this simply hasn’t been true. And even if he does strikeout in his 25% of his plate appearances at the big league level, that leaves plenty of room for the earth-shattering, 80-grade raw power to shine through. We keep waiting on the Pirates to transition Cruz from shortstop to third base, but he actually played 100% of his 2019 games at the 6; it appears Pittsburgh is not treating a defensive move as though it’s inevitable. Cruz is a unique, athletic freak, and he cemented himself as one of the sport’s best prospects in 2019. Pirates Rank: 1st
Staff writer Adam Ehrenreich recently published the hitter portion of his 2020 sleepers and breakouts. The pitcher portion of this list will be released very soon!
53. Logan Gilbert, SP, SEA. Age: 22
A confession: when I found myself stuck in a rut or suffering from writer’s block this winter while creating my preseason content, my ‘reset button’ would often be watching video of Logan Gilbert’s other-worldly extension. It’s truly a thing of beauty and the prospect equivalent of pornographic material. Gilbert’s fastball ticked-up throughout the 2019 season, sitting 90-92 in April before increasing to 92-95 a few months later. The heater only has moderate spin, but the pitch plays-up anyways thanks to the aforementioned, elite extension. The slider also improved rather drastically last season; it is now clearly an above average breaking ball (as is the curveball). The changeup is only average and clearly the fourth pitch in this repertoire, but Gilbert was actually more successful versus left-handed batters in 2019 than right-handed batters thanks largely to the CB/CU combo. The mound presence reminds me of that of Tyler Glasnow, and the pitchability + arsenal led to Gilbert wreaking havoc at three different levels last season (2.13 ERA, .198 BAA, 25.3 K-BB% in 135.0 total IP). The Mariners might manipulate the service clock more than we’d like, but there’s no reason Gilbert shouldn’t make his MLB debut this season. The expectation here is SP3, though the 23-year-old could reach the low-end SP2 mark at his peak. Mariners Rank: 5th
52. Jazz Chisholm, SS, MIA. Age: 22
No one in the prospect industry saw Chisholm more than I did in 2019, but he’s still an extremely difficult evaluation currently. The raw skills are absolutely undeniable: Chisholm hit 21 home runs and stole 16 bases as an under-aged player in Southern League despite slashing .220/.321/.441 and striking out in 32.1% of his plate appearances. And there’s no doubt he’s a long-term shortstop, and one of the best in the minor leagues at that. But with the good comes the bad, and Chisholm was often beat with velocity up in the zone throughout his 2019 campaign. The troubling part of the approach—other than some aggression—is an uppercut swing with the steepest path of any prospect I evaluated last season. In an era that features pitchers getting the most from their fastballs by commanding the pitch in the upper third, a steep uppercut swing is certainly a troubling flaw to possess. I didn’t see him live after he was traded from the Diamondbacks to the Marlins for Zac Gallen, but it appears Miami’s instructor began ironing out the issues post-trade: in 94 plate appearances, Chisholm hit .284 and struck out in only 25.5% of his plate appearances (which is around the best case scenario in the long-term for the 22-year-old). The bat speed electric, he’s a plus defender, he should maintain his speed throughout the majority of his career and he has a fantastic personality. If he can put it all together, he’ll undoubtedly become one of the biggest personalities in baseball. He finished the 2019 season trending in the correct direction, so I’m anxious to see if he can maintain those gains in 2020. Marlins Rank: 2nd
Have you weaponized your Twitter for the 2020 baseball season?
51. Brandon Marsh, OF, LAA. Age: 22
I caught Marsh during a Southern League series this summer, and I couldn’t find something about him I didn’t like. The hit tool was better than advertised. The raw power is plus. The speed is above average. The routes were good in the outfield, and the arm projects well from either center field or right field. The squat in Marsh’s batting stance was much more pronounced in 2019 than in prior seasons; generally speaking, scouts worry that too much knee bend can hinder a player’s power (like it did with Triston Casas, who you read about above). But I did not get that sense watching Marsh both in batting practice and in-game. The ball exploded off the 22-year-old’s bat to all fields, including an opposite-field homer in one of my live looks. Statistically, the 4.2 percent decrease in strikeout rate (27.3% in 2018 to 23.1% last season) is quite substantial. The improved slash numbers (.266/.359/.408 to .286/.367/.407) are certainly notable as well. Long hailed as a premium athlete who could potentially impact the game on both sides of the ball, it appears as though Marsh is in the process of putting it all together. Jo Adell will certainly grab the headlines as he debuts in 2020, but Marsh may not be too far behind him. Thru a more narrow lens, the outfielder might currently be the more underrated prospects in OBP leagues. Angels Rank: 2nd
50. Grayson Rodriguez, SP, BAL. Age: 20
Rodriguez cooked in the South Atlantic League for the entirety of the 2019 season, striking out a whopping 34.2% of the batters he faced (24.7 K-BB%) while posting a 2.68 ERA (2.94 FIP) in 94.0 IP. My Orioles contacts have been steadfast in their stance that DL Hall belongs ahead of Rodriguez on lists like this one, though they admit the margin is shrinking. It also surprised me to learn that the right-hander actually spins the ball a bit better than the southpaw (both have above average spin rates). That points toward the 20-year-old simply needing to harness his stuff a bit more (working on spin efficiency, spin axis, etc.)—which he certainly has time to do as a pitcher who has not yet reached the Carolina League. Rodriguez held his velocity well even in the final stretch of the 2019 season, and the 6-foot-5, 220 lb. frame is built to last over the course of a 162-game big league season. The safer of the two prospects thanks to consistent command, Rodriguez could officially overtake Hall in 2020 with additional improvement with his secondary pitches. Orioles Rank: 3rd
49. Nick Solak, UTIL, TEX. Age: 25
September-fueled big league samples are hard to put a lot of stock in, but it’s hard to not be at least a little excited by Solak’s first 33 games. The 25-year-old slashed .293/.393/.491 with 5 home runs and 2 stolen bases in just 135 plate appearances. I’m an equally big fan of the rates, especially the 11.1 BB% that looks a lot like the walk rates he posted throughout his minor league career. Solak has a history of patience, but he’s also got good bat-to-ball skills and the speed to maintain decent BABIPs throughout his big league career. This means he should be an asset in AVG and OBP leagues once he grabs an everyday role. Unfortunately, he has two things currently working against him. He’s not a good defender (it’s perceived he can be at least somewhat passable at second, third, and the three outfield spots as a big leaguer), and the Rangers are awfully incentivized to ride-out Rougned Odor for as long as they possibly can (Odor is currently in the middle of a 6 year/$49 million contract). However, Texas making offseason acquisitions that point toward ‘going for it’ should good for Solak. The signing of Todd Frazier puts a damper on the 25-year-old’s chances of breaking camp as the everyday third baseman, but a recent report suggests Solak will be given the opportunity during Spring Training to seize consistent playing time in centerfield. This move would allow for Danny Santana to be utilized as an all important ‘super utility’ player for the Rangers, leading to consistent lineup optimization throughout a grueling, 162-game regular season schedule. I’ll leave you with two separate quotes from Solak’s write-up in my 2019 top-200 prospect list, published in March of 2019:
“Better late than never, it’s officially time to PUT SOME RESPECK ON NICK SOLAK’S NAME! Honestly though, I’m not sure what else the 24-year-old has to prove to universally be known as a viable prospect.”
“My gut tells me someday, the prospect community will look back on Solak’s minor league career and think “why didn’t we give this guy more credit?” as he makes waves in the big leagues.”
Can’t help but think that prediction officially comes to fruition beginning in 2020. Rangers Rank: 1st
48. Nolan Gorman, 3B, STL. Age: 19
I received a bit of criticism for ranking Gorman 51st on my midseason list last summer, but I was unsure if the critics thought he should be ranked higher or lower until they citied the stats. Post-promotion last summer, Gorman slashed a lackluster .256/.304/.428 with 5 home runs, a 5.7 BB% and a 31.7 K% 58 games and 230 plate appearances. He was seventeen percent above league average offensively. The Florida State League, man. Ridiculous. The 19-year-old experienced the ebbs and flows that are typically attached to power-over-hit corner infielders who are challenged early in their professional careers. Gorman’s 28.8 Hard% was still a bit above average, and there are no reports that suggest the third baseman has strayed from the path that leads to above average power as a big leaguer. I’m hopeful the Cardinals let the third baseman cook in the FSL to begin the season before promoting him to the Texas League sometime this summer. We’ve got a ways to go to get there, but Gorman has 40 home run upside from the hot corner. Cardinals Rank: 2nd
47. DL Hall, SP, BAL. Age: 21
You see Hall’s 15.6 BB% in 2019 and say there’s no way he should rank this high on a prospect list. I see clean mechanics and pitch usage that leaned heavily on non-fastballs by organizational request—and I’m eagerly buying a statistical bounce back in 2020. Statistical evaluations don’t work this way, but indulge me for a moment and forget about the walk rate. Hall just posted a 3.46 ERA and .185 BAA and struck out a jaw-dropping 33.5% of the batters he faced—all while being the second youngest pitcher in the Carolina League. The southpaw possesses three above average or plus offerings (fastball, curveball and slider) and a changeup that could eventually give the left-hander a quartet of greatness. I would guess most of the prospects you’ll read this preseason will slot Grayson Rodriguez ahead of Hall, but the truth is this: Hall has better (and more consistent) velocity, better breaking balls and more athleticism. If you buy the dip and assume the left-hander’s walk rate will normalize when he’s ‘allowed’ to throw the fastball to his liking, Hall could be the best top-100 buy-low acquisition of the 2019-2020 offseason. Orioles Rank: 2nd
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.
46. Shane Baz, SP, TB. Age: 20
Shane Baz is going to be one of the most-hyped prospects in all of baseball heading into the 2020 season. You’re bound to read a countless amount of drool-worthy takes regarding the right-hander, and with good reason. Allow me to temper your expectations momentarily with some differing opinions. There are multiple scouts within the Rays organization that view Baz as a future reliever. Most of the concerns stem from the lack of repeatability of his mechanics (especially late in appearances), which is a flaw most hoped would be put to bed during the 2019 season. Those same scouts also witnessed the right-hander excel in shorter appearances during the Arizona Fall League, which only furthered the notion the right-hander could be better suited as an elite fireman/swingman in the future—especially since that archetype has become extremely valued on MLB active rosters. “It’s one of those things where, once you see it, you can’t unsee it” is how Baz’s performance as a reliever in the AFL was worded to me. Now feels like a good time to bump some words of wisdom I was given from a fellow prospect writer: “The job of prospect media is to push. The job of a scout is to be realistic.” I don’t agree with the notion that Baz is destined for the bullpen, but you deserve to know there’s far from a consensus on his future role around the scouting world. I view the right-hander as a raw, 20-year-old pitching prospect with a lot of development left in the tank. Instead of harping on his struggle to repeat his mechanics in longer outings, I’d rather focus on the effortless delivery and dynamic arsenal. Baz boasts three different pitches—a four seam that explodes at the top of the zone, a slider that’s often devastating versus right-handed batters and one of the best cutters in the minor leagues—that all flash plus. I trust the Rays to do what’s necessary to ensure Baz benefits from a consistent release point; once that checkpoint is reached, the sum of the parts could form the top pitching prospect in all of baseball. Rays Rank: 4th
45. George Valera, OF, CLE. Age: 19
How many “Are you worried Valera doesn’t hit in full season ball?” messages have been sent between dynasty leagues players this offseason after the then 18-year-old struggled in a measly six-game sample in the Midwest League last August and September? The facts are this: Valera has a chance to someday play as a plus hit, plus power centerfielder. It’s a short, compact frame, but the 19-year-old shows all the signs of unlocking his offensive potential. There’s natural loft in the swing plane, lower half engagement and raw strength that generates a ton of pull side power. There’s also some swing-and-miss and in the profile, though some of it can be credited to facing extremely advanced pitching for someone with Valera’s age and lack of experience. The body doesn’t ooze projection like a lot of the prospects you’ll read about on this list, but the 19-year-old has the instincts and reads to remain in center field throughout at least the early stages of his career. Valera could finish the 2020 season in the Carolina League. Indians Rank: 2nd
44. Brendan Rodgers, INF, COL. Age: 23
I found this November article from the Denver Post fairly interesting—especially the part where Rodgers said that, prior to undergoing labrum surgery in July, he had been experiencing shoulder pain since 2018. The 23-year-old was everything you’d expect from a pure hitter playing at a launching pad in an offensive-friendly Triple-A environment last season (147 wRC+). He was also nightmarish in his first stint in the big leagues, posting a microscopic 25 wRC+ and striking out in a third of his 81 plate appearances. Rodgers is, eventually, going to hit at the big league level. Assuming he returns to full health, we should witness him make strides in 2020—if for no other reason that it would be difficult to be much worse than his tiny 2019 sample. I do think the aggressive approach will lead to the 23-year-old hitting more pitchers’ pitches than we’d like, and there will always be more value in AVG leagues than OBP leagues thanks to minimal walk rates. There’s still .280 BA/.340 OBP/30 HR upside here, which would make him extremely valuable from second base in the fantasy world. It’ll just be more difficult to get to than we originally thought. Rockies Rank: 1st
43. Jordan Groshans, 3B, TOR. Age: 20
For a prospect who only played in 23 games after an undisclosed left foot injury derailed his season in early May, Groshans greatly increased his stock last season. Conversing with scouts from the Midwest League the weekend of the Futures Game, the 20-year-old was a voluntary topic of discussion. The reports are gushing. More than anything else, folks I talked to were impressed with a hit tool and approach that appeared to be better than it was advertised when Groshans was selected 12th overall in 2018. While third base appears to be the likely destination defensively once he fills out and slows down a bit, the Blue Jays are not yet making that concession (the 20-year-old played the entirety of his defense at shortstop in the Midwest League last season). Obviously the missed development last season stinks, but it’s quite possible the injury masked a performance that would have landed Groshans much higher on this list than his current standing; things were certainly trending that direction when the injury occurred. I expect the 20-year-old to take most of his swings in the Florida State League in 2020. Blue Jays Rank: 2nd
42. Noelvi Marte, SS, SEA. Age: 18
In December, I retweeted one of my old tweets from May 2017 that said “I think Ronald Acuña is a future all-star. I also think he’ll be one of the best players in the entire league. He’s ‘that’ guy for me.” May 2017, folks. Anyways, one of the replies was a question as to who I thought that guy could be in 2020 (the replier than specified he wanted a non-boring answer). My first thought was “LOL there are no Ronald Acuña’s in the minor leagues”, and that’s absolutely true. My second thought was this: if there’s a prospect who’s still a bit off the beaten path who could absolutely explode in 2020, it’s Noelvi Marte. This is a prospect who appears to be on the cusp of becoming one of the best players in the minor leagues. There’s raw power that profiles from anywhere defensively. There’s underrated speed (pay no mind to his speed grade elsewhere; by all recent reports, Marte is a 70 runner). The market within the prospect industry is already beginning to account for this, but the 18-year-old has a lot of the same ingredients that allowed Kristian Robinson to ascend into the top-10 a year after ranking in this range. Some think Marte will follow the Julio Rodriguez path, which means he’ll skip the Arizona and Northwestern leagues and instead debut in full season ball to open the 2020 season. With the former possessing a weaker hit tool and defensive skills a bit more unrefined from a higher-priority position than the latter, my money is on the 18-year-old playing for the Everett AquaSox (A-) for the majority of the summer. Marte is one of the few players on this list who have ‘top overall prospect’ potential. It only made sense that the 18-year-old was featured on my 2020 breakout prospect list. Mariners Rank: 4th
Call this a teaser for the pitcher portion of my 2020 high-value active player list. This offseason, I published a deep dive on a currently-underrated pitcher who is bound to make waves at the big league level this season.
41. Ronny Mauricio, SS, NYM. Age: 19
I won’t lie: I become slightly aroused every time I read the phrase “this is what they look like” in a description of a teenage prospect. Throughout the industry, that sentence has become a popular descriptor of Mauricio, a 6-foot-4, 170 lb. string bean with quick-twitch athleticism and advanced bat-to-ball skills for his age and build (not to mention he’s a switch hitter). Don’t scout the stat line here. Instead, read the scouting reports and evaluations of those who have watched Mauricio in person. Almost uniformly, you’ll notice the focus on the teenager’s 12.0% swinging strike rate, which is considered an anomaly for a prospect at Mauricio’s age and with his long limbs—against full season pitching. The statistics might continue to be quite vanilla as the teenager continues to grow into his body, but no worries. There’s plenty of power on the way, perhaps in massive amounts. There’s a chance that—at full, physical maturation—Mauricio will be forced to shift from shortstop to the hot corner. If this becomes the case, it likely means the switch hitter has grown into 30 home run power. Mets Rank: 1st
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Featured image courtesy of photographer of Scott Donaldson and MiLB.com