2018 MLB Prospect Report: Early Names for 2019
Matt Selz discusses the prospects who have a chance to crack the Opening Day rosters in 2019 and who could still be available to stash.
There’s just two weeks left in the regular season already. Wow did that go quickly. And while there will still be a few September call ups made by teams, the amount of playing time they will get won’t be enough to give you significant help with your final run in your fantasy league. So with always wanting to look forward, there is still a chance to nab some guys who could help next year if you are allowed to keep free agent pick ups from the previous season. the early watch list for 2019 assumes these guys come up with the team they are on now and they aren’t traded in the offseason, which would be a surprise given the amount of high-quality free agents available this Winter. There will be guys that aren’t on this list that should have big impacts next year, but they are likely already on a roster at this point so I won’t be talking about them here.
Let’s dive in.
Forrest Whitley (RHP HOU) - Whitley has been in the headlines a bit this year for a suspension to start the year and then an injury once he came back from suspension. However that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still one of the top pitching prospects in the game. He’s only thrown 26.1 innings this season, all at Double-A Corpus Christi, and posted a 3.76 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and a 34:11 K:BB ratio but last year between three levels, Whitley pitched a combined 92.1 innings with a 2.82 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and a 13.9 K/9 utilizing his four-pitch mix. At 6’7” he gets tremendous downhill plane on his 92-97 mph heater that also has run to it as well, that height also allows for a pure 12-to-6 curveball, a power slider, and a fading changeup to play very well off of the fastball. HIs four plus pitches make him a potential ace so long as he can build up his innings pitched. Houston has two members of the rotation who are free agents at the end of this season and Whitley could fill one of those holes fairly early in the season.
Mitch Keller (RHP PIT) - The Pirates are known for drafting high school arms and that’s what Keller was when he was picked in the second round of the 2014 draft. In 2018, the 22-year-old righty pitched through three levels of the Pirates system winding up at Triple-A Indianapolis for the last 52.1 innings of the year. His combined stats for his latest campaign wound up at a 3.48 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 135:55 K:BB ratio, and a 12-4 W-L record. Keller’s fastball sits 93-96 and touches 97-98 with late life down in the zone while his 11-to-5 curveball is a plus pitch as well that misses bats at a good rate and the changeup is a third pitch that keeps batters off balance but nothing more than that at this point. The Pirates don’t have an immediate opening in the rotation right now but Keller cold compete with guys like Trevor Williams , Chad Kuhl , and Iván Nova early in the season.
Brent Honeywell (RHP TB) - Honeywell came into the season as arguably the top pitching prospect in all of the minors, until he tore his UCL early in spring training. Honeywell obviously hasn’t pitched at all this season but should be ready to go in the middle of 2019, if not earlier with how early the injury occurred. Tampa clearly has a need a starting pitcher given their strategy this year of using essentially nothing but reliever all season. Before getting injured he had thrown 130 innings in 2015, 115 in 2016, and 135 in 2017 while posting a combined 3.03 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over those 380 total innings with a 9.8 K/9 rate. He is certainly worth a late draft flier for his ability to immediately help the Rays rotation at some point early-to-mid 2019.
Logan Allen (LHP SD) - Allen was originally drafted by the Red Sox in the eighth round of the 2015 draft but was then traded as part of the package for Craig Kimbrel . Since becoming a member of the Padres system he has progressed fairly smoothly and even added velocity to his arsenal that’s comprised of a fastball, curveball, and changeup. The fastball sits 92-94 with a bunch of late life and the changeup is the primary secondary offering, though the curveball does flash plus at times. In 2018 that repertoire racked up a 14-6 record over 148.2 innings at two different affiliates and 24 starts to go with a 2.54 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. His 151:51 K:BB ratio puts him in the 3:1 range which is up there for quality starters. Allen went for a career high 148.2 innings this season, topping his previous high (set in 2017) by 23 which is a nice jump in a year. Still just 21, the southpaw should be looking at competing for a rotation spot in spring training given the lack of high quality guys in the Padres’ rotation.
Brent Rooker (1B MIN) - To say that 2017 was a bit disappointing for the young guns in the Twins offense might be an understatement, but help could be coming in 2019. Rooker was drafted in the CBA round, 35th overall, in the 2017 draft out of Mississippi State. His power has become clear as he’s quickly progressed to a full year of Double-A already in 2018 while hitting 22 homers in 130 games with 79 RBI, 72 runs, and even five steals while posting a .254/.333/.465 slash line. The twins have a need at first base behind the aging Joe Mauer who isn’t much of a threat offensively at this point and potentially losing some key free agents. Rooker likely will be up later in 2019 after he gets a taste of Triple-A Rochester to start next year. If you need an under-the-radar first baseman, Rooker could be that guy.
Nathaniel Lowe (1B TB) - Lowe was drafted in the 13th round of the 2016 draft, 12 rounds after his younger brother Josh was taken by the Rays in the first round. Since then Nathaniel has kind of scuttled around in the lower levels of the Rays system, until this year that is when he made a minor league All-Star team and played in the Future’s Game in July. Going from High-A Port Charlotte to Double-A Montgomery to Triple-A Durham led to 130 games played across the levels while he also had a massive breakout season. A stat line filled with 27 homers, 102 RBI, 93 runs, one steal, and a .330/.416/.568 slash line prove his upside as a player, though at this point he will have to prove those numbers weren’t a fluke at the start of next year. Lowe has the chops to be an everyday first baseman in the majors if the bat continues to play, but at worst he’s a platoon guy which fits right into what Kevin Cash and company love in Tampa.
Cavan Biggio (2B/3B TOR) - You aren’t seeing things, the Blue Jays have another son of a former major leaguer soon to be in their infield. Between Biggio, Bo Bichette, and Vlad Jr. they will be well staffed with not only great talent but also great former baseball names. In Biggio’s case he hasn’t garnered quite the attention as the other two but he’s still quite talented and has plus plate discipline and pitch recognition ability that led to him drawing 100 walks in 132 games at Double-A New Hampshire this year. His stat line of .252/.388/.499 with 26 homers, 99 RBI, 80 runs, and 20 steals shows his ability to be a threat all across the board and his solid defense will keep him on the field without concern. The Blue Jays aren’t quite that barron at the keystone in the upper levels, but Biggio arguably has more talent than anyone ahead of him on the depth chart and he should have a crack at the position in the middle of 2019 if Lourdes Gurriel and Devon Travis don’t pan out.
Michael Chavis (3B BOS) - Chavis made headlines earlier this year for a suspension he was handed for a violation of the drug policy. Chavis, since being drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft, has played all over the infield having been drafted as a shortstop and moved to third to start pro ball. Now he’s been playing first base with Rafael Devers blocking him at the hot corner but ultimately he may settle at second base based on his profile. Chavis has quite a bit of pop, a 60-grade tool, but he hasn’t fully figured out how to harness his swing to produce game power or a consistently high average. In the 46 games he played across Low-A, Double-A, and Triple-A this season he hit .298/.381/.538 with nine homers, 36 runs, 27 RBI, and three steals. The Red Sox do seem loaded all over the board but there are some holes on the right side of the infield with Mitch Moreland and Dustin Pedroia not being the most dependable first base, second base combo especially with Pedroia’s age and injury history.