Prospect Report: A New Season Begins
Matt Selz is here with this week's prospect report breaks down the players that can help you from the start of the unprecedented 2020 fantasy baseball season
The season is upon us...finally and with that comes a new crop of prospects to pay attention not only right from the get go but also throughout the season. This year however, the prospect report will be a bit different, just like the 2020 season itself, and I’ll only be focusing on the prospects that are on the MLB-team 60-man rosters. The reason for this is simple, they are the only ones able to play this year for their affiliated team either at minor league camp or at the MLB level, but they are also the only ones that are capable of being traded as well.
The first two weeks of the MLB season will see teams with 30-man active rosters before cutting down to 28 and then again to the final 26-man squads and so it will be imperative for a prospect to make an impression early if they want to hang on for the full season in the majors. It’s also important to note that in order for a team to extend their control of a player for an extra year, the prospect needs to spend at least the first seven days down on the taxi squad and not on the active roster, which could affect some key top prospects.
There has been a lot of news about some key prospects/rookies that are being optioned or sent to the minor league training site prior to Opening Day. Names like Gavin Lux , Spencer Howard, Ke'Bryan Hayes, and Monte Harrison have already been sent out and there are likely more to come, so for this first prospect report, we will focus on the prospects that have already made Opening Day rosters and what their impact could be.
Austin Hays BAL OF - Hays has been a name that’s been around for a little while now as he’s put on a hitting display at basically every level of the O’s farm system. He came up for a bit last year and slashed .309/.373/.574 with a .393 wOBA and 146 wRC+ with four homers, 13 RBI, 12 runs, and two steals in a 21-game sample. He’s slated to be the Orioles starting center fielder for 2020 and could even take the leadoff role in a yet-to-be-defined lineup. Hays has all the tools necessary to be a fixture in centerfield at Camden yards for a while to come and while the offense around him isn’t great right now, the home park is a favorite for hitters and given his 60-grade power and 55-grade speed combo, he could be exactly the four or five-category outfielder you need to fill a roster late in drafts or on the waiver wire.
Pete Fairbanks TB RHP - Fairbanks came over from the Rangers last year and pitched in the majors late in the season but displayed some control issues. Since then though, he’s had better control in summer camp and even showed a promising third pitch in the form of a changeup to go with his upper-90s moving fastball and a devastating slider. He will have to keep the control issues under control (excuse the pun) to stick in the Rays pen but we all know how the Rays like to use their pitchers in creative ways, especially heading into a sprint of a season. For a guy that posted at least a 10.95 K/9 rate over 64.2 innings over three levels last year (including a few spots with at least 15 K/9) he could be a big weapon for Tampa and a guy that steals wins for you.
Luis Robert CWS OF - Robert was expected to make the roster even if it had been a full season given that he has already signed a major league extension to his initial rookie deal and therefore service time isn’t a factor for Robert. Across two levels in the minors in 2019, he had a 30-30 season and hit over .300 with 314 total bases making him a top-five prospect in baseball. He will vye for the AL Rookie of the Year this year if he gets enough at bats and the power-speed combo is quite clear for the young outfielder on the South side. If there is one downside to Robert’s game it’s that he doesn’t walk as much as you’d expect for a guy with his hit tool in tow. Ideally you want him to be over five-percent threshold and he’s been under that twice in the last three stops all of which were in 2019. He’s got a good offense around him and a pretty fair park to hit in, not to mention the bad pitching rotations he will get to face in the AL/NL Central combined.
Sean Murphy OAK C - Murphy came up late last year and was in the A’s Wild Card game lineup which was a pretty good vote of confidence for him. Now he’s the starting catcher in Oakland and while he might have been under the radar in terms of the catcher prospects, the hit tool shouldn’t have kept him that way so perhaps it’s just being in the Oakland system. In 51 combined games between Triple-A and MLB he hit 14 homers, 39 runs, 38 RBI, and a very solid triple slash line especially for a backstop. Murphy has a 55-grade hit tool with 55-grade power and defensively he’s a wizard which won’t take him off the field and keep that bat in the lineup as full-time as a starting catcher plays. Coming into the season Murphy was my top sleeper catcher and in terms of prospects is my top ranked catching prospect aside from Adley Rutschman.
Kyle Lewis SEA OF - Lewis was a top prospect for the Mariners a few years ago until a knee injury dimmed his star a bit as the speed just hasn’t come back like expected by either the Mariners or fantasy baseball owners alike. What has come back though is his bat as he played a combined 140 games last year between Double-A and MLB with 17 homers, 75 RBI, 71 runs, and three steals while hitting in the mid-.260 range and a .363 BABIP and .349 wOBA. While Lewis did hit six homers in the majors in 18 games, he did post a 38.7-percent K-rate and had a 29.4-percent K-rate in 122 games at Double-A. The power is real and the stroke is nice and smooth and quick but the K-rate will definitely be something to watch as he doesn’t yet have the patient approach at the plate to maximize that hit tool that he carries with him.
Evan White SEA 1B - White is slated to be the Mariners starting first baseman, did you know that? Yeah, he’s been pretty dang under the radar as he’s been making his way through the Seattle system, but in fairness, he’s not been putting up the big numbers that other first base prospects have been. In 2019, White played 92 games at Double-A while hitting .293/.350/.488 with a .371 wOBA and 132 wRC+ marks while compiling 18 home runs, 61 runs, 55 RBI, and two steals. Prior to that White was a first round pick in 2017 for the Mariners and then hopped around the minors before signing a contract with the big club that essentially bought out the rookie deal after having only played four games at Triple-A. White is a solid defender at first and the power is still coming but he will hit for a high average and has a good approach at the plate in terms of drawing walks. He likely tops out as a 25-home run hitter in the majors.
Carter Kieboom WAS SS - Kieboom as all the talk for the Nats in the early part of last year as he came up to replace the injured Trea Turner for 11 games but those were highly forgettable as he hit just .128 and struckout 37.2-percent of the time at the dish according record several errors in the field. After heading back down to Triple-A Fresno however, he turned it around and hit .303/.409/.493 with 16 homers, 79 each of runs and RBI, and five steals in 109 total games. The game just looked too fast for him last year but that hasn’t been the case so far in spring and summer camp. Kieboom is slated to play third base for the most part in D.C. this year but he can slide over and play the keystone as well if the Nationals decide to use Starlin Castro or Asdrúbal Cabrera more at the hot corner. The bat should play well at Nats Park as he tends to spray the ball to all fields well and he may be more of a doubles hitter right now than a homers hitter but that should put him on base enough to rack up the runs and steal some bags in this 60-game sprint. He likely hits towards the end of the lineup which hurts his RBI upside a bit.
Junior Fernández STL RHP - The Cardinals named their free-agent Korean-import as their primary closer on Tuesday, but he was primarily a starter in the KBO before the 32-year-old came stateside. Fernandez meanwhile has a filthy combination of two pitches that make him great in the bullpen and high-leverage situations. Fernandez jumped from High-A to Double-A to Triple-A to the majors last year and while in the minors he hovered around a 1.50 ERA mark and a sub-3.00 FIP and struck out 80 in 65 innings while also recording 11 total saves. His fastball is electric in the upper-90s with a slider that plays well off of that, though needs some development still, and a changeup that is a plus pitch and can be an out pitch when playing off the plus-fastball. He should be an integral part of the Cardinals pen this year and could even get some wins and some saves while posting good strikeout numbers.
Dustin May LAD RHP - May came up last year and immediately impressed as he switched between the rotation and the bullpen. His 3.63 ERA belies the 2.90 FIP he posted in the 34.2 innings across 14 total appearances. The most impressive thing was his 1.30 BB/9 rate compared to the 8.31 K/9 rate. True, it’s not the double-digit K/9 we’ve grown accustomed to targeting but when there’s that big of a difference between the K-rate and BB-rate, it shows the stuff is highly controlled and can be put where May is trying to throw it. May has three plus-pitches in his arsenal with a fastball with great movement, a tight, hard-breaking slider, and a cut fastball. The changeup is the fourth pitch but it’s still at least an average mlb pitch and plays well off the other weapons in the arsenal. Expect May to be in the rotation and the bullpen this year as the Dodgers and Dave Roberts continue to mix-and-match pieces throughout games and the season.
Brusdar Graterol LAD RHP - The piece coming back in the Mookie Betts trade this offseason, Graterol has an absolutely electric right arm. He’s become known for the velocity that is in that right arm of his as he’s routinely clocked in at 102 mph with his cutting, sinking fastball. No that’s not a typo, he throws a fastball that moves a ton that’s also going triple-digits. The second pitch in the repertoire is a slider that is a plus-pitch in its own right but also gets tougher to hit when you’re geared up for the 70-grade heater. There is a changeup in there as well that is at least an average pitch but he only sprinkles it in the pitch mix, throwing it 2.1-percent of the time in 9.2 innings with the Twins last year. Graterol should remain as a strictly bullpen arm going forward so that his velocity and movement plays up as opposed to being rationed out as a starter. He’ll be thrown right into high-leverage situations for L.A. and that means he could get some wins and some saves with a lot of Ks in his rookie campaign this year. If you’re looking past this year, he could replace Kenley Jansen in the ninth if the recent ho-hum results from Jansen continue.
Mauricio Dubón SF 2B - Dubon was the top piece picked from the Brewers farm system last year in the deadline deal between the Giants and Milwaukee. Dubon was previously in the Red Sox system before the Tyler Thornburg trade between Boston and Milwaukee a season or two prior. He’s more of a throwback second base type as a guy that plays great defense, hits for average, gets on base, and has more speed than pop. In 123 games at Triple-A between the Milwaukee and San Francisco affiliates, Dubon slashed better than .300/.350/.470 with 20 homers, 82 runs, 53 RBI, and 10 steals. Prior to being injured in 2018, he’d posted three straight seasons with at least 30 steals while hitting over .300 in each season except for 2017. Dubon got a bit of a run with the Giants last year and hit .274/.306/.434 in 30 MLB games with four home runs, 12 runs, nine RBI, and three steals and a .312 wOBA. He’ll be the starting second baseman for the Giants this year but that’s the downside as the Giants offense is terrible as is the home park for hitters which knocks his value down some for more of a reserve second base option.