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The Prospect Stock Watch: Five Key Sleeper Prospects

The short-season leagues are slowing getting underway with the more advanced of those groups already playing ball. The remainder of the leagues will get going within a week. So who are some of the interesting names to know for dynasty league managers?

I’m glad you asked. Today’s piece will look at five players you should mentally file away and consider adding to your minor league rosters once they hit the full-season league (assuming you play in leagues with managers who didn’t also read this piece).

I don’t necessarily advocate taking players really early in their careers and needlessly using a roster spot on someone playing in a short-season league unless they’re extreme talents. There have only been a few players that I’ve added to my Ottoneu teams prior to their arrival in full-season ball: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., and Wander Franco.

The truth is, if you follow prospects closely, you can almost always find a good player worth adding to your roster. And adding a player too early often means you’re committing a roster spot to a player for three or four years if you grab them right out of the draft or rookie ball; more often than not in those scenarios you’ll end up ditching them before they actually help out. You’re better off leaving them unclaimed, monitoring their progress and jumping on them when the hype train starts warming up.

D’Shawn Knowles, OF, Angels

Knowles is another talented outfield prospect in an Angles’ system that also includes Jo Adell, Brandon Marsh, and Jordyn Adams. The club signed two top prospects out of the Bahamas back in July 2017 and Knowles has been the better performer to date, although he’s been returned to the advanced rookie league after spending half of 2018 at that level.

Although he hit .321 in 28 games there, it was with a .463 BABIP and 31% strikeout rate. The young outfielder doesn’t project to be much of a power hitter (although pretty much anyone can hit 20 homers these days in the MLB) and his game is really built around hitting line drives, getting on base and stealing bases. The good news is that he has a quick bat and short path to the ball so it’s really about pitch recognition and learning through repetition.

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2019 MLB Mock Draft

Teams spend months and months – if not years – scouting players to prepare for the annual amateur draft. And I don’t believe for even a second that I’m smarter than those scouts, scouting directors, and other front office personnel. The below piece is meant as a fun exercise and to help introduce fantasy managers to some names they’re going to need to know within the next two to three years, if not sooner.

I’ve set eyes on all these players (via video), combed over various scouting reports and reviewed statistical results, so I’m going to take a stab at drafting the first round for each of the clubs. I’m not selecting players based on where I think they’ll be taken (There are a lot of great publications already doing that – FanGraphs, Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, etc); I’m selecting based on where I’d taken them based on the various factors listed above.

I’ve actually been doing this exercise for more than 10 years and have gotten a little bit better each year. Here’s hoping this is the best (mock) draft yet.

1. Orioles —> Andrew Vaughn, 1B

Yes, Vaughn is a first baseman but I like his swing and his track record of success in college. As well, he’s had success in the Cape Cod League, albeit just 52 at-bats. He’s also been a pitcher at the college ranks and he’s athletic enough to hold down a position in left field since he doesn’t have the ideal size or handedness for first base. He’s the impact type of prospect the Orioles can rebuild around; even better, they can probably get him for cheaper than Rutschman or Witt and spread the remaining money around to acquire some better prospects and help rebuild a very barren farm system.

2. Royals —> Adley Rutschman, C

This was a late switch for me, bumping Rutschman down to the second slot. Yes, he’s been the best college hitter but catcher’s offensive abilities almost always take a hit when the rigors of catching every day wear them down. There’s also some injury history for the young catcher, which again becomes magnified by his position. He’d help take some of the strain off of Sal Perez, too.

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Revisiting My 2018 Mock Draft

I’ve been mock drafting along with the MLB amateur draft for as long as I can remember and was inspired to do so by Jim Callis, who did the same thing for Baseball America (He’s now with MLB.com). But unlike a lot of mock drafts, I choose who I would take at each slot not who I think teams will take.

I’ll be doing another mock first round on Day 1 of the draft but I thought it might be fun to look back at how well I did last year while drafting for each of the first 30 selections. Obviously, it’s too early to know exactly how the 2018 draft will play out in the long term but we can still gain some insight.

My choices are always based on a healthy dose of video review with some statistical analysis rolled in for the college players, as well as from information gleaned from player reports from Fangraphs, Baseball America and the gentlemen at the MLB.com Prospect Pipeline (the aforementioned Callis and Jonathan Mayo).

I’ve had some success making the first overall selection in the past including nabbing Kris Bryant in 2013 (He went second overall after the Astros whiffed on Mark Appel with the first pick) and Carlos Correa, who actually went first overall to the Astros in 2012, which went against the industry consensus at the time.

Looking way back to 2007, my two favorite prep arms were Tim Alderson (oops) and Madison Bumgarner.

OK, let’s get started with the review. Remember, this is a ranking of where I feel the players should be drafted based on future potential, not based on where I think they’ll actually go.

My Pick: 1. (Tigers) Casey Mize, RHP, college

Well, this one was a no-brainer for both myself and the Tigers. And Mize has looked every bit the stud hurler. He’s already in Double-A and should already be a highly-sought-after commodity in dynasty leagues. Mize has a 1.66 ERA in 14 career starts and the only though the concerns me a little bit is the lack of big strikeout numbers (68 in 70.1 innings).

My Pick: 2. (Giants) Brady Singer, RHP, college

Singer was a top pick out of high school, too, as a second-rounder who failed to sign with the Jays but he lost some luster as the 2018 draft approached with some fearing he’d develop into a future reliever. I still loved what I was seeing from him and he’s performed great in pro ball after sliding all the way to 18th overall to the Royals. He has a 2.13 ERA in 50. 2 innings in High-A ball. I definitely would not have regretted this pick, although the Giants did OK with Joey Bart, who’s been injured but effective when healthy.

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Prospect Stock Watch: Mining the 2018 Draft for Hidden Gems

The 2019 MLB amateur draft is just over a week away! The Prospect Stock Watch has been devoting time to reviewing the 2018 draft. Earlier this week, we reviewed the second round of the draft. Today’s piece is going to look into which players have so far represented the best value from the third, fourth and fifth rounds.

This piece will naturally favor college picks as they’re generally more advanced and many of the prep players taken in later rounds of the draft require extra time in extended spring training before joining full-season ball. This piece looks at players’ results as well as the potential ceilings they possess based on their tools.

Best third-round pick: Terrin Vavra, SS, Rockies

When the year began, I would have hedged my bets towards Tristan Pompey or Kody Clemens being the steals of the fourth rounds. But Pompey posted a strikeout rate near 50% in High-A ball and earned a trip back to extended spring training to work things out. Clemens is still in High-A but he’s struggled to hit consistently and his 25% strikeout rate is high for someone who’s not a power hitter. That leads us to Vavra, who was drafted out of the University of Minnesota, and with less pedigree – although his brothers played pro ball, too. The middle infielder has shown good pop and a solid plate approach with a BB-K of 21-36 in 41 games. The line-drive rate sits at 24% and once Vavra gets a little stronger, he should start to hit even more balls over the fence. It remains to be seen if Vavra can stick at shortstop but he appears to have the offensive profile to stick at a number of different positions.

Runner Up: Owen Miller, SS, Padres

San Diego though enough of Miller’s strong pro debut in 2018 to jump him over High-A ball and assign him directly to Double-A. He’s barely missed a beat with a .301 average, and has now hit .300 at every level he’s played out. The downside to Miller is that his ceiling is somewhat limited with modest power and limited stolen base acumen. With that said, and although just 13 of his 52 hits have gone for extra bases, he has generated a 27% line-drive rate so there could be more gap pop (ie. doubles and triples) to come as he matures. He’s even more likely to end up at second base, or serve as an offensive-minded utility player.

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Prospect Stock Watch: Hjelle, Breaux, Jeffers, and others

With the MLB amateur draft just over two weeks away, the Prospect Stock Watch is checking in on some 2018 draft picks. A lot of attention is always paid on first-round picks so let’s have a look at some of the players that slipped out of the first round last year and landed in the second round. The players listed below have all had strong starts to their pro career and are great reminders that you can find strong prospect values in other rounds. All the players listed below should be monitored for future value in dynasty leagues and, eventually, redraft leagues.

Sean Hjelle, RHP, Giants: Hjelle has a massive frame at 6-foot-11 but he’s not a power pitcher. Still, low-A ball hitters have struggled to handle him. He’s struck out 44 batters in 40.2 innings while inducing ground balls at a high rate of two-to-one. It’s time for the Giants to challenge the right-hander with a promotion to high-A ball as he should be overpowering these young hitters after a three-year college career. He’s a name to file away and monitor over the next couple of years.

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Prospect Stock Watch: Connor Scott

With the 2019 amateur draft only three weeks away, the Prospect Stock Watch is reviewing some of the players from last year’s draft. Today, we’re checking in on 13th overall selection Connor Scott of the Miami Marlins.

The decision to start 2019 in full-season ball was a surprising move by the Marlins. The young outfielder was drafted out of a Florida high school where he was a two-way player (left-handed pitcher and outfielder). At the time of the draft, I wrote that Scott should be selected in the first or second round — but as a pitcher. Admittedly, the scouting consensus at the time was that he should be selected as a hitter due to his toolsy, athletic skill set. I personally loved his easy delivery, great pitcher’s frame and potential to develop at least two above-average offerings from the left side.

After he signed with the Marlins as an outfielder last June, he was assigned to Rookie ball where he posted a .630 OPS in 27 games. He was then oddly pushed up to Low-A ball for another 23 games where the OPS dipped to .572 and he struck out 30% of the time. On the plus side, he showed a willingness to take a walk with an 11% walk rate.

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Prospect Stock Watch: Kevin Smith

Today at the Prospect Stock Watch we’re going to take a look at a struggling prospect who entered 2019 with some hype: shortstop Kevin Smith of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Smith landed on a number of pre-season Top 100 lists, although I was not one of the people on the bandwagon. With that said, I listed him as “The Riser” in the Jays system prior to 2019 based on the hype he was generating but offered these words of caution when discussing his mid-season promotion from Low-A to High-A ball in 2018:

“He then received a promotion to High-A ball around mid-season and continued to produce over-the-fence power but his approach at the plate de-evolved to more of his pre-2018 style. The walks dried up and the strikeouts rose… Smith’s prospect value is up but I’m hoping to see more of the early-2018 Smith rather than the later-2018 Smith.”

Unfortunately, we’re once again seeing more of the later-2018 Smith’s production at the Double-A level. I was surprised to see him start 2019 in Double-A but the Jays were stuck after Logan Warmoth (another shortstop who was drafted in the first round of the same draft as Smith) was terrible for all of 2018 at High-A ball and was forced to repeat the level. That pushed Smith up by default.

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Brendan Rodgers and Other Rockies Infield Prospects

The Colorado Rockies are swimming in infield depth.

Leaving the first base position to discuss another day, the Rockies are stacked with options at the other three infield positions. Obviously, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story are entrenched at their respective positions of third base and shortstop.

Then we have promising young players Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson, who have both graduated to the big league roster. McMahon has been given everyday reps at second base in 2019, while Hampson’s slow start has relegated him to more of a utility player – although he possesses the tools to be an everyday guy.

Looking further down the depth chart, we can find interesting names at each of the full-season affiliates for the Rockies.

Triple-A: Brendan Rodgers, 2B/SS/3B

Rodgers is the player that most prospect watchers and Rockies fans are already aware of given his previous first-round selection, and subsequent minor league successes. In fact, Rockies fans are already expressing their frustrations to me that he’s still in the minor leagues and not helping the big league club solidify a more favorable spot in the NL West standings.

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Prospect Stock Watch: Bukauskas, and Padres Shortstops

The Houston Astros do a lot of things very well.

Drafting pitchers in the first round is not really one of them. Over the past 10 years, the Astros have selected hurlers four times. Brady Aiken and Mark Appel were huge misses as first-overall selections. Forrest Whitley, taken 17th, looks like a future top-of-the-rotation arm.

And then there is J.B. Bukauskas. The right-hander was a polarizing pick but the Astros bought into his college success — despite the question marks surrounding his transition to pro ball — and selected him 15th overall in 2017. Three years into his pro career, those questions are only getting louder.

Bukauskas made just three pro appearances in 2017. His 2018 season was stunted by injury. He played at five levels, including his rehab appearances, and topped out at Double-A (one game). In total, there was nothing alarming about his numbers. In fact, overall, he had a 2.14 ERA and struck out 71 batters in 59 innings while also showing some solid ground-ball rates.

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It’s Time to Get Excited About Julio Rodriguez

You know about Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres. You also know about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays. And Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays, who just turned 18 in March, is starting to garner the attention that he deserves.

Clearly, FanGraphs alumni have also been paying attention. Dave Cameron jumped on the Tatis gravy train in San Diego… while Carson Cistulli did the same in Toronto… and Jeff Sullivan skipped off to Tampa Bay. No doubt there is a FanGraphs writer about to head west to Seattle.

Why? Because of 18-year-old outfielder Julio Rodriguez, who happens to be the focus of this piece. And it’s not my first time talking about this budding star. In early March, during the Mariners 2018 season in review piece, I wrote:

The 2019 Lottery Ticket: Julio Rodriguez, OF: There are a few low-level minor league players that possess the ability to burst onto the scene like Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. have in recent years. Wander Franco in Tampa Bay is one and Rodriguez could be another, although he’s not quite as advanced with the bat at this point. He has immense power potential but he doesn’t sell out for home runs and focuses on hitting the ball hard and using the whole field. He has a patient approach but also has swing-and-miss to his game due to a lack of experience as opposed to any major mechanical flaws. Rodriguez reportedly has solid makeup and is a hard worker, all things that can help a prospect maximize their tools.

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