The 2015 draft started off with a run on college players who have gone on the become solid big league contributors. Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman were then followed by high school infielder Brendan Rodgers, who was selected third overall but has yet to establish himself in the Major Leagues. However, Rodgers has had a taste of big-league action as a member of the Rockies’ 40-man roster.
There many former high school picks from the 2015 draft that have yet to even make it onto a 40-man roster, let alone reach the Majors. And this fall will represent the deadline to add those prep players to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft in December. Let’s take a look at a few names that could be added to teams’ 40-man rosters and also potentially help fantasy owners in 2020 and beyond.
Tyler Stephenson, C, Reds (AA): The Reds organization lacks a true starting catcher (apologies to Tucker Barnhart) but that could change when Stephenson reaches The Show. He was selected 11th overall in 2015 but, as is often the case, the high school catcher’s development has been a slow one. Stephenson has yet to tap into his raw power potential but he’s posted three straight seasons of offensive results surpassing the league average. Even without the home-run results to show for it, he’s getting stronger and has hit a lot more line drives over the past two seasons. The young catcher also has posted three straight seasons with walk rates above 10%. Along with the patient approach, he shows a good eye and has struck out just 55 times (17% K-rate) in 79 games this year. Stephenson is a tall catcher so it’s taken time for him to show improvements on defense but he has a very strong arm and has used it to throw out 28% of base runners so far this year. There are few concerns about his ability to stick at catcher and be able to play every day.
Beau Burrows, RHP, Tigers (AAA): I recently wrote a piece that showed the Tigers have the most impressive starting pitching depth in the minor leagues but Burrows was absent from the discussion. It wasn’t from a lack of talent from the former 22nd-overall selection. Burrows throws four pitches and three of those have the potential to be average-or-better offerings. But his bread-and-butter would be his fastball-curveball combo. He also has below-average command and control, which is why his ceiling is higher as an eighth- or ninth-inning reliever where his heater could potentially spend even more time in the mid-90s or higher. Toss in a higher-than-average ground-ball rate and you have a very interesting future reliever.
Ryan Mountcastle, 1B, Orioles (AAA): There is a chance that Mountcastle will get a recall in September but he likely won’t gain enough at-bats to lose his rookie eligibility. Originally a third baseman, this former first-rounder has spent the entire year at Triple-A while hitting .316 with 21 home runs in 110 games. So why is he still in Triple-A and not playing for the rebuilding Orioles? The first reason is that the club has a backlog of first basemen. The second reason is likely related to his BB-K which is an ugly 18-109. Mountcastle has always had an abhorrent and overly-aggressive approach at the plate but he also has a .295 career average so he’s doing something right. The young hitter likely has a high failure rate but he could also develop into something interesting in this new era of MLB blast ball.
Demarcus Evans, RHP, Rangers (AA): We’ve already seen the Rangers debut one impressive reliever this year in Emmanuel Clase and another may not be far behind. Pitching at two minor league levels in 2019, the 22-year-old hurler has 89 strikeouts in 51.2 innings. Even better, he’s allowed just 20 hits — which equates to a .119 batting average. Wow. Over his career, Evans has struck out 358 batters in 234 innings and held hitters to a .175 batting average. Evans’ biggest challenge will be to find the strike zone more consistently. He’s issued 37 walks this year. If he can get his walk rate down to even 4.0 or 4.5 per nine, then he has high-leverage upside.
Ljay Newsome, RHP, Mariners (AA): Newsome was the 785th player selected in the 2015 draft and he’s moved methodically through the Mariners system, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have value. He’s undersized at 5-11, but he’s added velocity since signing and can now get up to 93-94 mph at times. He also has a very good slider and plus control, which has helped him post a K-BB of 150-13 over 134 innings at three different minor league levels this year. Despite his modest size, Newsome has thrown three straight seasons of more than 129.2 innings which shows good durability. The biggest knock against the right-hander is that he doesn’t get a ton of downward plan on his offerings, which leads to a lot of fly balls and makes him prone to the home run. There could be No. 4 starter ceiling here, or potentially a seventh/eighth inning reliever profile.
Triston McKenzie, RHP, Indians (Injured) McKenzie likely has the most talent of any player on this list but his development has been significantly hampered by injuries. He threw just 90.2 innings last year due to a forearm issue and he hasn’t pitched at all this year due to a back injury. In his last fully healthy season, though, he struck out 186 batters in 143 innings at the age of 20 (That inning total might have also led to the forearm issue). When last he pitched, McKenzie showed above-average control and three better-than-average pitches. If he comes back healthy in 2020, he could reach the Indians’ rotation in the second half of the year.
Tony Santillan, RHP, AA (Reds) Santillan is currently on the injured list due to a triceps tendon strain so his season may be over. Even up until that point, it was a disappointing season for the hard-throwing right-hander but he still has a ton of potential. The biggest issue with Santillan is that he possesses below-average command and control. He walked 54 batters in 102.1 innings at the Double-A level this year. He also has a history of allowing too many hits for someone with a mid-90s fastball that can touch 97 mph. Both his slider and changeup could become average or better and could be helpful weapons if he can learn to command them. There is No. 3/4 starter or high-leverage reliever potential here.
Next time out, we’ll take a look at college players from the 2016 draft.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.