Last offseason, over brunch at some restaurant in Phoenix, Brad Johnson and I, in coordination with FanGraphs’ Powers That Be, revived a recently deceased series about prospects. We had to attribute to it a new name, but its purpose remained steadfast: to identify intriguing but unheralded Minor League talent. This is the corner of fantasy baseball in which Brad and I thrive. I’m not one for series — I never thought I had any good ideas — but I had always wanted to do something like this, but for fantasy purposes.
Alas, Peripheral Prospects was born, a phoenix from the ashes. (A good metaphor, this, because in Phoenix we ate at a restaurant with ashtrays.) We published every Monday steadily for months until the grind of the season wore us down. Just because Cody Bellinger tailed off the in second half doesn’t mean we remember his 2019 season as a bust. I’d like to think our weak finish sullies not our fine season. Several WARs, at least.
Here, I’d like to highlight some of my favorite peripheral prospects of 2019. (Brad will separately highlight his own, for I can ascertain why he picked the players he picked but it is better that he articulate his rationale on his own terms.) Let’s not waste any more time. Here are my 10 favorite peripheral prospects, sorted ascending according to their appearance in the series.
Week 1: Mike Tauchman | 28 | NYY | OF (highest level by seasons’s end: MLB)
In February, I wrote the definitive Mike Tauchman hype post. In March, Twitter followers alerted me to Tauchman being traded to New York. Because of a historic number of injuries to Yankee batsmen, Tauchman instantly received playing time when the season started — and immediately floundered. By July, I thought he squandered his only chance. When you are a 28-year-old with 69 career plate appearances and a change of scenery, time is precious.
Thirty days after I fretted about his demise, Tauchman was baseball’s 4th-best hitter of the previous 30 days, per ESPN’s Player Rater. Tauchman went from zero to folk hero nearly overnight. Yankee fans were legitimately devastated by a calf strain that prematurely ended his season.
My unabashed love for Tauchman is slightly tongue-in-cheek. But it’s plenty serious, too, and the Yankees afforded him just enough daylight to prove my point: it’s not necessarily difficult to identify random too-old non-prospect breakout candidates. As I outlined in the definitive hype post, Tauchman had two of the best power-contact seasons in Triple-A ever, and he had them consecutively.
In other words, I’m no prophet. It’s all about the process. And I’m just glad to know my process had the opportunity to be validated, and was.
Final line (MLB): 13 HR, 6 SB, .277/.361/.504 (128 wRC+) in 296 PA
Week 3: Cavan Biggio | 24 | TOR | 2B (MLB)
To me, Biggio was low-hanging fruit. He was a fringe prospect guy’s wet dream, ranked 12th organizationally (per FanGraphs) but dripping with interesting tools (power, speed, a fat on-base percentage). For me, he was a wide-awake sleeper.
He may remain that way into 2020. In 100 games, Biggio popped 16 and stole 14, composing an outside threat at a 25/25 season given full playing time, with a 16.5% walk rate (BB%). He doesn’t hit the snot out of the ball — his contact quality metrics are all just slightly above average, per Statcast — but he is incredibly patient (bordering on too passive) and has incredible bat control. To attest: among 281 hitters with at least 200 batted ball events (BBEs), Biggio led the league in sweet spot percentage (SwSp%) at 44.2%. In second? Mike Trout, at 44.1%.
He might become a borderline elite asset in standard formats should he ever become more aggressive. He’ll likely be extremely undervalued in OBP leagues. Six too-early mock drafts likely won’t mean anything come draft season, but if they’re any indication of what’s to come, Biggio will fall outside the top-200 by average draft position (ADP). If he does, he will be the Jeff McNeil of bargains in 2020.
Final line (MLB): 16 HR, 14 SB, .234/.364/.429 (114 wRC+) in 430 PA
Week 5: Jake Cronenworth | 25 | TBR | SS (AAA)
Big, big fan of Cronenworth — one of the guys Brad and I overlapped on. He intrigued me in 2018, with flashes of interesting tools, but I wasn’t sure if they’d pan out again in 2019. They did, and in spades: Cronenworth walked nearly as often as he struck out, hit for more power, batted .334 with a 6.0% swinging strike rate (SwStr%), and ran just enough to be perfectly cromulent and quintessentially peripheral.
The Rays, like the Astros, are flush with legitimate prospect talent in the minors, let alone expendable fringe talent. It’s hard to know if and how much Cronenworth plays for the Rays — if he even plays for the Rays or ends up elsewhere. His defensive versatility bolsters his outlook, but he’s getting old, as we all are.
The key gain will be the power (.186 ISO, up from .120). There’s a launch angle concern there (29.0% FB, down from 42.1%), but perhaps it can be remedied without counteracting his hit tool.
Final line (AAA): 10 HR, 12 SB, .334/.429/.520 (147 wRC+) in 430 PA
Week 7: Josh Rojas | 25 | HOU/ARI | OF (MLB)
Boys, do the Astros know how to make ’em. Finally freed from the clutches of a ruthless Minor League system, Rojas was thrown into the Zack Greinke for Corbin Martin/Seth Beer/J.B. Bukauskas trade. To most, he was the afterthought of the package. I hope this trade is one day known as the “Greinke-Rojas trade” above all else.
In his departure to greener pastures, Rojas failed to do much with his time, compiling a meager 68 wRC+. It’s what he did at the minor league level that warrants consideration, especially so given Dan Szymborski, purveyor of ZiPS, told me Rojas had the single most-improved 2020 projection of any player in baseball. Rojas went from a weak-hitting, contact-oriented speedster to, well, a Tauchman-style power-contact juggernaut whose strikeout and walk rates were nearly identical.
I’ll let Rojas’ final Triple-A line speak for itself as I prepare all offseason to hoard cheap shares of him in the final rounds of all my drafts.
Final line (AAA): 23 HR, 33 SB, .332/.418/.606 (160 wRC+) in 479 PA
Week 7: Matt Beaty | 26 | LAD | 1B/OF (MLB)
Talk about McNeilean (a term I use later to describe one Minnesota Twin): Beaty did a superb impression of a poor man’s McNeil during his much-earned 99 games at the big-league level, most of it spent in part-time duty. His nine homers, six steals, and 7.5% swinging strike rate in 268 PA paint the portrait of a legitimate 20/15 threat. That he struck out just 12.3% of the time and recorded a lowly .275 BABIP suggests his batting average could rise 10, 20, maybe even 30 points. (Statcast thinks so — a .272 xBA — but is clearly more tepid in its assessment.)
I will say this: Beaty’s baserunning is a bit of surprise, given he hadn’t stolen a base at the minors since 2017 (albeit in just 270 PA over the course of the past two seasons). But the power rang true, as did the plate discipline, underscored by an 8.9% strikeout rate (K%), 7.5% walk rate, and microscopic 4.7% swinging strike rate. Beaty was as advertised.
The big question is what the Dodgers intend to do with Beaty. The Dodgers are working with so much talent, it’s tough to tell where he fits in. Max Muncy and Joc Pederson have made such dramatic improvements the last couple of years that they are nearly indispensable (or at least a lot less vulnerable to the platoon split), and the remainder of the outfield is manned by Bellinger, A.J. Pollock, Chris Taylor, and Enrique Hernández. There’s just not a lot of daylight here.
Cling to the fringy tools and cross your fingers.
Final line (MLB): 9 HR, 6 SB, .265/.317/.458 (102 wRC+) in 268 PA
Week 9: Ljay Newsome | 22 | SEA | SP (AAA)
Newsome could only pummel High-A hitters for so long. After a ridiculous 18 starts, punctuated by a spot start at Triple-A, Newsome earned a permanent promotion to Double-A. I hope this says all it needs to say: in 2019, Newsome was one strikeout away from sitting down 10 times as many hitters as he walked — a 169:17 ratio.
The command is absurd to the point where it might be detrimental. Despite the peripherals, Newsome allowed a 3.54 ERA for the year. He got BABIP’d pretty good, and it might be because he grooved one too many pitches (the ol’ Jeff Samardzija trick). But the gains seem real: our Eric Longenhagen mentioned to me Newsome added several ticks this year after undergoing an offseason throwing program. As I mentioned in Newsome’s Week 9 introduction, a little velocity goes a long way, especially if it doesn’t cost you your command.
Denyi Reyes had a similar season last year but failed to be quite as interesting in 2019. I hope the same fate does not befall Newsome.
Final line (A+/AA/AAA): 3.54 ERA (3.49 xFIP), 27.3% K (13.2% SwStr), 2.7% BB in 155 IP
Week 11: Luis Arraez | 22 | MIN | 2B (MLB)
It’s important to understand the temporal context of these picks. On May 31, the day I introduced Arraez, he had just been demoted after compiling a mere 30 PA (of 175 wRC+ hitting, mind you). Arraez did what we now know Arraez does: he walked more than he struck out and hit for average.
Arraez was everything we hoped Nicky Lopez would be. Lopez was supposed to be in complete control of the strike zone with a good deal of speed — only we didn’t know then he couldn’t swing his way out of a wet paper bag. When you compare unfavorably at the plate to Billy Hamilton, you know you’re doing something wrong. Arraez fulfilled promises Lopez couldn’t keep.
There’s a special place in baseball for McNeilean hitters who make tons and tons of contract. McNeil is the most valuable among them, but Arraez, David Fletcher, and Kevin Newman, among others, could make a fantasy living on zagging where the rest of the league zigs by providing cheap batting average help.
Statcast thinks Arraez overperformed by about 30 points of wOBA, tied almost exclusively to his batting average. In other words, the batting average on balls in play (BABIP) should backslide a bit. Without much power or speed, it takes a lot to make the average relevant. But it still could be in 15-team mixed leagues and especially in AL-only formats.
Final line (MLB): 4 HR, 2 SB, .334/.399/.439 (125 wRC+) in 366 PA
Week 12: Jose Urquidy | 24 | HOU | SP (MLB)
Without burying the lede: Urquidy is my pitcher breakout for 2020. (Rojas is my hitter breakout.) Considering Domingo Germán and McNeil were my pitcher and hitter breakouts for 2019, I’d like to think maybe I’m not so bad at this.
Zac Gallen is the premier wide-awake sleeper for 2020. He crushed the minors — he, maybe inarguably, was Triple-A’s best starting pitcher — and performed extremely well in his first cup of tea in the bigs. If you sort the Triple-A leaderboards by strikeout-minus-walk rate (K-BB%) and set a minimum threshold of 70 innings pitched, Gallen comes out on top, at 28.5%. Urquidy is second, at 26.6%. Then, a big gap between him and third (“Caleb Thielbar,” or, if you exclude folks over 30, Twins’ prospect Lewis Thorpe, at 23.3%).
I think I may already have my first bold prediction for 2020, but: I think there’s a pretty decent chance Urquidy outperforms Gallen next year, given an equal number of innings. Per the too-early mocks cited earlier, Gallen was the 41st starting pitcher off the board. However, I anticipate quite a bit of helium, such that he may go top-30 by the time March rolls around. But he’s not without his warts: he lacked his signature command, walking more than 10% of hitters, pushing his xFIP and SIERA nearly a run and a half higher than his 2.80 ERA. For peripherals truthers, there’s a serious red flag here.
Conversely, Urquidy struck out nearly six times as many hitters as he walked in Houston. Sure, it was in about half as many innings, but it still says a lot. The whiff rates aren’t entirely dissimilar, and signs point to Urquidy having decent secondaries and a potentially lethal slider, the latter of which remains TBD due to small sample concerns but likely exists if his minor league 16.5% whiff rate is indicative of anything.
If the ‘Stros take a 2019 approach to 2020, they will not undertake great effort to bolster their rotation. That could leave a rotation spot wide open for Urquidy this coming spring. Even if he falls out of contention, he should eventually see playing time thanks to the inevitable injury bug.
Final line (AA/AAA): 4.46 ERA (3.67 xFIP), 31.5% K (16.5% SwStr), 4.9% BB in 103 IP
Final line (MLB): 3.95 ERA (4.30 xFIP), 24.0% K (12.0% SwStr), 4.2% BB in 41 IP
Week 12: Ashton Goudeau | 27 | COL | SP (AA)
Shifting gears pretty dramatically here. Goudeau and Urquidy seem so fundamentally different, it’s wild to think they appeared in the same episode of Peripheral Prospects. Goudeau went from a miserably bad pitcher in the Royals’ and Mariners’ organizations to a pretty fascinating one in the Rockies’ org.
I mention him here specifically because I got to see him at the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game — an event reserved for some of the game’s best young prospects, not 27-year-old randos. I spoke to Longenhagen, who confirmed what I suspected: his appearance there was effectively a tryout for other teams who might think his repertoire could play up somewhere other than the thin air of Denver.
The overall package is interesting nonetheless. Longenhagen originally quoted Goudeau as 90-93 based on reports from other scouts but (without realizing it) bumped him up to 92-94 when we spoke in Arizona. During Goudeau’s game appearance, which lasted all of one inning, he mostly sat 94-95. I imagine that added velocity — that, and a plus splitter — helped him add a mountain of whiffs in 2019.
Also: he was Double-A’s best pitcher, per xFIP. As a 27-year-old rando, mind you. And that’s why he’s a peripheral prospect.
Final line (AA): 2.07 ERA (2.25 xFIP), 30.1% K (14.0% SwStr), 4.0% BB in 78.1 IP
Week 15: Randy Dobnak | 24 | MIN | SP (MLB)
Before his handlebar mustache and past life as a ride-share driver took the world by storm, Dobnak was a 20-something non-prospect who accomplished something few others could in the minors this year: struck out a bunch of dudes and generated a bunch of ground balls.
Alas, Dobnak’s worm-killing tilt might be the genesis of his intrigue. In 135 minor league innings, he generated an astounding 59.6% ground ball rate while compiling a 20.6% strikeout rate. The whiffs are nothing to write home about, but they were supported by a 14.5% swinging strike rate in Double-A, the level at which I first took note of Dobby the House Elf. (Sorry. I’m sorry. I’m trying to delete it)
His worm-killing ways propelled him to a miniscule 2.07 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and .257 BABIP. Pitcher BABIP can be quite fickle, so it’s difficult to buy into him hook, line, an sinker. But if Dobnak is some kind of Dallas Keuchel redux, there may be space here for Dobby to be a true “contact management” guy.
Like the Astros, the Twins will have many vacancies in their rotation ripe for the taking. Dobby stands to benefit, especially considering the team trusted him with a playoff start. He’s my ultra-deep sleeper to be fantasy-relevant in 2020.
Final line (A+/AA/AAA): 2.07 ERA (3.35 xFIP), 20.6% K (12.5% SwStr), 5.3% BB in 135 IP
|Zac Gallen||23||MIA||SP||MLB||W4, W6, W8||3|
|Jacob Wilson||28||WAS||2B||MLB||W6, W7, W8||3|
|Jake Cronenworth||25||TBR||SS||AAA||W4, W5, W12||3|
|Joshua Rojas||25||ARI||1B/2B||AAA||W7, W14, W15||3|
|Cavan Biggio||23||TOR||2B||MLB||W3, W4||2|
|Frank Schwindel||27||DET||1B||MLB||W2, W5||2|
|Ljay Newsome||22||SEA||SP||AAA||W9, W11||2|
|Ty France||24||SDP||3B||MLB||W12, W15||2|
|Kevin Cron||26||ARI||1B||MLB||W10, W16||2|
|Enyel De Los Santos||23||PHI||SP||AAA||W4||1|