The 10: High Performers in the High Minors

This week we’re looking at 10 minor leaguers who are going off in the high minors (AA/AAA). We’ll look at what they’re doing and how it might impact a future call-up.

Yordan Alvarez | OF/1B – HOU

The #7 prospect on the Astros list is going off so far this year, already clubbing 14 homers in just 134 PA. He has a 213 wRC+ while improving both his strikeout (21%) and walk (14%) rates. His obscene 48% HR/FB rate obviously won’t continue, but he is absolutely locked in and knocking on the door of the bigs.

Playing time is tight in Houston, but Tyler White needs to be looking over his shoulder with that 95 wRC+. Alvarez isn’t on the 40-man while Kyle Tucker is, but I can’t see how Alvarez’s performance wouldn’t have him first in line if a spot opens, even with it needing the extra work to get him on the 40-man.

Oscar Mercado | OF – CLE

Frankly, I don’t know how he’s not already up and playing. I think Cleveland is starting Marquis Grissom in the outfield tonight. The 24-year old is toting a .288/.392/.477 line in his second season at Triple-A and more importantly for our fantasy purposes, he has 14 SBs in 17 tries.

Tyler Naquin seems like the obvious odd man out here. He has just a 76 wRC+ in 91 PA so far. Jordan Luplow will be platooning with him and could even take the role outright soon. I think Leonys Martin and Jake Bauers have a bit more leash with Martin having strong defense and Bauers being someone they bought into this offseason (Yandy Diaz trade), but Mercado should be on this roster sooner than later.

Jorge Mateo | SS – OAK

Another speedster, Mateo is the 5th-ranked prospect in Oakland’s system though he may be starting to hit that prospect fatigue cycle after signing all the way back in 2012 with the Yankees. Now 24, he’s repeating Triple-A, but looking much stronger than last year’s dud campaign (62 wRC+). Not only is he already 11-for-14 on the bases, but he has a 134 wRC+ thanks in part to cutting his strikeout rate 10 points to 18%. He is riding a .408 BABIP, though someone of his speed can tote higher than average rates (not .400+, but .350+ is viable).

Mateo has dabbled with 2B and that may be his best avenue to getting on the A’s. I think they want to be as patient as possible with Jurickson Profar, but a 55 wRC+ and a case of the yips on defense could have Oakland for answers relatively soon. I think Mateo would need an injury right now with Chad Pinder filling the utility role on their bench.

Luis Urias | 2B/SS – SD

It looked like Urias was going to enter the season with a gig, but the Padres surprised everyone and chose Fernando Tatis Jr. to pair up with Ian Kinsler at the keystone, leaving Urias on the bus to Triple-A. He was quickly called up on April 8th, but couldn’t get going in a tiny sample that saw him strike out 11 times in 29 PA. He has gone off in the two weeks since returning to Triple-A with a .328/.419/.766 line including 6 HR, 3 3B, and 4 2B among his 21 hits.

The Padres haven’t been afraid to go young so I simply can’t imagine them sticking with Kinsler and his 53 wRC+ much longer. A Tatis/Urias keystone combo is their future so why not get it started now? Urias was drafted in all NFBC leagues meaning he’s available to be picked up even before he’s called up. If you find yourself in a fortunate enough situation to have a stash spot available on your reserves, he’s a worthwhile gamble. I could see him putting together a .270-15 HR-7 SB kind of summer.

Austin Riley | 3B – ATL

I remember seeing Riley at AFL and he had “the sound”. The sound off his bat was just different. It’s the ol’ “ya know it when you hear it”, but there were several of us who felt that way in November 2017. Riley had a strong three-level season last year, capping it off with a solid 127 wRC+ and 12 HR in 75 games. He’s already matched those 12 homers in just 33 games with a hot .305/.378/.664 line in 143 PA. There is no room at the inn for Riley right now, but if something opens up, be ready to pounce on this premium power bat slotted 2nd on Atlanta’s list.

Keston Hiura | 2B – MIL

Speaking of the AFL, I got a little drunk on seeing Hiura just rip liner after liner. His Triple-A debut is going swimmingly with a .336/.398/.731 line in 133 PA. His 11 homers already have him just two away from last year’s total which he achieved in 535 PA so needless to say he’s been enjoying the new bouncy ball in Triple-A. Mike Moustakas has been damn good at 2B, but he could shift back to his natural 3B position and open the door for Hiura if Travis Shaw continues to flounder. The 29-year old power hitter has just a 48 wRC+ after back-to-back 30 HR seasons.

Cavan Biggio | 2B – TOR

Why isn’t he up already? The 24-year old ranked 12th on Toronto’s board and has been incredible during his Triple-A debut with a .340/.472/.570 line that includes 6 HR and 4 SB over 127 PA. I realize Eric Sogard inexplicably has a 1.051 OPS, but c’monnnnn! It’s not like Sogard started on the roster and just held a role. He was in Triple-A, too. At any rate, Biggio will get a shot this summer and should be a solid power-speed combo up the middle.

Nicky Lopez | 2B/SS – KC

Lopez is the quintessential Royal: a speedy defender with a high contact rate. The 24-year old middle infielder is blocked off by the team’s two best players – Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi – but maybe Merrifield needs to start cutting into Billy Hamilton’s time in center (57 wRC+) and create an opening for Lopez. In his second go at Triple-A, he’s striking out just 3% of the time while walking at 15% clip en route to a .358/.457/.495 line and 9 SBs in 12 attempts. In 1570 minor league PA, he has a 9% K rate and 11% BB rate while stealing 26 bases per 600 PA.

Zac Gallen | SP – MIA

I was going to use all 10 spots for hitters, but I had two include these two arms. Gallen came over in the Marcell Ozuna deal and he’s blown up after a modest 2018 campaign. He’s toting a 33% K rate against just a 5% BB rate fueling a 1.14 ERA and 0.57 WHIP in 47.3 innings.

He has a 14% swinging strike rate and has allowed a comically low .121 AVG. He’s clicking on all cylinders and should get a look soon. Perhaps Gallen will bump the headliner from that Ozuna deal – Sandy Alcantara – into the bullpen to get his look in the rotation.

Matt Manning | SP – DET

Casey Mize is drawing the headlines after a no-hitter to kick off his Double-A career, but Manning could be the Tigers pitching prospect to make the summer impact (Mize is a year older and more polished so I’d still favor him for a summer call-up if either has a shot, but Manning has impressed). The 21-year old righty is leading that Double-A staff with a 2.27 ERA and 0.70 WHIP in 35.7 innings. He has a career-best 38% K rate and his 6% BB rate matches his previous best set in his pro debut at Rookie ball back in 2016.

An improved changeup has aided his early season success to go with his mid-90s heater and plus curveball. I wouldn’t bet on either Manning or Mize in terms of a fantasy stash for redraft leagues, but both are big time talents who could be making waves in early-2020 for the Tigers. Detroit’s rebuild is pitching-centric with these two atop our Tigers list this March.

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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3 years ago

Excellent column, thanks.

I suppose any preference between these guys depends largely on who gets called up first, so perhaps a better question is: assuming all of them got called up today to play everyday, which few would you most want rest of season?

OddBall Herrera
3 years ago
Reply to  rageon

Hiura! College guy with 60 hit, 60 power, 45 speed at second and an afl mvp? I’m stashing him as long as it takes

3 years ago

Keep that AFL MVP – I don’t think that could mean much less. The rest sounds interesting though.

OddBall Herrera
3 years ago
Reply to  RonnieDobbs

It’s obviously not a 100% predictor, but the recent track records for AFL MVPs is pretty dang good:

2011 Nolan Arenado Colorado Rockies Third baseman Salt River Rafters [4]
2012 Chris McGuiness Texas Rangers First baseman Surprise Saguaros [4]
2013 Kris Bryant Chicago Cubs Third baseman Mesa Solar Sox [4]
2014 Greg Bird New York Yankees First baseman Scottsdale Scorpions [6]
2015 Adam Engel Chicago White Sox Outfielder Glendale Desert Dogs [4]
2016 Gleyber Torres New York Yankees Shortstop Scottsdale Scorpions [7]
2017 Ronald Acuña Atlanta Braves Outfielder Peoria Javelinas [8]
2018 Keston Hiura Milwaukee Brewers Second baseman Peoria Javelinas [4]