The AL Central is likely my favorite division I’m done so far. The Cleveland Indians have breakout prospects up the Wazoo and Kansas City drafted one of my favorite draft classes of 2018. Add in the international talent in Minnesota’s system and the 80-grade names from Detroit’s system and the list below looks pretty damn good. I could’ve rambled on for days, but have limited this to the top 12 MLB prospects on the rise in the AL Central.
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Breakout MLB Prospects – AL Central
Note – I did not include anyone already in my top-50 overall prospects.
Georga Valera, OF, Cleveland Indians
2018 Stats (RK): 6/18, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 SB, 3 BB, 3 K
I couldn’t help myself. Sure, he’s outside my top-50, which was a qualification to be included here, but I’ve been shying away from players just close to my top-50 overall as well. But with Valera, this is warranted.
— The Welsh (@IsItTheWelsh) May 13, 2018
George Valera is a beast in the making and a candidate to rise into my top-25 overall rankings in the very near future, potentially as early as my mid-season update. Why? Mainly due to his plus contact skills and plus raw power. That will always give me tingles. Here’s a little snippet from my Indians top-25…
“Lightning quick wrists and the ensuing explosive bat speed is the first thing I notice when watching him in the batter’s box. Back leg load, hip rotation, and forward weight transfer are all fluid with a toe tap used for timing.”
It’s still VERY early in Valera’s professional career, but I can’t help but see a future .300/30/10 guy with the upside for more. If you want him in dynasty, it’s likely going to cost you an elite-level price moving forward. This is the last time we’re going to see him outside my top-50. After his season ending early due to a fractured hamate bone that needed surgery, Valera will return in 2019, likely terrorizing minor league pitchers on a routine basis.
Current Rank: 60 | Projected 2020 Rank: 20-40
Brayan Rocchio, SS, Cleveland Indians
2018 Stats (RK): .335/.390/.442/.832, 12 2B, 2 HR, 22 SB, 5.6 BB%, 11.5 K%, 242 AB
A switch-hitter with plus contact skills, plus speed, a solid plate approach, and that can limit his strikeouts is always someone I want on my dynasty roster. Brayan Rocchio began his breakout in the Arizona League and Dominican Summer League last season, flashing all those beautiful skills I listed above. The power upside is minimal, but Rocchio offsets that with a high batting average upside and plenty of speed to go along with it. From my Indians top-25…
“Rocchio has a great feel for hitting from both sides of the plate with an advanced approach well beyond his years. He starts with a balanced setup with his hand high, times pitches with a toe tap, and explodes through the zone with plus bat speed and a level swing path. It’s not often that a 17-year-old hitter displays an advanced approach and contact skills from both sides of the plate, but that’s exactly what we have here with Rocchio.”
That blurb above is the reason why I feel strongly about Rocchio and the upside he possesses. It’s also why I project him to vault up into my top-100 by next spring.
Current Rank: 128 | Projected 2020 Rank: 50-75
Ethan Hankins, RHP, Cleveland Indians
2018 Stats (RK): 3 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 8, 2017
I’m now going to be referring to Ethan Hankins as the gas man. The man throws straight up cheddar, sitting in the mid-90’s with plus life and could add a tick or two if he adds some strength to his lanky frame. As it currently stands, Hankins is more of a thrower than a pitcher. He’ll mix in three off-speed pitches, all of which are fairly inconsistent but show potential to become above-average or better pitches. If Hankins can develop the secondaries and keep his control in check, there’s big-time upside here.
Current Rank: 154 | Projected 2020 Rank: 75-100
Luis Oviedo, RHP, Cleveland Indians
2018 Stats (A-/A): 57.0 IP, 2.05 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 10.6 K/9, .190 AVG
Take a quick look at those stats above. Impressed? Well, get used to is, because Luis Oviedo is blossoming into a premier pitching prospects. I don’t see him reaching the elite ranks in the Gore/Paddack/Mize range, but Oviedo is a pitcher firmly on the rise that could settle into the tier below them with another strong showing in 2020. Oviedo features four potential above-average of better pitches with good command of them all. He might even add some velocity if he adds strength to his slender 6’4 frame. While he’s behind Hankins on most prospects lists now, I anticipate Oviedo closing the gap in 2019.
Current Rank: NR | Projected 2020 Rank: 125-150
Lenny Torres, RHP, Cleveland Indians
2018 Stats (RK): 15.1 IP, 1.76 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 12.9 K/9, .246 AVG
Man, I could probably write a whole article on just Cleveland Indians prospects on the rise. My 5th and final Indians prospect on the list was the 41st overall pick in the 2018 draft, not too far behind the Kowar/Lynch/Hankins trio that were picked 33rd through 35th respectively. Back when I wrote my Indians top-25, I started the Torres section with “By this time next season, this ranking could be 8-10 spots too low.” I ranked him 17th due to the sheer depth of talent in this system, but knew in the back of my mind that he’d be much higher by as early as mid-season. Torres already features a plus fastball/slider combo with solid command and really knows how to attack hitters on the mound. If he can continue to develop his changeup into a 3rd weapon, Torres is bound to shoot up prospect ranks this season.
Current Rank: NR | Projected 2020 Rank: 175-200
Wenceel Perez, SS, Detroit Tigers
2018 Stats (RK/A-/A): .313/.363/.429/.791, 12 2B, 3 HR, 13 SB, 7.6 BB%, 13.5 K%, 231 AB
“Fun name to say, fun skill set to project. That’s Wenceel Perez in a nutshell.” – Eric Cross
Yup, still true. Guys that don’t hit for a lot of power often don’t get as much love in the prospect world as they should. When it comes to Wenceel Perez, we’re not looking at a big power bat, rather more of a guy that’s in the vicinity of 10 homers more often than not. But when you look at the rest of his offensive skill set, you have to be excited about the upside. Perez possesses easy plus speed and above-average to plus contact skills. He’s been able to keep his strikeouts low (10.8% for career) and can draw a walk when needed too.
Wenceel Perez, SS, #Tigers. 18 y.o. 5'11 170 lbs. S/R
Has a good feel for finding the barrel. Picks up spin. Patient hitter, doesn't mind hitting with 2 strikes. First 2B was off Clarke Schmidt. pic.twitter.com/79Gebrh9Xr
— Peace, love, and dirty feet (@mufuhkajones) July 4, 2018
With Isaac Paredes and Willi Castro in the system, it’s going to be interesting to see who emerges as Detroit’s long-term solution at shortstop, but if I had to bet, Perez is the guy due to his combination of offensive and defensive abilities. He’s the best defender of the bunch and arguably has the strongest arm. He’ll likely push Paredes over to 3rd and Castro to 2nd. Grabbing some Perez dynasty stock now is highly advised. In fact, run to your league’s waiver wire right now to check if he’s available. Quick, go!
Current Rank: 239 | Projected 2020 Rank: 75-100
Brock Deatherage, OF, Detroit Tigers
2018 Stats (RK/A/A+): .326/.385/.504/.890, 8 2B, 6 3B, 7 HR, 19 SB, 8.2 BB%, 25.2 K%, 230 AB
A few weeks back, the boys on the Fantrax Dynasty Baseball podcast asked me who my favorite guy was outside the top-200 in my overall top-250 rankings. My answer? Brock Deatherage. A 10th round pick last June, all Deatherage did after being drafted was annihilate minor league pitching across three levels, finishing with that beautiful stat line you see above. Deatherage is a plus athlete with speed to burn and above-average contact skills. The power is likely capped in the 10-15 homer range, but Deatherage has a chance to hit for a strong batting average in the high .200s with 25-plus steals to go along with it. Deatherage might have caught people off guard with his performance last season, but that won’t be the case going forward. With another strong showing in 2019, he’s going to be a hot commodity in dynasty leagues.
Current Rank: 244 | Projected 2020 Rank: 150-175
MJ Melendez, C, Kansas City Royals
2018 Stats (A): .251/.322/.492/.814, 26 2B, 9 3B, 19 HR, 4 SB, 9.1 BB%, 30.3 K%, 419 AB
As it stands today, MJ Melendez is the 7th highest ranked catcher in my top-250 rankings. Out of the six men he’s behind, Danny Jansen and Francisco Mejia will likely exhaust their prospect eligibility this season and I can easily see Melendez leapfrogging Keibert Ruiz and/or Roberto Hernandez. Even with Adley Rutchman entering the top-3 catcher conversation, Melendez is one I expect to be considered a top-5 overall catcher and firmly inside my top-100 prospects overall.
So how does he do that? The plus raw power popped it’s head out in 2018 as Melendez finished with 54 extra-base hits and 19 homers in 111 games on the Single-A South Atlantic League. Included in that was nine triples. Melendez is by no means a speed demon, but he’s a solid athlete and can run well for a catcher. Those are solid building blocks, but what is really going to vault Melendez up the ranks is an improved plate approach. In each of his two minor league seasons, Melendez has struck out 30.3% of the time. He tends to use a deeper and higher hand coil which leads to a longer swing. If he can shorten that and take a more direct path to the ball, I think Melendez will be able to cut down the strikeouts some and raise his batting average in the process.
Current Rank: 127 | Projected 2020 Rank: 60-80
Jackson Kowar, RHP, Kansas City Royals
2018 Stats (A): 26.1 IP, 3.42 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9, 7.5 K/9, .200 AVG
While Brady Singer is the former Florida Gator that gets the most attention in this system, Jackson Kowar is right there with him. The upside might not be quite as high, but there’s a lot to like about Kowar. He features two plus pitches in his fastball and changeup and has flashed an above-average breaking ball here and there. The command can be spotty at times, but if Kowar can refine that command and continue to develop his breaking ball, he has a chance to vault into the top-100 next year as a pitcher with low ratios and around a strikeout per inning.
Current Rank: 181 | Projected 2020 Rank: 100-125
Daniel Lynch, LHP, Kansas City Royals
2018 Stats (RK/A): 51.1 IP, 1.58 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 1.4 BB/9, 10.7 K/9, .235 AVG
Have I mentioned that I really like the Royals 2018 draft class? Because I really freaking like the Royals 2018 draft class and Daniel Lynch is a big reason why. A big 6’6 southpaw, Lynch throws four average to plus offerings with his fastball, slider, and changeup being the best of the bunch. Command has never been an issue for him, registering a 3.0 BB/9 during his three years at the University of Florida and a 1.4 BB/9 last season in the minors. I’d like to see him add a little more bulk to his frame, but even as is, Lynch’s deep arsenal and solid command make him a pitcher firmly on the rise.
Current Rank: NR | Projected 2020 Rank: 125-150
Wander Javier, SS, Minnesota Twins
2018 Stats: Did Not Play
So much talent, so little time. On the field that is. There are a ton of talented prospects in this article, but when talking about sheer upside, Javier’s is arguably the highest, outside of George Valera. The last time we saw Javier in a minor league game was during 2017 before shoulder surgery sidelined him for all of 2018. Such a shame. If that injury/surgery never happens, we might already be talking about Javier as a top-50 overall prospect. That’s how good he can be.
Javier uses a quick right-handed stroke, generating plenty of hard contact with above-average raw power. It will be interesting to see how much power he hits for after this shoulder surgery, but .280 with 20-plus homers is a real possibility here with above-average speed to go along with it. Even if he loses some speed as he adds strength and fills out his lanky frame, we’re still looking at a potential .280/25/15 shortstop with the upside for more.
Current Rank: 150 | Projected 2020 Rank: 50-75
Misael Urbina, OF, Minnesota Twins
2018 Stats: Did Not Play
Although he was considered one of the top prospects available in the 2018 J2 crop, Urbina doesn’t get nearly as much buzz as Marco Luciano, Noelvi Marte, Victor Victor Mesa, and others. Even on my own list, Urbina is ranked below those other three, but that could all change come 2020. He doesn’t have the sexy raw power of a Luciano, Marte, or Orelvis Martinez, but Urbina displays plus contact skills and above-average to plus speed. And that’s not saying he has no power either. In time, I project Urbina as a 15-20 homer threat, with his biggest contributions coming in AVG and SB. Once he gets his feet wet in the minors, expect Urbina to rise prospect rankings fairly quickly.
Current Rank: 238 | Projected 2020 Rank: 150-175
Photo/Video Credit: Chris Welsh, Jason Woodell, Rob Friedman (AKA Pitching Ninja)
Eric Cross is the lead MLB/Fantasy Baseball writer and MiLB prospect analyst for FantraxHQ and has been with the site since March 2017. In the past, he wrote for FantasyPros and FanSided. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) and a contributor in the best-selling Fantasy Baseball Black Book. For more from Eric, check out his author page and follow him on Twitter @EricCross04.
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