The minor league season is only a week and a half old but what a week and a half it’s been. We’ve seen a plethora of notable prospects called up already along with some big early-season breakouts. I’m going to discuss it all today starting with the promotion of former top pitching prospect, MacKenzie Gore.
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Fantasy Baseball Prospect Report
MacKenzie Gore Gets the Call
With Blake Snell being put on the IL, San Diego called up their talented but flawed top pitching prospect, MacKenzie Gore, and started him last Friday against the Atlanta Braves. The results were solid overall as Gore tossed 5.1 innings of two-run ball allowing three hits and two walks with a trio of strikeouts. However, Gore only recorded a 16% whiff rate and 18% CSW. Still, can’t complain after the rocky last two years Gore’s gone through with command and mechanical issues.
MacKenzie Gore's 1st inning Ks. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Ngx9ApNY7g
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 23, 2022
We’ve seen Gore go from the unquestioned #1 pitching prospect back in 2019 to someone outside of many top-100 lists given those issues I mentioned above. He seemed to lose all feel for his secondary offerings and could find the plate, even against lesser and younger competition. Those issues haven’t completely vanished, but Gore has looked much better in the command department so far in 2022 and seems to have smoothed out his delivery some to make it more repeatable.
For 2022 redraft leagues, I’m not sure how long he’ll remain up with San Diego, especially after Snell returns and Clevinger eventually as well, but longterm, it’s time to buy back into Gore. I’m not saying he’s going to return to his former glory, but there’s still a valuable fantasy arm in this profile if he continues improving.
Early Season Standouts – Hitters
Ceddanne Rafaela (OF – BOS): After the season’s first week and a half, Ceddanne Rafaela is the only prospect with at least four home runs (5) and four steals. Never thought you’d see me say that, did you? The 5’8 Curacao native isn’t the biggest guy around but certainly can pack a punch at the plate with deceptive raw power and above-average to plus speed as well. It looks like he;s bulked up a bit this year as well. Rafaela played all over the diamond in 2021 but has started all of his games in the field in center field, which might wind up being his longterm defensive home. He possesses the power/speed blend to really fly up prospect rankings this season, more than he already has due to this scorching start in Hi-A.
Christian Encarnacion-Strand (3B – MIN): If you grabbed Christian Encarnacion-Strand late in your FYPD this offseason, then congratulations. Through the first week and a half of the minor league season, CES is dominating to the tune of a .444/.474/.917 slash line and five homers in just 38 PA in Hi-A. CES excelled in Lo-A after the draft last season as well, hitting .391 in 22 games. He’s looking like an absolute steal thus far and is beginning his ascent up prospect rankings.
Nolan Gorman (2B – STL): Gorman has been on a home run barrage over the last week with longballs in each of his last four games and six in his last six games. For the season, Gorman is slashing .351/.415/.838 with six home runs (all solo shots) in 41 plate appearances but is also striking out 36.6% of the time. He continues to be thoroughly blocked at the Major League level at the time but likely gets a shot at some point this summer.
The Big-4 2021 Prep Shortstops: Yup, that’s right. All of them! The quarter of Marcelo Mayer, Jordan Lawlar, Kahlil Watson, and Brady House are all off to hot starts in 2022, showcasing why they were all considered top-6 selections in 2021 FYPDs. Watson is striking out at a high clip thus far, but it’s not a concern moving forward. While Mayer might possess the highest floor of this foursome, Watson, Lawlar, and possibly House as well have him beat when it comes to upside. You can’t go wrong with any of the four, but that power/speed upside of Watson and Lawlar is quite intriguing for fantasy purposes.
Triston Casas (1B – BOS): Do you hear that? That’s the sound of Bobby Dalbec sweating as he struggles in Boston and Triston Casas tears it up in Triple-A. In 50 plate appearances, Casas is slashing .282/.420/.564 with three homers and as many walks as strikeouts (9). Casas has similar power to Dalbec, but with a much better hit tool and approach. If Dalbec continues to struggle and Casas continues to rake, the swap could happen sooner than expected.
"Polar Park is just not big enough for Triston Casas!"
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) April 12, 2022
Other Notable Hitting Prospects Off to Good Starts: Matt McLain (CIN), Juan Yepez (STL), Francisco Alvarez (NYM), Royce Lewis (MIN), Max Muncy (OAK), Zack Gelof (OAK), Emmanuel Rodriguez (MIN).
Early Season Standouts – Pitchers
Daniel Espino, CLE: My locked-in future #1 overall pitching prospect (maybe by EOS) is off to a dominant start for Double-A Akron. In 8.2 innings, Espino has allowed three hits, two earned runs, and three walks while striking out 50% of the 32 batters he’s faced. This after recording a ridiculous 40.5% of batter last season between Lo-A and Hi-A. With three plus offerings plus a potential above-average changeup, the sky is the limit for Espino as long as he continues refining his command and control as he did in 2021. Espino isn’t the only Cleveland arm excelling either as Logan Allen, Gavin Williams, and Peyton Battenfield have all looked impressive as well.
Andrew Painter, PHI: One year after taking prep right-hander Mick Abel in the first round, the Phillies went back to that well again with Andrew Painter in 2021. And so far, the early returns as incredibly exciting. In his first two starts, Painter hasn’t allowed an earned run in seven innings with three walks, three hits, and a whopping 16 strikeouts (59.3%). At 6’7 with an exciting four-pitch mix and solid command for his age, Painter’s upside is considerable and we could see him well within top-100 rankings by midseason. Grab some dynasty stock while you still can.
Kyle Harrison, SFG: Harrison began his ascension up prospect rankings last season thanks to his exciting arsenal, but the control was still a work in progress. Harrison struck out 35.7% of batters last season but also walked 11.8% of them. But through his first two starts of 2022, Harrison has only allowed one walk in nine scoreless innings to go along with 16 strikeouts. If that walk rate can come down into the 8-9% range this season, watch out.
Kyle Harrison punched out 9 in his five inning start, topping at 96mph, vs Spokane on Friday pic.twitter.com/ZAJM2ncP2Y
— SFGProspects (@SFGProspects) April 18, 2022
Jared Jones, PIT: Another 2020 high-school arm off to a hot start, Jared Jones has been downright dominant to begin the 2022 season. In 8.1 innings, Jones has struck out 15 batters while allowing five hits, three walks, and one earned run for Hi-A Greensboro. Roansy Contreras and Quinn Prister garner most of the attention for pitching prospects in this Pittsburgh system, but Jones has the stuff to fly up rankings in 2022 thanks to three above-average to plus offerings (FF, SL, CU), and a serviceable changeup.
Other Notable Pitching Prospects Off to Good Starts: Grayson Rodriguez (BAL), Brayan Bello (BOS), Jared Shuster (ATL), Jose Butto (NYM), Ken Waldichuk (NYY), Ricky Tiedemann (TOR), Taj Bradley (TBR), George Kirby (SEA).
Struggling Top Prospects
Nick Pratto, (1B – KCR): Regardless if he’s raking or struggling, a common trend for Nick Pratto in his professional career has been too many strikeouts. His best single-season mark was 25.2% in rookie ball back in 2017 and he’s been hovering around 30% give or take ever since, including a 36.5% mark in 52 Triple-A plate appearances this season. I’d recommend trying to sell high while you can and use his 2021 resurgence as leverage. These strikeouts are a real problem and Vinnie Pasquantino is the better long-term hitter for Kansas City.
Brennen Davis (OF – CHC): Earlier this year, I listed Brennen Davis as a top-50 prospect I’d be looking to sell in dynasty leagues citing his contact and swinging strike rates as some reasons why. Well, those concerns have appeared once again early in 2022 as Davis currently has a .212/.350/.364 slash line in Triple-A with a 59.5% contact, 30% strikeout rate, and 15.1% SwStr in 40 plate appearances. Yes, it’s still early. Yes, it’s not the greatest weather in Iowa this time of the season. And no, I’m not saying that Brennen Davis isn’t a good prospect. But what I am saying is that he’s more of a borderline top-25 guy for me right now than a borderline top-10 guy. Interpret that any way you want to.
Jeter Downs (2B – BOS): New season, same old Jeter Downs. While he’s racked up two homers and a steal in his first 42 plate appearances, Downs has struck out a whopping 42.9% of the time. The strikeout woes that plagued him in 2021 haven’t gone anywhere and is really limiting what he can do at the plate offensively. Plus, Nick York and Marcelo Mayer are both breathing down his neck and are better long-term options for Downs. At this point, I don’t see any path to fantasy value outside of a trade. Even then, Downs fantasy stock is dropping quickly.
Garrett Mitchell (OF – MIL): Man, this one stings. For the entire offseason, I was recommending Garrett Mitchell as a buy-low prospect, acknowledging the flaws, but also trying to point out the positives in his profile that made him a buy-low target. His raw tools remain exciting, but nothing seems to have changed for Mitchell here in 2022 as he currently sports a .214/.313/.286 slash line in 32 plate appearances with one extra-base hit and a 43.8% strikeout rate. If you roster him, you gotta hold right now, but Mitchell is going to need to turn things around soon.
Potential New #1 Overall Prospects
With Bobby Witt Jr and Julio Rodriguez in the Majors and likely exhausting their prospect status in the next month or so, it’s time to look to the future with some potential names that could take over that top spot. I’ve narrowed down the list to five names. For this exercise, I’m also assuming that Spencer Torkelson and CJ Abrams will have graduated as well.
Anthony Volpe (SS – NYY): While Volpe is off to a slower start to the season in Double-A, it should only be a matter of time before this offensive dynamo picks up the pace. Volpe is coming off a 2021 season where he hit .294/.423/.604 with 27 home runs and 33 steals in just 513 PA. Don’t let the sluggish 2022 start fool you as Volpe is a legit fantasy stud waiting to happen with plus tools across the board offensively and a great plate approach. Landing in an always potent lineup in a hitter-friendly home park certainly helps too.
Noelvi Marte (SS – SEA): Unlike Volpe, Noelvi Marte is off to a good start this season with two homers and a steal through eight games in Hi-A with a .286/.429/.500 slash line. Marte continues to flash plus or better power with above-average speed and an above-average hit tool. It’s encouraging to see him still walking at a high clip as well. I’m not one to put comps on prospects usually, but I do believe there’s Manny Machado upside here if everything clicks with Marte.
Corbin Carroll (OF – ARI): If it wasn’t for a labrum tear that caused him to miss most of the 2021 season, it’s possible that Corbin Carroll would already be #3 overall in my prospect rankings. The future leadoff dynamo’s hit/speed blend has been on full display since he was drafted back in 2019 with a .320/.435/.549 slash line and 25 steals in 57 games. He’s also shown high-efficiency on the bases, an exceptional plate approach, and additional power projection as well. He’s already swatted a pair of homers and a double in eight Double-A games this season with four steals as well. If the power stroke continues to develop, Carroll might just have the highest fantasy upside of anyone on this list.
Riley Greene (OF – DET): A broken foot will keep Riley Greene prospect eligible until at least mid-season and he’s definitely in the running for #1 overall once Witt and J-Rod graduate. He’s the most experienced and MLB-ready prospect on this list with .280/25+/15+ upside longterm, although, some strikeout issues have popped up recently.
Robert Hassell (OF – SDP): Last but not least, we have 2020 #7 overall pick, Robert Hassell III. Hassell has feasted on opposing batteries in the low-minors, running wild and excelling at the plate with a .310/.397/.477 slash line through his first 110 games. His plus hit tool, plus speed, and advanced approach are exciting enough, but it’s the additional power projection that could give Hassell a shot at #1 overall prospect status. He’s off to a hot start this season and has already cranked two homers in nine games.
Live Looks: Brandon Walter (SP – BOS)
Before the 2022 season began, I didn’t have Brandon Walter within my top-20 Boston Red Sox dynasty prospects. I’ve since realized that I was very wrong about that. After seeing Walter live last weekend, it’s very apparent that he’s a legit Major League caliber arm with mid-rotation upside.
Walter cruised in last Sunday’s outing, tossing five shutout innings with zero walks, one hit allowed, and seven strikeouts. He didn’t light up the radar gun, but sat in the 90-92 mph range, topping out at 93 a few times with strong run and sink on the pitch. Offsetting the fastball was a sweeping 79-81 mph slider, and a low-80’s changeup with good sink and some fading action as well. All three offerings are above-average in my opinion and are helped by Walter’s plus command and control profile.
While Walter doesn’t possess frontline potential, his arsenal and command give him a high floor with the potential to develop into a #3 or #4 starter at the Major League level. You can get him for a very reasonable price tag in dynasty leagues right now as well, given the fact that his name doesn’t carry a ton of buzz.
Prospects to Stash in Redraft
1. Oneil Cruz (SS – PIT):
2. Jose Miranda (INF – MIN)
3. Adley Rutschman (C – BAL)
4. Riley Greene (OF – DET)
5. Triston Casas (1B – BOS)
6. Grayson Rodriguez (SP – BAL)
7. Nolan Gorman (2B – STL)
8. Alek Thomas (OF – ARI)
9. Brennen Davis (OF – CHC)
10. Vidal Brujan (2B/OF – TBR)
HM (Hitters): Jarren Duran (OF – BOS), Miguel Vargas (3B – LAD), Gabriel Moreno (C – TOR), Oswald Peraza (SS – NYY), Vinnie Pasquantino (1B – KCR), Nick Pratto (1B – KCR), MJ Melendez (C – KCR), George Valera (OF – CLE), Pedro Leon (SS/OF – HOU), Michael Busch (2B – LAD), Juan Yepez (1B/OF – STL)
HM (Pitchers): Edward Cabrera (SP – MIA), George Kirby (SP – SEA), Bobby Miller (SP – LAD), Luis Gil (SP – NYY), Max Meyer (SP – MIA), Cade Cavalli (SP – WAS), Cody Morris (SP – CLE), Caleb Killian (SP – CHC)
Media Credit: MLB Pipeline, Lance Brozdowski, SFGProspects, Rob Friedman.
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