Fantasy Baseball Prospects Report: Concern for Casey Mize?
While I was writing this article, I came to a sad realization. After today, we’ll only have three more of these reports and then the 2019 minor league campaign will be over. Three! So few you can count them on one hand. Luckily for us, August and early-September can be a very exciting time of the year with roster expansions at the Major League level end and subsequent prospect promotions. Until then, there’s still plenty of noteworthy news across the minor league landscape. We had many high-profile prospect promotions this week, most to Double-A, and the top pitching prospect in the game has been kind of sort of shut down for the season. In addition, I got some live looks at three top pitching prospects over the weekend and came away a tad concerned about Casey Mize. Alright, are you ready? Let’s dive right in headfirst.
If you aren’t playing your dynasty leagues on Fantrax, you’re missing out on the deepest player pool and most customization around. Just starting out in a dynasty league? Then check out Eric Cross’ Top-250 prospects, Top-300 Dynasty League Rankings, & 2019 FYPD/J2 Rankings.
Fantasy Baseball Prospects Report: Concern for Casey Mize?
Last week we had several high-profile prospect promotions from Double-A to Triple-A. This week, the Double-A level got some replacements. The most notable of the bunch was a personal favorite of mine and my #5 overall dynasty prospect in my midseason top-250, Jarred Kelenic.
It’s been a banner season for Kelenic. Sure, he doesn’t rank highly in any one category, but when you look at the overall package, it’s damn impressive. Kelenic currently sports a .302/.375/.538/.913 slash line with 28 doubles, 17 home runs, and 18 steals in 368 at-bats across three levels. That whole “across three levels” thing is pretty astonishing for a 19-year-old barely 12 months removed from playing high school ball.
To start the 2019 season, Seattle assigned Kelenic to Single-A West Virginia in the Sally. He played 50 games there and 46 in the Class-A Advanced California League before getting this promotion to the Double-A Texas League. Now, I didn’t rank Kelenic 5th in my rankings just because I’m enamored with his beautiful left-handed swing. That a plus, but he’s ranked that highly due to his plus hit tool, sound mechanics, plus speed, and blossoming power stroke. He might not pass the power hitter eye test, but Kelenic has sneaky good above-average raw power with a swing that is geared for hard contact and that generates some natural loft.
The upside is a .300/25/30 threat and it’s looking like we might see Kelenic in the Majors by the end of 2020. It’s crazy to say since he just got drafted last June, but this is a very advanced bat we’re talking about.
Mets fans look away.
Jarred Kelenic BP. Dude is gonna be A MONSTER. pic.twitter.com/vSU1mKasu6
— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) July 7, 2019
Sticking out west, the San Francisco Giants promoted three of their top prospects all to Double-A Richmond in the Eastern League. Unfortunately, Richmond only made one trip near me around two months ago, so I won’t have a chance for live looks at Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos, and Sean Hjelle, but hopefully will be able to early next season.
The uber-prospect in this San Francisco system might be Marco Luciano, but this trio makes up a big chunk of the Giants’ future plans. Until Adley Rutschman came along, Bart was my top catching prospect in the game. There’s easy plus power here with a strong frame, especially in his lower half, and a swing geared for power with plenty of bat speed. He’s more than just a one-trick pony too. Bart has been able to limit his strikeouts quite well and currently sports a 20.3% strikeout rate. The contact skills might limit him to a batting average in the .260-.270 range to go along with 30 homers, but there shouldn’t be too many peaks and valleys here like there can be with some free-swinging sluggers. Bart is currently hitting .261 with 12 home runs in 249 at-bats this season and is my #2 catching prospect in the game behind Rutschman.
One prospect whose entire career has been full of peaks and valleys is Heliot Ramos. After a strong showing in rookie ball back in 2017, Ramos experienced some struggles during his first taste of full-season Single-A in 2018. But hey, he was one of the youngest in the league at just 18-years-old. Ramos finished 2018 slashing just .245/.313/.396/.709 with 11 homers in 124 games.
Fast forward to mid-August 2019 and the same guy is slashing a robust .309/.390/.508/.898 with 14 home runs in 81 games. This is exactly why I and many other prospect analysts stress the importance of not putting too much stock into statistics. This is especially true with younger prospects like Ramos in the lower levels. Believe in the tools and raw talent. This doesn’t always lead to success, as there’s plenty more that goes into becoming a good player, including a mental aspect, but I’ll always bet my money on the athletes with tools. That’s exactly what Ramos is. He’s a plus athlete with above-average contact skills, plus raw power, and double-digit wheels to go along with it. And now he’s a 19-year-old in Double-A.
Lastly, we have Hjelle, a behemoth of a pitching prospect. Toeing the rubber at a slender 6’11 and 225 pounds, Hjelle looks like a right-handed Randy Johnson out there. Keep it in your pants, that’s just a size comparison and not a skills comparison. That’s not to say that Hjelle isn’t a solid pitching prospect, because he certainly is. Hjelle works in the low 90’s mostly with his fastball, getting up into the mid-90’s at times, and mixes in two breaking balls (curve/slider), and a changeup as well.
None of the secondaries really stand out from the others. At times, his curve flashes plus with depth, but then his slider will look better the following outing. Moving forward, I would love to see Hjelle develop his secondaries with one of them emerging as a true out pitch. While the arsenal doesn’t jump out at you, Hjelle’s plus command of his pitches makes his arsenal that much more effective. Long-term, he projects as a #3 starter to me.
Marco Luciano Too Much for Rookie Ball
Speaking of San Francisco’s uber-prospect. As the headline says above, Luciano was simply too good for the Arizona Rookie League. After two months of total domination, the Giants announced that their prized shortstop prospect was getting the bump up to the short-season Northwest League, presumably to finish the remainder of the 2019 campaign there.
Simply put, I love this promotion. Luciano was slashing .322/.438/.616/1.055 with 21 extra-base hits, 10 home runs, and eight steals in the Arizona League, flashing the enticing skill set that made him one of my favorite non-Wander Franco candidates to be the #1 overall prospect in 2021. It’s still early of course, but Luciano has the looks of a special offensive talent capable of hitting for a high average, 30-plus home runs, and adding 10-15 steals as well. This promotion to the Northwest League will be a nice test for him to end 2019 with another bump up to full-season Single-A ball to start 2020.
MacKenzie Gore Shut Down… Kinda
That loud groan you heard was Padres Twitter after it was announced that MacKenzie Gore was being shut down for the rest of the Texas League regular season. The decision was made to limit Gore’s workload as he’s by far pitched a career-high in innings this season, with 99.1 innings across his 19 starts. Now, there’s a caveat in all of this as the Amarillo Sod Poodles are going to make the Texas League playoffs. The Padres mentioned that Gore could pitch in those playoffs, though, it’s not set in stone from the sounds of it.
Over the course of the 2019 season, we’ve seen Gore develop from one of the elite arms in the minors to the top arm in the minors. In his 19 starts, Gore has compiled a pristine line of a 1.72 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 2.4 BB/9, and 11.8 K/9. With as many as four plus pitches, plus command, and pitchability off the charts, Gore is the king of kings right now when it comes to pitching prospects and truly has Cy Young Award upside.
The Year of Wander
More Wander Franco talk, Eric? Are you serious?
What? You don’t want to talk about Wander more? Everybody can use more Wander in their life. It’s a proven science that you don’t need to fact check. After a four-hit effort on Sunday, Franco has now wrapped up his first 162 games as a professional. As you can expect, the numbers are quite daunting.
Wander Franco has now played in 162 minor league games. His stats are…
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) August 12, 2019
We all know about the greatness of Wander Franco, but where does the phenom go from here? What does he still need to improve on? That last one is sort of a trick question as all prospects always need to be working on everything, but let’s focus on a few areas of Franco’s game that could use a little TLC.
Firstly, Franco is still raw and inexperienced as a base-runner. The one little tidbit that I left out of the tweet above is that Franco has been caught 16 times in his 38 career stolen base attempts. Now, he’s never been considered a burner, but Franco is an above-average runner that projects for at least double-digit steal totals down the road, even if he loses a step as he develops and fills out. However, it should go without saying that runners with a success rate below 60% don’t often have the green light on the bases. Yes, I’m nitpicking, but for Franco to be the five-tool stud we all know he can be, this is an area that needs some attention.
That’s really all the nitpicking I can do, but to take it one step further, I believe the power is really going to flourish over the next year or two. The 70-grade contact skills and approach have been on full display, but Wander is just scratching the surface of his power potential. When he’s finished developing, I firmly believe that Franco is a 30-plus homer bat to go along with his batting title upside. Cheers to the first 162 games of Franco and welcome to chapter two.
Recent Live Scouting
Nate Pearson, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
After making the two-hour drive for one of his two-inning abbreviated starts a couple of months ago, it was nice to get a more extended live look at Pearson. He didn’t disappoint either. Well, that’s not entirely true. Pearson did not have a good feel for either his curveball or changeup all night and almost entirely abandoned each offering after the third inning or so. He was able to do that as his blazing fastball and nasty slider were as on as on can be. The slider was absolutely filthy all night, thrown mostly in the 84-88 mph range with strong two-plant tilt. Batters on both sides of the plate were flailing at it for six innings without much success at all.
Pearson ended the outing allowing two earned runs on four hits and three walks in six innings, striking out eight. Keep an eye out for the full scouting report in the near future.
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) August 11, 2019
Joey Wentz, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Opposing Pearson for Erie was Joey Wentz, one of the prospects the Detroit Tigers received from Atlanta in the Shane Greene deal at the trade deadline. Wentz isn’t on Pearson’s level, but I came away impressed with how Wentz went about attacking hitters and especially with his secondaries. The changeup was fooling hitters all night with both fade and tumble. Easily a plus pitch. Wentz’s curveball was nearly as impressive, thrown in the 79-81 mph range with good shape.
4-pitch sequence from Joey Wentz
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) August 11, 2019
While those pitches were on, Wentz’s low-90’s fastball wasn’t fooling many. When he was able to locate it on the corners, he was okay, but Wentz often left it over the heart of the plate and it got smacked hard. At the end of the day though, Wentz only gave up four hits and two runs, just like Pearson, and added in nine strikeouts without walking a batter. Long-term, I believe we’re looking at a mid-rotation starter.
Casey Mize, RHP, Detroit Tigers
This wasn’t one of Mize’s best starts. In fact, it was one of his worst starts of the season. Even without his best stuff, Mize got through four allowing just one run (solo shot from Riley Adams) while striking out four. You could tell he was battling to get through each inning after a seven-pitch first, but hey, at least he only gave up the one run. Then the wheels totally came off in the 5th inning and Mize’s end line was six earned allowed over 4.2 innings.
— Eric Cross (@EricCross04) August 11, 2019
You could tell almost from the get-go that Mize’s usual rock-solid command was not there. And to be honest, he hasn’t fully looked the same since returning from his shoulder injury. Is the injury still affecting him? Could be. When comparing the two starts, you can see the difference in fastball range and average velocity.
Not only was his velocity down nearly 1 1/2 mph, but Mize’s command was also off on all his pitches. Sure, he still had a few dandies of each of his slider and splitter, but this was a much-different looking Casey Mize than I saw nearly three months ago pre-injury. There’s no real cause for concern quite yet, but this is a situation to keep an eye on.
For more on Mize, check out my full scouting report on him from his other start I was at back in May.
Other Prospect Notes
Brusdar Graterol (RHP – MIN): It’s starting to sound like we will be seeing Brusdar Graterol in Minnesota for the stretch run this season. Twins Assistant GM Rob Antony was recently quoted as saying, “I would not be surprised to see him up in Minnesota at some point.” Sounds good to me! Graterol has been known to have some durability concerns, which lead some to point to a future in the bullpen, but the upside is undeniable. In 52.1 innings this season, Graterol has posted a 1.72 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9, and 9.1 K/9. All but three of those innings have come at the Double-A level.
It’s unsure what role exactly Graterol will be in, but he makes for a nice speculative stash in deeper mixed leagues. Long-term, Graterol has the upside to develop into a #2 starter. His dynamic fastball/slider combination could also be dominant in a late-inning role, potentially as a closer.
Mitch Keller (RHP – PIT): Two months after his first Major League stint, Mitch Keller is back with Pittsburgh, potentially for good this time. Keller drew the start Monday night, allowing just one earned run in five innings against the Los Angeles Angels. If you need pitching, give Keller a look now that he’s back up.
Daniel Espino (RHP – CLE): While the 2019 draft lacked high-end pitching talent, there were plenty of high-upside young prep arms, with Daniel Espino leading the way. Taken 24th overall, Espino made six starts in the Arizona Rookie League before it was announced the other day that he would be getting the bump up to the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League. Espino had a 1.98 ERA in those six starts with a 10.5 K/9. This is a nice little test for the young righty to end the 2019 season. Long-term, Espino has arguably the highest upside of any pitcher in the 2019 draft class due to his three plus pitches already.
Luis Robert (OF – CHW): Luis Robert with the White Sox in 2019? Maybe not. White Sox GM, Rick Hahn, recently went on the White Sox Talk Podcast, and didn’t sound overly convincing that we’d see the Cuban outfield up in the Majors in 2019. Couple that with the fact that Robert just went through a 3/28 with 13 K stretch and rumors of him “wearing down”, and it sounds like Robert’s chances of a 2019 MLB debut aren’t as high anymore. I’m not ruling it out by any means, but also not overly confident in the chances.
Joe Ryan (RHP – TB): Very quietly, Joe Ryan is putting together a damn fine 2019 campaign. In 19 starts and two relief appearances, Ryan has dominated to the tune of a 1.79 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 1.9 BB/9, and 13.0 K/9. His last start for Class-A Advanced Charlotte was a gem, allowing just one hit in seven shutout innings while striking out 13. With an above-average to plus fastball and curveball, Ryan was able to dominate the lower levels. You’d still like to see a more developed changeup and it will be interesting to see how he handles more advanced hitters in the Double-A Southern League. He’s one to keep an eye on in deeper dynasty leagues.
Randy Arozarena (OF – STL): A few weeks ago, it appeared that Randy Arozarena was blocked at the Major League level with the gluttony of outfielders the Cardinals already had. I mean, they couldn’t find playing time for the guys they already had, so why would we trust them to give playing time to Arozarena? Well, a few injuries later and here we are. Arozarena has been summoned to St. Louis as a reinforcement and could get some run in the outfield over the next few weeks with Jose Martinez and Tyler O’Neill on the shelf. In Double-A and Triple-A this season, Arozarena was slashing a combined .349/.435/.517/.982 with 10 homers and 16 steals (10 CS) across 298 at-bats. Arozarena is worth a look in deeper mixed leagues for his above-average hit tool/speed and double-digit pop.
Joshua Rojas (INF – ARI): The other noteworthy prospect promotion of the last week was Joshua Rojas, the fourth prospect Arizona received along with the three highly-touted arms in the Zack Greinke deal. While Rojas was putting up some impressive numbers in Triple-A, he projects more as a utility infielder long-term than he does a Major League starter. With that being said, there’s still some deeper mixed league appeal here as Rojas possesses solid contact skills with a sound approach and above-average speed. Just don’t look at his .332/23/33 line and expect to be adding a major impact bat to your team.
Prospect Spotlight: C.J. Abrams, SS, San Diego Padres
We’re now a little over two months removed from the 2019 MLB draft and few draftees have made more noise so far than C.J. Abrams of the Padres. Unfortunately, the speedy shortstop is on the minor league IL, but his 34-game run up until hitting the IL was certainly spectacular. In those games, Abrams slashed .393/.436/.647/1.083 with 24 extra-base hits, three homers, and 15 steals with an 11/14 BB/K ratio. Not too shabby for your first 150 professional at-bats.
As you can probably tell, Abrams blazing speed is his most prominent tool. He’s easily a 70-grade runner with good instincts on the bases as well. With his instincts and pure speed, projecting 30-steals annually is easy, with 40-plus being a more accurate projection. That speed has also translated to the field as Abrams has shown above-average range at shortstop with a decent throwing arm as well. He should be able to stay at shortstop for the time being, but, you know, there’s kind of a massive roadblock in Abrams way in San Diego by the name of Fernando Tatis Jr. If Abrams moves to center field, he should have plenty of speed to cover a ton of ground out there.
Here I am rambling on about his speed. While it’s magnificent, Abrams is far from just a speedster. He’s pretty good with the bat as well. From the left side, Abrams has a simple swing with clean mechanics and a direct bat path through the zone. He’ll use a moderate leg kick to time pitches and coils his hands back before exploding through the zone with exceptional bat speed. Simply a beautiful swing. Abrams has a knack for putting the barrel on the ball and can spray line drives all over the field. He’s far from just a slap hitter, though, and possesses enough raw power to become a 10-15 home run threat down the road.
With his plus hit tool, elite speed, and double-digit pop, Abrams has the potential to really climb high on prospect rankings. He’s already up to 43rd on my current list, which is 20 spots higher than I had him a month and a half ago in my midseason top-250 rankings. Nobody should be surprised to see him within my top-20 by midseason 2020.
Sleeper Prospect Spotlight: Hudson Head, OF, San Diego Padres
Another 2019 Padres draftee turning heads has been third-rounder, Hudson Head, out of Winston Churchill High School in San Antonio. Taken 84th overall, Head is a toolsy, athletic outfielder with the ability to develop into an above-average offensive outfielder down the road.
When you watch Head at the plate, you immediately notice his bat speed. He’s able to generate plenty of hard contact thanks to that bat speed and strong hip rotation which creates plenty of torque in his swing. The swing itself is direct through the zone, though, a deeper hand coil causes some additional length, with a slight uppercut swing path. Pair this swing with above-average to plus raw power and you have the potential for a 25-homer threat in time. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, Head is pretty quick too. He’ll likely lose a little speed as he matures, but this should still be an average runner down the road, if not above-average.
Jason Pennini of Prospects Live has gotten some first-hand looks at Head out in the Arizona League and offered this on Head:
“He’s a potential 50 hit 55 power at maturity. Double plus bat speed with some length to his swing. Rotational power with good hip rotation. Little raw in the OF with reads but fast enough to stick in CF and should stick there. 40 arm should improve a half grade to a grade as he fills out. Overall role 50 FV, Not a star but guy who will play every day” — Jason Pennini, Prospects Live
For those of you in deeper dynasty leagues, say 300+ prospects deep, the name Hudson Head definitely needs to be on your radar.
Prospect Stash Rankings
No, these aren’t rankings of what prospect have the best mustaches. These are the prospects currently in the minors that can make the biggest 2019 impact. This is a combination of ETA and potential 2019 impact.
- Gavin Lux, 2B/SS, LAD | Last: 1
- Jo Adell, OF, LAA | Last: 2
- Nate Lowe, 1B, TB | Last: MLB
- Kyle Tucker, OF, HOU | Last: 3
- Carter Kieboom, SS/2B, WAS | Last: 4
- Ryan Mountcastle, 1B/3B, BAL | Last: 7
- Cristian Pache, OF, ATL | Last: 10
- Drew Waters, OF, ATL | Last: NR
- Jake Fraley, OF, SEA | Last: 5
- Luis Robert, OF, CHW | Last: 6
Called Up: Randy Arozarena, Joshua Rojas
- Ian Anderson, RHP, ATL | Last: 2
- Jesus Luzardo, LHP, OAK | Last: NR
- Kyle Wright, RHP, ATL | Last: NR
- Brusdar Graterol, RHP, MIN | Last: 3
- A.J. Puk, LHP, OAK | Last: 5
- Anthony Kay, LHP, NYM | Last: 4
- Jon Duplantier, RHP, ARI | Last: NR
- Keegan Akin, LHP, BAL | Last: NR
- Deivi Garcia, RHP, NYY | Last: 6
- Matt Manning, RHP, DET | Last: NR
Called Up: Mitch Keller
Photo/Video Credit: Jason Pennini, Cespedes Family BBQ. Featured header image was taken by me.
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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