Fantasy Baseball Prospects Report: All Hail King Keston
Just when we think we have a moment to catch our breath and relax, we receive another influx of prospect promotions. We’re in the middle of May and this already feels like the 4th or 5th wave of prospect call-ups to smack us square in the face. I was preparing to write about some trendy prospects this week and highlight one of my favorite arms from the 2018 draft class, and then boom, a slew of prospect promotions over the last 48 hours, headlined by the Milwaukee Brewers calling up the top 2nd base prospect in baseball, Keston Hiura. That’s Keston Wee Hing Natsuo Hiura to you. Man, I love that name. Hiura parks himself in the leadoff spot of this week’s prospects report which is once again overflowing with prospect goodness.
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Fantasy Baseball Prospects Report
Keston Hiura Called Up
Coming into the season, the Brewers seemed set in the infield with a starting core of Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw, Orlando Arcia, and Mike Moustakas. Fast forward a month and a half and we have Travis Shaw hitting .163 (and now on the IL) and Keston Hiura tearing the cover off the ball at Triple-A. While Shaw hitting under the Mendoza line is a tad surprising, Hiura dominating is not. In his 202 minor league games, Hiura has slashed .316/.380/.534/.914 with 101 extra-base hits, 28 home runs. 21 steals, 102 RBI and 129 runs scored. Pretty damn good, right?
Out of those 28 home runs, 11 of them came this season in 129 Triple-A at-bats, which is a nice progression from the 13 he hit last season in 485 at-bats. It’s nit-picking trying to find a flaw in Hiura’s offensive profile, but his power was one thing that lagged behind when he was drafted in the first round back in 2017. It wasn’t that he didn’t hit the ball hard, because he certainly does. But Hiura’s swing at the time didn’t generate a ton of loft and was more geared for line drives into the gap than over the fence shots. He’s still not a 30+ home run masher, but Hiura has steadily been hitting more fly balls to his pull side which has resulted in the uptick in power.
While it’s nice to see the power progress, Hiura’s double-plus hit tool has been his carrying tool and what will likely make him an above-average offensive second baseman for a long time in this league. The defense isn’t anything special, but Hiura is adequate enough to remain at second base long-term and his .300+, 20-25 HR, 15 SB upside could make him one of the top options at the position in the not-so-distant future. Like that schmuck in the video above said, Hiura needs to be owned in all leagues.
By the way, Hiura went 2/3 with a walk in his Major League debut last night. Way to start off strong King Keston.
A last minute addition to this week’s report, Austin Riley has been called up to Atlanta to replace the injured Ender Inciarte. Riley, a third baseman by trade, has recently been getting some time in left field for Triple-A Gwinnett in order to get his bat into the Atlanta lineup quicker as Josh Donaldson is both healthy and performing well. I’m sure they didn’t plan on the promotion happening quite this quickly, but the Inciarte injury opens the door.
Outside of Yordan Alvarez, not many prospects have been hotter this season than Riley. In 144 Triple-A at-bats, Riley is slashing .299/.377/.681/1.057 with 10 doubles, 15 home runs, 39 RBI, and 32 runs scored. He’s been especially hot over the last month, hitting .377 with 13 home runs in 24 games. The easy plus raw power has always been prominent, but what has been a nice improvement this season is Riley’s overall hit tool and approach at the plate. After striking out 28.4% last season, Riley has cut that down to 19.1% this season while also raising his walk rate from 8.1% to 11.1%.
Like with Keston Hiura, Riley is an immediate add in all fantasy leagues for the power he brings to the table. And with the improved approach and hit tool, the batting average should be solid as well. As long as he hits fairly well, Riley should remain in the starting lineup moving forward, even when Inciarte does come back.
What’s Up With Forrest Whitley?
One of the most common questions I’ve been asked over the last month is “What the #*[email protected] is wrong with Forrest Whitley. Okay, people aren’t actually swearing at me, but you get the drift. Coming into the season, Whitley was widely regarded as the top pitching prospect in baseball. He still holds that title in my opinion but with his early-season struggles and the strong performance of guys like Casey Mize and MacKenzie Gore, Whitley has some competition at the top.
It’s one thing to allow more hits than innings pitched, but more earned runs? Yeah, not good. Whitley has allowed 22 earned runs through his first 18.1 innings this season which equates to a 10.80 ERA. A big reason for that is has been command or lack thereof. Whitley has struggled to consistently throw strikes this season (4.9 BB/9), and when he has, he seldom has hit his spots and usually gets hit hard. Just look at his H/9 and HR/9 which currently sit at 11.3 and 3.4 respectively. A 3.4 HR/9? Yes, you’re reading that correctly.
Now, before everyone starts getting all worried, let’s take a step back and calm down. Whitley still has arguably the best arsenal and highest upside of any pitcher in the minors with the potential to be one of the top strikeout pitchers for the next decade plus. These early-season struggles might delay his arrival to Houston, but definitely does not change my long-term outlook of him.
Corbin Martin Debuts
If there’s any silver lining in Forrest Whitley’s struggles, it’s that Corbin Martin was able to get the call up to Houston over the weekend for his MLB debut. If Whitley has been pitching like Whitley is capable of, that promotion likely would’ve been his. But hey, Corbin Martin is no slouch and is one of the most underrated pitchers in the minor leagues in my eyes.
Impressive MLB debut for Corbin Martin. He'll be around a looooooong time with a changeup like that. pic.twitter.com/kc0fgptuak
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) May 13, 2019
While pitching mostly in Whitley’s shadow, Martin has put together a strong minor league career after being drafted in the 2nd round back in 2017. In 179.0 innings, Martin has recorded a 2.31 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, and 9.7 K/9, and had a 1.49 ERA in 24.1 Triple-A innings this season before getting the call to Houston. With a mid-90s running fastball and three above-average to plus secondary offerings, Martin has the upside of a #2 starter that can post low ratios and more than a strikeout per inning. He gave us a glimpse of that upside in his debut (5.1 IP, 2 ER, 9 K) and is a must-add in all fantasy formats.
Nicky Lopez and Oscar Mercado Satisfy Our Need for Speed
If speed is what gets you all hot and bothered, Monday was a good day for you. A pair of prospect promotions happened basically back to back with Nicky Lopez and Oscar Mercado getting called up to Kansas City and Cleveland respectively. Let’s start with the prospect I’m not quite as excited about. That being Mercado.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s some upside here, but not on the same level as Lopez. Mercado was enjoying a fine season at Triple-A Columbus, slashing .294/.396/.496/.891 with 15 extra-base hits, four homers, 14 steals, and 24 runs scored in 30 games. He’ll take the place of Tyler Naquin in the outfield and should get some consistent playing time, at least in the short-term.
Mercado’s carrying tool throughout the minor leagues has been his plus speed. He’s swiped at least 33 bags in each of his last four seasons and has averaged 52.4 steals per every 600 at-bats. As long as he’s playing, expect Mercado to provide a steady source of steals. That much we should be able to bank on. How much he hits though is a different story. Mercado’s hit tool grades as below-average to average overall and he’s shown minimal power projection. However, he has shown improvements at the plate over the last year and a half. If he can just hit .250 with a .300-plus OBP, the speed should play.
Now, onto Mr. Lopez. When I caught wind of his promotion, I added Lopez everywhere I could. A prospect with plus speed being promoted to an MLB team that likes to run will always create intrigue. As it stands today, Kansas City has attempted 57 steals and converted on 40 of them. Both of those numbers lead the league by a healthy margin. Now they get to add Lopez and his plus speed to their lineup. Lopez might not have quite the same speed upside as Mercado, but he has averaged 30.3 steals per every 600 at-bats in the minors with a 73.4% success rate.
Even with slightly lower speed upside, Lopez is the guy I want on my fantasy teams due to his above-average to plus hit tool and rock-solid plate approach. Lopez was hitting .353 with a 20/5 BB/K ratio in his 31 Triple-A games this season. Let’s see, five divided by 138 plate appearances equals a pristine 3.6% walk rate. That rate almost mirrors the 3.7% rate of Nick Madrigal who would rather chop off a limb than strikeout.
Nicky Lopez will neeeeever forget this. He picks up his first hit as a big leaguer. #AlwaysRoyal
Tune in on FSKC and FSGO. pic.twitter.com/HCP6JeHpSB
— FOX Sports Kansas City (@FSKansasCity) May 15, 2019
Thanks to his quick wrists, Lopez is able to generate a ton of bat speed with a clean swing path through the zone. His swing is mostly linear, though, without much lower half involvement, so don’t expect much power out of him moving forward. But what you can expect is a strong source of average and steals from Lopez and hopefully, a fair amount of runs scored if the Royals slot him near the top of the lineup (he hit 2nd in his debut).
For those worried about playing time, remember that Whit Merrifield voluntarily moved to right field, pushing Jorge Soler to DH and Ryan O’Hearn to the bench. All of that wouldn’t happen if the Royals weren’t planning on giving Lopez an extended look at second base. If he’s still available in your league, I’d scoop him up quickly.
This serves as a public service announcement for all of us that get excited about prospect promotions and hurry to the waiver wire to add these prospects. Let’s be honest for a second. We’ve been royally spoiled with the prospects that have come up over the last few years and succeeded right away. So spoiled that when a prospect doesn’t come out guns blazing, some wonder if they’re not as good as they were hyped up to be.
Take a deep breath. Just because Carter Kieboom only had five hits in 39 at-bats during his first stint with the Nationals doesn’t change his long-term outlook one stinking bit. Prospects aren’t supposed to dominate like Juan Soto or Chris Paddack out of the gate. If an inpatient owner quickly cut bait on guys like Kieboom and Nate Lowe after they were sent back down to Triple-A, I’d highly advise you pounce if you can stash them. Their upside is still very high and they’ll be back up with their respective Major League clubs before you know it.
Other Prospect Notes
Fernando Tatis Jr (SS – SD): When I first saw Fernando Tatis Jr injure himself doing a split no baseball player should ever do, my hamstring hurt just watching it. Is that sympathy pain when a prospect analyst feels the pain that the prospect is feeling? I think it is. Anyways. Tatis still isn’t running yet and is likely another two weeks or so away from a return to action. The Padres are likely going to play it cautious with their prized shortstop, as they should.
Brent Honeywell (RHP): First it was Tommy John surgery, now Brent Honeywell is dealing with a nerve issue in his shoulder. The guy just can’t catch a break. I asked Dr. Jesse Morse, who works in Adult & Pediatric Sports medicine along with contributing to The Fantasy Doctors about Honeywell’s prognosis and timetable. Here’s what Dr. Morse had to say:
“So Brent Honeywell is dealing with a pinched nerve in his upper arm. While this is a vague diagnosis, being a pitcher there are really only two possibilities. Since Dr. Andrews perform the surgery of his Tommy John, he traditionally re-locates the ulnar nerve routinely during his procedure. That likely removes one of the possible sources of impingement. The other most common location would be the suprascapular nerve inside of the shoulder. A combination of possible corticosteroid injection and rehab should help to calm down this nerve irritation and get him back throwing again soon. Consider this a 2 to 4 week delay.”
Shaun Anderson (RHP – SF): While everyone was freaking out about the Keston Hiura promotion yesterday afternoon, the Giants promoted one of their own top prospects, Shaun Anderson, for his Major League debut today against Vladdy Jr and the Toronto Blue Jays. This isn’t a Corbin Martin type of promotion. Anderson projects more as a #4 or #5 starter with a bunch of average to above-average offerings. Those in NL-Only leagues should take notice, but that’s about it.
Cole Irvin (LHP – PHI): I’ll admit, Cole Irvin vastly outperformed my expectations for his MLB debut. With that being said, my long-term outlook for him is similar to Anderson’s above with back of the rotation upside. For me, Irvin projects as an innings-eating #5 starter with below-average strikeout upside.
Shed Long (2B – SEA): In probably the quietest promotion of the last week (Because it’s way out in Seattle), Shed Long got the call to Seattle last Friday. Long is a solid, yet unspectacular offensive second baseman with the upside to hit in the .250-.260 range with 20 or so home runs annually. He should continue to start while Dee Gordon recovers from an HBP on his wrist, but likely will head back to Triple-A when Gordon is back.
Austin Allen (C – SD): When you’re a bat-first catching prospect in the National League with below-average defensive skills, you better be a damn good hitter to make an impact at the Major League level. I’m not so sure Allen has that kind of upside. That’s not to say he can’t be a productive Major League hitter though. He’s certainly been impressive over the last two seasons, hitting .283 and .290 with 22 home runs each season, but he might be forced over to first base long-term where his offensive profile doesn’t quite look as nice. As of now, I project him as a .260-.270 hitter with the power to hit 20 homers. For 2019, he’s going to serve as Austin Hedges back-up and can be avoided in fantasy leagues.
Prospect Spotlight: Cole Winn, RHP, Texas Rangers
When it comes to the 2018 FYPD crop, Cole Winn takes the title of my favorite pitching prospect not named Casey Mize. The Rangers selected Winn with the 15th overall pick as the 6th pitcher off the board behind Mize, Ryan Weathers, Carter Stewart (Didn’t Sign), Grayson Rodriguez, and Logan Gilbert. While Mize is already up to Double-A and dominating, Winn has been eased along by the Rangers and will finally make his professional debut tomorrow night for Single-A Hickory in the South Atlantic League.
How about these two pitches from Cole Winn last night? pic.twitter.com/pd1n19IqU3
To be honest, I’m not sure how Winn didn’t get taken in the top-10 overall picks last June. Yes, he’s a prep arm, but not your ordinary prep arm. Winn works with a four-pitch arsenal with all four pitches having plus potential. He’ll sit in the low to mid-90s with armside run on his fastball and mix in a hammer curve in the upper 70s, a sharp low-80’s slider with two-plane tilt, and a changeup. The changeup is behind the other three pitches, but has shown some good fade and could be a 4th above-average or better offering for Winn.
When you’re looking for a guy that can pitch at or near the top of a rotation someday, you’re likely thinking about a guy like Winn. With the combination of stuff, command, clean mechanics, and feel for pitching, Winn should shoot up prospect rankings rather quickly once he gets his feet wet in the minors. And by this time next year, we could be talking about Winn as a top-25 overall prospect and one of the best pitching prospects in the game. He’s that good. Consider it a WINNing strategy if you try to acquire him now in dynasty leagues before his price skyrockets.
Sleeper Prospect Spotlight: Jordan Balazovic, RHP, Minnesota Twins
I’ve almost included Jordan Balazovic here for the last two weeks but held off. Now after his latest two dominant outings, he’s forced my hand. Over his last two starts, Balazovic has allowed just three hits, two earned runs, and four walks in 12.0 inning while striking out 22 batters. Not too shabby Jo-Bal. These two starts have pushed his season stat line to a damn impressive 1.93 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, and 15.2 K/9. He even struck out Nolan Freaking Gorman earlier in the season. Man this guy is good!
— Tom Froemming (@TFTwins) April 6, 2019
So, we’ve established that the numbers have been dominant, but what about the arsenal? Before we get too excited, let me begin by saying that Balazovic doesn’t have top of the rotation upside. The stats might indicate that, but we can’t go overboard after six dominant starts. Balazovic usually sits in the low-90’s with some riding life on his fastball out of a 3/4 arm slot. He’ll mix in a slider and a changeup with the slider being the best of the two, featuring tight two-plane break that he gets a ton of swing and miss with. While the changeup is behind the other two pitches, it has served as a serviceable third offering and has flashed above-average when Balazovic is throwing it well.
Ultimately, I think we’re looking at a mid-rotation starter with the upside for more than a strikeout per inning. If he keeps pitching well, his time in the Florida State League will likely be short. Expect him to get the call to Double-A this summer and potentially make it as high as Triple-A before the season is over. The one area I’d like to see him work on is his delivery. Balazovic’ delivery has quite a bit of effort in it which can lead to mechanical inconsistencies.
Prospects Gone Wild
This spot will highlight some top prospect performances and trends throughout the season.
Hitters (Last 10 Days)
Pitchers (Last 10 Days)
Prospect Power Rankings
Prospects currently in the minors that can make the biggest 2019 impact. This is a combination of ETA and potential 2019 impact.
- Yordan Alvarez, OF, HOU | Last: 1
- Austin Riley, 3B, ATL | Last: 7
- Nate Lowe, 1B, TB | Last: MLB
- Carter Kieboom, SS/2B, WAS | Last: MLB
- Kyle Tucker, OF, HOU | Last: 3
- Cavan Biggio, 2B/OF, TOR | Last: 4
- Brendan Rodgers, SS/2B, COL | Last: 6
- Luis Urias, 2B, SD | Last: 5
- Bo Bichette, SS, TOR | Last: 8
- Monte Harrison, OF, MIA | Last: NR
- Dylan Cease, RHP, CHW | Last: 1
- Zac Gallen, RHP, MIA | Last: 6
- Mitch Keller, RHP, PIT | Last: 5
- Forrest Whitley, RHP, HOU | Last: 3
- Jesus Luzardo, LHP, OAK | Last: 2
- Logan Allen, LHP, SD | Last: NR
- Touki Toussaint, RHP, ATL | Last: 4
- A.J. Puk, LHP, OAK | Last: 7
- Casey Mize, RHP, DET | Last: NR
- Matt Manning, RHP, DET | Last: NR
Photo/Video Credit: Robert Robinson (Hiura Video), David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire, Pitcher List, Josh Norris, Tom Froemming, Dr. Jesse Morse (Honeywell quote), Fox Sports Kansas City.
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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