Fantasy Baseball Prospects Report: Luis Urias Up & Rays Up
It’s hard to believe it’s already the end of July with only another five weeks or so remaining in the minor league season. Didn’t the damn season just start? The last week or two has been a busy one in regards to promotions, both in the minors and to the Major Leagues. Most of the hubbub came out West as the San Diego Padres called up four of their top prospects in the last couple of weeks, including arguably their top hitting prospect in Luis Urias.
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Fantasy Baseball Prospects Report: Luis Urias Up & Rays Up
Not only is Rays Up the official Tampa Bay Rays Twitter hashtag for the 2019 season, but it also accurately depicts many of the Rays pitching prospects that are seeing their prospect stock trend upwards this season. Well, all except for the first guy on the list…
When healthy, Brent Honeywell is one of the top pitching prospects in the game. No doubt about it. However, the term “when healthy” is becoming more of a wish than a statement. The last time we saw Honeywell in game action was the 2017 season when he finished with a 3.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 11.3 K/9, pitching mostly for Triple-A Durham. In case you forgot, it’s 2019 now and Honeywell is now about to miss his 2nd straight season after fracturing his elbow back in June. The guy just can’t catch a break lately.
With durability being a major concern now, Honeywell’s future is getting murkier by the second. With the potential for four above-average to plus pitches and rock-solid command and control, Honeywell truly possesses ace upside, but he needs to get back on the mound and have a good bounce-back 2020 campaign before I move him back up my rankings. If anything, he makes for a fine buy-low candidate right now.
It’s no secret that I’m incredibly high on Matthew Liberatore. In my dynasty piece on Monday, I listed him as a pitching prospect to invest heavily in. Here’s my blurb about him from that article…
“Matthew Liberatore could be the next Jesus Luzardo and he might be that highly ranked within the next 12 months. Now, Liberatore is a little different than most of the guys on this list. He doesn’t have a blazing fastball, mostly sitting in the low-90’s but with the extension in his delivery, arm side life, and plus command of the pitch, his fastball grades as plus in my eyes.
That plus command extends to his curve, slider, and changeup as well, all of which grade as above-average or better. Liberatore’s curveball is the best of the bunch right now with phenomenal depth thanks to a high spin rate and his changeup has flashed plus with both drop and fade. His slider is probably the 4th best pitch he throws but still projects to be an above-average offering for him.
It hasn’t taken long for Liberatore to showcase his top of the rotation upside. After the Rays drafted him 16th overall last June, Liberatore dominated rookie ball for nine starts with a 1.38 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 10.2 K/9, and currently has a 2.60 ERA for Single-A Bowling Green in 11 Midwest League starts. With the potential for four above-average to plus pitches and plus command, I can easily see Liberatore developing into an ace and joining the elite pitching prospects in the very near future.”
If that article I mentioned above had included top-100 guys, Shane Baz would’ve been included without a doubt. Okay, I did cheat by including Liberatore, but I wasn’t about to cheat twice in one article. Out of all the talented arms in this Tampa Bay system, I’d argue that Baz has the best pure stuff. Yes, even over my boy Liberatore. Baz’s arsenal runs five pitches deep with four of them either already grading as plus or showing the potential to develop into plus pitches down the road.
New Rays RHP Shane Baz (Chris Archer trade w/PIT) shows all three pitches in a row to get Red Sox LF Trey Ball looking: 95 mph heater, changeup down, backdoor cutter/slider pic.twitter.com/kspuhs4Cii
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) September 28, 2018
What has gotten Baz in trouble throughout his minor league career has been below-average command and control. Both of those are still an issue, but have shown improvement so far in 2019. Baby steps. With continued improvement in the command department, Baz’s prospect value will likely continue to rise in a hurry. We’re talking about a prospect with the chance of being one of the top-10 pitching prospects in the game in the next year or two.
When you got past the elite arms from the 2018 draft class, Shane McClanahan was one of my favorite pitchers drafted. The upside is quite high here, but there’s also a fair amount of risk involved when owning McClanahan in dynasty. Yes, you can say that about literally every single pitching prospect around, but that is especially true here. McClanahan has a plus fastball in the low to mid-90s with some run and mixes in a slider that flashes plus along with a serviceable changeup. However, command has been an issue and there’s some effort at the finish of his delivery. Put both of those things in a mixing bowl, blend them together, and you might end up with a bullpeb arm, albeit, with late-inning potential. I’m not quite ready to go that route yet with McClanahan, but just keep it in the back of your mind.
Last but certainly not least we have Brendan McKay. The Rays have sent him down and called him back up about 38 times now, and at the moment, McKay is back in Triple-A Durham. Part of this is limiting his innings, but mostly this is Tampa Bay being Tampa Bay. Don’t even get me started about this whole Nate Lowe fiasco either. For those wondering what to do with McKay in re-draft leagues, I’d be holding for now, unless you’re desperate for the roster spot. McKay will be back up soon and still holds value for the rest of the season. Just be ready for more limiting of his innings.
Luis Urias Called Up
During the offseason, Luis Urias was a popular sleeper candidate as the projected starting shortstop for the Padres. Then Fernando Tatis Jr made the opening day roster, Urias struggled, and was subsequently sent back down to Triple-A where he’s raked for most of the season. In 73 games, Urias slashed .315/.398/.600/.998 with 19 doubles, 19 home runs, and seven stolen bases, more than earning another chance with the Padres.
That shiny .315 average you see above is nothing new for the sweet-swinging Urias. He’s always displayed a plus hit tool with an innate ability to barrel up the ball with regularity. But what has been new for him this season is the power he’s been showing. Urias hinted at additional power upside in the past and now is hitting more fly balls to his pull side than he ever has before. This is one of the best pure hitting prospects around with legit .300/20 upside. If he’s still available in your league, I highly recommend you scoop him up.
Other Prospect Notes
More Padres Promotions – I hereby dub Andres Munoz, Adrian Morejon, and Michel Baez the killer M’s. In a short period of time, all three of these high-upside arms got the call to San Diego, with Morejon drawing the start the other day and Munoz/Baez joining the bullpen. I’ll admit, Morejon getting the start surprised me as neither he nor Baez had been stretched out this season, pitching shorter two innings or so starts each time they toed the rubber. Could this be the Padres showcasing him for a trade? We shall see with the deadline looming.
Even with Morejon getting the start, both he and Baez don’t have much value for this season due to the Padres limiting both of their workloads with the abbreviated starts. Morejon is worth a look in NL-Only Leagues and deeper mixed leagues, but in standard mixed leagues, I’d leave both on the wire. Munoz, on the other hand, could work his way into a juicy late-inning role if Kirby Yates gets dealt before the deadline and is worth a speculative add.
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) July 18, 2019
Casey Mize (RHP – DET) – We can all breath a sigh of relief for the time being that Casey Mize is back in action. For now, that is. Mize has struggled since returning and doesn’t look quite himself out there on the mound. It makes you wonder if there’s still a little something going on with his shoulder that might lead to the Tigers shutting him down for the season before too long. Regardless, we can kiss seeing him with Detroit in 2019 goodbye.
Forrest Whitley (RHP – HOU) – Speaking of being back on the mound, welcome back Mr. Whitley. After around a month and a half on the sideline, Whitley returned to action on 7/12 and has made three starts walking 10 across 7.2 combined innings. I’m willing to chalk this up to shaking off the rust, but I’d be flat out lying to you if I didn’t admit that I’m concerned about Whitley moving forward. Let’s just hope surgery isn’t in the cards.
For the record, I said that same last sentence about Corbin Martin and less than a week later he had surgery. Whoops.
Monte Harrison (OF – MIA) – After dealing with wrist problems off and on this season, Marlins outfield prospect, Monte Harrison, underwent surgery on his wrist during the all-star break and will likely be sidelined for most of August. There was a decent chance Harrison was going to make his Major League debut this season, but that now looks highly unlikely. The toolsy outfielder was hitting .287 with nine homers and 20 steals in just 50 games for Triple-A New Orleans this season, and averaged 20 homers and 28 steals per season in 2017-2018. He remains one of the most enticing power/speed threats in the minors, even if the batting average upside is limited due to his approach.
Double-A Promotions – There have been several notable promotions to Double-A or from Double-A over the last week or so, with the most noteworthy being Trevor Larnach and Jonathan India to Double-A, and Keibert Ruiz getting the bump up to Triple-A. Larnach was enjoying a fine season in the Class-A Advanced Florida State League, hitting .316, but wasn’t showing as much power as I was expecting. Through 89 games now, Larchach has only seven home runs but also 26 doubled to go along with them. He possesses above-average to plus raw power, so expect some of those double to begin turning into homers soon enough. There’s 25-homer upside in Larnach’s bat.
India, on the other hand, hasn’t quite performed as well as expected since being drafted last June. That’s not to say he’s been bad, but through his first 133 minor league games, India has a .252/.360/.416/.776 slash line with 44 extra-base hits, 14 home runs, and 14 stolen bases. Again, not bad, but below expectations. I’d take this as a buy-low window of opportunity on India. He’s still ranked within my top-50 overall prospects for dynasty leagues due to his .280/20+/20+ upside.
Kristian Robinson (OF – ARI) – That plus-plus raw power I’ve been talking about with Kristian Robinson has been on full display over the last month with 16 extra-base hits and nine home runs in that span. With his raw power, bat speed, and natural loft to his swing, Robinson has the upside for 35-plus homers annually to go along with a solid batting average. He’s currently my #26 overall prospect for dynasty leagues and is a near lock to be in the top-15 next spring if he keeps this up. I’d be grabbing all the Robinson dynasty stock you could if I was you.
Kevin Smith (3B/SS – TOR) – To say Kevin Smith has struggled during his first taste of Double-A is a massive understatement. Smith currently is sporting a putrid .201 average and this is after hitting .313 over the last month. Alas, that last month is what I want to focus on. Even with his struggles, Smith still ranks well within my top-100 for his across the board upside and makes for a strong buy-low target in dynasty leagues right now due to the struggles he’s experienced this season.
Prospect Spotlight: Gavin Lux, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
The purpose of this spotlight isn’t to open your eyes to Lux as a prospect. If you play in dynasty leagues or follow prospects at all, you know who Gavin Lux is and what he’s been doing this season. He was also included in my top-10 hitting prospect stashes for re-draft leagues article earlier this week. No, this spotlight is going to focus on figuring out just how good can Lux be long-term? The short answer is pretty damn good.
Outside of 2017, Lux has excelled at every minor league level and really has dominated since the start of the 2018 season. In 2018, Lux slashed .324/.399/.514/.913 with 50 extra-base hits, 15 home runs, and 13 steals in 463 at-bats split between the Class-A Advanced California League and Double-A Texas League. That was just a preview of what was to come in 2019. Through his first 344 at-bats this season, Lux has shredded the Texas League and Triple-A Pacific Coast League to the tune of a .355/.421/.631/1.053 slash line with 45 extra-base hits, 21 home runs, and seven steals. And in 20 games since being promoted to Triple-A Lux’s OPS sits at 1.520! That’s ridiculous. That type of OPS is even difficult to obtain in video games.
— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) July 19, 2019
So, we’ve gone over the dominance, but what about his future outlook? Spoiler alert, it’s very bright. Lux is one of the few prospects who I give plus grades to for his hit tool, raw power, and speed. That speed hasn’t translated into big stolen base numbers yet, but Lux is still developing as a base stealer and with his pitcher reads. With improvement in those areas, there’s 20-plus steal upside in those legs to go along with a .300-plus average and 25-plus home runs. If MLB comps are what you come for, the closest I can think of is Xander Bogaerts with the potential for even more power and speed. It’s only a matter of time before Lux is up with the Dodgers and has a chance to become one of the top shortstops in the league in short order.
Sleeper Prospect Spotlight: Francisco Alvarez, C, New York Mets
Listen, I know he’s a catcher, but hear me out. Why? Because Francisco Alvarez can flat out rake. That’s why. There were a few big catching prospects in the 2018 J2 crop and the Mets gave Alvarez the biggest signing bonus of them all at $2.7 million, 200K above what Diego Cartaya got from the Dodgers. You have to take signing bonuses with a grain of salt, but it’s easy to see why the Mets were so enamored with Alvarez last summer.
While Alvarez is adequate defensively behind the plate as a catcher, it’s his offensive abilities that are going to really carry him up the organizational ladder. That climb has already begun too. Alvarez skipped the Dominican Summer League and began his professional career in the Gulf Coast League. After tearing up the GCL for a couple weeks, the mets bumped him up to the Advanced Rookie Appalachian League where he can continued his assault on opposing pitching. Combined, Alvarez is slashing .397/.500/.667/1.167 with five doubled and four home runs in 18 games.
A day after homering on the anniversary of his signing (below), #Mets catching prospect Francisco Alvarez has his first three-hit game as a pro.
He’s hitting .462 with a 1.394 OPS in 7 games in the GCL. pic.twitter.com/eWWiwmPRrc
— Jacob Resnick (@Jacob_Resnick) July 3, 2019
When you look at Alvarez’s build, he kind of reminds me a little of Pudge Rodriguez, but a couple inches taller. Alvarez starts back in the box with a wide stance, hands head high. He’ll then shift his weight back with a moderate rear leg load which he times well with a toe tap. Alvarez’s hands coil back before exploding through the zone with exceptional bat speed and a direct path to the ball. His swing is quick, compact, and generates some natural loft. Throughout the entirety of his swing, his strong hips and lower half are very apparent, from his hip coil pre-pitch to the strong torque he generates during the swing.
It’s still very early in his professional career of course, but Alvarez has the tools to become an above-average offensive backstop that can hit for both power and a high batting average. If he continues to display these profound offensive tools and performs well, there’s a good chance he’s within my top-10 overall catching prospects next spring. The upside is quite high here, so it’s a great time to grab some Alvarez dynasty stock before his price tag matches the upside.
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.
- Kyle Tucker, OF, HOU | Last: 2
- Bo Bichette, 2B/SS, TOR | Last: 5
- Gavin Lux, 2B/SS, LAD | Last: 6
- Carter Kieboom, SS/2B, WAS | Last: 3
- Isan Diaz, 2B, MIA | Last: 8
- Jake Fraley, OF, SEA | Last: 4
- Luis Robert, OF, CHW | Last: 7
- Jo Adell, OF, LAA | Last: NR
- Ryan Mountcastle, 1B/3B, BAL | Last: 10
- Jorge Mateo, SS, OAK | Last: NR
Called Up: Luis Urias
- Brendan McKay, LHP, TB | Last: MLB
- Mitch Keller, RHP, PIT | Last: 1
- Anthony Kay, LHP, NYM | Last: 2
- A.J. Puk, LHP, OAK | Last: 3
- Matt Manning, RHP, DET | Last: 4
- Lewis Thorpe, LHP, MIN | Last: 5
- Rico Garcia, RHP, COL | Last: 6
- Keegan Akin, LHP, BAL | Last: 7
- Deivi Garcia, RHP, NYY | Last: 8
- Dustin May, RHP, LAD | Last: 9
Photo/Video Credit: Jacob Resnik, Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire, Minor League Baseball, Kiley McDaniel, San Diego Padres
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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