Hitting Prospects Who Improved Their Stocks in 2017
Last week we took a look at some young pitchers that took those ever-important steps forward into becoming Major League assets, and this week we are going to look at some hitting prospects that have done the same. On the offensive side, when a prospect takes a step forward, it can be due to any number of reasons. Maybe they finally learned to judge the strike zone and take a walk. Perhaps they gained enough strength and quickness to suddenly be able to handle both the inside fastball and the changeup away at the same time. Or maybe they gained a little weight, got a little smarter, or just plain got more comfortable at the dish. Whatever the reason, every year we see questionable players rise into stardom.
So let’s take a look at a few of these players and see why they have made their ascension to the top of the prospect list. As always, I’ll be using the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects lists from 2017 and now 2018 to compare how rapidly each player has ascended the list. Of course, it’s also worthwhile to note that even though they have now become a higher end or even top-tier prospect, the chance of failure for these guys is higher (in my opinion) than in any sport. The list of top five overall draft picks that have failed in baseball is much, much longer than those in football, for example, so just remember that even the best can fail in this game we love so much.
Estevan Florial, OF – New York Yankees
Florial was one of those boom-or-bust, high-upside, all-or-nothing players that had evaluators scared that he might not ever make enough contact to utilize his tools to their lofty potential. He began the 2017 season off the top 100 list, and for good reason. Despite a very good debut half-season in 2015 that saw Florial hit seven homers, steal 15 bases, slash .313/.394/.527, and walk 11.3% of the time in Rookie Ball, his 2016 season was a bit more … up and down, to say the least. He had 299 plate appearances across three levels (Rookie, A-ball, High-A) and homered eight times, stole 10 bases, and slashed an ugly .227/.312/.371. At 19, not all hope was lost, and he was then given a chance to go back to A-Ball to see what he could do. Yet again, he decided to produce. In short, across two levels, he got back to hitting for a bit of power, running, taking tons of walks, and showing off his tools.
This performance vaunted him to No. 38 on Baseball America’s 2018 top prospects list, and to be honest, I don’t get it. I think his speed is really good, and the kid can definitely take a walk. His power isn’t elite, though I suppose he could grow into it, and he hasn’t played a single game higher than A+ ball. In last year’s awesome .298/.372/.479 performance, he had a BABIP in the .420 range, which is unsustainable for even the fastest of players. The fact remains that Florial is still a high-upside talent, but if he had gone from unlisted to maybe top 60-70, it would have made more sense to me. Keep an eye on him, but I don’t think it’s time to pony up just yet.
2017 Ranking: Not Ranked
2018 Ranking: #38
Ceiling: 20 homers, 40 steals, leadoff hitter
Floor: Low average fourth outfielder with some speed
Scott Kingery, 2B – Philadelphia Phillies
One of my personal favorites of the 2015 draft class just because it’s fun to say his name in a Sean Connery voice, Kingery was drafted as one of those “hustle and grit” kind of players. Guys like Dustin Pedroia or David Eckstein or Kole Calhoun who were smaller than their counterparts and didn’t have the raw talent to skate by on. They needed to work hard to show what they could be, and they each made it in their own way. Of course, for every Dustin Pedroia, there are hundreds of other smaller, less athletically talented guys that don’t make it, so it’s been exciting to see Kingery succeed. Kingery is another player who was not ranked in the 2017 top 100 list, but his showing in 2017 flung him up the ladder and made him a trendy name.
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In 2015 and 2016, Kingery was establishing himself as a no power (he hit eight home runs in 868 plate appearances — good for one every 108.5 plate appearances), solid speed player with a chance to hit for average, not walk very much, but also not strike out very much. He could be a solid middle infielder who wouldn’t embarrass your team very much, but he also wouldn’t ever be anything near a middle-of-the-order threat. Then came 2017. Kingery decided he wanted to be not only a threat to steal bags, but also a power threat. Players will usually sacrifice their batting average a bit to add some pop. Instead, Kingery hit over .300 for the first time in his career, and his 26 home runs (one every 23 plate appearances) were obviously a career high.
It’s really hard to believe that a power boost as insane as that is legit. I’m really curious to see what he can do this season. If some of this extra power carries over, and he becomes a 15-homer, 25-steal middle infielder with a decent average, then he’s going to provide some really nice value. If he instead devolves back into a guy who is going to hit 3-5 homers per year … well, obviously that really knocks the value down a peg. I’m somewhere in the middle here. I don’t know if everything plays up like it could, and with a jump all the way up to No. 31 on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list, I think I would rather try to trade him and see what I could get. If it’s not possible or you get plenty of bad offers, keep him and see what happens!
2017 Ranking: Not Ranked
2018 Ranking: #31
Ceiling: 20 HR, 30 SB, .300/.355/.425
Floor: Utility guy who struggles to do much other than get a handful of steals
Jesus Sanchez – Tampa Bay Rays
Signed as an amateur free agent in 2014 for a modest $400,000 bonus, Sanchez is similar to Florial in that he seems to be another super athletic-toolsy player that has “boom or bust” written all over him. Even though he’s been playing professional baseball for only three years now, it has definitely been more “boom” so far. Each year he seems to take a bigger step forward even while changing levels, and that culminated into a 2017 Rookie League campaign in which he hit .305/.348/.478 with 15 homers, seven steals and an improved walk rate (up to 6.3%) in 512 plate appearances.
Now, Sanchez hasn’t really been challenged too much (that usually comes with the jump to Double-A), and he is still a VERY raw player. He definitely has the opportunity to grow into his potential 60-grade power, and with some continued batted-ball fortune and development of his hit tool, he could provide some insane value. And with his new spot of No. 49 on Baseball America’s top 100 list, he could net you some good value just via his name alone. If his plate discipline evolves, as well, Sanchez could be a bona-fide stud.
2017 Ranking: Not Ranked
2018 Ranking: #49
Ceiling: 30 HR, .300/.350/.500
Floor: Out of baseball in five years because he doesn’t learn to walk and the hit tool falls off against better competition