I wish I could tell you I had this smart, elaborate plan to take down the inaugural Pitcher List prospect draft/stash challenge. But I winged it. OK, that’s not entirely true. I did keep it simple, though, and prioritized position players I thought would see the field a lot. Unfortunately, as you can see by looking at the draft chart, those dried up pretty quickly. I probably made a mistake by not targeting relievers in the later rounds, but otherwise, I’m happy with how the team turned out.
For a full breakdown of how the challenge works, please give Travis Sherer’s article a read here. The TL;DR version is that 12 Pitcher List staffers were tasked with fielding a roster of 10 prospects we think have the best chance to earn MLB playing time in 2020.
Drafting from the no. 5 spot, here are my picks:
1. (Pick 5) Austin Hays, OF, BAL, Age: 24
It feels like eons ago that Austin Hays debuted for the O’s back in 2017. Now, finally, after a slew of injuries and mixed results in the minors, Hays should be the everyday center fielder in Baltimore this year. I suppose this could be viewed as a risky pick due to his injury history, but Hays has very little competition for playing time, and I think he’s overdue for a big year at the plate. Steamer doesn’t agree with me and projects him for just 115 games, which is way too low. I expect him to fall closer to his 2017 output and play around 145 to 150 games. For real fantasy drafts, he’s one of my favorite late-round targets as he’s a sneaky 25-30 HR candidate who can post a solid average as well.
2. (20) Nick Solak, 2B/3B, TEX, Age: 25
Even though the Rangers added Todd Frazier this offseason, I’m still optimistic that Nick Solak plays about 140 games this year. That might sound like a lot for someone without a set position, but Solak already showed he’s capable of moving all over the diamond, seeing time at second, third, and the outfield (if you count the minors) in 2019. I also think he’s a more potent hitter than both Frazier and Ronald Guzman, who is in the running for the 1B job, so it’s not out of the question yet that Solak wins a starting role in the spring. And I’m not worried about him possibly getting sent down, as he hit .287 with 27 HRs in the minors last year and showed he has nothing left to prove there.
3. (29) Ryan Mountcastle, 1B/OF, BAL, Age: 22
I’m all in on Orioles’ prospects in 2020. I mean, there’s no way that Rio Ruiz and Chris Davis can keep Ryan Mountcastle in the minors for long, right? Right? While I do think Mountcastle likely starts the year in AAA so the O’s can avoid starting his service time, I’m expecting him to earn an early call-up and play somewhere around 120 games in the majors this year. There are some questions about his plate discipline as he didn’t walk much in the minors, but he’s hit for average at every level and has power that could play up in Camden Yards. Even in limited time, I think Mountcastle can hit 20 HRs this year and be a solid run producer.
4. (44) Jake Fraley, OF, SEA, Age: 24
We made these picks before news of Mitch Haniger’s injury broke, so this one looks even more promising now. While we don’t have a definitive timeline for how long Haniger will be out, his absence gives Jake Fraley a chance to win a starting OF job in the spring. I actually made this pick thinking that Fraley would overtake fellow rookie Kyle Lewis, but now the two could potentially play together to start the year. It should be noted Fraley bombed in his MLB debut last year, going 6-40 with zero homers. His stock has fallen, but let’s not forget he hit 19 HRs with 22 SBs in 99 games in the minors last year. He’s also an excellent defender who can play all three OF positions, which might give him a leg up on his competition. It’s worth noting Fraley’s Steamer projection is downright insulting: 50 games, .243 avg., 6 HRs, 6 SBs. I expect him to play around 120 games with 16 HRs, 12 SBs, and hit about .260.
5. (53) Patrick Sandoval, SP, LAA, Age: 23
This pick could make or break me. There’s just so much up in the air with the Angels’ rotation right now, from Shohei Ohtani’s timeline to a Ross Stripling trade that happened and then didn’t happen to randomly bringing in Matt Andriese, that it’s hard to know what the Angels’ plan is at the moment. With all these moving parts, I could see Patrick Sandoval getting squeezed into a long-relief role or being sent back to the minors to open the year. But I still like his arm. I wrote him up for the Angels’ top-50 prospects list, where I had him ranked highly because he showed nice flashes last year, especially with his changeup. His fastball was hit hard, which is worrisome, but if he makes any gains with that pitch he’s a real breakout candidate. I’m hoping for maybe 15 starts at this point and some long relief work out of the pen.
6. (68) Spencer Howard, SP, PHI, Age: 23
Everybody is looking for this year’s Chris Paddack. The truth is, that player may not exist. But if any of the top minor league arms can win a rotation spot this spring, my money is on Spencer Howard. After all, the Phillies are desperate to win now and we’ve already seen that Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin leave a lot to be desired as the no. 4 and no. 5 starters. So the opportunity is there. We know what Howard did in the minors last year, posting video-game numbers with a 2.03 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, and 34.8 K% in 71 IP, so skills are not the issue. The main roadblock to this panning out is an innings limit. Howard missed time in 2019 due to injury, and while he did throw in the AFL, he still topped out at just 91.1 innings on the year. Weirdly, that number is almost identical to the 90 IP that Paddack threw in 2018. Ok, never mind. We did it. We found this year’s Paddack.
7. (77) Isaac Paredes, 3B, DET, Age: 20
There isn’t anything flashy about Isaac Paredes, which means he’ll fit right in with the rest of the Tigers’ lineup. For real though, I’m still confused why the Tigers kept Paredes in AA last year without a single promotion. He hit just fine, with a .282 avg., .368 OBP, and 13 HRs in 127 games. He turns 21 years old next week, so I suppose there was no need to rush him. But have you seen the Tigers’ infield? I know there is a sliver of hope that Jeimer Candelario turns things around, but I see Paredes as a better option for the hot corner both this year and beyond. And while I don’t think he breaks camp with the team, if he rakes in AAA to start the year, I’d expect him to come up in May and potentially play every day the rest of the season. At the very least we should see him up after the All-Star break.
8. (92) Tarik Skubal, SP, DET, Age: 23
One of the best storylines to follow in the minors this year is how the Tigers promote their crop of talented young arms. Casey Mize gets the headlines as a former no. 1 pick, Matt Manning has potentially the best stuff and upside of the group, Alex Faedo is another polished arm who bounced back in 2019, and then there is Tarik Skubal, an unheralded southpaw who took the minor leagues by storm. All four were scooped up in this draft, with Skubal going third out of that group. My rationale for gambling on him is more intuition than anything else. I just have a feeling the Tigers will be more inclined to throw Skubal to the wolves, so to speak, since he doesn’t come with the same pedigree as the others and his arsenal is more straightforward (fastball-heavy with a slider and changeup). I could even see him slotting into a late-inning role similar to how the Brewers used Josh Hader when he came up.
9. (101) Kevin Padlo, 3B, TB, Age: 23
This is the stage of the draft where the real dart throws begin. Kevin Padlo is hardly a big name in the prospect world, but I like what he did in the minors last year, re-establishing himself as a solid hitter while reaching AAA and clubbing 21 HRs with a .389 OBP in 110 games. There isn’t an open job for him at the moment and the Rays are generally impossible to figure out in terms of playing time, but it’s not hard to see how an injury to Yandy Diaz or one of their 15 DH options could clear a path. OK, he kind of needs Diaz to falter or get injured, or perhaps he hits well enough he forces the Rays to add him to their revolving door of platoon options.
10. (116) Jake Cronenworth, SS, SD, Age: 26
When a team trades for a minor leaguer who was previously blocked, it perks my interest. Unfortunately, for infielder Jake Cronenworth, he’s going from a crowded situation in Tampa to a crowded situation in San Diego. Truth be told, I’d like to have this pick back. It’s tough to see how Cronenworth earns playing time even at 2B with Jurickson Profar, Ty France, and Esteban Quiroz all hanging around. But perhaps something wild happens and he hits so well in El Paso the Padres give him an opportunity anyway? It’s a longshot he plays more than 50 games, and even that is being generous. A better pick would have been one of the under-the-radar relievers, such as Tyler Rogers, who went to Trevor Hooth with the very last pick.
Featured Image by Michael Packard