Minor League baseball is finally back, after a long year at the Alternate Site. Apart from not being able to watch prospects develop live, we really have no idea where many players stand after losing a potentially critical year of development. It is important to take cues from their organizations as hints regarding who made strides and who has not before players’ values change dramatically.
Taking a look at the rosters in the upper minors (AA & AAA), a handful of names caught my attention. Whether it’s because they are young for their level, lack relative experience, or have a variety of appealing tools, everyone here should be on your dynasty radar.
We’re casting a wide net, so let’s have some fun!
Freaks, Best Prospects in the Game
Jarred Kelenic and Wander Franco made waves with dynamite springs that had us believing they’d be in the majors by now. Sadly, neither situation has materialized and I am excited to watch both eviscerate AAA pitching for four-ish weeks until the Super-2 deadline. Still, that does not take away from the fact that these two are some of the youngest players at the AAA level and have flown through the minor leagues. Both have been and should be on every fantasy manager’s radar.
Rumors swirled around a Bobby Witt Jr./strong> promotion in mid-March, which seems odd for a 20-year-old with only 37 games of Rookie Ball under his belt until you watch this 484 ft HR.
The funny thing is, Witt wasn’t even hitting at league average (85 wRC+) during that stint in the Appy League way back in 2019, but we have to assume major strides were made at the Alternate Site given his strong spring and the Royals’ confidence. With a weak middle infield on a surprise contender, he will be up this summer if he can keep his K% near 30% in AA.
Recent 1st Round Draft Picks
Starting with the most recent class, a trio of Top 10 picks from 2020 will be starting their careers in AA. Austin Martin is joining a crop of already very impressive young Blue Jays and will be pushed with this assignment. Arguably the best college hitter during the 2019 season, he took a slight step back during 2o20. Not enough to hurt his prospect value, but enough to where I will be paying close attention to his early-season performance in New Hampshire. Regardless, he has impressive bat-to-ball skills and the versatility to play just about anywhere on the diamond. It will be fascinating to see what position he calls home.
The Marlins Max Meyer and Angels’ Reid Detmers will each throw their first professional pitches in AA and have very, very different profiles. Meyer is highly athletic and explosive while being on the shorter side (6’0″). Upper 90s heat combined with a devastating slider sets the foundation for a tantalizing foundation that needs a reliable third pitch to mitigate his reliever risk. There is nothing in his profile that suggests this isn’t likely and he may even have a passable changeup by the time he next takes the mound.
Detmers, on the other hand, looks to be a no-frills, middle-of-rotation arm. His delivery is short, compact, and effortless, making his mechanics repeatable and command a calling card. Already with a three-pitch repertoire, I almost expected to see him at AAA, but this assignment is still plenty aggressive for someone who has never thrown a professional pitch.
On to the 2019 class and Tigers outfielder Riley Greene, who will be starting the season at AA Erie. Just 20, he will be very young for the level and will hope to iron out some of the plate discipline issues (18.5 K-BB%) that hurt his production at A ball in 2019. Still, he put up an impressive 41.1 FB% for the level and has a beautiful swing from the left side. Success early on will put him on track to reach the majors by early 2022 and possibly top 10 prospect status by this season’s end.
Some thought Alek Manoah was the best pitcher from the 2019 draft. While he wasn’t as polished as I would’ve liked for someone coming from college, the fastball-slider combination is lethal and helped him to a 39.7 K% at low A (just 17 innings) in 2019. The AAA assignment leads me to believe his changeup and command came along at the alt site and there’s a good shot he’s with the pitching-needy Blue Jays in some capacity this season.
Now a couple of high schoolers from the 2018 class, Matthew Liberatore and Cole Winn will be starting in AAA and AA respectively. The Cardinals acquired Liberatore as part of the package for Randy Arozarena (buyer’s remorse much?). He has four pitches, including a plus curve, but lacks the velocity or shape on his fastball (the pitch is sinker-ish) that could take him to the next level. Still, dropping him into AAA as a 21-year-old will teach us plenty about his long-term potential.
I find Winn to be a bit more interesting. He has impressed at the Rangers’ alt site, sitting 95 with a wicked 12-6 curve and decent changeup. His slider is not quite there yet stuff-wise, but his willingness to throw it, along with an ability to locate, gives me a lot of confidence. The talent is here, so Winn could pick up some serious steam with a strong start to the season.
Lastly, Jordan Groshans has routinely been glossed over as part of a talented Blue Jays system. A strong start in 2019 came to an abrupt halt due to plantar fasciitis that cost him most of the season. Now, he’s being pushed up to AA with just 23 games played above Rookie ball. He hasn’t had a competitive AB since May 2019 and produced a poor showing in Spring Training (1-11, 0 BBs, 4Ks). There is simply no telling where he’s at developmentally and the risk/reward is tremendous for the power-hitting infielder.
AAA’ers With Moderate Pedigree
Getting more towards the nitty-gritty, a slew of prospects are being pushed up to AAA without sniffing AA. Notably, Cleveland is doing so with Gabriel Arias. A key piece from the Mike Clevinger trade, Arias has a wide range of outcomes. On one hand, he’s a slick-fielding SS with unbelievable power potential. On the other, his pitch selection is poor and his swing mechanics are a bit iffy. If these kinks were ironed out at the alternate site, he could be a legitimate superstar. Pay close attention to the Columbus Clippers SS.
The Rockies Ryan Vilade is in a similar boat but without the smooth defense. A poor defender, actually, I am intrigued to see where he’s deployed with the Albuquerque Isotopes. Whether he’s at 3B or a corner OF spot, the guy has serious power and a true feel for contact. Both those tools will play up at Coors Field and make Vilade a viable fantasy asset the moment he is called up.
Next up are a couple of guys who’ve had cups of coffee in the majors: Tucupita Marcano from the Padres and Rafael Marchan from the Phillies. Neither had sniffed AA before playing in the big leagues (Marcano never even played at A+) and have elite feels for contact. Marcano is positionless and will have trouble finding any playing time on the Padres’ talented roster. That being said, he would be an instant source of average and steals, if he could find his way to the majors.
Marchan, a catcher, will be a trade chip this summer and could be thrust into a major league role with any team that acquires him, making him immediately ownable in two-catcher formats. Both players are sneaky dynasty adds.
Sink or Swim Players with Moderate Tools
This next group of guys is not near the top 100 prospects. Nevertheless, all have an intriguing set of traits and have been pushed up the ladder by their respective clubs. Pirates’ farmhand Ji-Hwan Bae was wrapped up in the Braves international signing fiasco and suspended for assaulting a now ex-girlfriend, which delayed the start of his professional career.
After serving a suspension and taking part in the proper education/training programs, Bae went directly to A ball at age 19. Propped up by an elite hit tool (70 potential) and blazing speed (65 grade), he is starting the season in AA and may rise quickly, given the Pirates’ general need at most positions and his polish at the plate. There’s no power yet but it would not shock me to see such a great athlete develop it with more physical maturation.
Jefrey Ramos from Atlanta and Luis Mieses from the White Sox both have possibly elite power potential without much else. Atlanta’s relative lack of upper minors bats makes Ramos more intriguing than the fact that a 22-year-old with a full season of A+ is in AA. Still, he once hit 16 HRs over a season in A ball, with a 17.7 K%. That’s enough to keep my attention.
Mieses was listed as a AA’er until opening day and was knocked down to A+. Against my own rules, I still want to shed light on him. The White Sox’ farm system is chock full of exciting, powerful, corner-OF types (Benyamin Bailey is my king), like Mieses. He has a surprisingly impressive hit tool for being so long (6’3″) and has a smooth, compact swing. He seems to be allergic to walks, but an opening day HR is a great start to the season.
Pitchers With Wide Range of Outcomes
I hope everyone’s still with me because it’s pitcher time! A pair of Giants youngsters, Gregory Santos and Kervin Castro, have both been pushed to AAA without ever seeing AA. Santos actually has 2 major league innings under his belt and is an imposing force on the mound at 6’2″ and 215 lbs. He can touch triple digits, along with a slider that flashes plus-plus, and an adequate changeup. I am honestly shocked he has not received more publicity with those credentials. There’s moderate reliever risk due to past injuries, but the Giants are becoming one of those franchises to trust with pitching development and Santos has all the tools.
Castro is a much different case. A converted catcher, his fastball touched 98 this spring and showed great ride. He also showed a serious 12-6 curve and a changeup that seemed more plus than previously scouted. Only pitching a few years, this is the kind of guy that can come out of nowhere and become a star. Already showing to be a quick study, the potential is sky-high.
Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire | Feature Image by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)