Recently at Pitcher List, we have been releasing a bunch of dynasty and prospect content because we know that side of fantasy baseball never rests! With the Holiday season now upon us, we thought it would be fun to put together a dynasty series based on the 12 days of Christmas. We’ve gone through swans, lords, rings, turtle doves, hens, birds, maids and bottles of beer on the wall. Well, cue the music because I’ve got nine ladies dancing. Let’s begin!
The topic for today is top keepers under the age of 21 per position, 1 through 9. Why did we decide to pick 20 years old as the cutoff point? Simple: because it’s hard and it’s the hard that makes it great.
To include 21-year-olds on this list would essentially make this a list of last year’s top prospects. By bouncing 21-year-olds at the door, most of the best young players in the majors have been eliminated, including OF Ronald Acuna, RHP Mike Soroka, 2B Luis Urias, OF Victor Robles, LHP Forrest Whitley, and 2B Ozzie Albies. I know, they grow up so fast.
The 20-and-under players below meet one of two criteria: (1) success in the upper levels of the minors or at the big league level or (2) produced insane enough numbers at an early level that they cannot be ignored in dynasty leagues. If you own one of the prospects I tip my cap to you and you can feel free to start dancing.
Mackenzie Gore (LHP, San Diego Padres) Age: 19, Level: A
Gore is the obvious choice here. At 19, he’s the only left-handed or right-handed pitcher with real experience in the minor leagues at Rookie A or higher who hasn’t recently had Tommy John surgery. Sure there are other young pitchers with as much promise (SP Hunter Greene of the Cincinnati Reds organization) but none equaling Gore’s performance:
The teenage Padres farmhand had a more difficult transition going to Single-A, but his overall appeal stays the same. He’s one of only five or six prospects with a reasonable chance to end up as a No. 1 starter in the majors. Sure, there are others who can and probably will become an ace, they just need to make larger strides to get there. Gore is the youngest of these potential aces, and he’s on the list because he has the potential for four plus pitches. He has a traditional repertoire (fastball, changeup, curveball, slider) with velocity in the mid-90s, but it’s his command that sets him apart. He’s not SP Kyle Hendricks of the Chicago Cubs, but for a 19-year-old, Gore’s ability to locate any of his pitches is as good as any prospect.
Adley Rutschman (C, Oregon State Beavers) Age: 20, Level: NCAA
Dodgers prospect Keibert Ruiz is Rutschman’s only real competition for the top under-21 catcher. Still, the junior from Oregon State’s 2018 breakout season simply cannot be ignored. On his way to leading the Beavers to an NCAA title, the 20-year-old backstop slashed an elite .408/.505/1.133 with 9 dingers and 22 doubles in 67 games. He is also a lock to remain at catcher for the majority of his career thanks to plus defensive scouting grades, but even in the unlikely event that he moves to first, the bat could still play. He has an above average arm, good footwork, and correct instincts.
By most accounts, Rutschman is slated to be the top player selected in the 2019 draft, if he can show that 2018 was not a fluke. There are some warning signs, namely his BABIP skyrocketed from .270 to .454, which is suspect for a repeat performance. However, even if his BABIP slows down to the high .300s, he’ll likely put up numbers worthy of a 1-1 pick.
Andrew Vaughn (1B, California Bears) Age: 20, Level: NCAA
Now we’re having fun! If you haven’t noticed, first base is a wasteland, prospect wise. The position has become one where prospects go who cannot field other positions. The last really good first base prospect was Cody Bellinger, and the Dodgers are still trying to find ways to get his athleticism and fielding prowess into the outfield. Like the center position in the NBA, the days of the lumbering power hitter at first are all but gone. Most teams aren’t willing to invest time to develop a player who can’t field, and very few players fit the profile of a passable fielding first baseman who isn’t athletic enough to play another position. Enter University of California’s Andrew Vaughn. He’s built like a brick house and can rake the maple orchard around it.
For fantasy purposes, I say Vaughn (a stout, right-handed, 1B-only prospect) is the best prospect in the 2019 MLB draft. Sure there are more talented prospects, but the combination of high floor/high ceiling he possesses is unmatched. What Vaughn has produced in college matches some of the best NCAA careers at the dish in recent memory. Let’s compare his NCAA career to a few others:
Coming into his junior season, Vaughn’s collegiate career is looking strikingly similar to Chicago Cubs 3b Kris Bryant (San Diego) and new St. Louis Cardinals 1B Paul Goldschmidt (Texas Southern). The difference is Vaughn is doing it in a power conference. What actually separates Vaughn is his insane BB:K ratio. In 2018, he walked more than twice as much as he struck out (44:18). If you can draft this man, do it now.
Bo Bichette (2B, Toronto Blue Jays) Age: 20, Level: AA
Likely continuing 2019 at SS in AA, Bichette took to a steep learning curve of a 20-year-old at that level. Steady improvement from Bichette is almost as guaranteed as an NFL coach or player answering a reporter’s question by saying only: “No question” as if that means something.
Bichette is more of a fit for 2B at the big league level, so that is where we will place him. He has a solid approach at the plate, and he is a candidate for a 20/20 season. Can’t ask for much more than that. The important thing to watch for with Lil’ Bichette this season is if the slight downtick in power in Double-A sticks around. His power output has declined whenever he receives a promotion, except for in 2018 when he saw a small bounceback from a .14o ISO in A+ to a .167.
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. (3B, Toronto Blue Jays) Age: 19, Level: AA
I could have gone with Philadelphia Phillies 3B prospect Alec Bohm, but then again, I could have also written a post about professional eating.
Believe it or not, the Impaler’s son is the most difficult name on this list. Not because he doesn’t deserve it though. He is clearly the best under-21 player in the world. I struggle with what position Baby Vlad will play for the majority of his likely illustrious career. If I’m being honest, I think the best thing to do would move him off third base because I see him spending more time in right field than anywhere else. That’s not a bad thing, after all, he’ll have a good teacher to help him with the transition.
“Vladito” had a hell of a year in 2018, hitting 2o HR across primarily Double-A and Triple-A and having a positive BB:K rate at 19. It doesn’t matter where his position is, Guerrero Jr.’s bat will be elite at any position, if not this season than starting 2020.
Wander Franco (SS, Tampa Bay) Age: 17, Level: Rookie A
The shortstop position has probably the most difficult binary choice: Tampa Bays Rays SS Wander Franco or Minnesota Twins SS Royce Lewis? Choosing between Franco and Lewis is like choosing between Kelly and Brenda: you know it’s almost impossible to screw it up but what if you do somehow? It’s a tough situation — only until you realize that who cares? Life is great because you’re Luke Perry.
Well, life is pretty good if your choice is between Franco and Lewis: but life is pretty great if you just have Franco. Franco, who is former Los Angeles Angel Erik Aybar’s nephew (who was born in 2001 — who feels old?) will likely enter this season in High A at 18 years old. What he did in Rookie A at 17 is impressive to say the least, but how impressive? It’s time to play everybody’s favorite game: Guess Who.
Player A is Vladimir Guerrero, Jr, who like Franco played in Appalachian League for Rookie A. Player B is Wander Franco, and C is Los Angeles Angels OF Mike Trout during his time in the Arizona Rookie League. It’s hard to point out what is more striking about this line, so let’s take a deep breath and go one at a time: (1) in just 61 games he had 28 extra base hits or almost one every other game, (2) he had almost an RBI per game, (3) his strikeout rate was an absurd 7% and (4) he showed patience with a 9.9% walk rate.. Sure, a 27:19 walk ratio is particularly impressive even at this low level if you factor in Franco’s age.
Juan Soto (LF, Washington Nationals) Age: 20, Level: MLB
We’ve found our only MLB success story on this list!
Like Guerrero Jr., Soto had an insane 2018. He started the year in Single-A, dominated every following level until he was making a mockery of pitching in the majors:
That is a historically good line for a teenager, maybe the best ever. What I am most impressed with is this kid’s eye. He walked 79 times in 116 games. That is on pace for 110 walks in a full season, good enough to be tied for third place behind superstars Mike Trout and OF Bryce Harper. No other player within five years of Soto matches that level ball/strike discrimination. He shows a Trout-level swing rate for pitches outside the strike zone (20%). What he has to improve on (if anything) is lowering that ground ball rate (53%).
Jarred Kelenic (CF, Seattle Mariners) Age: 19, Level: Rookie
The book on new Seattle Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic heading into the 2018 MLB Draft was that the Waukesha West High School centerfielder was probably the purest prep hitter. That is high praise for a cold weather prep student, considering how hard it is to get seen while playing in a state that sees snow five months a year. Still, his reputation as a speedy outfielder with plus contact and above average pop just oozed potential. The New York Mets took him 6th overall and he flashed his potential in 56 games split between Gulf-Coast League (R) and Appalachian League (R), slashing .286/.371/.468 with 6 HR and 15 SB. He was traded to the Mariners this off-season as part of the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz trade.
The only other potential choice here is OF Christian Pache out of Atlanta. Pache might be the best athlete in the minors right now and his fielding ability ensures he will be in the majors soon and for a while. I chose Kelenic though because his bat has more pop potential, and even though Pache has speed, it does not translate to consistent base thefts yet.
Jo Adell (RF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) Age: 19, Level: AA
Like Kelenic, OF Jo Adell had an impressive reputation heading into the MLB draft. Impressive on the mound as well as at the plate, the Angels drafted him for his power potential and his standout work ethic. Adell dominated Rookie league pitching in 2017 to the tune of .325/.376/.532 as well as 5 HR and 8 SB in 49 games.
Adell is doing everything right, except being too liberal with his swing. He kept his K-rate reasonable in Rookie A (22%) but it increased in High A (24%) and in Double-A (31%). Adell seemed to be on the fast track until he hit a snag in Double-A Mobile, slashing just .238/.324/.429 so he will likely open his 2019 there and likely stay all year unless he forces the issue by continuing his power progression and capping his swing-and-miss tendencies.
(Graphic by Justin Paradis)
In my keeper league you generally try to draft guys the year they are expected to break into the show, or at earliest, one year before. Two years ago I drafted Belly and got to plug him in immedietely. Last year I drafted Vlad and will plug him in this year— meaning I will have a minor league slot available.
Of all of the players above who would you attempt to draft this year (Soto is obviously gone and I think Bichette is as well—but I put steals in a 6×6 league (no average, yes OBP and SLG) and focus on power and plate discipline.
There’s definetely an opportunity cost associated with drafting someone who’s got that sky-high potential but is not going to defiently be an every day player in 2020 at the earliest (someoen drafted Brenden Rodgers 4 years ago and hasn’t been able to use his mL spot on anyone else since) but the upside is when you draft Vlad last year and only have to wait 1-year for true first-round potential. The goal is to draft a Belly/Acuna/Bryant/Soto who can come in immediately. With that said— What is the earliest that Wander Franco could come up? Royce Lewis should be my main target this year with the intent to get Franco next year but it sounds like this kid is on a legit Trout/Vlad level and that kind of production might be worth waiting for. But if he’s got no shot at 2020 than I doubt anyone else will pick him up… Thoughts?
An excellent question. You not only have to judge the prospect’s talent but also the organization’s eagerness to bring up young talent. Since you mentioned Vlad, I’m assuming all of the top guys are gone (Senzel, Eloy, etc). I’m going to separate power and plate discipline because there aren’t many prospects out there that fit both of those who aren’t in the top 10. I think Lewis is a couple years away, to be honest. He’s performed well so far mostly but struggled in High A. Even though the Rays are traditionally more cautious with their prospects, I’d bet Franco is in the majors before Lewis. We’ll know a lot more very quickly this season, but he could easily just sail through to Double-A by August. Alex Kirilloff could be in Minnesota by the end of this season and fits the power/OBP description so far. Nick Madrigal could advance in CWS system very quickly (meaning breaking camp with the club in 2020). Keston Hiura has a good chance to hit for decent power at 2B and post a solid OBP by the end of this season. The Angels are desperate to win for Trout so I could see them bringing up Jo Adell by the end of the year if he rakes in Double A. Adell will help in power but not so much in OBP. I like Danny Jansen at catcher in Toronto. He has a good OBP and can hit for enough power for a backstop.
Finally, I implore you to pay attention to Andrew Vaughn. He’s the type of Benintendi/Schwarber college bat that could be drafted in the top 10 and then break the following spring training (which would be 2020) with the big league club if he gets drafted by the right organization. It would have to be one that is known for allowing their prospects to thrive and them rewarding them for so doing: CWS, CIN, TEX, ATL would all be good places for him to land. MIA, DET, NYM would not.
For pitchers, I think Whitley has a chance to come up in the bullpen at the end of this season for pitchers or if Houston loses a couple starters due to injury. Triston McKenzie and Josh James are also intriguing options.