Pitcher List’s Top 100 Prospect Rankings: Nicklaus Gaut’s Highs and Lows

Nicklaus Gaut analyzes the prospects he likes (and dislikes) more than the rest of the dynasty staff, and provides context for their future value.

The Pitcher List dynasty staff dropped our Top 100 Prospect Rankings last month, and with them came differing views on how we all value our prospects for a dynasty setting. For me, keeping my dynasty teams well stocked is a balancing act—sorting resources by talent and proximity to the majors. The further you are away, the purer that talent must be; that goes doubly (triply, even!) for pitchers. Luckily for fantasy players, we’re getting more advanced and complete minor league information than ever before as TrackMan data becomes more readily available, bringing more truth to our evaluations.

Here are some of the prospects I differed on the most compared to my Pitcher List brethren, along with the rationalizations and justifications on why those differences exist.

 

Prospects I’m Higher On

 

Spencer Howard, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
My rank: 11/Staff rank: 34

 

It’s another prospect list so that means it’s another chance for me to be way higher on Spencer Howard than the general consensus…Hip-hip-Huzzah! Howard has exactly what I’m looking for when putting a lot of stock in a pitcher still in the minors: top-notch stuff and a path that can get him to the Show in a hurry.

I see Howard as a top-level talent who didn’t start off with elite prospect pedigree and whose public perception has consequentially yet to catch up. Philadelphia’s second-round pick in 2017, Howard wasn’t on many radars after starting his draft year in Cal Poly’s bullpen before moving to the rotation. Howard was okay in his first year as a pro in 2018, but really took off in the second half at Class A (Lakewood) with a 2.67 ERA in his final 12 starts, with his 147 strikeouts in 112 innings tied for the most in the South Atlantic. Oh, I almost forgot: He also finished his season by pitching a no-hitter in the playoffs—striking out nine and walking one.

Picking back up right where he left off in 2018, Howard started 2019 by striking out 3o batters in his first four starts at High-A (Clearwater) before being shut down with shoulder soreness and missing the next two months. Upon his return, Howard just kept being nasty and kept overpowering his level, starting three more games for Clearwater and allowing zero runs in 15 innings and striking out 18 batters. Another promotion to Double-A (Reading) followed and Howard just kept on trucking, with 38 K in 30.1 innings, with a 2.35 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. Those numbers are even more impressive given that three of his six starts came at Reading’s notoriously hitter-friendly park, with another coming on the road in Colorado. Sent to the Arizona Fall League this past fall, the story was the same as before: Howard gets promoted, Howard dominates fools. Starting six games for the Scottsdale Scorpions, Howard went 1-1 with a 2.11 ERA, o.94 WHIP and 27 K in 21.1 IP, with the strikeouts the fourth-most in the league.

The stuff is legit, with Howard’s heater sitting 93-97 mph in Arizona and touching 99 mph, while featuring three impressive secondaries. His curve and changeup are both plus pitches (with the change having plus-plus potential) and his slider is already above-average with its movement on both planes giving it chance to be a plus-offering, as well.

As much as the stuff, it’s Howard’s path to a rotation spot that makes him such a high-value asset in my eyes. The dynasty dance you must do with pitchers can be a dicey two-step, as not only are developmental arcs often a bit twisty, but the ever-looming shadow of Tommy John always waits to torpedo their value. Howard is no guarantee to see the majors this season and will likely start his year back at Reading, but let’s not pretend that the Phillies have their big-league rotation on lockdown. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler own 1-2, but then the rotation follows with Jake Arrieta, who will certainly pitch if healthy given he’s owed $20 million next year, but he only managed 135 innings last year, with a 4.64 ERA and an 18.5% K-rate that had declined for the fifth year in a row. After that, the rotation consists of Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez, and whatever fire-demon is born out of the latter’s gas can that he usually brings to the mound. And then?…

 

Gilberto Jimenez, OF, Boston Red Sox
My rank: 76/Staff rank: 98.9

 

The staff ranking of 98.9 isn’t exactly telling, as I was the only one of us to rank him in the top 100. Huzzah for me, part Deux! It’s might be obvious to state but in dynasty, I’m trying to get the guy before he’s the guy, focusing on players that I think are going to make monster leaps over the next year. And not just necessarily players that I think will eventually help my own fantasy team, but the ones I think are going to build themselves a big ol’ hype train, allowing me to flip them as I choose if they’re rocketing up all of the lists this time next year.

Jimenez is one of my guys in this category for 2020, coming off winning the batting title in the New York-Penn League, even though he didn’t turn 19 until July. The knocks against Jimenez are mostly related to what’s seen as a slap-hitting approach and middling exit-velocities, but Jimenez is an elite athlete, with a great feel for hitting and 80-grade speed. The hit-tool and hand-eye coordination were good enough that Jimenez won his batting title while batting mostly left-handed, even though he had only started hitting from that side two years prior. Maybe the power never comes in, but Jimenez is a switch-hitting speedster who plays top-level defense and has a makeup that Boston raves about. He may be raw, but I like his overall profile as one that could quickly start getting national attention.

 

Tarik Skubal, SP, Detroit Tigers
My rank: 33 / Staff rank: 49.5

 

I’m secretly upset that I wasn’t the highest on my man Skubal, who tends to get lost in the shuffle behind Detroit’s two-headed prospect monster of Casey Mize and Matt Manning. Skubal returned for his senior year at Seattle University after spending his junior year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and was unimpressive before finishing the year strong. After falling to the ninth round of the 2018 draft, Skubal has spent his pro career doing nothing but striking out the competition with extreme prejudice on the back of a seemingly unhittable fastball that features premium velocity and comes from a funky angle. Skubal had a 2.58 ERA over 80.2 innings at High-A in 2019, with a 30.3% K-rate, before being promoted to Double-A. The dominance continued upon his promotion, with Skubal posting a 48.2% K-rate over his nine starts and 42.1 IP, with a 2.13 ERA and 21.5% SwStr. The number-four prospect in Detroit’s system, Skubal certainly sits behind Manning and Mize in the pecking order, but is someone dynasty players should be able to acquire at a much lower cost.

 

Prospects I’m Lower On

 

Evan White, 1B, Seattle Mariners
My rank: 100 /Staff rank: 48.8

 

Just making my top-100—with the rest of the staff ranging from 31-75—I guess I really don’t like Evan White? I get the appeal of White’s spot in the majors being virtually assured in 2020 after the 23-year-old was signed to a six-year, $24 million deal in November. White has a slick glove, plus speed, and seems like a good bet to be a solid, everyday player. If you’re in a deep dynasty league (20+ teams), maybe that makes White a more appealing asset, but I think the Mariners signed him more for his glove and high floor, rather than a profile that is fantasy-friendly. Looking at ATC, The BAT, and Depth Charts, White projects for 15-20 HR, with a middling batting average and counting stats. If his speed starts translating to the basepaths and White steals 10+ bases, then he’ll become more interesting, but right now I just don’t see him producing enough to be much more than a replacement-level fantasy contributor.

 

Adley Rutschman, C, Baltimore Orioles
My rank: 37/Staff rank: 21.1

 

I have zero complaints or critiques and I’m sure Adley Rutschman is going to be amazing, but I’m just never going to have many shares of minor league catchers. Rutschman is the total package as a player, with a smooth, switch-hitting swing, 60-grades for his hit-tool and raw power, and plays the position superlatively enough to see the majors by 2021, but that’s just too long for a catcher to take up space in my farm portfolio. Again, this has a lot to do with personal preference, as I’d almost always rather trade someone like Rutschman to acquire an established fantasy producer at catcher.

 

Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
My rank: UR/Staff rank: 78.3

 

I was the only one not to put Hayes in my top-100, continuing my theme of being underwhelmed by players who I think have more value in real-life than in the fantasy world. A plus-plus defender at third base with uncommon speed, Hayes looks to reach the majors more on the strength of this glove than his bat. Hayes had 10 HR and 12 SB in 480 plate appearances at Triple-A last season, with a .265 AVG. Getting speed at the third base position is certainly a nice bonus but Hayes looks pretty average everywhere else and has far too much affinity for pounding the ball into the ground. If I don’t have Hayes, I’m not trying to acquire him; if I do have him, I’m trying sell before he ever hits the bigs.

Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire | Featured graphic designed by James Peterson (@jhp_design714 on Instagram and Twitter)

Nicklaus Gaut

Born scores ago, Nicklaus Gaut is confused by the internet and people in general. But baseball sometimes makes sense, even when it doesn't. So after getting second-place in a writing contest, he now writes for Brad Johnson at his @BaseballATeam, as well as in a contributing role at Rotoballer.com. Read Nick for his numbers and stories, but beware of @NotBurtReynolds...That dude might be nuts.

  • Avatar theKraken says:

    Rather than trying to get the guy before he’s the guy, you can often get the guy after reality sets in in the mid to upper minors when 80 speed starts to be more accurately graded as 70 and elite defense becomes average. Regarding Jimenez, the lack of pop hurts the value a lot and the fact that he did not steal a million bases should be a bit concerning as well. The low walk rate is the poop-flavored icing on the cake. I passed on him in all drafts even as a flier this year. Granted he might be a solid prospect in the real-life mold but dynasty owners are generally not dumb enough to overpay for a prospect with a limited offensive ceiling. For example, Nick Madrigal is a very hard sell in most leagues and Pache is damn near impossible to get much for. I think most of the prospect team at PL is awfully inexperienced in the dynasty format and I think you would find that the average dynasty owner is more seasoned than you would think. There are a lot of people that follow prospects – just not that many that write about them for multiple years. Lots of people have opinions and guesses but most flame out within a few years of constantly being wrong.. and make no mistake everyone will be wrong. None of us know anything. I can guarantee you that all the TrackMan data in the world will bring very little truth to anyone’s rankings.

    I agree with you bad list. Those guys do seem overvalued in the dynasty format. Then again, they are better real-life prospects than dynasty ones.

  • Avatar Tim A says:

    Spencer Howard is the truth! I love your confidence, I’m right there with you.
    I think Ke’Bryan Hayes is sort of the 3B version of Cristian Pache – maybe the numbers aren’t there yet, but it’s dreaming on the athleticism/coordination that makes them elite defenders translating into offensive production. Leaving him out of the top-100 seems borderline criminal to me.

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