(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)
Another week, another recap of prospect performances across the minor leagues. This week’s recap is slightly different however, as there will be some slight tweaks to this series going forward. For starters, not only will this recap go over the best performances of the previous week, but it’ll now discuss those performances that have been disappointing to say the least. The other change going forward is this weekly recap will now focus exclusively on prospects still in the minor leagues, so as to give you the reader the inside edge on who to look at acquiring before their fantasy value skyrockets. With that all out of the way now, let’s take a look at this week’s best and worst prospect performances.
OF Ronald Acuña—Gwinnett Stripers (Atlanta Braves: AAA)
It’s been a surprise for many fantasy owners who drafted Acuña this year, as they expected he would have already been called up to Atlanta by now after hitting .432 with a 1.247 OPS in Spring Training. But since starting the season in Triple-A Acuña has gone on a highly unexpected slump for one of the top hitting prospects in all of baseball. After starting 0-for-11 over the first week, he has slightly improved in Week 2, but is still hitting a paltry .139 over 36 plate appearances with one extra-base hit and 14 strikeouts. Although the struggles are sure to frustrate owners who drafted him, there are signs that Acuña is due to breakout in a big way soon. His current 33.3 percent strikeout rate is the highest of his career, and his .238 BABIP is more than 100 points lower than his career average. Once those numbers regress back to his career norms, Acuña should find himself roaming the outfield in Atlanta very soon.
LHP Justus Sheffield—Trenton Thunder (New York-AL: AA)
After a somewhat underwhelming first start of the season, the 21-year-old southpaw looked much better on the mound on Friday against the Akron RubberDucks. Throwing 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball, Sheffield’s only mistake of the game was a fifth-inning home run from Akron third baseman Joe Sever. Otherwise he shut down the RubberDucks offense almost completely, with the home run being the only hit he allowed while walking one and striking out nine—his first nine-strikeout game since September 2, 2016 starting for the Thunder. Sheffield now sports a 1.10 WHIP and 12.6 K/9 over 10 innings of work this season. It’s a small body of work for now, but if he can keep up this level of performance throughout the season it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that he could be pitching in New York come September.
LHP Anthony Banda—Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay: AAA)
Acquired this past off-season in the trade that sent outfielder Steven Souza to the Diamondbacks, Banda has done a good job so far proving to the Rays that he was worth acquiring. After posting an eight-strikeout game in his first start of the year, Banda had yet another eight-strikeout performance on Wednesday against the Gwinnett Stripers. He allowed five hits and one run — coming from a Danny Santana home run — with no walks over 5 1/3 innings. His second start of the week was not as outstanding though, as he was tagged with the loss after allowing three runs on seven hits and four walks while striking out four against the Toledo Mud Hens. Banda’s struggles on Monday could partially be attributed to the weather though, as the game was ended early due to snowy conditions. The Tampa Bay Rays don’t have a solid rotation at the moment, and if Banda bounces back from Monday’s loss and pitches well in his next start he could be on track to join Tampa Bay very soon.
C Keibert Ruiz—Tulsa Drillers (Los Angeles-NL: AA)
Getting his first taste of Double-A ball, Ruiz started the season off well by hitting .353 with only two strikeouts. This past week however, he fell into a 1-for-18 slump with five strikeouts and still had yet to get an extra-base hit. The 19-year-old switch-hitting catcher broke out of that slump on Monday though, as he launched a pair of home runs with four RBI in the Drillers’ 6-4 win. While his power display was a welcome sight, one thing to keep an eye on is he has not yet drawn a walk over his first 52 plate appearances. Having spent time watching him play in person, I have no problem saying that Ruiz is among the top catching prospects in baseball in regards to his offensive potential. The Dodgers have plenty of catching depth in their system at the moment, so there is no need to rush Ruiz through the minors. But once he reaches the majors, Ruiz has the ability to put up numbers similar to J.T. Realmuto minus the steals.
2B Isan Diaz—Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Miami: AA)
One of the prospects acquired in the trade that sent Christian Yelich to the Milwaukee Brewers, Diaz has gotten off to a very slow start this season. So far Diaz has gone 1-for-24 over his first eight games, and this past week he was 0-for-13 with seven strikeouts. While he has struggled with at least one strikeout per game, Diaz has also shown success in drawing walks as he has at least one walk in seven of his eight games played. His nine walks over 37 plate appearances currently have him tied for second-most in the Southern League. This has been a bad start at the plate for the 21-year-old for sure, but there is absolutely no way he will continue to post a 0.77 BABIP going forward.
RHP Daniel Poncedeleon—Memphis Redbirds (St. Louis: AAA)
Poncedeleon was given a second chance at his career, not to mention his life, after he suffered a serious skull fracture from a hard-hit line drive last year. He stepped back on the mound on Minor League Opening Day for the Redbirds, pitching one shutout inning of relief. Just over a week later, the 26-year-old had one of the best starts of his career, allowing one run on five hits and two walks with a career-high 12 strikeouts over five innings. Over 11 innings of work now this season, Poncedeleon has a 0.82 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and a 13.91 K/9. Realistically, without the catastrophic injury he suffered last year Poncedeleon would have already made his major league debut. While the rest of the fantasy world pays attention to teammate Jack Flaherty, smart fantasy owners should look at investing in Poncedeleon, as he could make an appearance in the majors very soon if he keeps up his current level of performance.
RE: Acuna – I don’t think anyone knows what “stabilize” means with him. He went through thee levels last year and improved at each stop… which was exciting, but also sounds really unsustainable, dare I say luck infused or at least a giant hot streak. He struck out over 30% in his time in A+ last year. I like him, but anyone who claims to know what he is is selling smoke.