(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)
Walker Buehler’s first MLB start will be the biggest topic of discussion regarding prospects this week. And it should be, as he had a solid performance against Miami and he is one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball. But while people are talking about Buehler, they are overlooking some equally as, if not more, impressive performances by lesser known prospects. While it’s still very early in the minor league season and stat lines are fluctuating wildly from game-to-game, smart fantasy owners should look into these prospects, because while the numbers may come down some over the rest of the season, there is a lot of potential in these players. So as we dive into this week’s recap, we’ll start off with the the biggest and most recent prospect performance.
After making three starts in Triple-A, Buehler was called up by the Dodgers on Monday to make his highly anticipated first major league start. Pitching against the lackluster Marlins offense, Buehler threw five shutout-innings, allowing four hits and three walks while striking out five. Monday’s outing was Buehler’s sixth start in a row with five or more strikeouts going back to last season. With a 2.08 ERA and 11.1 K/9 this year in Oklahoma City, and a 3.04 ERA and 12.4 K/9 over three seasons in the minors, there isn’t much more for Buehler to prove that he’s ready to stay in the big leagues. He will most likely be sent back down to Triple-A for now, but it’s just a matter of time before he remains in Los Angeles for good.
LHP Austin Gomber—Memphis Redbirds (St. Louis: AAA)
A prospect that has flown relatively under the radar, Gomber had the start of his career on Monday and showed a flash of the potential that he could bring to the major league level. After averaging over two runs and three strikeouts in his first three starts of 2018, Gomber threw eight shutout innings with a career-high and team-record 16 strikeouts against the Iowa Cubs. The Cardinals have several more highly touted pitching prospects ahead of him like Alex Reyes and Jack Flaherty, Gomber could be on the verge of breaking out and working his way to St. Louis. His strikeout rate and K/9 has increased each year since 2016, and he has lowered both his BB/9 and WHIP. While he’s not going to be striking out 16 batters every game, it seems more than reasonable to expect an 8.8 K/9 or better once he hits St. Louis.
C Connor Wong—Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Los Angeles-NL: A+)
Wong probably was subjected to a “random” drug test after the performance he had last week. Over his last seven games, Wong is hitting .464 with two doubles, 16 RBI and six homers — or one more home run than he hit over 28 games last season. That offensive outburst boosted his season line to a .396 average and 1.442 OPS with four doubles, eight home runs and 17 RBI. Obviously Wong is due for some major regression, as his .583 ISO and 61.5 percent HR/FB rate is beyond unsustainable, but that doesn’t mean that some of what he’s showing isn’t legitimate. With what he has shown this year and last, it’s not unreasonable to think he can provide 15-20 home runs over a full season with a .288 average. If Wong does stay behind the plate all the way to the majors, he could be worth stashing in a deep dynasty league while he is still relatively under the radar.
RHP Dane Dunning—Winston-Salem Dash (Chicago-AL: A+)
Over four starts this year, Dunning has been a force to be reckoned with in the Carolina League. He has had at least seven strikeouts and five innings pitched every start, and his 10.3 K/9 and 26.4 percent strikeout rate are both ranked the third best in the league. His most recent start on Saturday against the Salem Red Sox saw him pitch a season-high seven innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out eight. While Dunning’s 2.59 ERA and 0.945 WHIP over 24 1/3 innings this year is impressive, advanced metrics show he is actually pitching even better than that as he currently boasts a 2.53 FIP and 1.91 xFIP. If Dunning keeps throwing like this, he should find himself promoted to Double-A very soon, and he could end up as a dark-horse candidate to make Chicago’s Opening Day roster next season.
2B Cavan Biggio—New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto: AA)
The son of Hall of Fame second baseman Craig Biggio, Cavan went on a tear last week, hitting .375 with a double, a triple and a stolen base while homering in each of his last three games. The 23-year-old showed double-digit homer and steal potential last season with Single-A Advanced Dunedin, and he is well on his way to showing that again this year with four home runs and two steals over 13 games to start 2018. Although it’s still a small sample size, Biggio is also already showing potentially improved plate discipline as he’s raised his walk rate slightly from 13.3 percent last year to 13.8 percent, and his strikeout rate is down to 22.4 percent from 25.2 percent in 2017. If this improvement in his plate discipline is sustained over the course of the entire season, Biggio could end up having himself a 15-15 season or better, which could have him competing for a utility spot in Toronto next season and eventually the starting job at second base.