(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)
New to Pitcher List, we are going to be doing a weekly prospect roundup that is designed to keep you informed on what is happening down in the minor leagues that is relevant for your dynasty leagues. I’ll be talking about who is hot, which top prospects are struggling, underrated guys that are producing to keep an eye on, or anything that may have caught my eye in general. So here is the first of many Prospect Rundowns that will be appearing every Saturday afternoon.
Eloy Jimenez (OF, Chicago White Sox) Age: 21, Level: AA
Jimenez returned to action in AA Birmingham late last week after missing the first couple weeks of the minor league season as he stayed back in extended spring training rehabbing a minor pectoral strain. As a guy universally considered among the top 10 prospect in baseball with arguably the most raw power in the minors (80 grade by multiple sources), would it surprise you that Jimenez’s first two hits of the season left the yard? Well, they did and both were absolute bombs well over the left field wall! He hasn’t dominated yet with just a .212/.263/.424 line over 36 PAs, but it’s only a few games into his season, and he’s showing a nice mix of patience and contact already with a 4:3 K/BB ratio so far. Looking forward to seeing him build off of his .312/.379/.568 line with 19 HRs and 1 SB in just 369 PAs last year split between A+ and AA in the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox systems.
Jesus Luzardo (SP, Oakland Athletics) Age: 20, Level: AA
One of the most buzz-worthy prospects to begin the year, Luzardo is quickly pushing himself up both top prospect lists and organizational ladders with his performance. Luzardo, a left-handed pitcher, was recently promoted to AA Midland after dominating the California League (A+) with a 1.23 ERA, with 25 punchouts against 5 walks, and just 6 hits given up in 14.2 innings. That line was supported by a 1.46 FIP, a 20.9% swinging-strike rate, and a .120 batting average against which all led the league at the time of his promotion. Note that the Cal League is a notorious hitters league making his performance even more impressive! Luzardo made his AA debut on Tuesday and put up another impressive start going 5 innings, giving up 3 hits and 2 earned runs, 1 walk and 5 strikeouts. As the youngest pitcher in the Texas League now, and the 3rd youngest overall behind just Keibert Ruiz of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Fernando Tatis Jr. of the Padres, Luzardo is very advanced for his age and should be highly valued in all dynasty formats. His repertoire is highlighted by a sinking fastball that sits in the mid 90’s and can touch as high as 98, as well as a plus changeup with natural late sinking action that plays well off of his fastball. Add in a curveball that he has a good feel for and most scouts project to average, and plus command/control, and you have the look of a quick moving future high ceiling left-handed starter.
Another young prospect that has dominated his level in 2018 and recently forced a promotion, Juan Soto looks to be one of the next great hitting prospects and he could push his way up to consensus top 10-15 or better prospect status before the year is out. Soto rose on prospect lists this past year after dominating the South Atlantic League (A) as a then 18-year-old by posting a .360/.427/.523 line with more walks than strikeouts in 86 ABs before he suffered an ankle injury that cost him 2 months, followed by a hand injury that cost him the rest of the year. He returned to the South Atlantic League to start the 2018 season and promptly dominated but at an even higher level this time! He posted .373/.486/.814 line with 5 HRs and 2 SBs, again with more walks than strikeouts before getting promoted to High-A Potomac on Monday. Since the promotion, he has played in 4 games and already has a Home Run to his name and just one strikeout against 3 walks. Plus contact skills highlighted by consistently above-average strikeout and swinging-strike rates, a great eye at the plate, and developing power are his game, and Soto offers among the minors’ very best combination of all 3.
Shane Bieber (SP, Cleveland Indians) Age 22, Level: AA
A 4th round pick back in 2016 out of UC Santa Barbara without high-end stuff, but all he’s done is perform incredibly well and that is largely due to his elite control/command which is arguably the best in the minors (70 grade with some reports even suggesting 80 grade). A good example of the level of control/command that Bieber possesses is that he allowed just 10 walks in 2017 in 173.1 innings. Bieber’s pitch mix includes a low 90’s fastball, a curveball that is above-average and more consistent this year, and then an average slider and changeup. They all play up though due to his elite control/command and that’s highlighted by a consistently above-average swinging-strike rate at every level throughout his minor league career including a 13.3% mark in 2017 at both A+ and AA in 144.1 combined innings. To start 2018, Bieber has continued his dominance of minor league hitters in his return to AA Akron as he’s posted a 1.04 ERA with 28 strikeouts against 0 walks, and just 1 HR given up in 26 innings. That’s right, he is yet to give up a single walk so far in 2018! That line also comes with a .202 batting average against and an above-average 10.8% swinging strike rate. He’s clearly dominating his peers, and he’s doing so while being roughly 1 and a half years below the average age of his peers at AA. He’s one of the most interesting pitchers in the minors with his elite control/command helping him make the most of his stuff, and he could be a guy that does not land very highly on top prospects lists yet far exceeds expectations.
Peter Alonso (1B, New York Mets) Age: 23, Level: AA
Right-handed throwing and hitting 1st base prospects are not highly sought after in professional baseball, and often they have to prove they can really hit to get a fair shot. Two good examples of this are Paul Goldschmidt and Rhys Hoskins who were both 8th round draft picks and not considered elite prospects until just before their call-ups to the majors. Peter Alonso is fighting the same R/R stigma on traditional prospect lists but has absolutely raked at every level he’s played and I think he’s one of the better power hitting prospects in the entire minors right now. Alonso combines above-average contact skills highlighted by a 16.6% strikeout rate along with a well above-average 6.4% swinging-strike rate this season in AA Binghamton, with plus power and the results are impressive! He’s currently slashing .397/.500/.730 with 5 HRs in just 78 PAs. Alonso also is showing a strong eye and patience at the plate with a current 13:13 K:BB ratio. So many of his numbers are among the very best in the Eastern League, as his AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, and wRC+ are all tops in the league. Alonso is clearly dominating the Eastern League and could be primed for an early season promotion to AAA some time soon. The question is, what will the Mets do with Dominic Smith who is in AAA and starting somewhat slow and will Alonso pass him in the pecking order for 1st baseman of the future? I say it’s not impossible if Alonso keeps performing, and if he does, Alonso could see a meteoric rise up prospect lists like Hoskins and Goldschmidt before him!
An over slot 4th round pick back in 2010, Nick Kingham will be making his MLB debut on Sunday after a minor league career that included the high of being named a top 100 prospect by multiple sources in 2014, and the low of losing almost two seasons to Tommy John Surgery which took place in mid 2015. He is now 26, and what makes him interesting is that he’s suddenly missing a lot more bats. So far at AAA Indianapolis, Kingham has a 1.59 ERA, with 27 strikeouts against 7 walks, and just 15 hits allowed with none of them being a Home Run in 22.2 innings pitched. For reference, that is a 10.72 K/9 so far, and it’s supported by an above-average 12.9% swinging-strike rate. Both are far better than what he’s done in the past. I have not been able to find an exact reason for the sudden increase in swing and misses, but recent reports have suggested his curveball has ticked up slightly. Additionally, it was noted in spring training that Kingham was looking to be more aggressive with his locations this year saying this on March 9th after a Spring Training game against the Tigers, “Here it is. I’m sick of trying to nit-pick and finagle around the strike zone. Just put it in play and get (yourself) out.” That quote does not scream trying to get strikeouts but it’s what I have been able to dig up. Whatever Kingham is doing differently, it’s working as he looks like a different and better pitcher number wise! His pitch mix features a low 90’s sinking 2-seam fastball, a curveball that is now consistently above-average and is his out pitch, and a changeup that has good sink and fade that helps him generate groundballs. He also has average control and when you add it all up, you have the look of a viable major league starter that could contribute to your fantasy teams.
One of the more interesting cases that caught my eye doing some Fangraphs scouting recently was Josh Lowe. He is a former 1st round pick from 2016 (13th overall), so he’s got great pedigree, and seems to be turning that promise into production so far. He’s currently hitting .333/.397/.533 with 2 HRs and 7 SBs in just 68 PAs. What makes his early season performance even more impressive is that the Florida State league, of which he’s playing in, is a notorious pitchers league and he’s also one of the very youngest in players in it. That batting line is supported by an 8.8% walk rate and a 20.5% strikeout rate which are both very solid. What has me intrigued by him is that he seems to be a potential swing change guy that has added loft to his swing. During his first 2 seasons in the minors, Lowe’s groundball rate was between 43.9% and 48% and in 2018 so far, his groundball rate sits at 35.7%. The result is that he’s hitting more line drives and flyballs (up to 42.9% this year at A+ from 33.4% in A-ball in 2017) and that could help him tap into his plus raw power (60 grade) with more frequency going forward. Lowe is also showing improved contact skills as his strikeout rate is a career best and his swinging-strike rate is too at an above-average 8.6%. This power and contact growth makes Lowe look like a very intriguing fantasy asset as he’s also a 60-grade runner that stole 22 bags last year and is playing CF. It will be fun watching him and fellow high-end OF prospect Jesus Sanchez in the same outfield this season!
Another former 1st round pick in 2016 (8th overall), Quantrill is a fairly high profile name both because of his dad (Paul Quantrill) being a former major league pitcher, and because of his solid performance to date that included a promotion to AA in his first full professional season as well as a trip to the Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game. What I find interesting about Quantrill so far, is that there seems to be a divide between casual fans and those within the industry as to their opinion of Quantrill. Let’s start with his performance to date in 2018! He’s currently sporting a 3.20 ERA with 18 strikeouts against 9 walks, and 17 hits given up including 1 Home Run in 19.2 innings pitched at AA San Antonio. The ERA looks fine, but you can clearly see that Quantrill is getting hit around a little bit too much, and he’s also not showing great command/control (4.12 BB/9 so far). Additionally, Quantrill’s FIP and xFIP of 4.08 and 5.33 respectively and do not support his ERA of 3.20. Now looking at the scouting report, some of his stuff has backed up slightly. The Fastball still is above-average in velocity, sitting in the low-mid 90’s but it lacks movement, particularly when it’s not located at the bottom of the zone making it more hittable at times than ideal. The curveball and slider are still very much a work in progress as they lack depth and most scouting reports have 40’s on them with the hope he can make at least one average. The only plus pitch is his changeup which routinely receives 60-65 grades and generates both weak contact as well as swings and misses. Most evaluators think he’ll be a fine starter in the majors, but the one plus pitch and fringy command that he needs to improve upon limits his ceiling somewhat. This is a big developmental year for Quantrill and I’m curious to see how he performs in 2018.
Continuing with the discussion of former 1st round draft picks, Keston Hiura was one last year (9th overall) and came advertised as arguably the most advanced college bat in the draft with a great hit tool (60-65 grade) and a solid power profile (50 grade). He lived up to his promise in his professional debut as he promptly went out and raked to the tune of a .371/.422/.611 line with 4 HRs and 2 SBs in just 187 PAs split between the Arizona League (R) and the Midwest League (A). Hiura has started the year in Advanced-A with the Carolina Mudcats of the Carolina League but hasn’t quite gotten off to the start that I’m guessing he hoped for. Hiura is currently batting .221/.274/.325 with 1 HR and 1 SB, plus 19 strikeouts against 4 walks in 84 PAs. The slightly concerning part is that his strikeout (22.6%)and swinging-strike rate (12.1%) are both below what he showed in his first MLB season. It should be noted though that the Carolina Mudcats home ballpark is one of the worst hitting environments in all of the minor leagues with a 0.802 rating for runs, a 0.944 rating for home runs, and a 0.935 rating for hits (note that 1.000 is considered neutral). The good news is, Hiura seems to be adjusting and could be starting a real hot streak soon. Hiura last struck out on Saturday, May 21st, and has picked up 4 hits since then including a 3 hit day on Thursday, of which 2 were doubles. Hiura has long shown a terrific ability to make contact, particularly impact contact, throughout his amateur and minor league career and I can already see the signs of him becoming more comfortable at this level. The slow start to his year could be a potential buy-low for you in your dynasty leagues, inquire before be gets hot!
I don’t usually plan to write about two players from the same organization within the same article, but I had to mention Dane Dunning and his promotion this week to AA Birmingham. Dunning earned the promotion on the back of consistently strong performances, and he graduated from the Advanced-A level with a 3.35 ERA, with 166 strikeouts against 39 walks in 142.1 innings pitched combined between 2017 and 2018. His 2018 line at the level included a 2.59 ERA with a 31:3 K:BB ratio and just 2 HRs given up in 24.1 innings pitched. His 12% swinging strike rate was a top 20 mark in the Carolina league at the time of his promotion. Note that Dunning made his AA debut on Thursday and went 6 innings, giving up 5 hits, 3 earned runs, 2 walks, while striking out 4. Dunning’s repertoire is led by a low-mid 90’s two-seam fastball that is known for its heavy sink, and it generates lots of groundballs. It also plays up because of the plus command that Dunning has with the pitch. Dunning also has a slider which performs as his out pitch that features nice depth, and then a developing changeup that flashes slightly above-average at times but is inconsistent. If he can further improve his changeup, there is nice potential for a groundball-oriented innings eater with nice 3 pitch mix that has above-average strikeout potential. Doesn’t that sound like a valuable piece for your future fantasy teams?