A couple of weeks ago, I posted a question on Twitter, asking for risers/fallers/breakout prospects in 2020. I logged all the responses and noticed some pretty interesting results. Here are the major risers, fallers, and breakout candidates for 2020.
Oh, what 2019 would have been if a stress fracture in his left foot did not end Jordan Groshans‘ season in mid-May. In his 23 games, he was showing an improved approach at the plate, with a 13.5 BB% and 9.9% swinging-strike rate. At 6’3”, Groshans is your prototypical power-hitting third baseman. Scouts have also raved about his leadership and off-field skills. We should see Groshans begin the season in A-ball, but he should move to Double-A very quickly.
To be honest, I was surprised to see Alejandro Kirk mentioned as much as he was. He has an elite hit tool with an excellent eye and has exploited lower-level pitching. He played in two levels in 2019, A-ball and Advanced-A, where he hit .299 and .288, respectively. He doesn’t strike out often, but we saw a slight rise to 11.2% when he reached Advanced-A. I love the bat, but I’m concerned about his future. Kirk is 5’9”, and at 21 years old, he is already 220 pounds. He is also not known for his defensive chops, but with talk about a robot ump, that might not be a factor.
Ryan Mountcastle is a bat without a home. He split his time in Triple-A at first base and left field but sprinkled a bit of third base as well. Unfortunately, even with how bad the Orioles are this year, those positions are blocked. He has a pretty good bat-to-ball skill but lacks any type of patience at the plate. Whenever he makes it to Baltimore, he will be productive, but that lack of discipline makes me think major league pitchers will exploit his aggressiveness.
Drafting a prep first base type is a very risky profile, but the Red Sox might have struck gold here. Triston Casas was one of the most powerful prep bats in the 2018 draft, and he continued his power-hitting ways. He spent pretty much all of the 2019 season in A-ball, where he hit .254, but an impressive 11.8% walk rate resulted in a .349 OBP. There is some swing-and-miss in his game, but you take a gamble with a 6’4” slugger with a potential 55 Hit and 60 Game Power.
I am totally on board the Matt Manning hype train. He is a 6’6” righty with a mid-90s fastball and wicked curveball and changeup. He silenced critics this year by limiting his walks and improving control while striking out 148 batters in 133.2 innings in Double-A. I saw him in a start in Richmond with a lineup that included Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos. It was impressive to see him use his heater up in the strike zone and then throw that wicked curve to get batters to swing and miss. Manning should begin the season in Triple-A and maybe get a cup of coffee in September.
Clarke Schmidt returned with a bang after having Tommy John surgery. He spent most of his time in High-A ball where he racked up 69 strikeouts in 63.1 innings. The righty has a four-pitch mix with a mid-90s fastball and nice curveball, slider, and changeup. His change still needs a bit of work, but he has the making of a No. 3 starter, innings-eater type. I would not be surprised to see Schmidt make his Yankee Stadium debut by mid- to late summer.
Simeon Woods-Richardson, Toronto Blue Jays (3 votes)
At 6’3” and 210 pounds, Simeon Woods-Richardson is exactly what you look for in a pitcher. He’s very athletic, which allows him to repeat his delivery. He has two fastballs and mixes in a wicked curveball and a pretty decent changeup. Pretty impressive for a 19-year-old. He moved to Advanced-A after being acquired by the Blue Jays and should remain there for most of 2020.
Daniel Lynch might be one of my favorite southpaws in the minor leagues. His stuff is pretty electric with a mid-90s fastball that gets a bunch of spin. The RPM on his fastball registered 2,800, which would put him among the likes of spin king Garrett Richards. He also throws a wicked slider and changeup to throw off hitters. He spent most of the season in High-A and posted a swinging-strike rate above 12% while only walking 7% of batters. He missed most of June due to arm fatigue but racked up 57 strikeouts in 50 innings with a 3.78 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. I would expect to see the Royals assign Lynch to High-A to begin the season, but he should move to Double-A quickly. If Lynch can continue to perform, he should rise up prospect lists next year.
Grayson Rodriguez had an impressive showing in A-ball this year by racking up 129 strikeouts in only 94 innings. The 6’5” righty a super easy delivery with an impressive fastball (that has hit the upper 90s) with wicked curveball and changeup. It is interesting to note that the Orioles organization usually kept him around five innings per start. I expect Baltimore will give him more innings as he moves up the ranks. He should begin the season in High-A and get a taste of Double-A toward the end of the season. Baltimore’s organization has been void of real pitching talent, but I believe it found a GUY in Rodriguez.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates (8 votes)
The 2019 season is one Ke’Bryan Hayes probably wants to forget, but don’t sleep on him. He fractured his left index finger in early June and was out for a month. We were always waiting for the power to show up, and it did last year. His estimated fly-ball distance peaked at 303 feet before tailing off toward the end of the season. He struggled at the beginning of the season, but it spiked toward the end of the season, even while recovering from a fractured finger. Based on this “scientific” poll, you could buy low on a decent piece for your fantasy team.
In his first full season in professional ball, Casey Mize began the year in High-A where, in 30.2 innings, he had a 0.88 ERA, 0.52 WHIP, and 14.6% swinging-strike rate. He was obviously way too advanced for the level and was promoted to Double-A in April where he threw a no-hitter in his debut. His season went downhill from there. He was put on the IL in mid-June due to a shoulder strain. He returned in mid-July and massively struggled to an 8.59 ERA and 1.77 WHIP. I was at the worst start of his career on July 21, where he did not get out of the first inning. What I noticed during that outing was the Giants Double-A team was aggressive at the plate, knowing that Mize really pounds the zone. He was shut down in late August, after pitching 109.1 innings, due to workload concerns. I understand being down on Mize, but his advanced pitch mix and command make him one of the better pitching prospects in the minors. If someone is selling because of the shoulder injury, there are worse bets to take.
Oh boy, Royce Lewis’ season was easily the worst of his young career. His swinging-strike percentage crept up over 11 points, mainly due to his massive leg kick and excessive hand movement in his swing that limits his potential. Reports from the AFL were the same, but he did perform better there. Lewis should make it to the majors at some point, but I’m afraid he will not live up to what we all thought about him after being drafted 1.1 in 2017.
I understand why Christian Pache made this list. In the crazy game we play, Pache might be trending toward the dreaded “better IRL” territory. However, don’t count him out yet. We saw some interesting strides this past season. Pache began to show a better eye and patience at the plate, as his walk rate increased from about 4% to almost 8%. We also saw his estimated fly-ball distance creep above the 300-feet mark and hard-hit percentage increase from 20% to 25.6%.
Unfortunately, even with his electric speed in the field, he has not learned the art of swiping a base. In 19 attempts, he was caught 11 times. The glove will get him into the game, but it still remains to be seen if he will help us in our game.
As much as I disagree with Pache being included on this list, I agree with Deivi Garcia’s presence. He has a devastating fastball/curveball combo that has racked up strikeouts. However, his 5’10” frame and concerning command issues scream late-inning reliever could be in his future.
2020 Breakout Candidates
George Kirby was my selection for a breakout pitcher, so I was glad to see agreement here. After Kirby’s junior season at Elon, where he struck out 107 batters while only walking six in 88.1 innings, the Mariners selected him 20th overall this past June. After being drafted, he threw another 23 innings in Low-A ball, where he struck out 25 batters while walking no one. It is amazing to see someone throw so many strikes consistently. He has a four-pitch mix with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, above-average curveball, and a plus slider and changeup. The Mariners have moved their top guys quickly through the system, so expect the same trajectory with Kirby.
The Mariners signed Noelvi Marte during the 2018 J2 period, and he was ranked in the top 10 international prospects by MLB at the time. The 18-year-old had an impressive debut in the DSL, where he slashed .309/.371/.511 with an 18.4 K% and 9.7 BB%. However, his swinging-strike rate of 29.1% shows the kid is still pretty raw. There is a pretty good shot he will follow the Julio Rodriguez path, going from DSL to full-season ball. There are still kinks to work out, but he could have a J-Rod-like rise next year.
Maximo Acosta, Texas Rangers (4 votes)
Maximo Acosta was a 2019 J2 signee by the Rangers and is a quality defensive shortstop. Since being signed, he has shown a plus hit with the potential for power. He has some growing up to do, as he was 5’9” and 145 pounds when he signed.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)