Last time, we continued the tradition of the Ken Phelps All-Star Team, looking for unheralded non-prospects who are more than just Quad-A players. Let’s continue now with the outfield.
Center Field: Marty Costes, Houston Astros
A few years ago, the Kansas City Royals had a center fielder named David DeJesus. DeJesus was a consistently underrated player, whose consistently high walk rates and good contact ability made him a valuable player even though he never hit more than 13 homers or stole more than ten bases in a season. DeJesus even managed to post a couple of 4-win seasons in 2005 and 2006 for a truly decrepit Royals team despite hitting eight homers each year, on the back of a .294/.361/.445 batting line (111 wRC+) and good defense.
Why am I talking about David DeJesus? Because if DeJesus was right-handed, he’d be Marty Costes. DeJesus is a couple of inches taller (5’11” vs 5’9″) but the two have similar builds and extremely similar skillsets. An unheralded collegiate prospect from Baltimore, Houston took Costes in the 22nd round of the 2018 draft. Like DeJesus, Costes hits the ball hard with sneaky power, and in 2021 he took his game to a new level, ripping off a .332/.436/.409 (137 wRC+) triple-slash at AA Corpus Christi before being promoted to AAA and hitting .262/.392/.459 with a remarkable 23:25 BB:K ratio.
Costes has had the misfortune of sharing a farm system with uberprospect Kyle Tucker, but Costes should be a legitimate prospect in his own right even though he wasn’t listed on the most recent organizational rankings. He’s arguably the Astros’ best center field option right now; though he’s not a great defender, both Steamer (96 wRC+) and ZiPS (97 wRC+) project him as right around a league-average bat and that’s probably extremely conservative. In fact, Costes might be the best player on this list overall.
Costes’ Achilles heel is that consistently hits the ball into the ground; he’s never posted a full-season ground ball rate below 50%, making him basically a Yandy Diaz clone. If he were to start elevating the ball, with his exit velocities, he could be a star. It wouldn’t surprise me if he forced his way into the Astros’ outfield picture by midseason, and he’s the one player on this list who I wouldn’t be shocked to see get an All-Star nod or two before it’s all said and done.
Left Field: Connor Marabell, Cleveland Guardians
Once upon a time, Carson Cistulli found Connor Marabell fascinating. Six years later, he still is. Marabell acquitted himself well at Class-A to earn Cistulli’s admiration (.311/.368/.482, 147 wRC+), and then for the next two years basically forgot how to hit. Just when it seemed he’d finally righted the ship in 2018 at AA with a .296/.341/.481 batting line (126 wRC+), he was promoted to AAA and promptly fell on his face again, “hitting” .214/.233/.350 with just a 2.5% BB% in 120 plate appearances. Marabell was returned to AA to start 2019 and returned to not hitting, and so you would have been forgiven for thinking the outfielder was no longer intriguing. Marabell is the rare hitter who managed to post annual infield pop-up percentages above 20% every year, so clearly his swing was just not working.
Marabell, however, had other plans. Still only 27, he hit well at AAA Columbus in 2021 (.291/.336/.442). The popups were still there, but suddenly, so were a bunch of line drives, and Marabell started hitting the ball harder. Add to that his traditional very good defense…
AIR MARABELL!!! pic.twitter.com/8pjdLL9vl4
— Columbus Clippers (@CLBClippers) June 16, 2021
…and suddenly you have yourself an intriguing player.
Marabell’s time with Cleveland came to an end earlier this offseason when he elected minor league free agency. The Guardians have long struggled with developing outfielders, so the fact that they opted not to retain him speaks to the fact that they don’t think he can help even an outfield devoid of MLB talent. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if Marabell carved out a role on the heavy side of a platoon. It’s possible his offense nosedives again, but if he can hold onto the gains he made in 2021, he could be an interesting player.
Right Field: B.J. Boyd, Minnesota Twins
During his salad days as an Oakland Athletics farmhand, Boyd was projected as a potential power-speed threat in the outfield. Alas, almost a decade later, the lefty swinger still hasn’t made his big league debut. The problem has always been a simple one: a multi-sport (football and baseball) star in his amateur days, Boyd has pounded the ball into the ground at the plate since breaking into the minor leagues due to a lack of reps at the plate against higher-end pitching. He posted an astronomical 73.3% ground ball rate in his rookie league debut, and thereafter posted ground ball rates at an annual basis that would make Chien Ming Wang blush. Boyd concluded his 2018 campaign with a 61% groundball rate at AAA Nashville, and a 78 wRC+ was the result despite his fantastic speed and .323 BABIP.
Boyd took a couple of years off from professional baseball and returned in 2021 a new player, hitting .319/.373/.550 for Wichita in the Minnesota Twins organization. Yes, he was a 27-year-old at AA, but there were meaningful changes that suggested he may have turned a corner. Excitingly, he started elevating the ball (at least by his standards) in AA; his 53.3% groundball rate there was the lowest of his career, and he hit 15 of his 52 career professional home runs in just 66 games and 287 plate appearances. Although he didn’t perform nearly as well after a midseason promotion to AAA Saint Paul – largely due to an unsightly rebound in his groundball rate back to 61.9% – the sample size was smaller (just a hundred plate appearances) and his overall body of work – .291/.349/.484 in 387 plate appearances – is quite promising.
ZiPS is a believer in Boyd, projecting a .258/.303/.404 (92 wRC+) batting line over 392 plate appearances. Boyd’s tools are still present; he still posts great speed scores, and he has surprising power.
If he were ever to stop hitting the ball on the ground so much, he could be a similar player to Brian Goodwin, a lefty platoon outfielder with good pop and speed.
Designated Hitter: Lorenzo Quintana, Houston Astros
If Quintana were ten years younger, he might be a consensus top-five prospect in baseball. Instead, the 32-year-old erstwhile star of the Cuban National Series has spent the last few years putting up absurd numbers in the Astros farm system. The ball just sounds different off his bat.
Over 208 games and 938 plate appearances, Quintana has wrecked AA and AAA pitching to the tune of a .286/.341/.497 batting line with 37 homers and 52 doubles. Even better, Quintana is a catcher. Unfortunately, as much as the Astros loved his bat, they hated his iron glove; even whilst Martin Maldonado was “hitting” .172/.272/.300 for the varsity team in Houston, they dealt Quintana to Miami midseason in 2021. Quintana arrived at AAA Jacksonville and raked again, hitting .294/.354/.525 with nine homers in just 228 plate appearances and still didn’t earn a call-up despite Jorge Alfaro being so bad at and behind the plate that he was banished to left field.
Jacob Stallings is in town now, but frankly, Quintana is probably a better hitter than Stallings right now. The only problem is that Quintana is still a terrible defender. If the National League adopts the DH, Quintana should have first crack at the job.