As we gear up for the 2019 season, we’re ranking every position for fantasy baseball. While much of the pre-season coverage on fantasy baseball is focused on proven MLB talent, prospect-eligible players should not be forgotten. Seemingly every year, there are rookie-eligible players that come up from the Minor Leagues and make an impact. Just look at the last 3 years: names like Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals, Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Atlanta Braves, Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees, Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Michael Fulmer of the Detroit Tigers and Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers all have had outstanding rookie seasons and were highly valuable fantasy assets for those who made the investment. While not all prospects reach that level of success, the upside of stashing an impact prospect or picking him up at the right time can be a difference maker in one’s fantasy season.
Now, this list is not a dynasty ranking, it is instead a list meant to inform you of the top options among prospect-eligible players for re-draft leagues in 2019. So that means that 18-year-old uber-prospect Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays will not be making an appearance on this list. Before we get started, I feel it is important to mention that I will be using the official MLB guidelines to determine rookie eligibility which is defined as the following:
To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the 25-player limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service.
The other factor at play in regards to this article is service time and how it can impact the potential call-up date of each prospect. This is important, as ideally the most impactful prospects to own are the ones that combine high-end talent with a terrific playing time opportunity. I wrote an in-depth article on the subject of service time if you want to learn more, but the quick version is that MLB teams can strategically decide to call up a player at certain points in the season to either gain extra team control over the player before he reaches free agency, or delay a player’s salary arbitration process and therefore earning potential.
To gain an extra year of control over a player before free agency, an MLB team just needs to wait 16 days from Opening Day before calling up the player. Since Opening Day is March 28th this year, that means that April 12th becomes the date in which teams can call-up their prospects and maximize their team control over a player before free agency. To delay a player’s arbitration process, the cutoff point typically referred to as “Super Two” has historically occurred in early to mid-June, roughly 65 service days into the season give or take. With Opening Day being March 28th this year as mentioned before, that means that the Super Two cutoff date this year will roughly fall on May 24th. Again, I highly recommend reading the article I wrote last August. It goes into much more depth but these are the basics that you need to know that relate to potential call-up dates of each prospect. Let’s begin!
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B, Toronto Blue Jays) Age: 19
Are you surprised that Guerrero Jr. is our top-ranked prospect for 2019 re-draft leagues? Hopefully not, as Guerrero Jr. is perhaps the best and most impressive hitting prospect ever, and now stands on the doorstep of the majors. He is the first prospect in MLB.com’s Prospect Watch to receive an 80-grade assessment on his hit tool, and he supports that with legit 80-grade raw power making him a true top-of-the-scale pure hitter, unlike anything we have seen. The numbers support it too. Over 266 PAs at the AA level in 2018, he hit a ridiculous .402/.449/.671 with 14 HRs and 3 SBs. He supported it with an elite 10.2% strikeout rate and a 7.2% walk rate. All told, his time at the level was worth a 203 wRC+.
He then went to AAA Buffalo in the International League, where he was a full 7.5 years younger than league average and slashes a cool .336/.414/.564 with 6 HRs in 128 PAs. In his time at AAA, he actually walked more than he struck out, with 11.7% and 7.8% marks respectively, and also notably producing a well above average 7.8% swinging-strike rate. All told, it was worth a 175 wRC+ which is just crazy, especially for a teenager at the highest level of the minors. This level of success as a hitter while being so young makes him such a special case, and likely suggests great things are in store for him as a major leaguer. In fact, the Steamer projection system which is notoriously light on prospect projections has Guerrero Jr. projected to produce a .306/.368/.511 batting line with 22 HRs and 5 SBs over 548 PAs for a 138 wRC+.
When you consider that Detroit Tigers OF Nicholas Castellanos hit .298/.354/.500 with 23 HRs and 2 SBs in 2018 and finished as the 36th ranked hitter in standard 5×5 scoring formats, you can start to see why Guerrero Jr. is so potentially valuable right now, despite having not played a single MLB game as of yet. Guerrero Jr.’s current 2019 ADP of 47.3 makes him a risky investment to some considering his lack of MLB experience, but the contact and power profile at this point suggests that he could be worth it, and the upside could be special.
ETA: April 12th or shortly after. 2019 projection: .297/.358, 26 HRs, 2 SBs.
2. Eloy Jimenez (OF, Chicago White Sox) Age: 22
In any other year, Jimenez would be the big prospect that we’re all clamoring for in fantasy baseball. Perhaps being overshadowed by Guerrero Jr. some, Jimenez currently has an ADP of 149 and he could be a real difference maker at that point in drafts. He’s coming off of a 2018 season in which he slashed a dominant .337/.384/.577 with 22 HRs in just 456 PAs across AA and AAA while walking at a 7% rate and striking out just 15.1% of the time. That was worth a 168 wRC+, which ranked 5th best in the entire minors among those with at least 400+ PAs. That right there highlights an impressive combination of contact and power skills! For a guy who has long been known for legit top-of-the-scale 80-grade raw power and being able to produce elite exit velocities, his ability to make contact is what makes him special as a hitting prospect. While he did produce a slightly below average 12.5% swinging-strike rate last year in the minors, players with that much power generally produce much worse swinging-strike rates, and Jimenez’s plate coverage and aggressiveness allow him to limit strikeouts. He’s a legit middle of the order type of bat with easy .280/.330 with 30+ HRs potential in 2019, and I genuinely don’t know why he isn’t going sooner in drafts.
ETA: April 12th or shortly after. 2019 projection: .277/.328, 29 HRs, 1 SBs.
3. Victor Robles (OF, Washington Nationals) Age: 21
Considered a top 10 overall prospect for 3 consecutive years now according to MLB.com’s Prospect Watch, Robles is still just 21 and now in a position to get everyday PAs with former Nationals OFer Bryce Harper likely not returning to the nation’s capital. Robles is a career .300/.392/.457 minor league hitter with plus contact skills, legit 70 or maybe even 75-grade speed that included a 29.3 ft/sec Sprint Speed in the majors last year (a top 30 mark) and average raw power, making him a potential five-tool contributor in fantasy. The power may not show up from a Statcast perspective and some have concerns because of that, but Robles should be able to push 20-ish HRs as a major leaguer thanks to a quality launch angle along with his ability to find the barrel so frequently. The high-end speed mentioned above has translated on the bases, as Robles has racked up 86 SBs (72% success rate) over the last 3 years despite injuries, and it’s easy to project 25+ SBs for Robles in 2019 if he stays healthy.
If there’s a concern about Robles in 2019, it likely his propensity for injuries which largely stem from frequent hit-by-pitches (HBP). Over the last 3 seasons in the minor leagues, he has averaged 21 HBPs per season. For reference, only 3 players in the MLB last year got hit 20 or more times. Still, Robles is a high-floor prospect for 2019 with a track record of success at every level, including a .288/.348/.525 slash line in the majors last year over 66 PAs. That track record along with a valuable set of skills could make him a great fantasy asset worth investing in somewhere in the middle rounds in 2019.
ETA: Opening Day. 2019 projection: .273/.346, 15 HRs, 24 SBs.
4. Garrett Hampson (SS/2B, Colorado Rockies) Age: 24
I’ll probably end up as one of the higher guys on Hampson, but I think his skill set is very fantasy friendly. First off, he’s got well above-average contact skills highlighted by a 7% swinging-strike rate at AAA and a 5.2% swinging-strike rate at AA. His 10.4% swinging-strike rate in a small sample in the majors is encouraging too, and likely will go down with more MLB experience. For reference, MLB average last year was 10.7%, so even with some regression in his transition up to the majors, he projects as a very good contact hitter. Second, Hampson can run. He’s often graded as a 70-grade runner, and he has the instincts to use that speed effectively. He stole 38 bags last year split between AA/AAA and the majors with just 5 CS. The year before, he stole 51 bags against 14 CS at A+. He’s efficient on the basepaths and I think there’s a good chance he’s a 30 SB guy in the majors with upside for 40. Add in that he’s not bereft of power, hitting 10 HRs last year split between three levels, and 8 the year before, and the thought of Coors Field helping him a bit in the majors in that department, and he projects as a fantasy monster in the mold of a Starling Marte, Lorenzo Cain, Jean Segura type at 2B/SS.
With former Rockies 2B D.J. LeMahieu now a member of the New York Yankees, the opportunity for Hampson to be the everyday second baseman in Colorado is there, and Roster Resource thinks he will win the job over Ryan McMahon. If he does earn that starting second base job, Hampson’s current 215 ADP may make him a great value selection in redraft leagues.
ETA: Opening Day. 2019 projection: .288/.354, 9 HRs, 26 SBs.
5. Pete Alonso (1B, New York Mets) Age: 24
Perhaps the best pure power hitting prospect that’s likely to debut in 2019, Alonso is coming off of a 2018 season in which he tied for the Minor League lead in HRs with 36 while hitting a cool .285/.395/.579 over 574 PAs across AA and AA that was worth a 158 wRC+. He’s a big dude at 6 foot 3 and 245 lbs, and that’s where a lot of his top-of-the-scale 80-grade power comes from. Unlike most big power-hitting sluggers, Alonso combines both plus patience and contact skills, making him an extremely well-rounded hitter. Across both AA and AAA levels in 2018, Alonso managed to see 4.19 pitches per plate appearance while posting a 9.5% swinging-strike rate. When you consider that the ever-patient Joey Votto posted a 4.02 pitches per plate appearance mark in 2018 and that the league average for swinging-strike rate in the majors in 2018 was 10.7%, you start to see how special of a hitting prospect Alonso is. With little left to prove in the minor leagues and just the unproven J.D. Davis in front of him on the Mets 1B pecking order, Alonso should be up and contributing to your fantasy team in short-order in 2019.
ETA: April 12th or shortly after. 2019 projection: .261/.348, 26 HRs, 1 SBs.
6. Yusei Kikuchi (SP, Seattle Mariners) Age: 27
A number of years ago Kikuchi, now 27, was considering jumping to Major League Baseball (MLB) straight out of high school, which would have been unprecedented. The closest to do so was former Boston Red Sox RP Junichi Tazawa who was undrafted out of high school, played one year in a Japanese independent league, and then chose to forego the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB) for MLB. The NPB doesn’t like the idea of the best young Japanese players not playing in Japan, so nowadays anyone who signs with an MLB team out of high school is banned from the NPB for at least three years. Not surprisingly, no one has done it and Kikuchi has spent the last 8 years playing in the NPB. A left-handed pitcher, Kikuchi posted a 3.08 ERA with 153 strikeouts (23.4 K%) and 45 walks (6.9 BB%) in 23 starts and 163.2 innings in 2018. Note that the NPB is a lower strikeout league, as the average strikeout rate is 18.9% (MLB average was 22.3% in 2018). Additionally, Kikuchi’s 12.2% swinging-strike rate in 2018 was just behind the league lead among qualified pitchers at 12.3%. His finest season, though, came in 2017 as a 26-year-old, with a 1.97 ERA over 187.2 innings and an impressive 10.4 K/9.
Officially signing as a member of the Seattle Mariners in early January, Kikuchi has 4 offerings highlighted by a fastball that sits in the mid-’90s and a slider which he combined to throw about 83% of the time according to NPB sabermetrics site DeltaGraphs. Here’s the slider in action:
Kikuchi’s arsenal is filled out with a big curveball that is about 18 mph slower than the fastball and a changeup that he mixes in about 5% of the time to give hitters a different look. They all rate average or better, with the fastball reportedly a plus pitch, the slider and curve being above average, and the changeup flashing above average, but being held back by inconsistency. That profiles as a quality mid-rotation starter in MLB with the upside of a #2, especially early in his career before the rest of the league catches up to him (remember the early success of other Japanese pitchers!). His skill-set and polish points to a quality player who should be able to return immediate value, and I think he’s worth the investment in re-draft leagues at his current 206.3 ADP ahead of the 2019 MLB season.
ETA: Opening Day. 2019 projection: 3.63 ERA, 140 K’s in 148 innings pitched.
7. Joshua James (SP, Houston Astros) Age: 25
Perhaps it’s due to many discussions on the Pitcher List Discord channels, but James seems to have a lot of helium this spring as a potential breakout candidate. He’s coming off an incredible 2018 season where he posted a 3.23 ERA over 114.1 innings across both AA and AAA, with a 3.11 FIP, and also pacing the entire minor leagues with a 36.3 K%. He then made his major league debut and continued to show dominant stuff and achieve success. Across 23 innings, he posted a 2.35 ERA with 29 strikeouts against just 7 walks and held batters to a .183 batting average against. He’s armed with a heater that averaged 97 mph (albeit half his games were out of the pen), an absolutely filthy changeup that had a 22% swinging-strike rate and can dominate both lefties and righties, and strong slider he trusts inside the zone that generated a 17% swinging-strike rate in its own right. The stuff is there, and so is the 5th spot in the Astros rotation for now. He will have lots of internal competition to fend off throughout the year, including top prospect Forrest Whitley, Framber Valdez and Brad Peacock among others, so James is far from secure in his role. If he does earn a chance though, he’s worth the pickup, as his upside is among the highest among pitchers on this list.
ETA: Opening Day. 2019 projection: 3.77 ERA, 165 K’s in 153 innings pitched.
8. Alex Reyes (SP, St. Louis Cardinals) Age: 24
Tommy John Surgery wiped out Reyes’ 2017 season, and upon returning to the mound in 2018, he was quickly able to show that the dominant swing and miss repertoire that he’s long been known for was still very much intact. He dominated his way through the minors while allowing exactly 0 earned runs and striking out a truly remarkable 44 out of the 82 batters he faced before being called up to the majors. Unfortunately for him and fantasy owners, Reyes again suffered an injury, this time a lat injury in his first and only major league start of the 2018 season. The injury required season-ending surgery and yet another year of development was lost. He’s now thrown a total of 27 innings the last 2 seasons, and with little innings buildup, it’s hard to anticipate the Cardinals taking the reins off of him quickly in 2019. The plan right now is to stretch him out and use him as a starter, but with the Cardinals current rotation depth and the lack of innings buildup for Reyes, he could also be used in a high-leverage short relief role, where his dynamic 4-pitch mix would play up. Regardless, he’s a high-upside arm who should be owned in most leagues.
ETA: Opening Day. 2019 projection: 3.59 ERA, 124 K’s in 107 innings pitched.
9. Jesus Luzardo (SP, Oakland Athletics) Age: 21
Luzardo is perhaps largely considered the top LH pitching prospect in the minor leagues, and with good reason. He has dominated his way up to the highest level of the minor leagues and has an advanced repertoire with three above average pitches (60-grade fastball, 55-grade curveball that he adds and subtracts velocity from, making it kinda like a 4th pitch, 60-grade changeup) along with plus command. Let’s take a look at his 2018 numbers across three levels of baseball:
As you can see, he dominated his peers at High-A and Double-A while being young for the levels. He notably showed both high-end swing-and-miss stuff and an ability to generate weak ground-ball contact, as you can see by the well-above-average swinging-strike and ground-ball rates. His short sample in Triple-A shouldn’t worry prospect evaluators—the bigger body of work is there to believe in, and the stuff is still dynamic.
Interesting to note, the top Steamer-projected pitcher in the Oakland A’s organization for 2019 is… Luzardo with a 1.2 WAR mark along with a 4.20 ERA and 106 strikeouts against 43 walks in 120 innings pitched. Knowing how conservative Steamer projections can be with prospects, that’s a pretty interesting projection. He should be up in 2019, perhaps very early in the season, and he has the skillset to help in your redraft leagues immediately. If you want more info on Luzardo, I wrote this article on him in December.
ETA: April or May likely, June post-Super Two at the latest. 2019 projection: 3.71 ERA, 112 K’s in 118 innings.
10. Danny Jansen (C, Toronto Blue Jays) Age: 23
With an ADP of 217.7 currently, I think Jansen is one of the better values at catcher at the moment for 2019 re-draft leagues. The Toronto Blue Jays have every reason to give Jansen the majority of the reps, as he’s the catcher of the future, and with former starting catcher Russell Martin now a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the avenue to everyday PAs is clear. Jansen has elite contact skills, highlighted by a 13.6% strikeout rate at AAA, which was supported by a truly elite 4.4% swinging-strike rate. Note that 10.7% was the league average swinging-strike rate in the majors last year, so even with a ton of regression in the transition to the majors, Jansen still projects as a very good contact hitter. He also has a really nice approach, with a 12.2% walk rate and 3.98 pitches seen per plate appearance mark. For reference, Joey Votto posted a 4.02 pitches per plate appearance mark last year. Add in a launch angle change, highlighted by a 41.7% FB rate at AAA and 41.9% in the majors, and it makes it easy to suggest there may also be a 20 HR upside, so you can see there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to Jansen. He also handled his MLB time well with a 115 wRC+ in his small sample, and notably maintained his elite contact skills and much of his approach.
ETA: Opening Day. 2019 projection: .263/.352, 15 HRs, 3 SBs.
11. Nick Senzel (3B/2B/CF, Cincinnati Reds) Age: 23
The #2 overall pick from the 2016 MLB draft, Senzel has consistently been a very good hitter at every level of the minor leagues and is now on the cusp of reaching the major leagues. In 2018, he slashed .310/.378/.509 with 6 HRs and 8 SBs in just 193 PAs. He supported that batting line with a 20.2% strikeout rate and a 9.8% walk rate, which highlights both quality contact skills and an advanced approach. His 10.2% swinging-strike rate was about average, and so was his 3.75 pitches per plate appearance mark. He notably cut his ground-ball rate to 40.3% in 2018, which should help him get to more of his above-average raw power. His low PAs total this past season were a result of a bout of vertigo in May, a fractured finger in June and bone spurs in his elbow that cut short his Arizona Fall League time. As of right now, his injury issues seem to be over and he’s competing in Spring Training for a starting CF job for the Cincinnati Reds. While he is expected to begin the year back in AAA to both focus on learning CF and also to delay his path to free-agency, Senzel should be up in the majors by June at the latest, and his ability to hit while having power and speed should make him a valuable fantasy player immediately upon arrival.
ETA: June post-Super Two. 2019 projection: .272/.338, 12 HRs, 8 SBs.
12. Justus Sheffield (SP, Seattle Mariners) Age: 22
An off-season trade between the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners has this top 100 prospect now in a position for meaningful innings in 2019 and therefore potential fantasy value. Sheffield is coming off of a 2018 season where he pitched at both AA and AAA, managing a combined 2.48 ERA with 123 strikeouts against 50 walks over 116 innings pitched. His 14% and 11.9% swinging-strike rates at AA and AAA were both above average, and he clearly has swing-and-miss stuff that should give him plenty of K upside in the majors this year. The questions regarding Sheffield this year will be the consistency of his command, as well as his changeup, both of which come and go and make him a tough guy to truly trust. With the help of major league pitching coaches over the season though, we could see him take some steps forward in both regards. Right now, with an ADP of 396.5, he’s a guy you can safely grab very late as an upside pick, and then hope for the best. I think at his draft price, he’s worth the investment.
ETA: Opening Day. 2019 projection: 4.23 ERA, 131 K’s in 148 innings pitched.
13. Christin Stewart (OF, Detroit Tigers) Age: 25
Not on a lot of radars currently as his 311 Fantrax ADP can attest, Stewart is currently projected by Roster Resource to hit 5th in the Tigers lineup on the strong-side of a platoon with John Hicks. Based on his minor league career numbers, which include a career .262/.363/.503 batting line with at least 24 HRs each of the last years, he may be able to grow into a more consistent role where his power and patience could make him a quality sleeper selection in re-draft leagues in 2019. Last year at AAA, he slashed .264/.364/.480 with 23 HRs in 522 PAs and supported it with a 12.8% walk rate and a 20.7% strikeout rate. His 10.5% swinging-strike rate along with his 3.94 pitches per plate appearance mark show an impressive combination of contact and patience skills, which when added to 65 raw power, make for a pretty interesting slugging option. And while he may be projected to be in a platoon role, he actually handled both right-handed and left-handed pitchers well in AAA last year, posting a .859 and .804 OPS’ respectively. He should be available real late and should be up in the majors from day one, making him a safe investment with little downside.
ETA: Opening Day. 2019 projection: .248/.334, 23 HRs, 1 SBs.
14. Luis Urias (2B, San Diego Padres) Age: 21
Currently projected by Roster Resource to be the Opening Day starting SS for an improving San Diego Padres team, Luis Urias could be a nice little value pick at his current 380 ADP in 2019, despite not possessing a ton of power and speed upside. He is a career .306/.397/.405 minor league hitter who possesses a terrific hit tool and has a very advanced approach at the plate. Over the last 3 years in the minor leagues across three levels, he has produced no worse than an 8.7% swinging-strike rate which is well above average, and he has walked more than he has struck out in 2 of those 3 years. That ability to make contact and get on base could make him a terrific points league asset, but those in categories formats may not always value his contributions. He has consistently posted very high ground-ball rates in the minor leagues, including a 49.1% mark in AAA last year which was the lowest of his minor league career. The result was a career-best 8 HRs last year in the minor leagues, but that low launch angle really limits his power upside. He also is an average 50-grade runner and not much of a SB threat, meaning his only real value for most fantasy players will be his AVG and OBP. Still, as a big part of the Padres’ first wave of prospects to reach the major leagues, Urias should have plenty of playing time in 2019 and could work his way into the upper part of the lineup, where he could be a volume producer counting stat wise. That makes him worth owning in a lot of leagues, even if the upside isn’t incredibly high.
ETA: Opening Day. 2019 projection: .268/.345, 11 HRs, 5 SBs.
15. Kyle Tucker (OF, Houston Astros) Age: 22
Tucker was the fifth overall selection in the 2015 draft and spent most of 2018 at Triple-A Fresno, where he hit a dominant .332/.400/.590 with 24 home runs and 20 stolen bases in just 465 plate appearances. He supported that batting line with a 10.3% walk rate and 18.1% strikeout rate while making tons of airborne contact (26.8% line-drive rate and 37.4% fly-ball rate) and using the whole field effectively to support a strong .364 BABIP. All told, it was worth a 155 wRC+, which ranked third-best in the Pacific Coast League. Notably, Tucker was especially impressive from June forward, hitting .388/.444/.718 for a truly ridiculous 198 wRC+. He may have struggled in his first taste of MLB action, but rest assured: Tucker is a top-flight hitting prospect who brings true five-category upside for fantasy baseball. To me, the question for 2019 redraft leagues isn’t his talent level, but instead simply where he can find playing time on a deep and talented Houston Astros team with Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick among other occupying starting corner-outfield positions. The likely outcome is that since Tucker has minor league options, he will be sent back to AAA to begin the year and will bide his time there until a potential injury occurs. That means he’s likely not a guy I’m going to target in drafts, but I will instead closely monitor on the waiver wire.
ETA: Injury dependent or August/September if none occurs. 2019 projection: .261/.328, 12 HRs, 5 SBs.
16. Nathaniel Lowe (1B, Tampa Bay Rays) Age: 23
Speaking of guys I wrote about this offseason, Nathaniel Lowe is another one, and read about him here! The short version of the article on Lowe is that short of Guerrero Jr., Lowe was arguably the second-best hitter in the minor leagues last year, and he’s on the cusp of reaching the major leagues. Take a look at the top five hitters in MiLB in terms of wRC+:
|Vladimir Guerrero Jr (TOR)||A+/AA/AAA||19||408||.381||.437||.636||9.1||9.3||9.9||194|
|Nathaniel Lowe (TB)||A+/AA/AAA||22||555||.330||.416||.568||12.3||16.2||8.0||178|
|Michael Reed (MIL)||AA/AAA||25||404||.342||.453||.520||15.3||24.3||11.3||178|
|Alex Kirilloff (MIN)||A/A+||20||561||.348||.392||.578||6.8||15.3||11||172|
|Eloy Jimenez (CHW)||AA/AAA||21||456||.337||.384||.577||7.0||15.1||12.5||168|
Lowe interestingly posted the best swinging-strike rate of the group, and that’s notable considering Guerrero Jr is perhaps the best hitting prospect ever and has received 80-grade hit tool evaluations from scouts, which is unheard of, and Alex Kirilloff is generally considered a plus hitter, too, with a recent Prospects Live scouting report giving him a future 70 grade on the hit tool. This suggests that perhaps Lowe’s hit tool is being underrated. Now some may suggest Lowe’s success came while being older compared to the likes Guerrero Jr., Kirilloff and Jimenez, and while that’s true, he was younger than league average at each level he played in 2018. He’s legit with plus contact skills, a terrific approach and easy 65 raw power, and you should remember his name in redraft leagues come mid-season when he’s likely to be called up to help the Tampa Bay Rays’ playoff chances.
ETA: June post-Super Two. 2019 projection: .265/.338, 14 HRs, 1 SBs.
17. Brent Honeywell (SP, Tampa Bay Rays) Age: 23
Entering 2018, there were high expectations surrounding Honeywell and his potential ability to come up to the major leagues around mid-season and help fantasy teams right away. The high expectations were a result of the 3.49 ERA he posted in 2017 across 136.2 IP both AA and AA in which he posted a 30.3 K%, which ranked 11th best in the minor leagues and a 2.80 FIP. That 2017 season also included a start at the prestigious Futures Game for Team U.S., where he struck out 4 batters over 2 scoreless innings, ultimately leading to being named the game’s MVP. Honeywell’s success is predicated on a dynamic 5-pitch repertoire that includes a low-mid 90’s fastball, his trademark screwball, which is a very uncommonly thrown pitch in professional baseball, an above-average slider, a plus changeup and a change-of-pace curveball that he can throw for early strikes. With natural athleticism along with a consistent pitching delivery, Honeywell is able to command his deep repertoire effectively and he should be considered both a higher floor and higher ceiling type of starter. He will likely begin the year in AAA in 2019, working on building up his pitch counts and finding his feel again post-surgery, but he should be a viable call-up option come June after the super-two deadline.
ETA: June post-Super Two. 2019 projection: 3.87 ERA, 68 K’s in 66 innings pitched
18. Brandon Lowe (2B/OF, Tampa Bay Rays) Age: 24
Brandon Lowe reached the majors last year in August after an impressive season split between Double-A and Triple-A, where he slashed .297/.391/.558 with 22 HRs and 8 SBs in just 445 PAs. He supported that slash line with a 12.8% walk rate and 22.9% strikeout rate, and overall his season was worth a 166 wRC+. His below average 12.4% and 13.2% swinging-strike rates at Double-A and Triple-A, respectively, do show some slight contact issues, but Lowe is able to overcome that thanks to a number of high-BABIP traits, including an above average line-drive rate and an all-fields approach. The result should be a player who can post a solid batting average, have 25-homer upside and chip in with a couple of steals. The question is where will Lowe find playing time on a consistent basis in a fairly crowded Rays lineup. He’s currently in a spring training battle with Guillermo Heredia for a 4th OF spot, but with Lowe’s lack of CF experience and minor league options available, it makes sense for him to begin the year at AAA where he can get everyday PAs. To me, his best opportunity for playing time in the majors will come in the OF where he likely is the best option in a corner OF spot in the event of an injury to any of Kevin Kiermaier, Austin Meadows, or Tommy Pham.
ETA: Injury dependent. 2019 projection: .247/.328, 11 HRs, 4 SBs.
19. Francisco Mejia (C, San Diego Padres) Age: 23
Acquired by the Padres in the Brad Hand to Cleveland deal last year, Mejia is now in a position to see some meaningful MLB action, as he will share the catching duties with Austin Hedges in 2019. He’s coming off a 2018 season where he slashed .293/.338/.471 between the Indians and Padres AAA teams with 14 HRs and 2 SBs in 468 PAs. He started off slow in 2018 at the AAA level, hitting just .187 in April and then .192 in May before breaking out in June, where he hit a ridiculous .455/.476/.717 before getting a call-up to the majors shortly into July. All told, his time in the minors in 2018 was worth a 119 wRC+ and included a 5.3% walk rate and a 17.7% strikeout rate. He struggled in his exposure to the majors, managing just a .179 batting average and posting a 30.6% strikeout rate supported by a rough 15.1% swinging-strike rate. Long known for his plus contact skills, many anticipate he’ll be able to make gains at the plate with more experience, and San Diego has the time to let him gain that experience and learn on-the-job. As a lesser defender compared to Hedges, it’s likely that Mejia will lose out on a significant amount of playing time, therefore, capping his upside and likely limiting him to nothing more than a catching streamer in most leagues. Still, there’s promise in his bat that makes him worth monitoring.
ETA: Opening Day. 2019 projection: .253/.307, 12 HRs, 1 SB
20. Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS, San Diego Padres) Age: 20
Entering 2018, Tatis Jr. was assigned to AA San Antonio in the Texas League, where he was 4.9 years younger than league average. He struggled during the first month of the season, hitting just .177/.231/.333 and striking out 34 times (32.7%) against 6 walks (5.8%). Similar to the year before though, Tatis Jr. made mid-season adjustments and found success. He ended up hitting .327/.400/.572 with a walk rate of 9.3% and a strikeout rate of 25.9% in 290 plate appearances the rest of the way before a fractured thumb ended his season in July. This success contributed to Tatis Jr. being named to the Futures Game, where he had two hits plus a stolen base. His season line in 2018 at AA finished at .286/.355/.507 with 16 homers and 16 stolen bases over 394 plate appearances. It’s clear those first 104 plate appearances dragged Tatis Jr.’s line down, and the hope is that Tatis Jr. can carry that momentum into AAA early in 2019 and make a push for a major league job come mid-season.
He certainly has an attractive power/speed combo that could make him a force in fantasy baseball, especially while playing the SS position, but when it comes to expectations for performance in 2019 if he were to get called up, I have some concerns due to his contact skills. His strikeout rate has risen from 3.4% to 27.7%, and his swinging-strike rate has risen to an alarming 16.5%. For reference, his 27.7% strikeout rate finished as the fifth worst in the Texas League, and his below average 16.5% swinging-strike rate finished tied for second worst. His BABIP finished at a high .370 mark, which helped maintain the overall batting line. He has some traits of a higher BABIP hitter, including a 24.8% line-drive rate, a slightly more all-fields approach than the year before (46.6% pull, 26.7% Cent, 26.7% Oppo) and the speed to beat out ground balls. Still, I doubt he can maintain such a high BABIP when he reaches the majors. The Major League average for BABIP last year was .296, so it’s easy to project Tatis Jr.’s .370 mark to fall as he faces more advanced pitching. If that happens and Tatis Jr.’s contact issues persist, he could really struggle to put together a viable AVG and/or OBP for fantasy baseball. Notably, Fangraphs Steamer projections agree as they have Tatis Jr. projected to produce a below-average .233/.293/.387 batting line in the majors, good for an 85 wRC+ in the 2019 season.
ETA: Post-Super Two, July or August seem likely. 2019 projection: .236/.298, 9 HRs, 6 SBs.
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