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Misfit Prospects to Consider: 2020 Fantasy Baseball and Beyond

I’m not a prospect guy and I would never claim to be one. I have a ton of respect for those guys/girls and there are plenty of great prospect analysts out there. Much of the knowledge that I’ve gained regarding prospects is from said experts. I’m not sure how they do it. The amount of information available for prospects is not nearly the level we get from players in the majors. Plus, there’s about eight-times the payer pool. That’s a lot to keep track of. For me, I know the top prospects like most others but I like to dig a little deeper every once in a while. I’m in a number of keeper and dynasty leagues, so I need more than just the basic knowledge of the top-50 or so prospects. For this piece, I’ve decided to look at prospects ranked outside of the top 100 and in many cases outside of the top 200. Some of these players are old for their level, so they may get glossed over. Many of them don’t have a path to playing time in 2020 but could be ready if a spot opens due to an injury, trade, etc.

Here are the parameters for my search. First, I look for players in the upper-minors, AKA Double-A or Triple-A. Or, at least players who spent the majority of the season at those levels. I want a player who isn’t striking out a bunch. Pitchers at the Major League level are much better, bullpens are managed better. It’s all but a guarantee that a hitter will increase his strikeout rate when he arrives in the big leagues. At least for the first year or two. That threshold is fluid. I’d love to get a guy with a sub-15% K-rate but if he’s a masher, then a sub-20% rate will do. I also want a player with some patience because on-base percentage is valuable and can lead to more playing time. Preferably, I’m looking for a 10%+ walk rate. I also was a nice batted ball profile, not extreme one way or the other. A ground ball rate near 40%+/- five percent is ideal. Finally, they need to produce. I want a player much better than the rest of the players around him. That means a wRC+ of 125 or better. In other words, they were at least 25% better than the rest of the league. Sounds like these guys should be stars but they are misfits. Not young enough to be considered great prospects and if they are, they have flaws in their defensive game or elsewhere.


Mark Payton (OF – CIN) – 28 years old, NR
Triple-A Numbers: .330/.398/.662, 30 HR, 6 SB, 424 PA, 10.4% BB, 16.7% K, 148 wRC+

Payton would have been a little more interesting if he was still with the Athletics. Stephen Piscotty is dealing with an injury and Mark Canha and Robbie Grossman will be manning the corner outfield slots. I could have seen Payton crack the MLB roster given the lack of depth in Oakland’s outfield, but I digress. The Reds, on the other hand, have far too many outfielders on the MLB roster as it currently stands. Aristides Aquino will likely start in the minors and the Reds will still be carrying at least five outfielders on the MLB roster. Payton will need a series of injuries and/or poor performance from having a shot in 2020. 

However, the park is a massive upgrade and Payton is coming off a 30-homer season in Triple-A with a 45:76 BB:K ratio. His swinging strike percentages have regularly been below 10% which is a great sign. He also changed his approach cutting his ground ball rate to 35%. Prior to last season, he’d been a little more ground ball-heavy at 45%. Additionally, his HR/FB% nearly doubled, which could have been a product of the Triple-A ball. Even still, a 148 wRC+ is impressive even if it did come in his age-27 season. He seems like a nice late-career breakout if given an opportunity a la Ryan Ludwick.

 

Jake Cronenworth (SS/P – SDP) – 26 years old, NR
Triple-A Numbers: .334/.429/.520, 10 HR, 12 SB, 406 PA, 12.1% BB, 15.3% K, 147 wRC+

I’ve been eyeing Cronenworth since the end of 2018 when he was an older prospect in the Rays Double-A system. He had speed and low walk rates. But, he also pitched! Yes, he’s a two-way player and a pretty damn good athlete. You kind of have to be to play shortstop and pitch at this level. I’m not sure how the Padres will use him but he impressed the coaching staff in the two-plus weeks of spring training we had. Hopefully, he makes the roster and contributes. Shortstop is out of the question barring an injury but they are weak at second base and he’s athletic enough to play the outfield. I could see him as a super-utility option who, in rare instances, can throw an inning or two. He needs a little more loft in his swing if he wants to hit for power but his speed is well above average. If forced into everyday action, he’s definitely an Adam Eaton type of fantasy player. He’s patient with good contact skills mixing in some speed and power. He’s a nice glue guy in deeper formats, especially NL-Only. 

 

John Nogowski (OF – STL) – 27 years old, NR
Triple-A Numbers: .295/.413/.467, 13 HR, 1 SB, 446 PA, 14.8% BB, 11.7% K, 120 wRC+

I bent my 125 wRC+ rule for this one. The numbers aren’t eye-popping but anyone who has the ability to walk more than they strikeout is interesting in my book. His BB/K rates over the last three seasons are 1.08, 1.95, and 1.28. Yup, this is nothing new. Over that span, his swinging strike rates have hovered at or under five percent. The only players to walk more times than they struck out in 2019 were Alex Bregman, Luis Arraez, and that’s it. Maybe Nogowski is more of the latter than the former but he’s also displayed a nice ground ball/fly ball mix throughout the minors. His ISO has risen steadily since 2017. He could be a late bloomer. A right-handed first baseman is not sought after on the major league market but he strikes me as a similar bat to Jose Martinez with a better strikeout rate. This is definitely a late-round sleeper in the deepest of formats who could hit .280 with 12-15 homers and carry more value in OBP formats.



Yermin Mercedes (C – CHW) – 27 years old, NR
Double/Triple-A Numbers: .313/.382/.559, 21 HR, 2 SB, 369 PA, 10.6% BB, 17.3% K, 153 wRC+

The White Sox just signed Yasmani Grandal to a four-year deal this offseason but he’s already 31 years old. His days of catching 130+ games may likely be coming to an end soon. Mercedes’ 153 wRC+ may not be a fluke as he continued to crush this spring hitting .381 with a 1.410 OPS. Unfortunately, the White Sox are stacked with DH-type players, so he’s likely the third option behind McCann and Grandal for 2020. McCann is a free agent at the end of this season, so it’s a perfect opportunity for the White Sox to see what Mercedes can do. 

 

Pavin Smith (1B – ARI) – 24 years old, 29th ranked prospect
Double-A: 11.6% BB, 12.0% K in 123 games 142 wRC+

Smith is most likely a year away from his MLB debut but could also earn a late-season call up if he impresses at Triple-A in 2020. He hasn’t shown the pop you’d expect from a first baseman and projects as above-average raw power. However, in his two-plus MiLB seasons, he’s walked 140 times against just 150 strikeouts. The impressive plate skills are reflected in his consistent 6.5% SwStr rate as well. He’s going to need to improve in the power department and maybe he’s on his way as he dropped his ground ball rate from 49% to 44% between 2018 and 2019. If he can develop into a 25+ homer hitter, he’s going to be a valuable batting average asset at first base come 2021. As a lefty, he could also be part of a strong-side platoon. Keep tabs on Smith as he’s pavin’ the way to become a MLB regular.

 

Trent Grisham (OF – SDP) – 23-year-old, 12th ranked prospect (Org), 50 future value (top 100)
Double/Triple-A Numbers: .300/.407/.512, 26 HR, 12 SB, 441 PA, 15.2% BB, 16.3% K, 166 wRC+

I might be cheating here because Grisham surpassed the minimum of 150 plate appearances to qualify as a prospect. He doesn’t excel in any skill but has a strong blend of above-average power and speed. Early on in his minor league career, he showed elite stolen base skills swiping 67 bags through his first 247 games of his minor league career. Since then, his speed and willingness to steal bases have declined but the power has developed. Across three levels in 2019 (AA, AAA, MLB), Grisham hit 32 home runs and stole 13 bases.

Maybe more impressive, he walked 87 times against 120 strikeouts. As a patient hitter, he showed impressive skills, spitting on pitches outside the zone and managing a SwStr% of just 8.1% in the Majors. Because of his patience, his walk rate should be north of 10% but he’ll get himself into a bunch of deep counts likely providing a strikeout rate around 25%. This approach will most likely lead to a batting average under .250 but he’ll be a valuable asset in OBP formats. The Padres acquired him to play nearly every day and he won’t have to compete against Franmil Reyes or Manuel Margot for playing time. We don’t know what the 2019 season will look like but I think he’ll play in at least 80% of the Padres games. To make projections easier, I’ll project him for 600 PA, so if the MLB season is shortened to 120 games (75% of a normal 162-game season), take 25% off the top. 

2020 Projection 600 PA: .245/.339/.445, 24 HR, 12 SB


 

Taylor Ward (3B/OF – LAA) – 26 years old, 15th ranked prospect (Org rank), 40 Future Value
Triple-A Numbers: .307/.429/.584, 26 HR, 11 SB, 104 G, 15.9% BB, 19.9% K, 146 wRC+

Another prospect that lost his eligibility last season, Ward was much more interesting before the Angels signed Anthony Rendon. Obviously, the Angels want to win now and Ward has struggled with a 34.9% strikeout rate in just under 200 major league plate appearances. It’s unfortunate because he obliterated Triple-A pitching last year to the tune of .306/.427/.584 with a 145 wRC+. In fact, here are his Double-A and Triple-A weighted runs created (wRC+) since 2017: 178, 160, 145. Maybe, he’s just a Quad-A player, especially now that he’s 26 years old. He’s not a great defender and hits from the right side, so he’s not all that appealing to other teams. He just needs a chance. Maybe he’ll be traded and get a shot for another AL team as a full-time DH. There’s value here if he earns playing time. He hasn’t had a minor league walk rate below 13.5% since the 2017 season. Additionally, he’s posted double-digit steals in each of the last two seasons. I don’t believe he’s more than a 5-7 stolen base guy in the bigs but at least he’s not a zero there either. 

 

Chas McCormick (OF – HOU) – 24 years old; 31st ranked prospect, 40 FV but with 50s across the board
Double-A: 12.4% BB, 15.1% K, 94 wRC+ Triple-A, 17.5% BB, 12.6% K, 141 wRC+ (90 mph AVG EV)

McCormick is probably my favorite prospect of this group of guys who haven’t debuted yet. He’s completely buried in the system given the depth in the outfield. Kyle Tucker can’t even find everyday at-bats with the Astros. As a 21st round pick, McCormick has a lot to prove. The numbers weren’t great at Triple-A in 2019 but he still managed a fantastic BB/K ratio. Additionally, he compiled 14 homers and 16 steals across 110 games across the Double and Triple-A. He posted strong exit velocity figures which would have been in the 70th percentile among qualified major leaguers. 

McCormick’s been pegged with a 55 raw power grade per FanGraphs Eric Longenhagen and his ground ball rate is steadily dropping. After two seasons in the 40-50% ground ball range, he dropped it to 35% in 2019. His SwStr% has sat below 9% in the upper-minors, so I think he can maintain a better than 20% strikeout rate in the majors. His above-average speed is a bonus. At a minimum, he can be a fringe starter in the league and isn’t a slouch defensively as he’s seen some run in centerfield as well, though he profiles as a corner outfielder. He won’t be interesting in 2020 if he remains on the Astros but could force his way into playing time in 2021 if he dominates Triple-A pitching. As a trade chip, I wouldn’t be surprised to see McCormick put up several 10-10 type seasons with a 15-15 or 20-20 ceiling. 

 

Forrest Wall (OF – TOR), 24 years old 11th ranked prospect – Blue Jays
Double/Triple-A: 10.5% BB, 23.6% K, 60-grade speed, 126 wRC+

Yes, another talented prospect in the Blue Jays system. This one, to my knowledge, is not the son of a former major leaguer. He bats from the left side and is athletic enough to play centerfield. I’m not a fan of his strikeout rate but his SwStr% has dropped each of the last two stops at Double-A settling in at 9.4% in 2019. He hit 11 home runs and stole 14 bases in 125 games last year but his power seems to be on the rise. With his frame, he should be able to generate a little more power, so 15-20 HR is probably his ceiling. I’m more interested in his 60-grade speed. Prior to 2019, he was regularly stealing 20+ bags. As his approach continues to improve (walk rates have been on the rise), he may get more opportunities to run. The Blue Jays have a ton of depth in the outfield but outside of Lourdes Gurriel, no one seems to have staying power. Anthony Alford will likely receive one more chance to provide himself and Randall Grichuck (career 105 wRC+) and Teoscar Hernandez (career 106 wRC+) are far from roadblocks. Wall could impact fantasy rosters late in 2020 if he impresses at Triple-A but is more of a 2021 target.

Breyvic Valera (2B – SDP), 28 years old, 30th ranked prospect Padres System
54 walks/51 strikeouts across three levels including MLB; 15 HR, 10 SB across 124 games

How confident should the Padres be running Jurickson Profar and Brian Dozier out there as their primary second basemen? Profar struggled mightily last season and had trouble throwing to first base. Dozier seems like he’s about to call it a career. Enter, Valera. His prospect grades are bland across the board. None of his skills jump off the page and he showed essentially zero power until 2017 where he hit eight homers at Triple-A. His speed is middling which is reflected in his stolen base totals regularly settling in around 10-15 per season. Boring, I know, but he finally showed some promising power in 2019 with 15 home runs in 124 games. Combining mid-teens power with swinging strike rates that would be among the best in the league at least draws my interest. Here are his SwStr% among minor league stops with more than 200 PA: 2.6%, 2.4%, 2.9%, 3.0%, 3.6%. His limited MLB batted ball results are uninspiring but he’s shown well-above-average speed. He probably hits too many balls in the air to hit over .300 but a full season from Valera could yield .280, 12 HR and 10 SB.

Bonus Options

Luis Castro (MIL – 1B) 24 years old
High/Double-A: 27 homers, 15 steals across 126 games, 162 wRC+

Once again, another right-handed first baseman. Castro is likely a 2021 bet to reach the majors, especially with the delayed start to the season. He’s a good athlete who has played some third base in the past. He’s also a good base runner swiping double-digit bases with good success rates. Checking the Brewers depth chart, we see Justin Smoak and Ryan Braun manning first base. Neither is a long term solution. That could open the door for Castro in 2021 especially if he lays waste to Double-A pitching this year. He’ll need to keep his strikeouts in check as they have hovered just over 20%. He strikes me as a 25-30% guy early on in the majors but if he can blast 30+ homers, that’s okay. His power really took off last year and I’d like to see more improvement in 2020.

 

2020 Impact Power Bat

Kevin Cron (1B – ARI); 27 years old
Triple-A: 182 wRC+, 16.2% BB, 20.4% K in 82 Games

King Cron’s little bro has some massive power upside. He’s 6’-5”, 250 pounds and smoked 45 home runs in 123 games! Most of the damage was done in Triple-A, so let’s not get carried away. His approach in limited work at the major league level was awful. He chased far too many pitches outside the zone and as a result, carried a SwStr% over 20%. Not good. So, yeah, he doesn’t fit my criteria above, but Cron’s a 2020 impact bat. He’s certainly an aggressive hitter and will pile up his share of strikeouts. But, get this, of the 44 balls he put in play, he barreled 10 of them (22.7%). His launch angle was a solid 14.4 degrees and here’s what he can do if you throw 93 mph up in the zone. Christian Walker is his only roadblock. I love the power metrics Walker put up last year but he’s also a late bloomer with some swing and miss in his game. He’s far from a sure thing and I expect the DBacks to ride the hot hand as they are in win-now mode. 

ZIPS Projection: 480 PA, .248/.321/.515, 68 R, 30 HR, 86 RBI, 1 SB

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