Ralph Lifshitz and I go Groundhog Day on you and give you take two of the Razzball Prospect Podcast: Milwaukee Brewers Prospects w/ JB Gilpin. We did this almost exact podcast about 4 months ago, but I guess we are going to keep doing it until we finally get it right. On this one we talk jelly donuts, microbrews, robot umps, and of course, tons of Brewers prospects.
Imaginary Brick Wall was one of the only publications to have Gary Sanchez ranked #1 overall in the New York Yankees farm system coming into 2016. When I say “Imaginary Brick Wall,” of course, I mean me. And when I say “publication,” I mean this here blog. I’m just trying to class this joint up a little bit. Baseball America, Fangraphs, and MLB.com all had Jorge Mateo #1. Baseball Prospectus, ESPN, and Prospect361 went with Aaron Judge. I only mention those other websites due to how much I respect them, not to denigrate them. But nanny nanny poo poo … I beat them. Let’s give them another shot to take the crown this year, as I’m going to make this New York Yankees prospect ranking an annual thing. Here is the 2017 Top 10 New York Yankees Fantasy Baseball Prospect Rankings:
1) Aaron Judge OF – The 44% K rate in his MLB debut have people jumping ship faster than Jack and Rose did from the Titanic. Incidentally, Judge is about the size of the Titanic, and in fairness to the ones jumping ship, that scary K rate just might be the tip of the iceberg. I guess in this analogy that makes me the weird violinist who is pretending all is well. But Judge struggled in his promotion to Triple-A in 2015 too, before slashing .270/.366/.489 with 19 homers and a 98/47 K/BB in 93 games there this season. He has shown an ability to make adjustments against more advanced pitching. And you have to remember that all of New York’s minor league affiliates are pitcher’s parks in pitcher’s leagues. Judge had the 4th highest OPS in the entire International League. He also displayed his monster raw power, exit velocity, and plate discipline in the Majors even with the strikeouts, and should have the RF job locked up coming out of Spring Training. I ranked Judge 25th in my End of Season Top 35 Fantasy Prospect Rankings.
2) Clint Frazier OF – Frazier is one Brett Gardner/Jacoby Ellsbury trade away from joining Judge in the Yankees corner outfield for years to come. He probably needs more work at Triple-A anyway, as he put up a .657 OPS with a 36/7 K/BB in his 30 game end of season promotion there. The elite bat speed is his number one tool on the field. The elite red hair is his number one tool off it. I ranked Frazier 26th in my End of Season Top 35 Prospect Rankings.
3) Gleyber Torres SS – Torres will likely be the Yankees #1 ranked prospect in most of those aforementioned publications. His performance in the Arizona Fall League had scouts absolutely buzzing, as he slashed a ridiculous .403/.513/.645 with 3 homers and 4 steals in 18 games. While he is not projected to hit for monster power or rack up crazy steal totals, he should be a legitimate five category producer who can stick at shortstop. Whether he does stick at shortstop with Didi in town remains to be seen. I ranked Torres 34th in my End of Season Top 35 Fantasy Prospect Rankings.
4) Jorge Mateo SS/2B – It was not a good year for Mateo. He saw his numbers take a dip at High-A and was suspended 2 weeks for whining about not being called up to Double-A when he wanted to be called up. Even his stolen bases dropped from 82 in 2015 to 36 this season, and barring a trade, it is looking less and less likely that Mateo will stick at shortstop. Having said that, his raw talent and plus, plus speed are still there, so it is more likely this season was just a bump in the road rather than a representation of his true talent level. Prime Projection: 86/12/60/.269/.321/.396/33
ETA: Mid-season 2018. What team and position is anyone’s guess.
5) Justus Sheffield LHP – I think Sheffield has gotten a little overshadowed by Frazier, but he may end up being the real prize from that Andrew Miller trade, especially in real life. He pitched solid all year in High-A as a true 20-year-old with a 3.19 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 8.9 K/9. He then closed his year out in impressive fashion by going 4 IP, 2 Hits, 0 ER, 3 BB, 9 K against Double-A Reading in their wind tunnel of a stadium, helping to hold their impressive middle of the order (Alfaro, Cozens, Hoskins) to a 2 for 11 day. There is video of that entire start if you are interested. Prime Projection: 3.48/1.23/184 in 188 IP
ETA: Mid-season 2018. Wouldn’t be crazy to see him get a cup of coffee in September this year.
6) Blake Rutherford OF – I would like to see more age appropriate production before fully jumping on the Rutherford bandwagon for fantasy. The traditional scouts seem to be in love with the kid, so maybe I’m just being too conservative. I ranked Rutherford 22nd on my Top 40 Dynasty First Year Player Draft Rankings.
7) James Kaprielian RHP – Kaprielian’s velocity ticked up in pro ball after being drafted 16th overall in the 2015 draft and then he promptly got injured. The extra velocity seemed to turn him into an absolute beast, though, as he racked up the strikeouts when he did manage to take the mound. His injury risk and lack of an extended professional resume is concerning, but the pitch repertoire of a mid-90’s fastball, wipeout slider, slow curve, and changeup from a polished college starter is hard to pass up. Prime Projection: 3.59/1.25/167 in 174 IP
ETA: Could see a late season call up this year, but more likely to get his first extended action in 2018.
8) Dustin Fowler OF – Fowler might be one of the more underrated power/speed combo prospects going right now. As a 21-year-old in Double-A he put up a .281/.311/.458 triple-slash with 12 homers, 30 doubles, 15 triples, and 25 steals in 132 games. He has excellent raw tools and a smooth lefty swing that is geared for both average and power. He walked only 3.8% of the time, so there is still work to do, but he made contact at a high clip too (15% K%). I’m tempted to rank Fowler higher, and I may when I come out with my Top 100 this off-season. Prime Projection: 73/17/70/.270/.306/.420/18
ETA: 2018. Yanks are stacked in the outfield right now so it is really impossible to know how it is all going to shake out. His ability to stick in CF will also play a big role.
9) Dillon Tate RHP – Tate dominated in his first two starts of the season before suffering a hamstring injury. When he returned, his stuff just wasn’t the same and he got smacked around the rest of the way. The Yanks still took a chance on him in the Carlos Beltran trade, and it looks like it might pay off as he was back to hitting mid-90’s with a wipeout slider in the Arizona Fall League. He has a long way to go to recover the prospect shine that made him the 4th overall pick in the 2015 draft, but I wouldn’t count him out yet. Prime Projection: 3.72/1.27/165 in 182 IP
ETA: See James Kaprielian
10) Miguel Andujar 3B – Andujar has been on the radar of hardcore Yankees prospect fans since 2011 when he was a highly touted international signing. He finally broke out a bit this year at High-A where he slashed .283/.343/.474 with 10 homers and a 30/18 K/BB in 58 games. He struggled in his promotion to Double-A, but still more or less maintained his underlying hitting skills. I think there is a decent chance the Yanks use him as trade bait in the next couple years. Prime Projection: 68/19/74/.277/.330/.434/5
Ralph Lifshitz and I got you three hot steaming pieces of coal for Christmas … and for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Festivis too. Coal for everyone. Blame the timing, or blame Ralph, but we lumped the three worst systems in baseball together and it just so happened to land on this weekend. We attempted to overcompensate by getting real loose with this one.
With an increasing number of eyeballs focused on finding fantasy baseball prospect sleepers, it can be hard staying ahead of your competition in Dynasty Leagues, but it seems I have stumbled upon a niche underrated asset class of prospects – those who took 93 MPH fastballs to the face in June. If this was Razzball, I would make a “balls to the face” joke here, but it isn’t, so I won’t. I have already gushed about Chase Vallot in a Breakout/Sleeper post back on June 1, and then again in a Top 10 Breakout Ranking a few weeks later. Here is the picture of the aftermath of that 93 MPH fastball to the face to jog your memory. Unfortunately for Chris Iriart, 1B, Oakland Athletics, he now joins Vallot in this ill-fated group.
On June 2, 12 days before Vallot took one to the dome, Iriart met the same fate. He posted an eerily similar twitter picture and caption to prove it. The injury came at an inopportune time (as if there is ever an opportune time to get hit in the face), as Iriart was just starting to get comfortable in pro ball. In May, he slashed .253/.355/.484 with 5 homers and a 29/13 K/BB in 28 games at Single-A. This was coming off a cold start to the season and a poor pro debut in 2015 as a 12th round pick. The injury could have easily derailed his season, but after sitting out a few weeks and shaking off the rust in July, he went on an absolute tear to end the year. He slashed .275/.378/.624 with 10 homers and a 31/14 K/BB in his final 30 games, which included a 16-game promotion at High-A. He is not one of these old for their level guys, either, as he played the entire season at 21 years old, which is age appropriate for A-Ball.
What makes the mid-season breakout even more exciting is that it did not come completely out of left field. Iriart was an absolute masher in college, first destroying the Orange Empire Conference (not a joke) his Sophomore year, before transferring into Division 1, American Athletic Conference, without so much as a hiccup, slashing .302/.415/.573 with 15 homers and a 69/28 K/BB in 63 games his Junior year. He has plus raw power, plus bat speed, and a very direct path to the ball swing. All of the ingredients are there. Having an October birthday, he was also one of the youngest players in his draft class, so it is understandable that he would struggle in his first taste of pro ball more than players who are 6 months to a year older than him (not even taking into account Seniors).
The risks here are mostly obvious. At 6’2’’, 230 pounds he is big bodied, 1B only prospect without any projection remaining. He struck out 26.6% of the time this year, although he paired that with a decent 9.6% walk rate, and both of those numbers improved in his late season High-A cameo. He will also be headed to the spacious Oakland Coliseum, and Oakland has a number of similar prospects/young players ahead of him, like Ryon Healy, Matt Chapman, Renato Nunez, and Matt Olson.
Iriart is being hyped just about nowhere other than the deepest of Oakland A’s fan blogs, but he deserves more national attention. He will get it if he continues to hit well next season, which is why now is the time to buy in super low. I will give him a prime projection of 69/23/80/.259/.319/.449/1 with room for much more if he can cut down on his strikeouts.
On this week’s Razzball Prospect Podcast, I learned that Ralph Lifshitz has a black cat that his wife named “Stabby” (or so I thought), that the flu is the only thing that could slow down Razzball’s J-FOH, and that Ralph sees shades of Ken Griffey Jr. in Clay Bellinger’s extreme uppercut lefty swing.
Strikeouts have reached an all-time high in Major League Baseball for an amazing 9th straight season. It was not even limited to the playing field, the players took a big swing and a miss on the new CBA too (I kid, I kid). This was not exactly hard to see coming. Here is what I wrote in my Top 25 Starting Pitcher Rankings back in March:
“Strikeouts have absolutely exploded around baseball. MLB averaged 7.8 K/9 in 2015, setting a new all-time record. That broke the previous record of 7.7 K/9 set in 2014, which broke the previous record of 7.6 K/9 set in 2013. In fact, MLB has broken its own all-time K/9 and total strikeout record every season since 2008. You can find those all-time stats here. It’s actually pretty cool to look at. And the 2016 top 25 starting pitchers have all contributed more than their fair share into ushering in this new era of the strikeout. Will we see 7.9 K/9 in 2016?”
We did not see 7.9 K/9 in 2016. It rocketed straight through that to 8.1 K/9. Assuming you watched every at-bat of every game, like any good fan should, you saw 1,536 more strikeouts than you did in 2015. There was a total of 38,982 strikeouts this season. For comparisons sake, there were 175 strikeouts (0.7 K/9) in 1871, 20,212 strikeouts (4.8 K/9) in 1980, and 30,644 strikeouts (6.4 K/9) in 2005.
Coinciding with the spike in strikeouts, and probably the main reason for it, average fastball velocity has risen every year since 2008, as well, going from 90.9 MPH to an all-time high of 92.6 MPH in 2016. Higher velocity leads to more strikeouts which should lead to less offense. This mostly held true during the recent strikeout boom, with runs per game reaching lows in 2014 that we have not seen since the pre-steroid era. But 2016 was the year hitters started to fight fire with fire. They ripped the second most homeruns in baseball history, trailing only the steroid infused 2000 season by 83 homers, or .01 per game. Maybe batters started to realize that they better do damage when they do actually make contact. That means hitting the ball harder and in the air. Or maybe MLB executives took matters into their own hands, and juiced the balls. Either way, baseball has finally proven the old adage, “the harder they come in, the farther they go out.”
The only thing that could stop this current strikeout epidemic, or even hope to contain it, are injuries. Higher pitch velocities have been loosely linked to a greater chance of needing Tommy John surgery. Some pitchers like Masahiro Tanaka, who have already had an elbow scare, have transitioned into throwing their sinking 2-seamer more than their 4-seamer, sacrificing velocity for movement. Other than that, there does not seem to be an end in sight to this strikeout surge, especially with starters not being allowed to see a lineup a 3rd time through and the continued rise of bullpen specialization.
We are firmly entrenched in the era of the K, but luckily for fans of offense, hitters have started to adjust. After over 100 years of baseball, the game is being whittled down to its two most efficient outcomes, the strikeout and the homer. The only question left is, will we ever see 9.0 K/9?
Ralph Lifshitz and I recorded a marathon session (which turned out to be not that much longer than our usual podcasts, ha) where we bullshit about all of the recent hot stove trades and rundown the Houston Astros beast of a system, who might be the biggest prospect teases going right now. They are stacked with talent, but seem intent on acquiring every 30+ (almost 40+ in Beltran’s case) veteran that they can get their hands on. Here is to hoping they start dealing some of these guys away for pitching.
Everyone loses value. FIN
With the free agent landscape almost barren this off-season, the trade market has dominated the hot stove. Let’s run down the impact these trades had in the fantasy baseball prospect world. Here is the 2017 Off-Season Fantasy Baseball Prospect Rundown: The Traded Prospects:
Yoan Moncada 2B/3B/OF, CHW – Dave Dombrowski whipped out the godfather offer to land the most valuable player available this off-season, Chris Sale. His mission to turn an organization with Dynasty level long-term talent into one with a 3-year compete window is nearly complete. You know Rafael Devers and Jason Groome are going to be burning a hole in his pocket at the trade deadline. As for Moncada, I always think it is much easier for a prospect to break in with a rebuilding team than it is with a contender. He no longer has to be pigeonholed in at third base, and can stick at second, or maybe even be transitioned to centerfield. He is more likely to get significant big league at-bats next season with Chicago, and will get a much longer leash than he would have gotten in Boston. He should also get the constant green light on the base paths. At worst, this has no impact on Moncada’s fantasy value, and I think it is actually a slight positive.
Michael Kopech RHP, CHW – Don’t be shocked if Kopech is the top pitching prospect in the game by mid-season. His fastball velocity has reached mythological status at this point, with there being more consensus on the existence of Big Foot than if he really did uncork a 105 MPH fastball earlier this year. Regardless, he seriously impressed in the Arizona Fall League, and put on a show during the nationally televised Fall League All-Star game, pitching 2 perfect innings with 3 strikeouts. If he can maintain the improved control and command he displayed in the AFL next season, there won’t be many pitching prospects I would rather own than Kopech. Unfortunately, with Chicago’s almost willful disregard for defense, especially catcher defense, he was likely better off in Boston.
Mauricio Dubon INF, MIL – Leave it to Milwaukee’s new management to target an underrated guy like the 22-year-old Dubon. He added doubles power to his already plus hit tool and speed at Double-A this season. He is still a slight 6’0’’, 160 pounds, so there is projection for some more homerun power down the line too. With Orlando Arcia and Jonathan Villar currently locked in at SS and 2B, respectively, Dubon’s path isn’t much clearer in Milwaukee than it was in Boston, although there could be some wiggle room at 3B or OF to carve out a niche as an almost everyday utility player if he hits.
Luis Alexander Basabe OF, CHW – The Sale trade is a boon for the 20-year-old Basabe’s fantasy value. He wasn’t cracking the Benintendi/Bradley/Betts outfield triumvirate in Boston any time soon, and Chicago’s outfield talent is very weak up and down the organization. Even if he never hits above .250, the speed/power combo could provide solid value in fantasy, and Chicago might be inclined to stick with him through the slumps due to the raw talent and lack of good alternatives.
Alex Jackson OF, ATL – The relatively weak return that Seattle got for Jackson should tell you everything you need to know about his current fantasy value. It’s a similar return that the Yankees got for Justin Wilson last year. If you already have him on your team, he is a hold, and the only way I would buy low on him is if my fantasy team is in the exact same position as the Atlanta Braves.
Max Povse RHP, SEA/ Rob Whalen RHP, SEA – These guys have value in only the deepest of leagues. Povse profiles as an innings eating back-end starter who will hurt your ratios and not help all that much in strikeouts. Whalen profiles as something similar, or could end up in middle relief.
Albert Abreu RHP, NYY/Jorge Guzman RHP, NYY – Teams obviously weren’t beating down Cashman’s door to acquire Brian McCann, so he had to settle for two high risk, high reward lower minors arms. Abreu is further along than Guzman, and has a better chance to stick as a starter. Neither of their fantasy values change at all with this trade.
Josh Pennington RHP, MIL/Victor Diaz RHP, CHW – Two hard throwing righties, one already in the bullpen (Diaz), and the other likely destined for the bullpen (Pennington). As a New York Jets fan, it is kinda nice to use “hard throwing” and “Pennington” in the same sentence for once.
John Gant STL, RHP – Acquired in the Jaime Garcia trade along with Chris Ellis and Luke Dykstra. Nothing much to see here for fantasy prospect wise. Most interesting part of the trade is that Gant is now infamous for causing a minor rebellion when former Fangraphs prospect writer, Dan Farnsworth, ranked him the 2nd best prospect in the Atlanta Braves organization last off-season.
Adam Eaton trade update:
Lucas Giolito RHP, CHW – The question marks were starting to build even before this trade (fastball took a step back, control and command not improving), and now you can tack on a DH, a hitter’s ballpark, and a team that doesn’t quite believe in defense, catcher defense in particular. I ranked Giolito 5th in my End of Season Top 35, but he probably drops into the top 10 range now.
Reynaldo Lopez RHP, CHW – Lopez has yet to crack any of my Top 100 lists because I believe the bullpen risk is very high, plus, his projection as a starter is more of the mid-rotation variety. He can throw 100 MPH and his strikeouts spiked to 10.4 per 9 IP in the minors this year, so his strikeout upside is undeniable, but he also gave up 13 homers in those 109.1 MiLB IP, and will now be pitching in a homer happy home ballpark. On the bright side, Washington was stacked with pitching, so Chicago probably gives him a better opportunity to stick as a starter.
Dane Dunning RHP, CHW – A 3/4 type starter without huge strikeout upside is far more appealing in a pitcher friendly ballpark in the NL like Washington. On second thought, every pitcher is far more appealing in a pitcher friendly ballpark in the NL like Washington. Which is why I always build my fantasy teams around NL pitching, until they get traded to shitty situations in the AL. Sorry guys if you own these pitchers. I feel your pain.
On this week’s Razzball Prospect Podcast, Ralph Lifshitz and I throw a party for Colorado Rockies prospect hitters, and throw a funeral for their pitchers. Yes, I like my funerals like I like my parties, thrown. Ralph also talks about his unrelated Great Aunt molesting him Wedding Crashers style. Seriously.