Fantasy Baseball Prospects Report: Austin Meadows has arrived, but Juan Soto more deserving of your attention
Austin Meadows is coming up to the big leagues, but there's a reason he wasn't among Scott White's top prospects to stash and a couple 19-year-olds are.
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And we've counted him among the top prospects in baseball ever since.
Most of his shine is residual now, the byproduct of his initial high standing and some of the strides he made earlier in his minor-league career. But I'm not sure he has made a single stride since 2016. Back then, he slugged .536 with an .869 OPS. In parts of two seasons since, he has slugged just over .380 with an OPS just over .700.
But oh-oh, here he comes, getting called up Friday for some additional outfield depth. Or maybe he'll get to start for however long Starling Marte is sidelined by a strained oblique. (Marte himself didn't think he'd need a DL stint, but the Pirates opted to play it safe.) Regardless of the role, I don't see Meadows having much staying power.
Now, it's true that sometimes prospects of a certain pedigree kick it into high gear at the highest level, almost as if they're so confident in the end goal that they're just biding their time along the way. Or maybe the parent clubs have gotten more sophisticated in recognizing when their babies are about to break through -- who knows? -- but it's how players like Francisco Lindor and Ozzie Albies, to name a couple of examples, can be so surprising while also being so hyped.
But it's rare to see one backslide as Meadows has. Health was the excuse last year, when he missed time with hamstring and oblique injuries, but his slash line is almost identical this year. Even his recent seven-game hitting streak has been almost all singles -- and no homers.
I try to keep open mind when it comes to prospects, particularly ones scouts and other insiders insist are actually good. But Meadows has to prove something before I take the plunge, especially since there's clearly no room in the Pittsburgh outfield once Marte returns.
Even if we were still counting Meadows as a minor-leaguer, I wouldn't have him among my top five prospects to stash.
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Alex Reyes, SP, Cardinals
2016 majors: 4-1, 1.57 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 46 IP, 23 BB, 52 K
2018 minors: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 8 1/3 IP, 3 BB, 18 K
No, I haven't included Alex Reyes among the minor-leaguers to stash until now because he's technically on a rehab assignment and, therefore, a major-leaguer. But if you'll grant me this inconsistency, I think we'll all benefit from the regular status updates that this space allows. After all, he can't actually come off the DL until May 28, and particularly with Luke Weaver coming around over his past couple starts, there may not be a clear opening for Reyes once he's ready to return, meaning he could potentially stay in the minors or temporarily shift to the bullpen.
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But man is he good. The consensus top pitching prospect looked every bit the part in a late-season trial for the big club in 2016, and he just struck out 12 over five one-hit innings in his second rehab start after Tommy John surgery. If you're looking for impact, it's here.
Vladimir Guerrero, 3B, Blue Jays
2017 minors: .323 BA (437 AB), 13 HR, 28 2B, .910 OPS, 76 BB, 62 K
2018 minors: .415 BA (135 AB), 7 HR, 15 2B, 1.155 OPS, 14 BB, 13 K
Guerrero was added to this space a week ago, complete with the concession that how close a prospect is only as relevant as how impactful he can be, and all he has done since then is hit .517 (15 for 29) with two homers and four doubles, striking out once. So now I'm all-in. I'm not even sure it'll take a move up to Triple-A first. Sure, he has some work to do defensively, but he can split his time between DH and the hot corner while impending free agent Josh Donaldson shows him the ropes. The Blue Jays' inaction is going to become embarrassing at some point, and we may already be verging on it. This kid is the truth.
Willy Adames, SS, Rays
2017 minors: .277 BA (506 AB), 10 HR, 30 2B, .776 OPS, 65 BB, 132 K
2018 minors: .323 BA (124 AB), 3 HR, 5 2B, .876 OPS, 19 BB, 30 K
Of course, proximity still counts for something, and with incumbent shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria departing Thursday's game with a strained hamstring, Adames' proximity just moved to 100 ... or something. The Rays historically opt for maximum frugality when promoting their top prospects, in which case they'd prefer to wait another month for Adames, but the combination of his performance and Hechavarria's health may force their hand. The 22-year-old has never been a big power hitter but has always been a big prospect and shows enough offensive aptitude that I expect his skills to play up in the majors.
Nick Kingham, SP, Pirates
2018 minors: 2-2, 2.94 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 33 2/3 IP, 11 BB, 34 K
2018 majors: 2-0, 2.92 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 12 1/3 IP, 1 BB, 16 K
I mean, he's expected back Saturday, and we were all pretty excited about him just a couple weeks ago. So I guess Kingham deserves one more attaboy just in case he flashes that unhittable slider again on the big stage. His second major-league start was suspect, though, and in two starts back in the minors, he has a 5.73 ERA, 1.64 WHIP and 5.7 strikeouts per nine innings. So it may have been breakout fakeout from the 26-year-old, in which case he'll be replaced by a nearly rehabilitated Joe Musgrove in short order. We'll have a better idea soon enough, though, so let's stick to the plan for now.
2017 minors: .351 BA (111 AB), 3 HR, 18 RBI, .919 OPS, 12 BB, 9 K
2018 minors: .358 BA (148 AB), 14 HR, 50 RBI, 1.217 OPS, 29 BB, 26 K
Guerrero isn't the only 19-year-old making a mockery of the minors, but in Soto's case, the Nationals have had the good sense to keep moving him up the ladder, first giving him 16 games at low Class A, then 15 at high Class A, now seven at Double-A, where he debuted with a double and a homer last week. The power is transcendent. The plate discipline beyond advanced. He's much like Guerrero, just more out of left field since injuries limited him to only 32 games last year (and, you know, his dad isn't a hall of famer). Rarely do 19-year-olds get called up to the bigs, of course, but with the Nationals facing unexpected competition from the Braves and Phillies, they may not have the luxury of patience with this one.
Five on the periphery
(These are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Christin Stewart, OF, Tigers
2017 minors: .256 BA (485 AB), 28 HR, 86 RBI, .836 OPS, 56 BB, 138 K
2018 minors: .288 BA (132 AB), 11 HR, 27 RBI, .978 OPS, 15 BB, 25 K
Victor Martinez may be in the twilight of his career, but a new moon is rising in the form of Christin Stewart, who so far has managed to eclipse his Double-A production at Triple-A with a greatly improved strikeout rate. He has the look of a jumper with a .351 (27 for 77) batting average, nine home runs and 1.191 OPS in his past 20 games, and with Miguel Cabrera hurting and left field a virtual adventureland, the Tigers may soon go full panic room, breaking dawn with the 24-year-old at any of those offensive-minded positions. Between Snow White and the huntsman, Stewart's more of the latter, his selective approach being as instrumental as his power.
Daniel Vogelbach, 1B, Mariners
2017 minors: .290 BA (459 AB), 17 HR, 83 RBI, .844 OPS, 76 BB, 98 K
2018 minors: .319 BA (72 AB), 8 HR, 14 RBI, 1.187 OPS, 18 BB, 10 K
You'd think the Mariners would be able to find some way to get Vogelbach's bat back in the lineup now that Robinson Cano's 80-game suspension has precipitated Dee Gordon's move back to the infield, but he's so limited defensively that the path just isn't there. Maybe if the Mariners were willing to play Nelson Cruz in the outfield, freeing up DH, there'd be hope, but they did only five times last year and haven't for a single pitch this year. That is a shame because arguably the best hitter in spring training is now doing similar things at Triple-A, combining big power with an unbelievable batting eye. Don't go forgetting about him now.
Erik Swanson, SP, Yankees
2017 minors: 7-3, 3.95 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 100 1/3 IP, 14 BB, 84 K
2018 minors: 5-0, 0.44 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 40 2/3 IP, 12 BB, 52 K
Buried in an organization full of intriguing arms (Baseball America didn't even list him among the Yankees' top 30 prospects coming into the year), Swanson has risen to the surface with the help of a much improved curveball. Command was already a strong suit, and now with three developed pitches, he has obviously become one of the tougher assignments for minor-league bats. And seeing as he's already 24, it's possible he enters the major-league picture this year. Justus Sheffield and Chance Adams don't throw strikes like he does, after all.
Cavan Biggio, 2B, Blue Jays
2017 minors: .233 BA (463 AB), 11 HR, 11 SB, .705 OPS, 74 BB, 140 K
2018 minors: .313 BA (112 AB), 12 HR, 4 SB, 1.161 OPS, 23 BB, 34 K
You bet he's the son of hall of famer Craig Biggio, giving the Blue Jays a third prominent prospect who's the son of a prominent turn-of-the-century hitter. This one wasn't supposed to be so special, but the improved power doesn't appear to be ballpark-driven. He's also a disciplined hitter who has already demonstrated his versatility on the diamond, which altogether makes him a bona fide prospect and not just a cool story. Cool story, though.
Chris Paddack, SP, Padres
2016 minors: 2-0, 0.85 ERA, 0.59 WHIP, 42 1/3 IP, 5 BB, 71 K
2018 minors: 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.56 WHIP, 16 IP, 1 BB, 26 K
If you have vague recollections of prospect hounds' heads exploding when the Marlins acquired Fernando Rodney from the Padres during a halfhearted playoff run two years ago, Paddack is why. He was putting together some stupid numbers in the lower minors at the time but then almost immediately needed Tommy John surgery. Three starts into his return, though, he seems to have picked up where he left off, burying minor-leaguers with a plus-plus changeup and pinpoint control. Consider him a rapid riser in dynasty leagues.
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