Yordan Alvarez has been the talk of the minor leagues so far, putting up numbers that would seem to be mathematically impossible.
Yet he's only second in the minor leagues in home runs, trailing the leader by two.
That leader is Kevin Cron, whose name you may recognize. He's the brother of Twins first baseman C.J. Cron, 30-homer man a year ago, and the son of former major-leaguer Chris Cron, who went only 2 for 25 in his career but is held in such high esteem that he's actually managing the younger Cron at Triple-A Reno.
So ... baseball family. Members of a baseball family usually get more benefit of the doubt, especially when their numbers look like these:
And yet Cron is only 26 and is only now getting his first taste of the majors despite having put together five consecutive 20-homer seasons. Just a year ago at Reno, he hit .309 with 22 homers and a .921 OPS in only 392 at-bats. So what gives?
If there's one prospect phenotype that's known for being passed over time and time again, it's the big-bodied corner infielder who excels in only the one area most visible to fans (hitting) while falling short in everything else that true talent evaluators evaluate. Just look at the guy currently blocking Cron at the big-league level, Christian Walker. He never got more than a cursory glance prior to this, his age-28 season, and yet the general tenor now is "what took so long?"
Or look at Daniel Vogelbach and what he's finally getting a chance to do in his age-26 season. Luke Voit also fits that description. It's not that their minor-league production didn't merit a call to the majors but that their relative lack of athleticism left them with only one path: first base. And that path is rarely available to an untested minor-leaguer.
But here Cron is getting the call, according to reports Thursday. It's only to serve as a pinch hitter and occasional starter at first base, but at least it's something. It's not enough, though, to put him in my ...
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Yordan Alvarez, OF, Astros
2018 minors: .293 BA (335 AB), 20 HR, 21 2B, .904 OPS, 42 BB, 92 K
2019 minors: .396 BA (154 AB), 19 HR, 15 2B, 1.347 OPS, 25 BB, 33 K
All's quiet on the Alvarez front despite the initial speculation that George Springer's recent bout with back stiffness could precipitate a call-up. Looks like just a day-to-day injury for Springer, and even if the Astros decide they can live without him for 10 days and ultimately green light an IL stint, Kyle Tucker would be the more logical choice since he's already on the 40-man roster. No, when the Astros finally take the plunge with Alvarez, it'll be with the idea of keeping him around. Shame that Jake Marisnick, the Astros' best choice to man center field, is suddenly doing things with the bat. Still, it's only a matter of time.
Zac Gallen, SP, Marlins
2018 minors: 8-9, 3.65 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 133 1/3 IP, 48 BB, 136 K
2019 spring: 5-1, 1.79 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 60 1/3 IP, 10 BB, 74 K
Gallen is coming off his worst and only bad start of the season, having allowed five runs on eight hits (both more than in his previous three starts combined). Of course, he also had 10 strikeouts compared to one walk over six innings, so it's hard to ding him too much. He's no closer to the majors today than he was last week, especially since Sandy Alcantara, his most likely ticket to the big-league rotation, threw a two-hit shutout in between. Terrible though they are, the Marlins have managed to keep the same starting five all season long, so Gallen's quickest path to the big leagues is probably an injury.
Jesus Luzardo, SP, Athletics
2018 minors: 10-5, 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 109 1/3 IP, 30 BB, 129 K
2019 spring: 0-0, 0.93 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9 2/3 IP, 4 BB, 15 K
A week ago, Luzardo had just thrown his first bullpen session as he continues to work his way back from a strained rotator cuff. This week comes word that he's already set to begin throwing to live hitters Saturday, so it sounds like he's making quick progress. There have been no official reports of his timetable changing — the Athletics said he wouldn't throw for 4-6 weeks, and that's how long it took — but beat writer Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle said last week that he might not be an option for the big-league rotation until August or September. Here's her latest take:
I would be stunned if it’s that soon.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) May 21, 2019
She's one of the best and certainly more plugged into the team's thinking than I am. But with the excitement Luzardo generated this spring and the expectation the team will be contending for a wild card spot, it wouldn't surprise me to see them go pedal-to-the-metal with this rehab stint. If nothing else, I'm reluctant to move on after waiting this long.
Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros
2018 minors: .332 BA (407 AB), 24 HR, 20 SB, .989 OPS, 48 BB, 84 K
2019 minors: .252 BA (151 AB), 12 HR, 8 SB, .908 OPS, 16 BB, 39 K
Tucker's turnaround has now lasted long enough that you wouldn't even know he began the year in such a miserable slump. To sum it up, he's batting .314 (33 for 105) with 11 homers in his past 28 games, also going 6 for 6 in stolen bases. He was considered the most stashable prospect when the season began, a casualty of the Astros' surplus of riches and abundance of caution, and those miserable first two weeks were the only reason he fell out of favor in Fantasy. Considering he already has major-league experience and is on the 40-man roster, it's distinctly possible he's actually ahead of Yordan Alvarez in the pecking order.
Luis Urias, 2B, Padres
2018 minors: .296 BA (450 AB), 8 HR, 30 2B, .845 OPS, 67 BB, 109 K
2019 minors: .350 BA (123 AB), 12 HR, 9 2B, 1.205 OPS, 17 BB, 27 K
Part of me wants to say Urias' sudden transformation into a power hitter doesn't feel right. He was always known for hitting the ball hard but even more for his exceptional contact rate. So is the tradeoff we're seeing now really as rewarding as it appears or just a product of the new baseballs being used at Triple-A? Then again, his strikeout rate is still great, even if worse than it once was, and the thought of me sneering at a 1.200 OPS makes me hate myself just a little. It's becoming clear the 36-year-old Ian Kinsler has little left in the tank — he's 5 for 27 in his past eight games after what appeared to be the start of a turnaround — so Urias' next opportunity is coming sooner than later.
Five on the periphery
(These are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Ryan Mountcastle, 3B, Orioles
2018 minors: .297 BA (394 AB), 13 HR, 19 2B, .806 OPS, 26 BB, 79 K
2019 minors: .321 BA (168 AB), 7 HR, 12 2B, .878 OPS, 7 BB, 39 K
Mountcastle has always presented an interesting bat, but his chances of becoming an impact major-leaguer have only narrowed during his climb up the minor-league ladder. He has gone from playing shortstop to third base to now first base, and it's not in the name of versatility. Fortunately, the Orioles are the perfect organization for those with a narrow path to the majors since they're working with a blank slate, more or less. Mountcastle hasn't been setting records at Triple-A, but the 22-year-old has done what he needs to do to continue his methodical climb. And there's only one stop left.
MacKenzie Gore, SP, Padres
2018 minors: 2-5, 4.45 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 60.2 IP, 18 BB, 74 K
2019 minors: 3-1, 1.07 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 42 IP, 8 BB, 58 K
The third overall pick in the 2017 draft is of course already a known commodity in dynasty leagues, but for those who like to keep abreast of what's happening in the minors ... he doin' good. Most impressively, what he's doing now he's doing in the California League, which was considered to be the most hitter-friendly league before those new baseballs appeared at Triple-A, and it comes as a relief after he slumped to a 4.45 ERA in the minors last year. A blister was blamed for that performance, and it's looking truer now than ever as he blows hitters away with plus command of his four plus pitches. His pitching coach at high Class A Lake Elsinore, Pete Zamora, has even suggested Gore could be next year's Chris Paddack.
"[Gore] saw the path Chris took, how quickly he got the big leagues, so I'm sure he would love to follow on the same path," Zamora said.
Logan Gilbert, SP, Mariners
2019 minors: 3-0, 1.75 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 36 IP, 9 BB, 53 K
The 14th overall pick in the draft last year didn't make his professional debut until this year, but so far it's gone better than anyone could have hoped for. After five dominant outings at low Class A, the Mariners moved him up to high Class A Modesto of the heavy-hitting California League, but the only thing hitting heavy is his fastball in the catcher's mitt. His most recent outing was a two-hitter over seven innings in which he struck out 11 and walked none. There were questions about his secondary arsenal coming out of college, but he appears to have answered them already and is actually working to develop a changeup to serve as his fourth pitch. Like Gore, he could move quickly from here.
Kris Bubic, SP, Royals
2018 minors: 2-3, 4.03 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 38 IP, 19 BB, 53 K
2019 minors: 4-1, 2.08 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 47 2/3 IP, 15 BB, 75 K
Bubic was viewed as a high-floor, low-ceiling pitcher when the Royals selected him 40th overall last year, so maybe his success is just a product of him beating up on lesser competition. But he fits into a phenotype, the deceptive lefty, that often catches talent evaluators (who mostly focus on pure stuff) off guard. The 21-year-old has an advanced arsenal, getting plenty of swings and misses on both his curveball and changeup, but again, he's facing hitters who have little experience against those types of pitches. He's only now being promoted to high Class A. The real test will come when he reaches Double-A.
DJ Stewart, OF, Orioles
2018 minors: .235 BA (421 AB), 12 HR, 11 SB, .716 OPS, 54 BB, 103 K
2019 minors: .299 BA (134 AB), 8 HR, 4 SB, .991 OPS, 25 BB, 23 K
Stewart made a good enough impression when he reached the majors last September — hitting three home runs and stealing two bases — that his good work so far at Triple-A should have him on the verge of returning. He shows good plate discipline, actually walking more than he has struck out so far, and is surprisingly quick for a big guy. He's only capable of playing a corner outfield spot, though, where the Orioles have currently positioned their two best offensive players, Trey Mancini and Dwight Smith. But who's to say Mancini can't move back to first base? Is Chris Davis really standing in his way? With his defensive profile, Stewart will have to hit to stick, and it's questionable he will. But rebuilding teams present opportunities that might not exist elsewhere.