Fantasy Baseball Prospects Report: Is it time to stash Jesus Luzardo again?

You thought we were done with him when he strained his rotator cuff this spring, but no, the enthusiasm for Jesus Luzardo once again built to a fever pitch as his rehab assignment was nearing its end just before the All-Star break.

You thought we were done with him when he suffered a Grade 2 lat strain before actually taking that final step up to the majors, but ... wait, are we saying no again?

It's looking that way. Two starts into his latest rehab assignment, the Athletics have basically declared it a success, returning Luzardo to Triple-A where there's presumably nothing more for him to do than build up his innings. He threw three without allowing a hit or a walk last time out, striking out seven of the 10 batters he faced.

"He looks ready to go," pitching coach Chris Smith of the high Class A Stockton Ports told MLB.com. "Whatever he was dealing with or had to come back from, he's cleaned that up."

Say Luzardo extends it to four innings next time. Then five the time after that. What's stopping the Athletics from adding him to their starting rotation at that point? Shutting him down wouldn't make any sense, not with all the innings he's already missed. We're looking at him maybe capturing a big-league rotation spot before even the end of August, and that's enough to position him once again among my ... 

Five on the verge

(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)

Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros

2018 minors: .332 BA (407 AB), 24 HR, 20 SB, .989 OPS, 48 BB, 84 K
2019 minors: .267 BA (408 AB), 32 HR, 25 SB, .925 OPS, 48 BB, 104 K 
         

In an article explaining how the Astros plan to give Tucker extensive work at first base this offseason, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle intimated that Tucker probably wouldn't be up until rosters expand on Sept. 1, but of course, an injury could accelerate that timetable. Should one of their most trusted bats go down, he's most certainly the next man up now that Tyler White, Derek Fisher and Tony Kemp are all out of the picture. Just having the confidence he'll be up separates him from most of the others on this list, and with the Astros sporting a commanding lead in the AL West, he seems like a reasonable bet to spell aging hitters like Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel down the stretch.

Gavin Lux, SS, Dodgers

2018 minors: .324 BA (463 AB), 15 HR, 13 SB, .913 OPS, 57 BB, 88 K
2019 minors: .358 BA (411 AB), 24 HR, 10 SB, 1.056 OPS, 54 BB, 90 K
             

Since I pointed out a week ago that the Alex Verdugo injury creates an easy path for Lux to the majors — one the Dodgers should absolutely pursue given their World Series aspirations — some beat writers have tried to pour cold water on the idea, with the most significant take being this one from Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register:

But while most of the aggregator sites emphasized the ride-along possibility, it's worth pointing out that an active role was mentioned as another possibility. Presuming, then, Lux sustains anywhere close to the .434 batting average and 1.326 OPS he has put together in 36 games at Triple-A, the Dodgers won't be in a position to turn him down, perhaps even letting him take over as Corey Seager's double play partner with Max Muncy playing mostly first base and Cody Bellinger mostly the outfield.

Justus Sheffield, SP, Mariners

2018 minors: 7-6, 2.48 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 116 IP, 50 BB, 123 K 
2019 minors: 7-8, 3.97 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 127 IP, 57 BB, 127 K
      

For the first time since dealing Mike Leake at the trade deadline, the Mariners will need a fifth starter Saturday, and according to reports, they'll either turn to Sheffield or make it a bullpen day. Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times makes a case for why the next time through, Aug. 23, might make more sense for Sheffield, but either way, it sounds like he'll eventually fill that fifth spot (at least for as long as his innings last, which is its own issue). And that's great news in Fantasy given the way Sheffield has turned his season around in the more neutral environment of Double-A, putting together a 1.75 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.9 K/9 and, perhaps most importantly, 2.0 BB/9 across 11 starts.

Jesus Luzardo, SP, Athletics

2018 minors: 10-5, 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 109.1 IP, 30 BB, 129 K 
2019 minors: 2-0, 2.22 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 24 1/3 IP, 2 BB, 37 K
  

It's worth noting there's some skepticism the Athletics will be as aggressive with Luzardo as I suggest. 

"We're always looking for the best complement," manager Bob Melvin recently told the San Francisco Chronicle. "And there's some time to continue to evaluate before September. I have a hard time believing he'd be ready before then. We'll just see how we get there, how his health is, how stretched out he is and how the rest of the guys are doing."

It's apparent, though, he's still very much in the rotation mix, and that's probably true even if the Athletics fall out of the wild card race. They actually need him throwing innings after missing so much time so that he's better equipped to go 140-150 next year. Granted, much of it has come against lower-level competition, but Luzardo's strikeout-to-walk ratio throughout his rehab starts serves as a reminder just how overpowering he can be, boasting a devastating fastball-changeup combo that might be enough to sustain him even before complementing it with a plus curveball. From the moment he's up, you'll want him in your lineup in Fantasy.

Luis Robert, OF, White Sox

2018 minors: .269 BA (186 AB), 0 HR, 11 2B, 15 SB, .694 OPS, 12 BB, 52 K
2019 minors: .340 BA (430 AB), 24 HR, 36 SB, 1.012 OPS, 25 BB, 107 K  
    

We're in a holding pattern with Robert, who I'd give less than a 50/50 chance of getting called up but whose impact would be too considerable to pass up if he does. There has been little buzz surrounding him lately, which perhaps doesn't bode well, but these moves aren't always telegraphed in advance. The strongest argument for calling him up, aside from him obviously earning it, is for the White Sox to gauge his readiness as they enter a more competitive stage of their rebuild next year, but the financial considerations may outweigh whatever benefit such an assessment would provide.

Five on the periphery

(These are some other prospects doing something of note.)

Jorge Guzman, SP, Marlins

2018 minors: 0-9, 4.03 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 96 IP, 64 BB, 101 K 
2019 minors: 6-10, 3.62 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 126 2/3 IP, 67 BB, 115 K
    

Part of the justification for the Marlins dealing Zac Gallen at the trade deadline (I guess) is that they have a wave of pitching prospects still yet to arrive, led by Sixto Sanchez and Braxton Garrett. But Jorge Guzman, prize of the Giancarlo Stanton deal, may be reentering that discussion after an underwhelming first year and a half in the Marlins organization. The 23-year-old has allowed a combined three hits in 18 innings over his past three starts, highlighted by his six no-hit innings with 13 strikeouts on Aug. 9, and some mechanical tweaks are largely to credit.

"He figured some things out on his side work," Double-A manager Kevin Randel said after the no-hit bid. "Staying compact really keeps the ball over the plate for him. It minimizes his misses and gets him around the [strike] zone more."

Guzman's walk rate has been all over the place during his minor-league career and isn't great now, but if he's taking steps to improve his command, it'll help make his 80-grade fastball the weapon it should be.

Daulton Varsho, C, Diamondbacks

2018 minors: .294 BA (316 AB), 12 HR, 19 SB, .842 OPS, 30 BB, 72 K
2019 minors: .292 BA (343 AB), 16 HR, 17 SB, .893 OPS, 37 BB, 52 K
 

The emergence of Carson Kelly has unfortunately created a roadblock for Varsho just as the 23-year-old is entering the homestretch of his minor-league career. The biggest test has come for him this year, at Double-A, where he has continued to do basically everything you'd want a hitter to do in terms of power, contact rate, on-base ability and even base-stealing. As glorious as a catcher who runs would be, a position change may be in Varsho's future, and it'll need to happen soon. With the kind of run he's been on lately, batting .351 (34 for 97) with six homers, seven steals and a 1.102 OPS in his past 26 games, he's positioning himself to take Triple-A by storm next year.

Nick Madrigal, 2B, White Sox

2018 minors: .303 BA (155 AB), 0 HR, 8 SB, .701 OPS, 7 BB, 5 K 
2019 minors: .300 BA (403 AB), 3 HR, 32 SB, .764 OPS, 37 BB, 13 K
  

For many reasons, not all of which can be explained, Willians Astudillo has become a beloved curiosity among seamheads and prospect hounds, but the greatest of the reasons is that he never ever, ever strikes out. It's startling how far ahead he is of everyone else in that regard — or at least it will be until Madrigal enters the picture. Madrigal is like a more hyped version of that, being the fourth overall pick in last year's draft.

Among qualifying batters, the major-league leader in strikeout rate is David Fletcher at 9.1 percent. Madrigal is at 2.7 percent. The power is still virtually nonexistent, but these days, particularly for players with good bat skills overall, power hitting is a trait that's often picked up at the major-league level. The fact Madrigal has added an element of speed to his game gives us something more to root for when he takes over as the White Sox second baseman, potentially getting his first taste in September.

Cristian Javier, SP, Astros

2018 minors: 7-6, 2.70 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 110 IP, 50 BB, 146 K 
2019 minors: 7-3, 1.73 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 98 2/3 IP, 54 BB, 144 K
    

The Astros' system is so replete with talent that monster contributors too often slip through the cracks. Josh Rojas, who ultimately became a trade chip in the Zack Greinke deal, is one such example, and Javier here is another. Just look at those numbers, with more than half coming at Double-A. He may not be as close to a finished product as they make him appear. Rarely does he go even five innings because the walk rate is so high, which may lead to him being recast as a Josh Hader-like reliever in the long run. The stuff is tremendous, though, led by a high-spin fastball that hitters have an impossible time squaring up and two plus breaking balls.

Seth Brown, 1B, Athletics

2018 minors: .283 BA (502 AB), 14 HR, 38 2B, .797 OPS, 47 BB, 142 K 
2019 minors: .287 BA (414 AB), 34 HR, 25 2B, .964 OPS, 33 BB, 116 K
              

It'd be fairer to classify Brown as a non-prospect than a prospect seeing as he's a 27-year-old who MLB.com doesn't even rank among the Athletics' top 30. Nonetheless, he has 15 homers in his past 20 games (you read that right), putting him behind only Kevin Cron for the minor-league home run lead. If there's an organization that's willing to give standout statistical performers a chance, regardless of age or prospect standing, it's the Athletics — 30-year-old Corban Joseph the most recent example — and with Khris Davis playing banged up, it's not outside the realm of possibility that Brown gets some looks at DH down the stretch.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Raised in Atlanta by a board game-loving family during the dawn of the '90s Braves dynasty, Scott White was easy prey for the Fantasy Sports, in particular Fantasy Baseball, and has devoted his adulthood... Full Bio

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