Fantasy Baseball Prospects Report: Jack Flaherty won't be down for long, so fear not, seasonal and dynasty owners
We've already gotten a taste of one of the top prospects to stash, but who other than Jack Flaherty is on Scott White's list? And who further down the line deserves our attention?
That's not the way it's supposed to go.
Top prospect blows the doors off spring training, forcing his way onto the major-league roster, dominates in his first outing and then ... back to the minors, kid.
It's offensive. It's degrading. It's outrageous. It's wrong.
But it also wasn't terribly surprising once we learned how short Adam Wainwright's absence would be. Flaherty hadn't gotten a chance to fully establish himself, and Wainwright is a Cardinals legend. Who else were they going to remove, Michael Wacha? Miles Mikolas?
Thing is I'm still pretty confident, based on his work in both that start and this spring, that Flaherty is one of the Cardinals' best five pitchers, if not one of their best three, which means it's only a matter of time before this situation sorts itself out.
So am I stashing him in Fantasy? You bet I am. But he's not the very top minor-leaguer I'm stashing.
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Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Ronald Acuna, OF, Braves
2017 minors: .325 BA (557 AB), 21 HR, 44 SB, .896 OPS, 43 BB, 144 K
2018 spring: .432 BA (44 AB), 4 HR, 4 SB, 1.246 OPS, 4 BB, 8 K
Well duh, it's Acuna, which makes his inclusion here wasted breath since it's so abundantly obvious. I don't even consider him a minor-leaguer, really, since we all know his stay is temporary. The Braves need to wait until 14 days into the season to call him up in order to have an extra year of team control, which puts his arrival at April 13 or maybe April 16 if they'd prefer to debut him at home.
And despite some strong contributions from placeholder Preston Tucker, you can be sure it'll happen. Acuna left no doubts about his major league-readiness with his performance this spring, where he was arguably the top performer before getting sent down. He improved in every facet, most notably plate discipline, in both moves up the minor-league ladder last year and may well be a Fantasy stud from the get-go.
Jack Flaherty, SP, Cardinals
2017 minors: 14-4, 2.18 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 148 2/3 IP, 35 BB, 147 K
2018 majors: 9-2, 2.64 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 71 2/3 IP, 16 BB, 71 K
The Cardinals rotation is crowded, yes, but it has some potential pitfalls. No, they can't pull the plug on Wacha or Mikolas now, but the former has recurring shoulder issues (ones that have nearly pushed him to the bullpen in the past), and the latter is sort of a wild card after pitching (albeit well) in Japan the past three years. And then there's Wainwright himself, owner of a 4.81 ERA the past two years and diminished-beyond-repair stuff at age 36. He's in the last year of his contract and maybe his career, and while he has earned another chance, he hasn't earned an infinite one. Something will happen sooner than later to re-open the door for Flaherty if he continues to dominate in the minors, so I'm not dropping him anywhere I added him.
David Dahl, OF, Rockies
2016 majors: .315 BA (222 AB), 7 HR, 5 SB, .859 OPS, 15 BB, 59 K
2018 spring: .274 BA (62 AB), 5 HR, 4 SB, .915 OPS, 4 BB, 15 K
Technically not a prospect anymore because of the number of at-bats he got in 2016, Dahl is nonetheless confined to the minors for now after missing nearly all of 2017 with a stress reaction in his rib cage. But if you'll remember before suffering that injury last spring, he was a darling of Fantasy analysts everywhere after the way his major-league debut went. He didn't even show the full extent of his power or speed in that debut -- both of which became more apparent this spring, which he ended on fire after an 0-for-15 start. And with the advantages of Coors Field, I think he could perform at a .300-30-30 pace once he arrives.
Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees
2017 minors: .287 BA (202 AB), 7 HR, 7 SB, .863 OPS, 30 BB, 47 K
2018 spring: .219 BA (32 AB), 3 2B, .599 OPS, 3 BB, 10 K
The Yankees seemingly cleared not one, but two spots for Torres this offseason when they traded Starlin Castro and Chase Headley, but then proceeded to fill those spots early in spring training, which was the more prudent course of action seeing as Torres just had Tommy John surgery. He didn't set the world on fire this spring, but you had to expect some rust for the 21-year-old after such a long layoff. And while his minor-league numbers won't blow you away either, the progression of plate discipline and power at such a young age reminds me a bit of Carlos Correa. One of Neil Walker and Brandon Drury can step aside once he's ready, which I believe will be sooner than not.
Willie Calhoun, OF, Rangers
2017 minors: .300 BA (486 AB), 31 HR, 27 2B, .927 OPS, 42 BB, 61 K
2018 spring: .243 BA (37 AB), 1 HR, 1 SB, .606 OPS, 2 BB, 1 K
You'd think Delino DeShields' broken hand, which should sideline him for more than a month, would be the opening Calhoun needed, especially since so many prognosticators had him winning a job in spring training. But Calhoun can't play center field, and it's not so clear he can play left. The converted second baseman (who most definitely had to convert from second base) is a portly fellow who may not fit anywhere but DH, and the Rangers seem to think DHing is all Shin-Soo Choo can do at age 35. A better spring performance would have helped, but Calhoun also struck out just one time in 37 at-bats -- an underrated skill for a player who swings for the fences as often as he does.
Five on the periphery
(These are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros
2017 minors: .274 BA (464 AB), 25 HR, 21 SB, .874 OPS, 46 BB, 109 K
2018 spring: .409 BA (44 AB), 5 HR, 2 SB, 1.256 OPS, 3 BB, 9 K
At 21 and with only half a season above A-ball, Tucker didn't seem like he was especially close to reaching the majors ... until he turned in the best spring of any rookie hitter other than Acuna. The problem is the Astros outfield is overloaded as it is, with Marwin Gonzalez and Derek Fisher both scratching and clawing for at-bats there and J.D. Davis on the periphery. The Astros love talent, though, and have found creative ways to get it in their lineup on the past. Tucker will need to continue to force the issue, though.
Brendan Rodgers, SS, Rockies
2017 minors: .336 BA (372 AB), 18 HR, 26 2B, .940 OPS, 14 BB, 71 K
2018 spring: .286 BA (49 AB), 3 HR, 1 SB, .842 OPS, 4 BB, 13 K
Likewise, Rodgers was a much bigger contributor this spring than his stage of development would have had you suspect. Prospects of his stature are known to have excellent closing speed once they reach Double-A and the majors are in sight, so he could sneak up on us this year, especially if Trevor Story confirms he was just a one-hit wonder. Rodgers will need to have a strong follow-up at Double-A Hartford, though, where he hit .260 with a .737 OPS in 150 at-bats last year.
Austin Riley, 3B, Braves
2017 minors: .275 BA (484 AB), 20 HR, 19 2B, .786 OPS, 43 BB, 124 K
2018 spring: .208 BA (24 AB), 2 HR, 2 2B, .909 OPS, 3 BB, 10 K
A quick glance at Riley's 2017 numbers might have you wondering why the Braves have been so careful not to block third base even as certain free agents (*cough* Mike Moustakas) have come knocking, but you need to understand he was a different player after his promotion to Double-A Mississippi, where he shortened his swing and hit .315 with eight homers and a .900 OPS in 178 at-bats. He followed it up by hitting .300 (21 for 70) with six homers and a 1.021 OPS in the Arizona Fall League, so yeah, he deserves a shot as a starter, possibly as soon as this year.
Dylan Cease, SP, White Sox
2017 minors: 1-10, 3.28 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 93 1/3 IP, 44 BB, 126 K
2018 spring: 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 6 1/3 IP, 3 BB, 9 K
Cease might be the furthest away of anyone on this list, especially given the lingering questions about his long-term viability as a starting pitcher, but he was overpowering in the few looks he got this spring. He's already blessed with a high-90s fastball and a swing-and-miss curveball, so how his changeup develops will likely determine his role. He'll also need to pitch into the sixth inning with more regularity.
Garrett Hampson, 2B, Rockies
2017 minors: .326 BA (533 AB), 8 HR, 12 3B, 51 SB, .849 OPS, 56 BB, 77 K
2018 spring: .278 BA (36 AB), 1 HR, 6 SB, .770 OPS, 5 BB, 9 K
In an era where everybody who's anybody has power, Hampson hasn't gotten a lot of prospect hype. But his on-base skills are hardly in question, and man, can he fly. What he lacks in home runs he'll likely make up for in doubles and triples, especially given wide expanses of the Coors Field outfield, and he's liable to become a big base-stealer as well. He could be like the infield version of Adam Eaton -- though perhaps making even better use of his speed -- and with DJ LeMahieu approaching free agency, it could happen as soon as next year.
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