Honestly, I don't know why I even bother to write this column anymore. Top prospect stashes? More like top prospect crashes. Time and again, the players we're most excited to see in the big leagues get derailed before they even have a chance to catch their breath. It happened in particularly dramatic fashion for the most recent to graduate from my Five on the Verge, Jackson Kowar, who threw more wild pitches (three) than he recorded outs (two) in his debut Monday. And it's been happening more and more of late.
By "of late," I mean in 2020 as well. The two biggest exceptions during that time, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Ian Anderson, I wasn't even that excited for. One was a defensive-minded corner man with a poor power profile. The other had a shaky minor-league track record with too many walks overall.
Meanwhile, some of the flops during that time include such stalwarts: Nate Pearson, Jo Adell, Joey Bart, Spencer Howard, Evan White, Cristian Pache, Daulton Varsho, Andrew Vaughn, Alex Kirilloff, Daniel Lynch and, so far, Logan Gilbert. Jazz Chisholm, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Dylan Carlson were pretty disastrous in their first taste, too, before finding more success here in Year 2.
You might argue the second group is the more revealing one. That final jump to the highest level is the biggest of all, you'd say. Failure, then, is to be expected no matter the talent level, but given enough time, the talent eventually shines through.
Sure, OK. But that's a baseball truism that hasn't been so true for the past 5-10 years. At least among the most hyped prospects, the ones who faltered upon reaching the big leagues were more the exception than the rule, which is why stashing them ahead of their promotion became common practice. An entire generation of Fantasy Baseballers has come to regard them as easy money.
So what's changed? Hard to say, but others have noticed the phenomenon since I brought it up on the Fantasy Baseball Today podcast a few weeks ago. Chris Towers ran the numbers and found it wasn't just my perception of things. Something strange is going on.
The working theory is that the minor-league camps run at the alternate training sites last year were an inadequate substitute for minor-league ball. The players are rusty, in other words, and it's true that a number of prospects are off to slow starts even in the minors this year. But what about the ones that aren't? Kowar's 0.85 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 11.7 K/9 at Triple-A Omaha wouldn't suggest rust.
The one that broke me was Jarred Kelenic, a prospect of the highest standing who arrived with no discernable flaws in his game and after making it look too easy in spring training and at Triple-A. So of course, he batted .096 in 23 games, going hitless in his final 37 at-bats, before being sent down earlier this week. Major-league baseball is hard -- I get it -- but he's exactly the sort of prospect that we rarely saw miss over the past decade or so.
And of course, "miss" is an unfair characterization anyway. I only mean in the sense that Fantasy Baseballers didn't get their immediate payoff. Maybe he returns in a couple weeks and never looks back. It's possible he wasn't overmatched but was simply pressing, making his struggles appear to be part of a larger trend when they were actually something different.
The fact he struck out 16.4 percent of the time in his first 13 games compared to 45.9 percent of the time in his final 10 would seem to support the theory. In his own words: "I was swinging the bat well early and then I started to get super unlucky and that turned into me pressing and trying to get those hits."
GM Jerry Dipoto had a similar takeaway. "His second day in the big leagues [when Kelenic doubled twice and homered], he was the best player on the field," Dipoto said. "My guess is that when he returns, he'll have learned how to manage the ups and the downs a little bit better than he has this time."
So does that mean you should continue to stash Kelenic in Fantasy? In most leagues, yes. I don't feel any less confident in him than any of my Five on the Verge, a group he figures to rejoin in next week's Prospects Report. It's fair to wonder at this point, though, how motivated we should be to stash any prospects in redraft leagues. I wouldn't go deeper than my top one or two here in leagues as shallow as 12 teams.
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Wander Franco, SS, Rays
2019 minors: .327 BA (425 AB), 9 HR, 18 SB, .885 OPS, 56 BB, 35 K
2021 minors: .311 BA (122 AB), 6 HR, 4 SB, .936 OPS, 10 BB, 14 K
You have to wonder if Jarred Kelenic's misfire will make the Rays even more cautious about promoting their top prospect. Whenever they promote Franco, they'll intend it to be for good. Seeing him flounder, as so many of the recent wave of prospects have, would bring about fits of hand-wringing that are avoided by having him continue to plug away at Triple-A, where he's batting .433 (13 for 30) with two homers and three doubles so far in June. His day will come, rest assured, but with the Rays sitting atop the AL East standings, there isn't much urgency at the moment.
Vidal Brujan, 2B, Rays
2019 minors: .277 BA (383 AB), 4 HR, 48 SB, .735 OPS, 37 BB, 61 K
2021 minors: .304 BA (112 AB), 7 HR, 14 SB, .946 OPS, 19 BB, 21 K
With all the focus on Franco, there has been little chatter about Brujan's possible promotion, and it's worth noting the 23-year-old has slowed down some, batting .255 (12 for 47) in 13 games since his last home run. Of course, he has seven stolen bases and more walks (nine) than strikeouts (eight) during that stretch. so yeah ... not exactly disqualifying himself. He continues to see more time in the outfield than the infield, which is good news since it's where the Rays could use the most help. Even if the early-season power surge turns out to be too good to be true (and I'm not saying it was), his plus hit tool and elite speed will pay big dividends.
2019 minors: .289 BA (305 AB), 10 HR, 27 2B, .834 OPS, 30 BB, 94 K
2020 majors: .161 BA (124 AB), 3 HR, 4 2B, .478 OPS, 7 BB, 55 K
2021 minors: .264 BA (125 AB), 15 HR, 3 SB, 1.001 OPS, 6 BB, 42 K
With three more home runs since last week's update, Adell has opened up a commanding lead in the category, following through on at least one yet-to-be-realized tool. And hey, six strikeouts in 29 appearances this month is also a step in the right direction ... though three of those strikeouts came in his most recent game. As the Angels continue their push to get back into the playoff race, their holes in the outfield become all the more glaring. Adell's recent shift to center field may be in preparation for him to step into Mike Trout's void, but more than anything else, he needs to show better consistency with the bat first.
Jesus Sanchez, OF, Marlins
2019 minors: .260 BA (415 AB), 13 HR, 14 2B, .723 OPS, 39 BB, 100 K
2020 majors: 1 for 25, 2B, 4 BB, 11 K
2021 minors: .353 BA (91 AB), 8 HR, 3 3B, 4 2B, 1.051 OPS, 8 BB, 25 K
Sanchez's batting average continues to fall, which is unavoidable when it was up around .400 for so long, but to be more precise about it, he's batting .217 (13 for 60) with one home run in his past 16 games. It's meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but the Marlins might wait for him to catch fire again before pulling the trigger. They may also be looking to find a buyer for Corey Dickerson and/or Adam Duvall first. Bringing up Sanchez would only block their ability to showcase the veterans. Regardless, the 23-year-old has gone a long way to restoring his prospect standing this year and will force the issue soon enough.
Jarren Duran, OF, Red Sox
2019 minors: .303 BA (519 AB), 5 HR, 46 SB, .775 OPS, 46 BB, 128 K
2021 minors: .263 BA (80 AB), 7 HR, 5 SB, .960 OPS, 12 BB, 25 K
Duran makes it back on this list after helping Team USA claim a spot in the Olympics. He's only 1 for 8 since returning but went 7 for 19 during the qualifier event. Recently, a quote from manager Alex Cora began making the rounds, with some aggregators suggesting it represented a sort of timeline:
"This is a guy that's going to impact this team in the future, and the future doesn't mean tomorrow or a month, maybe next year or two years," Cora said.
To me, though, it reads like Cora taking pains not to give a timeline. He follows with this line:
"I think it's something that we're going to keep paying attention to him, and we'll see what happens in the future."
I wouldn't read into it too much. Duran will need to hit the ground running at Triple-A after a couple weeks away from the team, but the 24-year-old speedster with a newfound power stroke is the obvious answer to a center field problem faced by a team with legitimate playoff aspirations.
Five on the periphery
(These are some other prospects doing something of note)
Bryson Stott, SS, Phillies
2019 minors: .295 BA (166 AB), 6 HR, 5 SB, .885 OPS, 24 BB, 39 K
2021 minors: .286 BA (98 AB), 7 HR, 3 SB, .996 OPS, 29 BB, 31 K
Stott recently made the jump to Double-A after a successful first month at high Class A, and he's beginning to find his footing at the higher level, homering twice Tuesday. It's his plate discipline that stands out most, generating a .445 on-base percentage, but so far, he's offering more power than advertised as well. With Didi Gregorius and Jean Segura both signed for another year, it's not clear what the 23-year-old's easiest path is, but he has the defensive chops to stick at shortstop.
Brett Baty, 3B, Mets
2019 minors: .234 BA (188 AB), 7 HR, 16 2B, .821 OPS, 35 BB, 65 K
2021 minors: .367 BA (90 AB), 5 HR, 8 2B, 1.090 OPS, 17 BB, 25 K
Baty's first taste of professional ball two years ago had its ups and downs, but the 12th pick in the 2019 draft has brought a sledgehammer to high Class A, impressing with his approach before cranking up the power with five home runs in eight June games. He exemplifies why evaluating prospects at the lower levels is so fraught. Baseball America gave him only a 40 hit tool at the start of the year, which it's now fair to say was underselling him.
Miguel Vargas, 3B, Dodgers
2019 minors: .308 BA (491 AB), 7 HR, 38 2B, .820 OPS, 44 BB, 83 K
2021 minors: .341 BA (135 AB), 7 HR, 11 2B, .978 OPS, 9 BB, 28 K
On the other hand, Baseball America gave Vargas a 60 hit tool prior to the season, and unlike Baty, he's meeting his assessment so far. In fact, he just extended his hit streak to 25 games Thursday, batting .373 (41 for 110) with six home runs and three stolen bases during that stretch. His hand-eye coordination and barrel control make for an impressive hit tool, and it doesn't seem like he has to sacrifice power to make it happen. The Dodgers have done it again.
Jake Eder, SP, Marlins
2021 minors: 1-1, 0.61 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 29 2/3 IP, 12 BB, 50 K
Eder was only a fourth-round pick last year after spending most of his college career in the bullpen. His transition to the rotation was interrupted by the pandemic, but the little he showed in that role apparently enticed the Marlins. A product of the Vanderbilt pitching factory, he's said to be a quick study and has carved up Double-A so far, allowing just two earned runs across six starts with 15.2 K/9. He even went five no-hit innings in his last outing. The velocity is good, but the key to his arsenal is a breaking ball that's somewhere between a curveball and a slider.
Ken Waldichuk, SP, Yankees
2019 minors: 0-2, 3.68 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 29 1/3 IP, 7 BB, 49 K
2021 minors: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 24 2/3 IP, 10 BB, 45 K
Even less heralded than Eder is Waldichuk, another lefty who has been untouchable so far, having yet to allow a run across six starts. He had one outing where all 10 of his recorded outs came via the strikeout. At 23, he's a little old for high Class A, which may go part of the way to explaining his success, but he has a fastball that can touch 98 mph and a breaking ball that he disguises well.
He's worth a shot in deeper dynasty leagues to see if he can keep it going at the higher levels.