Fantasy Baseball Prospects Report: Jesus Luzardo, Brendan McKay debuts draw closer

So I feel the need to explain some of the exclusions from my Five on the Verge this week.

Teams are getting sneakier, always looking to circumvent the rules for their own nefarious purposes. The latest example is Chris Paddack, who the Padres optioned to high Class A Lake Elsinore a week ago in a thinly disguised effort to curtail his innings. Fittingly, he has yet to make a single appearance there, and reports have already come out that he'll rejoin the big-league rotation Saturday, having basically missed two turns.

So technically, he's a minor-leaguer, and he's clearly one you want to stash. I don't, however, think it's in the spirit of this column to include him in my Five on the Verge.

We can agree to that, right? And to Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel, who are also presently minor-leaguers even though we know they aren't really minor-leaguers. It should go without saying.

But there are two openings now, with Yordan Alvarez and Zac Gallen having both recently graduated (hopefully long after you already stashed them). So then, who should qualify?

Five on the verge

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

Jesus Luzardo, SP, Athletics

2018 minors: 10-5, 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 109 1/3 IP, 30 BB, 129 K  
2019 minors: 1-0, 1.29 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 7 IP, 0 BB, 11 K
     

Though he was among the most drafted prospects prior to straining his rotator cuff late in spring training, stashing Luzardo was an exercise in faith. Yeah, he looked like could win a rotation spot back then, but there was no guarantee the opportunity would still be available to him after what figured to be a lengthy rehabilitation — and that's assuming he didn't suffer a setback along the way. That faith looks like it's about to be rewarded, though. Not only does the Athletics rotation have a couple spots where it could stand to upgrade but Luzardo is making quick progress on his rehab assignment, set to take it to Triple-A this weekend after striking out nine over four innings for high Class A last time out. He struck out 15 in 9 2/3 innings this spring, in case you've forgotten.

"In the beginning, it was definitely a little frustrating, just knowing the possibilities, knowing what I knew I could do if I had the chance," Luzardo told MLB.com. "Now, I feel brand new."  

Luzardo's fastball and changeup both rate as plus-plus, and his breaking ball is a solid offering in its own right. He commands his pitches well and should be in for an easy transition to the majors. And because he has already spent much of the year on the sidelines, the Athletics should be able to ride him pretty hard down the stretch, unlike the Padres with Chris Paddack.

Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros

2018 minors: .332 BA (407 AB), 24 HR, 20 SB, .989 OPS, 48 BB, 84 K
2019 minors: .282 BA (259 AB), 23 HR, 17 SB, .989 OPS, 28 BB, 65 K  
         

As revelatory as Yordan Alvarez's presence in the Astros lineup has already proven to be, you'd think they'd be similarly open to bringing up Tucker. After all, he has basically been Alvarez since the start of May, batting .339 with 18 home runs and a 1.174 (not to mention 13 steals in 14 attempts) and isn't as difficult of a fit defensively. But no, he spent most of July and part of August in the big leagues last year, so the Astros will have to go to greater lengths to keep his service time number in the financially optimal range. OK, so that's a cynical way of putting it, but with George Springer nearing a rehab assignment, Tucker may soon become a difficult fit defensively, especially with Alvarez clogging up the DH spot. Still, there's nothing more for him to gain in the minors, and the potential rewards are huge. Let's wait it out.

Luis Urias, 2B, Padres

2018 minors: .296 BA (450 AB), 8 HR, 30 2B, .845 OPS, 67 BB, 109 K
2019 minors: .332 BA (217 AB), 16 HR, 14 2B, 1.077 OPS, 29 BB, 47 K  
         

Something akin to a hot streak for Ian Kinsler — who, at age 36, is pretty scrubby even at his best — has forced Urias to tread water at Triple-A, where he's finally delivering numbers befitting of the pedigree. Prior to this year, his prospect ranking depended on him developing more power, and lo, he has. True, he has sacrificed something in the way of contact rate, but the tradeoff doesn't appear to have impacted his batting average potential in a meaningful way. If the Padres were willing to give him a shot as their regular starting second baseman last year and again this spring (even if they ultimately decided to go another direction), he's giving them all the more reason now. It hasn't happened yet, but there was a report last week that it should happen before the end of the month. Keep the faith.

Brendan McKay, SP/1B, Rays

2018 minors: 5-2, 2.41 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 78 1/3 IP, 14 BB, 103 K  
2019 minors: 6-0, 1.31 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 61 2/3 IP, 12 BB, 83 K
  

A newcomer to this section of the Prospects Report, McKay is a curious case for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that he's a two-way player. But while he has struggled to keep his head above water as a hitter, he has dominated from the mound at every level, most notably with his strikeout-to-walk ratio. The trend has continued through four appearances at Triple-A, where he has allowed three earned runs with 21 strikeouts to three walks in 20 innings, which means sooner than later his bat won't be enough of an excuse to hold him back. The Rays had him follow an opener last time out and have been limiting him to five innings since this last move up the ladder, so he may be looking at sort of a hybrid starter/reliever role when he does get the call, much like Ryan Yarbrough and Jalen Beeks have filled. He promises to be much better than those two, though.

Keston Hiura, 2B, Brewers

2019 minors: .315 BA (184 AB), 16 HR, 7 SB, 1.055 OPS, 20 BB, 53 K  
2019 majors: .281 BA (64 AB), 5 HR, 1 SB, .865 OPS, 3 BB, 23 K
 

Apart from a disappointing strikeout-to-walk ratio, Hiura did everything he was asked as an injury fill-in for Travis Shaw earlier this year, which made it somewhat surprising he was sent down when Shaw returned in early June. But Shaw has continued to flounder during what has been a disastrous season for the 29-year-old, going 6 for 31 (.194) with 14 strikeouts in 11 games, and since switching back to Hiura would also mean no longer playing Mike Moustakas out of position, it becomes a likelier possibility by the day. Hiura had a bunch of strikeouts early on at Triple-A, too, before settling in, and looked like he might be doing the same at the big-league level in the week leading up to Shaw's return. His bat skills are first-rate and particularly uncommon at a position like second base.

Five on the periphery

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

Will Smith, C, Dodgers

2019 minors: .292 BA (171 AB), 13 HR, 10 2B, 1.002 OPS, 30 BB, 40 K    
2019 majors: .286 BA (21 AB), 2 HR, 1 2B, .967 OPS, 2 BB, 6 K
  

For the 10-game stretch that Austin Barnes was sidelined by a strained groin earlier this month, the Dodgers were comfortable using a wide-eyed rookie like Smith as their primary catcher over veteran Russell Martin, which tells you a little about where the 24-year-old is in his development. And seeing as Barnes is a non-power hitter struggling to keep his batting average over the Mendoza Line, the Dodgers would be completely justified in turning the page. Smith, a most definite power hitter who has cut way down on his strikeouts this year, is doing his part to remain in the discussion, having a five-game homer streak snapped Wednesday.

Bobby Bradley, 1B, Indians

2018 minors: .224 BA (483 AB), 27 HR, 26 2B, .774 OPS, 56 BB, 148 K
2019 minors: .287 BA (247 AB), 22 HR, 17 2B, .974 OPS, 22 BB, 88 K  
 

Kyle Tucker may be tied with the since-graduated Yordan Alvarez for the minor-league lead in home runs, but Bobby Bradley is only one behind them. He's no Johnny-come-lately either, being a rare example of a first base prospect hyped from the time he was a teenager. Strikeout issues have always kept him on the periphery of top-100 lists and remain a huge concern, but 2019 has shown us that enough high-quality contact can overcome even a rate as bad as his. And especially lately, he has been putting a charge in the ball, homering 14 times in his past 25 games. Jake Bauers has begun to heat up at the big-league level, but the Indians could always kick him to the outfield to make way for Bradley.

Drew Waters, OF, Braves

2018 minors: .293 BA (460 AB), 9 HR, 39 2B, 23 SB, .819 OPS, 29 BB, 105 K
2019 minors: .338 BA (275 AB), 5 HR, 23 2B, 10 SB, .916 OPS, 17 BB, 81 K

Though the peripherals don't entirely back up what Waters has been doing, he's kind of the Double-A version of David Dahl. The strikeout rate is high, the BABIP is even higher, and yet the multi-hit games continue to pile up as he begins to learn how to work the count and handle breaking balls. He's also expected to develop more power as he learns to incorporate his lower body more. For being only a 20-year-old in his third professional season, the strides he's making against Double-A competition are impressive, and it's been especially evident this month with 13 extra-base hits compared to just 14 strikeouts in 17 games.

Deivi Garcia, SP, Yankees

2018 minors: 5-4, 2.55 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 74 IP, 20 BB, 105 K  
2019 minors: 3-4, 3.02 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 59 2/3 IP, 28 BB, 100 K     
         

Though only 5-feet-9, Garcia is putting together a noteworthy resume as a power pitcher, highlighted by his most recent start for Double-A Trenton in which he struck out 15 while allowing just one hit over six innings. It was his third double digit-strikeout effort since his promotion to Double-A and his fourth overall this season, giving him a minor league-leading 15.1 K/9. A high-spin curveball is mostly to credit, though his fastball touches the high 90s. Efficiency has been an issue for the 20-year-old, which is especially problematic given that his small size already predisposes him to a bullpen role. Still, the stuff alone makes him a dynasty asset.

Damon Jones, SP, Phillies

2018 minors: 10-7, 3.41 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 113 1/3 IP, 50 BB, 123 K
2019 minors: 4-3, 1.54 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 64 1/3 IP, 25 BB, 100 K

Jones should be tested against more advanced competition soon enough, and if he passes that test, you might start hearing more about him.

That's what I had to say about the 24-year-old just two weeks ago. Since then, he has gotten that first test against advanced competition, making his debut for Double-A Reading on Sunday, and passed it with flying colors, striking out 12 in six one-hit innings. So here's what more I can say about him: He's a big, strong left-hander with two breaking balls and a fastball that sits in the mid-90s who just in the last two months seems to have figured out how to command his arsenal, going from walking three or more in each of his first five starts to two or fewer in each of seven starts since. Maybe that's all it took for him to break through as a legitimate prospect. Considering his age and the fact he's already equipped to pitch deep into games, he may well be on the fast track now and makes for a sneaky pickup in deeper dynasty leagues.

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

Our Latest Stories