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What to make of a prospect like Kerry Carpenter?

That's the eternal question, really. He's of course his own entity, but he fits into a category that presents itself every year: a relative unknown coming in, maybe a little on the older side and often with a limited defensive profile, who then goes on to put up numbers like these ...

DET Detroit • #48 • Age: 25
2022 Minors
AVG
.313
HR
30
OPS
1.025
AB
358
BB
33
K
89

Indeed, no minor-leaguer has hit more home runs this year than Carpenter, and if nothing else, it's earned the 24-year-old a look in the majors. He's set to debut Wednesday against the Guardians, getting the start at DH.

But should we care about him in Fantasy? After all, he's rarely cited among top prospects, not even registering on most midseason rank lists, so smart money says to ignore him, right? His particular profile is one of the most often overlooked, though. Evaluators will sometimes react quickly to surprise prospects, but that's most often true when they're younger or play a more premium position, as we've seen with Ezequiel Tovar and Edwin Arroyo this year. Bat-first types with a narrow path defensively and little margin for error age-wise are easier to pass over, and often it takes the quiet of the offseason for them to get an honest look and favorable re-rank. Carpenter, as I've already pointed out, fits into the latter category.

It's an inefficiency that can make for big finds in Dynasty leagues, which isn't to say it always works out. Carpenter, though, has a good explanation for his breakthrough. He worked to optimize his swing with hitting instructor Richard Schenck, who has also worked with Aaron Judge and Ian Happ. It took about a month for the changes to take full effect, but over his last 77 games in the minors, Carpenter hit .336 (97 for 289) with 26 homers and a 1.104 OPS. He struck out just 19.4 percent of the time.

Of course, there are also questions as to how much he'll play as a left-handed hitter and how his swing will translate to a not-so-favorable venue. If you wait for those questions to sort themselves out, though, you may be too late. Adding Carpenter in a 12-team redraft league may be premature, but in anything deeper or longer-term, take a flier and see how it goes.

Five on the verge

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

Miguel Vargas, 3B, Dodgers

2021 minors: .319 BA (483 AB), 23 HR, 11 SB, .906 OPS, 45 BB, 89 K
2022 minors: .293 BA (379 AB), 15 HR, 12 SB, .878 OPS, 54 BB, 66 K
2022 majors: 2 for 8, 2B, SB, K

I'm keeping Vargas at the top of the heap even though the Dodgers (strangely) brought him up for just a couple spot starts (in which he performed well, it's worth noting). You'd think if they took the step of adding him to the 40-man roster, it would be with the intention of breaking him in fully, but nonetheless, now that he's there, he's free to move between the majors and minors as needed. And I still think the Dodgers will ultimately decide that the offense he brings could be critical for their World Series ambitions. It's true that Max Muncy has begun to show small signs of life recently, but it's nonetheless still true that he and Justin Turner have been more than a hindrance than a help this year.

Corbin Carroll, OF, Diamondbacks

2021 minors: .435 BA (23 AB), 2 HR, 3 SB, 1.465 OPS, 6 BB, 7 K
2022 minors: .315 BA (308 AB), 21 HR, 29 SB, 1.062 OPS, 58 BB, 88 K
   

By dealing away David Peralta at the deadline, the Diamondbacks cleared a roadblock for a player who's in the running for top prospect in baseball right now. Of course, they've made no move to promote Carroll yet, instead trotting nobodies like Jake McCarthy and Cooper Hummel out there, but perhaps they first wanted to make sure the 21-year-old would dominate Triple-A as thoroughly as he has every other level in his blitzkrieg to the big leagues. Well, he's made big strides along those lines in the past week, going 10 for 24 (.417) with a homer and a stolen base in five games. At least one Diamondbacks beat writer, Steve Gilbert of MLB.com, is saying "it seems likely" Corbin will be up before season's end. Hey, from his mouth to God's ears.

Josh Jung, 3B, Rangers

2021 minors: .326 BA (304 AB), 19 HR, .990, 31 BB, 76 K
2022 minors: .250 BA (28 AB), 4 HR, 1.061 OPS, 5 BB, 6 K
    

A consensus top-30 prospect coming into the year, Jung seemed to have the inside track on the starting third base job heading into spring training but then tore the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder before it could even get off the ground. He's finally healthy, having just wrapped up a rehab assignment for the Rangers' Complex League team and moved up to Triple-A for Tuesday's game. Let's see how that went:

The home run was his only hit in the game, but he also walked twice and even stole a base. When you consider the 24-year-old already appeared to master Triple-A last year, batting .348 with a 1.088 OPS in 35 games there, it may not take much success for the Rangers to promote him for the stretch run, if only to give him a head start on winning the job next spring. We may see more of that in general at a time when prospect call-ups seem to be needing longer to adjust to the majors.  

Gunnar Henderson, SS, Orioles

2021 minors: .258 BA (399 AB), 17 HR, 16 SB, .826 OPS, 56 BB, 143 K
2022 minors: .303 BA (333 AB), 17 HR, 16 SB, .983 OPS, 71 BB, 87 K

Speaking of prospects getting a chance to get their feet wet the year before they're expected to take over, Henderson might also fit into that category. The surging shortstop, who Baseball America recently moved up to No. 1 among all prospects, has clearly settled in at Triple-A after thoroughly dismantling Double-A earlier in the season, his numbers now looking pretty close to even between the two levels. The possibility of his promotion is apparently realistic enough that longtime Orioles reporter Roch Kubatko initially made the mistake of retweeting a false report of the move.

It doesn't hurt that the Orioles are still in the Wild Card race somehow, but they might be motivated to promote Henderson anyway if they're convinced he's up to the challenge. It's been a hurried development for the 21-year-old, who suffered from significant strikeout issues last year, but his potential for impact in Fantasy is so high that it might make sense to invest the roster spot in anticipation of something aggressive.

Alec Burleson, OF, Cardinals

2021 minors: .270 BA (456 AB), 22 HR, .783 OPS, 42 BB, 101 K
2022 minors: .329 BA (362 AB), 19 HR, .912 OPS, 24 BB, 58 K
    

Though the Cardinals were in on the Juan Soto talks at the trade deadline, the moves they made -- namely, shipping Harrison Bader to the Yankees -- actually cleared out some of their outfield clutter, giving Burleson an even easier path to the big leagues.

There are two factors working against him still. One is that Lars Nootbaar, who is Burleson's superior defensively, may have finally hit his stride at the plate, batting .333 (19 for 57) with three homers and as many walks as strikeouts (11 of both) in his past 21 games. The other is that Juan Yepez, another bat-first corner man, has begun a rehab assignment after missing time with a strained forearm. Still, the Cardinals have had a revolving door at DH and can probably afford to take on one more bat. I'm of the impression that getting Burleson on the 40-man roster remains the biggest hurdle.

Five on the periphery

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

Brett Baty, 3B, Mets

2021 minors: .292 BA (332 AB), 12 HR, .855 OPS, 46 BB, 98 K
2022 minors: .308 BA (344 AB), 19 HR, .940 OPS, 46 BB, 98 K

The 12th pick in the 2019 draft ended his time at Double-A on a serious heater, notching multiple hits in 13 of 19 games for a .442 (34 for 77) batting average, eight homers and a 1.359 OPS. His strikeout rate during that same 19-game stretch was just 14.3 percent. Between that and the improved launch angle, he's quickly rounding into the middle-of-the-order bat the Mets hoped they were drafting and is looking like a consensus top-20 prospect for 2023. Now at Triple-A, he's at least in the conversation for a late-season promotion. 

Eguy Rosario, 2B, Padres

2021 minors: .281 BA (420 AB), 12 HR, 30 SB, .815 OPS, 49 BB, 109 K
2022 minors: .299 BA (391 AB), 18 HR, 18 SB, .914 OPS, 51 BB, 90 K

Rosario came on strong as a 16-year-old in the Dominican Summer League before fading into the background in the years that followed. Well, now he's back at the forefront, having finally begun to maximize the hitting profile that was apparent back then. At 22, he's learned to get the most out of his 5-foot-9 frame, and as such, he's seen his power production swell for the second straight year.

What makes this breakout season all the more impressive is that Rosario performed miserably for the first two months. Since June 1, though, he's batting .349 (75 for 215) with 15 homers, 11 steals and an 1.105 OPS. He plays at hitter-friendly Triple-A El Paso, which risks inflating expectations for him, but it's pretty safe to say he has a future in the majors, even if just as a utility guy.

Justin Dirden, OF, Astros

2021 minors: .274 BA (285 AB), 15 HR, .934 OPS, 52 BB, 100 K
2022 minors: .328 BA (354 AB), 20 HR, 1.035 OPS, 41 BB, 95 K

Like the Cubs' Matt Mervis, Dirden never had his name called during the truncated five-round draft that occurred in 2020, which means he has to go the extra mile to attract the attention of the prospect hounds. He's done that this year, putting together a massive stat line at Double-A that at long last has earned him a move up to Triple-A. All it took was him batting .480 (36 for 75) with seven homers over his final 19 games. He's already 25, which further stigmatizes him as a prospect, but there are two big factors working in his favor: he's a left-handed hitter and a capable center fielder. Together, they'll ensure he gets a look in the majors, and from there, who knows?

Addison Barger, SS, Blue Jays

2021 minors: .244 BA (344 AB), 18 HR, .803 OPS, 36 BB, 129 K
2022 minors: .320 BA (338 AB), 18 HR, .951 OPS, 34 BB, 99 K

Barger's numbers are sure to catch your attention, and there isn't much doubt he hits the ball hard enough with a steep enough launch angle to be an impactful hitter. The question is whether he'll make enough contact. He's gone from striking out about a third of the time last year to about a quarter of the time this year, but most of that improvement has come at A-ball. 

A pronounced leg kick could create timing issues as he encounters more offspeed stuff. That he's taken to Double-A so quickly, batting .400 (30 for 75) with four homers in his first 21 games there, is a good sign and the main reason we can begin regarding him as a dynasty asset of sorts.

Kyle Manzardo, 1B, Rays

2021 minors: .349 BA (43 AB), 2 HR, 1.045 OPS, 4 BB, 6 K
2022 minors: .330 BA (230 AB), 17 HR, 1.071 OPS, 45 BB, 48 K

Manzardo is a true first baseman, which means he'll have to hit out of his mind to have a path as a major-league regular. So far, he's done exactly that in his first full professional season. In fact, he's looking like something of a hitting savant, showing an aptitude for squaring up both movement and velocity all while maintaining a near 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Of course, he just moved up to Double-A, where new challenges await him, but at age 22, he's not at all behind schedule.