Fantasy Baseball Prospects Report: Mike Soroka coming up, Nick Pivetta going down
As the Vladimir Guerrero wait continues, another of Scott White's five to stash is poised to break through. Meanwhile, a popular breakout pick finds himself back in the minors.
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As one goes down, another comes up.
The former in this case is the bigger development for Fantasy Baseball owners. Nick Pivetta was one of the trendiest breakout picks coming into the year, and now he's a minor-leaguer. Not a prospect, of course — he lost that distinction a couple years ago — but whenever an "established" major-leaguer gets sent down, I think it's useful to compare his stashability to that of the prospects featured in this column. It really puts into perspective what stashable even means in your league.
How? Well, he's about to get dropped en masse. Ain't nobody got time for a reclamation project ... or so they think, anyway. But the upside that made him such an enticing draft pick is still there, even if it's gotten buried by bad habits. And it's clear the Phillies aren't viewing this demotion as a "goodbye forever" sort of deal.
"Nick has all the ingredients to be a top-of-the-line major-league starter," general manager Matt Klentak said. "Everyone in this organization still believes that he's going to do it, and frankly, we believe he's going to do it this year. But right now after four tough starts we need to get him into an environment where he can get his confidence back."
So let's compare Pivetta's chances of contributing to one of last week's additions to my Five on the Verge, Mike Soroka, now graduated from that list since he's set to make his 2019 debut Thursday. He'll be returning to the majors after a lengthy bout with shoulder soreness that flared up again in spring training.
It's by every indication a spot start, necessitated by Mike Foltynewicz's longer-than-expected rehab assignment for elbow soreness, but there's no reason it has to be. Touki Toussaint hasn't nailed down his spot. Hasn't made a start yet, actually. He was brought up for bullpen help but pitched so well in relief of Sean Newcomb on Saturday — striking out seven with no earned runs in six innings — that he effectively cost the left-hander his job. And certainly, Toussaint earned at least one start with that performance, but if it goes poorly, the Braves aren't married to him.
That goes for all of their young pitchers still trying to find their footing in the majors. They have about two full rotations' worth, so any excuse to give someone else a look is one they'll gladly take. Max Fried seems safe for now, but it could fall apart quickly. Or maybe we'll come to find out there's a reason Foltynewicz keeps getting pushed back. There are possible openings for Soroka beyond just Toussaint, in other words, and a good start Thursday would firmly position him as the next in line. It's also worth noting that, prior to the shoulder flareup, Soroka was the favorite for the fifth starter job this spring.
But how does he, a guy who had a 1.44 WHIP and 7.4 strikeouts in five major-league starts last year, who didn't even average a strikeout per inning in his minor-league career, who has no clear claim to a spot in an impossibly crowded rotation, compare to someone who had 10.3 K/9 vs. 2.8 BB/9 across 32 major-league starts last year? I'm not sure there's even a comparison.
Look, I like Soroka and think he has upside beyond even what the numbers suggest, but if that's the range of pickup you're weighing against a Pivetta stash, probably best if you just stand pat.
And the same would go for all but the very first name on this list ...
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
2018 minors: .381 BA (357 AB), 20 HR, 29 2B, 1.073 OPS, 37 BB, 38 K
2019 minors: .344 BA (32 AB), 2 2B, 2 HR, 1.026 OPS, 4 BB, 2 K
Any day now — possibly today — word will come down that Guerrero is on his way to the big leagues, and it'll still seems like it's close to a year overdue. I can't tell you how excited I'll be not to write about him anymore. Complicating matters this year is of course the oblique injury that cost him much of spring training, but the rehab portion of his minor-league assignment ended about a week ago. He's back to swinging the bat at Triple-A Buffalo, and swinging it as well as ever, hitting for average and power while striking out almost never.
"We've talked about him a lot in the last week and probably are going to keep talking about him until he's up here," Blue Jays assistant GM Joe Sheehan said.
Not too long ago, manager Charlie Montoyo estimated Guerrero would only need 20-30 at-bats at Buffalo to earn a call-up, and he's at 17 now.
Nick Senzel, 2B, Reds
2018 minors: .310 BA (171 AB), 6 HR, 8 SB, .887 OPS, 19 BB, 39 K
2019 spring: .308 BA (39 AB), 6 2B, .762 OPS, 0 BB, 9 K
At last check-in, manager David Bell said Senzel (ankle) was a couple weeks from playing in games anywhere. Well, he lied, because the former second overall pick began playing in extended spring training games Monday. Clearly, then, he's just days away from returning to Triple-A Louisville, and once he settles in there, he may be just days away from a big-league promotion. Service time considerations will be mostly out the window at that point, and Scott Schebler hasn't exactly seized the moment in center field. It looks like that's the position Senzel would be playing, too — center field — even though the Reds are without their primary second baseman at present, so any struggles to adapt defensively could delay him.
Jesus Luzardo, SP, Athletics
2018 minors: 10-5, 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 109 1/3 IP, 30 BB, 129 K
2019 spring: 0-0, 0.93 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9 2/3 IP, 4 BB, 15 K
Luzardo feels "fantastic" in his recovery from a strained rotator cuff, manager Bob Melvin said earlier this week, though there isn't a concrete plan for him to begin throwing yet.
"He's chomping at the bit. He wants to throw," Melvin said. "But we also understand for a guy like him, when you set a timetable, you don't want to speed it up. We want to make sure he's fully healthy."
A June return would still allow enough time for Luzardo to build up his arm again, especially if he's already feeling fantastic, and this injury could turn out to be a blessing if it makes his usage more predictable the rest of the way. The Athletics would have had to be more mindful of his innings without it. Given how dominant he looked this spring, Luzardo is as good a bet as any pitching prospect to be this year's Walker Buehler.
Carter Kieboom, SS, Nationals
2018 minors: .280 BA (493 AB), 16 HR, 31 2B, .801 OPS, 58 BB, 109 K
2019 minors: .422 BA (45 AB), 2 HR, 5 2B, 1.247 OPS, 10 BB, 15 K
With the way Kieboom is swinging the bat now, the Nationals are running out of excuses not to have him fill the Trea Turner void for the next several weeks. As Phillies GM Matt Klentak said in relation to the Nick Pivetta demotion, "every game matters" in what looks to be a highly competitive NL East, and Wilmer Difo certainly isn't winning the Nationals any games. GM Mike Rizzo threw caution to the wind by promoting Juan Soto last May -- and that was a guy who had climbed all the way from low Class A in two month's time — so there's precedent for something so bold. Kieboom would offer useful power for a middle infielder, with upside similar to the kind Brandon Lowe is showing in the majors right now.
Yordan Alvarez, OF, Astros
2018 minors: .293 BA (335 AB), 20 HR, 21 2B, .904 OPS, 42 BB, 92 K
2019 minors: .318 BA (44 AB), 7 HR, 2 2B, 1.295 OPS, 10 BB, 10 K
If you want an example of a guy making Juan Soto-like waves at the start of a season, look no further than Alvarez, who has emerged as the minors' preeminent slugger while maintaining his exemplary plate discipline. The Astros have been known to play it cautiously with their top prospects, especially since they're already so stable at the major-league level, but this performance is becoming the sort that's difficult to ignore. They're unsettled at DH right now, alternating Tyler White and Tony Kemp in the hope one eventually steps up, so the opening is there if they decide their offense could use a boost.
Five on the periphery
(These are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Zac Gallen, SP, Marlins
2018 minors: 8-9, 3.65 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 133 1/3 IP, 48 BB, 136 K
2019 minors: 1-0, 0.48 ERA, 0.32 WHIP, 18 2/3 IP, 1 BB, 25 K
Normally, a prospect isn't featured in this section two weeks in a row, but Zac Gallen entered his third start Wednesday with a 0.75 ERA and 0.42 WHIP and managed to lower both, allowing two hits and one walk in 5 2/3 scoreless innings. He has been next to unhittable so far this season — a shocking development given how good he is as a strike-thrower and where he ranked among Marlins prospects coming into the year. Changing his arm slot has apparently added a great deal of deception to what was already a well-established arsenal, and at age 23, he may be up with the next opening.
Sean Murphy, C, Athletics
2018 minors: .285 BA (270 AB), 8 HR, 27 2B, .850 OPS, 26 BB, 50 K
2019 minors: .381 BA (42 AB), 1 HR, 1 2B, .993 OPS, 6 BB, 11 K
The Athletics are making do for now with a Josh Phegley-Nick Hundley tandem behind the plate, but the latter isn't hitting and the former never has before. It's a position where they'll probably want to upgrade at some point, and the 24-year-old Murphy offers a near-ready in-house alternative. Defense is his calling card, so it won't be a Francisco Mejia situation where they're reluctant to put him behind the plate. And while the offense has always been a work in progress, Murphy offers a high-contact bat that showed signs of a power breakthrough last year, hitting eight homers and 27 doubles in just 270 at-bats.
Brusdar Graterol, SP, Twins
2018 minors: 8-4, 2.74 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 102 IP, 28 BB, 107 K
2019 minors: 1-0, 0.52 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 17 1/3 IP, 6 BB, 18 K
Graterol made a dramatic leap up the prospect rankings last year thanks in part to a jump in velocity, and his move to the upper levels, which can sometimes present a challenge for younger players, has so far gone swimmingly. How swimmingly? He threw seven one-hit innings Tuesday, striking out eight. While it's unlikely he reaches to the big leagues this year, it's looking more likely he ascends to the top rung of the pitching prospect ladder, sort of like Jesus Luzardo did last year. In addition to missing bats, he's an exceptional ground-ball pitcher, giving him a chance to dominate all three of the FIP measurements.
Tyler Beede, SP, Giants
2018 minors: 4-9, 6.64 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, 80 IP, 59 BB, 81 K
2019 minors: 0-1, 2.84 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 12 2/3 IP, 7 BB, 22 K
Just when you thought the former first-round pick was a lost cause after he produced a 6.78 ERA between the majors and minors last year, Beede went to great lengths to reinvent himself this offseason, according to The Athletic, ditching his two-seamer, cutter and slider in the hopes of establishing himself as a hard throwing bat-misser. And so far, it has paid off with big strikeout totals. This is closer to the guy the Giants drafted, by the way — a flamethrower who pairs a 98 mph fastball with a high-spin curveball — but control issues compelled them to tinker with his arsenal. Maybe those control issues still ultimately hold him back, but on a rebuilding club, the 25-year-old is well positioned for the second chance of a lifetime.
Will Craig, 1B, Pirates
2018 minors: .248 BA (480 AB), 20 HR, 30 2B, .768 OPS, 42 BB, 128 K
2019 minors: .271 BA (48 AB), 6 HR, 2 2B, 1.073 OPS, 7 BB, 12 K
Though Yordan Alvarez is on a different level, Craig ranks among the minor-league leaders in home runs as well — a bigger surprise given how he started out as a prospect, hitting six home runs in his first full minor-league season. The jump to 20 last year was significant, but it came at the expense of what had been his best skill: getting on base. Well, the power production is still climbing, apparently, and the on-base skills seem to have returned with it. In addition to what he has done at Triple-A Indianapolis, he had eight walks in just 36 plate appearances this spring. Shame his defensive profile limits him to first base, where the Pirates appear to be set.
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