Fantasy Baseball Prospects Report: Vladimir Guerrero, Nick Senzel lead the top five to stash
The minor-league season is just beginning, giving prospects a chance to state their cases for the majors. Scott White looks at some of those worth stashing ahead of time.
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Thursday marked the start of minor-league play, exactly one week after most major-league clubs kicked off the 2019 season.
Obviously, there isn't much to assess yet. It's more a case of circling back to some of what we saw in spring training. Maybe reconsidering the stashability of certain prospects in light of recent injuries, maybe introducing some new names after the sooner-than-expected arrivals of Eloy Jimenez and Fernando Tatis.
As will be true throughout the season, not all of my Five on the Verge will be worth stashing across all formats. It depends on the depth of the league, the availability of bench space and the extent to which you make use your bench options (which might also depend on format). Of course, the top name, Vladimir Guerrero, is a must everywhere, but given where he was being drafted in March, that goes without saying.
These five names will swap out frequently based on promotions, performance and openings at the big-league level, so you'll want to check back every week to find your next lottery ticket pickup. And for dynasty owners who laugh at the caliber of prospects available in the typical redraft league, you'll also find my Five on the Periphery, which feature prospects of varying stature who happened to catch my eye over the past week, for whatever reason.
A little something for everyone, then. Let's get started.
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Vladimir Guerrero, 3B, Blue Jays
2018 minors: .381 BA (357 AB), 20 HR, 29 2B, 1.073 OPS, 37 BB, 38 K
2019 spring: .211 BA (19 AB), 2 2B, .566 OPS, 1 BB, 3 K
Have to get the obvious out of the way first. Guerrero is owned in 97 percent of CBS Sports leagues, so calling him one of the top five prospects to stash isn't news to anyone. It's just a question of when he's up, and right now, the fair assumption is still April. He was set to begin a rehab assignment with high Class A Dunedin on Thursday, having recovered from the strained oblique that cut his spring training short, and even if the Blue Jays want to slow play it and give him two solid weeks of at-bats, it'll put him only a little beyond the point when they would have waited to call him up anyway, for financial reasons.
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
Senzel was initially one of the financial casualties of spring training, getting sent down even though manager David Bell admitted he no longer had any concerns about Senzel's ability to handle his new position, center field (where, by the way, Scott Schebler has recorded just one hit in six games to begin the big-league season). Of course, Senzel sprained his ankle almost immediately after getting sent down, and it doesn't sound like he's as far along in his recovery as Guerrero. If Schebler turns things around before Senzel is up to speed, it's possible the Reds keep the 23-year-old down a little longer, especially since he also lost most of last season to injury.
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
Like Guerrero and Senzel, Luzardo entered spring training on the fast track to the majors and may have actually stood the best chance of the three of making the opening day roster. But his injury, a strained rotator cuff, was also the most disruptive to his expected timetable. He should start throwing again in May, and by the time he's ready to pitch again, we'll be at about the point where Super 2 considerations become a factor. Depending where they are in the standings, though, the Athletics may want him up as soon as possible. There's little doubt that the 21-year-old's fastball-changeup combo makes him the best pitcher in the organization already.
Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros
2018 minors: .332 BA (407 AB), 24 HR, 20 SB, .989 OPS, 48 BB, 84 K
2019 spring: .276 BA (29 AB), 3 2B, 1 SB, .762 OPS, 4 BB, 9 K
While it seems like Tucker has nothing more to prove in the minors, he looked overmatched in his all-too-brief stint in the majors last year and wasn't exactly turning heads this spring. It could just be a sample size thing — he hit .409 with five homers last spring, after all — but the Astros made it clear this offeason that they weren't ready to turn the reins over to the 22-year-old yet, signing Michael Brantley to a two-year deal. Still, between Brantley's injury history, Tyler White's unprovenness and Josh Reddick's unpredictability, you have to assume the path will open for Tucker at some point, provided he continues to do his thing at Triple-A.
Forrest Whitley, SP, Astros
2018 minors: 0-2, 3.76 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 26 1/3 IP, 11 BB, 34 K
2019 spring: 2-0, 1.50 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 12 IP, 4 BB, 15 K
Between a drug suspension and a lat injury, Whitley hardly pitched last season, so he didn't stand a real chance of cracking the Astros starting rotation this spring — one that has a couple other hopefuls, Josh James and Framber Valdez, on the outside looking in. Whitley is the best of them all, though — the best pitcher in all the minors, most likely — so if he manages to stay on the field this year, it's only a matter of time before he forces his way into the big-league picture. Of the Five on the Verge, his path is the murkiest, so it's strictly an upside play. But we're talking, like, Noah Syndergaard-level upside.
Five on the periphery
(These are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Carter Kieboom, SS, Nationals
2018 minors: .280 BA (493 AB), 16 HR, 31 2B, .801 OPS, 58 BB, 109 K
2019 spring: .279 BA (43 AB), 3 HR, 3 2B, .911 OPS, 6 BB, 10 K
When Trea Turner went down with a broken finger Tuesday, attention quickly shifted to the Nationals' top remaining prospect, who also happens to play shortstop and certainly held his own this spring. General manager MIke Rizzo quickly put to rest any thoughts of bringing up Kieboom, though.
"I just think we want to refine Carter defensively a little bit," Rizzo said. "Offensively, he had a great spring and a great Arizona Fall League. He's very, very close to becoming major league-ready. We think he just needs a few more reps at the position."
For all the hand-wringing over Turner's injury, there's a reasonable chance he's back within a month, which wouldn't be long enough to break in a top prospect properly. Kieboom's more likely path to the majors this year is at second base, where Brian Dozier is attempting to re-establish himself on a one-year deal.
Austin Hays, OF, Orioles
2018 minors: .235 BA (310 AB), 12 HR, .676 OPS, 14 BB,36 K
2019 spring: .351 BA (37 AB), 5 HR, 1.277 OPS, 2 BB, 7 K
Yet another victim of economics this spring who, like Senzel, hurt himself almost immediately after getting sent down, Hays first reinstated himself as a top prospect with a sensational performance that more or less confirmed the theory he was never right physically last year. Two years ago, in a season split almost evenly between high Class A and Double-A, he hit .329 with 32 homers and a .958 OPS, so the upside is clear. The key for him will be not rushing back from this thumb sprain, because if he comes back raking, there isn't anyone to block his path to the majors.
Bo Bichette, SS, Blue Jays
2018 minors: .286 BA (539 AB), 11 HR, 43 2B, 32 SB, .796 OPS, 48 BB, 101 K
2019 spring: .417 BA (36 AB), 4 HR, 3 2B, 2 SB, 1.308 OPS, 4 BB, 7 K
Among the prospects whose chances of contributing in 2019 were the most in question, Bichette probably made the strongest impression this spring, showing off massive power after a year in which he kind of disappointed in that area. Entering last year, the gap between him and Guerrero wasn't so great, and while Bichette didn't have the flawless season Guerrero did, he did make gains in certain areas, such as stolen bases. The ceiling is still enormous, but after the way the Blue Jays handled Guerrero last year, you have to think there's a chance they'll want to give Bichette a full year at Triple-A just for ... whatever's sake. Not like they'll be needing a boost during the stretch run or anything.
Touki Toussaint, SP, Braves
2018 minors: 9-6, 2.38 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 136 1/3 IP, 53 BB, 163 K
2019 spring: 1-2, 8.62 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 15 2/3 IP, 3 BB, 20 K
The prospect everyone wanted to see win a spot in the Braves rotation didn't, and the biggest surprise was that it wasn't because of walks, which seemed like the last hurdle to clear for the 22-year-old. An abundance of young arms all knocking on the door to the majors meant a razor-thin margin for error, and the fact is Toussaint got a rocked up a couple times. Max Fried's early success has only put another obstacle in his way, but the Braves are very much in the evaluation phase for all these young arms. And because of the need to preserve innings, none figures to hold a spot for long. Toussaint's chance will still come, particularly if he does his part and dominates Triple-A.
Cavan Biggio, 2B, Blue Jays
2018 minors: .252 BA (449 AB), 26 HR, 20 SB, .887 OPS, 100 BB, 148 K
2019 spring: .256 BA (39 AB), 2 HR, .838 OPS, 4 BB, 10 K
While a 2019 arrival is still in doubt for Bichette, it's more a less expected for Biggio, especially given the current state of the Blue Jays offense. He's a soon-to-be 24-year-old who has already done his best work in the upper minors, and he's not considered such a can't-miss prospect that service time considerations will dictate the timetable. Once the Blue Jays are sure he's ready and they're sure they have a spot for him, he's probably up, and while he profiles as a low-BABIP guy because of his commitment to putting the ball in the air, his on-base skills help make up for it. Who knows? He might even be another Brian Dozier.
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