Fantasy Baseball Prospects Report: What is Joe Ross doing in the minors?

Look at those hyperactive Nationals taking inventory of their off days to make sure they never roster a fifth starter when they don't have to. Yes, in today's game, no edge is too fine.

Wait, what's that? They're going with Jacob Turner instead? As in failed Tigers prospect Jacob Turner, he of the career 5.09 ERA? So this latest Joe Ross maneuver isn't just a continuation of their opening day misdeeds, when they sent down a capable starting pitcher to maximize their bullpen options for a couple weeks?

Huh?

"Joe wasn't Joe. That was it in a nutshell," manager Dusty Baker said. "His usually hard sinker wasn't sinking the last couple starts, and his usually sharp slider wasn't sliding. It's a tough decision to send him back, because we're going to need Joe. I talked to him. He said he really hadn't felt like himself. Not hurt, but he hadn't felt like himself since last year." 

Ross' velocity has been inconsistent in his three starts, and left-handed batters have throttled him to the tune of a .343 batting average and 1.080 OPS because he lacks confidence in his changeup, throwing it just 4.1 percent of the time compared to 9.8 a year ago. Frankly, neither is high enough.

He has some work to do, in other words, and though it may seem odd to us given that he entered the year with a 3.52 ERA in 181 2/3 career innings, the Nationals must have had some reservations about him from the get-go. A pitcher with any kind of job security would get a chance to work through these issues at the major-league level.

So what now? Do you drop him? Do you stash him? He was considered a proven pitcher in an ideal situation coming into the year, even earning the "sleeper" designation from some analysts, so I don't know why he would be less promising a stash than any of the top prospects.

And for the purposes of this column, I'm calling him a "prospect," just as I did Julio Urias even though he had technically exhausted his rookie eligibility. This isn't a rehab assignment, after all, or a case of roster manipulation. This is an honest-to-goodness demotion, and so I don't see why we shouldn't treat Ross like any other minor-leaguer who happens to have major-league experience.

Five on the verge

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

Yoan Moncada, 3B, White Sox

2016 minors: .294 BA (405 AB), 15 HR, 45 SB, .918 OPS, 72 BB, 124 K
2017 minors: .311 BA (101 AB), 5 HR, 6 SB, .908 OPS, 11 BB, 31 K

The batting average rises a little with each check-in, and Cody Bellinger's success at the major-league level is perhaps reason not to fixate on Moncada's Triple-A strikeout rate. Of course, it doesn't change the fact that the needs of the rebuilding White Sox aren't as immediate as those of the contending Dodgers. May 14 is the magic date for the White Sox to call up Moncada without losing a year of control, but in the interest of avoiding an up-and-down situation, which MLB.com says is a priority for them, I'm guessing he arrives later than that.

Joe Ross, SP, Nationals

2016 majors: 7-5, 3.43 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 105 IP, 29 BB, 93 K
2017 majors: 1-0, 7.47 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 15 2/3 IP, 4 BB, 14 K

I'll be the first to admit that seeing him here is awkward, and I don't know that treating him like any other minor-leaguer is the best approach editorially. But what better way to gauge his stashability than to put him toe to toe with actual prospects? As you can see, he comes in second for now. He has a track record of success in the majors and wouldn't face the workload limitations of a first-time call-up. The biggest reason Ross ranks so high, though, is because no high-end prospect appears to be particularly close to a call-up. He could get pushed off this list if he doesn't make his way back soon.

Franklin Barreto, SS, Athletics

2016 minors: .281 BA (462 AB), 10 HR, 30 SB, .753 OPS, 36 BB, 90 K
2017 spring: .360 BA (89 AB), 4 HR, 2 SB, 1.000 OPS, 8 BB 33 K

If we're going to critique Moncada's strikeout rate, then we should probably do the same for Barreto's, which is even worse. But man, is he making a mockery of the Pacific Coast League right now. If the Athletics had any designs of competing this year, I dare say he'd already be in the big leagues, if only in a Cody Bellinger-like cross-your-fingers-and-hope-it-works-out sort of way. With Marcus Semien still in the earliest days of his recovery from wrist surgery, Barreto has plenty of time to win the Athletics over, but time works against a player's stashability, of course. 

Lewis Brinson, OF, Brewers

2016 minors: .268 BA (406 AB), 15 HR, 17 SB, .773 OPS, 21 BB, 87 K
2017 minors: .343 BA (67 AB), 3 HR, 3 SB, .947 OPS, 6 BB, 17 K

Not much has changed within Brinson's numbers in the last week. He continues to crush the ball, furthering the idea that he's simply too good for Triple-A. The problem is that Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana, the two players keeping him on ice, have begun to do the same at the major-league level, and they're both promising enough in their own right for the Brewers to give them an extended look. Broxton has hit .300 (9 for 30) with three doubles, a triple and four stolen bases in his past 10 games. Santana has hit .400 6 for 15) with three home runs in his past five.

Jose Berrios, SP, Twins

2016 majors: 3-7, 8.02 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, 58 1/3 IP, 35 BB, 49 K
2017 minors: 2-0, 1.09 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 33 IP, 8 BB, 35 K

The Twins have a need for a fifth starter May 6, but they've made it clear it won't be Berrios, who will remain at Triple-A "unless we get into a situation where we have to have him," manager Paul Molitor said. They don't want to wind up where they did with Byron Buxton, continually shipping him to and from the minors. He has made progress with his command, tweaking his delivery to stay more in line with the catcher's target, but it has so far only translated to his fastball and not his offspeed pitches.

"When he's in a hitter's count, he has to be able to pull the ball back with his changeup and put a curveball in there for a strike," Triple-A pitching coach Stu Cliburn told MLB.com. "I don't think he did that well last year, but I think what we're seeing right now, he's able to do that a little bit better. When he can show consistently doing that, then he's a major-league pitcher."  

Five on the periphery

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

Gleyber Torres, SS Yankees

2016 minors: .270 BA (478 AB), 11 HR, 21 SB, .775 OPS, 58 BB, 110 K
2017 minors: .321 BA (56 AB), 1 HR, 2 SB, .898 OPS, 8 BB, 5 K

Torres missed about two weeks with rotator cuff tendinitis, but he has gone 9 for 18 with two doubles, a home run and zero strikeouts since his return. His absence partially coincided with Didi Gregorius' at the major-league level, but at age 20, he never really had a chance of cracking the major-league roster. He's lauded for his instincts and has the kind of all-around skill set that should make him the most sought-after prospect in Fantasy Baseball sooner than later. We'll just see how long the Yankees can keep him at Double-A.

Amed Rosario, SS, Mets

2016 minors: .324 BA (479 AB), 5 HR, 19 SB, .833 OPS, 40 BB, 87 K
2017 minors: .406 BA (96 AB), 1 HR, 7 SB, .985 OPS, 8 BB, 14 K

Maybe if Jose Reyes hadn't upped his output in the last week, batting .346 with three homers and two stolen bases in seven games, Rosario would be among that first group of five, and I don't think we can rule out him overtaking Asdrubal Cabrera sooner than later. Among those at Triple-A, there may not be a clearer case of being too good for his environment, and unlike some of the others with a claim to that crown, he doesn't have any issues making contact. Of course, it's not clear what else he does offensively, but seeing as he was a top 10 prospect for every publication this spring, I could see him going the Francisco Lindor route.

Sean Newcomb, SP, Braves

2016 minors: 8-7, 3.86 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 140 IP, 71 BB, 152 K
2017 minors: 1-1, 3.08 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 26 1/3 IP, 15 BB, 35 K

The Braves acquired Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia and R.A. Dickey this offseason because they didn't want to be in a position where they had to rush their top prospect, but that doesn't mean they'll stifle one who's breaking down the door. Newcomb isn't there yet -- his 5.1 walks per nine innings tell us that much -- but his last start Sunday was clearly a step in the right direction. He one-hit Pawtucket in seven innings, striking out 11 and walking two, and that's the kind of upside the 23-year-old has to offer if he can just get the walks under control.

Jacob Faria, SP, Rays

2016 minors: 5-10, 3.99 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 151 IP, 68 BB, 157 K
2017 minors: 3-0, 3.16 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 25 2/3 IP, 13 BB, 39 K

Faria doesn't have quite the pedigree of Newcomb, but he has missed bats at a comparable rate so far, striking out 11 over three six-hit innings in his most recent start Friday. It's a step up from his time at Double-A a year ago, when he still had more than a strikeout per inning. He works in the low 90s, which is low by today's standards, but has a deceptive changeup that makes the fastball more effective and four pitches in all. He may have already established himself as next in line for the Rays.

Jorge Lopez, SP, Brewers

2016 minors: 3-11, 5.78 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 124 2/3 IP, 71 BB, 113 K
2017 minors: 2-1, 1.73 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 26 IP, 4 BB, 30 K

Lopez actually got a taste of the majors in 2015 but then was so bad at Triple-A last year that he dropped off the prospect radar altogether. Triple-A for the Brewers, though, is Colorado Springs of the Pacific Coast League, and what do we always hear about the PCL?

"I couldn't get my curveball and my off-speed to spin that much, especially with the elevation," he told MLB.com. "But it helped me because I learned how to pitch and had to rely on my other pitches."

True dat. Lopez is crushing Double-A now, recording 10 strikeouts in his last start and allowing a combined three hits in his last two, and the Brewers may see fit to promote the 24-year-old straight from there. Between him, Josh Hader and last week's focus, Brandon Woodruff, the Brewers have the makings of a fine rotation.

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

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