Fantasy Baseball: Ranking recent prospect callups Keston Hiura, Nicky Lopez, and Oscar Mercado
With three interesting prospects getting the call in recent days, Chris Towers breaks down what to expect from Keston Hiura, Nicky Lopez, and Oscar Mercado
The nice thing about this time of year is we don't really have to worry too much about teams playing games with prospects. Sure, there's the fuzzy Super Two deadline in June that could lead to another round of promotions, but for the most part, teams are willing to call guys up right now if a need arises.
And a need has arisen for the Brewers, Royals, and Indians. The reasons aren't all the same, but each team has found in the last 48 hours, a need for one of their top prospects. All three have intriguing Fantasy profiles, and deserve to be on your radar. But who should your top target be? And how much should you expect out of them?
That's what I'm here to answer. Here's a breakdown of Keston Hiura, NIcky Lopez, and Oscar Mercado as they get ready to make their MLB debuts.
Keston Hiura, 2B, Brewers
The obvious top choice among this crop, Hiura doesn't have quite the prospect pedigree of Fernando Tatis or Vladimir Guerrero, but he's about as close as you can get to the top of the next tier. He is pretty much universally beloved in prospect circles as a unanimous top-20 prospect coming into the season.
The bat is the calling card for Hiura, and the results speak for themselves, as he's hit .316/.380/.534 in his minor-league career. He's off to an incredible start in Triple-A, with a 1.106 OPS and 11 homers — already just two shy of his career-high for a season — and while that isn't sustainable, there's reason to believe the power spike is real. He was always projected to develop into at least average power, and with Triple-A using the same ball as the majors — you know, the one that has led to a 50% spike in home runs per game in Triple-A — this boost seems both easy to explain and a sign of the gains he has made.
One thing Hiura may not have that the other guys on this list do is speed. He shouldn't be a zero in stolen bases, but with just 19 on a 59.7% success rate over his last 160 games, don't expect the Brewers to let him run into too many outs. That's fine, because the bat is the star of the show here. Anthony Rendon comps aren't unjustified here, though that's probably too much to expect in Year One; after all, Rendon himself hit just .265/.329/.396 in his rookie season before establishing himself as an All-Star caliber player the following season.
So, what kind of player should you expect right away from Hiura? It wouldn't shock me at all to see Hiura have a Miguel Andujar-esque impact as a rookie. Like Andujar, he's going to be playing half his games in a very hitter-friendly home park and an excellent lineup. Hiura seems likely to both strike out and walk a bit more but is likely a more talented hitter overall.
A more realistic comp might be someone like Cesar Hernandez. He won't walk as much as Hernandez (95 times in 2018, in case you didn't notice), but he should be a consistent source of batting average, with solid power and speed right away. Either way, there's a ton of potential here, and Hiura should be the top waiver-wire claim on the board until he inevitably reaches universal ownership.
One additional note …
There was a big discussion in the Fantasy baseball world last week when a couple of high-profile prospects were sent down just a few weeks after being the biggest waiver-wire/FAAB adds around. Hiura is incredibly talented, but it's not like Carter Kieboom wasn't too. Sometimes it takes a while, and with a guy like Shaw potentially lying in wait if he gets healthy and starts hitting, Hiura isn't guaranteed of anything.
He could flame out, in other words, pushing his potential impact to 2020, and costing you significant waiver capital. That's always possible. But it's possible with every big-name prospect (or any other potential waiver-wire add), and the upside of hitting on someone like Hiura and getting a Juan Soto-type contribution is too high to avoid. He's worth a significant amount of your FAAB budget for that alone.
One more additional note (about Travis Shaw) ...
There was no indication he had been dealing with this injury prior to this, but hopefully this helps explain why Shaw has been so lost this season. Going back to Spring Training, Shaw has a 36.4% strikeout rate, with just 17 walks to go with 75 strikeouts. He just hasn't been the same, and it's no surprise it became untenable to continue having him and Mike Moustakas getting time at second base.
The question is, what happens if and when Shaw is back and right? If Hiura is hitting well, it won't matter much at second base, but it could spell doom for Jesus Aguilar's Fantasy value if he hasn't really turned it around. Alternately, Hiura's leash could be pretty short if Shaw gets healthy and Hiura isn't hitting. And, of course, injuries could create a role for Shaw anyway.
The point is, this isn't the last we've seen of Shaw this season, I'd bet. Whether that means you can afford to stash him probably depends on your league. Anything deeper than 12 teams, and I'm probably letting him go unless I have an IL spot open.
Nicky Lopez, 2B, Royals
We've talked about it a lot here, but if there is one prospect profile that tends to outperform expectations most, it's the contact-oriented, middling-power profile. In the current offense-friendly environment, the ability to put the ball on the bat can help everything else play up. And Lopez puts the ball on the bat about as well as anyone south of Willians Astudillo.
In 88 career games at Triple-A, Lopez has struck out just 34 times, en route to a .304/.396/.445 line. There isn't a ton of power here, but he has clubbed 10 homers since getting to Triple-A, to go along with 15 steals. There isn't much of a question as to whether Lopez will make contact, so if he can hit for even average power, there's certainly potential here.
To make an obvious comparison, Lopez might profile like a poor man's Whit Merrifield, running up helpful averages, with enough pop and on-base skill to have value; just don't expect him to lead any league in steals, even on a team that should encourage him to run. A more realistic comp might be 2018 Joey Wendle, hopefully with a bit more pop. That's not a superstar, but it's a useful player if he gets there.
Oscar Mercado, OF, Indians
Mercado probably has the single-best carrying tool of this group, thanks to his stolen base potential, and it could make him a huge-upside Fantasy option. However, there just hasn't been a ton of love around him from the prospect community throughout his career. That's not the be-all, end-all, but it must mean something for his chances of hitting enough to put that speed into play.
He has done that recently, hitting .294/.396/.496 so far this season, with the power especially impressing. To give a hint at what the potential is here, he has played 162 games in Triple-A with 109 runs, 12 homers, 62 RBI, 51 steals, and a .281 average. That'll play.
I'm just skeptical he can keep it up against major-league competition. There have been many players who can draw walks against wild competition in the minors, but who struggle when challenged by major-league pitching. Indians fans and Fantasy players have experience with one in Cleveland, as Greg Allen showed a propensity to take a walk in the minors to go with tremendous speed, but that wasn't enough for him to stick against tougher competition.
Mercado is worth an add in all category leagues because of that carrying tool, but I'm just a bit more skeptical about the bat here than the other two.
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