I don't know if you've noticed, but prospect call-ups have been kind of a drag so far.
It dates back to last year, actually, when Ian Anderson and Ke'Bryan Hayes were about the only ones to arrive with worthwhile numbers. (OK, so Sixto Sanchez did as well, but who remembers him, right?) Flash forward to this year, and Jarred Kelenic is batting .096 through 23 games. He seemed like as sure a bet as you could find.
Chris Towers wrote about this phenomenon a couple weeks back, and we could all come up with theories for why it's the case. But the bottom line is I'm more reluctant now to make a big play for a prospect the moment I learn he's coming up, which is why I can only offer a tepid endorsement of Royals right-hander Jackson Kowar even though he's been darn near untouchable at Triple-A, putting together a 0.85 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 11.7 K/9 across six starts.
He's set to make his major-league debut Monday at the Angels, and sure, I guess it's exciting. I dutifully put in a claim for him in every league where he was still available. He was already stashed in several, which tells you that some people have been eagerly awaiting this moment. I myself included Kowar among my top five prospects to stash the past couple weeks.
But does that mean I'm confident in the way he'll perform? How could I be?
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I don't know exactly when it began -- maybe about the time Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor came up in 2015, maybe a little earlier -- but for several years, prospects were like easy money in Fantasy Baseball. Sure, a number of them flopped in their first chance in the majors, but as long as they were of a certain stature, the chances were good that they'd deliver on their full potential right away.
Now, though, the "lottery ticket" analogy feels more appropriate than ever. You want to give yourself a chance at a big score, but you've been reminded over and over again that the odds are against it.
Maybe Kowar will be different. Of the four pitchers the Royals selected in the first round of 2018 -- Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch (more on him in a bit) and Kris Bubic being the others -- Kowar was thought to be the most natural bat-misser, buoyed by a changeup that just drops off a cliff. He worked to shore up his delivery at the alternate training site last year, hoping to command his fastball better, and his numbers this year would suggest those efforts paid off. Indeed, at 24, it seems like there isn't much left for him to learn in the minors.
"His fastball command has been outstanding," assistant GM J.J. Picollo recently said. "And that's really where it starts for every pitcher. His changeup has been dominating at times, like we've always known, that's his go-to pitch. But I think the difference is, there's been nights where he didn't have the dominating changeup, but he had a really good curveball."
But wasn't the Royals brass saying the same sorts of things about Lynch just a couple weeks ago? You see how that turned out.
I don't want to be a downer. Kowar doesn't deserve it. Other prospects' failures have nothing to do with him, really. So yeah, take your shot and see how it goes. But blow half your FAB on him? Let's just say there are other targets from this weekend who are deserving of bigger bids.
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Pavin Smith 1B
ARI Arizona • #26 • Age: 25
I made the Eric Hosmer comparison several times in this space last week, but would you have guessed that Pavin Smith's recent run of success actually gives him a higher point total and point-per-game average than Hosmer so far? And he's eligible in the outfield. He won't be contributing bunches of home runs, but with a .321 (36 for 112) batting average and .839 OPS over his past 31 games, he's worth rostering in most formats.
Tarik Skubal SP
DET Detroit • #29 • Age: 24
Tarik Skubal's latest starts saw him set career highs in strikeouts (11) and swinging strikes (20) and continued his recent run of success with a fully fleshed at arsenal that now features an effective slider and changeup in addition to his fastball. With a 2.14 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 15.9 K/9 over his past four starts, he deserves a roster spot in every mixed league by now.
SEA Seattle • #36 • Age: 24
Another hyped prospect call-up who failed to deliver on his upside right away, Logan Gilbert finally did show some potential in his fifth career start Sunday, doubling his previous high with 20 swinging strikes. He ventured out of his fastball-slider comfort zone, too, with nine changeups, which were responsible for three of those swinging strikes. The final stat line was still meh, but at least there was some indication he may actually be worth something this year.
DET Detroit • #7 • Age: 29
Jonathan Schoop has put himself back on the map in Fantasy with six home runs in his past 10 games. But basically all it's done is pull his stat line even with 2020 (a little worse, actually), and it's not like he was a hot commodity then. At 29, Schoop is what he is -- a reliable source of 20-25 home runs and not much else. The batting average is modest. The on-base skills are suspect. He doesn't run. Still, what he offers is probably worth more than 47 percent rostership, especially in this offensive environment.
CIN Cincinnati • #6 • Age: 24
Believe it or not, I'm much more excited about Jonathan India than Schoop. Quietly, in a way that hasn't fully corrected the overall stat line yet, the rookie has turned his season around, doing all the things that got us excited about him in spring training. Over his past 21 games, he's batting .323 (21 for 65) with four homers, three steals, more walks (11) than strikeouts (10) and a .436 on-base percentage. Those on-base skills are spot on for him, and there's enough power and speed there for them to matter.
Lucas Sims RP
CIN Cincinnati • #39 • Age: 27
For the first time since the second week of the season, when it became clear that Amir Garrett just wasn't going to cut it, the Reds have an honest-to-goodness closer, having handed the ball to Lucas Sims for five of their past six saves. It's happened in short enough succession not to be a coincidence either. Five of his past six appearances have resulted in saves. It's true that his ERA is high, but his xERA and xFIP both suggest bad luck is to blame. The strikeout rate is on point, too.
CHC Chi. Cubs • #16 • Age: 29
Another two home runs Sunday give Patrick Wisdom seven in his first 13 games with the Cubs, who shifted Kris Bryant to the outfield just to keep 29-year-old's bat in the lineup when Anthony Rizzo became healthy again. Jason Heyward's return from the IL presents another possible roadblock, but it's hard to imagine the Cubs would remove Wisdom now. He was twice a 30-homer guy in the minors, so it would seem the power is legit. Skepticism is warranted given his poor plate discipline and unconventional development path, but hey, it worked out for Adolis Garcia.
Caleb Smith RP
ARI Arizona • #31 • Age: 29
It wasn't long ago we were calling Caleb Smith a burgeoning star for the Marlins, so his return to the rotation with the Diamondbacks is worthy of note, particularly after he was so effective as a multi-inning reliever. He allowed one run on three hits with two walks and eight strikeouts in his latest start Sunday at the Brewers and went five strong in his previous outing as well. The WHIP figures to be on the high side, but there may be enough strikeout potential to make it worth your while.