Fantasy Baseball: Which minor-league prospects helped or hurt their value most in 2018?

The final barometer of the season will highlight the prospects who have either helped or hurt their cause the most in 2018. As always, this list is not exhaustive, and these are not rankings by any means. In addition, I will not include prospects that have already found their way to the big leagues — everyone knows about Juan Soto and Gleyber Torres unless they've been living under a rock. 

Lastly, it's too easy to count current minor leaguers like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Eloy Jimenez. We'll try to be a tad less obvious.

Thanks again for reading this year. As always, happy prospecting.

UPGRADE

Jesus Luzardo, P, OAK – Though his first few starts in Triple-A weren't so great, Luzardo remains one of the biggest risers of the 2018 campaign. He fanned 25 batters in 14.2 innings to begin the season at High-A, resulting in a quick promotion to Double-A. He held opposing batters to a .204 average at Double-A, posting a 2.29 ERA while striking out 86 in 78.2 innings. The southpaw has three pitches, throws strikes and keeps the ball down. Considering he had Tommy John surgery in 2016 as a teenager, Luzardo's rapid rise is quite the story. He will likely begin the 2019 campaign in Triple-A as one of the top arms in all of baseball.

Wander Franco, SS, TB – In larger, deeper dynasty leagues, Fantasy owners have been falling all over themselves to acquire Franco. The 17-year-old is the nephew of Erick Aybar and took the Appalachian League by storm. Franco slashed .351/.418/.587 with 11 home runs, 57 RBI and four steals in 61 games. Perhaps most impressively, Franco had more walks (27) than strikeouts (19), an incredible statistic given his youth. A switch-hitter, he's been compared to Francisco Lindor, which is high praise at such a young age. He has the arm and soft hands to stick at shortstop. Franco will likely start the year at Low-A in 2019, and it'll be interesting to see how the normally conservative Rays choose to handle the wunderkind if he really is just too advanced for the lower levels despite being a teenager.

Alex Kirilloff, OF, MIN – A first-round pick in 2016, Kirilloff became a forgotten prospect once he needed Tommy John surgery. Healthy to begin the 2018 season, Kirilloff returned with a vengeance, slashing .333/.391/.607 with 13 home runs and 56 RBI in 65 games for Low-A Cedar Rapids. The power surge was the most surprising aspect of Kirilloff's numbers, as he was not projected to have such pop even when drafted. A promotion to High-A did little to slow his momentum; in fact, he batted .362 in 65 subsequent games at that level. Kirilloff will enter 2019 as one of the top hitting prospects and could start the season at Double-A as a 21-year-old.

Dylan Cease, P, CHW – Eloy Jimenez was the big name in the Jose Quintana trade, but Cease was much more than a throw-in piece in that deal. Despite being continually overshadowed by Michael Kopech, Cease was nothing short of dominant in 2018. Between High-A and Double-A, the 22-year-old righty fanned 160 batters in 124 innings. While he needs to cut down on his walks, Cease more than made up for it with plenty of swings and misses, with batters hitting an anemic .189 against him this season. Cease has also already undergone Tommy John surgery. He has a fastball that jumps out of his hand, as well as a nasty curveball. The development of his changeup and cutting down on walks are the last items to check off before proclaiming him to be a potential rotation ace.

CHECK STATUS

Chris Paddack, P, SD – Paddack had a scintillating return from Tommy John surgery. Picking up right where he left off in 2016, Paddack posted absurd numbers in the usually hitter-friendly California League (83:4 K:BB in 52.2 innings in 2018) — yes, you read that correctly. Not only were the environments unfriendly, but usually pitchers are wild in their return from Tommy John surgery as they regain strength and essentially learn how to throw again. That was not the case for Paddack, who posted an even lower ERA upon his bump to Double-A. He had a 1.91 ERA and 37:4 K:BB in 37.2 innings. The only concern remaining is whether he can handle the rigors of being a true frontline starter with his injury history. Time will tell, but it was clearly a successful return to prominence for the 22-year-old righty.

Matt Manning, P, DET – Manning struggled in his first taste of full-season ball in 2017 but experienced a complete turnaround this year. He pitched across three levels in 2018, striking out 154 batters in 117.2 innings. A two-sport star in high school, Manning has taken to pitching exclusively much quicker than anticipated. He won't turn 21 until January, but he will likely start the 2019 season at Double-A. Manning is an intimidating presence on the mound at 6-foot-6, his curveball and changeup are much improved, and he could still add a few ticks in velocity to his fastball when all is said and done. The Tigers haven't had much success in developing pitchers in the last couple of years, but Manning is showing incredible promise.

Leody Taveras, OF, TEX – Taveras entered the 2018 campaign as a top hitting prospect, largely due to projection and the way he handled Low-A as an 18-year-old. However, he did not post much better numbers in 2018 at High-A than he did in 2017 at Low-A. In fact, his batting average, home runs and stolen bases all went down, albeit slightly, and they were not earth-shattering statistics to begin with. In 2018, Taveras hit .246/.312/332 with five home runs, 48 RBI and 19 steals in 132 games. The switch-hitting centerfielder just turned 20 years of age but may repeat High-A to begin the 2019 season. It is still tough to put a projection on Taveras, as he's fast but hasn't posted outrageous stolen base totals. He could hit for double-digit home runs but hasn't as of yet, and he has an above-average eye at the dish but hasn't hit above .250 in full-season ball.

Nick Neidert, P, MIA – Derek Jeter's revamp of the Marlins includes Neidert, who was the main return in the Dee Gordon trade with the Mariners. Neidert did not disappoint in his first season in the Miami organization. The 21-year-old righty notched a 3.24 ERA and 154:31 K:BB in 152.2 innings at Double-A. Neidert is usually around the plate, but still manages to get plenty of swings and misses. That said, will Neidert be able to strike out a batter per inning at the higher levels? His fastball is not overpowering, though his off-speed pitches are stellar. Neidert will see the big leagues soon, perhaps as early as next season, though whether he can be a No. 2 starter as opposed to simply an innings-eater is still up in the air.

DOWNGRADE

Nick Senzel, 3B, CIN – Senzel had far from an ideal 2018 campaign, and for a variety of reasons. Firstly, he couldn't stay healthy. Senzel was limited to just 44 games at Triple-A due to an assortment of injuries, starting with vertigo and ending with a torn tendon in his right index finger. The Reds also extended the contract of starting third baseman Eugenio Suarez during the season, then drafted another third baseman in the first round in Jonathan India. Senzel has played other infield positions in the past, but the Reds currently have Scooter Gennett performing exceptionally well at second and Joey Votto entrenched at first base. Senzel is expected to be healthy in time for spring training in 2019, but it appears he will have an uphill battle for at-bats. Of course, Gennett is a free agent after this year, and Jose Peraza may not be the answer at short, so these issues may work themselves out. Senzel has never hit below .300 at any level of full-season ball in the minors. However, injuries and depth robbed Senzel of a big-league debut in 2018, and could stunt his trajectory in 2019 as well.

Austin Hays, OF, BAL – Hays went from having the inside track to a starting outfield job in spring training to failing to play above Double-A in 2018. He battled a nagging ankle injury as well, further stalling his progress. Hays was limited to 66 games at Double-A, batting just .242. Never known for his patience at the dish, Hays had just a .273 OBP while also striking out 59 times in those 66 outings. He has power and a bit of speed, but showed little of the high batting average from minor league seasons past. Perhaps a fresh start in 2019 is all the 23-year-old needs, but it's safe to say 2018 was a lost season for Hays.

Jorge Mateo, SS, OAK – The Sonny Gray trade hasn't worked out for the Yankees, but Mateo has not held up his end of the bargain for the Athletics, either. The speedster hit a career-worst .230 at Triple-A. He struck out 139 times in 131 games while drawing just 29 walks. These statistics clearly don't show the promise of a future leadoff hitter, and the lack of time spent on base also resulted in a career-low 25 stolen bases, less than half of his total from 2017, and a far cry from the 82 bags swiped in 2015 that put him firmly on the prospect map. Now 23 years of age, Mateo's plate discipline isn't getting any better, he hasn't hit above .270 since 2015, and he never projected to hit for much power. Mateo's stock has fallen to new lows.

Sixto Sanchez, P, PHI – High risk, high reward? Sanchez has a blazing fastball and has been compared to Pedro Martinez. However, Sanchez has yet to pitch 100 innings in a minor league season. He was limited to just 46.2 innings at High-A in 2018, having been shut down due to right elbow inflammation back in June. The Phillies may simply be exercising extreme caution with their top pitching prospect, but Sanchez will need to show at some point that he can handle the rigors of being in the starting rotation for an entire season. 2019 will be a big test, as he is likely to begin the season at Double-A. Another concern is that Sanchez hasn't always shown elite strikeout stuff, as his career strikeout rate is under one punchout per inning. Sanchez is just 20 years of age with huge upside, but there are still question marks that cast some doubt on his future as a No. 1 starter.

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