Prospects Report: Parks can't hold Bryant
Will Kris Bryant pay dividends for both the Cubs and Fantasy owners in 2014? Our Scott White talks about his situation and value in seasonal formats in this week's Prospects Report.
Bear with me.
Whenever I take a stance as unpopular as this one, I have to qualify everything beforehand to deflect the usual slings and arrows from the usual hordes of Internet crazies.
So then, the obvious: Kris Bryant is awesome. His numbers at Double-A Tennessee speak for themselves. He's batting .355 with 22 homers and 1.160 OPS in 248 at-bats to lead the Southern League in just about every offensive category.
And then, the near obvious: I know nothing of the Cubs' plans. I don't have some kind of insider connection to Theo Epstein, and in a couple hundred words from now, I'll be quoting personnel I hadn't even heard of until today.
|1.||Taijuan Walker, SP, SEA||75|
|2.||Oscar Taveras, OF, STL||69|
|3.||Alex Wood, RP, ATL||62|
|4.||Javier Baez, SS, CHC||50|
|5.||Archie Bradley, SP, ARI||41|
|6.||Noah Syndergaard, SP, NYM||37|
|7.||Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC||36|
|8.||Byron Buxton, OF, MIN||34|
|9.||Danny Salazar, SP, CLE||32|
|10.||Dylan Bundy, SP, BAL||30|
My stance is based entirely on observation, intuition and experience, as is anyone's who writes about this game about a game inside of a game (that third game being ... life, I guess).
And my observation, intuition and experience tell me I don't care to own Bryant in a one-year Fantasy league.
Obviously, in a deep enough NL-only league, any prospect within shouting distance of the majors deserves to be rostered "just in case," but you'd be unnecessarily shrinking your roster by stashing Bryant in a standard mixed league.
His situation reminds me of the one the Astros faced with George Springer last season and the one the Royals faced with Wil Myers in 2012. Bryant certainly seems ready and would probably do fine if he got the call, but the Cubs stand to lose more than they gain by pulling the trigger.
It's not like they're in contention. In fact, if Bryant helps too much, he costs them a shot at the first overall pick in next year's draft. And if he doesn't help enough ... well, that above all is what the Cubs want to avoid.
"We always have said we want players to dominate a level," senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod recently told the Chicago Tribune. "I think we try to keep in context that a year ago at this time he wasn't even a signed player yet. We had just drafted him. He has had two very good months at Double-A, but still, only two months."
And that McLeod guy isn't just one rogue executive spouting off to the media. The top dog -- or at least the top dog's lapdog (s-sorry, Mr. Epstein!) -- said basically the same thing.
"Certainly, we tell every prospect to go dominate, and he's obviously doing that," general manager Jed Hoyer recently told CSNChicago.com. "I think we probably want to see it for a little bit longer."
Heard enough yet? Too bad!
"For Bryant, this is his first pro season," farm director Jaron Madison told CSNChicago.com. "He's trying to figure out how to get through a full season of playing every day -- not playing three or four times a week. He still has a lot of things he needs to work on approach-wise."
Up and down the organization, the Cubs are unified in their message. Is it hogwash? Maybe coming from a contender, you'd dismiss it as posturing, as a lame attempt to quell a restless fan base until they have all their ducks in a row. But coming from a cellar dweller that might actually have some incentive to energize its fan base, it probably just means they want to take their time with Bryant.
And why not? Is a slight boost in ticket sales worth stunting the development of a potential franchise player? As unlikely as it may seem given his production at Double-A, what if he gets the call and struggles down the stretch? Then the Cubs have a potential crisis of confidence on their hands, not to mention a roster predicament if he continues to struggle next spring. He could end up bouncing between the majors and the minors over the next couple years, unable to get a foothold simply because he was rushed the first time.
It's not the most likely scenario, but it's one they should try to avoid.
The more prudent course of action for a team with nothing to gain anyway is exactly what the Astros did with Springer. His performance in less than half a season at Triple-A Oklahoma City last year -- a .311 batting average with 18 homers, 22 steals and a 1.050 OPS -- said plenty, but what would say even more is if he did even better after a few months off. A couple weeks into 2014 -- early enough to suggest Super 2 wasn't a real consideration -- he got the call.
The Cubs finally promoted Bryant to Triple-A Wednesday, but if it took two months of that kind of production for them to conclude he had "dominated" a level and only 3 1/2 months remain in the regular season, how much of the regular season will remain by the time he sufficienty "dominates" Triple-A?
When you factor in the logistics of it, it becomes even harder to justify. Javier Baez, for as much as he's struggled at Triple-A (after dominating at Double-A, to bring things full circle), is still ahead of Bryant on the organizational ladder and would presumably get the call first. With Starlin Castro entrenched at shortstop, Baez's future is probably at third base, which is the only position Bryant has played so far as a professional. A move to the outfield, then, is likely in Bryant's future. Waiting until he reaches the majors to implement it would be piling on to an already delicate situation.
You're free to disagree, of course, but in my march to the championship, I know I couldn't commit a roster spot to Bryant to the bitter end, which might be what it takes with the Cubs seemingly in no hurry to bring him up to the majors.
I learned my lesson with Myers in 2012.
The Rangers' front office and Fantasy owners have something in common. They are both wishing prospect Joey Gallo was a first baseman and not on the opposite side of the diamond at third base.
It's not because Gallo has proven to be a shaky option at third base, with a career .920 fielding percentage in 227 minor-league games. It's that if Gallo was at first base, then there would be some serious talk about a promotion to the majors with the performance he's turned in at the plate this season.
It seems unfathomable to even ponder Gallo playing first base because going into the season there was no need long-term for the Rangers after they acquired Prince Fielder in a trade with the Tigers. But he's now done for the season with a neck injury. Sadly, Fielder's replacement -- Mitch Moreland -- is also looking at a season-ending injury (ankle), so the Rangers have had to rely on journeymen Brad Snyder and Donnie Murphy to fill-in at first base. Leading us to once again ponder; what if Gallo played first base?
One thing is for sure, Gallo hits like an elite first baseman. He hit .323 with a .463 on-base percentage, .735 slugging percentage and 1.199 OPS in 28 games for Class A Myrtle Beach prior to his promotion in early June to Double-A Frisco. Facing advanced pitching hasn't fazed the 20-year-old slugger, as Gallo is batting .300 with a .462 on-base percentage, .735 slugging percentage and 1.195 OPS in nine games for Frisco. This season, he already has 25 home runs and 60 RBI in 67 games.
Hitting for power is nothing new for Gallo, who totaled 22 home runs in 59 games in his first pro season in 2012 and followed that up with 40 home runs in 111 games last season. He has a career .663 slugging percentage and 1.054 OPS in 236 games. Let me say that again ... He has a career .663 slugging percentage and 1.054 OPS in 236 games.
The biggest concern with Gallo coming into the season was a hole in his swing that led to a high strikeout rate. Gallo still has a high strikeout rate, whiffing 77 times this season. However, his plate discipline has improved greatly. He's walking as nearly as many times as striking out, racking up 60 walks. He came into the season with a career .365 on-base percentage and he's improved it nearly 100 points in 2014 to .463.
Offensively, it looks like Gallo's ready, and he's in the right organization for a potential jump from Double-A to the majors. The Rangers did it in 2012 with Jurickson Profar, they did it last season with Nick Tepesch and they did it this season with Rougned Odor. The only issue is that third base is blocked by Adrian Beltre, so Gallo's best chance for regular at-bats would be DH. However, he's appeared in only five career games as a DH in the minors, and has only played in the field at third base. No first base or outfield.
With how well Gallo's adjusted to advanced pitching, I can definitely see him on the radar for a callup to the majors this season, especially if he continues at his video-game-numbers pace. He could spell Beltre at third base, and his power bat could be very valuable at DH during a pennant race. Still, Gallo is best left for stashing in deeper mixed leagues and AL-only Fantasy formats. But I wouldn't hesitate to rush to waivers if news of his promotion appears imminent.
Christian Bethancourt, C, Braves
Affiliate: Triple-A Gwinnett
2014 stats: .278/.304/.385/.690, one triple, three home runs, 11 doubles, 17 runs, 30 RBI, eight walks, 36 strikeouts and three stolen bases in 55 games
Bethancourt is a name that has popped up on the radar this week thanks to an MLB.com report citing the Braves are pondering bringing the 22-year-old prospect to the majors on a full-time basis and moving Evan Gattis to left field. However, this news is still more exciting for Braves fans than Fantasy owners. While Bethancourt has been better offensively as of late -- batting .271 with two home runs and 17 RBI in 23 May games and batting .375 with one home run and seven RBI in 15 June games -- he's still not an elite offensive player. His strength remains defense. The thing is that Bethancourt has never really put up good offensive numbers in the minors. He's not Gattis or former Braves catcher Brian McCann. He reminds me a lot more of when Salvador Perez was coming up through the Royals' system. Perez never had great numbers in the minors, but he made a name for himself because of his defensive skills. Perez has blossomed into a pretty good all-around catcher, and Bethancourt is at about the same developmental stage of his career that Perez was at when he made his MLB debut. Perhaps Bethancourt will follow a similar path as Perez, but I'm not counting on it in the near term.
Adam Duvall, 1B/3B, Giants
Affiliate: Triple-A Fresno
2014 stats: .294/.358/.628/.986, three triples, eight doubles, 21 home runs, 43 runs, 62 RBI, 21 walks, 55 strikeouts and two stolen bases in 59 games
Duvall plummeted in the prospect rankings after a rough season in 2013. He went from the Giants' No. 11 prospect in 2013 to unranked entering this season, according to Baseball America. He's not even among the top 20 Giants' prospects for MLB.com. Well, both publications might reconsider their stance after the numbers Duvall has posted in 2014. Duvall will still have his detractors claiming his numbers are aided by the hitter-friendly PCL. While he did struggle last season in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League, he still slugged .465 and hit pretty well (.285/.527/.912) a few years ago in the pitcher-friendly South Atlantic League (Class A). Duvall probably deserves somewhat of a pass for last season because he was diagnosed with diabetes and struggled to adjust to an insulin pump. Duvall's strength is his power, but finding playing time at the major-league level could be an issue. He's not a strong defender at third base, first base is blocked by Brandon Belt and the Giants are no longer toying with the idea of Duvall being the next Jeff Kent at second base. It could behoove him to start learning to play the outfield or else Duvall might need a fresh start with a new team to break into the majors.
Jose Berrios, SP, Twins
Affiliate: Class A Fort Myers
2014 stats: 7-2, 2.09 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 81 strikeouts, 21 walks, one complete game shutout and three home runs allowed in 13 starts (77 1/3 innings)
If you haven't familiarized yourself with Berrios, now is the time to start because it looks like he's going to make a big move up the prospect rankings. He already came into the season as a top 100 prospect by BaseballProspectus.com (No. 75) and MLB.com (No. 90), but I'm talking about Berrios making the jump to being considered one of the best pitching prospects. Fort Myers manager and former major leaguer Doug Mientkiewicz calls Berrios a "No. 1 or No. 2" starter at the major-league level, adding: "If he's a No. 2, that means we have an awfully good No. 1," per The Star Tribune. Mientkiewicz lauds Berrios for having a great work ethic, but his repertoire isn't too shabby either. He has a fastball that can reach the high 90s, but it's his slider/slurve (depends who you ask) is a great out pitch and he keeps lefties honest with his changeup. Fort Myers pitching coach Gary Lucas said Berrios is getting better at working low in the strike zone and making the transition from being a thrower to a pitcher. Berrios has a 2.89 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and is striking out 10.2 batters per nine innings in his career, and he only seems to be getting better.
Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
Affiliate: Class A Rancho Cucamonga
2014 stats: .344/.390/.600/.990, two triples, 12 home runs, 24 doubles, 49 RBI, 38 runs, 16 walks, 58 strikeouts and five stolen bases in 60 games
When Joc Pederson eventually makes it to the majors and loses his prospect status, Seager is likely going to take over as the Dodgers' top prospect. He's already being touted as a future major-league All-Star and his profile is only expected to improve as he gains more experience as a pro. The 2012 first-round pick (18th) and young brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager is batting .301 with a .370 on-base percentage, .523 slugging percentage and .893 OPS in his pro career. He's lauded for his strong hand-eye coordination and his ability to make contact. He has more of a line-drive swing, but his power is expected to improve as he adds bulk to his 6-4 frame. It's already starting to happen in 2014, though, you could make the argument his power numbers are a bit aided by the hitter-friendly California League. Regardless, the scouts feel Corey has a higher ceiling than Kyle, who has proven to be an above average major-leaguer. The only issue for Fantasy owners is that Seager is expected to move to third base, so he might not have shortstop eligibility later in his career.
Jesse Winker, OF, Reds
Affiliate: Class A Bakersfield
2014 stats: .317/.426/.580/1.006, 13 home runs, 15 doubles, 49 RBI, 42 runs, 40 walks, 46 strikeouts and five stolen bases in 53 games
It seems every week we end up talking about a Reds' prospect, which just goes to show how good the pipeline in Cincinnati is becoming. However, this is the first time we aren't talking about a Reds' pitching prospect. The biggest knock against Winker is his defense, which is why he plays left field. If he was in a different organization, then maybe first base would be his future, but that path is blocked by Joey Votto. Though, that goes to show you the type of offensive potential Winker possesses. Even though he doesn't play the position, his bat profiles as an elite first baseman. Winker has been crushing opposing pitching since turning pro in 2012. The former first-round pick (49th) is batting .305 with a .408 on-base percentage, .501 slugging percentage and .909 OPS in his career. Winker is not an all-or-nothing slugger or pull hitter. The scouts rave about his ability to work the count and hit to all fields. He even has good opposite field home run power. It appears Winker could be the Reds' long-term option in left field, but he might not debut until next summer at the earliest.
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