Panning For Gold: Tucker Tosses Cold Water On His Prospect Fatigue

We all know the old expression “development is not a straight line”. The problem is too many fail to understand what it means beyond “Yeah, yeah guys are going to struggle...”. But you see how the industry reacts to a player’s struggles, particularly in the upper-levels of the minors, so I find it hard to believe many of us actually follow this mantra.

**Enter Kyle Tucker from stage left** After struggling mightily to start the season Tucker has been tearing the cover off the ball of late, going 14-for-41 in his last 10 games with five home runs, 13 RBI, three steals, and an 1.128 OPS. We’ve been here with Tucker before, haven’t we? But why should we expect Tucker to break through this time around? Are things really different? There’s seemingly more competition, coming mostly from Round Rock teammate Yordan Alvarez. So, why buy back in?

Following a wonky 2018 that featured a strong season at AAA and callup to the big club, we’ve seen the enthusiasm around Tucker dissipate his status as one of the games premier prospects. While it was great to see Tucker get at bats at the major league level, the fact that he didn’t take the job and run with it discounted the outfielder’s future value in many dynasty owners’ eyes. One of the flaws I see in that line of thinking is putting the last year plus in context. Even when he was used at the big league level it’s been sparingly, and his underlying plate discipline numbers from last season were in fact pretty strong.

That being said, I’m not sure The Plant HS product has ever truly had the opportunity to seize an everyday role in Houston. That day might be drawing closer and closer to reality with each passing phenomenal performance from Tucker. While Yordan Alvarez stole the early season headlines and justifiably so, it’s Tucker who is on the 40-man roster and the most likely to get the call when a position opens up, whether due to injury or other. The Astros have mostly rolled with George Springer, Michael Brantley, and Josh Reddick. Not the youngest or healthiest group. So it’s very possible an opportunity opens sooner rather than later.

I’m not going to lie, it’s been disappointing to own Tucker in fantasy leagues over the last couple of seasons. This is one of the hardest things to handle as a dynasty manager, and I can relate as not only a Tucker owner, but someone who has plenty of shares of Nick Senzel. Good things come to those that wait.

The Erie Seawolves Rotation, Tigers Pitchers - Over the last few weeks we’ve seen Alex Faedo and Drew Carlton combine for a no hitter, and Casey Mize throw another in a dominating Double-A debut. Plot twist: it’s possible neither Mize nor Faedo are the best pitching prospect in the Erie rotation. While a case can be made for Mize, it’s likely Matt Manning. The giant righty has been dominant through six starts, showing an improved change to go hand in hand with his nasty fastball - curveball combo. His 50-8 K-BB through 35.2 innings highlights his ability to miss bats (14.6 SwStr%) and throw strikes. While his batted ball profile points to his strength in driving weak contact (49.1 GB% - 23.5% IFFB%).
Cold Water: Catching the Erie at Hartford series in a few weeks, fingers crossed I get to see all three. At the moment it sets up Mize Monday, Manning Tuesday, Faedo Wednesday. Should be interesting to see how they look in Hartford.

Terrin Vavra, 2B/SS Rockies - One of my favorite names outside the first round of the 2018 draft. So far in his short professional career, Vavra has impressed both with his advanced hit tool, and sneaky pop (he was among the top 25 in estimated flyball distance in the second half of 2018). Through the first month the former Golden Gopher is taking advantage of Sally League pitching as he’s slashing .340/.441/.536 with three home runs, seven steals, and a 16.1 BB% in 26 contests with Asheville. Taking the numbers at face value is dangerous, as Vavra is pretty advanced for his competition, but he’s got a solid swing from both sides of the plate. His lefty swing is more geared to drive balls, with slight loft and a leg kick that helps him get deep into his back leg. The right-handed swing features a very linear bat path, geared more toward line drives and opposite field contact.
Cold Water: A pretty staunch dichotomy in the plate approach styles and the splits versus right-handers back that up. Vavra’s slugging percentage versus right-handers (.590) is nearly double his mark versus lefties (.300). He’s also benefited greatly due to his home park with splits of .444/.537/.667 at McCormick Field, while hitting .205/.308/.364 away. An advanced college talent to watch in his first full professional season, but there’s some reasons for trepidation despite my enthusiasm.

Austin Beck, OF Athletics - It’s been a putrid beginning for the former sixth overall pick. He’s showed none of his usual contact and an increase in power production (.190 ISO) should likely be viewed through California League translator goggles. We saw the off-season video of an adjusted power stroke, which fueled some enthusiasm regarding his 2019 season. There’s still a fair amount of time for Beck to turn it around. The problem is a 40 K% isn’t going to cut it, and his .219/.274/.410 slash has benefited from a .339 batting average on balls in play. His jump in flyball rate has also coincided with his line drive rate plummeting to 10%. At the moment Beck looks lost in the sauce.  
Cold Water: Go back and read what I wrote, rinse and repeat.

Edward Cabrera, RHP Marlins - Somewhere I can hear Eddy reading this and saying “My man!” out loud, and for good reason. The Marlins right-handers has been on a serious run of late, soaking in all the benefits of the pitching friendly Florida State League. On Wednesday, Cabrera went 6.2 innings, allowing one hit, walking no one, and striking out 13 in the process. This is Cabrera’s third consecutive scoreless turn and that also coincides with run of 12 or more swinging strikes in each contest. Cabrera mixes a fastball, curveball, and a changeup, and while he had been heavily fastball-curveball in his early days he’s taken a big step forward with his changeup. So far it’s made the biggest difference in Cabrera’s season, as it did on Wednesday. noted several swinging strikes, with quotes from Jupiter pitching coach Reid Cornelius regarding his vastly improved feel, and shape on the pitch. His arsenal is still led by a fastball that’s touched the upper-90s consistently, but is at it’s best in the 94-96 mph range as he was on Wednesday. Definitely an arm I’m looked to acquire as a throw-in on the low in dynasty.
Cold Water: It’s still very early in Cabrera’s breakout and I myself have not gotten eyes on him first hand. I do have to admit I’m encouraged.

Ryan Mountcastle, 1B/3B Orioles - The move to first base has suited Mountcastle as I believe this is his third consecutive week in this space. Over his last five games Mountcastle has showed no signs of slowing going 13-for-24 with six runs scored and is the owner of one of the prettiest swings you’ll see. He’s coming to Camden sooner rather than later, and I’m excited to see how he adjusts his hyper-aggressive approach versus big league arms.
Cold Water: He’s a bat-dependent prospect that’s moving toward a first base only profile. So Mountcastle will have to really hit to earn playing time long term.

Xavier Edwards, SS Padres - One of the buzzier players heading into first year player draft season, Edwards has continued to hit for average (.368) get on base (.436), steal bases (9), and score runs (17) through his first taste of the Midwest League.  Edwards has been even hotter the last week going 10-for-27, with two walks. The contact and ability to take a walk has awarded him with opportunities to run.
Cold Water: Unfortunately Edwards stolen base success rate is near 50 percent, not the kind of mark that lends itself to more opportunities. And the power, that’s another story entirely, take a look at Lance’s Edwards blurb in the Midwest League looks and Eddy’s take in the Monthly Estimated Flyball Leaderboard Post.

Austin Riley, 3B Braves - It seems like Riley has been on the cusp of the majors seemingly forever, but in reality it’s been 103 games across two seasons for a 21-22 year old. A run of 445 plate appearances that’s yielded a .289/.353/.519 slashline with 22 home runs and 74 RBI. Over the last few weeks the echoes of Riley banging on the door in Atlanta are growing louder and louder. Over his last ten games Riley is 18-for-39 with six strikeouts to five walks, AND EIGHT HOME RUNS. Sorry, shift key got stuck there from my massive couch boner.
Cold Water: Riley has typically taken time to adjust to each level, and it’s impossible to know if his approach gains sustain through his time through the bigs. While a long term injury for Josh Donaldson is seemingly just a moment away, Riley will have to earn playing time over 2018 development Johan Camargo.

Skye Bolt, OF Athletics - Got the nod for his major league callup this week. Bolt has been an under the radar performer the last few seasons slashing .325/.400/.675 with six homers, and three steals this season, and .270/.355/.504 dating back to the beginning of 2018. Our own (handsome) Matt Thompson ranked him as the ninth overall prospect in the Oakland system, and noted the struggles with contact and pitch recognition. The toolsy Bolt brings a collection of skills that should play up his profile, and ultimately earn him playing time at the big league level.
Cold Water: He’s going to strikeout a lot, and there’s still a high likelihood he ends up a fourth outfielder than everyday guy. Still worthy of being rostered in leagues with 200-250+ prospects owned.

Logan Gilbert, RHP Mariners: I caught the California League debut of the Mariners 2018 first rounder this week, and I came away impressed. He’s built like a prototypical innings eater, with a tall, high waisted athletic pitcher’s build. He translates that athleticism into clean repeatable mechanics, particularly in his lower half, where I felt his movements were precision like in terms of their fluidity. He mixed a fastball in the 92-94 mph range with rise high in the zone and downhill plane low in the zone. His curveball was the lead of his secondaries, with some sharp sliders mixed in. The curveball has excellent 1-7 shape, and tight break. He only went four and a third, and allowed three earned, but outside a couple of hard hit balls, Gilbert flashed the ability to throw strikes and get swings on his pitches in the zone.
Cold Water: Gilbert is an advanced college arm in A ball, and there are some red flags in his mechanics including the arm action and up and down reports on fastball velocity. There’s also the need for Gilbert to establish his slider as a put away pitch versus left-handed batters.

Lolo Sanchez, OF Pirates - The Pittsburgh centerfield prospect was a buzzy name a few years back after he hit .284/.359/.417 over 234 GCL plate appearances. When he hit .243/.322/.328 over the course of a full season with West Virginia helium deflated. Perhaps we wrote off Lolo too early, and it ignored the fact that he was just one of sixteen teenagers to qualify for the batting title on the Sally League circuit. Repeating the level, Sanchez has been noticeably less passive at the plate. The Pirates made adjustments to Sanchez’s swing this season after he added loft going into 2018, but failed to replicate the quality of contact he displayed in 2017. So far so good, as Sanchez is hitting .306/.378/.520 while balancing some of his flyball gains of 2018 with his 2017 approach.
Cold Water: There’s still some skepticism regarding the return of his contact skills.  He’s also hitting .200 with a .688 OPS versus southpaws. Baby steps.

Jake Wong, RHP Giants - The Giants 2018 third-round pick out of Grand Canyon University (sneaky good program FYI), has impressed many in his short 2019 stint in the Sally. Wong mixes two variations of his fastball in the 92-97 range, and pairs them with a tandem of average secondaries in his curveball and changeup. Above-average command and feel helps Wong’s stuff play up. On Sunday afternoon Wong tossed six perfect innings on just 52 pitches. His efficiency and ability to throw strikes is his greatest attribute. Cold Water: Another advanced college arm dominating lower level competition. His 11 SwStr% is also one of the ten lowest in the Sally circuit.

Rico Garcia, RHP Rockies - How much longer will we continue to ignore Garcia’s success going on three seasons. Dating back to July 30th of 2017, Garcia’s full season debut, the former 30th rounder out of Pacific is 17-11, with a 2.95 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 1.16 WHIP, a .235 BAA, and 227 strikeouts to 61 walks over 219.2 IP. I haven’t caught Garcia this season but did sit in on a pair of his starts last year. He sits 93-96, touching 97 with sink and some cut. I’d say it’s a fringe plus pitch. His secondaries are comprised of changeup and slider. Cold Water: He’s at best a good number four, but more than likely ends up a solid middle reliever. A win for Rockies player development but a guy you should only roster in earth core deep formats.

Michael Baumann, RHP Orioles - Possibly one of my biggest whiffs of the off-season  was ranking the righty 28th in my pre-season Orioles Top 30. So far in 2019 Baumann has looked like an easy top 15 guy. His vertical arm action creates spin on all his pitches and his fastball shows nice movement, especially now that it’s sitting in the mid-90s. He mixes a trio of secondaries led by his slider, and an improved curveball. His fringe changeup is used less frequently lagging behind the two breaking balls in terms of quality. On the heels of last Tuesday’s dominating performance vs Wilmington Baumann’s stock is on the rise. The right-hander went 6.2 IP, hitless, scoreless, innings, with 12 punchouts and a preposterous 27 swinging strikes on 87 pitches.
Cold Water: It’s still a backend profile even with the increased stuff, and I can still see him finding his greatest major league success our of the pen. There’s something else, and while it’s a very small sample, it deserves to be mentioned. Baumann has been pretty awful on the road this season.

Jordan Balazovic, RHP Twins - Seven perfect innings with 10 strikeouts is just about the best way one can start at a new level following promotion and that’s exactly what Balazovic did against Palm Beach on Sunday afternoon. With a mix of fastball that sits 92-94, touching 96, with a hard sweeping slider, and a developing changeup. So far in 2019 his stuff has ticked up while his strike throwing and ability to drive weak contact has increased. Add Balazovic where he’s available. Cold Water: Mechanics are PHUNKY with a PH. He’s long and lanky and his arm action is long and violent. There’s a burst of effort upon push off. In the big scheme of things it’s a young pitching prospect, clean mechanics or not there will likely be some injury at some point. I’d be looking to add not sell Balazovic.

Josh Breaux, C Yankees - The Yankees stocked up on talented catchers at the top of their draft last season, adding ambidextrous octopus Anthony Seigler, and the power-hitting Breaux. Assigned to low-A Charleston, Breaux has mashed hitting .310/.348/.560, with six home runs, and 163 wRC+. Breaux is adept at putting the ball in the air with a 35.7 FB% and an elite 26.8 LD%.

Cold Water: First off, he’s a catcher, second he’s rocking a 30 K% and a very unsustainable .392 BABIP. While I wouldn’t bet against a solid major league career as a 60/40 platoon guy. Not worth your attention in fantasy.

Dylan Cease, RHP White Sox - The right-hander’s control was shaky against Norfolk on Sunday coming off of his strongest start of the year earlier in the week versus Gwinnett. On the young season Cease’s numbers have been strong, as he’s been able to maintain his bat missing ability while sharpening his control and command of his three pitch arsenal. This is best exemplified by 35 to 10 K/BB over his 28.1 innings pitched.
Cold Water: His changeup is still inconsistent despite a step forward in 2019, and his fastball is so powerful at times its hard to control. Due to this Cease will likely live a feast or famine existence during the early days of his major league career.

Seth Beer, 1B/OF Astros - Strong start to the season for the former Clemson standout, he’s slashing .321/.403/.557 with six homers, and his .960 OPS is the third highest on the Carolina circuit. Additionally he’s showing improved plate discipline improving his walk rate and strikeout rate. He’s also done a good job of spreading the ball to all fields.
Cold Water: An advanced college bat who has already had a taste of high-A we’re all waiting to see a promotion to Double-A.

Nate Pearson, RHP Blue Jays - After dominating the Florida State League, Nate Pearson was promoted to my local New Hampshire FisherCats. He’ll likely make his AA debut at Portland mid-week.

Nick Gordon, 2B Twins - He’s hit pretty well since returning from injury, starting his season 6-for-15.
Cold Water: I caught Rochester at Pawtucket and wasn’t impressed, Gordon’s swing is linear, he lacks strength and had trouble with Mike Shawaryn’s slider, likely the best breaking ball he saw in the two game series. He looks like a future utility guy to me.

Casey Golden, OF Rockies - A true three outcome hitter with tons of swing and miss, hard contact, and walks. It’s a tricky profile, especially at 24, and the launching pads in the Rockies lower minors only complicate matters further. Golden is a fun player to follow, and as a 20th round alumnus you can’t help but root for him. So far in Lancaster he’s hitting .245/.372/.511 with a .266 ISO, with six homers and three steals. The profile is a pull heavy flyball profile, with fly ball rates exceeding 45%.
Cold Water: He’s a 24 year old in A ball with a 30 K% and a maxed out pull heavy approach. Lots of bat speed, but there’s issues with his bat to ball skill. Might just be a people’s champion in the minors and nothing else. That said, Golden’s type of power is rare. Outside shot at a second division regular.

Rylan Bannon, 2B Orioles - A rough start to his time with the Orioles led to some mechanical changes in the off-season. Bannon cut down on his leg kick and has regained some of his Cal League power. A standout player at Xavier, Bannon provides across the board ability, with some upside to be a contributor offensively at the big league level.

Cold Water: There’s still some swing and miss in the profile, and it still might be something big league pitchers can exploit to the point it’s a problem.

Zac Lowther, LHP Orioles - The lefty’s magic has carried over to 2019, as he’s continued to pitch well. His mix of deception, command, and spin gives him an unorthodox path to success.
Cold Water: His control has faded badly this year and his peripherals suggest his current ERA is a high wire act. Lowther pitched well in the only two starts I’ve caught in 2019