Role 80 (5+WAR) – Risk – Moderate
1) Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B) Toronto Blue Jays – Heap of effusive praise commence. Eighty grades should not be thrown around lightly. I am not even sure that there should be an 80 given to a prospect every season. Only .3% or 3/1000 data points in a normal distribution fall beyond three standards deviations of the mean. An 80 on the scouting scale describes a position player who is a franchise cornerstone or potential hall of famer. This is perhaps a blasphemous expectation, but that is what I think Vlad will be. Please understand how absurd it is to give him moderate risk to reach this projection. Vlad was the best player in the fall league at age 19 and frankly looked uninterested at times. I don’t think we were watching vintage Guerrero. His bat speed and bat control were surpassed only by his advanced feel for the zone. While I view him as a 1B long-term, that does not dampen my enthusiasm for him at all.
Role 70 (4 WAR) – Risk – Moderate
2) Forrest Whitley (RHP) Houston Astros – Whitley was the best pitcher in the AFL and the best pitching prospect in the minors in 2018. He checks about every box: depth of arsenal, feel for his pitches, body, athleticism. Having five major league caliber pitches should facilitate his transition to the major leagues. Over the course of the fall I saw various starts where the change, curve or slider played better than usual. In the event he does not have great feel for a given pitch on a given night, the depth of his arsenal should allow him to succeed anyway. One could argue three 70s in the FB, CHG, and CB. The slider and cutter both play to average or better as well. In an age when 200+ inning starters are becoming an endangered species, potential frontline starters like Whitley gain even more value.
Role 60 (3 WAR) – Risk – Low
3) Keston Hiura (2B) Milwaukee Brewers – The decision between Hiura and Kieboom at the third slot was a difficult one. Ultimately, I chose the player whose hit tool I felt more confident in. I would wager that Hiura’s average exit velocity was the best in the AFL. He crushes baseball to all fields and never gets cheated on his swings. The bat speed is double-plus, and his leg kick supplies ample power from the lower half. Defensively, he looks like a stick at second base. I think he can be an average defender there with below average range. However, he will make a play on almost every ball within that range.
4) Carter Kieboom (SS) Washington Nationals – The argument for Kieboom at three is his chance to stick at shortstop. “The industry” seems to be split on his odds of sticking. If he does, he profiles as a below average defender, but considering the expected efficacy of his bat, you will take that all day and twice on Sundays. He has a chance to be a 60-hit, 55-power type guy with something like a .280 average and 25 homers at maturity. Both Kieboom and Hiura have shown success against all pitch types and displayed excellent feel for the zone. I think both players are low risk because due to my confidence in their hit tools.
Role 70 (4 WAR) – Risk – Extreme
5) Cristian Pache (CF) Atlanta Braves – I’ve never written a list with FV grades. Can a 70-Extreme rank behind a 60-Low? Not sure! But that is how it will work on this list. The 70-Extreme grade implies the most likely outcome for Pache is a frequent All-Star, but there is a decent chance he will miss this projection. Let us say for the sake of argument there is a 30% chance this is what he will become. The below table outlines how I believe Pache will perform relative to Hiura and Kieboom, assigning weights to all possible outcomes. In my mind this is how a 70-Extreme could rank behind a 60-Low. What makes Pache a 70-Extreme? It is the big variance in his hit tool. He is very raw offensively. I like his bat speed, and his swing is pretty direct to the ball. However, the swing mechanics are inconsistent, and he looks off balanced at times with his center of mass falling back as he swings, rather than attacking the baseball. He has tweaked the swing at various times this season, and I believe he has the raw talent to find a swing that works for him.
Role 60 (3 WAR) – Risk – Moderate
6) Taylor Trammell (LF) Cincinnati Reds – Trammell vs Pache was a furious internal (and external) debate. Trammell has a better chance to hit at the major league level, but he provides significantly less defensive value. Ultimately, it was too hard for me to resist the potential All-Star center fielder with double-plus defense. Even if the hit tool is more of a question mark, I think Pache projects to be the better player. Having said that, if you are in a fantasy league, you take Trammell over Pache with relative ease. Trammell shows a much more refined approach at the plate. His hands are excellent. I saw him go primarily opposite field in the AFL. To my surprise, I looked up his spray charts for 2018 only to find he had a pull tendency. What this tells me is he may have been working on using left field OR my looks were a small enough sample that they were not representative. Regardless, he looks to me like a guy who will use all fields. Trammell is still learning to tap into his raw power. The swing can get too linear at times, but 60 game power is in play as a possible outcome which could make him a 20-homer, 35-steal fantasy monster.
7) Peter Alonso (1B) New York Mets – Some may question bucketing Alonso into a group labeled moderate risk considering his proximity to the majors. Alonso is a clear first base only guy so there is little defensive value. His power is prolific, 80 raw. And he will mash fastballs anywhere close to the plate regardless of velocity (see AFL Fall Stars Game homer vs Pearson). There is some risk he will be able to fully tap into the power in games. My concern stems from his performance vs spin. AFL pitchers successfully peppered him down and away with sliders. At times Alonso was able to fight them off, but more often than not he would swing over them. Increased use of breaking balls has been a trend in MLB in recent years, and I can envision Alonso getting a very heavy dose of them at the Major League level. If Alonso reaches 60 hit, he will be a bona fide superstar and put this grade to shame, but I am not sold that will happen. My expectation is a 50-hit, 70-game power masher something to the tune of a .270 average and 35 homers a season, which is still a tremendous player.
8) Nate Pearson (RHP) Toronto Blue Jays – On May 7, a comebacker struck Pearson and left him with a broken ulna in his first start of the season. Instructs and AFL served to make up for some lost time. Pearson looked understandably rusty, especially in the early part of the AFL season. I feel compelled to give Pearson somewhat of a mulligan due to what was essentially a year off from pitching. Feel for his secondary pitches and fastball was sporadic. Pearson throws hard, but poorly located high 90s will be hit and AFL was proof of that. His command to the glove side was better than to the arm side. The secondary pitches, while inconsistent, all flashed above average or better. The slider was as good as double-plus at times with sharp, late break. The curve and changeup both flashed 55-60. Physically, Pearson’s massive frame looks capable of bearing the brunt of a 200 inning season. While his track record in the minors is limited, I think he has among the best stuff of any pitching prospect and mostly needs time to prove himself.
Role 60 (3 WAR) – Risk – High
9) Jazz Chisholm (SS) Arizona Diamondbacks – The Role 60-Highs have potential to make me look really stupid by either overperforming or underperforming their grade. I put Jazz atop this group because he will stick at short and has a chance to be a plus contributor with the bat as well. In a league full of premium athletes Jazz was arguably the best one. Everything he does is smooth. His defense was very twitchy, and he made several standout plays. There is serious power in his bat, which is largely the product of amazing hands and wrists. Chisholm’s offensive approach can be overly aggressive and get him into trouble, but the raw tools are top of the scale. He has potential to be a true five-tool player. The risk for Jazz relates to how his hit tool will translate at the highest level. I do not love the present swing mechanics or approach at the plate but when in doubt, bet on the athlete.
10) Luis Robert (OF) Chicago White Sox – Robert’s photo should be in the dictionary by the definition of yoked; he is an incredibly strong, physical kid. There is Alonso type power in his bat. It is only a matter of tapping into it. The swing is simple with a fairly wide base stance and short approach. I like this aspect of the swing because Robert is strong as hell and does not need to use his lower half much to generate power. On the other hand, the swing mechanics are a bit rigid. At times he was swinging from his heels as his center of mass drifted back towards the catcher rather than attacking the ball. At other times he was out early in front of breaking stuff, which either resulted in weak contact or swing and miss. Pitch recognition vs spin is somewhat of a concern. Maybe it is a matter of getting more reps vs quality breaking stuff. Defensively, I think he is about average and looks like a corner OF.
Role 55 (2.5 WAR) – Risk – Low
11) Ryan McKenna (CF) Baltimore Orioles – The gamer tag will probably be used to describe McKenna. He does a bit of everything and is close to a prototypical leadoff hitter, having a good eye for the zone, an efficient, mechanically-sound swing, and 60 speed. Power is not his game, but he is also not totally devoid of it. He is an instinctive player with good reads in CF and an arm that borders on plus. I don’t see a crazy-high ceiling but he has a very good shot to be an above average everyday player.
12) Nico Hoerner (2B) Chicago Cubs – For me Hoerner settles in as a bat-first second baseman. The bat speed is easy plus and he is short to the ball. Premium velocity is no problem, and I have seen him use all fields with ease. While he played short in the AFL, I do not see that as his major league position. The arm is below average, but his infield actions are smooth and would play at comfortably at second. Confidence in his hit tool and his defensive polish make him a relatively safe bet to be an above average regular.
Role 60 (3 WAR) – Risk – Extreme
13) Andres Gimenez (SS) New York Mets – This is another example of betting on the athlete. Gimenez struggled in the AFL to a tune of a .125/.250/.292 slash in 57 PAs. It is hard to read too much into such a limited sample, but the numbers were representative of my looks. He was overmatched, especially by quality breaking stuff and sequencing. Having said this, I love the fluidity of his swing and looseness of his hands. He was also one of the youngest players in the league, just turning 20 in September. He is such a good athlete, I see him sticking up the middle in some manner, whether that means remaining at short, shifting to second, or even a more radical move to center field. Regardless, I think he will contribute good defensive value. There is sneaky pop here and a 60-hit, 50-power future is within his range of reasonable outcomes. Having only slugged .413 in 1178 career PAs in the minors, it is unfair to assume the power is coming, but do not be surprised if it does.
Role 55 (2.5 WAR) – Risk - Moderate
14) Jahmai Jones (2B) Los Angeles Angels – The first thing I think about with Jahmai Jones is his hands. They are really strong, and they allow for plus bat speed and under the radar power. Jones is an ideal candidate for a #NumbersLie column as his 2018 regular season slug of .380 is not representative of his true talent level. For me he is a bat-first second baseman with fringe-average to average defense as he re-acclimates to the position.
15) Jon Duplantier (RHP) Arizona Diamondbacks – Duplantier combines a workhorse frame with a pretty easy delivery. Throw in three major league caliber pitches and you get a safe starting pitcher projection. The fastball sits mid 90s with arm side run at times. It can also flatten and become hittable. The fastball allows his slider and curve to play up. Both secondaries generated ample swing and miss in my looks. Feel for the change lagged behind. The pitch was inconsistent and usually below average but flashed as good as average on occasion. Think mid-rotation starter.
Role 50 (2 WAR) – Risk – Moderate
16) Daulton Varsho (C) Arizona Diamondbacks – Varsho has a well-rounded skill set with a chance to contribute average to above-average value on both sides of the ball. He is a smooth defensive catcher with potential 50 hit and 50 power tools.
17) Tyler Nevin (1B) Colorado Rockies – This ranking is an indication of how much I love his bat. The swing is short and compact with a quiet lower half and easy plus raw power that I expect to play in games. Nevin has little defensive value as a primary first baseman who can spell the everyday 3B on occasion.
18) Julio Pablo Martinez (OF) Texas Rangers - I made a scouting joke about Julio Pablo Martinez at the Peoria Sports Complex. It was a bad joke: Martinez grounded out to second and ran 4.58 to first. I turned to a scout behind me and asked “20 runner?”. It was clearly not a max effort time and Martinez is at least a plus runner, probably double-plus. Martinez has also has impressive barrel control. On occasion he would take a cringeworthy step in the bucket up the first base line and still somehow make solid contact. The swing plane was linear and may limit his power potential, but it also appears to be a deliberate choice to put the ball in play and enable his speed to play up.
19) Monte Harrison (OF) Miami Marlins - The tool shed label has long been applied to Harrison. Call me a sucker, but I am not ready to give up on him in spite of his 37% k rate in 2018. In the AFL he made a mechanical change, quieting his lower half dramatically. His base stance is now pretty wide with a short load and approach. The idea is to focus more on contact over power since he is already immensely strong. Statistical results were mixed. Harrison cut his strikeout rate but also did not produce much power in his AFL sample. I am still encouraged by the change. If he can get to even 40 hit he will play every day and probably make this ranking look far too low.
20) Luis Alexander Basabe (CF) Chicago White Sox – He has a nice compilation of tools that point to an everyday center fielder. I do not see Basabe as a high-ceiling guy, but he contributes value in a lot of ways, with a chance to be a true five-tool player if the hit tool gets to 50. His offensive approach can be overly aggressive and that may hold him back.
Role 50 (2 WAR) – Risk – High
21) Lucius Fox (SS) Tampa Bay Rays - Think elite up-the-middle defense with a glimpses of playable bat. Unfortunately, these glimpses have been mostly in BP. There is more power and feel for hit in the bat than the stat line would indicate. The in-game swing has been mostly choppy, but his athleticism inspires hope of something more.
22) Estevan Florial (OF) New York Yankees - If everything comes together, Florial is much better than a role 50, but as the years tick by it looks less and less likely that will happen. The pitch recognition has improved since last year, but there is a still abundant swing and miss in his game. The swing lacks fluidity; you can almost break it into distinct parts. The comparison to Home Depot remains; he is a premium athlete with all the tools you could ask for. I said it on Twitter, and I will say it again, all I want for Christmas is for Estevan Florial to reach his ceiling.
Role 50 (2 WAR) - Risk - Moderate
23) Hudson Potts (3B) San Diego Padres - Potts is a bat-first third baseman who should stick there. Only 20, he already has plus raw and should grow into more power. The swing is fairly simple with not a lot of moving parts. Defensively, Potts displayed decent hands, reactions, and quickness at the hot corner, which is why I think he will stick in spite of his body projection.
Role 50 (2 WAR) - Risk - Low
24) Yu Chang (3B) Cleveland Indians - Chang is a defense-first third baseman with a chance to get to average hit and 55 power. It is not the sexiest profile, and I do think his defense provides a high floor and the bat shows enough that he should play every day.
Role 50 (2 WAR) - Risk - High
25) Ryan Castellani (RHP) Colorado Rockies - The stuff tantalizes and the command/control frustrates. One could make a case Castellani has better pure stuff than Jon Duplantier. His fastball reaches mid 90s with run and sink. The slider flashes 70 with big tilt. The fastball and slider play very well off one another. The changeup also flashes plus. I think Castellani will be a third/fourth starter type who shows flashes of brilliance but is also maddeningly inconsistent. If it does not work in the rotation, he would be an excellent reliever.
Daz Cameron, Cole Tucker, Keibert Ruiz, JB Bukauskas, Esteban Quiroz, Austin Listi, Miguel Diaz, Andy Young, Darwinzon Hernandez, Melvin Adon, Justin Steele, Connor Marabell, Buddy Reed