The All-Star break is a weird time for prospects. Most of the ones Fantasy owners were hoping would arrive already have, if only temporarily, and the ones who haven't are probably standing in their own way, which makes you wonder if you should even want them anymore.
And then the September callups are just around the corner, which compels us all to dig even deeper into the prospect pool even though we're all just guessing which ones will actually arrive. Oftentimes, they're not the best an organization has to offer.
So instead of tackling the Prospects Report the usual way, Michael Hurcomb and I have taken this opportunity to kind of step back and reassess the entire prospect landscape. Basically, we've determined what we consider to be the biggest prospect-related facing Fantasy owners right now and answered them. Enjoy.
Do you expect to see Kris Bryant in the majors this season?
Michael Hurcomb: Even though the Cubs have indicated Bryant isn't in line for a promotion this season, I still feel he will make his MLB debut in 2014. I understand the Cubs are sellers and they have nothing to play for this season, but what's the harm in promoting him? I don't buy the argument to save arbitration years because the Cubs are likely going to lock him up long-term anyway. I really don't buy the argument the Cubs want to lose more games for a better draft pick. Is promoting Bryant going to make that much of a difference? The rotation is in trouble, so one bat likely won't make them significantly better. The kid is clearly proving he's too good for the minors and has adjusted pretty well since moving up to Triple-A. Think about the business aspect as well. I know the Cubs always draw, but envision the buzz Bryant's promotion will stir up and surely he will increase merchandise sales as well. I could imagine Bryant staying at Iowa through the end of the minor-league season and then joining Chicago when rosters expand in September to get a little taste of the majors before next spring.
Scott White: As careful as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been not to rush the rebuild they began with the Cubs in 2011, the idea of them throwing caution to the wind with one of their most prized assets just to sell a few more jersey tees is positively ludicrous to me, especially since they've already hinted they wouldn't. Granted, what they make public and keep private aren't always one and the same, but the upside to rushing Bryant just doesn't compare to the downside. No matter how quickly his eye-popping numbers have moved him up the ladder, he's still in his first full professional season. Maybe he's ready, but he's certainly not over-ready. And if, by some infinitesimal chance, he's not ready, his promotion could create a whole mess of confidence issues that could have him ping-ponging between the majors and the minors for the next few years, delaying the Cubs' ultimate goals for who knows how long. Wil Myers didn't get the call in 2012 even though his numbers begged for it. George Springer didn't get the call last year even though his numbers screamed for it. I imagine Bryant suffers the same fate this year.
Which minor-leaguer are you stashing for the second half?
MH: Phillies third-base prospect Maikel Franco. As I wrote earlier this week, I feel a promotion to the majors could be imminent. The Phillies have held firm that they won't bring Franco up until he's in a groove offensively. Well, he's been heating up the last few weeks and seems primed for a promotion. The Phillies are expected to be sellers at the trade deadline, and it's not like third baseman Cody Asche has been such a strong performer that he's solidified his spot in the starting lineup. Franco has the potential to be an impact bat at what has been a weak Fantasy position this season, so he's definitely worth stashing. He's proven to be a streaky hitter in his minor-league career, but he has decent plate discipline and won't kill points-league owners with a high strikeout rate. He had 31 home runs, 36 doubles and slugged .569 last season, so you know the power is there.
SW: I'll assume you want someone fresh here and that picking Andrew Heaney, Drew Pomeranz or Danny Salazar would be the coward's way out. So with that, I'll puff out of my chest, lower my voice and say ... Maikel Franco. There's really no other answer. I don't think the Cubs would be as careful with Javier Baez as Kris Bryant since he's been in their system longer, but when he hasn't done anything to warrant a promotion, why rush it? Archie Bradley is in the same boat. I don't know that I'd trust him for much even if he did arrive. Ditto for Noah Syndergaard. Dylan Bundy will probably arrive at some point, but he's on a strict 75-pitch limit that will likely preclude him from contributing in mixed leagues. The Dodgers just don't have an opening for Joc Pederson and wouldn't even with an injury. Meanwhile, the Phillies haven't gotten much from Cody Asche, are notoriously impatient and have already said they'll call up Franco if he gets hot enough. So far in July, he's batting .390 (16 for 41) with nine extra-base hits.
Who needs to be on your radar for next season?
MH: Red Sox starting pitcher Henry Owens. All this guy seems to do is to get opposing hitters to swing and miss. He's struck out 10.8 batters per nine innings over his career. He's also proven to be a winner, sporting a career .714 winning percentage and never having less than 11 wins through his first three minor-league seasons. This year, he is 12-3 with a 2.21 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 17 starts for Double-A Portland. He seems to only get better as he gets older, which is a great trend. He posted a 4.87 ERA and 1.45 WHIP as a first-year pro in 2012 and then had a 2.67 ERA and 1.13 WHIP last season. Hitters have a hard time picking up the ball out of the southpaw's hand, which generates plenty of misses on his fastball and changeup. His curveball is improving, and the 21-year-old hurler continues to show an advanced feel for pitching. His Achilles' heel remains a high walk rate, but if Owens gets off to a fast start at Triple-A next season, the Red Sox might have to clear a rotation spot for the young lefty.
SW: You mean other than Bryant? Yeah, OK, I've made my point there. I actually think Joey Gallo has a strong chance of contributing for the Rangers that soon. The Futures Game MVP (thanks to one of his typically mammoth home runs), Gallo has had a mostly smooth transition to Double-A after making a mockery of high Class A. Some contact issues for sure -- he's striking out every other at-bat at the higher level -- but a .977 OPS is nobody's idea of failure. He won't turn 21 until the offseason, but if Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor are any indication, the Rangers don't mind speeding their best prospects through the system. And if their season continues to go as it has, it wouldn't be so far fetched for them to trade Adrian Beltre while he's still valuable. Spring training will give us a better idea just how close Gallo is to contributing in the big leagues, but as of now, I suspect the he'll be playing every day for the Rangers by the end of next season and hitting the kind of home runs Giancarlo Stanton is known for.
Whose stock has fallen the most in your eyes?
MH: Braves starting pitcher Lucas Sims could use a lifeline and quick. A year after going 12-4 with a 2.62 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, the right-handed hurler is 6-8 with a 4.97 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 19 starts for high Class A Lynchburg this season. Sims came into the season as a top 100 prospect by Baseball America (No. 57) and MLB.com (No. 60), but it wouldn't be surprising if he's left off the list next season unless he has a strong finish. Sims' numbers are down across the board, including his strikeout rate. After striking out 10.3 batters per nine innings in his first two years as a pro, Sims is striking out just 5.5 batters per nine this season. Sims struggles have been pinned on him toying with his mechanics as he looks to cut down on his walk rate. Well, he's not making much progress in that department, as he's walking 3.5 batters per nine innings, which is right on his career average. The good news is that Sims has plenty of time to turn around his career, but his long-term outlook has definitely taken a hit due to a down season.
SW: It sounds weird since he's already gotten a taste of the majors this year, which is more than a lot of prospects will ever be able to say, but I don't have much faith in Garin Cecchini becoming a relevant Fantasy contributor anymore. Coming into the year, he looked like one of the minors' premier contact hitters with at least doubles power and the potential for more. But in 79 games at Triple-A Pawtucket, he's batting .253 with a ghastly .329 slugging percentage. Remember Juan Pierre, slap-hitting speedster extraordinaire? He was derided for slugging percentages higher than that, and that was as a league-leading base-stealer. Cecchini can run, but it's not exactly his calling card. So what is his calling card? Playing third base? The Red Sox moved him to left field a couple weeks back, so he doesn't even have that going for him anymore. His lack of power at the developed age of 23 is more concerning to me than a starting pitcher struggling in the PCL, as Noah Syndergaard and Zach Lee have, or still learning to attack the strike zone, as Archie Bradley and Jesse Biddle are.
Which under-the-radar prospect are you snatching up in dynasty leagues?
MH: You won't find Reds outfield prospect Jesse Winker on any top-100 lists, but he should be. He is considered the Reds' third-best prospect by MLB.com and fourth-best by Baseball America, so he's not completely off the radar. However, this kid reminds me a lot of Reds first baseman Joey Votto mostly because of the plate discipline/power combo. Winker has posted a .401 on-base percentage and .490 slugging percentage in 247 minor-league games and is only 20 years old. It's scary to think he hasn't even reached his prime yet. He projects as a plus hitter with plus power. He works the count and hits to all fields. As long as he doesn't get traded, his bat could play huge at hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark. Winker might not make a Fantasy impact until 2016, but he's a player I can definitely tell Fantasy owners to stash in long-term keeper formats.
SW: Hard to pick just one here. The buzz has died down on Ben Lively a bit after getting a little nutty early on (understandably, given the kind of numbers he was putting up in the hitter-friendly California League), but he's still only 3 percent owned. I'm going to dig a little deeper here, though, with a personal favorite of mine who no one else seems to notice: the Rangers' Luke Jackson. I don't know why nobody notices a former compensatory pick with a mid-90s fastball and a good enough breaking ball to give him legitimate strikeout potential -- especially with the 2.45 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings he's compiled at Double-A Frisco the last two years -- but he's only 2 percent owned. He's had his struggles with walks but has consistently improved over the course of his career so that they're not so much of a problem anymore. And now that he's at Triple-A, he's a good bet to compete for a rotation spot next spring, if he doesn't arrive sooner. To me, Jackson is what Jimmy Nelson was at about this time last year, and wouldn't you like to have him on your dynasty league team now?