What do these prospects' hot starts mean?

April 18th, 2019

We’re at that beginning stage of the season. Big league teams have played 15-20 games, while Minor League clubs have played a bit more than a dozen. That, of course, leads to fans wanting to jump to conclusions about one prospect jumping over another in our rankings, or one prospect being ready to replace another in the big league lineup.

This week’s Inbox goes from one corner infield spot to another, with a question about the readiness of Pirates third-base prospect Ke'Bryan Hayes and another asking if Royals first-base prospect Nick Pratto has the tools to play the outfield to make room for a potential draftee. We then stay in the outfield to answer a question about two of the Astros' top prospects. Enjoy!

The Pirates No. 2 prospect (No. 43 on the Top 100) isn’t far from being big league ready, that’s for sure. Ke'Bryan Hayes showed just how well he competes during Spring Training, when he hit .353/.361/.794 with three homers in 34 at-bats.

Small sample size, you say? Well, it should be noted that Colin Moran has 30 at-bats and Kang has just 46. In other words, it’s a bit too soon to hit the panic button. Do I think Hayes will be better than either Moran or Kang? Absolutely. Do I think he’ll get called up after less than a month of offensive or defensive struggles? No, I do not.

Hayes is off to an OK start in Triple-A (.265/.379/.469) over his first dozen games, but it’s not like he’s currently banging down the big league door. I think that time will come, maybe as early as the second half, but especially with the Pirates playing decently in the NL Central, don’t look for Ke’Bryan to make it up any time soon unless things change dramatically.

While Pratto’s report as the Royals’ No. 5 prospect does mention his plus arm that allowed him to be an outstanding left-handed pitcher in high school (and Team USA), it actually doesn’t mention that he can play the outfield currently. He is athletic and maybe could handle an outfield corner, but to me, that would be a waste of defensive ability.

Currently the No. 7 first base prospect on our Top 10 list, Pratto is a plus defender at his corner infield spot. He has the chance to be a Gold Glove caliber player at the position, so I would be reluctant to move him. Could he handle a move? He probably could, just like Eric Hosmer could handle playing the outfield if necessary. If the Royals think that’s the right way to go, to draft Cal’s Andrew Vaughn and eventually move Pratto to the outfield, I could see it working. But I submit that leaving Pratto at first is the better course of action, with the Royals going after someone like Bobby Witt Jr. with that pick, but that’s just me at this moment.

Emphasis should be on “it’s early.” Yes, Yordan Alvarez is off to a terrific start (.318/.455/.841) with seven homers in 13 games. And yes, Kyle Tucker is scuffling (.109) over the same amount of games. But please, let’s hold off on any changes to order based on that sample size.

It’s not the first thing I’ve seen or heard about Tucker’s stock being hit because of his start to the year. Yes, I know, Tucker didn’t exactly set the world on fire during his big league debut last year. But people seem to have conveniently forgot the year Tucker had in Triple-A last year, when he posted a .989 OPS. He’s only 22, so give it some time. If things are still trending in this direction when we re-rank in July, then we can revisit this issue then.