These former prospects are breakout candidates

December 4th, 2019

We spend so much time talking about “prospects” in MLB Pipeline, we easily forget about the guys who used to be on our lists.

Some of that is occupational hazard. We’re charged with tracking 900 prospects at any given time – the top 30 guys for all 30 organizations – so when someone graduates, it becomes very easy to lose sight of them.

So I have to thank the writer of our first question this week for making me contemplate those who were gone, and previously forgotten. Just because they don’t qualify for rankings anymore does not mean they’ve become superstars. So this edition of the MLB Pipeline Inbox is for them.

There’s a certain no-man's land for players like this. They compile enough at-bats, innings pitched or service time to graduate off of prospects lists, but they haven’t quite established themselves as big league mainstays. Just because they’re in limbo does not mean they can’t go on to become Major League contributors, regulars or even stars.

A few names come to mind, mostly hitters, but I’m going to start with a pitcher who still has very good stuff, but can’t stay on the mound consistently enough to use it. I’m talking about the Cardinals’ Alex Reyes.

Reyes has suffered through a litany of injuries that have kept him on the shelf for extended periods of time, leading to the hard-throwing right-hander totaling just seven big league innings in the last three years after throwing 46 in 2016. He officially graduated off of prospect lists the second he recorded an out in 2019, but he only recorded nine all season because of a fractured finger and then a pectoral muscle injury. The stuff is still electric if he can stay out there long enough to get back in a rhythm.

There is a spot in the rotation currently, though that could be filled via free agency. I’d put Reyes in the bullpen and let his power stuff play in shorter stints to create a nasty set of relievers with Jordan Hicks and Carlos Martinez.

Some other candidates for this list:

Griffin Canning, RHP, Angels -- He’s another one who ran into the injury bug, but it’s looking like he’s put his elbow issue behind him and should be ready to be a part of the rotation all year.

Francisco Mejia, C, Padres -- He was hurt and sent down. He ended up with 226 at-bats for all of 2019. I still believe in the bat.

Christin Stewart, OF, Tigers -- The power, which showed up at times in 2019, is too big to ignore. He needs to refine his approach and play adequate enough defense to stay in the lineup.

Cole Tucker, SS, Pirates -- He scuffled in 2019 and Kevin Newman locked down shortstop in Pittsburgh, it seems, so Tucker will have to find a way to get into the lineup. I still think the Pirates would be better suited with Tucker at short, Newman at second and Adam Frazier in a super-utility role.

Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros -- Tucker struggled in his first big league callup in 2018 then couldn’t break his way back onto the Houston roster until late in 2019. But he played a bunch in September and the Astros should find a spot for him in the lineup every day.

Luis Urias, INF, Brewers -- He never found traction in San Diego, but maybe he can find a home in Milwaukee. Even with Orlando Arcia back, Urias could win the shortstop job or hit his way into the lineup in a super-utility role.

We get these “Compare prospect X to prospect Y” questions a lot for Inbox, but rarely is it about two in the same system, let alone sitting at No. 1 and 2 on that system’s Top 30 list.

There honestly isn’t that much separating Pache, the Braves' current top prospect, to Waters, who is right behind him. Both are very young (Pache turned 21 last month; Waters gets there at the end of this one) and both made it to Triple-A in 2019, so they are way ahead of the curve. Both have some plus tools they can show off on both sides of the ball with the ability to hit, run and really defend in the outfield.

If forced, I’ll give Pache the slight edge. He is, after all, ranked higher than Waters in the Top 100 (No. 11 vs. No. 23) and we did give him a slightly higher overall grade (60 vs. 55), so I guess I’m being consistent. It wouldn’t surprise me if Waters ended up as good, if not better, than Pache, but with Pache’s tools grading out just a bit better in terms of run, field and arm, I’m going to give him the nod. But boy, Braves fans should feel lucky to hopefully have a front-row seat to watch that unfold.

I celebrate Hanukkah, so ... on to the next question!

The short answer is that his stock is just fine and I absolutely see him as a long-term option for the Nationals’ infield.

Yes, Carter Kieboom went just 5-for-39 over his first 11 games in the big leagues, but it’s a bit too reactionary to ding a guy for that small of a sample size. As you point out, he had a very strong season in Triple-A and while offensive numbers at that level were up, it’s still in line with what’s been his natural progression as a hitter. He also only turned 22 in September and he’s certainly not the first young player to scuffle in his first shot in the bigs (I encourage you to look up Trout, Michael for starters).

As for the future Nationals infield, there are some options in 2020. The first place would be at second base, where there’s likely to be an opening since Howie Kendrick and Brian Dozier are free agents. And maybe he could get a look at third if the Nats are unable to bring Anthony Rendon back. Either way, look for Kieboom to find a home in the starting lineup in 2020.