What a year it's been.The 2018 season has been chock full of exciting prospect moments. We talked about many of them, chosen by fans, on this week's Pipeline Podcast.There's no doubt there are big thrills ahead for 2019 and we can't wait to bring them to you. Part of that,
What a year it's been.
The 2018 season has been chock full of exciting prospect moments. We talked about many of them, chosen by fans, on this week's Pipeline Podcast.
There's no doubt there are big thrills ahead for 2019 and we can't wait to bring them to you. Part of that, as always, will be answering your very insightful questions. Enjoy this edition of the Pipeline Inbox and let us all resolve to watch more baseball in the coming year.
Watching who will win the J.T. Realmuto sweepstakes has become one of the best offseason activities in baseball, hasn't it? With perhaps the exception of finding out where the big free agents (you know, Manny and Bryce) will decide to call home, seeing who ponies up enough players for the Marlins to deal their All-Star catcher has become required Hot Stove viewing.
All three of the outfielders mentioned -- Alex Verdugo of the Dodgers, Kyle Tucker of the Astros and the Rays' Jesus Sanchez -- are very talented and all are in the top 35 of our current Top 100 prospects list. Now, that list will be re-ranked in late January 2019, but there's no question Tucker is the best of this group. Ranked No. 5 overall, Tucker had an outstanding 2018 campaign, very small sample size of big league play aside. He turned in his second straight 20-20 season, hitting .332 and leading the Pacific Coast League with a .989 OPS. Oh, and he was only 21 years old.
Verdugo and Sanchez are back-to-back in the rankings, at No. 32 and 33. Verdugo continued to show he can hit with an advanced approach, finishing with a .329/.391/.472 line in Triple-A as a 22-year-old. That was a career high for a full season in terms of SLG. Sanchez played the 2018 season at age 20 and hit for average and developing power, earning a promotion up to Double-A. Personally at this point, I'd probably rank Sanchez ahead of Verdugo because I think he has a higher ceiling. But Verdugo is ready to contribute right now, while Sanchez might need another year in the Minors, so if a team is looking for a more immediate return, Verdugo might be ranked slightly ahead, with Tucker leading the pack.
It can often be hard to figure out what to expect from a Rule 5 Draft pick, especially this early before knowing exactly what kind of role he's going to have. Now the Orioles' No. 13 prospect, Martin had a solid 2018 season after being slowed by a knee injury at the start of the year. He finished third in the Texas League with his .300 average, seventh in OBP (.368) and ninth in stolen bases (25). He can really defend at shortstop and added second base to his resume last season.
The big question about Martin is if last year's breakout is legit or if he's a one-year wonder. Prior to the season, he hadn't hit in two full seasons, and last year was his first of over 400 at-bats. The fact he did it in Double-A does boost confidence, but there isn't enough of a track record to be sure he can make the jump to Baltimore seamlessly.
I am fairly confident Martin will stick in some capacity. His defense and speed will make him a valuable utility man at both middle-infield positions (the same can be said for the Orioles' other Rule 5 Draft guy, Drew Jackson, though I'm more bullish on Martin) and the O's need help there. If he swings the bat like he did in 2018, seeing him work his way into being Baltimore's starting shortstop (with Jonathan Villar at second) isn't completely unrealistic.
A pair of Royce Lewis questions? Who can resist? The No. 7 overall prospect on our Top 100, Lewis was as good as, if not better than, advertised in his first full season after the Twins made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2017. He earned a promotion from the Midwest League to the Class A Advanced Florida State League not long after his 19th birthday and was almost three and a half years younger than the average hitter in the FSL.
I mention that mostly to point out the description of Lewis as being inconsistent while in Fort Myers. The shortstop hit .303/.370/.424 in his first 16 games at the new level (after hitting .315/.368/.485 with Cedar Rapids) before scuffling in August (.239/.317/.407), perhaps a sign of fatigue more than any inconsistency after 121 games and 483 total at-bats. I, for one, have no doubt he'll either make quick work of the FSL if he returns there, or adjust to Double-A to start the 2019 season. Either way, Lewis will be in Pensacola, the Twins' new Double-A affiliate, sooner rather than later. Remembering he doesn't turn 20 until June, he's way ahead of the curve, and while we have an ETA of 2021 on Prospect Watch currently, seeing him make it to Minnesota by 2020 seems very reasonable.
We talk so much about the Braves' young pitching prospects, that it was refreshing to get a question about some position players. Ronald Acuna Jr., the former top prospect in baseball, of course won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, No. 6 and 8 on the Braves' Top 30, are both in the current Top 100. Pache reached Double-A in 2018, and while he still has work to do, he could be ready to help out, even as just a September callup, by the end of 2019. Waters is a step behind Pache, so Braves fans will have to wait a bit to see all three in one outfield.
I do think that an outfield with those three could help Atlanta hoist a flag. All three have played center in the past, but I'd put Pache there long-term, with Acuna and Waters on the corners. All three have strong arms that would work in the corners, so they could move around as needed. The good news for the Braves is there's no huge rush. Ender Inciarte and his closet full of Gold Gloves is under contract for at least three more years. Talking to a Braves official recently, we joked about an outfield with Acuna, Pache and Inciarte and how a ball would never fall. The same will be said when Waters is ready to join them, something those young Braves starters will love to have behind them.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.