Digging for Diamonds: Breakout or Fake-out? Midwest League Hitters
We are just three weeks into the minor league season, but believe it or not, we can already start to make sense of some of the statistical data coming in on tomorrow’s top prospects. Savvy dynasty leaguers like you and I are chomping at the bit trying to find the next breakout prospects who are flying under the radar and are about to take the league by storm, and it is around this time of year where we can start to try and weed out the breakouts from the fake-outs. Whose hot starts can we start to get excited about? Whose can be ignored? Who should we be putting on our watch lists for close monitoring? I went through each league in the minors and picked some players who are off to scintillating starts for their minor league clubs. First up are hitters in the Low-A Midwest League. Without further adieu, I present to you Breakout or Fakeout: MWL Hitters Edition.
Hitters are sorted by current wRC+. For a more detailed explanation of the weighted runs created plus statistic, click here. First up is a guy third in the entire minors in the stat!
Carlos Rincon, 19, Dodgers: Leads all active minor leaguers with a .486 ISO (not a typo), also sports a .324 BA and a 14.0 BB%. Unfortunately, that also comes with a 46.5 K% (also not a typo). He is at the ripe age of just 19 years old, and apparently the Dodgers felt comfortable having him skip over the Pioneer League entirely, so he has plenty of time to figure things out. He is Exhibit A of the wackiness that is April stat-lines.
Verdict: until his K-rate literally gets chopped in half, this one’s a massive fake-out in my opinion
Marcus Wilson, 20, Diamonbacks:The former supplemental second-rounder, Wilson had largely disappointed early in his career before making some noise last season (123 wRC+ across Northwest/Midwest Leagues). This year, he’s back in the Midwest League, his 250 wRC+ trails Rincon’s by just 2 points, and his comes with much more impressive plate discipline numbers as well (16.4 BB% and 14.5 K%). He’s also reportedly a plus runner who should be an average center fielder, something dynasty leaguers who play in a league with LF/CF/RF designations should care about. He already has four homers after hitting three his first three seasons combined, and he doesn’t turn 21 until August. Sign me up.
Verdict: if you play in deep leagues with a LF/CF/RF designations like I do, this one is close to becoming a breakout; if not, I would still watch closely and be ready to buy if his plate discipline/power numbers are still holding upon promotion to High-A
Bo Bichette, 19, Blue Jays: Bichette was a divisive draft prospect before he was taken in the second round this past June. Scouts had major questions about both his glove at short and his unconventional but entertaining-as-hell swing. He’s certainly proved his doubters of his bat incorrect thus far; in 121 professional at-bats, Bichette has hit an obscene .413/.464/.678 and is currently 5th in the MWL in wRC+ with a 222 mark. Extremely encouraging about Bichette’s hot start is his 16.3 BB%, up from 6.6% last season. It remains to be seen if he can stick at the position, but so far, so good for Dante’s Inferno.
Verdict: breakout; Boba-chette is the real deal, folks. As long as he can stay at short, this could be a top-50 fantasy prospect by this time next season. Go get him.
Brendon Davis, 19, Dodgers: Drafted as a shortstop in the fifth round back in 2015, Davis has moved over to third, and his bat is starting to look the part. He was one of the youngest regulars in full-season ball last year and has shown tremendous growth early on as he repeats the Midwest League. A career .250 hitter, Davis is hitting .342 with a 16.7 BB% – ten points higher than his 6.7% last year in the same league. His K-rate is at the exact same rate, however that mark is a little too high to be comfortable with, at 27.1%. If he can shave off just a few percentage points from his K-rate, the Dodgers could have a monster on their hands, as Davis has “smooth, if not explosive defensive actions and a very projectable frame” (link). His .237 ISO this year thusfar will be the key to maintaining this hot start; if he starts selling out to keep up the power, his K-rate will grow to Rincon-ian levels, but if he starts hitting with a toothpick again like he had the past two seasons, he’s back to the same guy he was a year before.
Verdit: watch closely, if his K-rate starts trending down while his ISO remains steady, this is a serious breakout waiting to happen
Mario Feliciano, 18, Brewers: A supplemental second-rounder from this past draft, Feliciano received one of the most aggressive assignments I’ve seen yet as a prospect elaluator: sending an 18 year-old catcher who has only 117 professional at-bats under his belt up to full-season, Low-A ball. Sure enough, Feliciano has proved the Brewers wise, as he is off to a .378/.425/.622 (207 wRC+) start. I have no idea if it’s sustainable, but the pre-season reports are too strong for me to ignore.
Verdict: breakout, kids as old as high school seniors shouldn’t be able to do this in full-season ball against college graduates, he’s flying under the radar and could easily be a better catching prospect than the guy that’s been mentioned here on Dynasty Guru multiple times in the Dodgers’ Keibert Ruiz; invest
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., 18, Blue Jays: I don’t think anyone knows the meaning of life, but I think everyone can agree that life has meaning, and part of that meaning is derived from the idea that life and all the things it entails should generally improve over time. We may or may not have a perfect “Creator,” but that does not mean that everything that He/She creates is made a perfect being. Enter the Guerrero family. Father, Vlad Sr., owner of some of the most ridiculous plays ever made on a baseball diamond. Perfect? Close. While Vladdy is a surefire HOFer, he wasn’t without his shortcomings, particularly towards the end of his career where he literally forgot that you’re allowed to not swing at the balls not in the strike zone. Many started to doubt their theoretical Creator and even the meaning of life itself after He/She gave us a close relative who tantalized but largely disappointed in his failed quest to bring us one step closer to perfection, but alas, it was finally attained on March 16, 1999 with the birth of one Vladimir Guerrero Ramos, Jr..
Verdict: BREAKOUT. If you can find someone dumb enough to trade Vlad, it better be for a franchise-altering player. Top-25 prospect by the end of the season, and that may be conservative. I don’t even care if he stays at third. He could be in the Majors before he’s allowed to buy alcohol. This is the next big thing to come to baseball, get on board now before he’s walking more than he’s striking out and hitting .300 still after the All-Star break.
Monte Harrison, 21, Brewers: I want for this to be a breakout so badly. Really, I do. Look, we all know this guy is a freak athlete. He’s a great story to root for, and I say that entirely because of that video and how much I love watching highlight tapes. However, there are just too many red flags for me to jump in with both feet just yet. One, he’s not the youngest guy in the league. He’s actually quite familiar with the area, getting 184 plate attempts in 2015 and 298 slightly more improved attempts at the dish last season. In his third go-round, he’s made some key improvements, starting with a K-rate that has gone from 41.8% in 2015 to 32.6% last year down to a much more palatable 26.5% to start the year. He’s also hitting .326, but like many others on this list, we can expect that to go down due to an unsustainably high BABIP. When that does, prospect evaluators are going to start to forget the awesome dunk videos and improved K-rate and start to look at a BB-rate that has gone down each year (7.6% to 6.7% down to just 4.1% this year) and look at a 21 year-old in his third try at Low-A and not really doing all that much to show he needs a bigger challenge. I hate to say it, but…
Verdict: fake-out. Go back to dunking on fools, Monte! Unless he gets promoted and maintains his decent-but-still-too-high strikeout rate and he rediscovers his ability to walk and his power continues to develop… there’s just too many factors at play right now. I want to be wrong, but I don’t think I am here.
Tyler Stephenson, 20, Reds: The 13th overall pick just two years ago, 2016 was a lost season for Stephenson due to not only a concussion, but an equally troubling wrist injury which required surgery at the end of the year. According to Longenhagen, the reports in 2016 when he was healthy weren’t promising, but we are still talking about a guy who some were calling a dark-horse for the first overall pick. More importantly, he has started off this year hitting .267/.365/.467 with a 11.5 BB% to go with a decent 26.9 K%. Those are very impressive numbers, especially for a catcher, so hopefully he can keep his strikeouts in check and keep walking to get back on track for the Reds.
Verdict: watch closely, like Davis, if the K’s come down, this could end up being a beast, and like Feliciano, at a position in need of fantasy contributors, particularly for 2-catcher leaguers like me
That’s it for this week, be sure to tune in next week for the Sally Edition of Breakout or Fakeout: Hitters!