Three Players in Limbo
Juan Soto’s meteoric rise to the major leagues has been one of this season’s most exciting storylines. After starting the season at High-A, the 19-year-old blasted through Double-A and has already played 26 games for the Nationals. The kid is showing some serious style, currently sporting a .326/.420/.593 slash. But for every Juan Soto, there are thousands of extremely talented players who never come close to his success in the major leagues. Baseball is hard, luck is fickle, and life isn’t fair. Somewhere in between the phenoms of our game and the “best-that-never-were” are players frozen in the limbo of organizational depth.
Each of the following players has skills that should ultimately make them successful major leaguers and above-average dynasty assets. The only problem is their lack of opportunity. Blocked by veterans, but almost too good to trade, these players are left to annihilate the Triple-A ranks so that they may receive everyday at-bats. Dynasty owners would be wise to not forget about these players. In spite of the negatives of their current situations, there’s reason to be hopeful for positive results from each player in the not-too-distant future.
Raimel Tapia, Outfield (Age: 24, Colorado Rockies)
Tapia is the most obvious and frustrating case of unfortunate limbo in baseball. The 24-year-old has already played 92 games in the bigs, and has a .283/.322/.394 line over 198 at-bats to show for it. He has also stolen eight bases in ten attempts for the Rockies. At Triple-A Albuquerque this season, Tapia has hit ten homers, seven triples, 19 doubles, and stolen 17 bases. He also continues to hit for a high average. Coors Field is begging for a player like Tapia to slap hits into the gaps and run wild. Instead, the outfielder is blocked by 32-year-old Carlos Gonzalez.
The Monforts have long been supremely loyal to their players. It’s hard to fault them for loyalty when many ownership groups express exactly zero loyalty towards their own players. As a result, however, no other owners are so prone to be loyal to a fault. Re-signing Carlos Gonzalez wasn’t a costly financial mistake–it’s only a one-year, $8 million deal–it was a costly mistake because it was completely unnecessary, and because it stalled the development of one of their best prospects.
One day soon we’ll get to see Tapia at Coors. I’m hopeful that Ryan McMahon and Tom Murphy’s recent promotions are signs that the club is ready to move forward. But unless the Rockies are able to trade CarGo or someone gets hurt, he’ll have to keep toiling in Triple-A where he has nothing left to prove.
Andrew Toles, Outfield (Age: 26, Los Angeles Dodgers)
To the Dodgers’ credit, Toles is not a member of this list because of a bad signing. He’s here because he tore his ACL last season after 31 games, and because LA swapped Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy and Charlie Culberson for Matt Kemp in an effort to get under the luxury tax threshold. While some suspected the Dodgers would DFA the veteran Kemp, that didn’t happen. As a result, Toles was left on the outside looking in after spring training.
There’s no doubt that Kemp has experienced a complete resurgence in 2018. His performance, combined with the depth of the Dodgers’ roster and a hamstring pull for Toles, means that Toles’ next opportunity might come later rather than sooner. I’m still excited for him whenever that day may come.
In 201 career major league at-bats, Toles has a .294/.341/.483 line with eight homers, 12 doubles, and a .189 isolated power. At Triple-A Oklahoma City, Toles is back on the field healthy and hitting over .300 again. And although he hasn’t attempted many steals this year, his speed remains a 70-grade. Make no mistake: on most clubs Toles is an everyday outfielder. Like Juan Soto, Toles is the rare player who went from High-A to the MLB in a single season (2016). He makes solid contact, possesses speed, gets on base, and plays solid defense. He’ll find his way to an MLB roster this season. The only questions are ‘How?’ and ‘When?’
AJ Reed, First Base (Age: 25, Houston Astros)
I just can’t quit AJ Reed. I asked our Dynasty Guru staff during our 2018 ranking discussions what we saw with Reed. The response I recall most vividly was, “Dead man walking.” And aside from Reed’s dominant minor-league track record, I have little with which to argue against such a bleak outlook.
As a pro, Reed has compiled a measly .156/.259/.250 line in his first 128 at-bats. Worse, he showed little power and saw his strikeout rate surpass 30%. A 13.2% swinging-strike rate suggests an issue with his swing that major league pitching took little time to expose. There’s also the fact that plays for the Houston Astros, where he’s blocked by Yuli Gurriel, J.D. Davis, and Tyler White. It’s hard to envision a path to playing time for Reed in Houston. Reed seems in need of a trade.
Of course, first base is not a priority position for most clubs. And Houston, as loaded as they are, won’t let a quality player like Reed get away for nothing. He is, after all, a former Top-100 prospect who has hit 67 home runs the past three years in Triple-A. Along the way, he has also posted an ISO of .269, a wRC of 196, a wOBA of .386 and an OPS of .904. This year he has raised his BB% and cut down on his strikeouts. He has also hit 18 of those 67 Triple-A homers in 243 at-bats. Perhaps you’re saying he’s Quad-A. And perhaps he is. But look closer at his brief MLB debut.
A .221 career BABIP? A 12.2% walk rate? Clearly what he did wasn’t all bad, and he did experience some bad luck. As for the 13.2 SwStr%? That’s a lower rate than hitters like JD Martinez, Nicholas Castellanos, Bryce Harper and Rafael Devers. Not to mention non-surprising guys like Joey Gallo, Khris Davis and Giancarlo Stanton. I’m not saying that Reed will be vintage Albert Pujols, I’m just saying we need to learn more about him. I’d wager that a team will take a chance and give him a longer look. I hope it’s soon because he’s not dead yet. Someone just needs to let him live.