VOYAGES OF THE DEEP
VOYAGES OF THE DEEP
Welcome back to the depths of the Abyss. We hope you enjoyed Parts 1 and 2, where we looked at a couple of deep prospects from the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, and Boston Red Sox organizations. If you like our work, please give us a follow on Twitter (Daniel Labude, @OrcaBaseball and Brian Labude, @Polar_Bear_Ball). This week we dive into Part 3 of The Abyss series, as we will look at two deep prospects each from the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox. Every prospect will have a Treasure Ranking, which will consist of gold coins (1-5), more coins mean the prospect should have a greater chance to move higher in rankings or by a greater magnitude.
THE ABYSS PART 3: CHICAGO CUBS AND CHICAGO WHITE SOX
CHICAGO CUBS: LUKE LITTLE, SP, 6’8″ AND 220 LBS; 3% ROSTERED ON FANTRAX (DANIEL LABUDE)
On a dark night back in 2020, The Abyss did what it so often does, suck us deep into its depths. At which time, the darkness faded for a momentary glimpse at the treasure below. It was a brief moment, fleeting to the eyes, but what it revealed is the idea treasure maps are made for. With that, the treasure map pointed directly toward Luke Little and his 105 mph arm in a bullpen session. Like the cruel mistress of time, the moment wouldn’t last and the ocean came back to life, the waves crashed, and all that was left was a memory.
Luke Little was drafted 117th overall by the Chicago Cubs in the 2020 MLB Draft. His stature did not match his name though, as he stands 6’8″ and weighs 220 lbs. That size coupled with the video of him throwing 105 mph as a left-handed starting pitcher caused a lot of buzz even before he threw his first professional pitch. The fanfare led to an uber-chaotic roller coaster once it began, which was in Rookie ball in 2021. He amassed only 11 IP in five games and the results were mixed in the small sample. His ERA and FIP were almost identical at 4.91 and 4.92 respectfully. What stood out even in the small sample size was his 15.55 K/9, but it came with a 4.09 BB/9.
2022 was Little’s first extended look and it came in Low-A ball. He threw 52.2 innings in 20 games and showed a lot of potential as a 21-year-old. The K/9 continued to be top notch at 14.35; however, the BB/9 climbed to 5.47. His command was very shaky as he only threw 59.9% of his pitches for a strike, which led to the ballooning BB/9. His stuff was just too dominant for Low-A ball even with the command issues, as he would end his time there with a 2.91 ERA and a 2.76 FIP. The Chicago Cubs would see the need to challenge him more, so they gave him a short stint at High-A ball to end the season. He continued to impress with a 0.69 ERA with a 2.71 FIP. His strike throwing remained consistent though shaky, as he would throw 61% of his pitches for strikes, which came with a 11.77 K/9 and a 4.15 BB/9.
In 2023, Little came out strong in a repeat performance at High-A ball as a 22-year-old. He made quick work of the level as he was promoted to Double-A after only 17.1 innings in five games. Again in the small sample, he would show great numbers with a 0.52 ERA and a 3.12 FIP. The command was still uneven as he only managed to throw 56.1% of his pitches for strikes, but he continued to have a very good K/9 at 10.9 and an improving BB/9 at 3.63. In his debut at Double-A, he has pitched eight innings (as of 5/17), with zero hits allowed, walked five and collected 15 strikeouts.
INTO THE DEEP
The outlook for Little in the fantasy baseball world is an interesting conundrum. The Cubs have not been overly aggressive with his pitch count or innings pitched up to this point. He has slowly progressed from just over two innings pitched per game his first season, to just over three innings pitched per game this season. The reliever risk is high, the command can come and go, but his stuff is so good that if he can increase to five or six innings pitched per game he could command the attention and rise up rankings fast. The rest of this season at Double-A could be a pivotal point to the direction he and the Cubs take. Either way, the big lefty has a bright future if he can keep progressing and fire enough pitches in the strike zone to limit his walks. This season he has been throwing 95-98 mph, but with four appearances at AA out of the bullpen, the Cubs may be making that switch to reliever now. If this is the case, we could see his fastball velocity tick back to 100 mph. As a starting pitcher or reliever, one day that treasure map may reveal itself again and shine on Little.
Treasure Ranking: 🪙 🪙
CHICAGO CUBS: MOISES BALLESTEROS, C, 5’7″ AND 215 LBS; 4% ROSTERED ON FANTRAX (BRIAN LABUDE)
Rising from the Abyss this week is a prospect that started in the depths. A place where light dissipates into nothingness, but as you climb, it becomes stronger and stronger until everything begins to come into focus. This is the zone where we find a Chicago Cubs prospect by the name of Moises Ballesteros.
THE FOG ROLLS IN
In 2021, Ballesteros was signed by the Cubs for $1.2 million out of Los Teques, Venezuela. He would make his professional debut during that same year in the Dominican Summer League (DSL). For a young kid (17) playing in the DSL, he showed good plate discipline with the ability to be patient, work counts, and take walks. He would end the season with a 16.6% walk rate and only a 12.8% strikeout rate. The power had not quite transitioned fully into games for him as he only had three home runs, but the underlying signs were there as he managed 10 doubles and an extra-base hit rate of 31.7%. With a prototypical catcher’s body, he displayed a slight eagerness to steal bases with six in seven attempts. In all, he had a solid debut season and showed some encouraging signs of his ever-improving skills at the plate.
STREAKS OF LIGHT IN THE NIGHT SKY
In 2022, Ballesteros would come stateside and begin his season at Rookie ball, where he would still be younger than the average player at that level. It wouldn’t take long for him to display his skill set at the plate, as he hit .352 in the first week with one home run and two walks. The rest of his time at Rookie ball would be much of the same, he ended his time there hitting .268 along with seven home runs, and five doubles for an extra-base hit rate of 46.2%. His stellar play was driven by a walk rate of 11.8% and a strikeout rate of 17.3%. He showed the Cubs he was ready to take on a more challenging assignment despite still only being 18 years old at the time.
LOST WITHOUT A BEARING
In August of 2022, Ballesteros was promoted to Low-A and announced his presence immediately with a home run in his first game there. In 31 games, he would face more challenges than he had in his career to that point. His strikeout rate rose to 21.7% as his play overall shrunk to more of an average player with a wRC+ of 109. At his prior stops in the DSL and Rookie ball, he had wRC+ of 128 and 137 respectively. What he did show was an ability to make good contact and hit the ball hard, ending the season with a line drive rate of 25.9%. In my opinion, these are the types of struggles that can be good for prospects as it brings to light what they are struggling with and allows them to adjust back to what was working or find something new to adjust with. It is a classic fork in the road for a prospect’s career; can they make the adjustments and get back to having success, or will they struggle and get sucked down into the Abyss where the light can no longer shine on them?
BEACON OF LIGHT ON THE HORIZON
Ballesteros appears to have made the right decisions over the offseason as he has started the 2023 season on fire and to this point produced one of the stronger performances in the minors. In 33 games, he has drawn inspiration from his DSL days with a walk rate of 17% and a strikeout rate of 11.3%. He has been hitting the ball hard with a line drive rate of 21% and an extra-base hit rate of 30%. The improvements in his game from his first stint at Low-A ball have resulted in a big boost to his overall numbers. He has a wRC+ of 128 and is even showing that he might be more fleet of foot than an average catcher, as he has three stolen bases already.
A NEW DAWN
Ballesteros’ fantasy outlook is appearing more and more promising every day. The longer he can show sustained success this season, the more his prospect status and ranking will rise. He began the season widely unranked across most all platforms and after his hot start to the season, he is now looking more like a top 300 prospect with potential to move even higher. If he is not owned in leagues with 300 prospects rostered, he is a must-add now. At a minimum, even smaller leagues should keep a real close eye on him and be ready to pounce once mid-season updates come out.
Treasure Ranking: 🪙 🪙 🪙
CHICAGO WHITE SOX: WILFRED VERAS, 3B, 6’2″ AND 180 LBS; 1% ROSTERED ON FANTRAX (DANIEL LABUDE)
TREASURE FALLING FROM THE SKY
Sometimes in the Abyss, you can get a heavy dose of fool’s gold, but occasionally you find the real sunken treasure and bring it to the surface. Other times you can float along and what exactly you find just doesn’t fit neatly into one of those designations. Those times you just need to have patience and keep digging deeper to find the reality inside the darkness. That brings us to Wilfred Veras of the Chicago White Sox, who was signed out of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
CALM SEAS AND HIGH SPEEDS
Veras, who stands 6’2″ and weighs 180 lbs, began his White Sox career in the DSL as an 18-year-old in 2021. He hit the ground running that season and made his presence known in the White Sox system. His triple slash line would end the season at .322/.416/.533, in 46 games. That was good for a .949 OPS and an exceptional 147 wRC+. A little old for the DSL (as a result of Covid), he still showed some very good plate discipline with a walk rate of 11.8% and only striking out 23.6% of the time. Along with good plate discipline, he mashed 16 doubles, two triples, and four home runs, for a total of 22 extra-base hits.
NO BARRIERS IN SIGHT
Ready for an aggressive promotion, Veras would get to play in Low-A ball as a 19-year-old in 2022. There he showed continued success hitting the ball, putting up another outstanding year in 101 games. His triple lash line this time came in at .266/.319/.454. His in-game power took a giant leap forward as he launched 17 home runs and collected 22 doubles. He started showing some ability to steal bases as well, swiping five bags. His plate discipline took a minor step back, with his walk rate dropping to 6.2% and his strikeout rate rising to 27.3%. Both were still very reasonable for a 19-year-old in Low-A ball, especially considering the power that he was able to unleash.
TAKING NO PRISONERS
At the end of 2022, Veras would get a super promotion all the way to Double-A ball. The promotion was part of Project Birmingham from the White Sox, which saw a bunch of promotions to Double-A. This gave players experience in a pseudo-advanced instructional league atmosphere. There he would stand out again in the small sample size of 12 games. He hit .267 with three home runs and a stolen base. That was good for a wRC+ of 116 as a 19-year-old in Double-A.
ONE STEP BACK, TWO TREASURE MAPS FOUND
In 2023, Veras was moved back to High-A ball where his natural progression should have been. So far, he hasn’t disappointed the White Sox, as he continues to put up good numbers as a 20-year-old. He is currently hitting .331/.351/.538. He also has four home runs and a massive 118 doubles in just 36 games. It doesn’t seem like his power is slowing down any, but surprisingly he has swiped seven bags already. The increase in stolen bases adds to his future projected profile if he can keep it going this season. The power and speed combo should get a lot of play as he has been very swing happy this season, only walking 3.9% of the time. To his credit though, he has not seen an increase in strikeouts as he is striking out at only a 24% rate.
TREASURE FOR ALL
Coming into 2023, Veras has still not seen the amount of hype a prospect with his stats and past seasons should have had. His power appears to be real and ability to steal bases has improved to where it might be an actual added dimension to his profile. If he keeps playing like he is, prospect lists should start to take notice and aggressively jump him into and up most lists. Coming into the season he wasn’t ranked in most places, so he should be a great value add at this stage of the season. Ultimately, he could be a top 200 prospect in the coming seasons with his power and speed combination to go with a good hit tool.
Treasure Ranking: 🪙 🪙 🪙
CHICAGO WHITE SOX: TANNER MCDOUGAL SP, 6’5″ AND 185 LBS; 1% ROSTERED ON FANTRAX (BRIAN LABUDE)
In the deep, unforgiving depths of the Abyss, lies a creature as old as the written word. A creature of myth and legend, one which strikes inescapable primal fear into all that have the misfortune to be thrust into its path. It lurks beneath the water, remaining hidden until positioned to strike the final blow. spread the legend, as the fear of the unknown entity grew to unimaginable heights. With time and as stories percolated around the world, it would quickly become the physical embodiment of the horrors of the deep.
Daylight fades with the sun creeping below the horizon, leaving a slight shimmer across the water. Out of nowhere, the water starts to bubble, drawing the attention of the sailor’s on board. A beast slowly emerges from the depths, long tentacle-like arms rising out of the water, higher and higher into the sky. Soon, the darkness enveloped all, as the creature towers over the vessel and casts an ominous shadow over everything. Screams overtake all sound until the only thing that can be heard is, “The Kraken!!!”
WHAT LIES BENEATH
Tanner McDougal was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the fifth round of the 2021 MLB draft out of Silverado High School in Henderson, Nevada. He would make his professional debut in short order out of the bullpen in Rookie ball. His first two appearances were stellar as he went three innings and struck out seven of the nine hitters he faced for a strikeout rate of 77.8%. From there, his debut season would spiral from bad to worse and in quick succession. He was moved from the bullpen to a starter role, where he got hit around a lot over his next three games, surrendering 10 earned runs in 6.1 innings. The lone bright spot in those outings was his strikeout rate of 31.3%. The poor performances would be the bad, the worse came in his next and final appearance of the season where he would face only one batter before leaving injured, the dreaded torn UCL.
THE SEA AWAKENS
McDougal would miss the entire 2022 season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. The lost season makes 2023 a vital one for him as it will be big for his development and status within his organization. The White Sox would hold him back for a short period coming out of spring training before he made his season debut at Low-A Kannapolis. In his debut, he struck a lot of fear into the opposing batters as he touched the upper 90s with ease. The fear would come from not only his pitch arsenal, but also his wildness and inability to consistently find the strike zone. He ended up walking six, but did not allow a hit, while striking out three. In his next two starts it would be more of the same, but with better execution as he combined for six innings and five hits, only one walk and nine strikeouts. Unfortunately, the bubble keeping him soaring high burst in his next start, as he could not command any of his pitches over two innings while surrendering two hits, five earned runs, and striking out three. The poor performance was undoubtedly driven by six walks, something which he must combat in order to make waves within the White Sox organization. In his most recent start, he was back to being unhittable, going four innings, walking two, giving up only two hits, and striking out six.
For McDougal to thrive and become a dominant pitcher he must become The Kraken. He will need to strike fear in the opposing hitters, not by being wild, but by showing he can command both his elite fastball as well as his offspeed pitches. The fear will need to be derived from the unknown, will he dot a 99 mph fastball on the corner, drop a knee-buckling breaking pitch in for a strike, or off the plate, perhaps it will be an unhittable fastball up. For these to work, he will need to command the fastball first, and more importantly, command it at the top of the zone where it plays well and allows for him to tunnel his breaking balls off of it. The elite spin rates he can put on the ball are great for getting attention, but his next step will be knowing where the ball is going when he releases it. If there was ever a major league player that I would label as a comparison to a prospect, it is Michael Kopech to McDougal. I am usually not one to go for player comparisons, but the issues that can make both elite or bring them down are too similar in my opinion. They both have big, lively arms that generate elite fastballs, which are best used up in the zone. They also can both lose their command, generally as a result of overthrowing and trying to light up the radar gun. Truly dueling arms with potentially similar paths through the minors.
BE IT BEAST OR DAVY JONES’ LOCKER
As an unranked and relatively unknown prospect, McDougal is squarely in the monitor stage right now for shallow dynasty leagues. In deep leagues that roster more than 500 prospects, he is a great buy-now candidate for those looking for upside of a top-250 prospect on the cheap. The volatility with a prospect like him is at the extreme. If he can limit the walks as the season progresses, he could be looking at around 75-100 innings, with a strikeout rate at 30% to 35%, and minimal contact. This would result in a skyrocketing prospect profile that might be hard to catch for the ride.
Treasure Ranking: 🪙 🪙