"Minor League Review and Preview" seemed like a cumbersome title, so, in the spirit of brevity, welcome to "Farm Tracker," a twice-weekly series of articles dedicated to fantasy prospects and developments in the minor leagues.
This series, as I envision it, should provide information and commentary of use to fantasy players in both redraft and dynasty leagues. For the most part, the series will be based on minor-league games and prospects I choose to watch over a period of 3-4 days. I am neither a professional scout nor a former player. I am a 25-year fantasy-baseball veteran who plays in both redraft and dynasty leagues and who happens to have a passion for minor-league baseball. Any insights I provide will come, first and foremost, from the perspective of a fan.
With this in mind, I hope readers will enjoy my perspective as much as I enjoy watching the games.
LHP Julio Urias went 5 innings, gave up 4 hits, and struck out 9 in his 2016 debut with Triple-A Oklahoma City (Dodgers). One of the top two pitching prospects in all of baseball--he came in at #5 overall on our Consensus Top 100 Fantasy Prospects List--Urias's starts qualify as must-see TV. Contrary to my expectations, however, I missed Urias's start because I was focused on two other games.
RHP Enyel De Los Santos of the Low-A Fort Wayne TinCaps (Padres) piqued my interest this offseason when he was traded to San Diego as part of the deal that sent reliever Joaquin Benoit to Seattle. So I decided to skip the Urias start and instead watch the Tincaps take on the Great Lakes Loons, another Dodgers affiliate. De Los Santos threw strikes and looked comfortable, hitting 96 with his fastball in the 1st inning. With one out and runner on third, he used his changeup to induce and swing-and-miss for the second out and then went back to his fastball for strike three on the next hitter to escape the inning. He finished with a solid line (3.2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K) and, true to form, threw 41 of 59 pitches for strikes. De Los Santos is nowhere near a household name even for prospect junkies and dynasty-leaguers, but I expect that to change by next offseason.
Elsewhere, I was most interested in the Double-A Texas-League match-up between Springfield (Cardinals) and Corpus Christi (Astros). RHP Lance McCullers and DH Evan Gattis were making rehab starts for Corpus Christi. McCullers, recovering from right shoulder soreness, fell behind in some counts and gave up a home run, but he ran his fastball to 96, and his sharp breaking ball got swings and misses. Gattis, meanwhile, sent a frozen-rope over the left field fence for a home run in his second at-bat. He was activated from the DL the next day. The evening's real star, however, was SS Alex Bregman, Houston's top pick, second overall, in the 2015 draft, and our #15 fantasy prospect. Bregman opened the scoring with a 2-run, first-inning HR and then won the game with a solo shot in the bottom of the 12th. As dynasty leaguers know, the biggest question with Bregman involves opportunity. With Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa entrenched in Houston's middle infield, where--and when--will Bregman play?
I was curious to see how RHP Miguel Almonte of the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers (Royals) would respond to last week's Opening-Night clunker (0.1 IP, 2 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 1 K). In a Tuesday matinee against the Round Rock Express (Rangers), Almonte had his stuff going early and looked good through four innings, but his control vanished in the fifth, when he walked three batters, including a bases-loaded, four-pitch walk to SS Jurickson Profar. Almonte's final line (4.2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 K) appears respectable, but overall the performance was uneven.
Speaking of control problems and uneven performances, I was excited to watch RHP Touki Toussaint of the Low-A Rome Braves (Braves) start the first game of an evening doubleheader against the Columbia Fireflies (Mets) of the South Atlantic League. Toussaint ranked 75th on our Consensus Top 100 Fantasy Prospects List. His plus fastball and double-plus curveball, coupled with the fact that he is still a teenager, make him a potential frontline starter. His control, however, comes and goes. In the 2nd inning he allowed walk-single-walk to Columbia's 7-8-9 hitters, nearly plunked one batter with an 0-2 curveball, and escaped a big rally only because C Lucas Herbert, another of Atlanta's promising prospects, picked off a baserunner with a snap throw to first base. In the third inning Toussaint appeared very cautious with throws to first base and even visibly frustrated by his inability to control his curveball. Then, in the 4th inning, everything came together. Toussaint looked confident as he breezed through a 1-2-3 frame with 2 strikeouts. It is worth noting that this game also featured our #87 fantasy prospect, Braves 3B Austin Riley. The teenaged prospect who stood out, however, was 18-year-old CF Ronald Acuna, who currently hits at the top of the order but whose frame and bat speed should allow him to develop some power as he matures.
Among a healthy slate of matinees, the game between the Mississippi Braves (Braves) and the Montgomery Biscuits (Rays) of the Double-A Southern League looked most appealing, in part because it featured a duel between a pair of advanced RHPs with mid-rotation upside, Mississippi's Chris Ellis and Montgomery's Jacob Faria, and in part because the Braves' Ozzie Albies, our #40 overall fantasy prospect, was in the game. Both pitchers acquitted themselves well. Faria (7 IP, 2 H, ER, 2 BB, 7 K) has added a cutter to a repertoire that already includes fastball, curve, and a plus changeup. He could join the Tampa rotation sometime next season. The same is true for Ellis (5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 K), who already had 78 innings of Double-A experience entering this season. As for Albies, his plus speed looked 80-grade on a third-inning infield single (though he subsequently was caught stealing). He and CF Mallex Smith as Atlanta's future top-of-the-order should have Braves' fans and fantasy players excited.
What I'll Watch This Weekend:
Tonight the Carolina Mudcats (Braves) of the High-A Carolina League open a four-game series at home against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Cubs). The Mudcats are led by SS Dansby Swanson, last season's #1 overall pick, along with Braxton Davidson, Atlanta's top pick from the 2014 draft. 2B Ian Happ, the Cubs' first-round pick in 2015, and SS Gleyber Torres, one of their top 2013 international signees, are the headliners for the Pelicans. Swanson (#13), Torres (#36), and Happ (#51) made our Consensus Top 100 Fantasy Prospects List. Former college standouts, Swanson and Happ could move quickly through the minors. Torres and Davidson, meanwhile, were two of the best teenagers in Low-A ball last season.
Enjoy the games!