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Hitters to watch this season currently in the minors

There will undoubtedly be some forgotten prospect that has a breakout season after starting the year in the minors. The question is, who could that be?

USA TODAY Sports/Pete Rogers Illustrations

After Peter O’Brien got sent down to the minor leagues this spring, I got the idea of writing up a post on potential minor league sleepers who could make a difference in redraft leagues this season. I chose not to write about guys inside the top-100, like Vladimir Guerrero, Kyle Tucker, and Nick Senzel, as they are obvious must-starts once they get called up to the big leagues. I also didn’t write about Austin Hays, Ian Happ, and Willie Calhoun because they have also gotten a lot of press this spring, but they would also be some players to watch out for as well. Although I don’t expect all these guys to make a difference this season, it is imperative to at least pinpoint who could be on the verge of a breakout, as we have seen many players get called up to the majors and become fantasy darlings in a matter of weeks. For examples, you can just look at guys like Max Muncy, Tommy Pham, Chris Taylor, and Whit Merrifield. All these guys were all but forgotten and burst on the scene out of nowhere. So the question is, who could be that guy this season?

Austin Allen, C, San Diego Padres

Catcher is an ugly position, and there isn’t much to get excited about surrounding the position. I thought about writing about Chance Sisco or Garrett Stubbs, but I see some major flaws in each one’s game that would keep them from producing what we would like to see. Allen, on the other hand, has a promising batted ball profile, exceptional raw power, and plate skills that won’t keep his tools from playing in-game. He is currently blocked by a defensive minded catcher in Austin Hedges and an offensive catcher in Francisco Mejia, but I could see him getting the call if they need more depth at the position.

Kevin Cron, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

Cron doesn’t offer much other than cheap power, but that power output could be immense. He does have a lot of swing and miss, which is evidenced by his 16.1% swinging strike rate last season, and his fly ball heavy approach will offset any good done by his promising line drive rate. With a potential batting average drain, Cron isn’t a must add on the waiver wire if he gets a shot with the Diamondbacks. But with if you need some cheap power, Cron could be your guy.

Matt Thaiss, 1B, Los Angeles Angels

I have been a big fan of Thaiss ever since the Angels took him with the 16th overall pick back in 2016. He has shown solid skills at the plate throughout the minor leagues and has more raw power than his home run totals would infer. His ability to drive the ball to all fields should help maintain a healthy batting average at the major league level, and his healthy fly ball rate and shortened fence in left field should help his power play up in games. With Ohtani, Bour, and Pujols all currently on the major league roster, there isn’t a clear path to playing time for Thaiss. It is worth noting, although you never hope for injuries, all three of these players’ careers have been plagued with them. So there is still a chance he is up in the big leagues if he improves his overall power numbers.

Peter O’Brien, 1B, Miami Marlins

Just got called up on 3/31/19

If you thought O’Brien’s demotion to Triple-A would stop me from talking about the Marlins’ version of Paul Bunyan, then you would be mistaken. This is a guy who I stated before had similar peripherals to Aaron Judge over his 74 plate appearance sample size. Now, do I expect him to maintain a .273 batting average at the major league level? Of course not, but with improvements to his line drive rate and tremendous raw power, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on pace for 40+ home runs while also maintaining a batting average around .240. To put that into perspective, that is around Joey Gallo level production, who was going inside the top-100 in most preseason drafts. I will be paying close attention to his line drive rate in the minors this season, and as long as it stays above 20.0%, then I’m fine buying back into the power-hitting outfielder as there aren’t many other players out there with his type of potential.

Rangel Ravelo, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are known for taking 20-something-year-old “nobodies” and turning them into postseason heroes. Ravelo could fit that profile in 2019. With above-average plate skills, a fair amount of raw power, and a batted ball profile that should help lead to encouraging BABIP numbers, he could be this season’s version of Jose Martinez. Now before you get too excited, it is worth noting that the Cardinals depth throughout the organization will make it hard for him to become an everyday starter. If he keeps improving on his power numbers and gets the call to the big leagues, then he’ll be an intriguing sleeper to keep an eye on.

Andy Young, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks

Young has quietly been putting up solid minor league numbers since he was drafted with the 1126th overall pick by the Cardinals in 2016. He has yet to have a wRC+ below 110 at any level, which includes a 137 and 160 wRC+ between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He seemed to take the next step last season as he lowered his strikeout rate to a respectable 17.0%, which was backed by a lower swinging strike rate. He features above-average power which should play up in games due to his fly ball rates and high amount of batted ball events. He won’t offer much in the speed department, but should more than makeup for that with his bat. With the Diamondbacks’ fire sale this offseason, it looks like Young could see some time on the major league roster this season. Here’s to hoping he can become the Diamondbacks everyday second baseman by season’s end, and doesn’t have to spend his spare time Ubering Bogman and The Welsh around this spring.

Esteban Quiroz, 2B, San Diego Padres

Quiroz is another player who suffers from what I call the Jed Lowrie Effect. He doesn’t have one standout tool, which will likely cause many people to overlook the 5’9” 27-year-old, but he is a darling to projection systems as he does everything well and doesn’t really have many flaws surrounding his game. He does have incredible bat speed and plate skills, which ultimately produced a 178 wRC+ at Double-A last season. With his skill set, I see a profile similar to Jed Lowrie. This might not be the comp you want to hear for an emerging prospect, but Lowrie’s high floor is what makes him so enticing. If Quiroz can somehow emerge as the Padres’ everyday second baseman, then I will be spending all my FAAB to make sure he is manning my corner infield spot on all my fantasy teams.

Luis Rengifo, 2B, Los Angeles Angels

Rengifo went from a mostly unknown minor league commodity to deep sleeper after hitting seven home runs and stealing 41 bases while also hitting for a .299 batting average with above-average plate skills. The Angels second base job isn’t necessarily set in stone with David Fletcher, so we could see Rengifo sneak into the lineup halfway through the season. If he can somehow get into the Angels lineup this season, then I would seriously consider adding him to your fantasy team as he has 15/30 upside and could post a batting average north of .270.

Ramon Urias, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals have been known for their minor league depth and year to year breakouts. Urias could be the next Cardinal unknown to breakout this season and could be used in a sort of super-utility role like they did with Yairo Munoz last season. He has a fair amount of raw power, that should play up in games due to his decent fly ball tendencies and high amount of batted ball events. His aggressive approach at the plate will likely cause him to have a sub-par walk rate, but should also help him maintain a strikeout rate around league average as he won’t go down looking very often. He should have an above-average batted ball profile that will likely lead to an above-average BABIP. He is currently blocked by a Cardinals infield that boasts some pretty impressive names, but I could see a situation in which Urias is able to get some at-bats in the major leagues.

Lucas Erceg, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers

Erceg’s prospect status hasn’t seemed to change all that much since being drafted in the second round by the Brewers in 2016. With his raw power, ability to make consistent contact, hit the ball in the air, and hitter-friendly home park, he could be on pace for 20+ home runs once he makes his debut. He has been a low BABIP player the past two seasons, and this trend will likely continue in 2019. Even with that low BABIP, Erceg could become 20+ home run .250 hitter if he gets the call this season, which is nothing to scoff at.

Nick Tanielu, 3B, Houston Astros

I know we aren’t supposed to pay much attention to Spring Training stats, but Tanielu’s .353/.411/.804 line with a complementary five home runs in just 55 plate appearances sure caught my eye. He is a contact-oriented hitter who will likely have a walk rate well below league average. His swing helps him keep his bat in the zone for an extended period of time, which should help him maintain that low strikeout rate at the major league level. The thing I am most intrigued about is this newfound power we saw this spring. If he can maintain his power gains throughout the 2019 season, then we could be looking at a potential breakout from the 26-year-old third baseman. With the Astros depth, however, there isn’t a clear path to everyday at-bats even if he starts a breakout campaign at Triple-A this season, but that’s what we said about Tyler White as well, so don’t completely give up on this potential diamond in the rough.

Tyler Saladino, SS, Milwaukee Brewers

I talked a little bit about Saladino this preseason as a potentially deep league sleeper and was honestly kind of surprised that he didn’t make the Opening Day lineup. After joining the Brewers in a trade with the Chicago White Sox, he made some minor swing changes to engage more of his lower half as he did in the early minors. He did this to produce more raw power, and the result was a career-high 43.2% hard contact rate. With this hard contact rate, however, came a concerning 71.2% contact rate and 29.5% strikeout rate, which was by far the lowest of his career. My guess is that the Brewers likely sent Saladino down to Triple-A to work on making more consistent contact. If he does improve his contact rate this season, then the 29-year-old could be on the verge of a breakout season.

Alex Dickerson, OF, San Diego Padres

The Padres’ promising young prospects have garnered a lot of well-deserved attention this spring, but the player I’m most excited about in their farm system is a 28-year-old outfielder who hasn’t played a game since 2016. Dickerson has been plagued with injuries the past two seasons, which has kept him on the sidelines. This season the Padres resigned the oft-injured outfielder to a minor league contract hoping he could regain his 2016 form. He is someone who profiles similarly to Jed Lowrie or Anthony Rendon, which is a heck of profile for a guy left off the 40-man roster. If he can come back healthy in 2019, then he has the potential to be a .275 hitter with 25+ home run potential. With so many great outfield options and Eric Hosmer handling the first base duties, it is hard to see how Dickerson fits into the team’s plans. Hopefully, he can set the PCL ablaze and get shipped to a team in need of some outfield depth. If he gets an everyday job on a major league roster, then he is a must add off the waiver wire.

Clint Frazier, OF, New York Yankees

Just got called up on 4/1/19

It looked like Frazier could make the Opening Day roster after Aaron Hicks went down. The Yankees seem to hate him, however, as they have continued to find ways to block him. He has posted a career hard contact rate of 38.9% over his 113 batted ball events and is mostly known for his power. With a healthy fly ball rate and hitter-friendly home park, he could be on pace to hit 30 home runs this season, but that power potential does come with some swing and miss, which will likely keep his batting average lingering somewhere around the .250 range. With a strong showing in Triple-A this season, however, Frazier could force the Yankees hand and see some regular at-bats with the team later on into the season.

Dustin Fowler, OF, Oakland Athletics

The Athletics easily have one of the deepest outfields in all of baseball, which is excellent if you are an A’s fan, but sucks if you go by the name Dustin Fowler. With a 40.1% hard contact rate and a sprint in the 92nd percentile, there is already a lot to get excited about, but his 80.0% contact rate last season and ability to drive the ball makes him a potential diamond in the rough. With all these factors, Fowler has a legitimate shot to be on pace for a 20/20 season while also maintaining a batting average north of .260. Fowler is easily one my favorite sleepers going into the season, and is a must add off the waiver wire if he can get everyday at-bats.

Jake Fraley, OF, Seattle Mariners

Fraley was acquired by Dealin’ Dipoto this offseason, and I absolutely love the move. Based on his past track record in the minor leagues, you wouldn’t think he is much of a power hitter, but watching him hit makes me believe he could hit 15+ home runs at the major league level. His speed also gives him 20+ steal potential and makes enough contact and should have a good enough batted ball profile to not weigh you down in batting average. I don’t know if it will be this season, but I see a 15/20 season in the future for the 23-year-old outfielder.

Jason Martin, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

It seems like the Jason Martin hype train has been around for about a decade now and that’s not far off. Although Martin is going into his seventh season as a professional, he will still only be 23 years old. His swing looks like that of a power hitter as he can get under the ball consistently, giving him the potential of a 25+ home run hitter. He has been pretty aggressive on the basepaths in the minors, but expect him to be a little bit more passive on the bases in the major leagues as he was caught stealing on 50.0% of his attempts last season. His plate skills are a tad below average, and he will likely have around a 25.0% strikeout rate and 7.0% walk rate once he gets the call. He probably won’t set the world on fire once he makes the major league roster, but could quietly be on pace for a 25/10 season.

Joe McCarthy, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

McCarthy is one of those guys that could fall into the Jed Lowrie category, as someone that does everything pretty well, but doesn’t have any exceptional skill. As I stated above, I love these types of guys, and honestly, think these are the players that could return the most value. McCarthy is a very disciplined hitter who has drawn impressive walk rates throughout his minor league career. He has above-average raw power, which in-turn helped him hit eight home runs over his 191 plate appearances at Triple-A last season. His speed doesn’t draw great grades from scouts, but he has been pretty good on the bases throughout his minor league career, with 61 stolen bases on 75 attempts. He doesn’t feature a lot of swing and miss in his game, but his disciplined approach at the plate could cause that strikeout rate to creep up to the 24.0% range. With his ability to hit and take walks, McCarthy honestly offers 90 runs and RBIs over a full season’s worth of plate appearances.

Myles Straw, OF, Houston Astros

If you haven’t learned yet, the Astros are very good at discovering and developing talent, and Straw is yet another Astros prospect to get excited about this season. He is a disciplined hitter that makes consistent contact. He doesn’t have much power potential, but you aren’t going to be drafting him for that. Straw is very fast and ranked in the 98th percentile in sprint speed. His speed and ability to get on-base help him steal 72 bases last season on 81 attempts. Now obviously the Astros’ outfield is oozing with talent, but the Astros seem to really like their 24-year-old due to his plate discipline and above-average defense. If he can get an everyday role with the team, make sure to give him an add off the waiver wire as this guy has the potential to become the league leader in steals.

Oscar Mercado, OF, Cleveland Indians

Mercado caught a lot of people’s attention this spring as he slashed .400/.415/.750 with three home runs in just 41 plate appearances. His speed-power combo is what makes him an intriguing fantasy option as he has 15/30 potential. His plate skills are anywhere from average to a tad above-average, and shouldn’t weigh you down in batting average. With the Indians seemingly trying to tear down their championship team from a few years ago, Mercado has an excellent opportunity to take an everyday role patrolling the outfield.

Phillip Ervin, OF, Cincinnati Reds

I honestly love Ervin’s skill set for fantasy purposes and think he is one of the most underrated bats at the position. I got a chance to write about him in my Five Tool Players of Fantasy Baseball as he would’ve broken into the elite group of five had it not be for a sub-par contact rate at the major league level. With a 34.6% hard contact rate, a healthy fly ball rate, a disciplined approach at the plate, and a sprint speed in the 76th percentile, Ervin is a threat to flirt with a 20/20 as soon as 2019. Sadly, it looks like the Reds are hesitant to give him everyday at-bats as they acquired two proven veterans from the Dodgers this offseason and are currently working Nick Senzel in the outfield so that he can take over the starting center field spot. If the Reds do decide to give Ervin a shot in the outfield, however, then I would strongly recommend spending some FAAB on the 26-year-old as he likely won’t disappoint.

Tyrone Taylor, OF, Milwaukee Brewers

Taylor was never really seen as a power hitter, but last season he hit 20 home runs with a .226 ISO in just 481 plate appearances. Although his raw power doesn’t draw great grades from scouts, his fly ball rates and high amount of batted ball events should help keep pace for 20+ home runs. With that power also comes some speed, as he was able to swipe 13 bags last season as well. Although he has shown an ability to make consistent contact throughout the minors, he will likely have a batting average around the .250 mark due to his batted ball profile. With his profile, we could see him become a 20/15 player with a batting average around .250 range, which would make him a starter on most 12-team roto leagues.