Fantasy Baseball Prospects Report: Michael Kopech making a comeback
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It was fun, right? The whole Kyle Tucker saga.
We got all excited. He started a couple times. Didn’t do much. Stopped starting. And then just Wednesday, the Astros sent him back down.
I can see you’re turning cartwheels.
Clearly, the Astros weren’t either, but they disrupted his playing time so much that it’s fair to say they didn’t give him a great chance to succeed.
“When he didn’t have immediate success, that can pile up on you a little bit. I saw the frustration start to grow with him,” manager A.J. Hinch told the Houston Chronicle. “From a development purpose, we really need Tucker to play every day.”
There’s reason to think he’ll return soon, though, which is why the 21-year-old immediately goes back in my …
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Eloy Jimenez, OF, White Sox
2017 minors: .312 BA (333 AB), 19 HR, 22 2B, .947 OPS, 35 BB, 72 K
2018 minors: .337 BA (306 AB), 18 HR, 23 2B, .988 OPS, 26 BB, 51 K
First thing’s first, though: Jimenez is doing stupid things at Triple-A Charlotte. In 27 games there, he’s batting .376 with eight homers and a 1.116 OPS. In 15 since his return from a groin strain, he’s batting .433 (26 for 60) with six homers and a 1.303 OPS. He’s doing exactly the kinds of things that should tell the parent club he’s too good for his level, and since the next level’s the big leagues, well …
“You can look at a box score and say, ‘This guy looks like he’s doing well, looks like he’s ready,’ [but] the checklist we want these guys to answer is a little more lengthy. And not until they’ve answered all those questions will we promote them,” general manager Rick Hahn told the Chicago Tribune. “They know what’s on the list. I’m not going to sit here and tell you things our players can’t do.”
So that tells us … nothing. Absolutely nothing. And maybe that’s the idea: stall until the middle of next April so they can finagle another year of control out of it. It’s what the Cubs did with Kris Bryant when he looked ready for a promotion late in 2014 and what the Braves did with Ronald Acuna late last year. Then again, there’s also the case of Rhys Hoskins, who didn’t get the call until Aug. 10 of last year and was arguably the biggest thing in Fantasy Baseball the rest of the way.
I’m holding. Fingers crossed.
Vladimir Guerrero, 3B, Blue Jays
2017 minors: .323 BA (437 AB), 13 HR, 28 2B, .910 OPS, 76 BB, 62 K
2018 minors: .398 BA (251 AB), 14 HR, 22 2B, 1.111 OPS, 25 BB, 30 K
Guerrero’s historic 2018 looked like it was escalating toward a big-league promotion until he strained the patellar tendon in his knee and missed six weeks. He had to hit the ground running upon his return July 13 to have any hope of forcing the issue still, especially given his 19 years of age, and he appears to be doing just that, batting .348 (16 for 46) with three homers and a 1.034 OPS in 13 games. Even so, it feels like something of a long shot now, especially since the Blue Jays might hesitate to introduce their third baseman of the future while still holding out hope for a Josh Donaldson return. But now that Guerrero is at Triple-A, all it would take is the right whisper in the ear of Mark Shapiro or GM Ross Atkins.
Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros
2018 minors: .304 BA (329 AB), 14 HR, 14 SB, .886 OPS, 36 BB, 70 K
2018 majors: .156 BA (45 AB), 1 3B, 1 2B, 1 SB, .462 OPS, 4 BB, 10 K
The timing of the Tucker demotion was interesting to me. Yes, the Astros probably realized that hiding him on their bench probably wasn’t the best thing for his development, but they only demoted him when their primary center fielder, George Springer, was banged up, which tells me it had a little something to do with their level of confidence in Tucker out there vs. the man who replaced him, Jake Marisnick. More from Hinch:
“The adjustability, the swing, where they were attacking him with pitches and with defensive shifts gave him a quick glimpse of what he’s going to need to do to be successful at this level,” the manager said. “We just felt like it was better for him to go down and play, continue to develop, take the lessons that he learned here and hopefully come back soon.”
How much does he have to learn? Well, Tucker struck out only 20 percent of the time in his brief major-league trial. He had a .200 BABIP. Maybe a few too many ground balls, but he made hard contact. It seemed like correction was coming if the Astros had just stuck with him, which is why I think you should stick with him in the hope of a quick return.
Austin Meadows, OF, Rays
2018 minors: .279 BA (165 AB), 2 HR, 11 SB, .712 OPS, 9 BB, 24 K
2018 majors: .292 BA (154 AB), 5 HR, 4 SB, .795 OPS, 8 BB, 35 K
Meadows’ demotion to Triple-A following his acquisition in the Chris Archer deal was surprising given the success he has already had at the big-league level this year. But most of his production came back in May, in his first couple weeks on the job. Once the man he was replacing, Gregory Polanco, returned to the lineup, Meadows slipped into a four-man outfield rotation and things fell apart from there. Still, his-line drive rate was elite during the darkest stretches, and you have to like the pedigree. With only Mallex Smith standing in his way, the return will come sooner than later, and it’ll yield everyday at-bats this time.
Michael Kopech, SP, White Sox
2017 minors: 9-8, 2.88 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 134 1/3 IP, 65 BB, 172 K
2018 minors: 4-7, 4.15 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 106 1/3 IP, 60 BB, 143 K
Hahn’s comments about Jimenez having a checklist to complete were also applicable to Kopech, who’s back in the promotion conversation after a radical turnaround in his past four starts. I made reference to itProspect’s Report, a conversation with Triple-A pitching coach Steve McCatty about borderline calls on 3-2 counts that appeared to put Kopech on the right path.
“The pitches you complained about, yes, they could have been strike threes and I thought they were,” McCatty said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “But you have to remember: You were in 3-2 counts, and who got you there?”
Now in four starts since that conversation, Kopech has issued just four walks compared to 32 strikeouts in 24 innings, which is a far cry from his 6.1 walks per nine innings over his first 17 appearances. Armed with the best stuff in all the minors, he surely would be in the majors if his control hadn’t been so awful those first three months. It’s not too late yet.
Five on the periphery
(These are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Jo Adell, OF, Angels
2017 minors: .325 BA (203 AB), 5 HR, 8 SB, .908 OPS, 48 BB, 156 K
2018 minors: .303 BA (337 AB), 19 HR, 13 SB, .936 OPS, 26 BB, 90 K
Much like Acuna last year, Adell has been this year’s teenager speeding through the minor-league ranks, homering in his first game at his third stop of the year, Double-A Mobile on Tuesday. The power has developed quickly, and the hit and speed tools are both good enough to make him a five-category contributor someday. His plate discipline could stand to improve, but if Vladimir Guerrero doesn’t get the call at the end of this season, it wouldn’t surprise me if Adell is part of the best-of-the-rest conversation heading into next year.
Taylor Ward, C, Angels
2017 minors: .258 BA (326 AB), 9 HR, 0 SB, .757 OPS, 57 BB, 60 K
2018 minors: .349 BA (338 AB), 14 HR, 17 SB, .985 OPS, 59 BB, 84 K
The Angels have another potential impact bat who’s already beating down the door to the big leagues in Ward, who was mostly regarded for his defense behind the plate coming into the season. It’s what made the Angels’ decision to move him to third base at the start of the year so surprising. Based on his work in team facilities this offseason, they apparently decided that the physical demands of catching were robbing him of his offensive potential.
“I think seeing how I was as a fresh baseball player and the things I could do with stolen bases, pure athleticism, the things I could do opened their eyes to the possibilities,” Ward told MLB.com. “Plus, I could protect the shoulder I’d hurt in the past, and I was going to get, maybe, 150 more at-bats by playing infield.”
Clearly, it’s worked, because Ward has been a monster at the plate this season. And it’s not just a PCL thing. His percentages were nearly identical before a midseason promotion from Double-A Mobile. The Ian Kinsler trade creates a potential opening for Taylor at the big-league level, but there’s still a question of whether he’s ready defensively.
Victor Robles, OF, Nationals
2017 minors: .300 BA (430 AB), 10 HR, 27 SB, .875 OPS, 37 BB, 84 K
2018 minors: .288 BA (73 AB), 1 HR, 10 SB, .765 OPS, 12 BB, 11 K
Considered one of the elite prospects coming into the season, Robles would have been ahead of Juan Soto in the pecking order if he hadn’t hyperextended his elbow the first week of the season, costing him three months. He’s back now, showing a good batting eye and plenty of aggression on the base paths. He hasn’t flashed much power, but it’s not even 100 at-bats to his name yet. Considering he saw some time in the majors last year, I don’t think the Nationals would hesitate to call on him were an injury to force Michael Taylor into their everyday lineup, but Robles would need to show his swing is back to form first.
Ian Anderson, SP, Braves
2017 minors: 4-5, 3.14 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 83 IP, 43 BB, 101 K
2018 minors: 2-5, 2.57 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 94 2/3 IP, 36 BB, 113 K
Granted, we’ve made this claim for a few pitchers already, but Anderson is doing the sort of things that suggest he may well be the most prized arm of the Braves’ rebuild effort. The third overall pick in 2016 threw 7 2/3 no-hit innings in his last start Wednesday, and even though he struck out only five then, he has 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings this season. There are still some modest control issues to sort out, but seeing as he’s working with three plus pitches at age 20, he’s developing just fine.
Brent Rooker, OF, Twins
2017 minors: .281 BA (228 AB), 18 HR, 11 2B, .930 OPS, 27 BB, 68 K
2018 minors: .278 BA (396 AB), 20 HR, 28 2B, .865 OPS, 39 BB, 121 K
Power is Rooker’s calling card, and after a slow start in what was an aggressive Double-A assignment at the start of the year, he has clearly found his groove over the past couple months, batting .314 with 13 homers and a 1.023 OPS since the start of June. The strikeouts are concerning, and he doesn’t have the overall upside of fellow Twins outfield prospect Alex Kirilloff. But Rooker looks destined to be a big-league regular and should be rostered in most dynasty leagues.