Welcome back, Baseball Fans!
We are comfortably into the regular season after two full weeks of “real” baseball and our first Red Sox/Yankees brawl. This gets me all excited and teases of things to look forward to this season. Hopefully, fantasy owners haven’t already abandoned their preseason strategy after the litany of injuries and star power struggles to start the season.
Another exciting development is the start of the minor league season this past week. There isn’t much to comment about after just one week of statistics, but there have been some interesting developments none-the-less. Since I am covering MiLB hitters over the next two months, there are two developments worthy of commenting on before we get to the players in the spotlight for this week.
First, one of the most exciting hitting prospects this year, Victor Robles, had quite the scare diving for a fly ball this week. The Nationals top prospect and Top 10 overall prospect on every site caught a break as he was diagnosed with just a hyperextended elbow. I’ll be honest, when I saw the replay, I thought he was done for the year. This comes on the heels of an injury to Adam Eaton which may have given Robles an opportunity to be promoted and get some time in Washington. It’s too bad as he had put up video game stats in his first four games at AAA Syracuse before the injury. He had 5 hits and 2 walks in 15 plate appearances for an OBP around 47%. Yeah, it’s only four games and it’s early, but he appears ready to do some damage at the Major League level as a potential five-tool player. Here’s to a speedy recovery.
The second development was a little more subtle but equally as significant. The Reds announced on Tuesday (4/10) that they were officially moving top prospect, Nick Senzel, back to 3B. After the extension to Eugenio Suarez, it was believed that Senzel was getting reps at the keystone so he would have a faster track to Cincinnati. Suarez’s fractured thumb may have changed these plans as the team is running out Cliff Pennington at 3B in the meantime. Rumor has it that Senzel may be joining the team over the weekend and now is the time to get those claims in for him although he may be gone in most leagues by now. Senzel has moved quickly after his first season of pro ball in 2017 after being selected as the #2 overall pick by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2016 amateur draft. As we can see from the swing analysis that he has all the tools to be a successful hitter at the Major League level. He may only be up for a taste to cover an injury, but if he does well, it may be hard to send him back down as he should be passing the Super Two threshold shortly.
Now it is time to highlight a couple players out of the Central divisions that are primed for impact in the Big Leagues in 2018.
Francisco Mejia, C (CLE)
The top Catching prospect going into the 2018 season is 22-year-old Francisco Mejia. He is entering his fifth season of pro ball after jumping from AA to get a “cup of coffee” with the big club late in 2017. Mejia is wisely starting out the season in AAA, but not simply to get more reps in at the plate and work on his skills behind the plate. The Indians are actually experimenting with him in LF during early season action after moving him to 3B during the Arizona Fall League after the 2017 season. Why are they trying to add all this defensive flexibility? Cleveland thinks his bat is ready for the Majors and moving him out of Catcher could expedite that call.
If you are looking at his scouting report, you would find he has a plus hit tool, plus arm, average power with below average run and fielding. In a rare occurrence, Fangraphs actually has his current run tool as average (50) and a future value of below average (45). Thanks to his 7 stolen bases last year, he is exceeding projections already. His raw power is slightly above average but his game power still has some development left. He did hit 14 HRs in AA last year, but it was his first season in double-digit HRs. If he maxes out at 15-20 HRs at the Major League level as a Catcher, you sign up for that eight days a week.
His hit tool is the most exciting element of his game. He is an advanced contact hitter from both sides of the plate, however, he is more dominant from the left side. He can be a little too aggressive at times which limits his walks, but he doesn’t strikeout very much. He puts the ball in play to all fields with a lot of hard contact which should lead to many extra-base hits. The power is developing and the dream of getting a slash line of .300/.340/.500 from a Catcher is not crazy. He had a 50 game hitting streak in 2016 and his overall stats in 2017 were even better.
So why the desire to move him around the field? I don’t get paid the big bucks to make these kinds of decisions, but it seems like they may be making a “Kyle Schwarber” type of mistake here. The main difference is Mejia has a cannon for an arm and is not lost defensively. He just needs more work at it. He already hits at an All-Star level as a Catcher, but needs some work with his plate skills. Why not give him one more year to do that and enjoy his 30% throw-out rate as a perk for your patience. He has shown slow by steady improvement and won’t embarrass himself behind the plate. If you move him to LF or 3B, he then profiles as a below average power hitter with a good hit tool but doesn’t get on base enough to offset the lack of power. Taking him out from behind the plate will take away some of what makes him a special player. I know Cleveland isn’t deep in their minor league system at any of these positions, but they don’t need him at the Major League level right now as they can win without him. That being said, I expect Cleveland to get him back up by mid-season and if he shows success with the bat, he may stay up for good. You definitely want to grab him before the call as sliding someone with that potential impact with Catcher eligibility can put your fantasy team over the top down the stretch.
Austin Meadows, OF (PIT)
Meadows was drafted #9 overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of a Georgia high school in the 2013 amateur draft. Ever since then, it’s been potential and injury. He has missed significant parts of the last three seasons due to hamstring injuries. It is a disturbing trend that has caused his stock to drop in dynasty leagues. None-the-less, the Pirates moved franchise favorite, Andrew McCutchen, this off-season to get something in return before his impending free agency and to clear the path for their top hitting prospect to get playing time in Pittsburgh. Now its time for Meadows to prove he can stay healthy and take advantage of the opportunity.
He has been a Centerfielder throughout his five seasons in pro ball. This was due mostly to his athleticism and speed. At 6’3″, 200 lbs., he has the look and feel of a potential star. His Field and Throw tools are average at best, perhaps a little below average, but his potential at the plate always outweighed any defensive liability. He features a plus hit tool with above-average speed and power potential. The lefty has a very smooth swing with a line-drive, contact approach. His advanced approach and plate discipline gives him the best of both worlds: he takes walks and avoids striking out. He hasn’t shown in-game power to any consistent extent in his pro career, but he can certainly develop into that as he matures. He has struggled in the upper levels of the Minor Leagues to lay off breaking pitches out of the strike zone. This is the one thing that still causes some weak contact. Once he recognizes these pitches and lays off them, he will be ready to take the next step and thrive in the Majors. He has 20 HR potential along with 20 SB potential, however, there is some concern that the consistent soft tissue injuries will start to affect his speed and could even limit him to LF. In a perfect world, Meadows shows a mastery of AAA pitching and stays healthy for a mid-season call-up to take over CF and allow Starling Marte to go back to LF. This creates another potential powerhouse Pittsburgh OF, but there is no guarantee that the injury history will ever allow him to reach his potential. He is heading down the Michael Brantley path of a productive and dangerous player that can never make it through a full season. Hopefully, this is not the case because he could be a difference maker for fantasy teams down the stretch if the stars align. Keep tabs on him as you shouldn’t have to overspend on him to acquire his services later in the season.
I love guys with strong hit tools and both of these guys qualify. There is some risk with both (rushing Mejia and injuries for Meadows), but their production could pay off big. Next week, we tackle two intriguing MiLB hitters from out West.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Thursday April 12th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #114 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Joe Iannone. Joe is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com. He focuses on spot starting pitchers for the coming week. His articles publish every Sunday morning at 7 am EST. One of our most popular writers so be sure to check him out.