Welcome back, Baseball Fans!
We are through one month of baseball and it is time to evaluate if hot starts are legitimate (Didi for MVP!!!) or if poor starts should become a major concern (Francisco Lindor???). In covering the minor leagues, there is really no difference. Did the player figure it out after a return trip to a certain level? Did the player change an approach or mechanic? Did the player simply have a hot (or cold) streak to start the season and will return to status quo as the season progresses? The great thing about prospects is that by nature they are expected to develop and we can optimistically speculate that they are “breaking out.” This is also why predicting the success of prospects is often a crapshoot. We can’t rely on the “back of their baseball card” to determine where they will end up at the end of the season. We need to analyze history against trends and consider projected tools to determine if we are going to buy into a prospect. With all that being said, Minor League Musings will continue our series of looking at hitting prospects that fantasy owners should begin to take note of.
Now we don’t need another article on Ronald Acuna and other Top 10 hitting prospects. The internet is saturated with that already type of content and most leagues including redraft already have him on rosters. Instead, we will spend the next five weeks checking in on different leagues in the upper levels of the Minor leagues to see who might be the next Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Judge, or Cody Bellinger. This week we look at the Eastern League made up of twelve AA teams divided into two divisions. The AA level is where I really start paying attention to whether a player can live up to their potential. In general, it has the highest percentage of top talent out of all the levels as top prospects often spend little time in AAA and sometimes skip it altogether. AA often holds the fiercest competition and the greatest breakouts. This week we will look at two of the hottest hitters in the Eastern League to start the season and discuss whether these performances are a taste of things to come or an early season mirage.
Peter Alonso, 1B (NYM)
Our first stop brings us to Binghamton, NY, home of the Rumble Ponies. I swear some of these minor league teams must have a wager to see who can come up with the weirdest names. It seems like team names change all the time and they are getting dumber and dumber. Anyway, Binghamton has one of the most popular minor league hitters of all time…Tim Tebow. Of course, that is not who we will be discussing, rather 1B, Peter Alonso, who is a top hitting prospect in the New York Mets organization and a Top 10 overall 1B on most prospect sites. That being said, he does not get a lot of fanfare outside the dynasty baseball community, but it might be time for that to change. Drafted in the 2nd Round of the 2016 MLB draft out of the University of Florida, Alonso is just entering his 3rd season of pro ball and has made an impression. Despite breaking his hand last April and missing all Spring due to that injury, he managed 18 HRs in 353 at-bats over two levels. He was probably hampered by that hand most of the season so that power output could have been even higher. In essence, he is a Right-Handed power hitting 1B with very little defense to offer. Traditionally, this isn’t a great formula for success at the Major League level, but he is looking to follow in Hoskins’ footsteps in changing that stereotype. He is probably best suited for the American League where he can DH and not be a liability in the field but my gut feeling is the Mets will find a way to get him in their lineup when he’s ready for The Show. He can produce enough to warrant everyday at-bats.
His scouting report has suggested that his power is his only plus tool with fielding and speed considerably below average. This has led many to overlook him as one of the more popular prospects. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.
|2016||Mets (A-)||30||123||5||20||21||8.9 %||17.9 %||.266||.321||.382||.587||.447||184|
|2017||Mets (A+)||82||346||16||45||58||7.2 %||18.5 %||.231||.286||.361||.516||.402||157|
|2017||Mets (AA)||11||47||2||7||5||4.3 %||14.9 %||.267||.311||.340||.578||.399||149|
|2018||Mets (AA)||16||68||3||11||10||14.7 %||19.1 %||.268||.357||.456||.625||.485||218|
Not included in the above stats, courtesy of Fangraphs is the 2 for 3 he went on Wednesday night (4/25) including a Home Run. Alonso shows right off the bat that he is a contact hitter with a less than 20% K rate throughout his career. This is a plus for a power hitter. He has a good approach but can be overly aggressive at times which will lead him to swing at pitches out of the zone leading to soft outs. The excellent trend that is new this year is the 14.7% BB rate. If this patience continues, he could well keep this hit tool into the Majors. Not shown above is his OPS of 1.157. This is due not only to his HR power but the ability to hit extra-base hits. In 2017, he chipped in an additional 28 extra-base hits to his 18 HRs. His April has been fantastic with 10 of his 22 hits going for extra-bases, 12 BB and 13 Ks. If this approach continues, he could have regular slash lines in the Majors around .280/.350/.475 with 30+ HRs. This is the type of power that the Mets crave in their lineup. He is not there yet. I anticipate him spending most if not all of 2018 in AA. His time in AAA could be short and a mid-2019 ETA is a fair estimate. Adrian Gonzalez will not stand in his way. His contract is up at the end of this season. Dom Smith, once a highly rated prospect, does not have Peter’s upside and should concede 1B once the Mets bring Alonso up. I expect him to rocket up the Top 100 if he continues this breakout campaign. Stash him now if you can (keeper/dynasty leagues) because the price will go up soon.
Cavan Biggio, 2B (TOR)
Our other stop this week will be just north of Binghamton to Manchester, NH, home of my favorite all-time president (fictional or otherwise), Josiah Bartlet. These days, Manchester is buzzing over their AA baseball team which is an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. They have a unique thing going on there where 3/4 of their infield is the offspring of former All-Star Major Leaguers (including two Hall of Famers). Pretty much all baseball fans are familiar with Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette who are both Top 10 prospects in all of baseball. The lesser known of the trio is Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer, Craig Biggio. Despite not being listed on a single organizational top prospect list, Cavan has the 2nd highest OPS in the Eastern League this season to date behind only Peter Alonso. The former had some expectation, but Biggio is playing out of his mind right now. The 5th Round draft pick in 2016, was likely selected for his bloodlines more than this projected tools. His father was a gritty, pain-in-the-ass gamer that drove pitchers crazy. The Jays are hoping Cavan can develop into something similar. After a non-descript first two seasons of pro ball, Biggio is keeping up with his more famous infield teammates with a recent power surge (3 HRs in 3 days this week).
|2016||Blue Jays (A-)||238||0||24||21||9||12.2 %||11.8 %||.084||.282||.382||.366||.365||118|
|2016||Blue Jays (A)||42||0||3||5||2||9.5 %||16.7 %||.028||.222||.310||.250||.274||72|
|2017||Blue Jays (A+)||556||11||75||60||11||13.3 %||25.2 %||.130||.233||.342||.363||.331||109|
|2018||Blue Jays (AA)||62||4||12||14||3||12.9 %||21.0 %||.392||.333||.435||.725||.507||233|
As you can clearly see, 2018 is an anomaly compared to his first two seasons. ISO of .392 and SLG of .725 cannot be maintained even by top power hitters, but this is totally fine as the Jays drafted him for his pedigree, leadership, versatility and plate discipline. This year he is batting leadoff ahead of Bichette and Guerrero and it is turning into a murderer’s row. So far he has 11 extra-base hits out of 17 hits. He strikes out just over 20% but he gets on base 45% of the time. Like his father, he looks for his pitch and doesn’t give away outs. I like his potential to be an excellent Major League player. However, I’m not sure the fantasy stats will follow suit. I believe this hot start is too inflated and we will see more of a .265/.350/.400 slash line with about 10 HRs and 15 SB in his more productive years. He can play anywhere in the field (ironically other than catcher which is what his father came into the league as). If he can keep the doubles power with his hard-nosed mentality, he will be a productive super-utility player in most fantasy leagues. This is great news for me as all my leagues are deep and there is value in this skill set. I just caution you that the current power streak will come down to earth. It does make for a great story.