Back to square one, I guess.
Mainstays in my Five on the Verge like Oneil Cruz, Riley Greene and Alex Kirilloff all were called to the majors last week. So did several of my top choices to take their place, like C.J. Abrams, Joshua Lowe and Jarren Duran. As much as at any point this year, I have a clean slate to work with, no longer bound by the obvious and free to reveal all my cards.
And you know what? I got nothing.
That's not to say I didn't complete the assignment. Five names are what's required, and five names are what you'll get. But after this midseason clearing of the deck, it's a stretch to come up with five who are close enough and promising enough to justify stashing ahead of time in redraft leagues. It takes a special caliber of prospect to meet both criteria.
Even Vinnie Pasquantino and Miguel Vargas, the two holdovers who inspired so much confidence in me , no longer demand the same urgency. Both have slumped in June and face new roadblocks that might delay their arrival further. Is it still possible both (more likely Pasquantino) are up before the end of the month? Sure. Would I bet my mortgage on it? I think you know the answer.
But hey, checking in on prospects is fun no matter the stakes. I for one welcome a little variety even if it makes for less actionable content.
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B, Royals
2021 minors: .300 BA (437 AB), 24 HR, 37 2B, .957 OPS, 64 BB, 64 K
2022 minors: .277 BA (231 AB), 17 HR, 16 2B, .953 OPS, 34 BB, 35 K
Same story as a week ago, really. As Pasquantino cools off in the minors, batting .206 (13 for 63) this month, his biggest roadblock, Carlos Santana, continues to show signs of life in the majors, batting .381 (16 for 42) over the same span. Just like that, what seemed like an easy handoff has become rather complicated. Whoever started this Twitter account made a longer-term commitment than he realized:
Vinnie P did not get called up today.— Did Vinnie Pasquantino Get Called Up Today? (@VinniePDebut) June 21, 2022
Santana is in the final year of his contract, and the Royals now have some hope of getting something back for him in a trade. Meanwhile, the DH spot is unavailable with two catchers (Salvador Perez and MJ Melendez) currently in need of at-bats. Pasquantino's June slump doesn't actually concern me -- he has nine walks compared to five strikeouts during that stretch -- but it gives the Royals an excuse to hold out. Of course, an injury could change everything (and it's worth noting Perez actually did leave Tuesday's game with an injury of some kind).
Miguel Vargas, 3B, Dodgers
2021 minors: .319 BA (483 AB), 23 HR, 11 SB, .906 OPS, 45 BB, 89 K
2022 minors: .282 BA (259 AB), 11 HR, 8 SB, .866 OPS, 38 BB, 49 K
While Pasquantino's promotion this year is inevitable, Vargas' isn't because it would mean closing the book on Justin Turner, Max Muncy or Gavin Lux -- something the Dodgers may be unwilling to do. There was some talk Vargas might be the position player added to the roster with a new 13-pitcher limit taking effect Monday, but instead, the Dodgers acquired outfielder Trayce Thompson. What's most likely to force the issue is Vargas himself, and the 22-year-old made some headway there Tuesday, going 2 for 4 with a home run. He's still batting just .232 (22 for 95) over his past 23 games, though.
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Esteury Ruiz, OF, Padres
2021 minors: .249 BA (309 AB), 10 HR, 36 SB, .739 OPS, 28 BB, 73 K
2022 minors: .354 BA (229 AB), 13 HR, 48 SB, 1.105 OPS, 40 BB, 54 K
I've been reluctant to call Ruiz a stash of any sort seeing as he was hardly a prospect coming into the year, with Baseball America excluding him from the Padres' top 30. The numbers are becoming impossible to ignore, though. Project them over 150 games, and they come out to 32 home runs and 118 stolen bases. You read that correctly. They've only gotten better since he moved up to Triple-A, where he's batting .388 (19 for 49) with four homers and 11 steals in 12 games.
The 23-year-old got some prospect love in his younger days as a toolsy talent with a wide range of possible outcomes, but that ship had seemingly already sailed. He's become much more disciplined this year, though, no longer chasing the sort of pitches designed to yield weak contact, and with that, those tools are playing up in a massive way. With Trent Grisham looking like a lost cause at the major-league level and the Padres trying to chase down the Dodgers, a swap could happen sooner than later.
Brayan Bello, SP, Red Sox
2021 minors: 7-3, 3.87 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 95 1/3 IP, 31 BB, 132 K
2022 minors: 8-4, 2.43 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 74 IP, 27 BB, 99 K
The Red Sox are in the playoff picture on the AL side, but without much margin for error. It makes you wonder how much longer they'll ride it out with Rich Hill and Josh Winckowski, especially since arguably this year's biggest riser among pitching prospects is making hay at Triple-A. Bello, it's worth pointing out, is already on the 40-man roster.
"Anyone that's in Triple-A is close," Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush said when asked about Bello on the Fenway Rundown podcast earlier this week.
Since then, the 23-year-old has added another seven shutout innings, his second time reaching that innings mark this season, so it doesn't seem like the organization is babying him. His two-seamer has become even more of a weapon over the course of the season, giving him an elite ground-ball rate to go along with a superlative swinging-strike rate that would actually lead all the majors. If the Red Sox want to upgrade their rotation, the easiest way would be in-house.
2021 minors: 2-0, 3.13 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 31 2/3 IP, 16 BB, 56 K
2022 minors: 1-3, 3.59 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 42 2/3 IP, 24 BB, 69 K
Randos on Twitter keep telling me the Orioles are about to call up Hall, with the demotion of Bruce Zimmermann somehow telegraphing the move. I kind of doubt it given that Hall has only once made it five innings in a start this season and continues to struggle with walks at Triple-A, but because I'm running out of my own ideas, I'm happy to crib theirs. My attempts to be the smartest guy in the room usually end with me being the dumbest guy outside the room, and it's true his bat-missing skills are second to none. Here's what Orioles GM Mike Elias had to say earlier his week about the prospect of promoting Hall:
"He's really on a good path and doing what we want to see him do. On the other hand, this is a kid because of [elbow] injury and the pandemic that's really not thrown that many minor-league innings since signing."
So ... no?
"I think where his head is at is good and it's at the point where we're watching his outings very carefully -- and doing so not just from a player development standpoint, but from a major league relevancy standpoint. And we're going to be looking for the right time to possibly see what we've got there."
So ... yes?
It doesn't help that Hall's latest start Tuesday was a clunker. He walked five in 4 1/3 innings, striking out three. Until he's definitively mastered Triple-A, I don't see why the Orioles would start the clock on him, but Elias at least seems to be keeping the door open.
Five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Kyle Muller, SP, Braves
2021 minors: 5-4, 3.39 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 79 2/3 IP, 42 BB, 93 K
2022 minors: 4-3, 3.00 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 69 IP, 21 BB, 92 K
2022 majors: 2.2 IP, 4 H, 7 ER, 6 BB, 3 K
Muller's issue has never been a lack of stuff, as his 12.0 K/9 in 12 starts at Triple-A this year will attest. What's held him back, even in past big-league opportunities, is his tenuous grasp of the strike zone, which is what makes his past two starts so encouraging. He didn't issue a single walk between them despite going beyond six innings in each. In fact, he's down to 2.7 BB/9 across those 12 starts. The Braves don't have an opening in their rotation right now, but whenever they do need another starting pitcher, the big lefty with the high-spin fastball is the obvious choice to fill it.
Gordon Graceffo, SP, Cardinals
2021 minors: 1-0, 1.73 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 26 IP, 9 BB, 37 K
2022 minors: 5-3, 1.67 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 75 1/3 IP, 6 BB, 78 K
Control certainly isn't Graceffo's problem. He's also coming off back-to-back starts with no walks, but that's nothing new for him seeing as he's issued a total of six in 13 starts this season -- nine of which have gone at least six innings. His K/9 has dropped from 11.0 in eight starts at High-A to 6.7 in five starts at Double-A, but his 14.7 percent swinging-strike rate in those five starts is still excellent. His control may be so good that he's not going deep enough into counts to get strikeouts, but stuff is stuff and he would appear to have more than enough, thanks in part to a jump in velocity this year.
Vaughn Grissom, SS, Braves
2021 minors: .319 BA (317 AB), 7 HR, 16 SB, .882 OPS, 45 BB, 54 K
2022 minors: .298 BA (235 AB), 8 HR, 15 SB, .844 OPS, 25 BB, 34 K
A quick glance at Grissom's minor-league career would suggest he's a good enough contact hitter but may be lacking the sort of power needed to make a real impact in Fantasy someday. It's sort of another Michael Harris situation, though, in that he's proven capable of delivering high-end exit velocities. He also has the sort of frame that would lend itself to more power. The best-case scenario is easier to envision when he goes on the sort of run he's on right now, batting .500 (18 for 36) with two homers, five doubles and four steals in his past seven games. Those home runs, by the way, were grand slams hit in back-to-back innings last Thursday.
Jackson Chourio, OF, Brewers
2021 minors: .296 BA (159 AB), 5 HR, 8 SB, .833 OPS, 23 BB, 28 K
2022 minors: .353 BA (167 AB), 7 HR, 6 SB, 1.018 OPS, 13 BB, 49 K
I've been meaning for a few weeks to write about Chourio, who has become the teenage breakthrough of choice in the prospect community, rocketing up midseason rank lists. His athleticism stood out from the beginning, but it's already translating to big results in his first year of full-season ball. These days, Low-A features its share of college picks, too, yet he's getting it done as an 18-year-old. Just look at the way the ball jumps off his bat.
With that lightning-quick swing and his quick-burst speed, there's almost no limit to what he could be. The key, of course, will be keeping his strikeouts down, especially when he sees more off-speed stuff at the higher levels. It's worth noting that his mature approach has also stood out to evaluators.
2021 minors: .264 BA (402 AB), 15 HR, 3 SB, .759 OPS, 25 BB, 109 K
2022 minors: .348 BA (233 AB), 10 HR, 5 SB, .995 OPS, 28 BB, 47 K
When you see a player who's only 24 putting up numbers this good in the upper minors, with no letup between Double- and Triple-A, your natural assumption is that he's some coveted prospect featured on every prospect rank list from here to Kalamazoo. But no, Baseball America didn't even include Fletcher in the Diamondbacks' top 30 at the start of the year. What they did offer in their Prospect Handbook is that he's a "terrific defender," which means he isn't one those position-less plodders who we're used to seeing get passed over. As with so many pop-up prospects, improved plate discipline seems to be the key to his breakthrough. His outlier line-drive and opposite-field rates also help to justify his high BABIP.