Ray Butler’s 2018 Prospect Obsessions

Written by: Ray Butler

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If you didn’t know, my composite top 200 prospect list has been published for the world to see. If you haven’t read it already, it’s a fantastic foundation that goes into greater detail about the individual prospects you’re about to read about.

Even though I’ve already ranked my top 200 prospects, there are some players on the list I’m simply more excited about than others. I see ceiling, I see upside. I see traits that are worthy of taking a risk on thanks to being undervalued throughout the industry. Here’s a list (in alphabetical order) of the prospects I’m stoked to see in 2018:

Aramis Ademan, SS, CHC, Age: 19

Might as well get this out of the way early: If I’m going to stick my neck out for a prospect, there’s a good chance that prospect will be a plus athlete. Ademan is a five-tool contributor who could very well usher in the next wave of upper-echelon prospects for the Cubs. Early reports during Spring Training indicate that Ademan has added some muscle during the offseason, furthering my thoughts that he has the potential to someday be a .340 OBP/15 HR/20 SB big-league middle infielder.

Jorge Guzman, SP, MIA, Age: 22

You’ll notice that most of my pitching prospect obsessions this season are guys that are either outside of my top 100 or knocking on the door of a promotion to the big leagues. I think Guzman could be a super-mover between now and the publication of midseason top 100 lists, partially because he’s currently underrated but mostly because he has really good stuff.

Hunter Harvey, SP, BAL, Age: 23

On the outside looking in, there’s not much about Harvey’s profile that should lead to fantasy baseball owners to being obsessed. A 23 year old, oft-injured pitcher who’s never played above Low-A doesn’t exactly scream “safe”, but Harvey has potential to surpass Dylan Bundy as the Orioles’ best starting pitcher by the end of next season. Harvey has a spectacular arsenal, so remaining healthy is of the utmost importance for the right-hander.

Starling Heredia, OF, LAD, Age: 19

The lottery ticket of the group, the development of Heredia’s hit tool will have everything to do with his future. Heredia likely projects as a corner outfielder in the long-term, and I think his game speed will diminish to an extent as he finalizes his physical development. The peak-ceiling for Heredia reminds me someone like Justin Upton. Like I said: Pay attention to the development of his contact rate this season.

Jahmai Jones, OF, LAA, Age: 20

There were rumors swirling that the Angels were eying a move to second base for Jones, which would make the 20 year old one of the premium prospects at that position. For now, those rumors have been laid to rest (though smart fantasy owners will be keeping a close eye on Jones’ defensive position throughout the regular season), but Jones possesses elite athleticism that should hold value regardless of what position Jones plays.

Update: The Angels have announced that Jones is officially transitioning from center field to second base. In my opinion, this is huge for Jones’s fantasy value, and it also slightly accelerates his path to the major leagues. If he hasn’t been already, he should be squarely on your radar.

Jesus Luzardo, SP, OAK, Age: 20

My first exception to the ‘outside of my top 100 list or knocking on the door of a big-league debut’ pitching-prospect obsession rule, I think Luzardo has some of the best stuff in the minor leagues before even considering he’s left-handed. This regular season will be Luzardo’s first full season following Tommy John surgery, and I think he’ll soon replace A.J. Puk as ‘highly rated Athletics pitching prospect’ amongst top prospects lists.

Brandon Marsh, OF, LAA, Age: 20

A second round pick in 2016, Marsh didn’t make his professional debut until last season thanks to a stress fracture in the back. Marsh checks a lot of boxes I look for in a prospect who possesses elite value: Plus athleticism, young, and undervalued on industry lists. As I said when I ranked him, the buy-low window on Marsh could be completely extinct by midseason. If you want him, now’s the time.

Jhailyn Ortiz, OF, PHI, Age: 19

If there’s any prospect outside of my top 60 who has the potential to be the next Eloy Jimenez, Ortiz may be that guy. Ortiz has gigantic, 70-grade power, and scouts are beginning to buy-in to the notion that he may be adequate as a corner outfielder (if not, he’ll be fine at first base). If I’m right, Ortiz will easily be a top 50 prospect this time next season. Ortiz’s full-season professional debut this season will be highly scrutinized amongst prospect fiends this season.

Cristian Pache, OF, ATL, Age: 19

When you tell me that an elite athlete is ‘one tool away from becoming a super prospect’, I’m buying as much stock in that player as I can. That’s where we currently stand with Pache, who has reportedly tinkered with his swing in hopes of hitting for more power in 2018. Everything else is in place for the future Gold Glove centerfielder: he hits for average, he has plenty of speed, and he might have the best outfield glove in the minor leagues. If he can simply hit for league-average power someday, we’re probably talking about a top 20 prospect here.

Nate Pearson, SP, TOR, Age: 21

Pearson is the perfect ‘off the beaten path’ pitching prospect that you can acquire for next to nothing right now. I thought that stating Pearson could eventually supplant Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez as the top pitcher in the Blue Jays organization was a bullish-take, then I read that the right-hander was “Michael Kopech with better command” a couple of days ago. The #hype may become uncontrollable before the regular season is over. Perhaps more so than any other prospect I’m obsessed with this season, Pearson’s health will play a huge role in his status in the near-and-distant future.

A.J. Puk, SP, OAK, Age: 23

My only ‘knocking on the door of an MLB debut’ pitching-prospect obsession, Puk has put together a fantastic spring (so far) and seems to be furthering the already-distant thought that he may project as a future high-leverage reliever. The A’s seem thoroughly impressed with the path of his development, and there’s a good chance he slots into Oakland’s starting rotation by mid-summer. As I’ve stated, I see Puk as a strikeout heavy #2 SP if he reaches his potential.

Cole Ragans, SP, TEX, Age: 20

Another exception to the ‘outside of my top 100 list or knocking on the door of a big-league debut’ pitching-prospect obsession rule, I’ll readily admit that listing Ragans within this group is risky. However, I tend to think that jumping on the Ragans hype-train before it leaves the station also carries a huge reward. I’ll consider my thoughts on Ragans incorrect if the southpaw isn’t ranked comfortably inside of top 100 lists across-the-board this time next season.

Brendan Rodgers, 2B/SS, COL, Age: 21

Rodgers is my highest rated prospect (6th) in this piece, so what gives? Simple. I think Rodgers has become underrated thanks to the circus-like popularity of prospects like Ronald Acuna, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Victor Robles, Eloy Jimenez, and Fernando Tatis Jr. All Rodgers does is hit, and man does he hit the ball hard. I have a hunch he eventually becomes the Rockies everyday shortstop, but he’s proficient at either middle-infield position. I’ll be keeping a close eye on his walk rate this season, but there’s a fantastic chance he’s back to being a top three or four prospect across-the-board by the end of this season.

Juan Soto, WAS, OF, Age: 19

I’d like to think Soto was well on his way to becoming a top 20 prospect before getting injured last season. At this point, Soto is standing on the porch and getting ready to kick the door in. Soto has the potential to eventually make Nationals fans not openly weep on a daily basis when they lose Bryce Harper to free agency next offseason.

Leody Taveras, OF, TEX, Age: 19

I’m hopeful that last season (though Taveras wasn’t horrible in any sense of the word) will eventually be known as ‘the fluke season that allowed you to acquire Taveras at a reasonable price’. From a statistical prospect-comparison standpoint, Taveras reminds me a bit of Victor Robles. Let me put it this way: the 8 HR/20 SB output in 2017 was simply scratching the surface of Taveras’ potential. I’ll be absolutely flabbergasted if the switch hitter doesn’t exceed at least one of those stats this season, and the .249/.312/.360 triple-slash should be in shoe-in to improve.

Taylor Trammell, OF, CIN, Age: 20

If you haven’t read it yet, Trammell is my pick for the breakthrough prospect of the 2018 season. He has the hit tool, he has the speed tool, there’s a fantastic chance he stays in center field; I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that the power I believe he’ll develop begins manifesting itself this season.

In summation, take chances on elite athletes.

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Featured image courtesy of Baseball Prospectus

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