Given the amount of turnover we've seen in this space in just two months' time, it stands to reason the well of stashable prospects is approaching empty.
It will replenish, as it always does, but for now, some of the best candidates read like a greatest hits playlist -- familiar, but well worn.
That's certainly true for the name I've just added to the top of the heap, but before we get to him, let's talk about a player who no longer passes as a prospect even though he's been a minor-leaguer all year -- and, for that matter, since he first took a tumble in 2020. I'm talking, of course, about Mike Soroka.
"Michael" is how he's now listed in some places. Yes, he's been out of spotlight for so long that he's become a different person. But is he a different pitcher from the one who went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 7.3 K/9 in 2019, placing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting? Keep in mind he's coming back from a twice-ruptured Achilles and hasn't thrown a major-league pitch in three years.
As you can see, the overall numbers at Triple-A Gwinnett are underwhelming, but he's coming off his best start, having allowed one run on two hits with three walks and eight strikeouts in six innings Tuesday. And with GM Alex Anthopoulos in attendance and the Braves still figuring out how to patch up the holes created by injuries to Max Fried, Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson, it may be enough to bring Soroka back to the majors finally.
"It's all headed in the right direction," manager Brian Snitker said. "I think when and if we need him, he'll be ready."
So how much should we care? For as good as Soroka's rookie season was, it was far from conventional. He succeeded by pounding the strike zone and generating ground balls rather than missing bats. He's been worse in all three respects during his time at Triple-A last year, his ground-ball rate dropping from 51 percent in 2019 to 48 percent, his strike rate dropping from 65 to 62 percent, and his swinging-strike rate dropping from 10 percent to 9 percent.
His success was already a tight-rope walk, and in three years' time, too many new variables have been introduced for us to trust him to pick up where he left off. It's why, even if Soroka did qualify (and he doesn't), I wouldn't include him among my ...
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Royce Lewis, SS, Twins
2022 majors: .300 BA (40 AB), 2 HR, 4 2B, .867 OPS, 1 BB, 5 K
2023 minors: .333 BA (30 AB), 3 HR, 4 SB, 1.075 OPS, 1 BB, 11 K
While Michael Soroka is recovering from a twice-ruptured Achilles, Lewis is working his way back from a twice-torn ACL. It's not as big of a hurdle to clear. He's barely been sidelined a full calendar year, and the nature of the injury makes for a more straightforward recovery. Indeed, he's been just as productive and explosive on his rehab assignment this year as during his short stay in the majors last year, so the big question was whether the Twins would have a spot available for him once he was ready to go.
Third base already seemed like a possibility (he's been getting some work there), but now the Twins' starter at Lewis' natural shortstop position has a case of plantar fasciitis. It's not yet clear if Carlos Correa will wind up on the IL, but it wouldn't at all be a surprising outcome. If so, it almost makes too much sense for Lewis to step in and fill the void. He already made for a great stash in redraft leagues, particularly since you still have the luxury of putting him in an IL slot, but you'll want to act with even more haste now.
Jordan Walker, OF, Cardinals
2023 majors: .274 BA (73 AB), 2 HR, 2 SB, .718 OPS, 3 BB, 20 K
2023 minors: .231 BA (91 AB), 3 HR, 3 SB, .704 OPS, 11 BB, 24 K
Walker's numbers at Triple-A Memphis are still nothing to write home about, but they're a big improvement from just a week ago. During his past nine games, the presumed Rookie of the Year contender has hit .333 (13 for 39) with two home runs, and it may be putting him back in the front office's good graces.
"He's moving in the right direction. Everything is going well," GM Michael Girsch said Wednesday. "Exactly how and when [he returns] is obviously to be determined."
For his part, Walker says he's back to his old self after being sent down to work on elevating the ball more. He seemed so lost at the plate in the weeks following his demotion that the Cardinals really couldn't entertain the idea of bringing him back, but if you haven't noticed, they're stretched pretty thin in the outfield right now with Dylan Carlson and Tyler O'Neill both on the IL. The better of those two batters, O'Neill, figures to be out the longest.
2022 minors: .304 BA (484 AB), 32 HR, 114 RBI, .955 OPS, 40 BB, 137 K
2023 minors: .353 BA (119 AB), 11 HR, 25 RBI, 1.090 OPS, 3 BB, 34 K
Guess who homered again Wednesday? I'd say it's all Encarnacion-Strand does, but well, he also has 31 hits that aren't homers, batting .353 overall. Beats me what more the Reds need to see before giving him the call. I've pointed out that his plate discipline is bad but not all that worse than at Double-A last year. You can't fit a square peg into a round hole. Meanwhile, Joey Votto has begun taking batting practice and says he's feeling much better after offseason shoulder and biceps surgeries, so he isn't far from beginning a rehab assignment. The Reds don't have a dedicated DH and, thus, would have room for both, so I can't say for sure that Encarnacion-Strand's timeline would be impacted by Votto's return. But the opening may be narrowing.
Elly De La Cruz, SS, Reds
2022 minors: .304 BA (471 AB), 28 HR, 47 SB, .945 OPS, 40 BB, 158 K
2023 minors: .282 BA (117 AB), 7 HR, 9 SB, .965 OPS, 17 BB, 38 K
One reason Christian Encarnacion-Strand may not be up yet is that the Reds haven't decided whether he or De La Cruz should come up first. Though they're in consideration for different positions (with other players shifting around to accommodate), the lineup may not be able to absorb both. De La Cruz is two years younger, but he's the one already on the 40-man roster. He's also, by all accounts, the better prospect and arguably the best in all of baseball, delivering some of the highest exit velocities Statcast has ever recorded and performing other feats of athleticism on a nightly basis. The strikeout rate is still alarming, but the buzz is building.
You could make the argument De La Cruz is the most stashable prospect since presumably none would have a bigger Fantasy impact if and when he does arrive. But see, "if" is part of the equation there. While the three ahead of him on this list are all but certain to get their shot this year, barring injury, it's possible the Reds hold back De La Cruz all year, given their place in the standings and the financial advantages of such a move.
Gavin Williams, SP, Guardians
2022 minors: 5-4, 1.96 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 115 IP, 40 BB, 149 K
2023 minors: 3-1, 1.58 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 40 IP, 13 BB, 56
This is the first week I've featured Williams in my Five on the Verge, but he's been a candidate all along. Mostly, I was counting on the surplus of quality arms at the top of Guardians system to hold him back, but now that Hunter Gaddis is making a second go of it, it's fair to say that the surplus is gone. Meanwhile, Williams may be the best minor-league pitcher left, whether in the Guardians system or otherwise, with Eury Perez getting the call a couple of weeks ago.
The 23-year-old has a fastball that rates at the top of the scale, sitting at 98 mph with enough vertical movement to be a bat-misser in its own right, but also a full arsenal of secondary pitches that he's able to command. You can see the way he's carved up the upper minors this year, going six innings for the first time in his last start. With Aaron Civale nearing a return from the IL, Williams' arrival probably isn't imminent, but the next injury could precipitate it.
Five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Nolan Jones, OF, Rockies
2022 majors: .244 BA (86 AB), 2 HR, 5 2B, .681 OPS, 8 BB, 31 K
2023 minors: .356 BA (149 AB), 12 HR, 5 SB, 1.192 OPS, 33 BB, 43 K
Apparently, the Rockies only acquired Jones this offseason to serve as organization depth because he couldn't possibly do more to merit another big-league shot. His numbers at Triple-A Albuquerque are insane. They've been insane all along, but they're only getting more insane with him batting .533 (16 for 30) with two homers and 10 walks compared to seven strikeouts in his past nine games. And according to Baseball America, there are changes fueling these insane numbers, namely vast improvement against breaking balls. Of course, Albuquerque is a mile above sea level, which would mean breaking balls don't break as much, but the same is true for Colorado, isn't it? Supposedly, the Rockies are keeping Jones down to work on his defense at third base, but he'd be an outfield upgrade already.
Emmet Sheehan, SP, Dodgers
2022 minors: 7-2, 2.91 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 68 IP, 31 BB, 106 K
2023 minors: 2-1, 1.66 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 38 IP, 16 BB, 67 K
In past weeks, I've featured Ben Brown and AJ Smith-Shawver as maybe this season's biggest pitching prospect riser, but Sheehan might have the strongest case of all. For one thing, he's coming up through a pitching development factory, with the Dodgers being one of those organizations that know how to bring out a pitcher's most dominant characteristics. Sheehan's fastball itself is such a weapon, featuring the sort of rising action that's all the rage right now, as you can clearly see here:
There are still bouts of wildness, but he's given up no more than three hits in any of his nine starts at Double-A. He's allowed a combined three in his last three and recorded 21 swinging strikes in each of his last two to give him a Jacob deGrom-like 20 percent swinging-strike rate overall.
Kyle Hurt, SP, Dodgers
2022 minors: 5-7, 5.27 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 71 2/3 IP, 59 BB, 109 K
2023 minors: 2-1, 1.17 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 23 IP, 6 BB, 44 K
You know how I said the Dodgers are a pitching development factory? Well, Hurt is yet another testament to their brilliance. Like Emmet Sheehan, he has a fastball that's ideal for the modern game with premium velocity and an optimal vertical approach angle, but it was wasted last year by genuinely awful control, as evidenced by his 7.4 BB/9. So far this year, he's at 2.3 BB/9. He threw 81 percent of his pitches for strikes in his last start -- an astonishing rate for anyone, but especially him. Granted, he went only four innings, which represents his season high, but he struck out 10 in those four innings. As abruptly as Mason Miller emerged on the dynasty scene, Hurt could do the same.
Jordan Beck, OF, Rockies
2022 minors: .295 BA (88 AB), 3 HR, .908 OPS, 21 BB, 20 K
2023 minors: .307 BA (140 AB), 13 HR, 1.055 OPS, 20 BB, 35 K
Beck wasn't the first player the Rockies drafted last year, nor was he the second. But he's looking like quite the find at Pick 38, hitting for average and power at High-A. He's 22, which is a little old for the level, but the scouting reports are sounding optimistic. There were concerns coming into the year that he sells out too hard for power, uppercutting everything, and indeed, his infield fly ball rate is awfully high for such a low level. But he's making good swing decisions and hitting the ball equally to all fields. The next step up the ladder should tell us a lot, but there are clearly some tools to work with here. And of course, Beck should someday have all the advantages that come with playing at Coors Field.
2022 minors: .303 BA (389 AB), 16 HR, 39 SB, .910 OPS, 57 BB, 115 K
2023 minors: .168 BA (125 AB), 5 HR, 11 SB, .634 OPS, 21 BB, 46 K
I normally reserve this space for players doing something good in the minors, but Lawlar has been so bad as a consensus top-15 prospect that I'd be remiss not to bring it up. Last year, the 20-year-old dominated Low-A, thrived at High-A and then kind of sputtered in a late-season promotion to Double-A, batting .212 with a .652 OPS. But this year, in his return to Double-A Amarillo (a favorable place to hit, mind you), he's batting just .168. Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen is spinning it as a positive -- it's good for him to be challenged and all that -- but given your level of investment in a dynasty league, you'd rather just see Lawlar perform. He wouldn't be the first high-profile prospect to struggle to adjust to Double-A, so don't lose heart yet.