Welcome to week 22 of the minor league report. Just as I have done the past two weeks, I will spend the remainder of the season highlighting some top performers and potential ranking movers heading into the 2018 season.
If there are any players you would like to see featured here in the future or need advice on, feel free to leave your requests in the comment section below or ask me on twitter @TheJimFinch.
Kevin Cron (Diamondbacks): Double-A
489 AB, .280 BA, 34 DBL, 23 HR, .211 ISO, 50.4 FB%, 9.9 BB%, 23.9 K%
It’s easy to see why Cron was so low on the organizational prospect depth charts coming into 2017. After a solid rookie debut and follow-up 2015 season, things went south. The batting average collapsed and the strikeout rate rose above 26 percent. The only positive was that the power was still there with a walk rate that didn’t drop. Arizona let him repeat Double-A this year, and as you can see the results were more favorable.
The home run power is equal to the past two seasons and the doubles returned. He hit lefties and righties equally for power, maybe even better against lefties. The average against lefties (.255) suggests he will not be a platoon player in the future. This is the first time we’ve seen a big step forward with walks. Strikeouts are still a bit high, but anything under 25 percent is manageable. Overall I see a solid hitter, but he may need a trade or change of position with Paul Goldschmidt standing in the way at first base.
Cron led the Southern League in home runs this season. That alone should raise his value. Given the fact Arizona has no pressing need for his services, I can see him starting the 2018 season at Double-A again. If he hits the same way he did this year, he will be in Triple-A by midseason. I don’t see Cron as a future top-12 fantasy first baseman, but he should be a solid corner infielder. A move to the outfield would decrease his value to a low-end OF3.
There is upside here, but still so many things that can change or go wrong.
Christin Stewart (Tigers): Double-A
458 AB, .258 BA, 28 DBL, 28 HR, .258 ISO, 43.1 FB%, 10.1 BB%, 25.1 K%
Stewart followed up his 29-home run campaign in 2016 by leading the Eastern League in home runs this season. He was also second in the league in doubles and sixth in walks. This season and last were basically carbon copies of each other. He did lose a few fly balls and his line drive rate climbed. Sadly, those additional line drives did not improve the batting average.
The future here is cloudy for several reasons. First, we’ve seen little improvement in the batting average while the strikeout rate sits in the danger zone. We don’t know which way these two things will trend above Double-A. Next is the defense — he has none. Detroit might let him stick at corner outfield if the average holds. Some see a future DH, but I’ve seen worse defensive outfielders stick, so I don’t think that will be the case.
The big question: Should you be buying or selling in dynasty leagues? The answer is both. Stewart is a first-round pick and a top-five prospect within the organization. His pedigree, power, and ranking make him an easy sell high. That same 30-home run power potential makes him an intriguing trade target as well. I see a Jay Bruce-type ceiling, and if you like that type of player, he is an easy buy.
D.J. Stewart (Orioles): Double-A
516 AB, .272 BA, 25 DBL, 19 HR, 19 SB .197 ISO, 35.9 FB%, 12 BB%, 16.1 K%
Prior to 2017 Stewart was an average hitter with minimal pop. He could draw walks and had decent speed, but nothing game-changing or exciting from a fantasy standpoint. This is not what the Orioles had in mind when selecting him in the first round of the 2015 draft. The 2017 version is what they were expecting.
The power finally started to come though. Combined with the speed, we could be looking at a 20-20 player. Realistically I see 15-20, because the ISO won’t remain near .200 and the fly-ball percentage should drop. I also don’t see the batting average improving much. He was a .300 hitter in college, but .280 seems more realistic from what we’ve seen to date.
I see Brett Gardner as a solid comparison – not the guy you target, but not someone you regret owning… if everything clicks and works out right. This was Stewart’s first successful year, so I would probably sell high and hard right now. His power and speed combination along with his first-round pedigree should interest someone in your league. If not, fantasy teams need worker bees too, so he’s not a bad investment.
Scott Kingery (Phillies): Triple-A
AA 278 AB, .313 BA, 18 DBL, 18 HR, 19 SB .295 ISO, 50.4 FB%, 8.8 BB%, 16.1 K%
AAA 238 AB, .298 BA, 10 DBL, 18 HR, 9 SB .168 ISO, 40.7 FB%, 3.9 BB%, 20.4 K%
I’ll admit I dropped the ball on Kingery. Yes, he was a second-round pick in 2015, showed some speed, and hit for a high average. The problem: That describes a majority of the middle-infield prospects. He was basically a faster version of current second baseman Cesar Hernandez with a lower strikeout rate.
This season he added a new element to his resume – power. Kingery had a reputation as a doubles hitter, and doubles can turn into home runs. However, his ISO never came close to suggesting he would hit more than 10, let alone 20-plus. I tend to believe the .168 ISO in Triple-A. That would still put him in the 12-15 home run range. Combined with the 20-plus steal threat, you now have a five-category middle infielder – much more desirable.
Currently Kingery is ranked just outside the top 50, but he can easily move up with a repeat in 2018. The lack of walks will limit his stolen base potential. If he improves here I can see 25 to 30 steals annually. The buy-low window is all but closed. Given that we don’t know if the power will stick, I would not be a buyer; the cost would be too high to turn a profit. I might not be a seller either unless I got top dollar in return. Second base is deep in talent at the major league level, but five-category threats are always in demand.
Oscar Mercado (Cardinals): Double-A
449 AB, .272 BA, 20 DBL, 12 HR, 36 SB .143 ISO, BB%, 21.5 K%
Mercado is very similar to Kingery above. His calling card was speed, with 30-plus steals the past two seasons and 50 in 2015. He led the Texas League in stolen bases this season. Sadly, prior to this year that was all he was good for. The batting average never went higher than .254; the ISO never cracked .100, and a .303 OBP in 2014 represents his highest total.
Maybe things finally clicked at age 22, or maybe the move from shortstop to outfield helped. It could be both, or maybe just luck. For whatever reason, Mercado improved across the board. The batting average was above .300 for the first three months before dropping off, so the jury is out. Increased strikeouts and some BABIP luck lead me to believe we should not buy into it. An ISO close to .150 means he could finish regularly in double digits for power. Then again, with little power displayed in the past, he could very well regress in this department.
The main thing for me is the loss of shortstop eligibility. A shortstop with 12-30 power-and-speed upside is one thing. Even with a few less home runs I can accept this. As an outfielder, a number of hitters match this profile – most of whom can be found near the end of the draft. As an owner I would use the increased power and league-leading stolen bases as a selling point. Get what you can now before that shortstop tag is removed in the offseason.
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