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I’d like to take this time on a Tuesday morning to formally apologize to one Austin Riley, Braves third baseman. I should have ranked you at least 6th in my third base rankings. I didn’t, I ranked you 10th. I tried to make up for it by slipping you into the Top 100, at 95th, but even that feels a little low. You’ve really made good in the Fall League slashing .302/.362/.698 with 6 homers, and 17 RBI. He’s been part of a dynamic Braves quartet that I profiled in my Arizona Fall League check-in, and my Braves 2018 Minor League Preview. Riley comes along at a perfect time in prospects lists, as there’s a definite shortage on dynamic talent in the corner infield. After a difficult stretch in the Florida State League for the first two-thirds of his season, Riley was promoted to AA Mississippi, and the power returned. In 48 games at AA, Riley hit .315/.389/.511, with 8 homers, and 27 RBI, slugging numbers much more in line with his career norms. Riley has credited his continued improvement to the Braves developmental programs, who have worked at shortening Riley’s swing, and improving his conditioning. Both areas where he’s made significant strides. He’s eased concerns regarding his defense, getting mostly average grades with his glove, but plus and double plus grades on his arm. Meaning it’s increasingly likely Riley sticks at the hot corner long term. It’s usually the wrong time to buy a player when he’s coming off a noisy Fall League, but Riley is the rare exception where he’s widely unowned in dynasty formats of 14 teams or less. Here’s some other Minor League news…

 

  • Speaking of players mashing their way through the off-season, my 3rd overall prospect Eloy Jimenez is currently walloping the ball, to far less fanfare, in the Dominican Winter League. He currently leads the league in homers (4), RBI (20), and slugging (.698). The last number is the most staggering, as Jimenez is nearly 140 points higher than the second highest slugging percentage. BTW there’s tons of MLB players in the Dominicano, including Wilmer Difo, Socrates Brito, and the most thirsty man in Korea, Jung-Ho Kang.
  •  Fernando Tatis Jr. the 6th ranked prospect in my Top 100 is also down in the DR, and things have not gone as well. He’s slashing .246/.358/.386 with 1 homer and no steals. I wouldn’t worry, Tatis is just 18, and incredibly young for the league.
  • Speaking of former MLB players down in the Dominican League, the Red Sox Blake Swihart is looking to work his way back into relevancy. In 9 games in the DR he’s slashing .407/.515/.481, while catching. Swihart is out of options, so he has a real shot at a gig coming out of camp. I’ve even read locally that he could be used as a super sub, catching, playing the outfield, third base, and even some second base while Dustin Pedroia recovers from knee surgery. At this point Swihart is really only a viable flier in deep leagues of 16+ or dynasty leagues, and even then you need to temper expectations. If he can hit for a decent average and provide at least some pop, he could be a useful option at catcher in early 2018.
  • I’m not sure if I’m fooled by his Arizona Fall League debut, and good numbers in a small MLB sample, but I’m really looking to add Max Fried where I can. This is a real turn of events, change of heart, 180 degree turn, that-looks-like-a-360-degree-turn-because-I’ve-fallen-for-him-before. I’ve long loved his fastball-curveball combo, and he has real feel for his breaking ball adding velocity and break when needed.
  • I threw his name out there on Twitter yesterday, so I figure I’ll mention him here as well. The Padres 18 year old righty relief prospect Andres Munoz is lighting up radar guns, and getting a lot of love. He has a nasty fastball that hits 100-102 reportedly, and an equally tough, hard breaking slider. Take a look. If his future lies in the pen, he might move quickly though the minors. Most of my dynasty leagues have holds or value high K/9 pen arms. A player like Munoz is definitely not a fit for every league, but he’s kind of intriguing as a live teenage arm facing advanced competition.
  • Mitch Keller is the talk of the Fall League and is another player, much like the aforementioned Riley, that deserves an apology. I ranked him 52nd in my top 100 Prospects, and he probably should have been moved up at least 10 spots. There’s just a lot of new blood and I’m not a huge advocate of carrying tons of prospect arms. hardly an excuse, as I’ve ranked him 46thand 28th. My B. Either way there’s been a lot of talk about his easy 96-97, (and maybe 100 MPH), plus breaking ball, and now flashing plus changeup.
  • He’s not getting as much press as Fried, Keller, and the Braves hitters, but the Brewers Monte Harrison is having a great fall. He’s slashing .275/.310/.625, with 4 homers, and 4 steals in the AFL, and might have the best combo of power and speed, at least statistically, in the league. He has continued to be plagued by strikeouts, but it hasn’t hindered his results. He’ll probably never hit for average, but he has the bat speed, and raw power to hit 25+ homers, while being a weapon on the basepaths. Coming into 2017 Harrison had missed a majority of the previous two years to ankle and hamate injuries, but he played 122 games this year plus the fall league. With his development back on track, it will be interesting to see how he fits into an already crowded outfield picture in Milwaukee come 2019.
  • Can I have a non-prospect related conversation? I’m in the midst of a Mock Draft with the Crab Army. Yes a baseball mock draft, because I’m a meaningless boring boob of a man. All this to say; I’ve been digging on pitchers. Why? Because this time, unlike in Justin Mason’s 2Early Mock, I drafted a starter inside the first 8 rounds. But I was looking at Masahiro Tanaka’s second half splits and it’s insane what he’s done since nearly scrapping his fastball.

Find all of the 30 Minor League Previews, and Offseason Rankings on the Minor League Index
On Twitter as @ProspectJesus

   
  1. John Hoe says:
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    Hey Ralphie! I read your column religiously! Pretty work!

    I got to pick 7 bats to keep forever. Roto w/ 1 Util

    Wil Contreras
    E5
    Schoop
    Machado
    Correa
    Moncada
    Haniger
    Bour
    Acuna
    Senzel
    Dahl

    What 7 would you keep? Thanks in advance!

    • chris says:
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      @John Hoe: i’m not Ralph, but I’d keep:

      Wil Contreras
      Machado
      Correa
      Moncada
      Acuna
      Senzel
      Dahl

      those guys. but it was hard to drop Schoop.

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @John Hoe: Machado, Correa, Moncada, Acuna, Senzel, Contreras, and Schoop

  2. Johnny D says:
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    Great write up. I gave up on Riley but it looks like waaaaaaay to soon. If he keeps hitting he may be up for good come June/July? I will try to pick him up in our leagues Minor league draft.
    This year I am treating Isan Diaz like I should have Riley. Give him one more year to figure it out.
    Thanks for the work!!

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Johnny D: I wouldn’t give up on Diaz either.

  3. Packers says:
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    Hi Ralph, I can’t get those 4 early mocks to come up. CM says error for draft number.

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Packers: Is that the link in the Fangraphs article?

  4. Chris says:
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    To be fair about Tatis Jr, Guerrero JR and Mateo have struggled mightily down there as well.

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Chris: I said he was one of the youngest players at that level. No way to know who would struggle and who wouldn’t.

      • M says:
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        @Ralph Lifshitz: they are so young for the level, they may just be fatigued from the regular season

        • Ralph Lifshitz

          Ralph Lifshitz says:
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          @M: Probably are, I’M NOT DOWN ON TATIS AT ALL.

          • F-FOH says:
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            @Ralph Lifshitz: the shouting clarification!

  5. Miketron says:
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    Tatis also just got done playing a full season at 18. Give the poor kid a break! I also agree Keller had jumped up a lot in my mental list list fall. Let’s mock around the clock until Spring Training starts.

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Miketron: Come on! You guys are crazy, I wasn’t tanking the guy, but I thought in full disclosure I should mention someone I’m high on is struggling.

      Yeah, Keller is great, the reports on the change are really encouraging.

      • Miketron says:
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        @Ralph Lifshitz: I meant his team should give him a break, not you Ralphie. Seems like a push to have him in winter ball after full season ball at 18 including AA.

        • Ralph Lifshitz

          Ralph Lifshitz says:
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          @Miketron: Yeah, It seems like a lot of ball, but then again it’s live pitching and they have a sporadic schedule down there. In a lot of ways not that different from Acuna’s Aussie adventure last winter.

  6. John Stewart says:
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    Hey Ralph, thanks for all the great content and keeping us up to speed.

    Looking for some Auction Keeper advice with $300 Cap. Should I re-sign these guys or no?
    Can sign each up to 5 years at that rate, or drop them and hope to get cheaper at auction.

    Calhoun $8
    C Stewart $5
    Isan Diaz $3
    DJ Peters $3
    Tyler Mahle $2

    Also…is Walker Buehler a future stud SP or reliever? Was just offered Ozuna for Buehler and Duffy…can’t decide what to do.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @John Stewart: I’d keep Willie, Stewart, and Mahle at those prices.

      Yes Buehler, should be a starter eventually. My guess is he’s in that role most of the year, but starts in AAA. Durability is a question. If adding Ozuna gives you the power you need to compete, I can see doing it. If not hold off, totally fair trade IMO.

  7. Maverick says:
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    RALPH!!!

    You’ve got more info than IBM Watson, my prospectin’ friend! So, you’ve convinced me… I need Austin Riley in my life. But, right now, I’m currently 3 players over the max, so I can’t make any moves. Here’s the setup (using the Ottoneu points setup from FanGraphs):

    C: Contreras, Wilson Ramos, Francisco Mejia
    1B: Freeman, Bird, C. Santana
    2B: Moncada, Kingery, Ian Happ
    3B: Franco, Ryan McMahon, (I need Austin Riley)
    SS: Rodgers, Adames, Tatis, Jr., Maitan
    LF: David Dahl, Tyler O’Neil, Aaron Hicks, Nick Williams, Taylor Trammell
    CF: Trout, Acuna, Robles, Clint Frazier, Kyle Lewis, Corey Ray
    RF: Giancarlo, Dongs Martinez, Eloy, Kyle Tucker

    P: Sale, Cole, Duffy, McCullers, Wood, Alex Reyes, Vince Velazquez, Steven Matz, Luiz Gohara, Jordan Montgomery, Mitch Keller, Forest Whitley, Adrian Morejon, Michael Baez, Jeff Hoffman, Walker Buehler, Anderson Espoinoza, and Yadier Alvarez
    RP: Archie Bradley

    So, with all of that, I need to essentially drop 4 players (I have 3 on the DL listed as DTD, so can’t make add/drops until that’s fixed) so I can add Austin Riley.

    I feel like it might be time to cut bait on Anderson Espinoza and Corey Ray, but I’m struggling with the last two drop candidates.

    Are there any other glaring weaknesses that you’d suggest I work to improve? This was out first year, and I obviously went prospect HEAVVVY, but most of them seem to be panning out quite nicely.

    Thanks, Ralph!

    ~~ Maverick

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Maverick: I’d add Jeff Hoffman and Yadier Alvarez to that list.

  8. MattTruss

    MattTruss says:
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    RE: Tanaka – Aren’t sliders and splitters two of the worst pitches for a pitcher’s arm? So here’s a guy that’s already had arm issues now throwing those more and his FB less? Doesn’t that seem counter-intuitive to long term health?

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @MattTruss: I’m not sure I buy into that. This isn’t totally new for Tanaka, when he returned from the initial injury he talked about throwing his offspeed, and breaking balls more, which generated a lot of negative reaction based on conventional wisdom. We can’t deny that Tanaka has been healthier since scrapping his once fastball heavy approach. The truth is, regardless of reason, Tanaka’s FB isn’t very good.

      Rothschild seems to be onto something with the lean-in on secondaries. The idea is everyone can hit the fastball.

      I wonder if they also believe fastball velocities, and consistently reaching back for a few extra ticks, does more harm then good. I think we’re only scratching the surface on the TJ plague, and I’m of the mind it’s more fastball and velocity based than about breaking pitches. I actually believe it’s velocity + bad timing that’s causing it, with much of the signs being where the arm is when the plant foot hits, and how the ball is positioned in the pitchers hand.

      • MattTruss

        MattTruss says:
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        Yea, I guess he’ll be healthier post fastball usage, until he isn’t. His FB is gawd awful though, so I guess pitch to your strengths until your arm falls off, why not!?

        • Ralph Lifshitz

          Ralph Lifshitz says:
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          @MattTruss: Hahaha very true, but it’s been three years now.

      • F-FOH says:
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        @Ralph Lifshitz: I think you could add poor mechanics and the strength and training regiments (adding too much) as cause as well. Good point on dialing up the fastball too often and trying to over power hitters instead of just “pitching”.

        • Ralph Lifshitz

          Ralph Lifshitz says:
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          @F-FOH: I feel the timing is the issue not the pitches. Ramping up can throw off your mechanics. That’s when injuries happen.

  9. Malicious Phenoms says:
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    “The most thirsty man in Korea” hilarious!

    Love these MILB updates!

    Saw this pic of Austin Riley and I thought it was Larry Wayne, very similar.

    Austin or Chipper?

    http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2017?list=3b

    MP

  10. MArk says:
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    How is Chavis looking in the AFL?

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @MArk: Not bad, but not great good reports on his swing and quality of contact. They’re trying him at 1B too, but he seems a little small for First IMO.

  11. Another Dan says:
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    Hey Ralph,

    Good stuff again.

    I sent a message to another owner asking about Riley yesterday. Let’s hope he doesn’t read this column.

    I think I gave up too early on Max Fried. Think I might be adding him back in my FYPD (which includes any unowned prospects). Is he close to breaking your top 100 ? Is there going to be an expansion of the top 100 towards 200 ? The last few picks will come from outside your top 100.

    Best wishes,

    Dan

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Another Dan: I’ll probably update he Top 100 in the coming weeks, and won’t roll out a top 200 until February.

      That said, he’s very close. He’s within 10 spots of the list right now.

      • Another Dan says:
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        @Ralph Lifshitz:

        Thanks. Thought he might be, dropped him for Baez (since traded) so it wasn’t too bad a decision.

        Will just have to try and pick up some names of who to target. 24 of your top 100 are unowned. I have 4 picks in the first 24 (2 rounds). Then I have 4 more (36,37,48,60) if I need them to fill out my roster (depends if I think I should cut guys for those I am picking up).

        I’m sure I’ll be asking for lots of advice.

        Best wishes,

        Another Dan

  12. R says:
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    Looking at picking up Fried, here is my list of pitching prospects/fringe starters by perceived tier:
    The all-mighty Alex Wood

    Allard, Sixto, Hader, Buehler, Honeywell, Reyes, Gonsalves, Keller, Mckenzie, Morejon

    Groome, Mitchell White, Gsellman, Cease, Chatwood, Szapucki, Wentz

    Hoffman, Kuhl, Littell, Ragans, D. Tate

    See anyone(s) who should be cast aside? CBS still doesnt have Baez in pool..

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @R: I say Szapucki, guy’s elbow is mush.

      • R says:
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        @Ralph Lifshitz: Thank ya, bummed about him. Lots of early season buzz

  13. David says:
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    6×6 roto with OBP replacing AVG, and SLG being the 6th category. I can keep 4 forever. Which one do I drop: Machado, Just Dongs, Acuna, Hoskins, Rizzo,? Thanks Ralph.

    • LenFuego says:
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      @David: Ouch, that hurts to think about letting one of them go. How about packaging two of them for Trout or Harper? With a gun to my head, I think I would drop …. ummmm …. Hoskins. (Seriously, I just broke out in hives typing that … see if you can package Machado and Hoskins to get Trout or Harper.)

  14. inferiorhippo says:
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    Hey Ralph,

    I’m late to the post here, so you may not see this. You’re a major reason why I was first to Acuna in my league so thank you.

    What are your thoughts on Josh Hader? He is still rookie eligible obviously. I’m in a league where we can keep 15 players and 5 minor leaguers. I dont want any of my 15 to be minors, so what would you do here.

    I have:

    Josh Hader
    Walker Buehler
    Dylan Cease
    Ryan McMahon
    Bobby Bradley
    Scott Kingery
    Ronald Acuna
    Austin Meadows

    My thoughts are Acuna, Hader, Buehler, McMahon and Meadows (real in between Meadows and Kingery.)

    Any thoughts?

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