If you set the filter to 30 minor league innings pitched, 65 Houston Astros struck out more than a batter per inning in their minor league system in 2019. The Cubs: 44. The Yankees: 46. Dodgers: 62. I think I checked all the teams I thought had a shot to match, and I might’ve actually checked all the teams. There’s not a leaderboard for this so far as I know. Just me geeking out with my cat, Calvin. 

Every time I would think of a team to check–the Rays–yes, duh, of course, the Rays! 45. 

The Marlins? They seem to have a lot of heat last year, right? 36. 

The Padres? Yup, gotta be. 64. Huge, but second place. 

Anyway, they’re gonna be fine–the Astros–at least in the medium-term. Or maybe not. Maybe that one hyper-competitive dude was making all the magic and the next crew won’t take time for all his tricks (“Illusions, Dad! You don’t have time for my illusions!” – G.O.B.)  

But it wasn’t just tricks. Something true came out of all the spycraft. Four-seam fastballs up. Curveballs down. Timeless. 

More, too, but that’s at least partly how I’ll remember the Lunhow Astros. They redefined pitching. It wasn’t just them, of course, but they were a huge part of it. 

They also tainted my favorite game on the planet. Changed history. Changed lives. Yu Darvish. Dave Roberts. No need to cry for everyone here–it’s just a game and all–and a lot of the people most impacted by the cheating are probably doing pretty damn great on the quality of life scale, historically speaking, but it’s not a good look. It’s kind of amazing the game can just pick up and move on. Even more amazing how many people just shrug the everyone cheats. I get it. The world is built to make us do that.

Anyway, so: Astros prospects! Do they throw things? What do they throw? Let’s find out! 

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Rocko’s Modern Life was an acid trip of a cartoon that ran from 1993 to 1996. 

The show wasn’t about acid trips, per se, but it was a how-to guide for avoiding bad trips. 

I mean I think that’s what it was. I was ten years old in 1993. Was all I could do just to ingest the beautiful madness. Sometimes felt uncomfortable enough to change the channel or even (gasp turn off the TV. 

I say “uncomfortable” here because Rocko’s Modern Life was never boring, so it must have been discomfort that made me lukewarm on the show, which carries a 7.9 rating on IMDB. If you go check it out now, you’ll see traces of the influence it’s had in the worlds of Spongebob, Morty, and more. 

Man, this intro is careening down an unpaved path, huh? 

You can also see modern-life influences at work when watching Rocco Baldelli manage the Twins, is where I’m trying to go. 

Minnesota does things its own way, and it’s working. The Tampa-like feel to their machinations is plain as day. While it makes fans a little uncomfortable to sign a pile of creaky veterans named Homer, Piñata and Dick Mountain or to cut CJ Cron when you don’t have a first baseman on the roster, that’s life in modern baseball. 

If even one of those old arms is healthy in October, it’ll keep Rocco from having to begin a playoff game in Yankee Stadium with Randy Dobnak on the bump. I imagine I wasn’t the only one changing the channel to dodge the discomfort that night. 

Weird story short, things are looking up in Minnesota, where the system is stocked with bats and arms in both the upper and lower minors. 

Please, blog, may I have some more?

We don’t do waves in the Midwest.

It’s caused a problem for me this week. Would be so much easier to just say there’s a wave headed straight for Kansas City. 

In 2018, Royals’ General Manager Dayton Moore had a draft class that could define his organization’s decade. The pressure was on as he’d gained picks from the free agent core exodus, and the organization was staring into the abyss. 

Premium college pitching was falling. 

It didn’t seem to fit with Kansas City’s positional needs. 

But Moore leaned in, took what fell, and built a wave of pitching talent that has succeeded so far. In Singer, Kowar, Lynch, Bowlan and Bubic, Moore might’ve built a full rotation in a day. Might’ve drafted the best pitching class in the club’s history. 

Since that fateful day in 2018, the Royals have unearthed Adalberto Mondesi, Jorge Soler, and Hunter Dozier and might themselves be contending again way before anyone would have guessed. 

Kansas City’s best prospects are mostly these recent additions that quickly leapt the names we’ve been accustomed to seeing on this list. Nick Pratto was the 14th overall pick in 2017, but he’s a first baseman who hit .197 in High A. He was young for the level, but I’m not pounding the table for a decent hit, decent power first baseman who hasn’t hit as a professional. Seuly Matias was somehow even worse, striking out 44.3 percent of the time while hitting .148 and slugging .307. They might both be decent free agent adds at the moment, but you can’t trade for them or trade them away. 

For our game, the tacit appeal of Kansas City prospects remains Dayton Moore’s steadfast commitment to his guys. When/if they reach the majors, they will get a lot of opportunities to fail. Whit Merrifield wasn’t an accident to Moore. Drafted in 2010, Merrifield spent seven seasons in the organization before hitting two home runs and stealing eight bases in 81 games with a .323 on-base percentage as a rookie. Not a loud debut for a 27-year-old rookie. But then Whit got steady playing time in 2017 and went nuts: 19 HR 34 SB. 

It pays to keep an eye on their upper minors, is all I’m saying, and their slow-burn youngsters. From Mondesi to Merrifield to Dozier to whoever might step forward in 2020, Kansas City has been a sneaky source for value these past few years. I’m worried about the role Ned Yost played in these Soler-ish breakouts. I’m just recklessly speculating from a distance here, but Yost seems like a major dude who exudes positive energy, while Matheny seems to prefer more of a flexed rectum lifestyle. Could be he’s loosened up some. Could be he was already loose, and my perspective is too distant to have any accuracy. 

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Does anyone else feel like the Tigers have been tanking forever? I know it’s only been a few seasons, but they burned a couple years chasing the twilights of their veteran core. When you wait a long time to start the sell-off, the rebuild feels longer, I guess. 

Detroit failed to get much for JD Martinez, Justin Verlander or Nick Castellanos when they finally did sell. They have very little positional talent in the system, which feels odd because they haven’t graduated anyone of note, so they don’t have positional talent in the majors either. It’s jarring to look around an entire organization and find zero long-term regulars. We can count Riley Greene if you want. Niko Goodrum, too, if you like. 

Do you though?

CJ Cron was a good signing. Jonathan Schoop made sense. It’s smart for Detroit to be all over this corner of the market, but it’s even smarter to find the Travis Demerittes of the world. The 4A flier discount is a Dodger specialty that Farhan Zaidi has applied in San Francisco to decent effect already. I’d like to see Detroit exploit the AAA afterthoughts like all full rebuilds should be doing. It’s worth a lot more to unearth a player with years of cheap control than it is to give an average veteran a short-term gig hoping to flip him for low-level fliers at the deadline. 

In my early days considering this system, I figured the Tigers would hold all their relevant prospects back until 2021, but after rolling around in the roster for a while, I decided that everyone who can help is probably coming up this year. It would be yet another narrative-leaning move rather than what seems best for winning in the long term, but it makes business sense. They risk losing fans if they play the timeline game on all their arms, and if they’re letting even one come to the big leagues, why not just bring them all up and enjoy the energy surge of having exciting young arms to watch every other day. If they fail, send them back down. The fans will be on board with the slow-burn at that point. Makes sense to dodge AAA with Mize, Manning and Skubal if at all possible, too. If you’re going to experience the juicy-ball confidence-death that awaits pitchers these days, why not let it happen at the big leagues to soothe the mind. Better to give up an oppo cheapie to Ronald Acuna Jr. than Yasmani Tomas, confidence-wise. 

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Once upon a time, Cleveland had too many catchers.

The fantasy baseball community knew just what to do in this scenario: throw a killer New Years party, trade Yan Gomes, start Francisco Mejia, and bench Roberto Perez. 

Cleveland scanned this obvious play and disregarded it, attempting instead some inverse combination of the above by staying home to watch a movie, trading Mejia for Brad Hand and starting Gomes, who played well and endeared himself to a fan base that was frustrated to see Mejia go. 

That off-season—last winter—fans were livid to see the club swap Gomes for Jefry Rodríguez, Daniel Johnson and Andruw Monasterio. Yanny G was set to cost about $7 million, and the inferior Roberto Perez was under contract for about two million. Nasty things were said. Baseball Universe decided Cleveland was cheap and dumb for how it handled the catching surplus. 

One year later, Roberto Perez is a solid OBP source with excellent defense and plus power for the position, while Yan Gomes is a $7 million backup in Washington. 

So my thinking in regard to this Kluber trade or any Cleveland move: que sera sera. 

The Yandy Diaz trade for Jake Bauers did not go as well, but in general, Baseball Universe loved that one, and this team knows what it’s doing. I’m sure it’s depressing to lose the Klubot and Bauer in a matter of months, but if anyone can develop the pitching to make fans forget, it’s Cleveland. Maybe it’s not the perfect trade, but Emmanuel Clase is going to bring positive value across the life of his contract. Open-market relievers are pricey these days. And we have little reason for confidence regarding the state of Kluber’s health. Could be this one looks bad next New Year, but whatever will be, will be. 

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Someone wins the off-season every winter. The baseball calendar invites us to imagine how a power bat like Edwin Encarnacion and a high OBP catcher like Yasmani Grandal will impact a lineup. It’s math we can do more easily than we can measure the addition of a great left tackle to a football team. We can plug Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez into Chicago’s rotation and add up their wins above replacement. It’s all very earnest and joyful and helps us push through the expanding darkness. 

Course, someone wins summer in football, too, but it feels very different. Football has no WAR, ironically enough, and while I think that’s at least as flawed a statistic as batting average, WAR is currently treated with reverence due to the shorthand evaluative powers it grants the baseball world. 

While it’s efficacy can be debated, WAR dominates our world, and there can be no doubt the White Sox have gone to WAR this winter. The people are singing songs of freedom and glory—not just for these winter wins but also for the prospect waterfall coming this Spring. 

And who doesn’t love to see a slow-cooked recipe come together, especially during the holiday season?

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Just days after the Toronto Blue Jays inked Hyun-Jin Ryu, we meet as scheduled many months ago to discuss their minor league system. The fates are aligned this Holiday season. 

And it’s pretty good–this system–considering what it graduated to the big leagues last year.

Is it Christmas-morning good? 

Like gathering around the prospect fire with your favorite baseball humans good? 

Maybe not, but it’s good enough in pitching that help should be coming soon enough to pair with the promising young hitters Toronto’s assembled. Don’t sleep on Tellez and Teoscar, by the way. They aren’t exactly what you’re hoping to find under the tree, sure, but they’re solid stocking stuffers within reach of 30 home runs in 2020. 

Please, blog, may I have some more?

I doubt there’s any good way to explore this, but this week I found myself wondering if this year’s rays prospect list might be the fastest top 10 in baseball history or at least in the last several years. Perhaps the turf-burning Cardinals and Royals of the 80’s could measure up in parts, but they wouldn’t have three 80 runners and a Wander, I think. 

Fantasy baseball players love the Tampa Bay Rays to some extent already, I think, but they should probably just lean in and pick up all the profit. Avisail Garcia was a great example of this last year. As were Emilio Pagan and Nick Anderson and Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows. And that’s all just last season. Oh, Brandon Lowe, too, though he was from within. 

This year it’s Brendan McKay and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo; Kevin Padlo and Joe Ryan; Josh Lowe, Colin Poche and Brent Honeywell Jr.

Also Hunter Renfroe.

Because crazier things have happened. 

Presumably.

Jesus Aguilar did not drink the lazarus water in 2019, so it’s not like Tampa Bay bats a thousand, but the Midas touch element here is real. Consider Nick Solak. Traded for Peter Fairbanks. When a prospect leaves Tampa, it’s because there’s no room at the inn, and they see an angle they want to play now. Our move is to realize their bar is incredibly high, so when they “sour” on a prospect enough to move him, it means a little less than it might in other smart organizations. Solak is still probably a value, depending on how you acquire him, and Fairbanks should be tracked in leagues where his profile (high K reliever) matters. 

I veered off the path there. Suffices to say you could do worse in dynasty leagues than focusing on the organizations that are best at this particular game of finding talented players and helping them maximize their abilities. Or even just using it as a tiebreak when looking at two players of similar appeal. Estanli Castillo and Alberto Figueroa won’t make many lists this off-season, but I will be checking in on throughout the season because they’re with Tampa. I will check their game logs every few weeks or so just in case Castillo begins a noisy home run binge or Figueroa starts swiping bases in bunches. I just don’t want to be late to a Tampa party because a Tampa party rarely stops.  

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Cue the Darth Vader music: here comes the evil empire. 

Only problem with that is the current Collective Bargaining Agreement makes the Yankees seem like a force for good in the game. Brian Cashman’s clever management of an enormous budget makes the never-Tankees a sustainable monster. 

Side note: it’s not just greed that keeps owners from spending. Talent-acquisition penalties and revenue sharing connected to the luxury tax keeps owners from spending. 

According to Bryan Hoch of mlb.com: “Since Cole received a qualifying offer, the Astros will receive a pick after Competitive Balance Round B, and the Yankees will lose their second-and fifth-highest selections, as well as $1 million from their international bonus pool for the upcoming signing period. Houston’s pick, at the moment, is No. 74 overall, though that will most likely change with subsequent signings/compensations.”

You won’t see this discussed or even reported very often in the conversation about Cole’s contract. The younger brother of Fernando Tatis Jr., Elijah, just signed with the White Sox for $400,000. Their dad thinks he has the best power in the family. So the Yankees forfeit two-point-five Tatis brothers here, just because they wanted to pay a great player a lot of money. 

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Years of ignoring the international market left the Orioles behind the rest of baseball in the absolutely critical world of talent procurement and development. Ownership, beloved by all Baltimore fans, finally decided to amend this practice last year, hiring General Manager Mike Elias away from Houston. As his first move, Elias hired Houston colleague and former NASA engineer Sig Mejdal to be his “General Manager for Analytics,” a new job title in the baseball world. 

Elias and Mejdal were central in the process that brought Houston so far into the future they decided scouts were outdated. The baseball world will watch their work in Baltimore with bated breath. Was what happened in Houston a magical confluence of hyper-competitive individuals that can’t be replicated outside that moment in time and space? Or can the secret sauce be imported and applied even in the most barren landscapes? 

As with pretty much everything, truth is somewhere in the middle, but I’m leaning toward the latter—that yes this duo will be successful in Baltimore, and yes this would be an ominous outcome for the future employment of scouts on the ground. 

Please, blog, may I have some more?