I’ve been watching Pirates SS Oneil Cruz for a long time, but the sensory shock of seeing him run the bases stays fresh. As does the thump of seeing him square up a baseball. On big league broadcasts, we get more angles from better cameras than we see in minor league games. Some minor league broadcasts show mostly just the hitter/pitcher interaction, so I’d almost forgotten what Cruz looks like tagging from third base on a shallow flyball, or throwing a laser across the diamond from shortstop. I would say it’s probably too late to trade for him now, but I did manage to acquire him that way in two dynasty leagues this season, so perhaps it’s not impossible. I paid a lot, to be fair, but I’m happy with it.

In the 15-team Razznasty League, I moved Shane Bieber, Anthony Rendon and Gabriel Moreno for Cruz back on May 12. Bieber had just gotten touched up by Toronto, and I was worried about his diminished velocity. He’s since rebounded, but I’m happy with that. Always good if your trade partner has positive trade remnants from you on the roster. This deal might be an overpay, but I have a constant need to clear roster spots in that format, especially on the big league side. 

We’re not going to get four RBI every night from Cruz. He’s definitely going to struggle at some point, but the talent here is first-round fantasy gold type stuff. Prospect writers aren’t always great at differentiating between who’s a good prospect because he’ll be a major league regular and who’s a good prospect because he can help carry your fantasy teams. Even if they can see the difference, it’s complicated to articulate. Becoming a solid major league regular is an incredible outcome for any prospect, but guys like Cruz belong in a slightly different bucket.  

At the time of his promotion, 26-year-old Pirates OF Bligh Madris ranked 4th in the AAA International League in terms of wRC+ at 141, just four behind Vinnie Pasquantino. He’s also a left-handed hitter whose swing seems perfectly geared for the right-center field power alley in Pittsburgh. 

Padres SS CJ Abrams returns to San Diego swinging a hot bat, slashing .398/.442/.591 with 4 HR and 7 SB over his last 19 games at AAA. At some point in the second half, these Padres will feature Fernando Tatis Jr, Esteury Ruiz and CJ Abrams in a lineup that will look very different than the one that got them through May. I wonder if they’ll put MacKenzie Gore on ice for a week or so to work through some command stuff and save some innings for a postseason push. 

Diamondbacks 3B Buddy Kennedy (23, MLB) made his debut on June 17 at DH and has played three games at second base since then. He wasn’t dominating at AAA (.296/.384/.429) but has shown great plate skills throughout his career. With Ketel Marte frequently on the mend, Kennedy could solidify a utility role by making consistent contact. 

Hitters don’t get much hotter than Brewers SS Eduardo Garcia (19, A), who has six home runs over his last 12 games. He’s not walking at all, but I’m pleased to see he can do this kind of damage when he’s locked in. He’s also a plus defender up the middle, so he won’t have to be elite with the bat to climb the ladder. 

Guardians RHP Carlos Vargas (22, AA) reportedly hit 101 on the radar gun in his first game action since 2019. He’s always had smooth mechanics and dynamic stuff, so he’s one to watch closely over his next few outings, especially insofar as his role within the organization is concerned. My guess is he’ll be a reliever at least for a little while, which could let him chase that fastball to the majors. I’m a little surprised he was assigned directly to AA after last pitching in Low A three years ago. Makes me think they’d like to fast-track him. 

Rockies 1B OF Sean Bouchard (26) is probably going to ride the bench and eventually return to AAA. Such is life as a Rocky. If the planets align and harmonic convergence allows Bouchard to play baseball in Colorado despite being a rookie, I think he could hit some homers and steal some bases. He slashed .338/.430/.683 with 11 HR and 9 SB in 37 games at AAA, sporting a spiffy 13.3%/21.8% BB/K rate. I’m game if they are. 

Angels 1B David MacKinnon (27) faces a similar fate as Bouchard. He’s added power the past few seasons while maintaining excellent plate skills but could be labeled a 4A drifter because he’s not especially versatile on defense. The moment I think, “perhaps they’ll try him at third” I realize Joe Maddon is gone. Maybe they still will, but most non-Maddon managers tend to play their players at the positions they play, and the Angels are stacked up at 1B and DH. 

The Cubs recalled OF Nelson Velazquez (23) in accordance with the league mandate to reduce the number of pitchers on each staff to lucky number thirteen. Good call MLB. I’m sure that’ll go great.  

Velazquez would be playing just about every day in a rational universe, which means he’s an end-of-the-bench fifth outfielder in the one. 

Tampa recalled 2B/1B Jonathan Aranda (24), who they hope can get some of these injuries out of their heart. Pick him up if you can, where you can. 

Boston recalled SS Jeter Downs (23), who was hitting .180 in AAA. There’s a Twitter thing going around about Derek Jeter not being a good hitter or something. I don’t know. I struggle to understand Twitter but keep returning for the confusing dopamine hits, and the links. If you ever liked a team that ever had to face Jeter, you’d have to call bullshizz on this one. Not on Twitter, obviously. That kind of noise would only bring replies. I’m mostly trying to hide out like Jeff Bridges in The Old Man. I might go on the occasional date, but that’s only in a must-date scenario, and even then I’ll wear some fake glasses. Hey, maybe Jeter Downs needs glasses? Then we can have the Rick Vaughn-esque bounce back! In his defense, Downs has managed 11 home runs and 11 stolen bases despite the contact struggles.

Thanks for reading!

I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.

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Oddball Herrera
Oddball Herrera
10 days ago

Ruiz has hit his first slump in AAA – this is the moment of truth because if he really has the glaring issues the scouts say he does, AAA pitchers should be able to exploit them to some degree.

Dr Sauce
Dr Sauce
10 days ago

Best lottery ticket for mid to late season goodness:

Estuary Ruiz, Miguel Vargas, Gunner Henderson

Long term keeper potential not a factor. More looking at proximity to call up and potential difference making this year. I’m already rostering Carroll as a lottery ticket for next year.

Can you rank your top two of these three (given my conditions above)?

Thanks for your consistent and top quality work!

Kruk_Ain't_An_Athlete
Kruk_Ain't_An_Athlete
10 days ago

Hey Itch! Always excited to see your articles. 14-team 5×5 OBP roto…

What would you change or is this order (of my league’s FA prospects) correct?

C.Carroll
E.Tovar
F.Alvarez
M.Luciano
M.Mayer
D.Espino
Elly De La Cruz
J.Lawlar
G.Henderson

Kruk_Ain't_An_Athlete
Kruk_Ain't_An_Athlete
Reply to  The Itch
8 days ago

Not a true dynasty…just a 2-yr keeper league; however, we don’t start their years until their rookie year. It is Year 1 and then you can keep them another…if it’s a Super 2 guy you get an extra year. Thanks!

VASH
VASH
10 days ago

Kennedy lacks power correct?

Thoughts on Dominic Fletcher? A minors breakout? Power is real?

Troy
Troy
11 days ago

Hey man,
Who do you suggest I should pick Anthony Santander or Renfroe?

Luvdarooks
Luvdarooks
11 days ago

6 x 6 where it is 0BP and doubles and triples… And pitching it is quality starts and net wins… I’m thinking of trading my surplus of hitters in the form of Nolan Gorman who is very cheap next year for a Morton on the Braves I need some pitching and won’t really need Nolan. Just hate to give him away and have him head for a decent average and 40 homers next year… But I’m shooting up the standings right now with O’Neil Cruz and Riley Green coming to town.
It will work for me if you think Morton has the potential and is not washed up.
Make the trade. ?

Jimmy
Jimmy
11 days ago

O.Cruz has been gone for a couple years in my 13 team dynasty league, but grabbed Captain Bligh! Aranda is available, should I drop Luis Gonzalez for him….Liover P. Was just dropped…thoughts? You are the best in the biz! Thanks for all you do!!

Anthony
Anthony
11 days ago

In a deeper keeper league, would you move India and Brennan Davis for Gorman? Trying to get the next big keystone guy.

Love your content!

Kaptan
Kaptan
11 days ago

Hi Itch! Much love from Indianapolis, I look forward to your posts every week.

Wanted to get your thoughts on Diamondbacks minor league pitcher Brandon Pfaadt. I’m a huge Diamondbacks fan and think he could be a nice sleeper pickup! Very traditional pitcher, throws a ton of strikes and doesn’t walk many hitters.

Philip
Philip
11 days ago

Excellent stuff as usual, Itch. I’m interested in Bligh. Is he a potential dynasty piece, or an average guy at best?

This may sound stupid, but what are the primary differences between Wiemer and Cruz? They seem like similar profiles.

Thanks!

Primetime
Primetime
11 days ago

Abrams is a bit overrated. He’s not a very good major league player. He’s a lot like brujan. Great minor league players who can’t make big league adjustments. Plenty of guys came up and are playing well.

I grabbed Cruz and Carroll Baz and Gray Rod in my 10 team keeper league. My team is old and guys like Story and Arenado no longer keepers. Freeman is meh, he may not even be a keeper any more.

I have Lux and Kirloff but I’d like to grab another young player.

We keep 7 total and my pitching is pretty loaded.

fivepoundbass
fivepoundbass
Reply to  Primetime
10 days ago

It’s interesting to me when we watch players grow and develop for years in the minors, then some write them off if they don’t shine right away in the majors. It’s as if the start of their career in the majors is the finish line.

Primetime
Primetime
Reply to  fivepoundbass
10 days ago

Like Addel and buxton? Buxton was #1 for years, injury prone and overrated. 5 tool guy? 28 years old with no break out yet just broken.

fivepoundbass
fivepoundbass
Reply to  Primetime
10 days ago

Adell is a good comp. He has 359 career plate appearances, and many people have written him off already.

Byron Buxton is a tremendously better player than he was when he came up.

Oddball Herrera
Oddball Herrera
Reply to  fivepoundbass
10 days ago

The problem is that with Abrams the production hasn’t really been there since Rookie ball. 109, 112, 116 are his wRCs in A, AA and AAA respectively. Not exactly domination even in spite of his age.

I think he is overrated in that most of his value as a prospect is based upon projection, and not performance and I am always skeptical of the ‘I’m sure he’ll put it all together with the bat any day now’ types. That’s how you end up overinvesting in prospects like Jurickson Profar.

Anyway, I just can’t put him in the same can’t miss prospect bucket as guys like Tatis, Guerrero, Buxton, Franco, etc. who were young and crushed every stop they made. Nothing to do with his performance in limited MLB ABs

Last edited 10 days ago by Oddball Herrera
fivepoundbass
fivepoundbass
Reply to  Oddball Herrera
10 days ago

@Oddball I don’t disagree with you. He’s not comparable to the guys you mentioned. My disagreement was with writing him off as a bad MLB player after a handful of games. He could be comparable to Tommy Edman in a few years, which would still make him a good ball player.

Primetime
Primetime
Reply to  fivepoundbass
3 days ago

Edman was never a top 5 prospect. CJ is not very good player. Seems bit rushed cause of injuries. Yankees doing a great job with Volpe. Let him season and maybe he gets a taste of playoffs cause Torres once a top prospect is awful.

Matt
Matt
11 days ago

Hi Itch!
How special of a player would you forecast Cruz to be?

I have him as a $1 player in an obp league and am getting big offers. Thoughts on he, Perez (12), and filler for Kirk ($1), Gunner Gunnar Henderson,, Michael Harris (1), and Morel (1).
Thanks,
Matt

Matt
Matt
Reply to  Matt
11 days ago

Obp Roto keep 12

Lower the Jolly Roger
Lower the Jolly Roger
11 days ago

Itch I love it as usual ! 12 team keep 10 & 12 farm/stash … according to your rankings obviously pick up Vaughn Grissom and drop Pratto ? Also Nick Gonzales was dropped today but I see he’s been slipping … Thank you for all you do !!

toolshed
toolshed
11 days ago

I wanted to ask a follow up on a prior Baddoo question from several weeks ago. This time it is more direct. Would you keep him in a 16 team dynasty league with 40 man roaters where most teams have 10-12 prospects or is it time to find a replacement / prospect to use for that NA spot? I thought Baddoo flashed some nice upside in spurts last year. Thanks

Drew
Drew
11 days ago

Thanks Itch! Would you move Starling Marte for Oneil in a 16-team OPS keeper?

Jim
Jim
11 days ago

Hi Itch- I know Bligh Madris was off most prospect folks lists coming into the season, maybe not yours as you seem to have as big / bigger list of guys to watch than anyone I know. What do you think we may expect from IF he gets regular playing time- a big if with Pittsburgh. I know Gamel will be back soon and then Suwinski and Madris maybe split time, Calvin Mitchell seems to be the guy most likely to be demoted to AAA for Gamel. Thanks, love reading your stuff every Wednesday and Sunday.

scoboticus
scoboticus
11 days ago

Captain Bligh plays for the Pirates, matey!

scoboticus
scoboticus
11 days ago

Hi Itch! Picking up Naranda in my keeper league. Need to drop either Jordan Walker or Miguel Vargas.

scoboticus
scoboticus
Reply to  scoboticus
11 days ago

Sorry, Aranda.

Rick Brown
Rick Brown
Reply to  scoboticus
11 days ago

Just my 2 cents but I wouldn’t want to drop Walker or Vargas