Alright, aright. Time to fess up. Who here has been that person who has inadvertently left a water bottle or thermos filled with their drink of choice in their bag for the TSA security check? I have to be brutally honest, I come into this week’s fantasy post with a two-flight coffee thermos streak. The first time, I managed to chug the entire (hot) coffee down and slide over to the plastic bins without causing any panic or delay. The second time, I began to repeat my previous actions before a particular TSA agent leaned over and said, “You know, you can just pour that in the recycling bin. We don’t recycle anything here.” I will leave that airport anonymous.
While I did my absolute best not to crap my pants during the ensuing flight detailed in scenario No. 1, the latter situation provided me with an equally intriguing story. Scenario No. 2 also left me with a much better appetite and more bearable stomach composition as we cruised through the air. As a result of these strange experiences, the theme for this week’s prospect security check will not be so much who to pack (or unpack) for your fantasy journey, but how certain prospects might play into the meal you enjoy (or throw up, depending on how you fare in your league) on your fantasy baseball trek along the way.
This will be the second installment in my prospect security check series, the first of which you can find here. As a reminder, the purpose of these pieces is to thoroughly break down fantasy baseball prospects that Razzball readers have specifically asked me to dive into more detail about. In this installment, I will discuss three top 50 MLB prospects that we may (or may not) see debut in 2020: Christian Pache, Sixto Sanchez and Tarik Skubal. But remember, no amount of fantasy advice I give you can outweigh my advice to never chug a full tumbler of coffee before a flight. You will thank me — and so will those who wind up within your vicinity on the plane.
Should you Pache the airline salt, or should you quickly snatch it back up for yourself upon it being requested and sprinkle some all over your own plate for some extra flavor? Honestly, it depends what you’re eating, what your expectations are, whether or not you suffer from IBS, etc. Seeing how highly sought after Pache is in the vast majority of dynasty leagues, I think there are some misconceptions about who he is exactly is from a fantasy perspective.
Pache enters 2020 as the No. 13 prospect in the game according to both MLB.com and Baseball America, but remember, neither of these publications give two Charlie Manuel dumps about your fantasy team. For two straight years, Pache has graded out as the top defensive prospect in the game thanks to his 70-grade glove and arm. That won’t exactly do much for you in fantasy, aside from anyone whose league carries a CF designation (which is stupid), but Pache has a good chance of taking the reigns on Atlanta’s starting centerfield gig in the near future. The 70-grade legs which aid his defensive prowess, however, are a lot more enticing. But again, the rising star has not yet figured out how to translate such a tool to fantasy production. It’s more speed than stolen base output: 58 steals in 96 attempts in the Minors, translating to a career 60.4% success rate. In 2019, he was successful on just 42.1% of attempts, stealing just eight bags while being gunned down 11 times. Not exactly trending in the right direction. It’s safe to say this is the most glaring hole in Pache’s game — a player who boasts legitimate five category potential, but is still working on putting it together.
In a normal year, Pache would have opened 2020 at Triple-A Gwinett and worked his way to Atlanta by the summer. Instead, he’s positioned on the 40-man and should see action with the Braves if there’s indeed a season, but he won’t have the same live game reps to smooth out some of the more under-developed components of his craft: his baserunning and offensive approach. In 105 Triple-A plate appearances last year, Pache posted his best K and BB rates since Rookie level via a 17.1 K% and 8.6 BB%. It’s a positive sign that those numbers are moving in the right direction, but he also sported a 24.0 K%/7.9 BB% in 433 Double-A plate appearances — a much larger sample size. On top of that, his career MiLB rates reflect a 19.5 K% and 6.4 BB%. For a player equipped with a 55-hit tool who seems to be improving on his hefty strikeout percentages, I’m willing to look the other way. But in OBP leagues, we would obviously like to see Pache drawing walks more frequently: career .331 OBP, .340 in 2019. Not a drain, but not top prospect worthy either.
Now, those are just the concerns — something just about every prospect has their fair share of. I began with them to make sure our readers understand the stark difference between Pache the MLB prospect and Pache the fantasy baseball prospect. A lot of these question marks can be offset by his generational defensive talent as it relates to actual baseball, but the same is not the case for fantasy. In fantasy, we care about the raw offensive production and proficiency on the basepaths. Although it’s clear he isn’t developing properly as a base stealer, he has steadily developing with the bat, while also exhibiting a higher power ceiling than previously anticipated. While splitting time at Double-A and Triple-A in 2019, Pache delivered an OPS above .750 for the first time since 2016 Rookie ball, slashing .277/.340/.462 with 12 homers over 538 plate appearances. His .815 OPS in the pitcher-friendly Southern League was encouraging and came with a 433 PA sample size as mentioned before, but he did struggle to adjust a tad in his brief Triple-A showing and the power took a downturn: .274/.337/.411 with just one homer in 26 games.
The good news is that no matter which way you spin it, Pache’s pop is developing better than many scouts projected when he was signed as an international free agent during the 2015-16 signing period: 0 home runs in Rookie level/Single-A action from 2016-17, but 21 big flies the past two seasons as he progressed from High-A to Triple-A. With the way his swing has developed and the muscle he has put on, many scouts now believe he is capable of 20-25 home runs, and perhaps even 30+ in the Major Leagues (my prediction, 22-28 bombs and 12-15 steals, 20 if he learns how to properly use his wheels). That’s a big change from the 10-15 homer ceiling he was given as a prospect back in 2016. The question is, do you think Pache can produce that kind of thump as a Big Leaguer, and can he swipe enough bags to help our your team without getting gunned down nearly half the time? I’m in on Pache for the right price, but I’m certainly not paying the premium that many are. In dynasty formats, I’m not scrambling to deal for him with hopes he’ll give my team a major boost in 2020 after the Nick Markakis opt-out, and I’m certainly not taking him as a late round flier in redrafts. However, I am willing to pay a reasonable fee for him on the wire if the right value comes along — and I urge you to do the same.
If one of your leaguemates asks you if you’re willing to Pache the salt, see what’s being served first — and then proceed. There is five category stud potential in Pache, but based on the numbers, he isn’t nearly as fantasy ready as he is real world ready. Forecast: cloudy with a chance of very delicious meatballs that could kill you if you’re standing in the wrong spot and are too ignorant to look up.
The main dish on today’s flight was salted Pache, but there’s still room for a couple of palatable side dishes. Truthfully, that designation relates only to the time I’ll be spending on each player, for Sanchez is not a green bean prospect by any stretch of the imagination: he’s a steak.
Imagine a not-yet 22-year old pitcher whose full-season career worsts in the Minor Leagues reflect a 3.03 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 2.1 BB/9. You like that? Now add in the fact that he possesses four plus pitches and sits in the mid-to-high 90s with a fastball that can eclipse 100 MPH. Oh yeah, keep it coming. What if I told you that same pitcher has not ever, not once struck out a batter per inning at any stop throughout the Minors during parts of five seasons and five different levels of play? And that that player was Sixto Sanchez? Your jaw would drop so fast it would smash right into your little pull-out airplane tray and rattle the Nora Roberts novel right out of the hands of the 78-year-old grandmother sitting in front of you.
Well, that’s Sixto. I love Sixto, I want me some Sixto, but Sixto is a paradox. Four plus pitches (depending on your assesment of the slider), velo that sits mid-to-high 90s and some pretty impressive command for a young gun. Yet, the career K/9 sits at 7.9, which takes into account an 8.5 K/9 in 103 Double-A frames last year. That’s obviously surprising, because Sanchez commands all of his offerings — a four-seam fastball, two-seamer with sinking action, changeup and slider — remarkably well for his age (1.7 career BB/9). The four-seamer is plus-plus, while the changeup is a plus pitch as well and you can argue the slider is anywhere from slightly above average-to-plus, although it’s still developing (out of his arsenal, I’ve seen him miss with the slider out over the plate the most). Through 335 1/3 Minor League innings, just 103 of those came at Double-A — and those were in the pitcher-friendly Southern League. All of this leads to the begging of the question, can Sixto be a 9.0+ K/9 arm for your fantasy team in the future?
The answer is yes. The stuff is too good and with elite command comes the ability to pinpoint pitches both in and out of the strike zone. The latter is something Sanchez needs to begin to do more frequently, and I don’t think any fantasy owner would complain about the BB/9 rising anywhere from 2.0-2.9 if he’s able to push his strikeout rates to 9.5+. It’s definitely possible and although some ‘perts’ might argue otherwise, I don’t believe his average strikeout numbers are due to a lack of deception or life on his fastball. However, those hoping Sanchez will be Miami’s best starter since Jose Fernandez should proceed with caution. Number one, that isn’t saying much. Actually, it’s more like saying nothing, because they’ve traded away all the frontline starters that have been developed in their system.
Those hoping Sixto will be Fernandez-esque should proceed with caution because although the former is a high-floor prospect with the chance to be an ace, he will never provide you with a 12.0+ K/9 over a multi-year stretch, which is what Fernandez accomplished from 2014-16. Fernandez also did that with 2.5 BB/9, 2.80 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over 298 2/3 innings, so realistically, you would be a fool to expect any of your prospects to live up to expectations such as those.
You would also be a fool to not ask your flight attendant for another Biscoff cookie. Those things are fricken’ delicious, and we still have to fly over Iowa, which besides being the location of The Itch’s residence, is pretty boring to gaze at from above.
Skubal is your Biscoff cookie. He’s undervalued by MLB.com (among others) and ranked the third-best pitching prospect in Detroit’s organization behind Casey Mize and Matt Manning (this, you know), but once you bite into him, you’re like, “damn, how was this shit free?” If you’re an upside-chaser and fancy you some sexy K-rates, maybe Sixto isn’t your cup of tee (or Styrofoam cup of coffee), but Skubal is: he shot up the organizational ladder in 2019 and finished with an absurd 17.4 K/9 over 15 starts at Double-A (combined 13.13 K/9 in 2019). How can anyone consider him a fringe top 50 prospect?
Our very own The Itch is much higher on Skubal than industry consensus, ranking him ahead of both Mize and Manning at No. 11 overall as the top pitching prospect for 2021 fantasy baseball. Bold ranking? Definitely. Unwarranted? Certainly not. I applaud Itch for doing what so many fantasy writers are too afraid to do: deviate significantly from that of real world prospect rankings (Keith Law and Jim Callis do not care about fantasy production). Skubal was drafted in the ninth round of the 2018 MLB Draft out of Seattle University (AKA would have signed for $20k or returned to college in the 2020 climate), then went on to toss 22 1/3 innings in a partial season which he split between Rookie ball, Low-A and Single-A. In that small sample size, Skubal dominated to the tune of a 0.40 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 13.3 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9. But it was an extremely small sample size against lower-level competition, right?
In 2019, Skubal began at High-A, firing 80 1/3 innings with a 2.58 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 10.9 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. That earned him the promotion to Double-A I referred to above, in which he struck out 17.4 batters-per-nine. That came with a 2.13 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 3.8 BB/9 to complete a 2019 season that featured a 2.42 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 13.1 K.9 and 2.7 BB/9. Skubal even limits the long ball like a seasoned vet with just 0.5 HR/9 in 2019 to back up a career 0.4 mark.
Since he didn’t come from a signature college program and missed all of 2017 (what would have been his true junior year) to Tommy John surgery, not to mention he pitched poorly in his subsequent draft year in 2018 (4.16 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 6.3 BB/9), Skubal flew under the radar in the MLB Draft. Now, even though his MiLB track record is sexy as a golden thong through one pro season and some change, many of those ‘perts’ out there still wonder if 2020 was a fluke. Obviously, a 17.4 K/9 isn’t sustainable and neither is the 18.1% swinging strike rate we saw across his full 2019 campaign, but there’s no reason he can’t be a 13.0+ swing strike % pitcher in his prime, which woudl make him an elite front-of-the-rotation arm, especially by fantasy standards. For reference, Gerrit Cole led Major League starters at 16.8% in 2019 and 10.7% is league average for a starter. 13 MLB starters had a swinging strike % above 13.0 last season.
I’ll finish with the following hot take, but it’s not the first time I’ve said this: I think when prospect gurus put together their rankings and label guys with a No. 3 starter ceiling, future back-end starter, etc., they’re just pulling shit out of their ass. Think back to that picture of me on a cross-country flight after chugging my tumbler filled with black coffee. Half the time, these assessments can’t be backed up by anything concrete. I can remember hearing that Yu Darvish had a No. 3 starter ceiling when he was coming over to the MLB. The same ceiling was given to Aaron Nola coming out of LSU. And then, we hype up some of these first round draft picks (Mark Appel and Tyler Jay, for example) as future frontline starters and they never accomplish anything substantial in the Minors to back it up. Saying Skubal has a No. 2-3 starter ceiling is ludicrous, because he has a 60-fastball that sits 93-95 MPH and touches 97, a plus-slider, a 55-curveball and 55-changeup. I’m already out of steam writing about Skubal, but you can easily find guys with less stuff who are being projected as a future No. 1-2, while Skubal actually has the track record of success in the Minors to back it up.
Out of the three prospects I went over today, Skubal is the most underrated prospect of the trio as it relates to future fantasy output. You can sleep on your three-hour flight to Aunt Betty’s, but don’t sleep on Skubal by valuing him as the third-best starter in Detroit’s farm and the No. 46 prospect in baseball.
If you made it through my weekly novel without sharting out the contents of your thermos, you can follow me on Twitter @WorldOfHobbs. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, especially if you disagree or if there’s a prospect you would like to see me write about in the future.