Every night before an ensuing flight, I go through this recurring ritual of dumping out the contents of my entire backpack onto the floor. I go through everything piece-by-piece to make sure I never end up looking like Ice Cube in the first Are We There Yet? movie. Nope, no corkscrew hiding on this guy, thank you very much. If you’re familiar with the kind of ritual I’m talking about, then you’ll understand the concept of this post.
I live a modest life. I’m not hopping on any charters or flying first class anywhere. Usually, I fly economy with one carry-on and one personal item. Even if it’s free, I usually avoid checking bags as a means of circumventing the lines and getting the hell out of the airport as quickly as possible. Even if I’m leaving for two-plus weeks, I’m keeping it light and walking straight to security.
This means I have to ensure that I’m not leaving any accidental surprises in any of my bags and that I’m preemptively planning where to grab a bottle of contact solution upon landing. Nothing adds to an already sucky, dirt-cheap red-eye flight like stalking the aisles of a random Wal-Mart in the wee hours of the morning for some Biotrue.
In this piece, I’m going through that same ritual, but with MLB prospects. Since I began writing for Razzball, I have been leaving some items in my bag (A.K.A. the comments section) that have yet to be dumped out. Now, as I embark on my next trip (A.K.A. this post), I am dumping out my satchel to ensure I’m covering every Razzball reader’s need as it relates to fantasy baseball prospects.
Upon lifting up my bag and turning it upside down, a frazzled Jesus Luzardo comes tumbling out and into the air. *AHHHHHH!* He screams, followed by a *BOB MELVIN, BASEBALL’S LONGEST-TENURED MANAGER, WHERE ARE YOU WHEN I NEED YOU?!?!* Shortly after landing safely on my decorative rug (rest assured, this was not done over the hardwood as to avoid player injury), Luzardo was joined by Luis Patino, Spencer Howard, Jasson Dominguez and Kumar Rocker.
In the paragraphs that follow, I will be breaking down five prospects that readers have asked me about in the comments section in recent weeks: four from the Minor League ranks and one still entrenched in the realm of college baseball. Upon completion, I will re-pack my bag and subsequently await more pleasant interactions with our great readers. But before I do, I will let you know which of these five prospects you should zip back up and bring with you through security to your final destination. It could be all five, or it could be none of them. *takes a sip of Dr. Pepper, swallows and lets out a deep sigh of relief and satisfaction* An eloquent analogy is now complete. Onto the prospects!
Back in October, Grey gave you his Jesus Luzardo fantasy and projected MLB Pipeline’s No. 12 prospect to toss 106 innings with a line of 7-3/3.18/1.11/134. That was well before the 2020 season hit an indefinite delay, thus drastically changing what we might expect from Luzardo in 2020. This was also before MLB began exploring their Arizona plan and before I spent an entire Easter Sunday watching Scripps National Spelling Bee reruns. It was a simpler time. Although my goal here is to provide you with more of a long-term opinion of Luzardo, I think someone such as him, who has some injury concerns and an obvious innings limit, should be given a major boost in updated 2020 rankings due to the assumed and abbreviated nature of the upcoming season.
Call him the Lizard King or Luzardo King, as long as you don’t refer to him as a snake – because he’s not sneaking up on anybody. Me? Honestly, I’m tired of all the lizard jokes. Seeing as Luzardo hails from Peru, I prefer to call him The Incredibly Deadly Viper, as seen in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Like Snicket, I, too, revel at the thought of my own pseudonym. Let’s begin by covering the basics. Luzardo has healthy command of all his pitches: 65-grade fastball, 65-changeup, 55-curveball and 55-slider. The fastball actually has two forms, the first of which is a hard four-seamer that sits in the mid 90s and touches 98 MPH. The other is a sinking two-seamer that he actually relies on a little more heavily, having thrown the pitch 8.8% more than the four-seam fastball in a minuscule 2019 sample size of 12 innings at the MLB level. Scouts are equally as impressed with the changeup, if not more, which may be his best pitch with its exceptional downward action. As for the actual breaking ball, some see a clear difference in a cutter/slider and curveball combo, while others feel it’s more of the same slurvy offering with variations in depth.
Across parts of three seasons in the Minors from 2017-19, Luzardo fired 195 2/3 innings with a 2.53 ERA/1.04 WHIP with 234 strikeouts. With that came a 10.8 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 and 0.6 HR/9. Heading into 2019, he appeared ticketed for a rotation spot with the Athletics, but a shoulder strain cost his two-plus months and then a lat strain during rehab further delayed his progress. In the end, Luzardo made his Big League debut this past September with 16 strikeouts in 12 innings to back up a 1.50 ERA/0.67 WHIP/295 ERA+/3.37 xFIP. There’s some luck sprinkled in there, but since I’ve already beaten this horse deader than Ted Williams’ frozen corpse, you get the picture: the frontline starter upside is enormous, but the injury risk and concerns about his long-term future as a starter are ever-present. Sure, his arsenal alone profiles him as a starting pitcher, but if he can’t build up his innings due to either repeated injury or a cancelled season, his role in the Bigs could change.
I’m not saying this is going to happen. All I’m trying to impress upon you is that you would be foolish to put stock in Luzardo in any deep format and not take this into account. We already know he can produce the bottom-line results and is capable of completely neutralizing left-handed hitters, so I am by no means a Luzardo hater. Nevertheless, let’s do a quick exercise of dramatically overreacting to The Incredibly Deadly Viper’s small MLB sample size in 2019: hitters produced an average exit velocity of 87.4 MPH with a sweet spot % of 26.9% and a 23.1% hard hit %. That average exit velo of 87.4 MPH would have tied Luzardo with Tyler Glasnow, Lance Lynn and Max Scherzer in 2019 for 82nd in the Majors, while his hard hit rate would have been tops among all pitchers. That sweet spot % would have ranked seventh, between Chad Bettis and Dallas Keuchel. He isn’t the only pitcher who can claim a feat like this while not coming close to qualifying statistically, but it does paint an interesting picture. Despite being near the end of the top-third in baseball in exit velo against, very few batters are squaring him up at 95 MPH or above.
I’m taking all of this with a grain of salt, probably the way in which we should all be operating during these harsh times as to support the world’s supply of NaCl. Still, I want to know anything and everything about a player before buying in a dynasty or keeper format, especially a guy like the Incredibly Deadly Viper who screams ace-in-the-making but has durability concerns. Hey, at least he got TJ out of the way in high school, right? The only thing I got out of the way in high school was a few college history credits and my Myspace Music debut.
In the end, I advise you re-pack Luzardo and bring him with you through airport security to your final destination. There are durability concerns and we haven’t seen enough at AAA or MLB to really quantify things with confidence, but Luzardo is an ace-caliber arm with four-to-five plus pitches that could anchor your fantasy rotation for years to come. And, if you should you grow weary as time goes by, he’s the kind of name you can likely still get an attractive haul for in dynasty leagues. He won’t turn 23 until September of this year. Pack.
What’s the different between Richard Pitino and Luis Patino? Rick Pitino Sr. never left the latter home alone while he went out gallivanting with college broads. Man, forget about that 22-year-old fart named Luzardo I just finished breaking down – this Patino kid can’t even have a legal drink until nearly Halloween 2020.
Sure, he’s nearly two full years younger than the aforementioned Incredibly Deadly Viper, but Patino still comes with a 2020 MLB ETA that is looking more feasible by the day thanks to recent optimism from our savior, Dr. Anthony Fauci. If Fauci is a believer Arizona baseball is a real possibility, then count me in! As it relates to Patino, I’m not entirely sure what this would mean for him. Unlike Luzardo, Patino never had a shot at opening the 2020 campaign in a Big league uniform, having only tossed 7 2/3 innings in Double-A in 2019 (1.17 ERA/1.57 WHIP/2.41 FIP, 10 strikeouts). Patino spent the vast majority of last season at High-A in the California League, where he logged 87 innings with a 2.69 ERA/1.09 WHIP/2.87 FIP and a sexy 113 strikeouts. That equated to an 11.7 K/9 that was paired with a 3.5 BB/9 and 0.4 BB/9.
All told, Patino enters 2020 with 234 innings across parts of three seasons in the Minors, having been signed for $130,000 by the Padres back in July of 2016. For those who may not know, that’s a relatively meager sum, and perspective will be provided on that number later on when we get to Jasson Dominguez. Still, Patino has quickly risen to the title of prized prospect, being ranked No. 27 by MLB Pipeline and resting at No. 37 on The Itch’s list of Top 50 Prospects for 2020 Fantasy Baseball. The Itch also briefly discussed Patino in his Top 2020 Prospects in the Padres organization. Patino may not possess four seasoned offerings like Luzardo, but he wields a deadly fastball-slider combo tabbed at 65 and 60-grade, respectively. Topping out at 99 MPH, the heater tends to sit in the mid-to-upper 90s, while the slider is in the high 80s with hard, sharp break that Minor League hitters never really seemed to figure out. Both the curveball and changeup sit at an average 50-grade appraisal, but neither have developed into a pitch that Luzardo can rely on heavily at the MLB level yet.
Even with just two refined pitches (and another two in the making), Patino has completely baffled right-handed hitters, as they produced a meager .163/.259/.220 slash against him in 2019. Clearly, Patino could step into a Big League bullpen tomorrow and be elite. But from a starting pitching standpoint, the changeup needs to take some steps forward (40-grade vs. 55-grade future value), as it will go a long way in determining Patino’s success in consistently neutralizing lefties (.262/.308/.443). Most scouts seem to be fairly confident this will be no problem – and I have to agree. He’s only 20 years old and has already made strides with the pitch. The same can be said for his curveball, which has a future value that sits 50-55. I see a very capable three-pitch Major League pitcher in here at worst. Perhaps a fantasy two or three starter.
Watching the 2019 Futures Game, the fastball-slider appeared to baffle some of the top prospects in baseball, such as Royce Lewis and Jo Adell. Then again, this was a brief outing, something Patino is already equipped to handle, and against hitters that, although promising, are nothing like facing a Big League lineup. Depending on the offers you might have for a guy like Patino in a dynasty format, I would cautiously listen, because there’s a good chance someone in your league likes him more than they probably should at this juncture. If nothing blows you away, the clear choice here is to see it through until at least 2021, then reevaluate from there. Pack.
With the MLB season facing an abbreviated number of games even in a best-case scenario, I believe more teams will begin exploring something similar to what the Phillies are mulling over with Spencer Howard. In case you haven’t heard, there are rumblings that a truncated 2020 season could mean an elevated role at the MLB level for Howard this season. As one of the many young arms with a clear and obvious innings limit, fewer games means fewer bullets to save for a guy like Howard.
The Phillies’ No. 2 prospect threw just 71 innings in the Minors last year, but that total was actually closer to 100 IP after a brief playoff start for Double-A Reading and a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League. In six AFL starts, Howard registered 21 1/3 innings of work, striking out 27 batters en route to a 2.11 ERA/0.94 WHIP. It didn’t appear that the sore shoulder that capped his innings during the regular season was lingering, which was backed up by comments from Howard himself this past Spring Training, in which he expressed feeling as healthy as ever. *rolls eyes* Still, with just under 100 innings in 2019 on the heels of 112 IP in 2018, Howard should be capped at around 110-130 frames this year.
He still might be, but with the state of the game, a higher percentage of those innings will likely to come at the MLB level in 2020. I don’t think this will have any major impact on his long-term development, especially because the Phillies appear pretty dead-set on doing whatever is best for the young right-hander moving forward. So, what kind of pitcher can we expect Howard to be at the Major Leave level?
The fastball is 60-65 grade, typically sitting in the mid 90s and topping out at 99 MPH. Howard’s repertoire also includes a 55-slider, 50-curveball and 60-changeup. Although the slider is a tad better than his curve at present, the latter still has room to develop into an equally formidable weapon, holding a future value of 55. The common consensus is that the changeup is what really sets him apart and is undoubtedly Howard’s best secondary offering at present. But I also think a lot of people are missing the fact that his curveball often drops in at 76-77 MPH, which creates a velocity band stretching 23 MPH. Especially for a guy whose changeup is his best secondary offering… me likely.
Across rookie-level (just 5 1/3 innings), High-A and Double-A in 2019, Howard churned out 71 frames with 94 strikeouts to achieve a 2.03 ERA/0.83 WHIP/2.62 FIP. In producing those numbers, he cut down on his BB/9 from 3.2 in 2018 to 2.6, also finishing with a 11.2 K/9 in 2019. 30 2/3 of those innings came at the Double-A level, where he produced an equally impressive 2.35 ERA backed up closely by a 2.66 xFIP. For the complete picture, Howard pitched 211 1/3 innings across parts of three seasons in the Minors with a 3.28 ERA/1.14 WHIP, 12.0 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and 0.4 HR/9. With the control trending upward to its future value of 50 on the 20-80, there are obvious reasons to love Howard as much as Joe Girardi does. Oh, how I wish Joe Girardi loved me in such a way…
Where was I? Right. My primary concern is that he only transitioned into a starting role as a redshirt sophomore at Coly Poly in 2017. The good: all 47 of his Minor league appearances have been as a starting pitcher. The bad: he has averaged just 4.5 innings per start as a pro. This is pretty common among young, electric pitching prospects like Howard, but it does concern me a tad since he did originally start off as a reliever in college. Nevertheless, he sported 4.7 innings per start in 2019 and the Phillies seem convinced he can build up the stamina to become a frontline MLB starter. Final opinion: ride him out, but don’t become overzealous about the 2020 rumblings and make a reactionary move for Howard in dynasty formats. I’m telling you to pack, so don’t go trading your miniature bottle of toothpaste for a miniature bottle of hand lotion with some rando at the terminal. Pack.
I don’t have nearly as much to tell you about Dominguez because he’s yet to take a swing in the Minors, but he did sign with the Yankees for $5.1 million (all but $300K of their pool) as an international free agent last July. Remember the mere $130,000 Patino signed for? That begins to illustrate just how wide of a range these future top prospects can be evaluated on at first glance, especially when talking about international signees. Today, both of these two players are top 60 prospects in the game, albeit one is much, much closer to being Major League ready.
Alright. Here comes the Dominguez hype train. I kid you not, this guy’s dad named him after Jason Giambi, and they refer to him as “The Martian” due to his unique skill set. Yankees International Scouting Crosschecker, Steve Wilson, said Dominguez “is the best package of pure baseball skills and tools that I have ever had the chance to see at this young age.” Well isn’t that adorable. Good job, Steve. All that is nice, but it doesn’t tell us what kind of player he projects to be down the line and since he’s never logged an official North American at bat, we have very little to go on. Personally, I advise you to check out this video, pulled from Dominguez’s Instagram account, as it’s free from the commentary of a random hype man going on about how Jasson is the next Mickey Mantle.
At just 17 years of age, we won’t see Dominguez in the Major Leagues for several years – probably not until 2023 or 2024. With the $5.1M price tag, we’re already assuming that’s a given, aren’t we? Most serious dynasty leagues already have an owner that have scooped up Dominguez. Personally, I am in a dynasty league in which Dominguez was drafted almost right off the bat about a month ago. The kid is 17 and has yet to play a Minor League game, but he’s being drafted in dynasty leagues and I’m fielding questions about him as a prospective keeper in the comments section. So what is he?
Viewed to have 30/30 potential, Dominguez is a switch-hitter from the DR. And that doesn’t stand for Del Rio, Texas or Dry Run, Ohio – both of which are real places and both of which I can guarantee you Jasson Dominguez has never set foot. His tools vary a bit depending on where you look, but here’s the gist: 55-60 hit tool, 60-70 power, 65-70 speed, 60 arm, 55-60 glove. We don’t care about the latter two categories a ton, but they provide insight that he can be an everyday centerfielder with no fantasy eligibility questions for the forseeable future.
Heading into 2020, Dominguez was expected to begin the season in the Dominican Summer League with a chance to work his way into the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Obviously, that plan isn’t going to happen, which makes it even more difficult to quantify Dominguez from a fantasy perspective. We don’t have much statistical evidence to go off of that isn’t anecdotal. Like him hitting 13 consecutive homers from the left side of the plate during a rumored on-field batting practice session. I can’t do much with that.
Even if you’re circumnavigating the globe on your upcoming journey with Ferdinand Magellan, I don’t see Dominguez being ready to contribute to your fantasy team upon your return. However, he’s far too valuable to leave lying on the carpet floor while you dash for the airport, so my advice is this: if you’re in a serious dynasty league that utilizes a first-year player draft or has prospect-specific roster space, PACK. In leagues like this, Dominguez’s value is at its peak, with The Itch ranking him second in his First-Year Player Draft Rankings for 2020 Fantasy Baseball. But if you’re simply in a deep keeper league that uses a bench to stash prospects, you need to UNPACK. And while you’re at it, find some new friends and a new league.
Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt
Rocker is the lone college prospect I’m going full-boar on in this post, as I was asked a few weeks back if he garnered any consideration for my Top 25 College Prospects list. Seeing as he was a true sophomore in 2020 and not yet eligible for the MLB Draft, he failed to make the cut. But that was by no means a knock on the potential No. 1 overall pick in 2021 – not by any stretch of the imagination. And if you’ve come to know anything about my imagination thus far, that’s saying quite a lot. You’re taking advice from a guy who once asked his parents for a time machine for Christmas as a child.
So why listen to what I have to say at all? For one, I got that damn time machine. Best five hours I ever spent in a cardboard box. Score. Two, if there’s one niche area I know I can preach on, it’s the college guys. What you already know about Rocker: his name is sick and he threw a no-hitter with 19 strikeouts against Duke during the 2019 NCAA Super Regionals. It was a big story. Maybe you saw it.
You also probably know very little about his overall track record outside of that eye-popping performance. As a true freshman in 2019, Rocker worked 99 2/3 innings of 3.25 ERA ball for the Commodores. He made 22 appearances – 16 as a starter. With 114 strikeouts against 21 walks, Rocker’s college debut sported a 10.3 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 by the time it was all said and done. In four postseason starts in June, the righty went a perfect 4-0 with a 0.96 ERA and 44 strikeouts. That was across 28 innings on the national stage, which did wonders to enhance his draft stock. If you want to get an entirely biased view of Rocker and get sucked into seven minutes of Youtube footage, you can watch all 44 strikeouts here.
In 2020’s abbreviated COVID-19 campaign, Rocker made three starts that totaled 15 innings. He surrendered three earned runs on six hits, equating to 1.80 ERA. While he walked eight batters, he also struck out 28. Although we’d prefer a larger sample size, that certainly did not hurt his draft prospects one bit.
Rocker is 6’4” and comes with an imposing frame at 255-260 lbs., one of the reasons few question that he can handle the load of a starting pitcher at the professional level. His fastball sits around the mid-90s, maxing out at 98 MPH. The rest of the arsenal includes a mid-80s slider and a changeup that was still considered to be a work-in-progress when the 2020 season came to a halt. Here’s what gets me: the slider flashes some pretty nasty vertical depth at times, although there’s also a harder version that darts out of the zone. If you watched the video I linked above, you’ll notice a few things. First, he throws his breaking ball anywhere from 80 MPH in the first game to 86 MPH in the no-hitter against Duke. Second, 86 MPH is the fastest velocity on any of his 19 strikeouts in that historical outing against the Blue Devils. That’s insane.
For a guy who commands a plus, running fastball, the changeup is really all we’re waiting on. Even if Rocker doesn’t go first overall next season, he’s someone your fellow league-mates will soon be fighting over in first-year player drafts. I can’t tell you to pack him, because he’s not yet available to own, but he’s someone you should do your homework on sooner rather than later. Unpack – but do your research for when the time comes.
That’s all for this week’s grab bag of prospects done security style, but feel free to chime in names in the coming weeks of who you would like to see broken down in this type of fashion. Safe travels, and don’t step on any Luzardos on your way out!