Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys!
That wannabe dentist elf is plucking the bumble’s teeth in the igloo over yonder. Rudolph’s in the corner puking his guts out (crying his eyes out). Except igloos don’t have corners.
And just like the Island of Misfit Toys, First Base Archipelago seems like a pretty cool place to end up after a journey around the diamond looking for a place to fit in. Players wash up here for any number of reasons. Sometimes it’s just a depth chart issue. Cody Bellinger, for instance, could play anywhere in the outfield. More often, it’s a last-chance stop for players who’ve proven themselves below replacement level everywhere else on the field. If they hit enough to keep their head above water where bat-first prospects go to drown, they can find their way home in time for the big Christmas party at the end of the movie/season.
Anyway, I included the current/hopeful position(s) on the sheet for the players still fighting to fit in somewhere else in the field.
Format = Player | Team | Age on 4/1/22 | Highest Level Played | ETA
Tork is a demolitions expert at 6’1” 220 lbs with explosive rotation through the zone that costs him little if any barrel control because he’s so strong through his core. He’s especially adept at letting the ball travel and tracking it deep into the zone then dropping the hammer on pitches he can drive to the right side. He’s so good at lifting the ball that his grounders tend to be miss-hits that make for some easy (shift-able) outs, but that’s the only issue so far, and it’s a non-issue in real time. Chances are he’ll hit for power early and add average and OBP throughout his first few seasons. Click here to see Grey glimpsing the future in Spencer Torkelson, 2022 Fantasy Outlook.
If you count the Arizona Fall League and the Olympics, Casas played in four different leagues this year. In 21 AFL games, Casas is slashing .372/.495/.487 with one home run, and while we might get a little greedy at the site of that, wanting more, Casas added six doubles, and besides that, who really cares about the details when a guy posts a .495 OBP, even for just 21 games in an exhibition league? Not me, except that I think it’s indicative of a journey well taken. Cases has learned late at-bat traits to help him hang against a variety of experienced pitchers, and perhaps he’s carried some of those hang-in-there strategies to early-count situations against pitchers he’s never seen before. Whatever it is, I like it.
Like a lot of Royals prospects, Pratto made excellent swing decisions in 2021. He didn’t halve his K-rate like Melendez, but he did blast 36 HR and swipe 12 bags in 124 games across the top two MiLB levels, slashing .265/.385/.602 with a 155 wRC+ in 61 games at AA and a 156 wRC+ in 63 games at AAA. He had some streaks here and there, but production doesn’t get much more consistent than that among players whose seasons span multiple levels. Like Witt and Melendez, Pratto had earned a shot at the majors by season’s end. Or perhaps by the midpoint, depending on your perspective. The top three here should share a lineup card in Kauffman by the end of April, and it will be nice to infuse this team with some optimism and offense, but Pratto’s plus glove at first base will make the whole infield look better, too.
Already near the bottom of the defensive spectrum, the 6’2” 185 lb left-handed hitter will have to mash to make it. Lucky for us, he has the swing to make it happen: a speedy-short uppercut that brings 2021 Matt Olson to mind when he turns on one. He can vary the hands to hit tough pitches, too. In 110 games across two levels in 2021, Harris slashed .327/.401/.542 with 20 HR and 25 SB, striking out just 73 times and drawing 47 walks. His 8.1%/15.6% BB/K rate in High-A is enticing, especially considering he was 1.9 years younger than his average competitor.
Listed at 6’1” 180 lbs, Noel seems bigger than that in the batter’s box, where he looks casual even while blasting 400-foot home runs. In just 38 games in Low-A, Noel hit 11 HR and slashed .393/.426/.693. I love that Cleveland then sent him to High-A. It’s not rocket surgery, but some teams would wait another month and see if he could bring up his walk rate or whatever, which Noel did anyway in High-A, jumping from 4.3% to 8.1% and slashing .280/.351/.550 with 8 HR and 3 SB in 26 games. Hard to imagine a better couple months from a 19 yo corner bat. Noel is climbing lists and looking like a Top 50 fantasy prospect if he hits early in AA. He might land close to that on my post-org-reports reshuffle.
6. Vinnie Pasquantino | Royals | 24 | AA | 2022
You might still have time to buy Vinnie P, who’s probably been a tough out his whole life. He struck out just 28 times in 58 games (263 PA, 10.6 %) as a freshman everyday starter at Old Dominion, slashing .321/.397/.473 with 5 HR. I only go back that far as a sign that this was par for the course for Vinnie, dominating two professional levels in 2021, culminating in a 13.1%/11% BB/K rate, 11 HR and 2 SB with a .310/.405/.560 slash line across 55 games at AA. The strikeout rates are absurd for a power hitter his size: 6’4” 245 lbs. An 11th round pick (319 overall) in 2019, Pasquantino probably wasn’t part of the long term picture coming into the season, but I don’t know how you map the Royals future lineup without him at this point. He and Nick Pratto are both left handed, and I wouldn’t think Pasquantino can cover a corner in Kauffman Stadium, so that leaves just Designated Hitter on an everyday basis. He’ll have to rake and rake to make that happen, but I see no reason to bet against him at this point.
The impending DH ruling will have a bigger impact on his potential to help us in redraft than anything he can do in Triple-A Memphis, where the 6’1” 200 lb Yepez has nothing left to prove after slashing .289/.382/.589 with 22 HR in 92 games. Since writing his initial blurb, I’ve become a little less confident that the Universal DH is a lock for 2022. I’m not sure how he gets on the field without it. He’ll still make his debut at some point this year, but he needs the winds to move in his favor.
Montero’s emergence provides the Rockies an Ace in the hole where justifying the Nolan Arenado is concerned. Arenado’s full value is tough to calculate in the pitches and outs he saves a pitching staff across a season, but his .312 OBP in 2021 is a pretty concrete piece of the evaluation. But this wasn’t meant to be a blurb about Arenado. We’re here to talk about Elehuris Montero, who features a cool name and smooth swing for a large man. At 6’3” 235 lbs, Montero brings easy plus power and hit 28 HR in 120 games across two levels, reducing his strikeout rate throughout the year, culminating in a tidy 16.5 % K-rate in 28 AAA games.
A tall (6’5”) corner in the mold of Kris Bryant, Vientos achieves a lot of loft in a manner reminiscent of KB. 2021 was his 2nd breakout season in the minors (22 HR in 72 AA games), and he’s the best bet in this system to impact redraft leagues in 2022. I wouldn’t be shocked if he settles into the lineup early and makes a run for rookie of the year. I mean if it weren’t a Met I guess. They get wild with playing time over there, though it’s unfair to expect that from whoever they hire to helm the ship this year.
Lawrence of Arabia changed film forever with wide-angle, long-tracking shots that showed the scope of the desert. If we apply a wide-angle, long-tracking shot to Butler, we can catch a glimpse of Oakland’s future. A chiseled 6’3” 210 lb left-handed hitter, Butler was a 6th round pick in 2018 and did not hit in his first two seasons, slugging .330 in rookie ball in his draft season and .286 across 55 games at Low-A in 2019. Something shifted during the 2020 shutdown, and Butler caught up to his competition, popping 17 home runs and swiping 26 bases in 88 games at Low-A before spending his final 14 games at High-A where he cut his K-rate by five percentage points and slashed .340/.389/.540 with 2 HR and 3 SB. I’ve also seen him make some great plays at first base. The slightly shrinking strikeout rate is no fluke; Butler tightened up his swing and decision-making throughout the season. The speed is real, too. If he can keep the K-rate lower than 30 percent, Butler’s got the tools to carve out a roster spot in any size fantasy league.
Grab a tankard. Time to get tipsy. Mead is a little like Jackie Chan in The Legend of Drunken Master in that he’s slightly unconventional in his fluidity. He can hit just about any pitch and employs a variety of swings to do so, which can be an extremely rare and valuable skill so long as you don’t lose your best base mechanics along the way. You don’t compare people to Vladimir Guerrero Sr. because he was an omicron—sorry, a unicorn—but that’s the kind of skill I’m referencing. CJ Abrams and Julio Rodriguez have some of this in them too. They, like the 6’2” 171 lb Mead, can collect hits on cuts that look less than picturesque. These contact-making skills allowed Mead to play at four different levels this year, beginning in Low-A and ending in the Arizona Fall League with the AAA playoffs in between.
The Universal Designated Hitter was made for Beer, in more ways than one. I think he’s a better defender than he appears to be at first glance and a little more athletic than reports suggest, but that might be the beer talking. He dislocated his shoulder in September, so he’ll miss the off-season, in the body-sculpting, swing-developing sense. He played well in AAA last year, slashing .287/.398/.511 with 16 HR and a 17.5 percent strikeout rate in 100 games. Feels like a moving target at the moment, trying to get any kind of read on what we’ll see from Beer as a big leaguer. I’m feeling optimistic at the moment, but it’s hard to separate that from the fact that I think now is a good time to buy in while the general murmur around Beer is lukewarm.
Whatever you hear about Jordan, keep in mind that he’s played all of 28 games since being drafted in 2020 (89th overall), and 19 of those were complex league games, which I have no idea how to approach at this point. Nonetheless, I’m in on Jordan, especially as he fits the bucket of better-in-fantasy that sometimes keeps a high-probability corner infield prospect undervalued as the fantasy world takes its lead from real-baseball prospect lists. In those 28 games, Jordan smoked six home runs and slashed .324/.368/.590. If he hits that way next year for 100 games or so split across two levels, he’ll be a major trade piece in dynasty leagues, at minimum. Suppose that could be said of anybody, but Jordan was perhaps the best high school power bat in his draft class, so he’s got sturdier list-climbing boots than most.
Aranda is an odd fit on this list as a 5’10” 173 lb second basemen by trade, but he played first base for most of 2021 and hit like a star, slashing .331/.419/.543 in 100 games across A+ and AA, with 79 of those coming at AA, where he hit ten home runs and stole five bases. He’s a compact left-handed hitter with quick-twitch bat speed and a small strike zone who makes it all work in harmony. He’s unlikely to ever become an everyday option at first, but he’ll likely have eligibility throughout his early career as he kicks around the diamond scooping up playing time against tough right handed pitchers.
15. Kyle Manzardo | Rays | 21 | CPX | 2024
A 6’1” 2015 left-handed hitter with an easy plus hit tool, Manzardo was Tampa’s 2nd round pick in 2021 then spent 13 games at the complex site, slashing .349/.440/.605 with 2 home runs, six strikeouts and four walks. It’s pretty similar to the slash lines he’s posted throughout this career at Washington State and in the wooden bat Northwoods League.
16. OF Alec Burleson | 23 | AAA | 2022
My large adult son made waves in his debut season, traversing three levels and slashing .270/.329/.454 with 22 HR and 3 SB in 119 total games. He was a two way player in college and has enough athleticism and arm to provide plus defense in a corner. I don’t think he’s a big impact bat for our game, but he is a likely major leaguer we’ll get some big league looks at in 2022 if he’s hitting in AAA.
Kelly strikes me as a very Billy Beane play: upper minors 40-man runoff from an elite organization, Tampa’s in this case, that could fill a short-term need and provide a big return on investment, given the minuscule cost of acquisition. Kelly had posted pretty good lines before, but his big statistical breakthrough came in 2021 when he hit 27 home runs and stole 17 bases in 110 AAA games, slashing .244/.350/.512 with a 13.4%/28.8% BB/K rate. For context regarding Kelly’s evolving approach, Dalton carried a 17.6%/21% BB/K rate for 49 games at AA in 2019 with a .278/.429/.377 triple slash line. More context, these AAA numbers were with Tampa, so they don’t have to stay in Vegas like numbers that happened in Vegas. Kelly’s traded patience for power and is plainly a body in motion, baseball-wise, so I’m not especially comfortable predicting what kind of player we will ultimately see at the highest level, but I know I’m intrigued.
The narrative around Sabato seems to be something like “told you so” in regards to his not being as good as Spencer Torkelson. I don’t really get it. Nobody really said he was, but I realize he was a consolation prize for those first-year-player drafters who wanted some right-right corner power but couldn’t get into the top spot for Tork. When Sabato struggled early in the season, he sort of blipped off the radar. Thing is, Sabato came back strong, earning a promotion to High-A thanks to a .365 OBP and 11 HR in 85 Low-A games. He also posted a .189 batting average. Eep! Good call by the club’s development team to promote him anyway. His A+ slash line was .253/.402/.613 with 8 HR and 32 strikeouts in 22 games. The mixed-bag might be enough to let him open 2022 in Double-A, where he’d be younger than his average competitor and just a hot month or so from boosting his dynasty value.
Might be a bit early to cozy up to the 6’4” 280 lb teddy bear that is Luken Baker, but the upside is that he could turn his stay-puft body into something resembling a professional athlete and makes better contact as a result. Even with his belly in the way, Baker slashed .248/.322/.530 with 26 HR in 91 AA games. This list is packed with dudes who could help us in spurts if the Universal DH becomes a permanent part of our lives, so here’s to hoping, although it seems more likely to happen in 2023 than this season.
In any other system, I’d put Toglia’s ETA at 2023, but the Rockies have their own thing going. I’m not certain they’d let Toglia into the big leagues if he earned it this season, but I think his natural path points to a September call-up, and the Rockies could stand to give their fans some reasons to turn out. Toglia’s no superstar-in-waiting, but 6’5” 226 lb switch hitter presents a big figure and could serve as a kind of bridge between the last decent team and the next one. He didn’t play well in AA, slashing .217/.331/.406 in 41 games, so that’s probably where he’ll open the season.
Thanks for reading!