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Do These Prospects Matter for Fantasy Baseball? Elijah Green, Jack Leiter, Forrest Whitley, Jose Salas, Erick Peña and more

Forrest Whitley - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire

With one full month in the books, plenty of attention has been given to those who are having excellent starts to the year. What about those whose start to 2023 has been less than stellar?

The stats and player six-packs this week will all be focused on guys who had a rough April. Can these guys turn it around? Should they be owned while they work through their bad beginning of 2023? Let's take a look!

Look here for insight on potential fantasy baseball dynasty league pickups before they hit and to get to know players as they ascend to the major leagues!

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Top Hitter Prospects

Statistical highlights:


Hitter Prospect Outlooks: Fantasy Six-Pack

Elijah Green, OF, Washington Nationals

The son of a former NFL tight end, Elijah Green became legendary during high school showcase games because of his combination of raw power and speed in a 6'3", 225-pound teenage body. The concern about his potential contact issues set Green just behind Jackson Holliday and Druw Jones among elite prep hitters in last summer's draft, with the Nationals grabbing him fifth overall.

The concerns with his strikeout rate have certainly held true early in his pro debut. Green has struck out 48.1% of the time, the third-highest rate in the entire minor leagues. The 19-year-old outfielder has shown power and speed when he does make contact and get on base, with six extra-base hits and eight stolen bases.

Green has also walked at a 10.4% rate, which indicates some level of passivity in his approach, watching plenty of pitches go by, contributing to the high rate of whiffs.

VERDICT: Green was gobbled up early in FYPD drafts this offseason. The talent is big, but it could take significant time for it to click, so he's still a watch and hold if you own him, and if he's dropped, he should be picked up in deep leagues.

Erick Pena, OF, Kansas City Royals

One of the elite prospects in the 2019 international signing period, Peña was an impressive figure as a 16-year-old signee, standing 6'2" and 200 pounds and looking more like an NFL safety in uniform than a pubescent Dominican outfielder.

The fall instructional league performance in 2020 was the first look that prospect folks got at Peña, and he looked great, driving up his prospect status. The problem is that he's not been able to live up to that hype, and a lack of contact is a major reason why.

This season, the Royals outfield prospect is repeating Single-A ball with Columbia in the Carolina League, and he's hitting worse in his second go-round at the level, leading all of the minor leagues with a 58.2% strikeout rate while slashing .093/.269/.296. In 549 plate appearances, Peña has struck out 39.5% of the time.

VERDICT: There is no reason at all to own Peña at this point, despite the impressive raw athleticism.

Jordan Nwogu, OF, Chicago Cubs

The Cubs drafted the athletic Nwogu in the third round in 2020 out of the University of Michigan. Nwogu had the opportunity to play college football at a number of schools, but he chose to walk on with the Wolverines, hitting .334/.431/.546 across 125 college games.

The Cubs opened Nwogu in Single-A in 2021, a low assignment for a college player, but Nwogu showed that he had more development to do than the average collegiate hitter, with plenty of raw power and speed flashed, but also struggle with pitch selection.

The 2022 season saw a bump up to High-A, and Nwogu made some big strides in his selectivity at the plate, dropping his strikeout rate by nearly 5%. Those gains have been completely abandoned in his move to Double-A this season, with a nearly 47% strikeout rate and a drop in his walk rate as well.

VERDICT: Nwogu is 24 years old and struggling at Double-A, so he is certainly "old" to be a guy with notable development left. Leave him be for now, but also keep an eye on him, because high-level athletes like Nwogu often seemingly suddenly see things come together.

Mason Auer, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays originally drafted Auer out of junior college in the fifth round of the 2021 draft. In his first full season, Auer filled up stat sheets, slashing .290/.372/.487 across both A-ball levels, with 21 doubles, 12 triples, 15 home runs, and 48 stolen bases.

The uber-speedy Auer moved up to Double-A to open this season, but he's really struggled to replicate the power of his bat he showed in 2022. Attempting to find that power has led to a notable increase in strikeouts, as Auer is whiffing at a 41% rate.

He's altered his swing in season, seeking more fly ball contact, but his lack of raw power behind it has led to a 50% fly ball rate, but a ton of infield fly balls as he's struggled to barrell advanced pitching. That said, he has stolen 11 bases in 73 plate appearances this season.

VERDICT: Auer's an elite defender and speed guy, so he has a high floor, but right now, he shouldn't be owned beyond the deepest of dynasty leagues.

Jose Salas, SS, Minnesota Twins

While many viewed the Twins/Marlins trade this offseason as a swap of Luis Arraez and Pablo Lopez, which could be considered a fairly even trade at this point for each club, the full trade included two well-regarded prospects also going to Minnesota, and Salas is one of those that could strongly sway the end result of the trade long-term.

Salas' younger brother Ethan is the darling of prospect hounds with his mature approach as a 16-year-old catcher, but Jose is an elite raw talent himself, with many grading all five tools as average or better.

The Twins opened the 20-year-old Salas in High-A this season, and Salas has played around the infield, with at least five games each at second, third, and short. He has struggled with the bat, producing a .200 wOBA through the first month of the year significantly fueled by just one extra-base hit in 62 plate appearances.

VERDICT: Salas is succumbing to the rough early Midwest League weather as multiple games have been played in sub-freezing temps to open the year. He should heat up as the summer heat comes, and if you've held onto him or acquired him now while his value is a bit down, you'll be very pleased.

Orelvis Martinez, SS, Toronto Blue Jays

One of the elite prospects in the 2018 international signing class and produced big raw power in his debut at the Florida complex in 2019 and across both A-ball levels in 2021, earning him rankings into the top 50 in prospect lists before the 2022 season.

Then, Martinez met upper minors pitching. Orelvis has a very grooved swing that produces tremendous power (30 home runs in 2022) but also frequently misses the ball (.203 average with a 28.5% strikeout rate in 2022). This season has seen more of the same, as Martinez has one of the lowest wOBA marks in the minors at .192.

Defensively, Martinez is still an instinctual player whose arm should play on the left side of the infield, but he'll need to make more contact throughout the zone to have his plus raw power play in games.

VERDICT: His value might be so low that it's now worth selling at this time, yet a guy who hit 30 Double-A home runs as a 20-year-old really is hard to drop. He's getting close to that level, however.


Top Pitcher Prospects

Statistical highlights:


Pitcher Prospect Outlooks: Fantasy Six-Pack

Ryan Cusick, SP, Oakland Athletics

A first-round selection of the Atlanta Braves in 2021, Cusick was traded to the A's as part of the Matt Olson trade before the 2022 season. Cusick has been known for his big fastball. Cusick has been pushed aggressively by the A's since he returned from injury last season. Cusick has predominantly been a fastball/slider guy but the control issues were not present in 2021 in his pro debut.

This season, the righty has walked an astounding 20.3% of hitters while striking out a surprisingly-low 21.6%. He's likely going to be moving from the rotation long-term.

VERDICT: A two-pitch pitcher with control issues is a guy best left alone until he moves to the bullpen and can control those two offerings enough to be a valuable fantasy option.

Cooper Hjerpe, SP, St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals' first-round selection last summer out of Oregon State, the lefty made big impressions in fall instructs but hadn't made his pro debut until this season, when the Cardinals sent him to Peoria in the Midwest League.

Hjerpe has a fastball that reaches the mid-90s along with a sweeper slider, a strong change, and a below-average curve. He makes all of his raw stuff play up when he's at his best due to his low arm slot and long extension. In his pro debut, Hjerpe has struggled significantly with control, walking 18.2% of hitters. He's also posted one of the highest FIPs in the minors at 8.46.

VERDICT: Hjerpe's location is leading to hitters being able to sit on his fastball, leading to an exorbitant home run rate. He's shown excellent control in the past, so if he can regain that control, he could re-establish himself as an intriguing prospect. For now, stay away.

Jack Leiter, SP, Texas Rangers

Sent directly to Double-A in 2022 after being selected second overall in 2021 out of Vanderbilt, Leiter struggled with his location in his first season and was hit hard because of it.

Leiter's fastball can touch triple digits and sits in the mid-90s, but he struggles to locate the fastball, which leads to his secondary pitches struggling in kind. When located well, Leiter can use his fastball to set up a plus slider and above-average curveball. This season has been much of the same for Leiter, unfortunately. He's walked 16.2% of hitters with a 6.63 FIP. That has led to Leiter allowing five home runs in 20 innings.

VERDICT: Leiter's ceiling has come down notably, as has his floor. I still see a mid-rotation arm, but he's got work to do to get there. Leave him be for now unless he can be acquired for a dime on the dollar.

Matthew Thompson, SP, Chicago White Sox

Originally a second-round pick out of high school in 2019 by the White Sox, Thompson came into pro baseball with a reputation for big raw stuff and difficulty locating it. After injury issues that cost him most of 2021 after the lost 2020 season, Thompson's fastball has settled into a 92-94 MPH offering. He has reworked his slider a few times to a now-average pitch, and his curve has always been his best pitch, flashing plus at its best.

Thompson made a breakthrough with sequencing his pitches last year and his strikeout rate jumped, showing even better in his short time in Double-A. However, the walk rate has ballooned again this season, up to 18.4%.

VERDICT: Without a big fastball, Thompson has to locate to be effective, and he's not doing that right now. Stay away.

Brandon Williamson, SP, Cincinnati Reds

The Mariners drafted the lanky lefty Williamson out of Texas Christian University in the second round in 2019. Williamson showed tremendously well in his draft season but lost the 2020 season to the pandemic. He was one of the minor league strikeout leaders in 2021 with 153 over 98 1/3 innings.

Then Seattle traded the 6'6" lefty to the Reds as part of the Luis Castillo deal. The Reds opened Williamson at Double-A in 2022, and he worked up to Triple-A, but his walk rate became a concern, spiking from 8% to 13-14%.

This season, Williamson has not only continued the high walk rate (13.8%), but he's also seen his strikeout rate crater, down to the same 13.8%. His fastball has settled in as a low-90s offering with really good spin rates, but also not the velocity to create swing and miss in the zone.

He tends to work off his fastball to set up his strong slider and curve, and he has an average change as well, but when he cannot locate the fastball to set up the rest, he can be hit hard.

VERDICT: Williamson has a fairly high floor of a backend starter if he can have just barely below-average control, but right now it's subpar, and it's best to stay away.

Forrest Whitley, SP, Houston Astros

Whitley was the 17th overall selection in the 2016 draft by the Astros out of high school in Texas. The 6'7" right-hander had a huge year in his first full season at 19, working all the way up to Double-A, striking out 143 over 92 1/3 innings.

That led to Whitley quickly jumping into the discussion as a top 10 prospect in all of the game. When he ended up suspended and then injured in 2018, he finished off the year with a strong performance at the Arizona Fall League to remain in the top 10.

That's when it all fell apart for Whitley. He struggled to a 7.99 ERA in 2019, striking out a ton of opposing hitters, but also walking nearly a batter per inning. He did show well in a return to the AFL, though, leading some to believe he could recover as a prospect entering 2020.

Then the pandemic happened...and Whitley got Tommy John surgery. Last season, he got back on a competitive mound for the first time since AFL 2019. He had plenty of ups and downs, mostly downs as he pitched to a 6.53 ERA over 40 innings.

Now 25, Whitley is in Triple-A this season, and the Astros are attempting to let him get stretched out. Whitley has touched triple digits with his fastball, but he's struggled with wide variation in his fastball velocity along with significant variation in spin.

VERDICT: The raw stuff is coming back in bits and pieces for Whitley. He's 25 now and "old" for a prospect, but if he can get it back all the way, there's still raw ace or closer type of stuff here. He should be picked up in deep dynasties, but hold off for now in shallow leagues.

Check back again next week for more evaluations and look behind the numbers!

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