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Do These Prospects Matter for Fantasy Baseball? AFL Week 5: Jacob Hurtubise, A.J. Vukovich, Darius Vines, Carson Spiers

Darius Vines - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Prospects

The Arizona Fall League (AFL) heads into a showcase weekend this week as the league's Fall Stars game will be held Sunday after the Home Run Derby is held on Saturday. That will leave just three regular season games in the season once that showcase weekend is complete.

Also, this coming weekend will be First Pitch Arizona, an event for many fantasy baseball industry voices to gather for panels, mock drafts, and to discuss fantasy baseball for 2024 and beyond. You can be sure that you'll see plenty of information coming out of that conference and the activities around it over the next few weeks.

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!

Be sure to check all of our preseason fantasy baseball rankings for Roto, Points, H2H, dynasty, best ball, prospects and more:

 

Top Hitter Prospects

Statistical highlights (through Sunday, October 29):

 

Hitter Prospect Outlooks: Fantasy Six-Pack

Ben Cowles, SS/2B, New York Yankees

Cowles had a big draft season with Maryland, clubbing out 18 home runs while sporting a .400+ OBP, drawing interest from the Yankees as a 10th-round pick in the 2021 draft. He showed the ability to draw a walk in his pro debut, making it to Single-A with a .353 OBP over 36 games, but he also struck out at a 35% rate, which is very high for a middle infielder.

In 2022, Cowles climbed up both A-ball levels in the Yankees system, combining to hit .272/.375/.427 over 93 games with seven home runs and 14 stolen bases. He also posted a 12% walk rate and a 29% strikeout rate – still quite high, but a notable improvement on his 2021 showing.

This season, Cowles spent most of the year in High-A before an end-of-season promotion to Triple-A for nine plate appearances. Combined, he slashed .253/.353/.389 with 10 home runs and 23 stolen bases, posting a 12% walk rate and 28% strikeout rate. So far in Arizona, he's posted a .326/.448/.522 slash line over 58 plate appearances.

VERDICT: Cowles is not an elite defender anywhere, but he's a capable defender at second, third, and short with fringe-average power, average speed, and the ability to draw a walk. That's a perfect recipe for a backup infielder – not a great fantasy tool, but someone who could be quite valuable to an MLB club.

Keshawn Ogans, 2B/SS, Atlanta Braves

The Braves' final selection last summer, Ogans was taken in the 20th round of the 2022 draft out of Cal-Berkeley, where he had posted a .315/.378/420 line in his draft season before going to the MLB Draft League and hitting .262/.419/431 for State College.

In his pro debut, Ogans jumped up from complex ball through both A-ball levels, playing 29 games and slashing .250/.331/.306 with a home run and nine steals. He posted a 7% walk rate and a 19% strikeout rate while playing primarily up the middle at second and short.

Ogans spent a lot of time in 2023 with Rome at third base, though he also got plenty of reps at short and second again. He hit .266/.360/.397 with nine home runs and 10 stolen bases while posting a 10% walk rate and 19% strikeout rate. Ogans has tremendous hands at any position he plays in the infield, with an above-average arm that allows him to work at third or short, though his best defensive position is probably second base.

VERDICT: While Ogans is hitting .309 with Salt River, his future is likely that of a utility infielder that doesn't strike out a ton, but also doesn't offer a lot of fantasy-worthy statistics. Leave him be in fantasy.

Rowdey Jordan, 3B/OF, New York Mets

Jordan was a "glue" piece on the Mississippi State Bulldogs' 2021 national championship team, hitting .323/.417/.547 with 36 extra bases and nine steals while patrolling center field. The Mets plucked him in the 11th round of the 2021 draft and sent him to Single-A St. Lucie, where he hit .229/.33/.294 in 30 games.

The Mets started him in High-A Brooklyn in 2022, with 29 games in Double-A Binghamton to finish the year. Overall, he hit .246/.347/.363 with four home runs and 14 stolen bases. The Mets also added second base work to his time in the outfield to expand his defensive flexibility.

Jordan split 2023 in Binghamton between second and the outfield and had a big "fantasy numbers" season, hitting .230/.344/.389 with 13 home runs and 30 steals in 119 games. The Mets intentionally sent him to Arizona to work on third base, as he's played eight games there, with just five in the outfield, hitting .255/.327/.383.

VERDICT: Jordan is a strong athlete, which allows him to handle the challenge of other positions, but his fantasy value is limited as he has below-average raw power and average speed. No reason to add him to your dynasty roster.

Carter Bins, C, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Phillies drafted the California native Bins out of high school in the 35th round, but he instead chose to attend Fresno State. He was a strong contributor for three years for the Bulldogs but was never really an elite hitter. The Mariners selected Bins in the 11th round of the 2019 draft, and he hit .208/.391/.357 with seven home runs in a 50-game pro debut in short-season ball that year.

Bins worked up from High-A to Double-A in 2021 coming out of the pandemic before being included in the return to Pittsburgh in the deadline deal that sent Tyler Anderson to Seattle. He finished the 2021 season with a .234/.384/.387 slash line in 67 games. The Pirates played Bins across Double-A and Triple-A in 2022, but he struggled significantly, slashing .196/.285/.388 over 85 games.

Injuries hampered Bins' 2023, playing only 31 games, slashing .212/.297/.337 with three home runs in 118 plate appearances. The Pirates sent him to the AFL to get reps behind the plate, and he's been one of the only catchers who has produced offensively, with a .375/.412/.688 slash line in 34 plate appearances, tagging two home runs.

VERDICT: Bins is a very steady defender behind the plate and very well could have a prolonged major league career as a backup catcher, but his bat won't provide much value. Let him be.

A.J. Vukovich, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Coming into the 2020 draft, Vukovich was a prep bat who did not have a lot of exposure, having missed out on the majority of his season due to the pandemic as a cold-weather player in Wisconsin. The Diamondbacks liked his profile enough to select Vukovich in the fourth round. In his pro debut in 2021, Vukovich climbed up both A-ball levels, hitting .272/.320/.446 over 400 plate appearances with 13 home runs and 16 steals. He posted a 5.5% walk rate and 26% strikeout rate.

The plate discipline remained a concern as he split 2022 between High-A and Double-A as a 20-year-old, with his excellent contact ability allowing him to slash .276/.308/.449 with 17 home runs and 36 stolen bases, but he posted just a 3.9% walk rate and struck out 23.9% of the time.

Vukovich returned to Double-A Amarillo in 2023 and put up a 20/20 season (24 HR, 20 SB) with a .263/.333/.485 slash line. He improved his walk rate to 9%, though his strikeout rate jumped to 28%. He's continued the same walk and strikeout rates in the AFL, but struggled to find his power stroke, despite being among the league leaders in steals with 12.

VERDICT: Vukovich moved off third base gradually over the last two seasons, and he's played only outfield in the AFL. If he can hold similar walk rates and power/speed production that he showed in the regular season, he's got a chance to be a starter, but otherwise, he's likely going to max out as an athletic short-side platoon outfielder. A very deep dynasty could hold a spot for Vukovich, but nothing more shallow.

 Jacob Hurtubise, OF, Cincinnati Reds

Hurtubise attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was drafted in 2019 by Seattle in the 39th round, but he chose to return to school, ending up undrafted after the pandemic season cut short his chance to make an impression for MLB teams.

He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Reds, and he began his pro career in High-A in 2021, slashing .283/.413/.337 with 39 steals. He struggled through injury in 2022 in Double-A, getting on base at a .385 clip and stealing 16 bases in 63 games.

This season, Hurtubise had a breakout year, hitting .330/.479/.483 while playing across Double-A and Triple-A, with seven home runs and 45 stolen bases, posting an impressive 77/63 BB/K rate. Though he's 25, he's been one of the prospects to watch in the AFL, as he's posted a .290/.396/.342 line, stealing nine bases without being caught yet.

VERDICT: While he has top-shelf speed, Hurtubise is best suited for left field defensively because his reads off the bat are fringe-average and his arm is below average. The offensive skills are legit, though, and he could be taking leadoff at-bats in Cincinnati by midseason the way he's trending. He's a hold in deep and mid-sized dynasties.

 

Top Pitcher Prospects

Statistical highlights:

 

Pitcher Prospect Outlooks: Fantasy Six-Pack

A.J. Blubaugh, RP, Houston Astros

A strong two-sport athlete in high school, Blubaugh attended Wisconsin-Milwaukee and finally worked his way into the starting rotation during the 2022 season after two years with excellent numbers out of the bullpen. He struck out 51 over 52 2/3 innings, then went to the Cape Cod League and was incredibly impressive out of the bullpen. He saved four games in eight appearances, while going without a run allowed in 9 1/3 innings, posting a 13/0 K/BB rate.

The Astros drafted Blubaugh in the seventh round last summer, and he made six appearances between complex ball and Single-A, tossing 18 2/3 innings with a 4.34 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, posting a 24/6 K/BB rate. This season, Blubaugh worked as a long man between High-A and Double-A, making 26 appearances, 12 of them starts, throwing 100 innings with a 4.41 ERA and 1.34 WHIP, posting a 112/45 K/BB rate. He's pitched purely out of the bullpen in the AFL, with a 3.00 ERA over nine innings while posting a 13/3 K/BB.

Blubaugh works from a high 3/4 arm slot, touching 97 with his fastball and mixing in three average-ish secondary pitches, the best of which is his low-80s slider that plays up out of the bullpen. When he's locating his pitches, you can dream on a backend starter profile for the righty, but his stuff would be excellent in a bullpen role.

VERDICT: Right now there's no reason to hold onto Blubaugh, but if he moves full-time into the bullpen, he could rocket up to the majors and see his fastball tick up a notch or two, giving him an impressive repertoire out of the pen.

Carson Spiers, SP, Cincinnati Reds

The first of two players that reached the majors this year that we'll discuss, Spiers was dominating in his final year at Clemson in 2020 out of the bullpen (0.00 ERA, 0.52 WHIP over 15 1/3 innings with a 17/3 K/BB) before the pandemic shut down the season. Spiers went undrafted in the truncated 2020 MLB draft, signing with the Reds afterward. He made his pro debut in 2021 and pitched across both A-ball levels, posting a 3.55 ERA over 111 2/3 innings with a 130/34 K/BB.

Spiers pitched in Double-A and Triple-A in 2022, tossing 121 2/3 innings with a 5.33 ERA and 1.52 WHIP, posting a 105/45 K/BB and allowing 27 home runs. The home run bugaboo was notably quieted this season, as he allowed just six over 85 innings, mostly in Double-A. He posted a 106/41 K/BB and a 3.60 ERA before making four appearances in Cincinnati, two starts, tossing 13 innings in the majors with a 12/7 K/BB.

Spiers has been starting in Arizona, tossing 14 innings across four appearances, with an impressive 16/1 K/BB rate. He uses a fastball that averages 93 along with a low-80s slider as his prime secondary pitch, mixing in a cutter and change as well. Spiers is at his best when he uses each fastball and all three secondaries between 10% and 30% each, not leaning on anyone.

VERDICT: Spiers showed that he can have a strong backend rotation profile when he's locating well, but none of his pitches are strong enough to succeed without precise location, which likely will push him into a long relief/spot start role going forward. Deep dynasty only.

 Ross Carver, SP, Cleveland Guardians

Carver was drafted by both 2023 World Series participants, as the Rangers selected the righty in the 23rd round in 2019, but he chose to attend Dallas Baptist instead. After two years in the Dallas Baptist bullpen where Carver only totaled 19 innings, he was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 20th round in 2021.

He made eight appearances out of the bullpen in his pro debut, eclipsing his entire college inning total, throwing 22 innings with a 4:09 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and a 33/11 K/BB. He moved in 2022 up to High-A before finishing the year in Double-A. He combined for 24 starts, tossing 117 1/3 innings, with a 5.06 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP, and a 128/42 K/BB ratio.

The Diamondbacks traded Carver over the offseason to Cleveland for reliever Carlos Vargas. While battling injury this season, Carver appeared in 21 games, throwing 75 1/3 innings, with an 88/37 K/BB ratio. He's tossed 12 innings in the AFL with a 14/5 K/BB.

VERDICT: Carver works his fastball up into the mid-90s working with a short arm delivery that leads to inconsistent performance from his secondary options. When he has the feel for all four pitches, Carver looks like a backend starter, but deployed in a bullpen role, he could be an excellent source of strikeouts. No reason to buy in yet, but any arm with potential in the Cleveland system deserves an extra eye.

Andrew Baker, RP, Philadelphia Phillies

The Dodgers drafted Baker in the 16th round out of Chipola in 2019, but he returned to Chipola, going undrafted in the short 2020 draft after transferring to Auburn. He then returned to Chipola, where he was drafted by the Phillies in the 11th round in 2021. The 6'1" righty worked his way up to Single-A in his pro debut, making nine appearances, tossing 12 innings, and posting a 20/17 K/BB ratio.

The Phillies moved Baker from High-A to Double-A in 2022, where he posted a 3.98 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and a 72/29 K/BB over 46 appearances and 54 1/3 innings. This season was brutal for Baker, as he posted an 8.12 ERA, 2.02 WHIP, and a brutal 64/48 K/BB over 41 innings for Double-A Reading.

Baker competes with Emiliano Teodo for the top velocity in the AFL this year as he's touched 102 with his heater. His slider runs up in the upper 80s, but he struggles to locate the bender in long streaks. When he locates his pitches, Baker looks the part of a dominant backend reliever. However, that doesn't show often.

VERDICT: Baker's raw stuff portends a future backend reliever that could pile up plenty of saves of holds – when he can locate in the strike zone. However, that location issue is a notable one for Baker, so let him be right now, though the Phillies would certainly move his talent quickly if he can begin consistently hitting the zone.

Darius Vines, SP, Atlanta Braves

The Astros drafted Vines in the 32nd round in 2016 out of high school. He then went to junior college, where the Cubs drafted from in the 27th round in 2017. He decided to return to school, entering Cal State-Bakersfield, where he struck out 98 over 74 2/3 innings. The Braves then drafted him in the seventh round of what has become a very productive 2019 draft for the organization.

Vines had a 6.68 ERA over 32 1/3 innings in his pro debut in his draft year, striking out 35. However, he then lost the 2020 season to the pandemic, so the Braves pushed him through both A-ball levels in 2021, throwing 111 innings with a 2.92 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and a 129/29 K/BB. Vines had a very impressive 2022, working up to Triple-A, with a 156/44 K/BB ratio over 140 2/3 innings.

This season, Vines moved up to Triple-A, making just 10 minor league appearances and throwing 49 1/3 innings, but recording a 2.37 ERA with a 49/16 K/BB ratio in that time. He then made a handful of appearances with Atlanta, throwing 20 1/3 innings with a 3.98 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, posting a 14/7 K/BB rate. So far, he's made two starts in the AFL, tossing 8 1/3 innings, with a 13/3 K/BB.

VERDICT: Vines leads his repertoire with a fastball that sits around 90 but has tremendous rising action. He pairs that with a plus cutter and an above-average changeup, which could allow him to work at the back of a rotation. He has the stuff to succeed in that role or a multi-inning bullpen role. That is probably only worthy of a roster spot in deep dynasty, though.

Dylan Smith, SP, Detroit Tigers

The Padres drafted the 6'2" righty out of high school, but the Texan chose to attend the University of Alabama. He had a strong 2021, with 113 strikeouts over 98 1/3 innings, averaging more than six innings per start. The Tigers drafted Smith in the third round of the 2021 draft but had him rest after the innings he'd already put on his arm in the collegiate season.

Smith pitched across both A-ball levels in 2022, tossing 88 1/3 innings with a 3.77 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, posting an 89/21 K/BB. This season, Smith struggled with injury issues, making 12 appearances, 11 of them starts, and throwing 37 1/3 innings, posting a 38/13 K/BB. He's been struck by the long ball in the AFL, allowing five home runs and a 6.50 ERA over 18 innings, though he has also posted a 22/11 K/BB rate.

Smith has an impressive five-pitch mix, utilizing two fastballs with distinct shapes, a curve, a slider, and a change. While none of his pitches grade out as plus, they're all average or better while also posting average control. He pounds the strike zone, which can lead to getting hit hard, but when he is locating, he can generate plenty of swing-and-miss.

VERDICT: Smith has shown well in the upper minors with his stuff, but his future role is a backend starter. No reason to hold him quite yet, but watch for what he does in Triple-A next year as he could be the next guy up for Detroit in 2024.

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



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As the 2024 NFL Draft edges closer, talents are stepping into the limelight at the Scouting Combine and attempting to seize their moment in front of the draft's key decision-makers. This annual event isn't just a showcase; it's a golden ticket for hopefuls to climb the draft order, provided they excel in their specific skill... Read More


DeVon Achane - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL DFS Picks, Injury News

Next Gen Stats Review: 2023 Running Backs

Many know Next Gen Stats for the fastest ball carriers in the NFL, which tracks a player's top speed in miles per hour (mph) on a given play. DK Metcalf had a 73-yard touchdown score that registered 22.23 mph, with Chase Brown (22.05) and Tyreek Hill (22.01) making a reception as the only three players... Read More


Breakdown Of Dynasty Fantasy Football Leagues

Dynasty fantasy football leagues have been around for years, but with each new NFL season comes more people joining these types of leagues. If you are a redraft fan who doesn’t want the fantasy season to end, dynasty might be right up your alley.  The Senior Bowl has happened, NFL Draft excitement is ramping up,... Read More


Marvin Harrison Jr. - Fantasy Football Rankings, College FB, WR, NFL Draft Sleepers

Early 2024 Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings: Pre-NFL Draft

Hey, RotoBallers! With Super Bowl LVIII in the books, the 2024 NFL offseason has officially begun. It's never too early to start preparing for fantasy football, and here at RotoBaller, it's always fantasy football season here at HQ. We are already looking ahead to the 2024 season, and that starts with the NFL Draft and... Read More


Ja'Marr Chase - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS and Betting Picks

Top Fantasy Football Rebound Candidates For 2024 Including Patrick Mahomes, Josh Jacobs, and Drake London

We may be in the heat of basketball season, but we're discussing a different kind of rebound today. Some of the most talented athletes in the world have suboptimal seasons but there's often a bounceback year in the near future. The talent isn't waning, the circumstances surrounding them have been altered. Below we dive into... Read More


Jayden Reed - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Early 2024 Wide Receiver Sleepers And Draft Targets For Fantasy Football

There should be a lot of changes atop the wide receiver group in fantasy football next year. Players like Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, and Cooper Kupp will all fall in drafts, while Puka Nacua will fly up drafts boards in 2024. Nacua will go from undrafted in 2023 to a likely top-20 pick this upcoming... Read More


Dan Campbell - NFL Head Coach, NFC, Detroit Lions

FFPC Dynasty Fantasy Football Orphan Teams: An Authentic Challenge

At its very core, the game of fantasy football is intended to deliver a unique experience in which you are an NFL owner, general manager, and head coach, all in one role. Seasonal fantasy football replicates the responsibilities in fun, user-friendly packaging, but fantasy football dynasty leagues appeal even more to a savvy fantasy player... Read More


2024 Dynasty Rookie Mock Draft: Fantasy Football Studs, Sleepers, and Values

Football never sleeps at RotoBaller! With the Scouting Combine underway and the NFL Draft season heating up, the countdown is on for 2024 fantasy football. We're taking a first look at how things might shape up in Dynasty fantasy drafts with our first Rookie Mock Draft of 2024. RotoBaller analysts Brandon Murchison and LaQuan Jones... Read More


Dak Prescott - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS Lineup Picks

Biggest Quarterback Surprises - Fantasy Football Year In Review

The 2023 fantasy football season is in the rearview mirror. While the upcoming fantasy season is still months away, it’s never too early to start preparing. One of the more critical things fantasy players can do to prepare is look back at the previous season and look at trends and surprises. Let’s look at the... Read More


Tyjae Spears - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Early 2024 Running Back Sleepers And Draft Targets For Fantasy Football

Running backs have always dominated the first round of fantasy drafts, but that has changed in recent years. Taking a wide receiver in the first round has become a more likely strategy by fantasy managers. In 2024 drafts, more wideouts should be going in the first round than running backs. However, that doesn't mean running... Read More


Latest Updates on Injured NFL Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Anthony Richardson, Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson, and Daniel Jones

The 2024 offseason is still in the early stages, but it's time to check on six franchise quarterbacks who suffered major injuries during the 2023 campaign. A franchise missing its quarterback to begin a season can mightily derail its chances to win, creating a massive hole to climb out of. We have the latest injury... Read More