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Do These Prospects Matter For Fantasy Baseball? Elly De La Cruz, James Wood, Luis Matos, Jeferson Quero, AJ Smith-Shawver

fantasy baseball prospects MLB prospects rookies call-ups

One of the ways to evaluate prospects when considering players for dynasty league fantasy baseball is age relative to level. Essentially, that means that even if a guy isn't putting up incredible stats, if he's 3-5 years younger than the average player at his level, you'll likely see him get plenty of attention on prospect lists.

Does that always mean that the player is projected to be elite? Well, no. Organizational shortfalls in certain positions sometimes force a player ahead of his preferred development schedule, so it all needs to be taken into context.

In this week's six-pack piece, we're going to look at six guys who are at least a full year younger than the average player at their league level. 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!

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Top Hitter Prospects

Statistical highlights:

 

Hitter Prospect Outlooks: Fantasy Six-Pack

Elly De La Cruz, SS, Cincinnati Reds

A 2018 signee by the Cincinnati Reds out of the Dominican Republic, the 21-year-old switch-hitting De La Cruz has rare size for a shortstop, which is why many have been expecting him to move to the outfield or third base for years. However, after a huge 2022 breakout, De La Cruz is showing his ability to handle short in Triple-A this season, while he is more than five years younger than the average International League player.

De La Cruz had an incredible .304 average, 68 extra-base hits, and 47 stolen bases in 2022 across two levels, but he also struck out at a 30.8% clip, leading to some concern about his ability to be the superstar that his raw abilities pointed to. He's answered any questions this year.

With Louisville, De La Cruz has slashed .304/.395/.644 with 10 home runs and nine stolen bases while posting a 12.7% walk rate and bringing his strikeout rate down to 26.8%.

VERDICT: De La Cruz is the elite of the elite, arguably the top prospect in the entire game right now. He should be rostered in all dynasty leagues, and he's a very smart stash for the second half of the season in any redraft leagues with bench room as well!

 
 
Gabriel Gonzalez, OF, Seattle Mariners

Gonzalez was signed by the Mariners in February 2021 out of Venezuela with mixed reviews due to the difficulty of seeing the outfielder during the pandemic. He quickly made an impact in the DSL, slashing .287/.371/.521 with seven home runs and nine steals in 54 games in 2021.

The 18-year-old impressed in two stops last season, hitting .321/.410/.468, reaching Single-A and showing an ability to make solid contact throughout the field. Now 19, Gonzalez returned to Modesto to open 2023, nearly two and a half years younger than the average player in the California League.

While he has impressive raw power thus far, Gonzalez has shown an impressive ability to put bat to ball, with a 7.2% walk rate and 13.2% strikeout rate while hitting .352.

VERDICT: Gonzalez has strong raw power that should show as he climbs the ranks, but his ability to put bat to ball and limit strikeouts has put him much more on the radar for shallow dynasty leagues as well as deep dynasty leagues. When the power really comes into his game, he could develop into one of the top-ranked hitters in fantasy baseball.

 
James Wood, OF, Washington Nationals

The towering 6'6" Wood was drafted out of IMG Academy in the second round in 2021 by the Padres. A bundle of raw tools, Wood quickly added strength to his frame while not losing any flexibility or athleticism. His raw power began to flash last season, mashing towering home runs and stinging the ball in Single-A as he went from the Padres to the Nationals in the Juan Soto deal.

The Nationals moved Wood to High-A Wilmington to open the 2023 season, and he's continued crushing baseballs both out of the park and within the park, using his above-average speed to tally five triples, tied for second among all minor leaguers, while also hitting eight home runs and nine doubles in 43 games.

Last week, Wood was promoted to Double-A, where he's nearly four years younger than the average Eastern League player. James has shown well in center field, though he's likely to move to being a plus defender in a corner as a major leaguer.

VERDICT: Wood is among the top 5-10 prospects in all of the game and should be owned in all dynasty leagues. He is just getting to Double-A, though, so his opportunity to get to the majors in redraft may not be this season.

 
Luis Matos, OF, San Francisco Giants

Signed as part of the Giants' 2018 international class that also brought the club's top team prospects Marco Luciano and Jairo Pomares. Originally highly-regarded due to his defense in center field, Matos carried a very strong hit tool in his first two seasons, despite missing 2020 due to the pandemic. He hit .367 across two rookie levels in 2019 and .313 in Single-A in 2021.

Matos then hit a bit of a roadblock in High-A in 2022 partially due to injury and in part because his aggressive approach struggled to draw walks, something he'd always done previously.

The Giants opened Matos in Double-A this season, and he was promoted on May 15 to Triple-A, where he's more than five years younger than the average player in the Pacific Coast League. He's been producing, with a .307/.389/.448 slash line with an 11.4% walk rate and a minuscule 7.6% strikeout rate.

VERDICT: While Matos' batting average will be very attractive to fantasy owners, he's most likely going to barely clear double digits in home runs and steals. That can still be a very elite profile, and he's doing well at Triple-A. He should be owned in all dynasty leagues. While I'm not personally advocating for it now, he's definitely worth a look in redraft leagues with multiple NA spots in case he comes up later this summer.

 
 
Tsung-Che Cheng, 2B/SS, Pittsburgh Pirates

Originally signed by the Pirates in July of 2019 out of Taiwan, Cheng did not get to make his pro debut until 2021, when he made a huge impression in complex ball, hitting .311/.449/.492 with twice as many walks as strikeouts.

The infielder moved to Single-A last season and continued hitting well, flashing impressive speed and controlling the strike zone. He also hit 38 extra-base hits in 104 games, showing he had some power ability within his game.

The 21-year-old has continued thriving with High-A Greensboro this year, more than a year younger than the average player in the South Atlantic League. He's slashed .288/.396/.554 with 12 steals, leading all the minors with six triples, and tallying 19 extra-base hits in 38 games.

VERDICT: Cheng can handle shortstop, though he's split evenly between second and short to this point in the minors. He will need to show playable power as he moves to the upper minors in order to be more than a speed-oriented defensive infielder at the upper levels, but if he can continue just what he's shown this year, he could have plenty of value. While shallow dynasties may want to wait on him to show his stuff in the upper minors, he's a definite add in deep dynasties right now.

 
Jeferson Quero, C, Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers signed Quero as part of their 2019 international class, but due to the pandemic, he did not make his pro debut until 2021 but made a big splash in the complex league in 2021 before handling his own across both A-ball levels in 2022 before the Brewers surprised many by sending the 19-year-old Quero to the Arizona Fall League.

Quero's defense held up well in the AFL even when he was a bit overmatched at the plate. The Brewers were confident enough in his play to send him to Double-A Biloxi to open 2023, where he's now nearly four years younger than the average player in the Southern League.

The raw power has shown through for Quero, with a .263 ISO in the league that's experimenting with the tackified ball. Quero's defense is receiving rave reviews while his raw athleticism is quickly rocketing him up prospect lists.

VERDICT: There may only be a few minor-league catchers ahead of Quero at this point. He's got a strong fantasy profile, and he's showing it in the upper minors. Add in all deep dynasties while more shallow dynasties should consider him strongly.

 

Top Pitcher Prospects

Statistical highlights:

 

Pitcher Prospect Outlooks: Fantasy Six-Pack

Jonathan Cannon, SP, Chicago White Sox

A third-round pick by the White Sox last year out of the University of Georgia, the 6'6" Cannon put up college statistics that may leave you wanting at the surface level (3.71 ERA and 8.1 K/9), but he consistently got through five innings for his team.

Cannon's gone out this year in High-A, a year younger than the average player in the league. He has put up a similar line to his college days, though he's limiting the damage a bit more, with a 2.80 ERA over 45 innings.

Cannon's raw stuff features a pair of fastballs in the mid-90s, with his sinker getting impressive weak contact due to his added extension on the pitch. He has a cutter and change that are also average-ish pitches.

VERDICT: To truly take the next step as a starter, Cannon really needs something that has a bit more break to it – some sort of curve or slider or a variation thereof. Even without that, he's a potential inning-eater starter and the peak of his pitch profile is something like Brandon Webb's run.

 
Michael McGreevy, SP, St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals made McGreevy their first pick at 18th overall in the 2021 draft out of UC Santa Barbara. Considered a polished pitcher, McGreevy finished his first full pro season in Double-A, posting a 3.99 ERA over 144 1/3 innings, but posting a sub-20% strikeout rate.

The Cardinals were confident in McGreevy's ability and opened him at Double-A Springfield. That didn't last long, with McGreevy moving up to Triple-A Memphis after just three starts, where he's more than five years younger than the average player in the International League.

McGreevy's elite command and control allow his stuff to play up, as he works in the low-90s with his fastball and features three secondary offerings that all rank as average or better pitches. He's posted a 2.55 ERA over 53 innings, with a 41/12 K/BB rate.

VERDICT: McGreevy has a profile of a mid-rotation arm, and he's seemingly getting better as he climbs the minor league ladder. He is a deep dynasty add at this point only, especially with the logjam in the Cardinal rotation. That said, with their age and free agency after 2023 in St. Louis, he could potentially be in contention for a 2024 rotation spot.

 
Josh Stephan, SP, Texas Rangers

The Rangers signed Josh Stephan as an undrafted free agent after the shortened 2020 draft. Unheralded coming out of high school in Texas, Stephan wasn't even ranked in any pre-draft rankings put out that season. Rather than going to college and potentially getting a much larger bonus, Stephan took a $20,000 bonus to start his pro career.

In his pro debut, Stephan worked up to Single-A, and then he pitched across both A-ball levels in 2022, posting a 3.14 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and a 115/31 K/BB over 103 1/3 innings. He features a low to mid-90s pair of fastballs that are very distinct from one another. He also has a pair of above-average secondary offerings, but the ease of his delivery and his low arm angle allow his stuff to play up.

Starting out 2023 repeating Hickory, Stephan has seen his control tick up another level, allowing him to post a 2.17 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, and 41/8 K/BB ratio over 37 1/3 innings while being more than two years younger than the average South Atlantic League player.

VERDICT: Stephan will likely get a bump up to Double-A soon once he returns from a current IL trip, and how his arm angle and stuff play against upper minors hitters will be a huge step into where he's going long-term. No need to rush out right now in any dynasty league, but watch for his initial results in Double-A, and if he continues dominating, snatch him up.

 
Anthony Solometo, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates got some heat in 2021 when they took Henry Davis first overall, but that move allowed them to draft two big-time prep arms that they otherwise would not have been able to afford. Solometo was the Pirates' pick in the second round out of high school in New Jersey.

Solometo reminds many of a young Madison Bumgarner in size and raw stuff, working in the low-90s with two average secondary offerings from the left side with a long, whippy delivery that makes it hard for hitters to pick up. On top of that, Solometo repeats his delivery tremendously well drawing some to rate his command and control as a 70-grade tool on the 20-to-80-grade scouting scale.

Three years younger than his competition in the South Atlantic League this season, Solometo has posted a 3.16 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 42 2/3 innings this season for Greensboro. At his age, the Pirates don't have a reason to rush him in his development, but he could see Double-A for a few starts by the end of the season.

VERDICT: Solometo has the potential to rank in top-100 lists at the end of this year if he finishes the season as strong as he's started it. He should be considered strongly in deep leagues but is still a wait-and-see arm in shallow dynasties.

 
AJ Smith-Shawver, SP, Atlanta Braves

Smith-Shawver was picked by the Braves in the seventh round of the 2021 draft out of high school in Texas. The numbers in his pro debut and in his first full season may not have been pretty, posting an 8.64 ERA in 2021 and a 5.11 ERA in 2022, but scouting eyes absolutely raved about him, as he posted 119 strikeouts over 77 innings.

The Braves started the 20-year-old Smith-Shawver at High-A Rome this season, and after three dominant outings, he was moved up to Double-A. Concern about his development of control and command with the tackified ball in the Southern League led to a promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett, where he's the youngest player in Triple-A, more than seven years younger than the average International League player.

While many viewed Smith-Shawver as a two-pitch pitcher coming into 2023, with a dominant fastball/slider combination, he has really developed the feel and movement of his curve and change. AJ can still get off line in his delivery, so command and control is still a concern, but striking out 45 in 33 innings this season with a 1.09 ERA and 0.94 WHIP are amazing numbers.

VERDICT: Smith-Shawver is now a hop, skip, and a jump from the majors. More importantly, his raw stuff has played up to the point where he could be a legit option for the big league club late in the season out of the bullpen as a multi-inning option. He should be owned in all dynasty leagues, though he's not yet redraft roster material.

 
Edwin Jimenez, RP, Milwaukee Brewers

Signed in October 2018 out of Venezuela, Jimenez has a 6'3" frame that allows someone to dream on future velocity, but he's not really developed it yet, sitting in the low-90s with an incredibly effective curve.

Jimenez flashed plenty in 2021 but seemed to put up fairly pedestrian numbers in 2022 in Single-A, with a 4.75 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 113 2/3 innings. The Brewers have used Jimenez primarily out of the bullpen this season in a multiple-inning role.

The role has allowed Jimenez's stuff to thrive as he's controlling the ball better and dominating hitters to the tune of a 1.73 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and a 47/9 K/BB ratio over 36 1/3 innings, all while being two years younger than the average Midwest League player.

VERDICT: The Brewers have a history of developing pitchers like Jimenez through multi-inning bullpen roles and moving them to a rotation spot or a late-inning spot as they show which is their role with the most future success. No reason to add in any dynasty format right now, but keep him on a watch list because once the Brewers decide his future path, he could move quickly.

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



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