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Hot Prospects to Watch in Week 4: Noda, Lowther, Wong, Mercado

With most teams now approaching 20 games played, fantasy owners can now begin to get a better idea of which hot or cold starts in the minors might be real and which ones aren't. Many of the top prospects have showed exactly why they are considered so highly with great starts to the 2018 season. But there are also some prospects that might fly under the radar in most fantasy circles that are having just as good, if not better, starts than some of the big name players everyone knows.

This week's list features some particularly fast players owners should keep an eye on, especially with how few elite stolen bases options there are at the major league level now. There is a crop of young, fast talent quickly rising through the minors that will be making an impact within a year or two at the major-league level and won't kill your batting average (coughcough Billy Hamilton cough). Some of these players even have the potential to make an impact in fantasy later this season.

For now though, these players should keep up their hot starts in the minors, and fantasy owners need to keep an eye on these guys for this upcoming week.

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There's Noda-nying his talent

OF Oscar Mercado - Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A: St. Louis Cardinals)

Upcoming games: vs Round Rock 4/25-29, vs Oklahoma City 4/30-5/3

The Cardinals' second-round pick in the 2013 Draft, Mercado is inching his way closer to making his Major League debut after the hot start to the season he has had at Triple-A. Having averaged over 40 stolen bases over the last three seasons, Mercado has already swiped nine bags through 17 games — the most in the Pacific Coast League. Along with his speed on the basepaths, Mercado is also showing signs that his power surge last year might not have been a fluke by launching three home runs in his first 73 plate appearances. The Cardinals already have a loaded outfield at the major league level, and recently called up outfield prospect Tyler O'Neill, but Mercado is a very interesting and relatively unknown prospect that could potentially have an impact in fantasy later this year.

SP Fernando Romero - Rochester Red Wings (Triple-A: Minnesota Twins)

Projected starts: at Syracuse 4/27, at Pawtucket 5/2

After not recording a double-digit strikeout performance all last season, it took only three starts for Romero to rack up 10 strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings against the Columbus Clippers on Sunday. Sunday's performance improved his numbers to a career-high 9.56 K/9, a 26.6 strikeout percentage and a 1.69 ERA and 2.86 FIP. Romero has established himself as the top right-handed pitching prospect in the Twins' system, and by starting the year in Triple-A he is likely the first option that Minnesota will turn to for a spot-start or if an injury strikes their rotation. For now though, Romero has a good match-up approaching against Pawtucket, which is sixth in the International League with 139 team strikeouts and has the fifth-worst batting average at .237.

2B Garrett Hampson - Hartford Yard Goats (Double-A: Colorado Rockies)

Upcoming games: vs Portland 4/24-25, at Richmond 4/27-29

The Rockies have a potential two-category fantasy stud in the making with 23-year-old Garrett Hampson. Over his first two seasons of pro-ball, Hampson hit .318 while averaging over 43 steals a year. This year it's been more of the same, as he is hitting .323 with 12 stolen bases — including seven over his last seven games. While he hasn't displayed much power — eight home runs over 603 plate appearances last season — his speed and consistently high average make him an intriguing option in fantasy at second base. Hampson should spend the year in the minors with the potential for a September call-up, but with current Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu only signed through 2018, Hampson could potentially be competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster in 2019.

OF Ryan Noda - Lansing Lugnuts (Single-A: Toronto Blue Jays)

Upcoming games: vs Dayton 4/24-26, at West Michigan 4/27-29

After leading the Appalachian League with a .378 average and 1.120 OPS on his way to being named the league's Player of the Year, Noda has not shown signs of slowing down so far in his second year of pro-ball. Noda's biggest strength so far is his plate discipline, as he has drawn 81 walks to 70 strikeouts over his first 336 career plate appearances. This year with Lansing Noda has drawn 22 walks to 10 strikeouts over 60 plate appearances for a 36.7 percent walk rate — the highest rate in the Midwest League and more than seven percent higher than the next player. Another thing fantasy owners should keep an eye on Noda for this year is to see just how much running he does on the basepaths. Just 13 games into the season Noda already has seven steals, which matches his season total from 2017 in 53 fewer games. Noda is still several years away from reaching the majors, but if he can keep up his walk rate and ramp up his steals he could be one of the top fantasy prospects in OBP-leagues.

C Connor Wong - Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Single-A Advanced: Los Angeles Dodgers)

Upcoming games: vs Stockton 4/24-26, at Lancaster 4/27-29

The Dodgers added to the catching depth in their farm system by drafting Wong in the third round of last year's draft, and just 12 games into this year he is already posting better numbers than he had in 2017. Wong is currently hitting .396 over 54 plate appearances, with a California League-leading eight home runs and 17 RBI. He has been especially hot over his past seven games, hitting .464 with six home runs — one more than he hit over 28 games last year. While this hot streak will inevitably die down as he is unable to maintain the 61.5 percent HR/FB rate he currently has, he looks like he could have a significant amount of power that could translate to the major league level. While it remains to be seen if he will stay behind the plate long-term, fantasy owners should continue to keep an eye on Wong to see just how much of his performance he'll be able to sustain.

SP Zac Lowther - Delmarva Shorebirds (Single-A: Baltimore Orioles)

Projected starts: at Hickory 4/27, vs Greenville 5/3

Zac Lowther is probably one of the more underrated pitching prospects in baseball now. The 21-year-old lefty posted a 1.66 ERA and 12.4 K/9 over 12 appearances and 11 starts last season, and through his first three starts of 2018 Lowther has a 0.56 ERA and 0.15 FIP with a 17.4 K/9. While he doesn't throw very hard — his scouting report on has him with a fastball that sits at 87-90 mph and tops out at 93 — Lowther does a good job at getting strikes, with only 23 percent of his pitches so far this season being called as a ball. Inevitably though, Lowther's 56.4 percent strikeout rate and 1.10 xFIP will come down back to earth as the season continues. That being said, while he only has 70 1/3 career innings so far, there is a lot to like in what he has done so far and there is no reason he shouldn't continue to post high strikeout totals as he progresses through the Orioles' system.


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