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Hot Prospects to Watch Week 6: Kopech, Ferguson, Guerrero, Kirilloff


In previous editions of this list I have tried to highlight some of the more under-the-radar prospects in the minor leagues. This week however it's time to break out some of the big names who just keep churning out the kind of performances expected from elite prospects.

This week we'll be taking a look at one of the top pitching prospects (Michael Kopech) and one of the top hitting prospects (Vladimir Guerrero Jr.) in all baseball. There's no way these two aren't already owned in a dynasty league, and if they aren't owned you should seriously question the intelligence of yourself and your league. It is still possible to trade for them, but it will take a king's ransom to do so. In our Rotoballer staff league, I just traded away Guerrero for four Top-100 prospects...and then he went on a crazy hot streak and now I'm beginning to question that move. The point is, even if you don't own them, keep watching how they perform and see if you can acquire them in the near future.

Now let's take a look at these top-tier prospects and see how they're doing.

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At the top of the (Ko)pech-ing order

SP Michael Kopech - Charlotte Knights (Triple-A: Chicago White Sox)

Projected Starts: vs Durham 5/11, at Toledo 5/17

The number one pitching prospect in Chicago's farm system has done his best this season to prove that not only is he for sure the best pitching prospect, but also that he is ready to get the call to the show. With six starts so far, Kopech has a 3.00 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over 30 innings of work, striking out 38 and walking 13 in that span. His last start wasn't as impressive, pitching only three innings with four walks and three strikeouts on Sunday, but in his three starts before then he was averaging over five innings with eight strikeouts per start. At this point it's just a waiting game to see how much longer it will be before Kopech is in the majors, but for now owners should look forward to his next start on Friday against the Durham Bulls, who are third in the International League with 265 team strikeouts.

SP Caleb Ferguson - Tulsa Drillers (Double-A: Los Angeles Dodgers)

Projected starts: at Northwest Arkansas 5/10, vs Springfield 5/15

In a loaded Dodgers' system, Ferguson has quietly been making a name for himself as one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in the organization. A former 38th round pick, Ferguson had a breakout season in 2017 with a 2.87 ERA and 10.3 K/9 over 122 1/3 innings, and he is on track to put up just as good a season in 2018 with a 0.33 ERA and 9.2 K/9 over 27 1/3 innings. One of the big stories to focus on for Ferguson this year is cutting down on his walk rate, which was a career-high 10.5 percent last season. So far he is having success in doing so with a 7.4 percent walk rate in 2018, and he has not allowed more than two walks in a game through six starts. Ferguson is still a year or two away from a shot at the majors, and he is enough of an under-the-radar prospect still that owners can afford to let him sit on the waiver wire if there's no room on their roster. But he is worth keeping a close eye on, because he could be an interesting sleeper regardless of if he is in the rotation or the bullpen.

 

OF Alex Kirilloff - Cedar Rapids Kernels (Single-A: Minnesota Twins)

Upcoming games: at Dayton 5/8-9, at Bowling Green 5/10-12

With how Kirilloff is playing so far this season, you can hardly notice that he missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery. Now fully healthy, he is hitting .283 with 11 doubles, four home runs and an .829 OPS over 24 games this season. While his strikeout rate has risen from 13.8 percent in 2016 to 20 percent this year, nearly every average or rate for him is remaining consistent with his 2016 numbers. The bigger concern for now that could mean a dip in his batting average is his drastically reduced line drive rate. While he has dropped his ground ball rate over 10 percent from 2016 and raised his fly ball rate by 19 percent, his line drive rate has plummeted from 15.1 percent to 7.8 percent — the second-lowest rate in the Midwest League among players with 100 plate appearances. Kirilloff will get the opportunity to work on hitting more line drives this week, as he faces the Dayton and Bowling Green pitching staffs which both rank in the bottom half of the Midwest League in WHIP.

3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. -  New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Double-A: Toronto Blue Jays)

Upcoming games: vs Portland 5/8-9, at Harrisburg 5/10-13

Saving the best for last, let's talk about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Umm, he's pretty good right? He's 19 years old, hitting .398 with five home runs and a 1.126 OPS over 25 games, and over his last 10 games he is hitting .500 with three home runs and has walked as many times as he has struck out (5). And that's not to mention him placing in the top three of nearly every offensive category in the Eastern League if not outright leading the league. While there's no doubt his performance this season has been very impressive, he is very likely due for some regression in his numbers soon. He is currently sporting a .395 BABIP, which is nearly 50 points higher than last season and more than 100 points higher than 2016, and his .276 ISO is 100 points higher than either of his previous two season totals. There's no doubt that he is a star in the making, but owners should take some his numbers to date with a grain of salt. For now though, enjoy watching Guerrero tear up the weaker pitching staffs of Harrisburg and Portland this week.

 

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