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Prospects to Know in 2021 - NL East

Can you feel the excitement in the air? It's Spring Training! We're a few games in now so it's time to overreact about which unknown player is going to be an MVP candidate and which star player is "clearly" washed up.

But when we're not overreacting, we shouldn't forget to think about the new faces that will be reaching the majors this year. We've already taken a look at the NL Central and the AL Central, now we will head over and take a look at the NL East. The NL East has become loaded with young star players over the past few years with Ronald Acuña and Juan Soto leading the wave of new talent. And yet there's still more young talent in the pipeline in that division.

Five teams, five prospects. You know the drill by now — let's take a look at who to watch in 2021.

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

 

Atlanta Braves: Cristian Pache, OF (ADP 410)

Highest Level: MLB
2019 stats (AA/AAA): 130 G, .277/.340/.462, 12 HR, 61 RBI, 22.7 K%, 8.0 BB%

The top prospect in Atlanta's system, Pache made his major league debut last year and now is looking to nail down a starting role in the Braves outfield this spring. Pache has flashed both speed and power through his four years in the minors, stealing 32 bases at Single-A in 2017 and hitting a career-high 12 home runs in 2019 as a 20-year-old playing at Double-A and Triple-A. That being said he has yet to show speed and power at those levels in a single season as he finished with zero home runs in 2017 and in 2019 he was just 8-for-19 in stolen base attempts.

He's also watched both his walk rate and strikeout rate climb over the last four years, going from a 5.5 percent walk rate and 10.2 percent strikeout rate in 2016 to an 8.0 percent walk rate and 22.7 percent strikeout rate in 2019. While both those numbers aren't the most ideal that fantasy managers would like to see from Pache, it is worth noting that in 26 games at Triple-A in 2019 he recorded an 8.6 percent walk rate and 17.1 percent strikeout rate. If there had been a minor league season last year, it's possible that Pache could have continued to improve at the plate and could have been a hotter commodity in drafts this year.

Pache has a good shot at being the Opening Day center fielder for Atlanta, and at the very least he should be on the roster. His bat hasn't really shown up quite yet this spring though, as he is 2-for-8 with a triple, one RBI and two strikeouts through his first four games. His main competition right now is Ender Inciarte, who held the starting role last year and currently has similar numbers to Pache in Spring Training. Regardless of whether he gets the starting role right out the gate or is a fourth outfielder, there will be growing pains this season for Pache as he makes up for lost time.

The potential is there though for Pache to put up double-digit home runs and steals, with some prospect watchers predicting he could become a 20-20 threat. In deeper leagues or NL-only formats, Pache is a very intriguing late-round lottery ticket, while in 10-team and 12-team leagues managers should wait until he starts heating up at the plate before considering claiming him off the waiver wire.

 

Miami Marlins: Jazz Chisholm, SS (ADP 508)

Highest Level: MLB
2019 stats (AA): 112 G, .220/.321/.441, 21 HR, 54 RBI, 16 SB, 32.1 K%, 11.4 BB%

The Marlins' return in the trade that sent Zac Gallen to the Diamondbacks, Chisholm got his first taste of the majors last year where he played in 21 games between second base and shortstop. His numbers last year left a lot to be desired, but in the minors Chisholm has proven himself to be a solid bat at shortstop with both power and speed. Chisholm has a career .255/.327/.462 line over four seasons in the minors, and it was in his age-20 and 21 seasons that he started showing some power in his bat as he hit 25 home runs between Single-A and High-A in 2018 and 21 homers at Double-A in 2019. The speed has also been fairly consistent throughout his minor league career with at least 13 steals in three of his four seasons. The only season he didn't reach that mark was in an injury-marred 2017 campaign in which he only had three swipes, but he was on pace for 12 stolen bases over the course of a full season.

The biggest obstacle in the way of Chisholm having success at the major league level is his plate discipline. He has never recorded a swinging strike rate below 15 percent in a single season, which has led to his career 30.1 percent strikeout rate in the minors. Despite the bloated strikeout numbers he has managed to maintain a decent 8.9 percent walk rate through his minor league career, and in 2019 he posted a career-best 11.4 percent walk rate.

Chisholm hasn't gotten off to a great start so far this spring, as he is currently 2-for-11 with a home run and three strikeouts over six games. There's still time to turn things around and impress the coaching staff, but he'll have to outperform Isan Diaz and Jon Berti to have a shot at cracking the Opening Day roster. If he doesn't break camp with the team, managers should still keep a close eye on him early on in the season as he could quickly find himself in Miami if his bat heats up or someone goes down with an injury.

 

New York Mets: Khalil Lee, OF (ADP 736)

Highest Level: AA
2019 stats: 129 G, .264/.363/.372, 8 HR, 51 RBI, 53 SB, 28.2 K%, 11.9 BB%

Lee is one of the deepest sleepers out of everyone on this list, but don't be fooled — if an opportunity opens up for him he will produce in fantasy this year. Acquired by the Mets as part of the three-team trade that sent Andrew Benintendi from Boston to Kansas City, Lee led the minor leagues in 2019 with 53 steals in 65 attempts. He also posted his best batting average since his debut season in 2016, while his 65 walks and 74 runs scored were career-highs. Lee showed some pop early on in his career with a .484 slugging percentage in 2016 before he hit his current career-highs in doubles (24), triples (six) and home runs (17) the following year. However, he has seen his slugging percentage drop every year since 2016, going from .484 to .372 in 2019 while his ISO has dropped from .214 to .109 in that same span.

He'll be in the minors for most of the year — likely at Triple-A — and it's possible that a change of scenery and a new coaching staff could bring that power back to his bat. He hit six home runs in 2018 and eight in 2019, so it's not hard to see him reach double-digit home runs once he hits the majors. And while his 2019 stolen base total was an outlier compared to the rest of his career, he could very well be a 20-steal threat for New York. Another aspect to consider with Lee is that in leagues that count on-base percentage he could be a hot commodity, as he sports a career .366 OBP in the minors as well as a 12.9 percent walk rate.

The path to playing time is certainly filled with hurdles for Lee, as not only do the Mets already have their outfield pretty well set with Dominic Smith, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto but they also signed Albert Almora Jr. and Kevin Pillar to major league deals last month. Lee will most likely get a call-up come September, but he could get the call sooner if injuries pop up, and if that happens he could very quickly become an impact player in fantasy.

 

Philadelphia Phillies: Spencer Howard, RHP (ADP 427)

Highest Level: MLB
2019 stats (R/A+/AA): 15 GS, 3-1, 2.03 ERA, 0.831 WHIP,  34.8 K%, 5.9 BB%, 71.0 IP

Another top prospect making this list, Howard underwhelmed somewhat in his first crack at the majors in 2020. His 20.4 percent strikeout rate was the lowest mark he recorded at any level while his 8.8 percent walk rate was his highest mark since his first season of pro ball in 2017. He finished 2020 with a 5.92 ERA and 4.27 xERA across 24.1 innings with Philadelphia before he was shut down with right shoulder stiffness. But a year prior Howard set new career-highs pitching across three levels of the minors, finishing with a 2.03 ERA, 0.831 WHIP, 34.8 percent strikeout rate and 5.9 percent walk rate over 71 innings in 15 starts. While he posted great numbers in 2019, that season was also cut short due to right-shoulder injury. And therein lies the biggest concern with Howard — how will he perform over a full season's workload?

2018 has been the only year in which he surpassed 100 innings pitched, finishing with 112 innings across 23 starts. That single year nearly equals his combined innings total from the other three seasons of his career (123.2). Between the small workloads as well as dealing with right shoulder injuries in back-to-back seasons, Howard will almost certainly be facing some kind of innings limit in 2021. And with the Phillies signing Chase Anderson and Matt Moore to help round out their rotation, Howard's path to playing time is even further limited. Howard could see time pitching out of the bullpen at some point this year, as well as potentially getting some spot starts here and there. If he's in the bullpen he'll be a high-upside play in leagues that count saves-plus-holds, and any time he starts he'll become a high-end streaming option based on his strikeout potential alone.

 

Washington Nationals: Yadiel Hernandez, OF (ADP 751)

Highest Level: MLB
2019 stats (AAA): 126 G, .323/.406/.604, 33 HR, 90 RBI, 20.9 K%, 12.4 BB%

If you're looking for a deep sleeper with power, look no further than 33-year-old Yadiel Hernandez. A Cuban free agent signed by the Nationals in 2016, Hernandez has mashed his way through Washington's system with a combined 63 home runs and .503 slugging percentage over three seasons. He dominated the Pacific Coast League with top-10 finishes in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, wOBA (.413), home runs and wRC+ (139). Hernandez finally made his big league debut last year, hitting 5-for-26 with 12 strikeouts while posting a .214 on-base percentage and .423 slugging percentage over 12 games with Washington. Those numbers are not impressive when you consider what he was hitting in the minors, but he still showed power as four of his five hits went for extra-bases — including his first career home run.

Hernandez has looked solid at the plate through seven games this spring, hitting 6-for-15 with a home run and three RBI. He has also shown improvement in his plate discipline from last season, as he only has two strikeouts in 16 plate appearances so far. With the departure of Adam Eaton, Hernandez could have had a shot at cracking the Opening Day starting lineup, but Kyle Schwarber's signing with the Nationals back in January has put a halt to that idea. A strong spring could keep Hernandez on the roster as a bench bat, but there's a decent chance he could end up back at Triple-A to start the year. Don't count him out though as he will surely be one of the first options Washington turns to if injuries strike their outfield, and if that happens he can be an impact power bat almost instantly.



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