FIRST IMPRESSIONS: N. Lowe, Castro, Puello, D. Moore, Barlow

First Impressions is a look at recent call-ups, a snapshot of their early progress so far in the majors. Initial BaseballHQ.com minor league write-ups for all of the players in today's column can be found in the News tab on their individual PlayerLink pages. Because many of these players have accumulated less than 100 AB or 50 IP, small sample size warnings apply to the analysis here.

 

First Impression: Nate Lowe (1B/DH, TAM)

CALLED UP: 4/29/2019, 6/1/2019, 7/4/2019
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 8C
CURRENT ROLE: Platoon 1B/DH
POTENTIAL ROLE: Starting 1B
2019 MINORS STATS: Durham (AAA)—241 AB, .290/.419/.519, 19 2B, 12 HR, 0.78 Eye, 1 SB

Year   AB   BA    xBA  HR  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f
====  ===  ====  ====  ==  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====
2018^ 288  .278   N/A  14   11   77   N/A     N/A    121/N/A   N/A
2019   88  .284  .269   5    9   73   103  29/28/43  128/128   18%
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs

Looks like third time's the charm for him:

  • Lowe's calling card is a mix of power and patience, and so far, he's been delivering that in his debut. His power output is supported by xPX thanks to his fly-ball-heavy approach, and while he's lost a little contact in the transition to the majors, it hasn't negatively affected his batting average.
  • Of course, he didn't find success right away. In his first two call-ups in 2019—which only amounted to 38 AB—he posted a .625 OPS, .226 xBA, 44 PX, and hit no home runs. Since his most recent call-up on July 4th, he's hit .300/.397/.660 over 50 AB, with an 10% walk rate, 189 PX, 142 xPX, 29% hr/f, .304 xBA, and all 5 of his HR. 
  • Still, the Rays have often sat him against LHP. He has just 20 AB vs. left-handers thus far, and while his contact rate against them has been poor (55%), he does have a 13% walk rate and 243 PX, with 2 of his 5 HR. It's way too early to slap a platoon-only label on him.

The 24-year-old Lowe is making it very hard for the Rays to take him out of their lineup or send him back down again. There could still be a roster/playing time crunch with Yandy Diaz, Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Lowe, and Daniel Robertson all likely to return from the IL in the next week or two, but if he can weather that storm, he looks like a solid fantasy contributor for the remainder of 2019, and a potential 30-HR hitter with a strong OBP in the future.

 

First Impression: Harold Castro (2B/OF, DET)

CALLED UP: 9/21/2018, 4/30/2019, 6/4/2019
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 5B
CURRENT ROLE: Starting 2B/Utility player
POTENTIAL ROLE: Utility player
2019 MINORS STATS: Toledo (AAA)—122 AB, .328/.371/.484, 5 2B, 4 HR, 0.35 Eye, 1 SB

Year   AB   BA    xBA  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO  HR/SB
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====  =======  =====
2015# 336  .234   N/A    3   81   N/A     N/A     38/N/A   N/A  117/N/A   1/14
2016# 392  .220   N/A    2   83   N/A     N/A     43/N/A   N/A   67/N/A   3/ 5
2017# 414  .258   N/A    4   86   N/A     N/A     35/N/A   N/A  114/N/A   1/17
2018^ 351  .232   N/A    2   79   N/A     N/A     34/N/A   N/A   55/N/A   2/ 4
2019  154  .279  .270    2   74    98  51/30/18   65/ 56   10%  138/ 8%   2/ 2
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
MLB   164  .280  .266    2   74   101  52/29/19   61/ 56    9%  156/ 10%  2/ 3
#Double-A MLEs
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs

This might be a high water mark for his value:

  • Castro has fared surprisingly well so far, with a batting average well above the expectations set by his minor league MLEs, and an xBA that, while not fully supportive of his BA, isn't terrible. But it's also being propped up by a line drive rate that's unsustainably high, and as that regresses, so will his batting average prospects. He has owned rates between 21-26% in the minors, so he's not without skill in that area, but +30% is almost unheard of.
  • It's not a great sign that it took three years of repeating Double-A for him to max out his contact rate, only to see it drop dramatically as he moved up to Triple-A and the majors. So he strikes out a lot, doesn't walk (he has a terrible 0.10 Eye in the majors), and can't hit for power, which is not a recipe for long-term success as a hitter.
  • He's offered valuable speed skill in the past, but his skills and success there have been very inconsistent. Between Triple-A and the majors, he's only 7-for-14 (50%) on steal attempts; he'll need to improve that to be able to make a run at double-digits steals, especially since he'll likely be fighting against a very low OBP.

The 25-year-old Castro is not a highly-rated prospect, nor is he a good candidate to hold down a starting job for any length of time other than on a rebuilding team in a down year, as he is now with the Tigers. If he can maximize his speed skill and get his running game on track, he might be able to offer some deep league value, but his high BA is unlikely to last, and his current $4 R$ could be as valuable as he gets in 2019.

 

First Impression: Cesar Puello (OF, MIA)

CALLED UP: 8/9/2017, 8/20/2017, 5/28/2019
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 6D
CURRENT ROLE: Starting CF
POTENTIAL ROLE: Reserve OF
2019 MINORS STATS: Salt Lake City (AAA)—135 AB, .296/.431/.504, 7 2B, 7 HR, 0.59 Eye, 2 SB

Year   AB   BA    xBA  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO  HR/SB
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====  =======  =====
2016+ 230  .257   N/A   12   72   N/A     N/A     83/N/A   N/A   96/N/A   5/16
2017+ 346  .253   N/A    5   70   N/A     N/A     95/N/A   N/A  106/N/A   8/12
17MLB  34  .206  .183   10   65    36  73/14/14    0/-26    0%  102/18%   0/ 2
2018+ 294  .245   N/A    8   72   N/A     N/A     53/N/A   N/A   84/N/A   3/ 4
2019  112  .259  .248    7   71    96  65/21/14   89/ 61   36%   87/ 0%   4/ 0
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
MLB   146  .247  .243    8   70    81  67/20/14   70/ 40   29%   91/ 5%   4/ 2
+Triple-A MLEs

Don't believe the HR pace:

  • Puello has a respectable .772 OPS, thanks in part to 4 HR in 112 AB, which projects out to around 15-20 HR over a full season. But it has taken a ridiculously high hr/f to get him there, and unless you believe a minor league journeyman with a 61 xPX who hits two-thirds of his batted balls on the ground is going to maintain a higher hr/f than Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, and Mike Trout, this is a small-sample fluke.
  • That lack of power leaves him little hope of ever posting a good batting average, as he has yet to own even a league average contact rate, and his line drive rates haven't been average at best, both in the majors and the minors.
  • He owned a decent running game in the minors, but his Spd skill history is not very impressive, and after stealing two bases in his very first MLB game on August 9, 2017, he has yet to even attempt another steal in the majors since.

The 28-year-old Puello may be starting for the Marlins (after being designated for assignment by the Angels back in mid-June), but that says more about their season than it does about Puello, and he's likely only there until they can find a better option. With below-average skills across the board, there's little chance of him offering much fantasy value in 2019 or beyond.

 

First Impression: Dylan Moore (UTIL, SEA)

CALLED UP: 3/29/2019, 5/29/2019
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 6C
CURRENT ROLE: Utility player
POTENTIAL ROLE: Utility player
2019 MINORS STATS: Tacoma (AAA)—29 AB, .172/.294/.172, 0 2B, 0 HR, 1.00 Eye, 2 SB

Year   AB   BA    xBA  bb%  ct%  HctX  GB/LD/FB   PX/xPX  hr/f  Spd/SBO  HR/SB
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ====  ========  =======  ====  =======  =====
2017# 421  .175   N/A    9   72   N/A     N/A     39/N/A   N/A   70/N/A   6/ 9
2018^ 408  .250   N/A    6   80   N/A     N/A    106/N/A   N/A  137/N/A  11/17
2019  148  .203  .188    9   62    73  42/12/46   97/113   10%  131/41%   4/ 7
#Double-A MLEs
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs

Don't write him off just yet:

  • With a .203 BA and .650 OPS, Moore hasn't performed all that well in his major league debut, and a lot of that can be blamed on his 62% contact rate, which is well below the levels he established in the minors. On the plus side, his above-average walk rate has held up, offering a sign that he's not completely lost at the plate, and if he can ever get his ct% back up closer to 2018 levels, he could at least offer a BA that won't hurt you.
  • He's flashed double-digit HR power thus far, and his skills back the performance (including a plus PX MLE in 2018), with xPX even suggesting there's a little more power to be tapped. His fly ball rate is very high, but it would be good to see him make more hard contact to boost his overall power profile.
  • Speed has been his most consistent skill, and his main source of value in 2019. He's got two years of excellent Spd skill ratings, and is getting a clear green light from the Mariners, though his success rate has been terrible: 7-for-14 (50%). That's something to keep an eye on, as it could start driving down his SBO.

The 26-year-old Moore is not a big prospect, and most likely looking at a continued career as a utility player, but his power and speed history are intriguing enough to make him worth watching should he ever play his way into more AB. And when you add in a contact history that suggests he can stop being a batting average liability, there's deep league potential here. His current BaseballHQ rest-of-season projection includes a .234 BA, 3 HR, and 5 SB, and is worth a projected $8 in rotisserie value.

 

First Impression: Scott Barlow (RHP, KC)

CALLED UP: 4/17/18, 4/20/18, 4/28/18, 5/28/18, 3/28/19, 7/15/19
BASEBALLHQ PROSPECT RATING: 7D
CURRENT ROLE: Middle reliever
POTENTIAL ROLE: Setup reliever/Starter
2019 MINORS STATS: Omaha (AAA)—0.00 ERA, 6 IP/1 GS, 4.5 Ctl, 7.5 Dom, 1.7 Cmd

Year   IP   ERA  xERA  Ctl   Dom  Cmd  GB/LD/FB  H%/S%  hr/f  FpK  SwK  BPV
====  ===  ====  ====  ===  ====  ===  ========  =====  ====  ===  ===  ===
2016# 124  5.30   N/A  3.7   6.2  1.7     N/A    35/68   N/A  N/A  N/A   42
2017^ 140  3.92   N/A  3.6   8.5  2.3     N/A    27/71   N/A  N/A  N/A   78
2018^  51  7.46   N/A  4.0   7.4  1.9     N/A    38/61   N/A  N/A  N/A   21
18MLB  15  3.60  4.00  1.8   9.0  5.0  38/26/36  34/76   12%  65%  11%  129
2019   42  5.83  3.93  4.3  12.7  3.0  35/28/37  39/63   15%  59%  14%  126
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
MLB    57  5.24  4.02  3.7  11.8  3.2  36/27/37  37/66   14%  61%  13%  127
#Double-A MLEs
^Double-A/Triple-A MLEs 

Solid skills are being obscured by terrible luck:

  • Barlow's 5.83 ERA and 1.51 WHIP are going to drive nearly every fantasy owner away, but he's been hurt by a high hit rate (which has been especially bad vs. LHP, who have a 49% hit rate off him) and low strand rate. xERA and BPV both say he's got the skills of a quality reliever.
  • He's been raising his strikeout rate in the majors, backed by a jump in fastball velocity (from 90.6 mph in 2018 to 93.8 in 2019) and a big step forward in SwK. And he's still going—his July numbers (94.8 mph, 21% SwK over 5 IP) are his highest yet.
  • Walks are still an issue, and both his minor league MLE Ctl rates and his 2019 and career FpK rates don't suggest he'll be able to improve much there. He could probably shave his rate down into the mid-threes, and even that would go a long way toward improving his effectiveness.

Despite the bad ERA, the 26-year-old Barlow has been getting some higher-leverage work, as indicated by a 1.28 Leverage Index for 2019, and with Kansas City closer Ian Kennedy showing up in trade rumors and setup man Jake Diekman already gone from this bullpen, he could soon be moving up the ladder. His long-term role is still up in the air; he's clearly finding more success in the bullpen, but he's also still a three-pitch pitcher (four-seam fastball, slider, curve), with each pitch generating a double-digit strikeout rate, so perhaps the door to the rotation is not completely closed just yet. At the very least, he's worthy of another look in deep leagues in 2019, on the off-chance he works his way into a larger role down the stretch.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.