KEEPERS: 2019 Building Blocks—OF (AL)

Eloy Jimenez (OF, CHW)

This is our annual off-season series focused on helping keeper league and dynasty owners identify emerging targets that can ensure perennial title contention. We've refreshed the format this year and have renamed the series "Building Blocks," but the goal remains the same: To identify top prospects and young players at each position who can be procured before they become household names, so keeper league owners can continually build upon the foundation for long-term success that prevents the need for white-flag-waving, tanking-oriented rebuilds.

Each week we will examine a different position, looking for players (“pieces”) that have potential to be solid long-term contributors to a winning fantasy franchise. Obviously different keeper/dynasty formats allow for varying degrees of speculation on unproven players, so you will need to adjust your sights on these targets, accordingly. For the purpose of this series, we group players under four general designations:

Cornerstones: Premium quality franchise difference-makers, essential to the foundation of a true dynasty juggernaut. These pieces are top priority acquisitions, either by draft or trade.

Building Blocks: High quality prospects with potential to be solid elements of a winning core. Desirable pieces that should be targeted as part of the ongoing championship franchise building process.

Support Pieces: Interchangeable lower grade parts that may provide help in a specific category or offer a lower ceiling than more desirable foundation pieces.

Dicey Accessories: Lower probability, high-risk players who may be targeted for upside gambles, but who should not be counted on as core championship pieces. (Possible trade-chip candidates if timed properly.)

Players are listed with 2019 season age and major league organization, along with a designation if left-handed hitter (*) or switch-hitter (#). Please see the Organization Reports in our Scouting section for more detailed analysis on specific players and be sure to pick up a copy of the Minor League Baseball Analyst which makes a great complement to the indispensable Baseball Forecaster for league-winning insights on all relevant players.

We will attempt to identify top building targets within the following criteria:

  • ​Will play majority of 2019 season at 25 years old or younger (25 as of July 1, 2019)
  • Less than 200 MLB AB in 2018 and less than 500 MLB AB career
  • Reasonably projected to be MLB-ready prior to conclusion of 2020 season (may extend time horizon for Cornerstones)

Previous articles in this series:  C  |  1B  |  2B  |  3B  |  SS  |  OF (NL)

In this edition we take a look at the top American League outfielders who should be Building Block considerations for keeper league competitors. With his arrival greatly anticipated, the name of Eloy Jimenez heading this group is not surprising, but several other lesser-hyped names merit serious consideration by keeper league competitors.

 

CORNERSTONES

Eloy Jimenez (22, CHW) – A premium bat that combines an awesome hit tool with good power. Aside from a lack of speed, the only potential blemish to Jimenez’ dynasty stock is a bit of an injury bug that has been dogging him the last two years. Even as this column goes to press, the young slugger is nursing a quad strain that forced him out of winter ball early and has him shut down until spring training. Of course, the possibility for continued blatant service time manipulation by the tanking White Sox cannot be discounted, as well, though a healthy Eloy in spring training may make it tough on them to keep doing so with a straight face. This is an absolute stud that is a high priority keeper league target.

Alex Kirilloff* (21, MIN) – Sweet-swinging lefty didn’t miss a beat in his return from 2017 Tommy John surgery. Plus-plus hit tool complemented by plus power and a superior approach that minimizes platoon splits. Could possibly be ready by later this year but will inevitably be held down until at least early 2020. Should be worth the wait.

Kyle Tucker* (22, HOU) – Disappointing major league debut made up of only 64 at bats over three brief stints took a little off his luster, but did little to dim his long-term outlook. When he wasn’t scuffling or sitting the bench in the big leagues, young Tucker was tearing up the Pacific Coast League with a combination of power and speed that sparkled along with his glittering .332/.400/.590 line. Despite the fact he would appear to have nothing left to prove at that level, Tucker appears destined to return to triple-A for the start of the 2019 season following Houston’s signing of veteran Michael Brantley. Don’t be surprised if the Astros hold him down at least until they can gain another year of service time control around mid-May. Now is the time to pry him away from your fellow keeper league owner with a sly “Look, the Astros have given up on him!” sales pitch.

 

BUILDING BLOCKS

Jo Adell (20, LAA) – Any time a prospect’s breakdown reads “insanely athletic (right-handed hitter)… but work to be done with (a worrisomely high) strikeout percentage,” as Adell’s bio reads in the 2019 Minor League Baseball Analyst, my bust alert sirens go off. Now, I’m not saying that’s the case here, but I think it may be wise to pump the brakes just a bit on the enthusiasm for his “toolsiness.” New Angels manager Brad Ausmus is being quoted saying “it’s a possibility” that Adell could make it to the majors in 2019 despite the fact that he struggled to a horrible 65 percent contact rate in a limited look at Double-A. While Adell’s supporters will scream “small sample size,” his contact rate across two levels of A-ball was a very marginal 73.3% prior to his late-season promotion, even as he was posting fine stats otherwise. That said, he very easily could be considered a Cornerstone-caliber keeper league asset, and I wavered on putting him there, but I felt it more important to sound this cautionary bell. “Toolsy,” pull-oriented right-handed hitters who have issues making contact are frequently exposed as they advance to face more advanced pitching at higher levels, which Adell will be doing in 2019. His speed and defense do provide a floor that decreases his risk a bit and he appears quite mature for his age. I don’t dislike him by any means, but will be watching his development this year with a wary eye.

Yordan Alvarez* (22, HOU) – A fine hitter with power and even a little bit of speed, Alvarez ranks just slightly behind organization mate Kyle Tucker mainly due to possible defensive limitations. But we need not be overly concerned with that in fantasy so long as he hits enough, though it would be nice if he’s not confined to DH. The good news there is Alvarez played left field in 65 of his 88 games, though a marginal arm likely confines him to left or first base. He should return to triple-A to start the season, but stands to be knocking on the big league door along with Tucker as spring turns to summer.

Jesus Sanchez* (21, TB) – A free-swinger with the ability to put good wood on even not-so-good pitches, Sanchez is the rare bad-ball hitter who appears to have a good chance of success in today’s patience-oriented game. With a measure of power and speed to complement his plus hit tool and an approach that contributes to success against both righties and lefties, Sanchez offers a solid keeper league investment. Be aware that he is still very young and the normally conservative Rays may be very deliberate with the remainder of his development. Do not expect Sanchez to arrive in the big leagues until the latter half of 2020 at the earliest.

Daz Cameron (22, DET) – Already considered a solid, if not spectacular, prospect when he signed, Cameron seems to be getting better as he climbs the development ladder. He posted an .837 OPS, his best as a pro, with a .285/.367/.470 line during the latter half of the summer at double-A. The success convinced the Tigers to promote him to triple-A for the final 15 games where he got his feet wet in preparation for a return to finish his minor league work this summer. Interestingly, he projects to be a lot like his all-star and gold glove-winning father, Mike. That is, a plus defender, capable of playing anywhere in the outfield, and a solid, but not spectacular, five-category fantasy contributor. He could be ready as soon as mid-summer, but his ultimate arrival will, of course, be dependent upon the inclinations of the parent Detroit Tankers braintrust.

Austin Meadows* (24, TAM) – A victim of both injuries and blatant service time manipulation the past two seasons, Meadows may be becoming something of a forgotten phenom. His 178 MLB at bats in his 2018 debut were enough to knock him off most prospect lists, yet not enough to make him stand out among returning veterans. Still only 23 years old on Opening Day, Meadows appears to finally have the inside track on a big league starting job in the wake of the Mallex Smith trade. Rays manager Kevin Cash is not bashful about mixing and matching pieces in platoon-like fashion or otherwise, so nothing is guaranteed, but this former top prospect is in prime position for a breakout. A career .294 hitter across six years in the minors before hitting .287 over 187 big league at bats last year, Meadows offers five-category upside with solid power and speed. One other potential concern, though it was not an issue in 2018, is a history of nagging soft tissue injuries (hamstring) that have dogged him off and on since 2014. Health permitting, Meadows offers fine post-hype sleeper upside.

 

SUPPORT PIECES

Ramon Laureano (24, OAK) – Burst onto the scene in August, grabbing the A’s centerfield job, as he showed off a cannon of an arm and a solid all-fields hitting approach while stealing an efficient seven bases in eight attempts. A high 40% hit percentage suggests some regression should be expected, but Laureano appears to be a legitimate everyday center fielder. He will enter 2019 with that job to lose for Oakland and can be counted on for some steals and a moderate dose of power.

Yusniel Diaz (22, BAL) – The top prospect acquired by Baltimore in last summer’s Manny Machado dump, Diaz struggled initially with his new organization before finishing reasonably strong. He offers a moderate power/speed package with a solid hit tool that projects to be useful if not exciting. The Cuban defector has been aggressively pushed up the ladder and could be ready later this summer if he picks his pace back up at Triple-A. Of course, exactly when the moribund Orioles decide to bring him up to the big leagues is another matter.

Christin Stewart* (25, DET) – Armed with just one tool that is not rated below average, Stewart faces pressure to produce significant power. He stands to get that chance in 2018, as he is currently penciled in as Detroit’s starting left fielder. Stewart did show relatively well in his brief September cameo before an abdominal muscle strain forced season-ending surgery. If he can successfully put the bat on the ball enough and avoid being too much of a liability in the field, he stands to get plenty of at bats in 2019 for the tanking Tigers. Stewart projects as a decent one-dimensional source of power.

Myles Straw (24, HOU) – Similar to Stewart above, Straw offers one-dimensional fantasy upside, but it’s a far more interesting dimension in today’s power-laden game. Straw has speed to burn and he knows how to use it, posting a phenomenal 85.7 percent success rate (108-126) stealing bases across his last two minor league seasons before going 2-for-2 with the Astros during a September call-up. The Astros deemed this limited-use weapon so powerful that Straw was included on the post-season roster, pinch-running twice (and successfully swiping another base). With the big league club’s outfield jam-packed and phenom Kyle Tucker champing at the bit, extensive playing time for Straw would not appear to be in the cards. In AL-only leagues, however, or as an otherwise desperation speed source, he merits keeping on the radar.

Cedric Mullins* (24, BAL) – A lower-profile prospect who can do a little bit of everything, Mullins emerged in 2018 as a useful player for the depleted Orioles down the stretch. He enters 2019 penciled in as the starting center fielder while Baltimore tries to figure out a plan to contend with the mighty Red Sox and Yankees. Even if they can muster a way do that, Mullins plays good enough defense to maintain viable fourth-OF status. When he is getting playing time, as he figures to do in 2019 at the least, he has useful value in providing some steals along with a bit of pop.

Billy McKinney* (24, TOR) – Power-based platoon-type profile, lined up for strong-side work in left field for the Blue Jays to begin the 2019 season. Capable of making a contribution when getting regular playing time, but more of an AL-only type short-term asset.

Dustin Fowler* (24, OAK) – A highly touted prospect featuring a solid combination of speed and power coming into 2018, Fowler was unable to gain traction during a pair of big league trials. Though he spent his time between big league stints tearing up triple-A, by season's end, the center field job had been usurped by Ramon Laureano, leaving Fowler to something of an afterthought. He does not walk much, which puts pressure on his bat to supply power, as well as allow him to use his legs. Fowler will enter 2019 fighting another player who came out of nowhere, Nick Martini, for the left field job. His defense should give Fowler a floor as a fourth outfielder capable of contributing steals as more of an AL-only type target.

 

DICEY ACCESSORIES

Khalil Lee* (21, KC) – Small in stature, listed at 5-10 (which means he’s likely closer to 5-9 or 5-8), Lee can run (not a surprise) and has some pop in his bat (more of a surprise). He can also draw more than his fair share of walks (also not a surprise). Think about it, if a guy with a naturally small strike zone takes a lot of pitches, should we really be excited that he walks a lot? Perhaps that should be more of a given and we should instead be alarmed with Lee’s inability to put the ball in play when he does lift the bat off his shoulder. Lee has failed to meet the BHQ minimum 73-percent contact rate threshold at any level over the course of his first three professional seasons, while never posting a batting average above .270. This is accompanied by chilling scouting reports that Lee “struggles with spin recognition and making adjustments.” Perhaps most concerning of all are the results of his recent assignment to the Arizona Fall League in hopes of “refining his plate discipline.” Apparently that means quit getting so deep in counts that the first swing-and-miss results in a K. (i.e. Quit taking so damn many pitches.) The “get more aggressive” part worked, apparently, as Lee posted his lowest walk rate (8.8%) as a professional. However, his corresponding contact rate got even worse, dropping almost three full points from the already subpar 70.2% mark he put up over the summer. While Lee is admittedly young for his age at double-A (where he finished the summer) and the AFL, until he can show otherwise, his excessive whiffiness is a significant issue that must not be discounted.

Estevan Florial* (21, NYY) – Has “all the tools” except one—a glaring inability to make contact. Walks a lot but that’s not going to provide enough strength to overcome his Superman-like weakness that is brought on by exposure to his personal kryptonite--the breaking ball. Florial has not come close to reaching the BHQ minimum desirable 73-percent contact rate threshold over three years as a pro (67.8 ct% cumulative.) and that is only through A-ball. On top of that, a pair of trips to the Arizona Fall League, facing pitchers who may be more inclined to change speeds, has only exacerbated the problem (59.4 ct%). His most recent AFL tour in the fall of ’18 produced a miserable .178/.294/.260 line—not the type of performance that screams keeper league investment. A bet on Florial is a bet on him “growing out of this” as he inevitably faces more of it, and from more advanced/talented pitchers. You’re better off buying a Powerball ticket.

Austin Hays (23, BAL) – Considered a top-25 prospect by many after a 2017 season in which he hit .329/.365/.593 with 32 home runs between high-A and double-A, Hays quickly fell off the map after an injury-plagued 2018. If he can show he is over the troublesome right ankle issue that hampered him throughout the summer before leading to post-season surgery, there is no reason he can’t quickly force himself right back into the mix in the rebuilding Orioles outfield.

Anthony Alford (24, TOR) – Erstwhile top prospect has been plagued by injuries throughout pro career. He finally stayed healthy in 2018, but that only made his worst year as a pro (.240/.312/.344 at triple-A) even more disheartening. Even the Blue Jays seem to be losing interest, as he was an afterthought during his late-season call-up while they played out the string. Safe to cut bait and watch for any signs of life.

Clint Frazier (24, NYY) – One-time top prospect has struggled with strikeouts and injuries during brief big league trials. Dealt with concussion-related issues throughout 2018 after colliding with a wall early in spring training. Now faces uphill battle for playing time even if he does prove fully healthy. More of an AL-only lottery ticket at this point.

Willie Calhoun* (24, TEX) – A second-baseman-turned-left-fielder who is probably best suited at DH, Calhoun’s 2018 was a massive disappointment for many who felt he was ready to put his power stroke to use in the high octane environment of Globe Life Park. Not only was his time at the Rangers’ home field limited, but even more concerning was that his power dried up. His triple-A slugging percentage dipped from .574 to .431 while his home run total fell from 23 to 9 (in 56 more at bats). Another hurdle for Calhoun is the significant platoon splits he has shown aside from an apparent aberration during his breakout 2017 season. Even with the Rangers in tankbuilding mode, Calhoun does not appear to have a significant role heading into 2019, though a dump-trade of one of the more established outfielders could quickly change that. Add it all up and Calhoun’s keeper-league usefulness is extremely dubious at this point. Even if you still like him and have him under control, in leagues where contract value “resets” when thrown back into the player pool, this is a textbook example of when to cut the player and get right him back (at a lower cost) in the draft/auction.

 

DON'T FORGET ABOUT...

Bradley Zimmer* (26, CLE) – Burst onto the scene in 2017, hitting bombs and running wild, but came crashing back to earth once major league pitchers figured out how to exploit his inability to consistently put the ball in play. Has struggled to a .188/.251/.269 MLB line over his last 69 MLB games following that initial burst, along with a horrific 58.4% contact rate. Zimmer enters 2019 spring training hoping to meet the early end of an 8-12 month recovery from July 2018 labrum surgery on his throwing shoulder. He projects to get another opportunity in the Cleveland’s suspect outfield mix, and he does offer some speed upside (22 of 24 SB career MLB) with the ability to take a walk. Just know there are some hurdles to navigate before he can be considered a reliable fantasy investment.

Domingo Santana (26, SEA) – Quickly fell out of favor in Milwaukee after a slow start to 2018 despite a power/speed breakout the year before, but Santana has a new lease on life with the rebuilding Mariners. He did post solid triple-A numbers in the sky-high air of Colorado Springs during a two-month 2018 demotion, so a rebound of some sort should be expected, even if he does not return to 2017’s level.

Max Kepler* (26, MIN) – Hit a career-best 20 home runs, but posted a career-low .224 BA, due in part to a .236 batting average on balls in play, which ranked third worst among qualified hitters. While his left-handed, pull-oriented approach admittedly makes him susceptible to a lower, shift-induced BABIP, at least some sort of rebound should reasonably be expected. In addition, he posted good—and career best—walk and contact rates, so his selectivity and ability to put wood to ball are not in doubt. Kapler’s name is rightfully showing up on various post-hype sleeper lists and could be the type of non-sexy keeper league asset an owner is getting tired of lugging around—just before he breaks out. Go get him!


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