It’s been a long winter. It’s been a slowly-developing spring. We could all use a pick-me-up.
With that in mind, say hello to Prospect Season. We’ve made it.
The Braves are expected to add Ronald Acuña Jr. to their roster Wednesday. He’s the jewel of their minor-league system, and the No. 1 offensive prospect in baseball. A 20-year-old outfielder, Acuña went ballistic in 139 minor-league games over three levels last year: .325/.374/.522, 21 homers, 44 steals.
Acuña had a productive spring and probably would have made the club out of camp, but the Braves sent him down to ensure another year of contract control. No one expected the wait to be long, and it hasn’t been. Acuña got off to a dreadfully-slow start at Triple-A before picking it up in recent games; there’s not much to take from that 17-game sample: .232/.321/.304, a homer, four steals.
Acuña is already long gone in any league that has a pulse — he’s at 79 percent in Yahoo. Keep in mind, his promotion also presents a possible selling opportunity. Fresh prospects are very exciting things, and for every kid who smashes instantly, needing little adjustment time, there are many others who need a period of adjustment. Mike Trout’s first 40 games weren’t great. Byron Buxton has been an up-and-down case in Minnesota. We’re still waiting for Jurickson Profar to take over the world in Texas.
Here’s the bottom line — it never hurts to make it known Acuña is available. Maybe someone in your league is ready to make you a Godfather offer, the type you can’t refuse. Fear of Missing Out is a real thing in fantasy leagues. Maybe you can leverage the words of Atlanta scout Ralph Garr (“The Roadrunner” was a fine MLB player himself):
“I put him in the same class as the [Mike] Trouts and the [Bryce] Harpers,” Garr said. “They’re special people. Some people are just gifted. God just seemed to bless people with special talents, and they’re able to stand a little above the norm. But you never know what’s going to happen, and you can’t say until he has the chance to do it. He has 20 years or so to see how well he does.”
Let’s be clear — I’m not mandating anyone trade Acuña. It’s just nice to see what your options are. But if you want to simply sit back, pop some popcorn, and watch the five-tool stud go to work, that’s perfectly acceptable, too. Preston Tucker was a useful player for the opening month, but the Braves wouldn’t be promoting Acuña if they didn’t intend on playing him. The Braves and Reds kick off at 6:40 pm ET on Wednesday. The Age of Acuña is upon us.
• For one glorious day against Oakland, Shoehi Ohtani was as dominant as a pitcher can. Otherwise, he’s merely been an interesting arm to this point, a bundle of potential and upside who’s also dealing with MLB adjustments and a pesky blister on his pitching hand. Baseball is hard. Ups and downs are to be expected for just about everyone.
Ohtani struggled at Houston on Tuesday, working into the sixth inning and finishing with a mediocre line (5.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 5 BB, 7 K). Derek Fisher homered off him. Ohtani now sits with a 4.43 ERA and 1.13 WHIP; when those two stats tell differing stories, I generally trust the WHIP. His strikeout rate is outstanding, his walk rate so-so. A .407 BABIP is an obvious fluke.
Fascinating how the 4/15 rainout changed Shohei Ohtani’s path from KC/SF to BOS/HOU, and how that might totally change the narrative. (I acknowledge the blister, to be sure.)
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) April 24, 2018
Ohtani’s fielding-independent ERA pushes down to 3.86, and SIERA is even more optimistic (3.38). The four projection systems on Fangraphs spit out an ERA in the 3.29 to 3.60 range going forward. If I were redrafting a league today, I’d consider Ohtani anywhere from the fourth to sixth rounds, where the high-end SP2s would likely fall. If someone beat me to the bunch, I could live with that. There’s lot of pitchers in the sea.
• The Phillies have done a little bit of everything with their hotshot prospect, Scott Kingery. He’s played six different positions and he’s been moved all over the batting order — first, second, third, fifth, sixth. Things haven’t totally clicked for Kingery yet (.216/.280/.392) and he did strike out four times in Tuesday’s loss to Arizona. But he also has two homers and three steals, putting him on pace for 15 home runs and 22 bags by the end of the year.
Would Kingery’s development be better off if the Phillies simply gave him one position to worry about and stopped moving him all around? We can only speculate. His OPS is 101 points lower at home, which makes you wonder if he’s pressing to justify his status and contract. I don’t have any shares of Kingery, but I’d be surprised if the numbers didn’t improve significantly going forward.
• We had our Mac Williamson Day in the previous Closing Time, so this note is just an update. Williamson had an interesting evening in Tuesday’s win over the Nationals, first taking on the left-field bullpen and fence (he lost) and later taking on Tanner Roark in the sixth inning (he won). Williamson has crept up to seven-percent ownership in Yahoo, which seems rather low for someone with his power profile. Consider the add.
• Is Brandon Belt finally ready to give us a career year? He homered Tuesday for the fifth time in sixth games, upping his slash to .292/.397/.615. He’s always been an excellent OBP source and his strikeout rate is similar to career norms, but Belt’s profile does show one notable change.
Belt’s hard-hit rate is at a personal high — 48.9 percent — and he’s also pulling the ball more than he has in four seasons. Perhaps this is what we see from a maturing hitter, someone who is comfortable getting into a favorable count and then sitting on a pitch he can do damage to. And if you need convincing on how Belt can control an at-bat, sit back and enjoy the 21-pitch clinic he put on in Anaheim.
San Francisco isn’t a fun place for offensive production and we’ve spoken at length about how ordinary the Giants lineup is, but perhaps Belt’s fast start is the harbinger of a big season. He’s an eyelash over 50 percent owned in Yahoo, so this isn’t really a pickup note (he’s probably gone in your league), but this feels like a fast start that’s been a little underappreciated. Belt qualifies at first base and outfield in the Yahoo game.