10 Late-Round Sleeper Prospects To Watch For 2019
Maybe they went to a small school.
Maybe they were a cold-weather high school player who didn't stand out at high-profile showcases.
Maybe they were good hitters or instinctive players who lacked the type of quick-twitch athleticism or premium tools that quickly catch the attention of scouts, or maybe they have those loud tools but had other holes that created red flags.
Every year, there are players who slip through the cracks and become late-round draft success stories. In many cases, the scouting directors and their top crosscheckers didn't even see them before the draft.
These are 10 late-round sleeper prospects from the 2018 draft to keep an eye on, players drafted from Round 10 on who signed for less than $300,000.
1. Cal Stevenson, OF, Blue Jays (10th round)
Stevenson signed for $5,000 as senior out of Arizona, then led the Rookie-level Appalachian League in on-base percentage by hitting .359/.494/.518 in 53 games. Stevenson has some of the sharpest strike-zone judgment in the minors, which he showed by drawing more than twice as many walks (53) as strikeouts (21) in the Appy League. He's a disciplined, high contact hitter (he struck out in just eight percent of his Appy League plate appearances), though he has little power, with just one home run his last year in college, then two in his pro debut. He's also an above-average runner who should be able to handle center field.
2. Justin Toerner, OF, Cardinals (28th round)
Toerner moved fairly quickly for a $3,000 signing. He spent most of his pro debut with short-season State College, but he also played with low Class A Peoria and high Class A Palm Beach in the final month of the season, batting a combined .312/.410/.385 in 67 games. A four-year starter at Cal State Northridge, Toerner is a lefty who hit well throughout his college years and controls the strike zone well, though the risk is that he hasn't shown much power, with just one home run in pro ball. He's an above-average runner with an average arm in center field.
3. Jack Herman, OF, Pirates (30th round)
A Maryland commit, Herman instead signed with the Pirates for $50,000. He slid under the radar as a high school player in New Jersey, but he made a loud impression with his bat in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he ranked second in on-base percentage and third in batting average by hitting .340/.435/.489 in 37 games. He's a bat-first prospect with quick hands, sound swing mechanics and a strong grasp of the strike zone. Herman split time between center and right field in the GCL, though he fits best in right field long term.
4. Brandon Howlett, 3B, Red Sox (21st round)
Howlett was a Florida State commit but signed with the Red Sox for $185,000. With third baseman and first-round pick Triston Casas also on their GCL club, the Red Sox were planning to send Howlett to left field, but when Casas went out for the year with an injury, Howlett stepped in and played solid defense at third base with a chance to stick at the position. Mostly, though, Howlett shined offensively, batting .307/.405/.529 in 39 GCL games before a late promotion to short-season Lowell. While some scouts had concerns about Howlett's pitch recognition going into the draft, he showed a patient approach in pro ball, with solid-average raw power that he was able to get to in games.
5. Logan O'Hoppe, C, Phillies (23rd round)
Between lefthanders Nick Fanti and Kyle Young and righthander Ben Brown, the Phillies have added a collection of Long Island high school draft picks to their system in recent years. The latest addition is O'Hoppe, who signed for $215,000 and batted .367/.411/.532 in 34 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. O'Hoppe showed promise both at the plate and behind it, where he has a plus arm with advanced receiving skills and flexibility.
6. Michael Helman, 2B, Twins (11th round)
Helman spent two years at Hutchinson (Kan.) JC before transferring to Texas A&M. He made a quick impact as the Aggies' leadoff hitter, then signed with the Twins for $220,000. Helman, 22, split his pro debut between the Appy League and low Class A Cedar Rapids, batting a combined .361/.409/.510 in 39 games. Helman has good hand-eye coordination and a selective approach, helping him make frequent contact to get on base. Some scouts have reservations about Helman's defense at second base, but he's a good athlete with plus speed who could also fit in center field.
7. Brock Deatherage, OF, Tigers (10th round)
As a junior at N.C. State, Deatherage showed exciting tools but hit .218/.304/.330. The Pirates still drafted Deatherage in the 27th round, but he returned to school for his senior year, bounced back to hit .307/.397/.548, then signed with the Tigers for $10,000. He progressed quickly, finishing 2018 with high Class A Lakeland and showing big power in his pro debut. Deatherage is a tooled-up, athletic center fielder with plus-plus speed (he stole 19 bases in 22 attempts in pro ball), a plus arm and above-average raw power. Deatherage's biggest risk factor is his swing-and-miss rate, but his dynamic tool set at a premium position is exciting if he can keep his strikeouts to a manageable level.
Failure Predicated Success For Sheldon Neuse
A rough first half at Triple-A in 2018 helped point the way forward for Neuse at the plate.
8. Gus Varland, RHP, Athletics (14th round)
Varland overmatched hitters in college, but he did it at Division II Concordia in Minnesota. Signed for $125,000, Varland replicated his success as a starter in his pro debut, posting an ERA of 0.95 in 38 innings with a 50-8 K-BB mark, mostly with short-season Vermont and low Class A Beloit. Varland isn't a smoke-and-mirrors guy either. He ran his fastball up to 97 mph in college and regularly registered in the low to mid-90s in pro ball, with a high spin rate that helps him miss bats when he elevates. Varland's mechanics give some scouts pause as to whether he will remain a starter, but he repeats his delivery and fills the strike zone.
9. Jonah Davis, OF, Pirates (21st round)
Davis hit two home runs between his freshman and sophomore seasons at California, but he showed big power as a junior, slugging 14 homers in 54 games. After signing for $125,000, Davis kept the power show going for Rookie-level Bristol, batting .306/.398/.612 with 12 home runs in 51 games. At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Davis isn't that big, but he has legitimate plus raw power from the left side, though he still has holes in his swing that create swing-and-miss risk. Davis played center field in his pro debut, though he fits better in a corner.
10. Simon Rosenblum-Larson, RHP, Rays (19th round)
An $85,000 signing from Harvard, Rosenblum-Larson had an excellent pro debut. Working out of the bullpen for short-season Hudson Valley and low Class A Bowling Green, Rosenblum-Larson posted a sparkling 62-9 K-BB mark in 38.2 innings with a 1.16 ERA. He's a low-slot righthander who drops down to a low three-quarter, near sidearm angle, giving hitters an uncomfortable look with his low-90s fastball and a solid slider.