A Sneak Peek of RoboScout's Early Season Names to Know
A few years ago, I developed a tool to help me in my dynasty leagues. Essentially, I took public minor league data, applied park factors (from Baseball America of course), added some regression and outputted a relative ranking. In other words, using only publicly available data, I projected the future dynasty value of prospects. Little did I know that at that moment, RoboScout was born. Over the years, similar versions have emerged in the space, yet RoboScout has remained (with yearly revisions and refinements) the most valuable tool I have to find breakout or pop-up names before the rest of the industry has caught on. In other words, it has kept me one step (or multiple steps) ahead of my league mates.
Last year, Prospects Live gave me a platform from which to disseminate its robotic wisdom, and I regularly wrote an article where I discussed which prospects were catching my eye and who I was targeting for that week’s waiver wire bids.
This year, we will be continuing that tradition here at Baseball America with the tentative plan to be publishing a weekly article and providing BA’s subscribers access to RoboScout (updated weekly) on the website.
There will be more information as the unveiling approaches, but today, I wanted to give a sneak peek of some names that RoboScout has noticed in the early going in the minor leagues. As with any system, RoboScout is much more reliable with increased sample size (around 50 plate appearances for hitters and 20 innings or so for pitchers), so this article is likely a bit premature. But, as I discussed in the latest update to the Dynasty Top 600 in fantasy, jumping on guys before having enough data is very important to stay competitive. Any tool that can help move the needle to help maximize the probability of success is another edge you can have.
One note for 2023 is that RoboScout has now blended in a “projected ceiling” score into the analysis to help provide even more fantasy relevance to consumers of the tool.
Without further ado…
Names Catching RoboScout’s Attention (games through April 13, 2023):
There has been much fanfare about Brett Baty (when will the Mets call him up?), Jo Adell (he hit home runs in how many games in a row?) and Vaughn Grissom (now called up to replace the injured Orlando Arcia). But there are two other significant names that have popped early based on their results. Justyn-Henry Malloy (Tigers' No. 10 prospect) has come out strong for the Toledo Mud Hens after being acquired from the Braves in the Joe Jimenez trade. Although he played some left field for three Braves affiliates last year, the Tigers have only played him at the hot corner defensively in Triple-A. Although he’s made two errors already, it hasn’t hurt his offensive output, which features more walks than strikeouts, a home run and a stolen base. In 2022, he had a plus barrel rate and a double-plus chase rate, betraying his excellent pitch recognition abilities while also optimizing the damage he could inflict when swinging. All of this was discussed previously here.
Surprisingly, the Triple-A hitter with the most impressive results thus far is Buddy Kennedy. The D-backs' utility hitter has mostly played second base at Reno this year and has essentially not been able to be retired by opposing pitchers. After 38 plate appearances, he has struck out less than 3% of the time and has a swinging-strike rate of less than 2%. I’s not all passivity and slap hitting either: the grandson of former major leaguer Don Money has also hit three home runs already. His long-term outlook is likely no more than a utility infielder in the big leagues, but his bat thus far in 2023 has been undeniable.
On the mound, the top pitcher in Triple-A is Athletics’ No. 4 prospect Mason Miller, on the heels of one scintillating start. After Miller, and with 17 innings thrown thus far is Cardinals' No. 4 prospect, Matthew Liberatore. Last year, his fastball averaged 93 mph but so far this year over three starts, he’s averaging 95 mph and has added 5% to his CSW% for both his four-seam and two-seam. His curveball is showing similar characteristics to how it performed last year, but he's already upped his swinging-strike rate by 6% year over year even after upping its usage by the same rate. If he can hold his velocity gains on his fastballs and get his walk rate below 10%, he should be able to carve out a nice career with the Cardinals. You can read more about this here.
When we put together our breakout names for 2023, I considered naming Hunter Goodman to my team. The problem I (internally) faced, though, was that I wasn’t sure if I should list him at catcher, first base or DH. Ultimately, I decided on leaving him off entirely, despite his plus barrel rates and exit velocities. Thirty plate appearances into the 2023 season, and I regret it already. The Rockies’ No. 14 prospect has four home runs while striking out less than 15% of the time. Although he is still kind of positionless right now (he has played 50% of his games at DH, 33% at 1B and 17% in LF), the bat should play irrespective of where he settles in defensively. Before the season, he was showing a true talent level of 20-plus home runs and he’s done nothing to quell that projection. Add in the Coors factor and he should probably be rostered in more leagues.
Ricky Tiedemann’s debut notwithstanding (in which the Blue Jays’ No. 1 prospect struck out nine of the eleven batters he faced), the most impressive pitching performance in 2022 has been Cincinnati’s No. 11 prospect, lefthander Andrew Abbott. Although he doesn’t have a blow-them-away fastball, the pitch has carry that results in a nearly 30% whiff rate. But it’s the slider—which he likes to back foot to righthanded batters and which grades out nearly plus using Stuff+ metrics—that he uses primarily. Together, in two dominant starts, he has struck out a ridiculous 71% of batters he’s faced over only 10.2 innings. I do not expect Abbott to be in Chattanooga for long and the probability has drastically increased that he debuts in Cincinnati before the end of the 2023 season. He should be your primary target (of players who aren’t necessarily rostered in your leagues).
Padres' Salas Making Rare Move To Low-A
The Padres' catching prospect will get a chance to debut in Low-A as a 16-year-old.
To probably no one’s surprise, the highest-ranked hitter in High-A thus far is Junior Caminero, Tampa Bay’s No. 8 prospect. The most interesting name, though, and in sole possession of second place on the too-early RoboScout High-A charts is Marlins' No. 15 prospect Kahlil Watson. His 2022 struggles have been documented already, but in 2023, the former first-round pick appears to have bounced back—Watson had a home run and three stolen bases (over 14 plate appearances) before suffering a minor ankle injury. We saw glimpses that the positive regression was potentially coming when Geoff recorded him hitting an opposite field home run (off of a 97 mph Ryne Stanek fastball, no less) on the back fields.
The most impressive aspect for Watson so far in 2023 has been that he has carried over the selective approach that turned heads in spring training. This has led to a reasonable 21% strikeout rate, a huge improvement from the 36% mark he put up in Low-A in 2022. Even in his forgettable 2022 season, the contact quality and barrel rates were above-average-to-plus. If the pitch recognition and contact rates are genuine improvements, then the first-rounder’s future will be much more inline with draft day expectations.
Another Marlins name finds himself at No. 3 on the High-A list: Yiddi Cappe. Signed by the Marlins for $3.5 million during the 2021 international signing period, Cappe is a tall, lean and projectable infielder with plenty of tools. Over the first week of the High-A season Cappe has been scorching hot, hitting a cool .323/.324/.677 with six extra-base hits over his first eight games of the season. There’s certainly some approach concerns present in Cappe’s profile (eight strikeouts to one walk), but his power projection and twitch make him an intriguing prospect in all dynasty formats.
The top pitching name in High-A is Dodgers’ No. 15 prospect Ronan Kopp. Voted the No. 1 pitching prospect in the California League in 2022 by league managers, the 6-foot-7-inch lefthander has been mowing down 42% of the batters he’s faced for the Loons. With two clearly plus pitches from a crossfire slot, he makes lefthanders particularly uncomfortable—but he’s been keeping righthanded batters to a .125 batting average (with a 30% strikeout rate). He has relief risk because of a historical lack of command, but in 2023 he has kept his walk rate below 8%. If he can sustain those numbers, his chances of staying a starter increase substantially.
Other pitchers in the top five: Noah Cameron, the Royals' No. 23 prospect; and Trace Bright, an Orioles righthander who was featured in Geoff Pontes' 20 Breakout Pitching Prospects article.
Two of the top three ranked Low-A hitters are first-round draft picks from 2022 and top-ranked FYPD prospects: Cole Young (the Mariners’ No. 2 prospect) and Cam Collier (the Reds’ No. 4 prospect). Although it’s very early in the season, both teenagers have walk rates above 20%, swinging-strike rates in the single digits and an OPS above 1.000. They are likely already rostered in your leagues so this is more validating than actionable.
Possibly available in your leagues is Reds infielder (and No. 20 prospect) Leonardo Balcazar. All the ingredients that RoboScout likes are there: more walks than strikeouts, high OPS and wRC+ and power and speed.
A little lower on the Low-A hitters list—but still in the top 20—is FYPD sleeper Roman Anthony (Red Sox's No. 9 prospect). A highly touted prospect out of the renowned Stoneman Douglas High (Parkland, Fla.) program that produced major leaguers Anthony Rizzo and Jesus Luzardo, Anthony was lauded for his power and his ability to handle center field defensively. The questions around Anthony’s profile centered around his ability to make contact.
The early reports this spring indicate that Anthony has made significant improvements to his bat-to-ball skills. If these changes continue to hold, Anthony will prove to be one of the top breakouts of the 2023 minor league season. Anthony is hitting .308/.429/.385 over his first seven games this season with six walks to just four strikeouts. If Anthony’s hailed raw power begins to show in games he could catapult onto our Fantasy Top 100 list shortly.
For low-level pitchers, and especially after only one start, it’s probably not particularly actionable to discuss who is making their mark per RoboScout. But so far in 2023, Walbert Urena (the Angels’ No. 14 prospect), Lyon Richardson (the Reds’ No. 8 prospect) and Caden Dana (the Angels’ No. 13 prospect) are in the top four.
Although not lighting up the ThrowboScout formula, we’ve gotten good reports on Marlins’ No. 16 prospect and third-round pick Karson Milbrandt. The 19-year-old pitcher received rave reviews from scouts during minor league spring training and looks to be the next in a long line of exciting Marlins pitching prospects. Through two starts the results have not been pretty but the raw stuff is present. His fastball is up to 97 mph with over 18 inches of arm-side run. He pairs the fastball with a mid-80s slider, a low-80s curveball and a changeup. Likely a slow burn, Milbrandt is only an add in the deepest of dynasty formats at present, but he's a worthy add to your watch list.