2019 LEAGUE ALL-STAR PREVIEWS
(Updated as each piece is released)
* * * * *
Luis Robert, OF, Chicago White Sox (Birmingham Barons)
Robert signed for a monstrous bonus right before international signing rules changed, inking a $26 million dollar deal with the White Sox out of Cuba in May of 2017. Injuries got in the way of him building game reps his first two years as a pro, and the way he has dominated this season–paired with his excellent physicality and plus power/speed tools–has Robert on track to move into the top 20 players in the minors when we reshuffle our Top 125 Prospects later this season. After posting a ridiculous .453/.512/.920 slash line in High-A to start 2019, Robert’s .307/.351/.497 performance in just over 40 Southern League games has earned him an all-star nod.
Robert is a physical specimen, a broad, filled out 6-foot-3 that would look the part on an NFL field. A double-plus athlete, his raw tools are among the loudest in the minor leagues. It starts with power, as his BP sessions draw easy 60s from scouts with raw that could finish as high as a 70-grade tool. He battled injuries last year and never found a groove, showing issue staying short to the ball and recognizing off-speed. There’s still length in the swing—and Robert likely will always trade some strikeouts to get to his power—though enthusing increases in his bat-to-ball ability give hope he can develop into at least an average hit/on-base producer. That offensive profile is extremely valuable considering his position on the field, as the 21-year-old projects to remain in CF despite his strength and muscled-up body type. Robert covers lots of ground in the outfield, keeping runners honest with a 60-grade arm with booming strength and carry.
A true potential five-tool player, how impactful Robert will be in the big leagues ultimately comes down to his contact frequency and approach. The ceiling is a legitimate all-star talent, and given all the ways he impacts the game, he’s likely to be valuable contributor even if the hit tool leads to some peaks and valleys at the plate.
Ian Anderson, RHP, Atlanta Braves (Mississippi Braves)
The third overall pick in 2016, Anderson has looked the part of a top pitching prospect this year for Double-A Mississippi. He made four starts at the level to end 2018, posting similar numbers this year over a longer sample (30-percent strikeouts, 12-percent walks; sub 3.00-ERA, holding hitters to a .200 average) and being named an all-star in the Southern League.
Anderson’s fastball sits in the mid-90s and touches 96-97 mph, showing plus life through the zone with explosive late ride. His delivery isn’t the most mechanically sound, but it works for him and has some natural deception with moving parts on both the front and back side. It’s control over command right now–and even the walk rate is a little shaky–though his fastball is dominant enough at this level to get swinging strikes regardless. Anderson will need to sharpen his ability to prevent walks and pitch to spots within the zone, but there’s reason to project on both aspects improving given his age and athletic operation. His hard low-80s curve shows consistent swng/miss action, projecting to a 60-grade pitch as he learns to land it in the zone more frequently. Anderson’s changeup has taken steps forward this year, showing flashes of solid circle action and separation from his fastball to give a third pitch for hitters to worry about.
Anderson just turned 21 in May, meaning he would have been a college junior in this year’s draft if he fulfilled his Vanderbilt commitment out of high school. He still has some small things to work on, but the ingredients of a solid big league rotation piece are easy to see. It starts with a plus fastball, and his breaking ball should continue to play as an out pitch such that Anderson always racks up big strikeout numbers so long as he’s operating in the 95-to-97 mph range. He could be a front-of-the-rotation piece with significantly improved command and third pitch. Even if he winds up a hair short of that, Anderson has the tools to settle in as a #3 starter and should join an already deep Braves rotation in the next two years. He ranked #14 overall on our Top 125 Prospects entering 2019 and should hold close to that spot on our next edition of the list.
Brusdar Graterol, RHP, Minnesota Twins (Pensacola Blue Wahoos)
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 180 lbs. B/T: R / R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 20y, 7m
Graterol was having as good a season as any starting pitcher in the Southern League before hitting the IL with a shoulder impingement in May. He worked to a sub-2.00 ERA across nine starts, striking out more than 20-percent of hitters despite a walk rate that has ticked up a bit since moving to Double-A. Minnesota’s top pitching prospect was named an all-star at mid-season despite being unable to participate in the game.
It’s all about power for the strong righty, who sits in the upper-90s and regularly touches 100 mph with his fastball. It’s an explosive, heavy pitch with bowling ball sink, racking up more than 50-percent of balls in play on the ground so far in 2019. Graterol prevents walks fairly well for such a young hard thrower, with command that grades behind his present control. He’ll never have to be too fine with this type of velocity, able to blow hitters away enough to profile as a starter even with command that likely won’t ever be better than a 40/45-grade attribute. His primary off-speed is a hard slider, coming in at 88-to-91 mph with cut-like shape. It flashes as a no-doubt 60/70-grade hammer when there’s two-plane action, though he often overthrows it with limited depth. Though a 8.69 K/9 is certainly good, two double-plus pitches would likely miss more bats if Graterol was able to change speeds more. Everything is hard, and though his upper-80s changeup shows promise–flashing the potential to be an above-average pitch playing off dominant velocity–it isn’t a big part of his pitch mix now.
Graterol is still just 20-years-old, so there’s time to project up on the parts of his game that still need some fine tuning. The ingredients for a front-of-the-rotation starter are here, with the chance to pitch with average control and two 70-grade pitches at maturity. His fastball command and changeup will need to improve to reach that ceiling; Graterol could produce like a mid-rotation piece even with these two pitches, and if durability becomes an issue such that he needs a fallback, the stuff is easily here to be a force in a bullpen role. Given his injury issues this year, a contending Twins team might be tempted to fast-track Graterol as a reliever down the stretch, even if they ultimately ease him back into starting.
Kyle Muller, LHP, Atlanta Braves (Mississippi Braves)
Muller has teamed up with Southern League all-stars Ian Anderson and Tucker Davidson–as well as prospect Joey Wentz–to form one of the best rotations in the minors this season for Mississippi. The M-Braves roll out a potential big league arm almost every game, and Muller’s strongest supporters think he might be the best of the bunch. The big lefty has held opponents to a sub-.200 average in 2019 and struck out nearly 30-percent of batters faced.
There’s some effort through a semi-windup delivery, though Muller is strong enough to pitch through it and overpowers hitters with a fastball that touches 95-96 mph. His best off-speed is an upper-70s curve, with a slider and changeup that make up a deep mix of usable pitches. Muller’s size, velocity, and ability to miss bats could make him a mid-rotation starter if he can improve his control. The degree he’s able to cut down his below-average walk rate will dictate whether Muller reaches that ceiling.
Daulton Varsho, C, Arizona Diamondbacks (Jackson Generals)
The #4 prospect on our Diamondbacks Organizational Review heading into this year, Varsho has done little to dispel his status as the top catching prospect in the system. Following up a solid first full pro season in 2018 that included a stint in the Fall League, the athletic backstop has slashed a strong .260/.339/.446 in 56 Southern League games en route to a spot in the circuit’s all-star game.
Built like a fullback at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Varsho is stocky and muscular with surprising athleticism for such a bulky frame. An above-average runner underway who stole nearly 20 bases last season, Varsho moves incredibly well for his size and can surprise defenses with infield hits or base-hit bunts. He won’t be a 20-plus stolen base threat in the big leagues, but his eight swipes in Double-A this year demonstrate the legitimate speed Varsho will bring to the table early in his career. A left-handed hitter, he has an aggressive swing that looks to do damage and doesn’t show much willingness to shorten up with two strikes. Though he has struggled with lefties in Double-A more than he did at lower levels (.196/.33/.232), the good news is that he’s tapping into more power while cutting down on his overall swing and miss. An over-aggressive, line drive approach sprayed very hard contact around the field in my looks last year, but parts of that profile left reason to question the power production and potential for strikeouts up the ladder. Thanks to a serious increase in lift this season–Varsho’s fly ball rate is up over 15-percent–what played as hard linear contact in 2018 has turned into home run power he’s better able to actualize in games.
His athleticism shows up defensively, and it also allows more overall projection to his game behind the plate. Varsho has plus lateral agility and blocks well, developing as a receiver with the chance to get to average. The issues against lefties are worth keeping an eye on, but the arrow is otherwise pointing up for Varsho, a plus athlete at a valuable defensive spot in the midst of a power surge that looks sustainable. He’s a potential solid to above-average regular at catcher, and one of baseball’s better prospects at the position.
FEATURED SCOUTING REPORTS
Cristian Pache, OF, Atlanta Braves (Mississippi Braves)
Dynamic talent with developing contact ability and polished approach; impact upside at a premium position, 70-grade defender in CF with plus power/speed toolset.
Taylor Trammell, OF, Cincinnati Reds (Chattanooga Lookouts)
Potential five-tool outfielder still struggling to bring power into game action despite increase in aerial contact; started the year hot but has cooled off heading into the break, walks and strikeouts are both up this season.
Drew Waters, OF, Atlanta Braves (Mississippi Braves)
Athletic, switch-hitting outfielder who contributes across all facets of the game; potential above-average regular in CF with plus hit tool and solid defensive ability, could be a star if power develops.
Jesus Sanchez, OF, Tampa Bay Rays (Montgomery Biscuits)
Prototype corner outfield size and toolset; above-average to plus hit/power producer with size and arm-strength.
OTHERS OF NOTE