Brayan Bello, we hardly knew ye. The right-hander is set to debut Wednesday after spending only two weeks in my Five on the Verge.
It moves him out of the realm of the prospect hounds and into that of the Fantasy Baseball normies. There's some question as to whether it'll be a long- or short-term stay, particularly with Chris Sale (ribs) nearing a return and Nathan Eovaldi (back) ramping up for a rehab assignment, but the only fixtures in the Red Sox rotation otherwise are Nick Pivetta and Michael Wacha. My hunch is that if Bello is good, he'll stay.
And I suspect, as goes for everyone who appears in my Five on the Verge, he'll be good. He wasn't so highly regarded coming into the year but has seen his stock continue to rise along with his velocity, which has gone from low-90s to the high-90s pre- and post-pandemic.
The biggest factor, though, is him changing the shape of his fastball. It's no longer a straight four-seamer but a wicked two-seamer that rates among the best of its kind, generating weak contact when it isn't missing bats outright.
Bello's 63 percent ground-ball rate between Double- and Triple-A this year would rank second among major-league qualifiers, behind only Framber Valdez. His 17 percent swinging-strike rate would rank first. It doesn't mean those rates will translate completely against major-league hitters, but it does mean he's exceptional at both. I've been excited about Aaron Ashby for the same reason. In Bello's case, we can hope for a more immediate payoff.
Whether or not he delivers it depends on a wide range of factors, of course -- chief among them being whether he throws enough strikes -- but the bottom line is he's an exciting talent with room to run. There isn't a Fantasy Baseball roster on earth that couldn't use another starting pitcher, so if you have the means to add Bello ahead of his debut, it's worth your time, even if it comes at the expense of one of the following.
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Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Miguel Vargas, 3B, Dodgers
2021 minors: .319 BA (483 AB), 23 HR, 11 SB, .906 OPS, 45 BB, 89 K
2022 minors: .294 BA (310 AB), 13 HR, 9 SB, .885 OPS, 42 BB, 55 K
Mookie Betts is back from the IL, but Chris Taylor may be bound for it after suffering a fracture in his foot. It puts an outfield debut for Vargas, , very much on the table, and it's telling that he made his third start there Tuesday. He may still wind up at third base, but Justin Turner has begun to show faint signs of life -- enough for the Dodgers to keep giving him chances, anyway. As I've said from the beginning, the Dodgers will find a place to put Vargas if it's an actual priority for them, especially given the versatility he's shown this year. It's possible they'll continue to hold out, though, given how long they have already.
Max Meyer, SP, Marlins
2021 minors: 6-4, 2.27 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 111 IP, 42 BB, 130 K
2022 minors: 3-3, 3.67 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 56 1/3 IP, 15 BB, 62 K
Meyer turned in another fine performance in his fourth start back from an ulnar nerve issue Sunday, needing just 61 pitches to throw six shutout innings. Unfortunately for him, one of the punching bags currently taking up space in the Marlins rotation, Braxton Garrett, had a strong outing of his own the very next day. I say "one of the" to acknowledge that Meyer's arrival isn't firmly contingent on Garrett's performance, but the more paths the merrier, of course. The most pitches Meyer has thrown in any one start since returning is 71, so the Marlins may be looking to stretch him out a bit more (and seemingly wasted a golden opportunity to do so Sunday), or they may be looking to clear some arms at the trade deadline before promoting him. In any case, his time should be soon.
Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners
2022 minors: .289 BA (156 AB), 8 HR, 2 SB, .876 OPS, 9 BB, 47 K
2022 majors: .140 BA (86 AB), 3 HR, 4 SB, .509 OPS, 9 BB, 36 K
Though he remains a high-priority stash given what's left in the minors, Kelenic was bypassed again last week. Marcus Wilson instead got the call to replace an injured Taylor Trammell, who had himself seemingly leapfrogged Kelenic in the pecking order. When asked in a radio interview whether Kelenic was even a consideration, president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto had a blunt response.
"No," he said. "We are committed to solving the career development of Jarred Kelenic, and I think you've heard that in my voice."
While Kelenic's production at Triple-A Tacoma has been good in the most straightforward sense, the Mariners have made reference to particular areas of focus for the 22-year-old, one being two-strike approach. Apparently, he has yet to prove he can do what they need him to do.
"What's happening on the surface, his performance right now in AAA has been excellent," Dipoto acknowledged. "He's working hard, he knows what he needs to focus on, and we're in no rush to bring him back until we see that happen."
Esteury Ruiz, OF, Padres
2021 minors: .249 BA (309 AB), 10 HR, 36 SB, .739 OPS, 28 BB, 73 K
2022 minors: .346 BA (272 AB), 13 HR, 56 SB, 1.065 OPS, 48 BB, 59 K
Ruiz blew right past the 50-steal threshold last week, putting him on pace for well over 100 stolen bases in what would be a full major-league season. That's just the most eye-popping number in an overall stellar stat line. His transformation has been so sudden and so unexpected that he's having to work overtime to shed his many doubters, but his improved selectivity has translated seamlessly from Double-A to Triple-A. For now at least, the Padres have been content to ride it out with Trent Grisham in center field and Nomar Mazara in right, but every win is critical for them. Even when Fernando Tatis returns from the IL, there will be room for him and Ruiz both.
Alec Burleson, OF, Cardinals
2021 minors: .270 BA (456 AB), 22 HR, .783 OPS, 42 BB, 101 K
2022 minors: .341 BA (279 AB), 16 HR, .949 OPS, 19 BB, 41 K
The Cardinals were intentional in passing over Burleson when Harrison Bader went on the IL in late June, instead bringing up the less inspiring Conner Capel. And now with Tyler O'Neill (hamstring) on a rehab assignment, there will soon be one less opening for Burleson.
But I think the next time they need a bat specifically, regardless of the position, the job will go to him. The production is becoming too overwhelming to ignore. He's batting .432 (19 for 44) over his past 11 games and .387 (65 for 168) over his past 41. A low strikeout rate and all-fields approach are largely to credit, though he's clearly no slap hitter, having compiled a .226 ISO. My guess is if he could play center field, he'd already be up, but as with Juan Yepez, the stocky left-hander's best position is probably DH.
Five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Oswald Peraza, SS, Yankees
2021 minors: .297 BA (465 AB), 18 HR, 38 SB, .834 OPS, 37 BB, 111 K
2022 minors: .242 BA (231 AB), 10 HR, 16 SB, .732 OPS, 19 BB, 58 K
Peraza's overall stat line would suggest there's much work to be done still at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but the consensus top-100 prospect has found his footing in recent weeks, batting .407 (22 for 54) with five homers and five steals in his past 14 games. He learned to maximize his power last year with an improved launch angle and is a capable base-stealer as well. I'm not ready to move him into my Five on the Verge seeing as the Yankees have fared well enough with the defensive-minded Isiah Kiner-Falefa at shortstop, but the scouting reports suggest Peraza wouldn't be much of a downgrade in that area. And he could be a huge upgrade offensively.
2021 minors: .189 BA (313 AB), 10 HR, 10 SB, .612 OPS, 37 BB, 112 K
2022 minors: .282 BA (213 AB), 8 HR, 12 SB, .917 OPS, 54 BB, 56 K
Josh Naylor's younger brother got some buzz when he first broke in as a teenager but was so underwhelming statistically in 2019 and 2021 that you'd be forgiven for thinking him a lost cause. Development isn't linear, though, and Naylor's 2022 is a testament to that way of thinking. His approach has been incredible, resulting in a near 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and he's done a better job hitting to all fields. It's like he sold out for power at the lower levels and has only now gotten back to being what he should have been all along. The success has continued with his recent move up to Triple-A, where he's batting .326 (14 for 43) in 11 games, and given the Guardians' patchwork situation at catcher currently, he's the heir to the position.
Tyler Gentry, OF, Royals
2021 minors: .259 BA (147 AB), 6 HR, .844 OPS, 29 BB, 55 K
2022 minors: .328 BA (189 AB), 12 HR, 1.002 OPS, 28 BB, 51 K
The Royals have fared well with under-the-radar college bats in recent years (see Vinnie Pasquantino, Michael Massey), and Gentry may be the latest example. The 23-year-old hasn't blinked with his recent move up to Double-A, batting .423 (11 for 26) with four homers in his past seven games. It's a straight shot to the majors from there, and given that most of the Royals' up-and-comers are concentrated in the infield, he's likely to control his timetable. How quickly he moves up to Triple-A will give us some insight into the organization's thinking, but he may have already passed his toughest test short of a big-league promotion itself.
James Wood, OF, Padres
2021 minors: .372 BA (86 AB), 3 HR, 10 SB, 1.000 OPS, 13 BB, 32 K
2022 minors: .292 BA (137 AB), 6 HR, 11 SB, .921 OPS, 26 BB, 32 K
One of my favorites coming into the year, Wood has already dismissed many of the concerns that might have suppressed his value then. His 6-foot-7 frame presents a huge strike zone, but he's uncommonly good at putting bat to ball while still leveraging his long limbs for power. With the restructuring of the minors last year, the pitching at Low-A is particularly pitiful, so Wood still isn't an open-and-shut case. But he's passed a big test at age 19 -- after initially being stifled by a wrist injury, no less -- which puts him on the path to being a consensus top-100 prospect.
Nolan Jones, OF, Guardians
2021 minors: .238 BA (341 AB), 13 HR, 10 SB, .787 OPS, 59 BB, 122 K
2022 minors: .314 BA (86 AB), 3 HR, 4 SB, .935 OPS, 17 BB, 28 K
It was only a year ago Jones was considered one of the top third base prospects in the game. Now in the outfield, he's come back from ankle surgery to show he may still have something to offer at the plate. The high walk rate is still offset by a high strikeout rate, but he's getting better results on contact, much like he did in the lower levels of the minors. He still has the potential for middle-of-the-order power, too, though an elevated ground-ball rate is keeping it under wraps for now. Still, at 24, he's too young to write off in Dynasty leagues even if he feels like something of an afterthought.