Since the last edition of Prospects Report, Eury Perez has rejoined the minor-league ranks. And among them, he's the most obvious choice to stash -- so obvious, in fact, that he's presently rostered in 84 percent of CBS Sports leagues.
So why isn't he in my Five on the Verge?
I could say it's because he's technically not a prospect anymore -- and he isn't, having already crossed the 50-inning threshold in the majors -- but that's never stopped me from highlighting other such minor-leaguers who I thought were worth highlighting.
I could say it's because there won't be any new insights to offer until he's actually back in the majors. The Marlins didn't send him down to pitch, after all, but not to pitch, hoping to bank some innings for a possible playoff run. We don't have a clear timetable for his return, but we know he won't be throwing in the meantime. So there's nothing to monitor from week to week.
But the biggest reason I'm not including Perez in my Five on the Verge is precisely because it's so obvious. There are only five slots to fill, after all, and I'd rather not waste one on a player everyone already knows about.
Just understand that Perez's absence here is by no means a suggestion to drop him. He's absolutely the minor-leaguer most worth stashing.
Now for some others ...
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Jonathan Aranda, 2B, Rays
2022 minors: .318 BA (403 AB), 18 HR, .915 OPS, 45 BB, 100 K
2023 minors: .343 BA (265 AB), 17 HR, 1.057 OPS, 51 BB, 65 K
Aranda finds himself in the same place so many past Rays prospects have, on the Triple-A trolley between Durham and Tampa. He's ridden that ride four times in the past 10 days, making his first round trip when Joshua Lowe went on bereavement leave and his second when Yandy Diaz went on paternity leave. Interestingly, he was in the lineup four times during the five games he was up, which I think reveals the Rays' true feelings. They know Aranda's time has come and would endeavor to play him if they could find a way to get him on the roster in the first place. But there's no one who they feel like they can let go.
The 25-year-old continues to deliver absurd numbers made all the more impressive when you consider he entered June batting .266. Since then, he's batting .434 (53 for 122) with 10 home runs in 31 minor-league games, with exit velocity readings that are as good as you could ask for.
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Matt Mervis, 1B, Cubs
2023 majors: .167 BA (90 AB), 3 HR, .531 OPS, 8 BB, 32 K
2023 minors: .297 BA (158 AB), 9 HR, .974 OPS, 32 BB, 36 K
It's happening again. As was the case in the weeks leading up to his initial promotion May 5, hardly a day goes by without Mervis' name trending on Twitter. Cubs fans are growing restless -- and not so unpredictably as the team slips further and further out of the playoff picture. Meanwhile, Mervis has clearly kept his end of the bargain, batting .313 (21 for 67) with three homers and 14 walks compared to 17 strikeouts since returning to Triple-A in June. In other words, he's been the same player he's been at every level of the minors the past two years.
So why do I think his return to the majors will go any better than his first time around? Well, it couldn't get any worse. There were some encouraging signs amid all the doom and gloom, such as a 50 percent hard-hit rate, but more than anything, it's hardly uncommon for a young upstart to struggle in his look at the highest level of competition in the world. Mervis will take the lessons learned from that first stint and hopefully come more prepared this time. Seeing as the Cubs are splitting first base duties between Jared Young and Trey Mancini right now, it's not like they can't make room for him.
Ronny Mauricio, SS, Mets
2022 minors: .259 BA (509 AB), 26 HR, 20 SB, .768 OPS, 24 BB, 125 K
2023 minors: .296 BA (338 AB), 14 HR, 14 SB, .848 OPS, 18 BB, 61 K
Rumors spread over the weekend that Mauricio would be getting the call for the start of the Mets' series against the White Sox on Tuesday. Well, it didn't happen, and meanwhile, the team sits nearly 18 games out of the NL East race and eight games out of the wild card race. They've made a big investment in winning this year, but it wouldn't be unreasonable for them to turn their attention to 2024 at this point.
Even if they remain committed to the now, they have enough shortcomings in their lineup to audition someone like Mauricio, who has had, by most accounts, a breakout season. The numbers have gone down a bit since the start of June, with him batting just .211 (26 for 123) during that time, but he does have three home runs in his past six games. He has kept the strikeouts down, which has been the key to his breakthrough, while getting acclimated to both second base and left field, the two positions where he would fit best in the majors.
Heston Kjerstad, OF, Orioles
2022 minors: .309 BA (243 AB), 5 HR, .851 OPS, 29 BB, 64 K
2023 minors: .316 BA (294 AB), 16 HR, .967 OPS, 26 BB, 55 K
The Orioles recently called up both Colton Cowser and Jordan Westburg after graduating Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson a year ago. They nonetheless still have the best prospect in baseball (Jackson Holliday) and also Kjerstad, who was actually the second overall pick in the 2020 draft. So he does come from a place of pedigree, but his stock took a hit early on due to a case of myocarditis and again last year because of a hamstring strain.
In what's actually his first fully healthy season, he's lived up to his potential and then some, not only delivering on the power that's most defined him but also showing surprising bat-to-ball skills. His strikeout rate between Double- and Triple-A is only 16.3 percent, and his in-zone contact rate at the second of those stops (we don't have such data for Double-A) is 92.8 percent. That's about as good as it gets.
The Orioles have become the premier organization for maximizing hitter talent, and Kjerstad looks like yet another success story. His numbers have only improved with his move up to Triple-A Norfolk, where he's slashing .327/.415/.564 in 29 games. The next stop is, of course, the last one, and while the Orioles are already having trouble making all the bats fit, an injury or trade could change things at a moment's notice.
Colt Keith, 3B, Tigers
2022 minors: .301 BA (193 AB), 9 HR, .914 OPS, 22 BB, 42 K
2023 minors: .321 BA (290 AB), 16 HR, .953 OPS, 31 BB, 70 K
Though the Tigers are only six games back in a weak AL Central, they aren't realistic contenders, which means they may not have much incentive to start the clock on a 21-year-old who began the year at Double-A. But Keith didn't stay at Double-A for long, getting moved up to Triple-A in late June, and he's continued to mash there, homering in his very first at-bat before going on to hit .295 (13 for 44) with nearly as many walks (six) as strikeouts (seven).
"Colt has been really, really fun to watch all year," Tigers president Scott Harris told The Athletic back around the time Keith moved up to Triple-A. "In many ways, he embodies the offensive approach we're trying to build around in this organization. He's swinging at the right pitches."
Keith's swing decisions have long earned him plaudits and made for good strikeout and walk rates, but this year, he's been elevating and pulling the ball more, maximizing his power. He's a liability in the field, which may never change, but the Tigers could certainly make room for him at either second or third base. And while a 2023 payoff may seem like a long shot, just look at all the promotions the last-place Pirates have had in recent weeks.
Five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Brooks Lee, SS, Twins
2022 minors: .303 BA (122 AB), 4 HR, 6 2B, .839 OPS, 16 BB, 20 K
2023 minors: .282 BA (301 AB), 9 HR, 29 2B, .829 OPS, 38 BB, 58 K
The eighth overall pick in last year's draft, Lee was thought to be a particularly advanced hitter who would make quick work of the minors. But while his advanced plate discipline made his overall numbers at Double-A Wichita respectable to begin the year, the power was sorely lacking. That's certainly changed over the past few weeks. In fact, five of Lee's home runs have come in his past 16 games. Here's a look at one of them:
What stands out most is how quickly his hands get through the zone. His exit velocity readings may not be at the top of the scale, but there's clearly functional power here. And during that same 16-game stretch with the uptick in power, Lee is also batting .371 (23 for 62) with more walks (11) than strikeouts (eight). I've used an Alex Bregman comp for him in the past, and I think it still holds.
Roman Anthony, OF, Red Sox
2022 minors: .306 BA (72 AB), 0 HR, 1 SB, .734 OPS, 9 BB, 8 K
2023 minors: .265 BA (230 AB), 9 HR, 12 SB, .873 OPS, 56 BB, 60 K
Though Anthony was hardly a no-name in prospect circles, he's leapt to the forefront after Baseball Prospectus ranked him ninth in its midseason top 50, ahead of fellow Red Sox farmhand (and the much more widely known) Marcelo Mayer. Anthony understands the strike zone, makes quality swing decisions and impacts the ball with authority. There's obviously a lot that still needs to be sorted out for the 19-year-old, but it's notable that his numbers got far better after the move up to High-A Greenville, where he's batting .347 (25 for 72) with eight homers while reaching base at a .478 clip.
2022 minors: .206 BA (97 AB), 3 HR, .709 OPS, 13 BB, 25 K
2023 minors: .278 BA (237 AB), 22 HR, .998 OPS, 22 BB, 90 K
Dylan Crews, the No. 2 pick in last week's draft, is the reigning Golden Spikes Award winner for best college player in 2023, but Melendez won the award in 2022. He lasted until Round 2 of that draft, largely because he's near the bottom of the defensive spectrum, but Melendez has been compared to Pete Alonso as a power prospect who could go overlooked in the lower minors. A miserable start put that comparison on ice, but all of a sudden, Melendez has 22 home runs in his past 49 games, including four in three since his move up to Double-A. He still has a 33 percent strikeout rate during that stretch, which may prove to be his undoing, but clearly there's something to see here.
Gabriel Gonzalez, OF, Mariners
2022 minors: .321 BA (252 AB), 7 HR, 9 SB, .878 OPS, 21 BB, 42 K
2023 minors: .348 BA (313 AB), 11 HR, 8 SB, .947 OPS, 23 BB, 49 K
Gonzalez doesn't get a lot of pub yet since he's still in A-ball, but Baseball America pointed out prior to the season that he's already delivering exit velocities akin to Austin Riley. It's actually his batting averages that have stood out most in the minors so far -- he's batting .348 this year and .324 over his brief career -- but his raw power has begun to show up more in games since the calendar flipped to July. Six of his 12 home runs have come in those 13 games. The overall hitting profile would seem pretty flawless at this early stage, and to further the point, Baseball America noted a week ago that Jackson Holliday is the only other player 19 or younger with a .300/.400/.500 slash line over 150 plate appearances.
Troy Johnston, 1B, Marlins
2022 minors: .261 BA (426 AB), 14 HR, 4 SB, .767 OPS, 50 BB, 95 K
2023 minors: .287 BA (293 AB), 18 HR, 15 SB, .949 OPS, 41 BB, 60 K
Johnston has gotten some prospect attention over the past couple years for his natural hitting instincts, but he seemed to lack the over-the-fence power to hold down a first base job in the majors. That may be changing, though, thanks to improved fly ball and pull rates this year. He's already set a career high with 18 home runs, and he's been a surprisingly efficient base-stealer too, swiping 15 bags in 16 chances. He's still a hitter first, as his many recent multi-hit games show, and in fact, he's batting .432 (19 for 44) in his past 11. As a 26-year-old at Double-A, it's possible Johnston's major-league opportunity has already passed him by, but he's doing his best to get the big club's attention.