Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

2020 Prospect Projections: AL West rookies

Angels' Adell not quite ready; A's, Astros pitchers should be
Jo Adell is a career .298 hitter over three seasons in the Minor Leagues. (Brent Asay/MiLB.com)
February 4, 2020

This is the fifth in a six-part Toolshed series that uses FanGraphs' Steamer600 projections to look at how prospects would fare over a full Major League season in 2020. The system bases its forecast on 600 plate appearances for position players, 450 plate appearances for catchers, 200 innings for starting pitchers and

This is the fifth in a six-part Toolshed series that uses FanGraphs' Steamer600 projections to look at how prospects would fare over a full Major League season in 2020. The system bases its forecast on 600 plate appearances for position players, 450 plate appearances for catchers, 200 innings for starting pitchers and 65 innings for relievers -- taking into account age, past performance and previous Minor League levels, among other factors. All players included in the team tables below are ranked prospects who either played at Double-A or above in 2019, sit on their organization's 40-man roster or are placed among MLB.com's Top 100. Projections for American League EastNational League EastAmerican League Central and National League Central rookies can be found at those links.
Jo Adell is one of the game's most promising prospects. He has at least four plus tools. He plays in an organization that has every intention of making the playoffs in 2020. That club declined their starting right fielder's option this offseason. Adell finished the 2019 season at Triple-A. He should be in the conversation for the Opening Day job in right.
So what's the problem? This is where a Steamer projection can be a big bucket of cold water.

In short, Steamer doesn't think Adell is ready to join the Angels, at least right away. This is how his full-season projections stack up against other potential Angels outfielders. Yes, we have to include Mike Trout in the table below, but know that he is Steamer's great outlier. He would lead any table of baseball players we could cobble together. Focus on Adell against the rest of the field.

POTENTIAL ANGELS OUTFIELDERS

Two things stand out here. First, Adell sits tied for third among potential Angels outfielders in WAR projection, and he would be the better hitter by wRC+ to his closest competition. Second, a 0.3 WAR projection doesn't match up with his scouting report.
Start with that second piece.
The 20-year-old right-handed slugger's 2019 season got off to a rough start when he went down with hamstring and ankle injuries in early March. He didn't play his first Minor League game of the campaign until May 24, and even that was the start of a six-game rehab stint with Class A Advanced Inland Empire. He moved up to Double-A Mobile in June and showed his typical promise with the BayBears, hitting .308/.390/.553 with eight homers and six steals over 43 games. On Aug. 1, he joined Triple-A Salt Lake for the first time and his numbers took a big drop -- .264/.321/.355 with no long balls and 43 strikeouts in 27 games. That's normally OK for a 20-year-old reaching the Minors' highest level, but it does smart a little that Adell posted a .676 OPS when the average Pacific Coast League OPS was .831.
That's where Steamer bears down on Adell. That dip in production hurts his overall projection, and because Steamer doesn't take into account Minor League defensive stats, he doesn't get any credit for what would be the plus glove and plus arm he showed in all three outfield spots. It's how a player -- even of Adell's potential -- ends up with just an 0.3 WAR projection.
Now even if we accept that, it's still notable that such a low WAR projection keeps Adell in the Los Angeles outfield mix. It's true that letting Kole Calhoun walk this offseason opens up a spot in right, and the options there don't look rosy in terms of projections. That's a sign the Halos are willing to keep the spot warm for Adell once his bat catches fire like it can at Triple-A. Goodwin is a fine veteran option off the bench, and the club's No. 22 prospect Hermosillo is capable of proving value with his glove and wheels. But neither has nearly the ceiling of Adell, and when there's a potential franchise player (or second franchise player with Trout around) in the pipeline, organizations don't like to call them up only to see them sink to a 0.3 WAR over 600 plate appearances.
A hot Cactus League as a non-roster invitee could keep Adell in the discussion for much of the spring, but don't be surprised to see him back in Salt Lake come April, hoping to make those 27 games in 2019 look like a distant memory.
The scouting isn't wrong. The projections aren't wrong at the moment. The timing is just wrong ... for now. After a few weeks or months of dominance, many still could see just how right Adell is for the future of the Angels franchise.

 Los Angeles Angels


HITTERS

PITCHERS

Most ready: The starting rotation was a focus this offseason for the Halos. The club went after Gerrit Cole, but so far have settled for adding Dylan Bundy, Julio Teheran and a healthy Shohei Ohtani. A more experienced Sandoval also could be a solid addition. The eighth-ranked Los Angeles prospect suffered through a 5.03 ERA over 39 1/3 innings in the Majors last season, but he still struck 42 over that span. His 1.9 WAR projection stands fifth-best among potential Angels starters, beating out even Teheran at 0.5. Because he's still a rookie, Sandoval could open spring back in the Pacific Coast League, but the numbers show he should be a quick callup if this rotation isn't enough to help the Angels compete with the Astros and A's in the division.
Give it time: Adell.
Wild cards: Walsh is the fun kind of wild card. As a hitter, he ranked third among all Minor Leaguers with 36 homers in only 98 games at Triple-A Salt Lake. He also put up an impressive slash line across the board at .325/.423/.686. He parlayed that into 31 games in the Major Leagues, but couldn't find much success with a .605 OPS. However, what makes this interesting is Walsh could be a two-way player. The 26-year-old left-hander made 13 mound appearances in Triple-A and five in the Majors. Under the expected 26-man roster rules for 2020, Walsh would have additional value as a two-way player. He still would have to reach eligibility requirements (20 innings and 20 games played as a position player), and based on his offensive projection and lackluster pitcher scouting report, that might not happen. But the new rules makes Walsh's viability on a Major League roster much more realistic than it looked at this time last year.
Top-100 talent: Marsh moved back into the Top 100 at No. 79 this offseason with plus grades on his run, fielding and arm tools -- the latter two of which haven't shown up yet in Steamer projections. He will get his first taste of Triple-A to open 2020, and it's possible he and Adell could be flanking Trout on the Anaheim grass by the second half. 

 Houston Astros


HITTERS

PITCHERS

Most ready: There is no replacing Gerrit Cole. But if there's a silver lining to his departure, it's the guarantee that Urquidy will slide into the rotation in his stead. The 24-year-old right-hander did not enter 2019 as one of Houston's top-30 prospects, but he ended the season with nine strong appearances with the big club, posting a 3.95 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP with 40 strikeouts and seven walks over 41 frames. The sample size is still small enough to keep rookie eligibility, but those are the numbers of a strong and successful Major League starter, full stop. Urquidy thrives with a plus changeup and above-average control of his fastball and breaking pitches. Steamer has him pegged as the Astros' fourth-best starter right now behind Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers Jr. and Zack Greinke. On most clubs, he would figure into the top three at least.
Give it time: Toro makes for a fun story and a fun player. Born to Venezuelan parents in Canada, he was a fifth-round pick out of an Oklahoma junior college in 2016 and worked his way to the Majors three seasons later. Typically someone who has thrived on plate discipline, he broke out in all offensive aspects in 2019 with a .324/.411/.527 line and 17 homers over 114 games between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Round Rock. A .668 OPS in 25 Major League games hampered the 23-year-old's projections some. He's also in this category because there's no clear scenario in which he'd get regular at-bats in 2020. Toro came up as a third baseman but is blocked there by Alex Bregman, when Carlos Correa is healthy. He also saw time at second base (home of José Altuve) and first, and he will likely have to continue to roam around the dirt to find a regular spot. If any injury occurs on the Houston infield, expect Toro up in a flash. Until then, he should get regular at-bats in the PCL.
Wild cards: The comment about Urquidy filling a hole is a good reminder on the importance of depth when it comes to starting pitching. Bielak and Javier could be in line to provide some of that additional depth, albeit providing different flavors of pitching. Javier ranked second among qualified Minor League hurlers with a 37.3 percent K rate across the top three levels of the Houston system last season, but he also walked 59 batters in 113 2/3 innings. Bielak has a history of better control numbers, though he hasn't posted the same K rates. Right now, Steamer prefers Bielak -- likely because he has the more extensive Triple-A experience -- but Javier is the one on the 40-man roster. Don't be surprised to see either in Houston this summer, and how they limit their weaknesses could decide how long they'll be around.
Top-100 talent: Finally, we come to Whitley. The No. 19 overall prospect is Houston's only representative on the Top-100 list. He could feature in almost any category here. He's a wild card who needs time after ineffectiveness and shoulder issues kept him from making his Major League debut last season. Then again, his mix of four plus pitches and the fact that he led the Arizona Fall League in strikeouts could mean he's closing in on Major League readiness. The projections say he'll need to carry that improvement back to Triple-A Round Rock before deserving a look at The Show. Either way, there will be added pressure on the 22-year-old right-hander to prove 2019 was just a blip and 2020 is when he can live up to his true potential.

 Oakland Athletics


HITTERS

PITCHERS

Most ready: This is a tough one. Not because the A's lack Major League-ready prospects. Two of the A's three Top-100 prospects -- Luzardo and Murphy -- appeared in the club's AL Wild Card loss to the Rays, and the third (Puk) made 10 appearances out of the Oakland bullpen down the stretch. There is plenty of excitement around the trio taking on full-time roles in 2020. The problem: Steamer gave reliever projections to Luzardo and Puk because both have yet to make their first Major League start. That's understandable, but it's still disappointing considering Oakland has been open about its expectation to use both in the rotation to open 2020. At least, Steamer thinks both would be good relievers. Only Liam Hendriks (1.2) and Jake Diekman (0.6) received higher WAR projections among potential A's bullpen arms. As for Murphy, he is projected to be the A's best catching option from Opening Day, well ahead of Heim (1.0) and Austin Allen (1.0) when it comes to WAR. He could also be in line for a WAR jump because of his stellar defense behind the plate. The next wave of A's youngsters arrived in late fall, and it'll still be in place come March.
Give it time: There is some excitement around Jefferies after the 24-year-old right-hander returned from 2017 Tommy John surgery to strike out 93 and walk nine over 79 innings between Class A Advanced Stockton and Double-A Midland. That earned him a spot on the 40-man roster in November as the A's protected him from the Rule 5 Draft. Like Luzardo and Puk, Jefferies received an encouraging reliever projection, but the A's also view him as more of a starter, thanks to his four good pitches (fastball, cutter, slider, changeup) and stellar control. The California product was on a strict innings limit in 2019 -- never pitching more than 3 2/3 frames in an outing -- so expect him to feature in longer starts before the call to Oakland becomes a realistic option.
Wild cards: The A's expected to open the spring with a competition for the second-base job, and Mateo figures to be part of that battle alongside Franklin Barreto, Sheldon Neuse and the newly acquired Tony Kemp. Complicating matters is that Mateo is out of Minor League options, so if the A's want to keep him around, they need him to be on the Major League roster. Unfortunately for him, his bat might not be up to snuff. His 68 wRC+ projection ranks significantly behind Kemp (92), Barreto (88) and Neuse (87). What's more, Mateo has played second base only sparingly with 18 starts over his last two years at Triple-A. Mateo's saving grace is by far his 80-grade speed -- only Reed is projected to have more steals over a full Major League season -- and it could be of use off the bench if he doesn't snag the everyday second-base gig. But he'll have to show a much-improved bat to make pinch-running duties even an option to open 2020.
Top-100 talent: Luzardo, Puk and Murphy represent Oakland's Top-100 contingent.

 Seattle Mariners


HITTERS

PITCHERS

Most ready: The Mariners rotation is going to have a different look to it with Félix Hernández out of the picture, and if the projections are any indication, Dunn and Sheffield should be given roles among those starting five, at least at the outset of 2020. Sheffield's place might be a little firmer coming out of the spring, given he made eight Major League appearances to Dunn's four last season. But it's actually Dunn who has the higher ceiling of the two, and the Steamer projections back that up with a slightly higher WAR projection for the season to come. In either event, Dunn and Sheffield's WAR projections place them fifth and sixth among potential Seattle starters respectively. Marco Gonzalez, Yusei Kikuchi and Kendall Graveman rank above them, and they're all guaranteed starting jobs out of the gate. The one, well...
Give it time: That other one is Gilbert. The No. 38 overall prospect enjoyed an astounding first full season in which he posted a 2.13 ERA, 165 K's and 33 walks over 135 innings across three levels, topping out at Double-A Arkansas. The 2018 first-rounder used a four-pitch mix to keep the strikeouts coming, and his above-average control should translate well as he moves up the chain. Steamer is a fan of both and thinks Gilbert could jump straight to the Majors with some success. Common sense says it's more likely Gilbert returns to the upper Minors -- either back to Arkansas or even up to Triple-A Tacoma -- where he'll need to prove himself just a little bit more before moving on to the Emerald City.
Wild cards: Seattle made waves this offseason by signing White to a six-year, $24-million contract before he even reached Triple-A. That would seemingly put the game's No. 56 prospect in the driver's seat for the first-base job on Opening Day. The right-handed-hitting slugger, however, might be getting underhyped by these Steamer projections. With 18 homers at Double-A last season, White didn't show the standout power typically associated with first basemen, and while his 95 wRC+ would be tops among ranked position-player prospects, it doesn't quite get him to the one-win threshold. That said, one of the biggest positives of White's prospect profile is his glove. Many believe he's capable of winning Gold Gloves (yes, plural) at first base, and that caliber of defense would push up his value in a way Steamer can't evaluate yet. Bet the over on this WAR projection for now, but just how much over will come down to how White's bat can handle the two-level jump.
Top-100 talent: Kelenic (No. 11) and Rodriguez (No. 18) are the most interesting pair of outfield prospects in baseball right now, and Mariners fans are dreaming of the day they will see both roaming the grass and powering the middle of the Seattle lineup. Kelenic gets a much rosier projection here, mostly because he has seen (and succeeded at) Double-A before Rodriguez. Still, it's more likely that both will pair up full-time in the Majors in late 2021 than any time this season. George Kirby (No. 100) didn't receive a Steamer projection after being taken 20th overall out of Elon University in June.

 Texas Rangers


HITTERS

PITCHERS

Most ready: Solak actually receives the second-highest WAR projection among Rangers position players, coming in only behind Joey Gallo at 3.2. Interestingly, that WAR number might be even on the low side since Steamer projected him as a third baseman, where he made 11 Major League starts last season. Solak could be used at second or in the outfield as well, so a straight third-base projection doesn't quite fit him. Either way, he should be ready to contribute in a number of ways after batting .293/.393/.491 with five homers in 33 games in the Majors last season.
Give it time: Taveras can still be a polarizing prospect. Some see a Top-100ish player with the potential to impact the game in all facets. Others see a gifted fielder with plus speed but one who has yet to prove himself with the bat. In that way, Steamer projections can be a bit of a letdown for someone of Taveras' present skill set. He doesn't get credit for plus defensive skills, and the lack of offensive production points to a below-replacement-level player right now. The good news: the lack of offensive production has come in part because the switch-hitter has been pushed aggressively by Texas, yet he will still be 21 for much of 2020. After 65 games of Double-A action last season, Taveras could very easily build on his .695 OPS with Frisco. Even if he becomes just a league average bat, the glove and feet should allow for more value when he reaches the Majors. Just give it a few more months.

Wild cards: Steamer actually likes Palumbo's chances of contributing to the Rangers rotation in 2020. The 25-year-old southpaw scuffled in the Majors last season, posting a 9.18 ERA in seven appearances, but he showed strong enough Minor League numbers (3.01 ERA, 108 K's in 80 2/3 innings at Double-A, Triple-A) to get a strong WAR projection that ranks fifth among potential Texas starters. Offseason additions Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles give the Rangers a full rotation for now, but expect Palumbo to provide more than just depth at some point this summer.
Top-100 talent: Huff (No. 74) is coming off a breakout season in which he clubbed 28 homers over 127 games. Those were at Class A Hickory and Class A Advanced Down East, so he's still a bit away from impacting the projections or the Major League roster. But his potential as a power-first catcher whose value could jump in the age of robot umpires is tantalizing. No. 55 Josh Jung didn't receive a Steamer projection after being selected eighth overall in June out of Texas Tech.