This is the second 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 2019. 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.
The date is January 8. Pitchers and catchers are set to report to Arizona and Florida locales in a little less than five weeks. And yet, the Bryce Harper Saga continues.
The slugging outfielder is perhaps the most interesting free agent of the decade as he hits the market after seven seasons with the Nationals. He was named an All-Star in six of those seasons. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2012 and the NL MVP award in 2015. He's already hit 184 home runs and been worth 30.7 WAR, fourth-most among outfielders since his debut season and about half of what is expected of a Hall of Famer. He's about to play in his age-26 season, meaning he may not have even hit his prime yet.
The long and the short of it: there's no easy way to replace Bryce Harper.
Shortly before the left-handed slugger hit the market, stories emerged that Washington had offered the slugger a 10-year, $300 million deal, and there have been rumors that they've since raised that offer in their attempt to keep him in the capital. But with the Phillies, Dodgers, White Sox and Cubs also involved, it may not be enough.
Luckily, the Nationals have a flashy five-tool outfielder waiting in the wings should Harper's spot open up, and even better, he's Major League-ready.
Victor Robles is MLB.com's No. 4 overall prospect, with above-average to plus-plus grades for all five tools. His run, arm and fielding are all considered 70s or better on the 20-80 scouting scale, and his offensive weapons (60 hit, 55 power) aren't far behind. The 21-year-old outfielder made his Major League debut late in 2017 and likely would have helped the big club out even more last year had he not suffered a hyperextended left elbow on a diving play for Triple-A Syracuse on April 9. The injury caused him to miss three months. Instead, the Nationals turned to Juan Soto for outfield help, and the rest is history.
Robles went on to hit .278/.356/.386 with two homers, 14 stolen bases, 26 strikeouts and 18 walks in 182 plate appearances for Syracuse before returning to the big club in September. With the Nationals looking out of the NL East race, the club could really test out Robles, and the Dominican Republic native responded well, producing a .288/.348/.525 line with three homers and three steals over 66 plate appearances. Mix in his trademark defense (1 Defensive Run Saved, 7.4 UZR/150 in 2018) and baserunning, and despite his lack of a full Major League season, Robles's Steamer600 projections don't look too out of place next to the other potential Nationals outfielders. (We'll throw in Harper's as well, for context.)
There's no replacing Harper (though the expected continue surge of Juan Soto helps), but Robles offers a sizable improvement over Washington's other options. In fact, Robles's 2.2-WAR projection ranks 48th among all potential Major League outfielders and equals that of Brandon Nimmo and Manuel Margot while trailing Michael Brantley, a coveted free-agent outfielder before signing with the Astros for two years and $32 million last month, by just 0.1 WAR.
But let's open it up even more. If a club were looking to replace a departing outfielder with any outfield prospect in 2019, who would be most ready to take on the Major League challenge, according to Steamer? Again, Robles compares favorably to the competition. These are the rookie-eligible outfielders with the best WAR projections from Steamer600 heading into 2019:
Again, Robles comes out looking good -- and Brandon Lowe is more of a second baseman than an outfielder. Also, Robles might be best-suited to the Nationals' particular situation. With Harper gone, Eaton could slide over to right field, where he played primarily in 2018, and Robles's glove and arm could thrive in center. Think Taylor's glove with Kendrick's bat.
Below are rookie projections for each of the five National League East clubs. To be considered, a prospect must be ranked among the top 30 in the organization by MLB.com and must have spent a significant portion of the 2018 season at Double-A or above or be on the 40-man roster. (Exceptions were made for some Top-100 overall prospects, consistently the subject of "When are they coming up?" questions.)
Most ready: Robles
Give it time: The Nats still have a sizable opening at second base with the aging Howie Kendrick and the light-hitting Wilmer Difo the best options on the current roster. They've been rumored to be looking at free-agent options, but could they just be keeping the position warm for Carter Kieboom? Washington's No. 2 has only played shortstop through his three Minor League seasons, but with Trea Turner entrenched at short, a move to the keystone wouldn't be out of the question. It will take time for Kieboom to prove his Major League readiness; he's played only half a season at Double-A and was an average hitter there (102 wRC+) last season. Steamer believes Kieboom would be an OK, if below-average, bat right away -- far from his potential to have both an above-average hit and power tool. That's not taking into account a potential position switch, which would add more development to the 21-year-old's timeline. Expect Kieboom to open at either Double-A Harrisburg or Triple-A Fresno -- more likely the former -- and if the Nationals don't sign someone like DJ LeMahieu or Marwin Gonzalez, the Kieboom discussion can start around midseason at the earliest.
Wild cards: Washington made a big free-agent splash when it signed Patrick Corbin to a six-year deal and further bolstered the rotation by adding Aníbal Sánchez on a two-year contract. With Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg already in the mix, that's a solid top four. Yet this still doesn't feel like a terribly deep group for a team competing for a division title. The fifth rotation spot is up for grabs with hurlers like Joe Ross and Erick Fedde in the mix, but Steamer would like the Nats to consider No. 21 prospect Kyle McGowin. The 27-year-old right-hander is coming off a breakout 2018 campaign in which he finished with a 2.80 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 152 strikeouts over 141 2/3 innings at three Minor League levels. He gave up five earned runs over 7 2/3 innings in a limited Major League sample in September, but Steamer projects him to be the Nats' sixth-best starting option out of the gate. His 1.6 WAR projection ranks behind Fedde's 2.5 and ahead of others like Ross (1.5) and Tyler Mapes (1.3). As is the case at second base, it's possible the Nationals could dip into the free-agent market to add depth here, but even if they do, McGowin, whose above-average slider stands out in a three-pitch mix, has positioned himself to be part of the rotation equation in 2019.
Top 100 talent: Luis Garcia climbed to Class A Advanced Potomac in his age-18 season and hit .298/.336/.406 in 127 games across two levels. He could someday be the subject of a fun conversation concerning the shortstop position in DC with Turner and Kieboom. Barring a Soto-esque surge in 2019, that talk won't come in the next 12 months.
Most ready: The Braves have a full bounty of Major League-ready arms after last year's run to the NL East title, and out of everyone in the group, Steamer believes most in Luiz Gohara. It's unlikely that the 22-year-old left-hander will get a rotation spot out of camp -- he was limited by injuries and made only nine appearances in the Majors last year with eight of them coming out of the bullpen. When manager Brian Snitker mentioned there's likely one rotation spot open for a youngster, he probably envisioned someone like Touki Toussaint, Mike Soroka or Bryse Wilson. Despite Gohara's career 5.33 ERA over 49 innings in the Majors, Steamer gives him credit for averaging 10.2 K/9 in his last two Minor League seasons. Mike Foltynewicz (9.5) and Sean Newcomb (9.1) are the only Braves starters with better strikeout projections and no Braves pitcher has a better WAR projection than Gohara's 2.7. The projections think MLB.com's No. 78 overall prospect can make a real jump in 2019 if given the opportunity.
Give it time: Austin Riley played 75 games at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2018 and handled himself well with a .282/.346/.484 line and 12 homers. With his improvements defensively, it wasn't hard to envision him taking over third-base duties in Atlanta in 2019. Then, the Braves signed Josh Donaldson to a one-year deal to man third instead -- a good, aggressive move for a contending club, but one that puts a roadblock in Riley's way. That's not a terrible thing right now. As much as Steamer likes Riley's pop, it doesn't see him being even a one-win third baseman in 2019. If Donaldson stays healthy, it's more likely that Riley moves to left field, where the de facto starter is Adam Duvall. That defensive transition will take more time for the 41st overall pick in 2015 to nail down.
Wild cards: The Braves are young and exciting at multiple positions, but catcher is not among them. Their two best options right now are Brian McCann and Tyler Flowers, who will be playing as 35- and 33-year-olds, respectively, in 2019. That could be a real chance for Alex Jackson to break through, especially after being added to the 40-man roster this offseason. He's got a lot of work to do, however. A lot of Jackson's value is tied to his bat, and he hit just .201/.286/.360 with eight homers between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Steamer sees a one-win difference between him and Flowers and McCann, who are projected to be worth 1.8 and 1.7 WAR over a full season. Still, Jackson's defense behind the plate has improved enough to no longer be a major negative, and he has power potential. If he can show anything close to a Major League-average bat in his return to the International League, Atlanta could find a way to press him into service.
Top 100 talent: Soroka, Wright, Toussaint, Allard and Wilson all made their Major League debuts in 2018, and while Steamer has given all but Wilson a starting projection here, the Braves have said they won't shy away from using their young arms in a variety of roles. Ian Anderson, who ended 2018 with four Double-A starts, isn't far behind. Cristian Pache and Drew Waters should soon make the Atlanta outfield even more intriguing, but Steamer believes they'd be below-replacement-level in 2019. That doesn't account for their defense, however, where both have significant value -- especially Pache, who might be the best center fielder in the Minor Leagues.
Most ready: Austin Dean led Marlins full-season Minor Leaguers with a .345 average and .478 slugging percentage over 109 games between Triple-A New Orleans and Double-A Jacksonville before vaulting into Miami's starting left field spot for the final six weeks of the season. His Major League numbers weren't as eye-catching (.221/.279/.363), but with Derek Dietrich being designated for assignment in November, the job remains open for Dean. Miami's No. 29 prospect is expected to be a Major League-average hitter, but gets dinged for his defense after being worth -2 Defensive Runs Saved and putting together a -15.6 UZR/150 in 254 2/3 innings in left field last season. A one-win player can hold down the fort for now, but don't expect Dean to be the long-term solution in Miami.
Give it time: When Isan Diaz and Monte Harrison were picked up from the Brewers last offseason in the Christian Yelich trade, 2019 seemed a likely timetable for the pair to reach the Majors. That could still happen -- both are on the 40-man roster -- but it might take a little longer, especially in Harrison's case. The 23-year-old outfielder struggled to make contact at Double-A in 2018 and finished with a Minor League-leading 215 strikeouts. That prevented him from tapping into his five-tool potential, and it holds him back from a good projection here. Steamer thinks he'd strike out in 198 of his 600 plate appearances, and a projected 70 wRC+ and 0.0 WAR place him well behind other outfield options. Diaz is a little closer after reaching Triple-A in 2018, but only marginally. With Starlin Castro not leaving second base anytime soon, the Marlins' No. 9 prospect will be free to return to the Pacific Coast League to build on a .204/.281/.358 line during his 36-game run there in 2018.
Wild cards: The Marlins used 13 different starting pitchers in 2018, and collectively, they were worth 5.4 WAR, 25th-best in the Majors. That means that prospects (barring service-time concerns) will have plenty of opportunities to work their way into the rotation. No. 4 prospect Nick Neidert and No. 17 Jordan Yamamoto are close to breaking through and are tied for the fifth-best starting option right now, according to Steamer. Projections aside, Neidert's 23 additional starts at Double-A suggest he'll have the upper hand. Interestingly, Steamer does not take kindly to No. 3 prospect Sandy Alcantara, who is known for his velocity but has struggled to strike out Minor League batters -- he had 6.9 K/9 over 115 2/3 frames at Triple-A in 2018. Extreme control issues (23 walks in 34 innings) in the Majors last year have hurt his stock, and his future could be in the bullpen.
Top 100 talent: The Marlins have no Top-100 prospects.
New York Mets
Most ready: Anyone scrolling through this story to get the Mets section is probably looking for one name and one name only: Peter Alonso. The 24-year-old first baseman became a hot prospect in 2018 after leading the Minors with 36 home runs and posting a .285/.395/.579 line with Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas. It's no surprise that Steamer loves the right-handed slugger's pop -- his projected 29 home runs would lead the Mets while his .458 slugging percentage ranks second behind Yoenis Céspedes (.468), whose heel surgeries make him a big question mark for 2019. By wRC+, Alonso would be the Mets' fourth-best hitter behind Michael Conforto (120), Robinson Canó (118) and Cespedes (114). With Alonso's defense average at best, he'll need that bat to provide value, and New York should have bigger dreams for him than a .773 OPS. But with Jay Bruce off to Seattle, there is no better first-base option for the Mets, and Alonso should debut in April, if he doesn't crack the Opening Day roster.
Give it time: No. 3 prospect Franklyn Kilomé would have been a player to watch in 2019 after coming over from the Phillies for Asdrúbal Cabrera. Instead, he underwent Tommy John surgery in October and won't be back on a Minor League mound until 2020. He would likely have needed more time in the Minors anyway, with Steamer projecting him for a 5.08 ERA, 5.19 FIP, 1.54 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 and -0.1 WAR over 200 innings as a Major League starter.
Wild cards: The Mets' catching situation has clarified following the signing of Wilson Ramos and Kevin Plawecki's trade to the Indians. That leaves Ramos, Travis d'Arnaud and Tomas Nido as the backstops on the 40-man roster, but Steamer says don't sleep on Patrick Mazeika. The 2015 eighth-rounder's 1.4 WAR projection is third-best among Mets catchers behind Ramos (2.6) and d'Arnaud (1.9) and ahead of Nido (0.7). Mazeika had impressive Minor League stats before taking a real dip last year, when he hit .231/.328/.363 with nine homers in 87 games for Binghamton. Steamer gives him credit for his fuller resume, and he still showed impressive plate discipline with a 35/39 K/BB ratio in 2018. After going unprotected and unpicked in the Rule 5 Draft, Mazeika will have to back up Steamer's confidence with an offensive turnaround this summer.
Top 100 talent: At No. 55, Andres Gimenez is the Mets' only other Top-100 representative besides Alonso, and while he did finish 2018 with 37 games in the Eastern League, Steamer thinks the 20-year-old shortstop has a way to go and grow before influencing the Major League roster. The Gimenez vs. Amed Rosario debate will be one for 2020.
Most ready: The Phillies could use rotation help after faltering down the stretch in 2018, and while they may turn to free agency, it's more likely they give a deepish group at Triple-A a chance to shine. Of that crew, Ranger Suarez receives the best Steamer projection with a 4.69 ERA and 1.1 WAR over 200 innings. The 23-year-old southpaw has shown plenty of promise the last two seasons with Minor League ERAs in the twos, but his whiff rate dropped from 9.4 K/9 in 2017 to 6.2 in 2018, and he got roughed up with nine earned runs allowed in 15 Major League innings. A four-pitch mix highlighted by his slider and changeup should help his starting chances at some point, and he'll get plenty of looks during Grapefruit League play should Philly not turn to Dallas Keuchel et al before then.
Give it time: The Harper sweepstakes have ramifications here as well. The Phillies identified the corner outfield spots as being places for improvement, and they helped themselves there by signing Andrew McCutchen as a free agent. They're also said to be in hot pursuit of Harper and should they ink him as well, 2017 first-rounder Adam Haseley will face a larger hill to climb. Even if they don't, Haseley, who is a center fielder but has experience at all three outfield positions, is more likely an option for 2020 rather than this year. The former Virginia Cavalier hit .305/.361/.433 with 11 homers and seven steals between Class A Advanced Clearwater and Double-A Reading in his first full season -- solid numbers but nothing that earns him an eye-popping projection. Steamer sees him below .700 OPS and one WAR in 2019, so he'll need time to prove himself in the upper Minors.
Wild cards: Neither JoJo Romero nor Connor Seabold have pitched above Double-A, but Steamer projects them as the Phils' top rotation options -- above Suarez, reigning International League Pitcher of the Year Cole Irvin and 2018 IL All-Star Enyel De Los Santos. One big reason is that both have posted above-average control rates in the Minors; Romero has a career 2.8 BB/9 while Seabold's is at 2.2. Romero gets extra credit for keeping his home run totals down, bolstering the FIP projection that FanGraphs uses in its WAR equation. The upper Minors rotations could get crowded for the Phils in 2019, but both should push for Triple-A time early, making a trip to the Majors within reach.
Top 100 talent: Sixto Sanchez (No. 21) and Adonis Medina (No. 64) spent all of 2018 at Class A Advanced Clearwater -- Sanchez while dealing with an elbow injury and Medina while battling inconsistency. Both have high ceilings but need more development time. Alec Bohm (No. 50) rounds out the Top-100 contingent and will be making his full-season debut after being selected second overall in last June's Draft. With only 158 plate appearances of low-level experience, his projection isn't yet worth including.
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.