Around this time last year, I started taking a look at prospects whose early-season performance had their dynasty stocks on the rise. While it’s awfully early to be diving into minor-league stat lines, it’s not an exercise completely devoid of merit. You may well miss more than you hit, but last year’s early-June leaderboard mining revealed prospects such as Jacob Nottingham, Trey Mancini, and Cody Reed as prospects whose value was changing dramatically.
I hope it goes without saying that you should always try to pair stat line scouting with actual reports if you can find the information. To that end, you should definitely be reading the amazing work done by our prospect team: daily minor league updates, Monday morning ten packs, eyewitness accounts, notes from the field, chats, mailbag Q&As. It’s quite staggering how prolific they are as a unit, and how much my dynasty game has improved by soaking it all in.
Productive as they are, there is a significant early adoption advantage in the prospect acquisition game, especially in deeper leagues. You might not have time to wait for scouting reports to hit the public domain. Turning over the bottom of a dynasty roster is important in leagues of all sizes. This time of year—when new rebuilders are born out of slow starts—can be a crucial time for upgrading your farm system. So, hit those leaderboards and make some adds if you have the roster spots to do so. Just be sure to flip again if you see a report down the road that doesn’t quite match what the numbers alone tell you.
I previously covered five hitters from Low-A, High-A, and Double-A. Before we get into five from the Triple-A ranks, it’s worth acknowledging that Triple-A is a level where players begin to fall off our collective radar as we all become susceptible to prospect fatigue. I want to encourage you (and remind myself) not to devalue players like Josh Bell, Dilson Herrera, Jose Peraza, Dalton Pompey, Hunter Renfroe, and Gary Sanchez, who are all having fine seasons and are still in Triple-A at a time in their respective careers when it is developmentally appropriate.
Carlos Asuaje, 2B, El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres)
Depending on how you fell about Logan Allen, Asuaje was either the third or fourth best prospect the Padres received when they sent Craig Kimbrel to Boston this winter. At the time of the deal, Asuaje was coming off an uninspiring .251/.334/.374 triple-slash at Double-A, where he spent the full season. It was a letdown after he broke out across two levels in 2014, hitting .310/.393/.533 with 15 home runs. That over-the-fence pop wasn’t real, but the feel to hit and ability to barrel balls into the gaps was, and Asuaje is back at it again in 2016. His .329 batting average is good for a top-10 mark in the PCL, and Asuaje has managed an impressive 33:26 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the strength of an 11.6 percent strikeout rate and a walk rate that hasn’t wavered as he’s climbed the ladder. Asuaje has played almost exclusively at the keystone this season, but does have professional experience at third base and left field. He’s not a great defender anywhere and doesn’t project as a first-division regular, but hey, the Padres aren’t going to be a first-division team for a while. With Cory Spangenberg still hobbled and minor-league journeyman Ryan Schimpf getting regular time with the big-league club of late, it shouldn’t be much longer before we see if Asuaje can hit major-league pitching.
Stephen Cardullo, OF, Albuquerque Isotopes (Rockies)
Okay, fine. Cardullo is an extreme longshot to have value in even the deepest of deep leagues. Indulge me anyhow, because his backstory is ridiculous.
Cardullo walked on to Florida State, a top-20 team, after a not getting a Division I offer during his senior year at a Fort Lauderdale high school.
After tallying 73 at-bats in his first two seasons in Tallahassee, Cardullo became a starter at first base and eventually moved to shortstop. He also ascended to second in the batting order for a team that hosted a Super Regional.
Cardullo was a first team All-American who went undrafted in 2009 after hitting .376/.476/.612 and stealing 20 bases.
The Diamondbacks grabbed Cardullo in the 24th round in 2010 after he batted .283/.403/.477 in his senior season.
A 24-year-old Cardullo was released in 2011, after a repeat of the rookie-level Pioneer League. He was pretty good in his second professional season, slashing .288/.372/.525, good for a 122 wRC+, while continuing to play up the middle.
Cardullo spent the next four years in independent ball, playing for two teams in the Frontier League in 2012 before finding a home with the Rockland Boulders of the Canadian-American Association, a league that had just four teams as recently as 2014. Cardullo won the league MVP in 2015. (Fun aside to this aside: Yulieski Gourriel also played in the Can Am. Cardullo’s OPS was 71 points higher than the Cuban free agent’s last season.)
The Rockies signed Cardullo to a minor -eague contract this offseason and assigned him to Triple-A after four seasons away from affiliated baseball.
Cardullo is currently hitting .285/.364/.500 with 10 taters and six steals while serving as Albuquerque’s primary left-fielder. His .864 OPS is 22nd best in the PCL.
Baseball is incredible.
Adam Frazier, OF, Indianapolis Indians (Pirates)
Frazier’s profile isn’t fascinating by Cardullian standards, but it’s pretty intriguing nonetheless. He has true bottom-of-the scale power, evidenced by the zero home runs he hit in three year as Mississippi State and the three he’s hit in roughly 1,500 professional plate appearances. What Frazier lacks in thump he makes up for nearly everywhere else. His .336 batting average leads the International League, his 9.0 percent strikeout rate is second only to old man bat-to-ball specialist Casey Kotchman, and his .828 OPS is inside the top-ten thanks to a discerning eye and the ability to leg out extra-base hits. About that speed: Frazier’s 17 swipes are also close to the league-lead and they’re accompanied by an astonishing 15 unsuccessful attempts. Frazier has never been an efficient base-stealer, but that’s an absurd number. Nobody’s been caught 15 times in the IL since 2013, when Billy Hamilton converted 75 of his 90 tries. It’s June. Frazier’s staring down a record. In the field, Frazier has spent the bulk of 2016 on the grass, though he’s seen time at second base, too, and played mostly at shortstop previous to this season. This is a utility profile all the way, doubly so if he stays in the Pirates organization and they view him as an outfielder. Still, Frazier’s is a name to know for deep leaguers. He does have some major league tools and could be helpful in short bursts if an opportunity presents itself via injury or otherwise.
Erik Gonzalez, SS, Columbus Clippers (Indians)
FRAA fancies Francisco Lindor as the best defensive shortstop in the majors this year, so it’s a little hard to say with a straight face that there wouldn’t be noticeable slippage if he (gods forbid) went down and the Indians called on Gonzalez as a replacement. Nevertheless, Gonzalez has plus tools on the dirt and is a capable major league defender right now. What’s less clear is whether his bat could play. To that end, Gonzalez has made nice progress in 2016, raising his batting average to .294, a 69-percentage-point improvement over the half-season he spent in Triple-A in 2015. Gonzalez also has nearly double the amount of extra base hits he had over a similar sample last season. He’s not likely to hit for much power, but that’s the kind of progress that should at least keep big league pitchers honest. Gonzalez offers enough speed to swipe 15-20 bags in a full-time role, rounding out a solid overall package, albeit one that’s likely limited in our game by down-the-order counting stats. The Indians are a clear favorite in the Central according to most projection systems even though they hold a slim half-game lead over the defending champs at present. It would be surprising if Cleveland stood pat at the trade deadline, especially considering their questionable outfield situation. Gonzalez should be a trade target, and if the Indians are willing to move him, he could be someone’s starting shortstop by 2017’s Opening Day.
Chad Pinder, SS, Nashville Sounds (Athletics)
I’m not exactly sure what Pinder needs to do to garner more attention in the fantasy community. I suppose the lack of significant upside and the fact that many presume he’ll move to third base, where his bat may not play as a regular, keep dynasty owners from buying in. I’m not ready to discount the on-field production based on a hypothetical, especially since a potential move down the defensive spectrum includes second base as a destination, where his fantasy value wouldn’t take quite as big a hit. The reigning Texas League MVP is slashing .281/.326/.462 with nine home runs in his first taste of Triple-A, where he’s played the overwhelming majority of his time at the six spot. As was the case last year, when he hit 15 bombs during the regular season and another four in limited Arizona Fall League action, most of Pinder’s power production has come to the pull side as he’s learned to yank the ball with more authority than he did as an amateur and young professional. Pinder has never walked more than 5.4 percent of the time in a full-season league, and is currently sitting on a 5.1 percent walk rate, one of the lowest in the PCL. More patience at the dish and improved pitch recognition would serve him well. With the exception of some refinement in that regard, there isn’t much left in the way of projection. There doesn’t need to be. Shortstop is as rich at the top as it’s been in some time, but assuming you play in a league of even moderate depth, there’s plenty of room at the back-end of the middle infield for a player with above-average grades on both his hit and power tools. It won’t surprise me at all if Pinder outperforms several well-regarded high upside/high variance types that we typically prefer as dynasty investments.