Bernie on the Scene: Prospects on the Verge of the Big Leagues

Bernie on the Scene: Prospects on the Verge of the Big Leagues

This article is part of our Bernie on the Scene series.

This week, I will profile prospects who could make the big-league club at some point this season. But are they really worth rostering in fantasy or getting excited about?

Most of these players leave me with one word of description. MEH! But I do like Jeremy Pena — much more than the others.

I profile them as a warning. Don't be fooled. Just because they may graduate, doesn't mean they are good for fantasy teams. They are a mixed bag, and I wanted you to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

Just because a guy makes a big-league club, it doesn't mean he has something to offer our fantasy teams. Maybe he meets the needs of his club at that time. Maybe there is a scout or front office member pushing him.

Not every major leaguer is worth a roster spot. Many, many players lingering in the minor leagues may have more value than some major league players. That's just a fact of the business.

Each has rookie status service time remaining.

Next week, I return to scouting reports on players you have requested. 

These are players I have not profiled before. Many are a bit under the radar.

A.J. Alexy, RHP, Rangers
6-4, 195
Age: 21

Right-hander A.J. Alexy was drafted by the Dodgers in the 11th round of the 2016 draft  out of Twin Valley High School in Elverson, Penn. The Dodgers gave Alexy an over-the-slot $597,500 signing bonus. He was traded to the Rangers in 2017,

This week, I will profile prospects who could make the big-league club at some point this season. But are they really worth rostering in fantasy or getting excited about?

Most of these players leave me with one word of description. MEH! But I do like Jeremy Pena — much more than the others.

I profile them as a warning. Don't be fooled. Just because they may graduate, doesn't mean they are good for fantasy teams. They are a mixed bag, and I wanted you to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

Just because a guy makes a big-league club, it doesn't mean he has something to offer our fantasy teams. Maybe he meets the needs of his club at that time. Maybe there is a scout or front office member pushing him.

Not every major leaguer is worth a roster spot. Many, many players lingering in the minor leagues may have more value than some major league players. That's just a fact of the business.

Each has rookie status service time remaining.

Next week, I return to scouting reports on players you have requested. 

These are players I have not profiled before. Many are a bit under the radar.

A.J. Alexy, RHP, Rangers
6-4, 195
Age: 21

Right-hander A.J. Alexy was drafted by the Dodgers in the 11th round of the 2016 draft  out of Twin Valley High School in Elverson, Penn. The Dodgers gave Alexy an over-the-slot $597,500 signing bonus. He was traded to the Rangers in 2017, along with Brendon Davis and Willie Calhoun for pitcher Yu Darvish.

He had a bit of a rough start as a pro. He was shut down with a lat strain, but regained good health and has pitched parts of five seasons in the minors.

His fastball is 93-95 mph, and with effort he increases that velocity. He also throws a changeup and a very, very good curveball. It is likely his curve that will get him to the parent Rangers. He will have to perfect his changeup and have at least three solid pitches in his repertoire to pitch in the rotation with Texas.

Last season, Alexi pitched at Double-A and Triple-A. He also threw 23 big-league innings, making four starts. His 2021 minor league numbers were solid: 3-1 in 16 games, 10 starts, with a 1.66 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. He walked 3.7 hitters per nine, which was his problem, and struck out 10.5 per nine. He yielded six home runs.

Alexi has been named to the Rangers 40-man roster, paving his way for a big-league promotion.

Scouting Grade: 45

Fantasy Relevance: While I think he'll pitch for the Rangers this year, that comes with a caveat. He pitches for the parent club if the team cannot improve its rotation through trades or free-agent starting pitcher signing. I don't see Alexy having the repertoire to navigate a big-league lineup. No thanks. Not yet, anyway.

Steven Kwan , OF, Guardians (Sleeper Alert)
5-9, 175
Bats: Left
Age: 24

The Guardians took Steven Kwan in the fifth round of the 2018 draft out of Oregon State. He received a $185,000 signing bonus.

Kwan, short and fast, fits the typical major league leadoff hitter profile. He has spent the majority of his development time playing center field. However, the team has Myles Straw with a firm grip on that role, so if he sticks, Kwan would profile best in left field.

It is possible that because of his upside, Kwan might be available in trade to a team looking for a player of his profile.

Kwan might be slight of frame, but he has very strong legs and a muscular upper body. But he is far from a power hitter. He's just pesky. He doesn't have much loft in his swing.

He plays solid defense and has a solid arm. In essence, he's a good, average baseball player. Nothing more. But he's a very good guy to have at the top of the order as a table setter. Patient. Selective. But the Guardians have that in Myles Straw.

Kwan is really patient at the plate, perhaps too passive for a guy leading off. However, he has excellent pitch recognition to go with that patience. He walked 36 times in 341 plate appearances at Double-A and Triple-A last year. He struck out 51 times, hit three homers and drove in 39 runs. He stole 11 bases in 18 attempts. 

Scouting Grade: 50

Scouting Relevance: He is a solid top-of-the-order player. Gets on base. Can steal some. Scores runs. But he has to be on a team with solid power hitters in the middle of the order to score those runs. He makes himself useful. A long shot.

Zac Lowther, LHP,  Orioles
6-2, 235
Age: 25

Zac Lowther signed with the Orioles for $779,500 as a 2017 second-round draft pick out of Xavier University in Ohio.

Lowther spent 2021 at virtually every level of the Orioles development system. Incredibly, he pitched at rookie, High-A, Double-A and Triple-A, throwing 39.1 innings in 11 games, 10 starts. He also got a late call to the parent Orioles, where he went 1-3 in six games, two starts.

The pitching-thin Orioles have Lowther on the fast track, mostly because they are desperate to shore up a terrible pitching staff.

Lowther went 0-6 last season with a 5.49 minor league ERA. He had a combined 1.55 WHIP. He yielded four home runs, struck out 10.3 hitters per nine and walked 4.1 hitters per nine innings. There was little to like in his minor league performance.

He uses a fastball/changeup mix as his main pitches. His fastball is in the low 90s, and he gets to 80 or less on the changeup. He changes the eye level of the hitter well, and he can keep the hitter off balance. But his command and control are huge issues, which should concern the Orioles.

On the 40-man roster, Lowther likely will be given an opportunity to pitch in spring games and give the brass an opportunity to evaluate his future. However, I don't see much in the way of a dominating pitch or pitches. 

Scouting Grade: 45

Scouting Relevance: None

Josh Palacios, OF, Blue Jays
6-1, 198
Bats: Left
Age: 26

The Blue Jays drafted Josh Palacios in the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of Auburn University. He was signed for $438,100. He originally played baseball at San Jacinto Junior College where he hit .376. He then transferred to Auburn after two seasons. Palacios only spent one season at Auburn, hitting .385 with five homers and 23 RBIs in 165 plate appearances. 

Palacios' brother, Richie, is a minor leaguer for the Guardians.

It is important to note that Palacios has spent parts of five seasons in development. He was added to the club's 40-man roster in 202 and then promoted to the Blue Jays parent club, playing 13 games and getting 42 trips to the plate. He hit .200 for Toronto.

Playing at rookie league, High-A and Triple-A in his development last season, Palacios hit a combined .283/.411/.33/.744 with no homers and four RBIs in 73 plate appearances.

Palacios did hit .290 in 2018, when he got 565 plate appearances. He hit eight homers and drove in 78. It was his best season.

Palacios has a natural swing, with good selectivity and above-average hitting mechanics. He doesn't try to belt the ball out of the park. Instead, he uses a measured swing, makes contact and plays to his strengths. Power is not among those strengths or tools.

Palacios is capable of playing all three outfield positions, and clearly, he is a guy to look for to get on base and score runs. He is an above average runner. 

Scouting Grade: 40

Fantasy Relevance: None. I don't see any tool that will help fantasy managers.

Jeremy Pena, SS/2B, Astros (I'm like him)
6-0, 202
Bats: Right
Age: 24

Pena was a third-round, 2018 pick of the Astros out of the University of Maine. He signed for $535,000, a draft steal for Houston.

But beware: Pena is first and foremost a defensive shortstop. Defense-first is not what we look for in fantasy. And so, while we may see and hear talk of Pena winning a position with the Astros, we have to realize he is on the club for his defense.

With the exception of a couple rookie-league games, Pena spent most of 2021 playing for Sugar Land in Triple-A. He hit .297/.363/.579/.942. Very good stats. He hit 10 homers and drove in 21 runs and stole six bases in seven attempts.

Those were really solid numbers last year, but I'm not totally sold that he will be able to hit major league pitching with any consistency. I think he'll be streaky. That said, he's worthy of consideration.

Pena has added strength to his frame and maturity to his overall game. And I do think he is in the plans of the Astros. They aren't deep in middle-infielders, and he's among their best.

He likely won't hit for a high average. He likely won't hit more than 15 home runs. And he likely won't steal many bases, but he can run. So overall, he's a good, solid defensive middle-infielder with a chance to grow as a hitter. A chance. He's not a finished product. 

Scouting Grade: 50

Fantasy Relevance: We're likely to see him on the Astros roster. I'm likely to say, no thanks. At least not until I know he can go to the plate with a chance to succeed.

HEADING HOME

The Rays petitioned MLB to split games between Montreal and Tampa Bay. The MLB Executive Council denied the request.

Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg wanted the best of both worlds. Play in Montreal in front of larger crowds than he would have in St. Petersburg, while still getting the solid return on his TV rights while playing games in Tampa.

The Rays haven't drawn well at all in Tampa for several reasons.

To begin, the ballpark is anything but a positive venue for baseball. There is a total lack of ambiance at Rays games. In addition, fans from Tampa and the Tampa area have a rough time getting to the park in St. Pete. They must navigate a beautiful, but very crowded bridge to get to the park. Once they get there, there is very little in the surrounding neighborhood to attract fans before and after the game.

The team is good. The location and park are bad. And like Oakland, MLB has been punting the attendance problems in both venues for years.

Thank you for following me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff and for reading my articles at Forbes.com.

Have a great week. Stay safe and healthy.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bernie Pleskoff
Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.
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