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House of Shlain: Prospects on the Rise

Nick Shlain

Nick analyzes prospects for RotoWire and focuses on the Midwest League during the season.

Prospect lists are a wonderful exercise and can be very helpful, but ultimately are a mere snapshot of the preseason prospect scene. A month from now, a lot might be different and a year from now everything will certainly be different. That's why throughout the season we update the top prospect list accordingly. In this article I'll identify a few prospects who most likely won't help your fantasy team in a big way this year, but will be guys to target for next year or in dynasty/keeper formats.

Kevin Gausman, RHP, Orioles - Tons of prospect hype has fallen on teammate Dylan Bundy, who I have sixth overall on my prospect list, but Gausman offers comparable upside in his own right. The fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft out of LSU, Gausman has elite fastball velocity as he regularly works 93-97 mph. He touched 98 mph in a big league spring training outing recently. Gausman is a bit lanky at 6-foot 4 and just 185 pounds, so he could put on some muscle and possible throw even harder. His changeup is also a plus pitch and he throws both a slider and a curveball. He needs more seasoning in the minors as he barely made his professional debut (just 15 innings) before starting in the Double-A playoffs last year, and the raw stuff is still ahead of his pitchability.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter told the Baltimore Sun at the beginning of spring training that both Bundy and Gausman will be “available to pitch for us in September and October.” That doesn't exactly portend to a midseason callup for either and it's likely for good reason as neither has the innings base to start in the majors every fifth day this year anyway. I expect Gausman to start the year at Double-A where he can work on his command and secondary pitches. I currently have him 23rd on my list, which tells you how much I like him even though I don't see him helping much at all this year. I can't see a scenario in which Gausman is healthy and not in my top-10 prospects at the outset of next season. There's simply very little risk here with a college pitcher who has a high No. 2 starter ceiling.

Lewis Brinson, OF, Rangers - The term five-tool player is thrown around quite liberally in prospect circles and the majority of the time it is at best an overstatement and at worst non applicable. Brinson, another first-round draft choice in 2012, appears to be the real deal. He fell to the Rangers at 29 because the book on Brinson at the time said he had all of the tools, but was also very raw. In the defense of people who said this at the time and my colleague Jesse Siegel who has Brinson more than 100 spots lower than I do in our prospect rankings, Brinson is still 18 years old. However, every report from people who have seen Brinson since the draft indicate that he's considerably more polished than anticipated. This was apparent after he more than held his own in the Arizona Rookie league (.283/.345/.523) while displaying instincts for the game. At his peak, he could be the premier power and speed combination player in the league.

Brinson is still far away from the major leagues and as I mentioned he's still 18. So, there is still massive risk here to go with the massive upside. For Rangers fans the name Jordan Akins might come to mind. As a reminder, Akins was not only extremely raw, but also a third-round pick who could barely hold his own at the complex level on his second try there as a 19-year-old. Brinson is clearly much more advanced for his age. It's now up to him and the Rangers to develop him with the first challenge to be his first full professional season.

Joe Ross, RHP, Padres - Another former first-round pick with limited professional experience, Ross got off to a terrible start in the Midwest League in 2012 before he got injured (though he still missed bats 27 strikeouts in 27.1 innings). Then he came back later in the season with a good showing in the Northern League (2.02 ERA 28 strikeouts in 26.2 innings). What Ross has going for him besides his age (he's yet to turn 20) is a big and projectable frame and elite arm strength. His three-quarters delivery is such that he doesn't have to labor to get the fastball to the plate. Ross cuts up easy cheese at present, can you imagine what he could do when he fills out? This is a player with a very high ceiling. Sure, he has a long way to go before he even begins to scratch the surface of his immense potential, but the potential is there. And it's big.

Ross will likely begin 2013 back in the Low-A Midwest League and he'll be one of the most exciting pitchers in the league along with teammate Max Fried. His stuff is so good that even if the command and pitchability stagnate, he'll be able to miss a ton of bats at that level, but if he does start to make strides he's going to shoot up prospect lists. Thus, I've ranked him very high even for someone who is presently just a projectable arm.

Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Blue Jays - Alright, I promise this guy is going to be the last former first-round pick in this article. I won't go all chalk, just mostly. Sanchez in particular makes for a good pick because some people seem split on what to make of him and I unabashedly adore him. Some will tell you that he lacks command, his secondary offerings aren't there, and that former Lugnuts teammate Noah Syndergaard is better. Others will say that his command is the only thing keeping his ace ceiling from being painfully obvious. Personally, and despite not being a scout I've seen Sanchez pitch in person many times, I fall into the second group. Clearly, it would be foolish to say his command doesn't need work, but I believe his doubters may be overstating the case. I still have Archie Bradley very high despite the fact that he led the Midwest League in walks in 2012, and 50 walks in 90.1 innings from Sanchez when many of his outings were mere three-inning appearances (thanks, Alex Anthopoulos) isn't going to scare me away.

Looking at the positives, Sanchez is projectable at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds. He already has a plus fastball coming from one of the easiest deliveries in professional baseball. He looks like he's playing catch when he's sitting in the mid-90s. He makes it look so easy that I have to believe his athleticism and delivery will eventually lead to a big jump in the command profile. When that day comes, I will wear a shirt that reads: I ranked Aaron Sanchez in the top 30 in 2013 and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

Jose Ramirez, RHP, Yankees - The oldest player listed in this article at 23, Ramirez should be slept on no longer. The Dominican right-hander opened a lot of eyes in Yankees spring training with a pair of solid outings totaling nine shutout innings with a 0.55 WHIP. Take it with a grain of salt because it's spring training, but the stuff Ramirez showed in his time on the big league hill was no joke. This is a player some would toss aside immediately based on his slight frame (6-foot-1, 155 pounds), but Ramirez has a three-pitch mix that many other prospects would envy. In one start this month he was sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball and throwing a downright filthy changeup once he got ahead.

He hasn't pitched at Double-A yet, but there simply is no doubting his stuff right now as is. The worst case scenario is that he can't handle the innings workload of a starter, but even then he's potential a high leverage reliever. It's hard to say ultimately what his upside is until we get a full season season sample on him, but I feel comfortable saying that he's going to be in the mix in the next year or so.