My, Joey Gallo. What big pinstripes you (may eventually) have!
Gallo isn’t the only top minor league prospect that has waiver wires buzzing as we now move beyond The Dullest Five Days of the Sports Year and back to diamond matters. With the extended All-Star Break, many leagues won’t record transactions until Friday morning, which gives owners an extra day or two peruse through the heap. As the trade deadline begins to loom and teams begin to embrace that 2016 just isn’t their year, the rise of top minor league prospects makes for interesting decisions on just how to spend that FAAB money burning in your pocket.
Joey Gallo, 3B/OF/DH, Rangers (for now): Social media was abuzz Thursday morning when a report surfaced that the Rangers and Yankees were finalizing a deal that would have sent Gallo to the Bronx in exchange for All-Star reliever Andrew Miller and versatile hurler Ivan Nova. While that report was squashed as “totally false,” follow the smoke, because it’s looking likely that Gallo will be headed out of the Rangers organization between now and July 31. With the team sporting a you-can’t-make-this-up 7.97 ERA and 2.02 WHIP in ten games this month, it’s readily apparent the Rangers are going to need more than the return of Yu Darvish and Derek Holland to the rotation in a bid to hold off the hard-charging Astros.
While he has scuffled at the plate recently, Gallo has 15 homers and a .948 OPS at Triple-A Round Rock. Owned in six percent of polled leagues, the Rangers’ top prospect will emerge as a 35-40 HR hitter. If he can carry his .386 OBP to the bigs, Fantasy owners can live with his pedestrian .254 batting average. His left-handed power would obviously play well with the Yankees (but of course, that won’t happen, right?) and would give them a huge jump in a youth movement which could/would see Gallo team up with fellow potential mashers Greg Bird and Aaron Judge next season. For now, it would be wise to find a roster spot for Gallo, because one way or another, he’s going to play a key role in the Rangers’ second half.
Alex Bregman, SS, Astros: I-45 was filled with buzz killers on Thursday, as Astros manager A.J. Hinch played wet blanket by announcing that Bregman wouldn’t be joining the big club in Seattle to open the second half. The news was counter to speculation earlier in the week, which sent Bregman’s ownership in polled leagues to nearly 16 percent, more than threefold from his status last week.
The second overall pick in the 2015 draft has raked to the slash line tune of .309/.416/1.019 between Double-A and Triple-A this season, while also flashing better than expected power with 19 homers. We’d say it’s very likely Bregman arrives at some point before season’s end, giving the Astros an interesting problem to solve regarding where to play the youngster. Initially, he’ll likely play third base while keeping Carlos Correa at short, but while there is a bit of disappointment in Bregman’s delay to the bigs, the Astros aren’t complaining because of the bat of…..
….Luis Valbuena, 3B/1B, Astros: A notorious free-swinger, Valbuena ended the first half locked in on opposing hurlers, batting .333 with three homers and ten RBIs in his first 33 at-bats this month. His 1.031 OPS is just one reason why Bregman will spend just little more time languishing in three-star hotels, and why Valbuena’s ownership has climbed to 13 percent in polled leagues.
Improved plate discipline has been the key to Valbuena’s surge, as his walk rate of 12.8 percent has helped offset his strikeout rate of 24.9 percent. His isolated power of .206 is just a hair off of last season’s .214, but where Valbuena has kicked in is his .331 BABIP, which constitutes a 96-point jump from his 2015 mark of .235. His numbers are screaming “CAREER YEAR,” which is why he’s become an underrated source of power in standard leagues and a good play in the second half.
Zach Eflin, P, Phillies: One can be forgiven for a major league debut that saw Eflin allow eight earned runs and three homers in 2.2 innings against the Blue Jays on June 14. Yet since then, the 6’6” righty has started to show why he was the centerpiece of a December 2014 trade that sent franchise icon Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers. In his last five starts, Eflin has allowed just eight earned runs over 32.2 innings while lowering his ERA to 4.08. He closed out the first half with a complete game six-hitter against the Braves before holding the host Rockies to just two runs over six innings of work, which isn’t too shabby for a player who is the seventh-youngest in the NL.
A former first round pick of the Padres, Eflin projects to be a solid workhorse who will fit in well as part of the Phillies’ stockpile of young arms like Vince Velasquez, Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff. Currently owned in 15 percent of polled leagues, the only glaring concern with Elfin is a 4.6 K/9 rate in his first six starts, numbers which doesn’t engender much hope of improvement considering his 6.1 K/9 rate in the minors. He’s still young enough to improve those numbers, and is still worth the bid in deeper standard formats.
Kennys Vargas, 1B/DH, Twins: He’s Baaaackkkk. A longtime favorite of this column, Vargas made the most of his return to the majors by slamming three homers, scoring nine times and (get this!) walking five times in his first six games. With five doubles, all eight of his hits are of the extra base variety, which explains his 1.903 OPS. While Vargas and the Twins won’t be able to feast off Rangers pitching every day, he’s becoming someone to watch in deeper leagues, as Vargas is currently owned in just under five percent of polled formats.
Of course, Vargas will strike out at rates too graphic for children under 17, but he did curb his penchant for whiffing to 21.9 percent in the minors while also showing a 15.5 percent walk rate. If he can somehow maintain his improved patience at the plate, the grossly-powerful Vargas can easily hit 10-12 homers in the second half, something to consider for those in need for help with the long ball.
Ervin Santana, P, Twins: Since posting up his “Will Pitch Like an All-Star to Get the Hell out of Minnesota” sign, Santana has begun drawing interest from a handful of contenders. In his last four starts, he has allowed just five earned runs, including a two-hit complete game shutout of the A’s on July 6, when he also struck out eight. His 3-7 record shouldn’t be regarded too highly when considering him, as Santana has a respectable 4.06 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. Owned in just under 14 percent of polled leagues, Santana is a proven arm who can dial it up if placed in a playoff environment, which is why it bears watching to see if he does move on from the Twins before the deadline.
Hunter Renfroe, OF, Padres: At some point in the near future, San Diego fans will get a glimpse of the future of the heart of the Pads’ batting order, as Renfroe will team up with All-Star 1B/OF Wil Myers as part of the franchise’s revival. Renfroe has battered Triple-A pitching this season, batting .335/.362/.611 with a .973 OPS while hammering 21 homers and 76 RBIs. The third-ranked player in the Padres’ minor league system, Renfroe has begun to get traction in both deeper mixed leagues and NL-only leagues, as his ownership numbers have approached four percent. We can’t project a target date for Renfroe, but if you’re of the gambling nature, now is a good time to grab him.