Editor’s Note: Sources have indicated to FanGraphs that Fernando Romero has been awarded an additional option year. This post originally stated that Romero was out of options, and has been updated.
The need to define a scope, to create a boundary of coverage, creates a hole in prospect writing. Most public-facing prospect publications, FanGraphs included, analyze and rank players who are still rookie-eligible because, contrary to what you might think after seeing the length of my lists, you just have to stop somewhere, if only for the sake of your own sanity. Because of this, every year there are players who fall through the cracks between the boundaries of prospect coverage and big league analysis. These are often players who came up, played enough to exhaust their rookie eligibility, and then got hurt and had a long-term rehab in the minors. Some are victims of the clogged major league rosters ahead of them; others are weird corner cases like Adalberto Mondesi.
Regardless, prospect writers are arguably in the best position to comment on these players because they fall under the minor league umbrella, but simply adding them to prospect lists would open a can of worms — what do you do with other young big leaguers? So every year, I examine a subset of the players caught in this limbo to give curious readers an update on where once-heralded prospects stand now.
Dustin Fowler, CF, Oakland Athletics
Fowler was squeezed out of a very crowded, platoon-heavy Oakland outfield and spent all of 2019 at Triple-A Las Vegas. He hit .277/.333/.477 with 25 homers there, by far the most homers he’s hit in a season. A lot of that was Vegas and the PCL. It’s not that Fowler doesn’t hit the ball hard. He does: his average exit velo was 91 mph. But he remains a free-swinger with a relatively flat bat path, so he often offers at pitches he can’t do much with. I had a 50 FV on Fowler at peak and I still like him, but now as more of a .310 wOBA type who plays average defense in center field. That’s a 45 FV type of player, someone who fits in a platoon. Oakland has a lot of those types right now, so Fowler is a roster equilibrium change of scenery candidate this summer. He has one option year left, and it makes sense for Oakland to send him to a rebuilding club that considers him a rosterable upgrade.
Fernando Romero, RHP, Minnesota Twins
Repurposed in the bullpen, Romero is now a two-pitch sinker/slider reliever. His heater gained two ticks in the shorter outings and he’s now averaging 96-97 and touching 99 with his two-seamer, and his hard, upper-80s slider is very tough on righties because of his slot. He has late-inning stuff but the command might prohibit that sort of role. Romero doesn’t repeat his delivery very well, his release point really wanders, and Rocco Baldelli watched him walk a lot of hitters last September. If Romero is going to stick in the majors this year, he’ll have to pitch himself into the late-inning role that even those who rightly considered him a reliever while he was a prospect (raises hand) thought was likely.
Luis Torrens, C, San Diego Padres
Torrens exceeded rookie eligibility back in 2017 when, as a young 21-year-old, he languished away on the Padres bench all summer so the club could meet the Rule 5 retention requirements and keep him in the system long-term. It might pay off. Now 23, Torrens spent 2019 at Double-A Amarillo where he hit .300/.370/.500 with more homers (15) than he had clubbed in his entire career to that point.
Those numbers are a good bit above what I think Torrens would do with an everyday big league job — based on where I’d have the hit tool graded, he’s closer to a .240/.310/.410 sort of hitter — but they’re more caricature than total mirage. His average exit velo last year was 89 mph, above the big league average, but it was undercut a bit by Torrens’ middling plate coverage (when I saw him late in September, he wasn’t totally closing his front side and was vulnerable to pitches away from him) and propensity for groundball contact.
He has improved defensively, though. The Padres’ trade of Austin Allen cleared some of their 40-man catching logjam, and Francisco Mejía (defense, approach) and Austin Hedges (offense) have issues that present Torrens with an opportunity to compete for a job this spring. I have him projected as a backup, a 40 FV player.
When the Padres made/traded for three Rule 5 selections in 2016, Rule 5 picks cost $50,000 (they now cost $100,000 a piece). With those picks they added infielder Allen Córdoba (who hasn’t worked out), oft-injured right-hander Miguel Diaz (who has huge stuff but can’t stay healthy, and is back with the club on a minor league deal, so the results are still tbd), and Torrens. If even one of those players pans out, even in a lesser bench role, it justifies the cost of their selection.
Christian Arroyo, INF, Cleveland Indians
Another former 50 FV prospect who has been unable to get a big league foothold, Arroyo was acquired as an injured buy-low candidate last summer, another of the many Rays deals motivated, at least in part, by their crowded 40-man situation. Arroyo is very much Cleveland’s kind of player, a contact-oriented infielder akin to many of their prospects (Jose Fermin ,Tyler Freeman, Brayan Rocchio, etc.) and big leaguers.
I still buy Arroyo’s hit tool. He’s short to the ball, he can move the barrel around the zone, and he tracks pitches well. Like Fowler, Arroyo has a proactive approach that limits his OBP and power output, which wouldn’t be nuts anyway because he has 45-grade raw power. At age 24, with several injuries on his resume and a thicker lower half, I have Arroyo evaluated as a shift-aided 2B/3B, and he doesn’t have the power or on base ability to profile as a regular with that kind of defensive role. As platoon-heavy as Cleveland’s outfield situation is, their infield is almost the opposite, and it’s full of switch-hitters, so Arroyo, who’s out of options, is more of a plug-and-play reserve in the event of a César Hernández or José Ramírez injury. That’s a 40 FV role player.
Carson Fulmer, RHP, Chicago White Sox
You could argue Fulmer doesn’t belong on here anymore because he spent part of last season in the big leagues, but some of the changes the White Sox have made to other pitchers, specifically Lucas Giolito, should give us late-blooming hope regarding Fulmer.
That’s not to say Fulmer hasn’t already been changed. Both the shape of his pitches’ movement and his release point have been tweaked over the last several years, though based on how Fulmer described some of those changes to David Laurila, his grasp of how his stuff works and why changes were necessary may not be great, though that could be an issue of articulation and not comprehension.
Fulmer’s fastball velo just hasn’t been what it was at peak (he averaged 93 mph last year but was 93-96 at Vanderbilt) and is below what the average big league reliever works with now (93.7), plus it plays down because Fulmer doesn’t have good control. He still has above-average raw spin on his heater and breaking balls, but he’s worked more down and to his arm side with the fastball, which helps his changeup play but makes his curveball easier to see out of his hand. I think he’d benefit from using both a backspinning four-seamer that he can shoot at the top of the zone to set up the breaking stuff and a two-seamer that would live where his fastball does right now to set up the change.
Jharel Cotton, RHP, Chicago Cubs
Cotton’s peak FV as a prospect (55) was overzealous on my part; it came at a time when I didn’t yet fully understand how fastballs play. His pre-Tommy John heater was up to 96, he had a four-pitch mix including one of the best changeups in the minors, and I thought he’d be an above-average big league starter, but his fastball’s natural cut wasn’t conducive to missing bats and he was crushed in the majors.
Back from surgery last year, Cotton’s repertoire was pared down. His cutter and two-seam variant were taken away, and his changeup usage went up, while his curveball remained a get-me-over pitch. His velo was also down (89-93, touch 94), and it’s tough to envision him being more than a changeup-heavy relief piece now.
Andrew Stevenson, LF, Washington Nationals
I still like Stevenson’s bat-to-ball skills, speed, and high-effort style of play enough to consider him a big league bench outfielder. I also think he can really only play left field, despite his speed, due to a lack of arm strength. As a lefty bench bat and pinch runner — maybe as a late-inning defensive replacement in left field for Juan Soto, though Michael A. Taylor would just be better at that — he’s rosterable.
Francis Martes, RHP, Houston Astros
Martes had Tommy John late in 2018 and was busted for PEDs early in 2019. He was back pitching in games late last summer, and his fastball and slider had both backed up. He was sitting 90-93 with a worse slider than he had before he broke down, his changeup was shelved, and a pretty average curveball was added to his mix. This is still a volatile situation because even if you thought Martes would be a reliever while he was a prospect, he still had huge stuff. But for now he’s not someone I expect to make a 2020 impact.
Magneuris Sierra, CF, Miami Marlins
I was way too high on Sierra when he was a prospect. He can absolutely fly, and I thought he’d be a Gold Glove-caliber center field defender who made an above-average rate of contact, perhaps enough that he’d slash and dash his way into a leadoff role. Miami tried to hit the reset button by demoting him to Double-A for the start of 2019, and he hit well there for a month and a half before coming back to Earth at Triple-A throughout the rest of the summer. The underlying contact data here is bad, the exit velos are toward the bottom of the scale, and Sierra’s poor defensive instincts subvert his speed, making him an only average defender because of it. He looks like an org guy now.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.