Prospect Limbo: The Best of the 2021 Post-Prospects

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 has been squeezed out of a very crowded, platoon-heavy Oakland outfield for the last several years, and seemingly passed by fellow lefty bat Seth Brown for corner/DH type duties, and now has to compete with Rule 5 pick Ka’ai Tom for a part time role. Fowler spent all of 2020 at the alternate site and all of 2019 at Triple-A Las Vegas, where he hit .277/.333/.477 with 25 homers, by far the most homers he’s hit in a season. A lot of that was Vegas’s elevation and the PCL hitting environment. It’s not that Fowler doesn’t hit the ball hard; he does. His average exit velo was 91 mph and his hard hit rate was nearly 48%, which is a 60 if you map it to the 20-80 scale. 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 of outfielder. I thought he was an average center fielder as a prospect but have no idea what the defense is like now. Remember that he ruptured his patella tendon colliding with an exposed electrical box a few years ago. Maybe he’s a platoon outfielder, but Oakland has a lot of those types right now. If Tom beats him out during the spring, maybe Fowler’s an interesting candidate for pro ball in Asia.

Elvis Luciano, SIRP, Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto’s 2018 Rule 5 pick from Arizona, Luciano stuck in Toronto’s bullpen as a teenager and became the first player born in the 2000s to play major league baseball. He had 20-grade command and was put on the 60-day IL in June with an elbow sprain, then he spent all of 2020 at the alternate site. His pitch data from the alt site has him sitting 93-94 with average slider and changeup movement; I have nothing on the command. I think the workload leap teams’ pitching staffs are about to experience and the fact that Luciano has option years makes it likely that we see him in the big leagues at some point in 2021. He’s still only 21, and would be a 35+ FV prospect (major league-ready up/down relievers live there) were he eligible.

Jake Bauers, 1B/LF, Cleveland

The last we saw Bauers he was turning on a 91 mph Robbie Erlin fastball and planting it in the right-center seats during Cleveland’s mid-July tune-up series with the Pirates. While Bauers will turn on pitches in that locale and make you pay, he’s never had the big, all-fields raw power typical of LF/1B and has long been more of a contact-only hitter. Of course, Cleveland likes to platoon in the outfield and Jordan Luplow and Oscar Mercado are both potential partners for a crowded group of lefty bats. Eddie Rosario will likely play a corner every day, which leaves Bauers, Josh Naylor, Daniel Johnson, Bradley Zimmer, and perhaps Nolan Jones to compete for a couple of roster spots. Bauers is the only one of that group out of options, so he’ll either make the club or be dealt. He’s a priority pro eval for teams like San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Baltimore who have given some post-hype guys a shot.

Pablo Reyes, LF, Milwaukee Brewers

Reyes got white hot during a 2018 18-game cup of coffee with Pittsburgh, slashing .293/.349/.483 over the final three weeks of the season. I bought it. I saw a twitchy, plus runner who could turn on velocity, a high-energy, multi-positional player. I 40+ FV’d him as a watered down version of the Chris Taylor role, a catalytic 2B/LF type. Then he tested positive for Boldenone and was suspended for the first half of 2019. Upon returning he slugged .535, but the TrackMan data I sourced from that year indicates that was way above his expected SLG that season based on his quality of contact. He’s also hit under .200 for Licey each of the last two winters; that twitch appears gone. Milwaukee signed him to a minor league deal with a non-roster invite to camp. I think he’ll be upper-level org depth in Nashville.

Richard Lovelady, SIRP, Kansas City Royals

Lovelady has struggled to get big leaguers out despite a really outstanding multi-year track record that included very low walk totals for a reliever. He was knocked around during his 2019 rookie season, a year during which he sat 92-95 and touched 96 in the minors. He only threw one 2020 inning and his fastball velocity was down a couple of ticks. Kansas City doesn’t have many lefties on their 40-man. There’s Lovelady, 21-year-old Angel Zerpa (a really advanced lefty with a tailing fastball that has some Josh Fleming traits), and an injured Daniel Tillo. The Royals haven’t been bashful about promoting pitching prospects, so perhaps Austin Cox gets a shot if he shoves during the spring, but Zerpa seems to be ahead of him. Because of his command and pitch mix, Zerpa might fit better in a longer, middle-inning role but the club still needs a second, matchup lefty, so it’s a big year for Lovelady, who graduated as a 40+ FV prospect.

Vìctor Arano, SIRP, Atlanta Braves

Arano was once pitching so well that he generated his own article here at FanGraphs, but a pair of 2019 surgeries (elbow and shoulder) derailed the young Mexican reliever’s career. After averaging 94 mph during his fantastic rookie season, he was living in the low-90s at the Phillies 2020 alternate site and he was never called upon to help their ailing bullpen, nor was he dominant for Yaquis de Obregon over the winter. The Phillies DFA’d him in January, when he was picked up by the Braves. Arano’s slider is the important pitch, and as he’s always thrown more sliders than anything else, it’s that pitch that needs to be good. Unlike Kansas City’s bullpen, Atlanta’s is heavily left-handed, and righty Luke Jackson is coming off a rough year. The Wilson/Touki/Ynoa/De La Cruz group looms but it might be better for Atlanta to keep at least a couple of those guys stretched out, and I think Arano, who’s on the 40-man, may get an opportunity to contribute.

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 Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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3 years ago

I can’t for the life of me understand why Richard Lovelady uses his full first name.

3 years ago

I can’t for the life of me understand why his parents named him Richard.

The Stranger
3 years ago
Reply to  RHall

I can only assume it’s the “boy named Sue” theory of parenting.