Three Up, Three Down: Twins, Athletics, Astros

Three Up, Three Down: Twins, Athletics, Astros

This article is part of our Imminent Arrivals series.

As we all know, prospect development is not linear. Players that look to be the next big thing will have down years only to bounce back a year — or more — later, and prospects that looked like organizational depth become potential stars only to face regression the next season. A prospect list is just a moment in time, and those players very rarely remain stagnant in their respective spot. 

This week, let's take a look at the prospects who saw their stock rise — and some whose stock fell — from the Twins, Athletics and Astros. 

Minnesota Twins

Three Up

Marco Raya, RHP: Raya's rise has a little bit to do with attrition and a little bit to do with his success on the mound, but either way, he's now the best pitching prospect in the Minnesota system according to most (including the author of this article). He was again on a regimented innings count for the 2023 season, but he struck out 65 hitters over 62.2 innings of work while limiting hitters to just a .197 average at the High-A and Double-A levels. 

Level of optimism: Moderate. Raya's numbers are a little misleading, as his 4.02 ERA on the season is inflated by a couple of blowup starts in the summer months, including one where he didn't get an out. When at his best, he's a 21-year-old with two plus pitches in his fastball and slider, and he can mix in a solid curve with a usable

As we all know, prospect development is not linear. Players that look to be the next big thing will have down years only to bounce back a year — or more — later, and prospects that looked like organizational depth become potential stars only to face regression the next season. A prospect list is just a moment in time, and those players very rarely remain stagnant in their respective spot. 

This week, let's take a look at the prospects who saw their stock rise — and some whose stock fell — from the Twins, Athletics and Astros. 

Minnesota Twins

Three Up

Marco Raya, RHP: Raya's rise has a little bit to do with attrition and a little bit to do with his success on the mound, but either way, he's now the best pitching prospect in the Minnesota system according to most (including the author of this article). He was again on a regimented innings count for the 2023 season, but he struck out 65 hitters over 62.2 innings of work while limiting hitters to just a .197 average at the High-A and Double-A levels. 

Level of optimism: Moderate. Raya's numbers are a little misleading, as his 4.02 ERA on the season is inflated by a couple of blowup starts in the summer months, including one where he didn't get an out. When at his best, he's a 21-year-old with two plus pitches in his fastball and slider, and he can mix in a solid curve with a usable change for good measure. He's not a future ace, but Raya does have upside, and he could be making starts for the Twins by the end of the 2024 season. He's a quality buy-low candidate in dynasty leagues for those who aren't paying close attention. 

Cory Lewis, RHP: Cory Lewis throws a knuckleball. That should be enough, but if you need more, he's a 23-year-old who registered a 2.49 ERA and 118/33 K/BB ratio in his 101.1 innings of work at the lower levels. And again, I remind you, Cory Lewis throws a knuckleball.

Level of optimism: Moderate. Lewis throws a knuckleball, if I didn't mention that before, but he also has a solid-average fastball, a curve and a change; all pitches he's capable of throwing for strikes on a consistent basis. That being said, none of his pitches project to be plus — that includes the knuckler, unfortunately — and at his age, he should have been at the higher levels. Still, it's easy to see Lewis being a solid big-league starter and one who may be able to help Minnesota in 2024 if things go right. 

Jose Rodriguez, OF: Rodriguez's numbers were considerably worse in 2023 than they were in 2022, but he was also playing at a higher level, and still flashed the talent to someday be an MLB regular. He hit .262 with a .737 OPS in the Florida Complex League over 41 games while swatting 6 homers with 10 doubles in 187 at-bats. 

Level of optimism: Moderate to high. Rodriguez has significant power from the right side, and it could be plus-plus when he's ready to contribute at the highest level. He's shown the ability to work counts at a solid rate — particularly for a teenager — and there's enough hard contact to believe he can hit for a decent average, as well. There's risk in his profile because of his age and the fact he's all but assuredly going to be a corner outfielder, but in terms of offensive upside, Rodriguez ranks among the best hitting prospects in the Minnesota system. 

Three Down

Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF: Once again, I must point out that "down" is both subjective and relative. Rodriguez is still one of the best overall prospects in the Minnesota system, but he doesn't have the same type of helium he did coming into 2024 that he had in 2023. He hit .240/.400/.463 in 99 games for High-A Cedar Rapids while adding 16 homers and 20 stolen bases. 

Level of concern: Low. It would have been nice to see a higher average from Rodriguez in 2023, and all of his numbers are down from the ridiculous .272/.491/.552 line he posted in 2022 (albeit in only 47 games). He's still a player with three plus tools in his power, speed and arm with the type of approach you see in hitters who walk 100-plus times in a season. So while he's no longer considered a Top-50 prospect in most circles, he's still a player with significant offensive upside, and one who could hit at the top of the Minnesota lineup by the end of 2025. 

Noah Miller, SS: Miller was the 36th pick of the 2021 draft, and so far, he hasn't put anything together to suggest he was worthy of that high of a selection. The brother of Owen Miller has hit just .220 in his 250 career minor-league games, and he finished 2023 with a slash of .209/.223/.340 over 120 games with Cedar Rapids. 

Level of concern: Moderate to high. Miller has been able to draw walks at a quality rate with 134 free passes over the last two years, and he is also a quality defensive player that should have no trouble sticking at shortstop. That being said, there's very little power in his switch-hitting bat, and he doesn't make enough hard contact to project even an average hit tool at this point. There's still time at the age of 21 to figure things out, but right now, Miller projects as a utility bench option at best.

Misael Urbina, OF: There are other bats that could have made this spot, including Yasser Mercedes and Bryan Acuna. Urbina's stock fell the hardest, however, after he hit .180 with a .571 OPS while striking out 109 times in 355 at-bats for the Kernels of Cedar Rapids.

Level of concern: High. Urbina was given a $2.75 million bonus in 2018 in large part because of his potential to hit for average, but to say that hasn't shown up in games is quite the understatement. He hasn't developed much power either with just 16 homers in 313 MiLB games, and while he's a good enough athlete with decent defense, it doesn't really compensate for the things above. Urbina is going to be 22 years old to start the 2024 season, and he's going to have to make drastic improvements to be more than organizational fodder.

Oakland Athletics

Three Up 

Denzel Clarke, OF: Clarke was solid in 2022 with an .834 OPS, and while he was limited to just 64 games in 2023 because of a shoulder injury, the outfielder was even better in Double-A with a slash of .261/.381/.496 and 12 homers with 11 steals over 234 at-bats. 

Level of optimism: Moderate to high. Clarke is one of the more underrated outfield prospects in baseball, and there's still more upside for him to tap into. He may lose some speed as he gets stronger, but at 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, he has the frame along with the bat speed to suggest he'll have at least plus power going forward. Even if he loses some speed, he should still be a threat to steal bases, and he's shown that he's not allergic to drawing a free pass when pitchers don't challenge him. He may not be a superstar, but Clarke has well above-average regular talent in my humble estimation, and he could make starts for the Athletics by the time 2024 comes to a close. 

Darell Hernaiz, SS: Hernaiz was acquired by the Athletics for Cole Irvin last winter, and after a couple of so-so seasons, he appeared to put things together in 2023. He split the season between Double-A and Triple-A, and in his 131 games at the upper level he hit .321 with nine homers and 13 stolen bases for Midland and Las Vegas. 

Level of optimism: Moderate. Hernaiz has a swing that is conducive to hitting for average, and his above-average speed will help him beat out some of the weak contact in the infield as well. He's not likely to be a major source of power, but he did steal 54 bases combined in the previous two seasons before his relatively low total in 2023. The biggest concern here for Hernaiz is on the defensive side, but if he can stay up the middle, the offensive upside is palpable, particularly with his potential plus hit tool. 

Brett Harris, 3B: Harris has hit since being a seventh-round selection out of Gonzaga in 2021, and it appears more people are starting to pay attention. The third baseman has hit .279 with an .820 OPS over his two-plus years in the Oakland system, and he slashed .279/.383/.424 over 105 games at the upper levels.

Level of optimism: Moderate. Harris can put the ball in play, as he struck out just 69 times in 387 at-bats over the 2023 campaign. He also has a selective approach with 110 walks in 269 career games, and he's a solid defender at the hot corner for good measure. What he doesn't have is significant power, however, and he's not going to compensate with a large amount of stolen bases. Harris does have a chance to be a regular, but probably not one with significant fantasy relevance. 

Three Down

Gunnar Hoglund, RHP: Hoglund was drafted with the 19th pick of the 2021 MLB Draft, and he was the top prospect shipped to Oakland in the deal that sent Matt Chapman to Toronto. The right-hander has dealt with injuries, and while he did make 16 starts in 2023, his 6.05 ERA and 46:12 K:BB leave something to be desired. 

Level of concern: Moderate. Hoglund didn't get to pitch until May because of a biceps injury, and he was a disaster in Low-A Stockton with a 7.05 ERA over his 11 starts. When he's at his best, he shows the ability to throw four pitches for strikes, and two of those pitches have a chance to be plus in his fastball and slider. If Hoglund can stay healthy he has the stuff to be a mid-rotation starter, but his lack of success in 2023 on top of his lack of professional innings as a player who turns 24 in December is concerning. 

Brayan Buelvas, OF: Buelvas was considered one of the best prospects in the Oakland system after his strong showing in the minors in 2019, but he hasn't been able to take a step forward since. On the contrary, really, as the outfielder hit just .225 with .705 OPS over three different levels. 

Level of concern: Moderate. Buelvas looked like he might be on the rise in the first half of the season, as he was slashing .290/.389/.515 with Low-A Stockton before he was promoted. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to figure out he was considerably worse at High-A and Double-A. The tools are all here for the 21-year-old to succeed with plus speed, a decent enough approach at the plate and a swing that suggests he can hit for average. It's just a matter of showing the ability to do that at the upper levels. I'm reasonably confident — but far from convinced — he can do it on a more consistent basis in 2024. 

Pedro Pineda, OF: Pineda was given a big bonus of $2.5 million in January of 2021, and while there have been some momentary flashes that suggest there's a bright future here, they've been fleeting. He didn't show many of them at all in 2023 for Low-A Stockton, as he hit .224/.310/.300 in his 283 at-bats with the Ports. 

Level of concern: High. There's no denying that Pineda has the athleticism to be an MLB player, as he's an above-average runner with some raw power from the right side. At some point, however, those tools have to start translating into success. Because he's only 19 it would be somewhat foolish to completely write him off, but nothing he's done thus far suggests he's anywhere close to putting it together. 

Houston Astros

Three Up

Jacob Melton, OF: Melton is now the top prospect in the Houston system, and while that's a little bit darning with faint praise, it'd be impossible to deny his stock is up. The former Oregon State outfielder stole 46 bases, hit 22 homers and reached Double-A while registering an .801 OPS over 99 games. 

Level of optimism: Moderate to high. There's a lot to like about Melton from a fantasy perspective. The left-handed hitter has plus power and speed, and he could be a 30/30 player in his best MLB seasons. There are some questions about the hit tool because of his potential for swing-and-miss, but he draws enough walks to help compensate. Melton isn't getting nearly enough hype as a fantasy prospect, and could be an option for the Astros by the end of the 2024 campaign. 

Zach Dezenzo, INF: Dezenzo was drafted without much fanfare in the 12th round of the 2022 draft, and he didn't make much noise with a .744 OPS in his pro debut that summer. Things escalated quickly for the former Ohio State Buckeye in 2023, however, as he reached Double-A while slashing .304/.383/.531 with 18 homers and 22 steals. 

Level of optimism: Moderate to high. Dezenzo was able to show off his power at Ohio State — particularly in his final year there with 19 homers — and his bat speed along with natural loft should allow him to hit for power as he continues to progress. The hit tool still projects just around average despite that high mark in 2023, as he will fall behind in counts and does offer some swing-and-miss in his profile. He's also not a great defender, so the bat is going to have to play. Based on what we saw in 2023, there's a very good chance it'll do just that. 

Rhett Kouba, RHP: Kouba is another 12th round pick by the Astros — in 2021, in his case — who has a chance to be a steal for Houston. The right-hander made 24 starts in the minors in 2023, posting a solid 3.45 ERA with 136:37 K:BB in 128 innings for Double-A Corpus Christi and one start at Triple-A with Sugar Land. 

Level of optimism: Moderate. Khouba is going to have to rely on his command more than his stuff to succeed at the highest level, but he does throw everything for strikes, and he generally hits his spots with all four of his pitches. Only one of those projects as plus, but his change can be a swing-and-miss pitch, and his low-to-mid 90s fastball plays up because of the deception and a need to be cognizant of that change. Kouba won't ever pitch at the top of a rotation, but the ability to pound the strike zone without self-inflicted damage gives him a chance to be a member of a starting five in the coming years. 

Three Down 

Colin Barber, OF: Barber has been limited by injuries since being a fourth-round pick out of Michigan in 2019, but he looked like had taken a major step forward in 2022 while hitting .294/.400/.439 over 66 games while reaching Double-A. He did not take another step in 2023 — at least statistically — as he slid down to a slash of .244/.358/.433 with 11 homers for Corpus Christi over 79 games. 

Level of concern: Moderate. The skill set for Barber that can make him a quality big-league player is still there, as he's a left-handed hitter with a quality approach and the ability to use the entire field. He's also a solid athlete who could be a threat to steal bases, but he hasn't been able to run much at all in his time in the Houston system. I'm still a fan of the potential, but the lack of power, injury history and mediocre results in 2023 are obviously a concern.

Pedro Leon, OF: Leon was someone fantasy managers coveted in dynasty leagues after he signed with the Astros in 2021 because of his potential for power and steals, but it just hasn't shown up in games on a consistent basis. He had another mediocre — at best — season in 2023 for Triple-A Sugar Land with 21 homers and 21 steals, but just a .778 OPS in 128 games. 

Level of concern: High. Leon has a good chance of being an MLB player because of his ability to go get it in the outfield and his plus speed, and he's starting to tap into his above-average power as well. He also isn't ever likely to be a regular because he has significant — significant is an understatement — contact issues as seen in 160 strikeouts over 483 at-bats. It's not out of the question that Leon puts it all together, but there's just too much risk here that comes with the potential reward. 

Justin Dirden, OF: Dirden put together a strong 2022 season with a .942 OPS and 24 homers, and he was given a chance to battle for the Opening Day roster last spring. Unfortunately, he didn't have nearly as much success in 2023 as seen in a .231/.314/.396 slash with a 108:37 K:BB over 316 at-bats with Triple-A Sugar Land. 

Level of concern: High. It's worth pointing out that Dirden's strong numbers in 2022 were all but entirely compiled in Double-A, and he registered just a .703 OPS upon his promotion to Triple-A that season. That means that he's been an ineffective hitter for a season and a half in the Pacific Coast League,Jacob Melton. a league that future MLB players should be excelling at. Add in that he'll be 27 in the middle of July, and it's hard to be too optimistic for Dirden to be anything more than a bench bat in the coming years. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Crawford
Christopher Crawford has covered baseball, college football and a variety of other subjects for ESPN, NBC Sports and more.
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