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Yet by September, the 22-year-old had effectively wrapped up the 2019 AL Rookie of the Year. The slugger took full advantage of his call-up in June, mashing 27 home runs with 78 RBI in just 87 games and eventually helping the Astros reach the World Series.
While it’s disingenuous to call his surge an out-of-nowhere rise, he wasn’t considered a can’t-miss prospect early in 2019.
So, as a nod to Alvarez’s spot in the preseason (No. 42), we’re highlighting players who have similar profiles heading into 2020. Each prospect highlighted is outside of the Top 40 on both Bleacher Report’s year-end ranking and MLB.com’s list.
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Throughout 434 plate appearances for Houston (including the postseason), Alvarez posted a 26.5 strikeout rate. If you’re going to swing and miss that regularly, you better have some power to atone for the strikeouts, as Alvarez clearly does.
Brent Rooker has a similar profile in the batter’s box. In 842 plate appearances between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester over the past two years, he’s recorded a 29.1 strikeout rate yet hammered 36 homers and 48 doubles.
Perhaps the biggest question, though, is where he can break into the major leagues.
Since Rooker is neither a plus runner or defender, his value hinges almost entirely on his hitting. Further complicating his future is the Twins have neither an immediate need nor a definite path to playing time in the outfield. Minnesota may be better off trading him to upgrade its pitching staff.
In the right situation, Rooker can be a valuable run producer.
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After the 2018 season ended, the Cleveland Indians shipped Yan Gomes to the Washington Nationals. The move helped Washington, which relied on Gomes as a key player in its World Series title run.
Cleveland didn’t see an immediate return on the investment, but Daniel Johnson might provide the dividends in 2020.
The 24-year-old outfielder posted a .290/.361/.507 slash line in the minors last season while hitting 19 homers and 34 doubles. Johnson averaged nearly a strikeout per game, so MLB pitchers can attack his aggressiveness. But he has plus speed and arm talent, so his defensive value should help atone for that.
Assuming the Indians lose Yasiel Puig in free agency, they’re going to give Johnson a close look in spring training.
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As you’d expect from a first-round selection out of high school, Josh Lowe has made steady progress through the minors. He spent 2017, 2018 and 2019 at Low-A, High-A and Double-A, respectively.
Last season, the long-awaited batting production started to show.
The center fielder slashed .252/.341/.442 while clubbing 18 homers with 23 doubles and four triples in Double-A. Lowe performed poorly at third base in rookie ball, but he’s settled in center field and put 30-steal speed and an above-average arm on display.
Lowe should begin 2020 in Triple-A, both because his development shouldn’t be hurried and Tampa has four capable outfielders.
But if his Arizona Fall League numbers―a .327 average and .558 slugging percentage―are an indication of what’s to come in April and May, Lowe will command a place with the Rays.
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Traded from the Rays to the Miami Marlins at the 2019 deadline in July, Jesus Sanchez is knocking on the major league doors.
While rising from Low-A in Tampa’s system in 2017 to playing in Triple-A for both Tampa and Miami last season, he hit .284 with 39 homers and 220 RBI. Although the 22-year-old hasn’t totally unlocked the power tool, his 6’3″, 230-pound frame and smooth approach suggest that surge is coming.
The Marlins need not rush Sanchez to the majors, and making a final decision on what Lewis Brinson can offer first is fair. At some point in 2020, though, Sanchez will deserve a call.
And, considering Miami’s outlook, it should probably come no later than midway through the year.
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Alvarez’s emergence didn’t make Seth Beer expendable, but it allowed the Astros to feel a little more comfortable sending him to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Zack Greinke trade. Such is the trade-off for chasing a World Series ring.
Now, will he break onto Arizona’s roster in 2020?
Last season, Beer showed off excellent power with 26 homers and 103 RBI across three teams in High-A and Double-A. He’s also a career .294 hitter in the minors. The problem is Beer’s value is dependent on his bat; he lacks a second above-average tool. With no designated hitter in the NL, the D-backs may not feel compelled to play him every day.
But if Beer can develop into a quality first baseman, he’ll be worth a look if either Christian Walker or Kevin Cron struggles in 2020.
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Sam Hilliard only played 27 games with the Colorado Rockies in 2019, so only a select group of baseball fans are familiar with him. Still, he packed a bunch of dramatic moments into that stretch.
In his major league debut, the lefty launched a home run. Three weeks later, he recorded his first two-homer game. And during the last two contests of the regular season, he helped eliminate the Milwaukee Brewers from National League Central race by smacking a game-tying homer and scoring a walk-off winner.
Throw in his 35 homers with Triple-A Albuquerque last year, and Hilliard has stated a compelling case to stay up with the Rockies.
Of course, it’s not always so simple; Colorado returns Raimel Tapia, Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl and Garrett Hampson. But that terrific month ensured Hilliard a shot in the competition.
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Although he’s considered one of the best prospects in the Boston Red Sox organization, Bobby Dalbec isn’t a Top 100 player. Largely, that’s because of a swing-and-miss problem that resulted in 315 strikeouts over the last two minor league seasons.
But there’s no denying his power. Dalbec crushed 59 homers with 54 doubles and five triples during the same time frame.
Since both Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce might not return to Boston, Dalbec has a clear path to the major leagues. Plus, the Red Sox will probably be searching to save money wherever possible; a low-dollar first baseman would benefit the salary sheet.
Dalbec joined the Sox for spring training in 2019, and he should return in 2020 with an opportunity to secure an Opening Day spot.
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Most of our analysis has focused on prospects with above-average power potential, but catchers fit a slightly different mold. Putting an emphasis on defensive skills is fair with regard to the position, and that’s how Sean Murphy can make an Alvarez-like impact.
In 233 innings for Triple-A Las Vegas, Murphy committed three errors and ceded one passed ball. Then as a September call-up for Oakland, he caught 130.2 innings with one and two, respectively.
Murphy is no slouch at the plate either. After hitting .308 with 10 homers in 31 games in Triple-A, he notched a .245 average with four homers in 60 plate appearances for the A’s.
That encouraging cameo has Murphy penciled into the team’s plans for 2020, and his MLB future will be inked if Oakland trades Josh Phegley.