This has already been quite the year for top prospect debuts, and we might actually see more in the coming days as the MLB trade deadline rapidly approaches.
Among Kiley McDaniel's preseason top 100 prospects, five of the top 10 who had yet to see any big league action have already made their debuts this season, with a few more just below that group -- the Oakland Athletics' Tyler Soderstrom (No. 23 overall) and Baltimore Orioles' Colton Cowser (No. 30) -- having recently gotten the call. And that doesn't include the Cincinnati Reds' Christian Encarnacion-Strand, who debuted last Monday after tearing up Triple-A ball to begin the year.
It's logical that many of these prospects will be the most popular pickups in fantasy baseball, as everyone wants a "shiny new toy." That's why it comes as no surprise that Encarnacion-Strand (roster percentage up 17.5% in the past week), Logan Allen (up 18%) and Sal Frelick (up 8.5%) rank among the most-added players during the past seven days, as each has the potential to make an immediate impact for your team (although we won't get into the heightened probability of struggles for these rookies that counters this excitement, at least not right now).
Among the debuting prospects recalled since the All-Star break, here's my preferred order of pickup, if that's the pool from which you choose to draw: Encarnacion-Strand, Endy Rodriguez, Soderstrom (who could gain catcher eligibility soon!), Zack Gelof, Frelick, Quinn Priester.
Beyond the shiny and new
For today, let's focus on players who have been around at least a little while longer, whose prospect buzz might have since cooled somewhat. These three are well worth a universal pickup.
Chas McCormick, OF, Houston Astros: The Astros have had a difficult time filling center field since George Springer's free agent departure (following the 2020 season) with five different players (McCormick, Jake Meyers, Myles Straw, Jose Siri and Mauricio Dubon) have made at least 30 starts there since. However, it seems they might have finally found a fixture. Since the beginning of June, McCormick has hit .325/.417/.575 with 8 home runs, 21 RBIs, 7 stolen bases and 21 runs scored, even though he started only 33 out of 45 Astros games during that time. The team has noticed, however, including him in each of its past 13 starting lineups, as well as moving him up to fifth or sixth in the order in nine of them.
McCormick's statistical improvement coincides with definitive adjustments he has made at the plate while working with hitting coach Troy Snitker. McCormick has focused more on pulling the ball, his rate going from 39% during the season's first two months to 54% since June 1. He has adjusted his stance to a more upright position and has improved his recognition of sliders, which has helped boost his hard-hit rate against them from 23% in the season's first two months to 44% since June 1.
There's something more than a mere hot streak here and, considering both his now "near regular" status, power/speed skills and a strong supporting cast (heightening his RBI/run potential), he's well worth a pickup in all formats.
Edouard Julien, 2B, Minnesota Twins: Initially regarded as a mere short-term fill-in for the injured Jorge Polanco at second base, Julien has performed well enough that the Twins need to seriously consider keeping him around as a regular even after Polanco's approaching return. Julien has been scorching hot in July, batting .426/.500/.809 with 5 home runs, 1 stolen base and 12 runs scored in 16 games -- 11 of which were starts against left-handed pitchers in either the leadoff or No. 2 spots in the order.
What's more, he has shown impressive raw power. His 16.2% Statcast barrel rate for the season would place him in the 93rd percentile if he had the requisite plate appearances and he has been showing a keen eye at the plate. Sure, Julien has struck out in nearly one-third of his trips to the plate, but his low 16% chase rate (swing rate at pitches outside the rulebook strike zone) since his June 10 recall is seventh-best among hitters with at least as many as his 117 plate appearances, and his 11% swinging-strike rate (rate of swings and misses among total pitches) is beneath the big-league's average.
This is why the Twins have been dabbling with playing Polanco at third base during his rehab assignment, perhaps setting him up as the team's future regular there against right-handed starters, and Julien's platoon complement against lefties. That would still grant Julien enough playing time to be fantasy-relevant.
Grayson Rodriguez, SP, Orioles: Kiley McDaniel's No. 3 pitching prospect entering the season, Rodriguez struggled in his initial taste of the majors, posting an 11.14 ERA in five May starts en route to his being returned to Triple-A Norfolk. He quickly proved he had already mastered that competitive level, delivering five quality starts in seven outings with a 1.69 ERA, an 0.99 WHIP and a 36.5% strikeout rate, ultimately earning himself another chance with the big league club exiting the All-Star break.
While Rodriguez's first two outings weren't eye-popping -- he allowed six runs on 10 hits in 10⅔ combined innings in his pair of no-decisions -- they represented a huge step forward relative to his previous stint, especially if you consider they came against strong offenses in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays. Most notably, Rodriguez's average fastball velocity was much improved in those outings, averaging 97-plus mph in each, and his spin rate was also considerably higher than it was during his previous big league stint -- a sign that he's making the necessary adjustments to succeed at the game's most competitive level.
He's still one of the brightest young pitching prospects and should play a big part in his Orioles' playoff prospects the rest of the way. Workload management might be the biggest obstacle Rodriguez faces from this point forward, though he's on pace for a mere 159⅓ innings, which isn't an outrageous bump from his totals of 103 in 2021 or 73⅔ in 2022.