WATCHLIST: Backstops and relievers on the come up

The Watchlist is a quick-hit look at those minor league players who may be on the verge of a call-up, whether it be due to injury on the big-league club or sterling performance. Many players on the Watchlist are not top-level prospects, but instead players who could hold some short-term fantasy in the right situation. Of course, there are many unknowns when it comes to call-ups, but many of these are reserve-worthy players if your league rules allow minor-league pickups.


Danny Jansen (C, TOR)
Jansen was quietly one of the most productive backstops in the minors last season, scooting up three levels (A+, AA, AAA) en route to a healthy  .323/.400/.484 slash line with 10 HR and more walks (41) than whiffs (40). The 23-year-old hasn't missed a beat in his first full go-around with Triple-A Buffalo, thus far sporting a .281/.410/.469 line and similar 5:6 BB/K ratio in his first nine games. Jansen lacks an elite "tool," both defensively and offensively, but this is a type of bat that figures to adjust quicker than most call-ups. Jansen's short, simple swing produces good contact (86% over 297 pro games), and he has started to tap into his fly-ball stroke as he's moved up the ladder, which could mean his already average power could play better than most expect at the next level. Working in his favor is a noticeably slow start from Russell Martin (.563 OPS, -3 BPV), as well as the fact that Jansen is already on the 40-man roster. This isn't the 'sexiest' fantasy profile, but at his peak, Jansen could be a 20 HR, .280 BA type bat with solid value in deep formats and, unlike a lot of high-profile catching prospects, an ability to stick behind the dish for the long haul.

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Eric Haase (C, CLE)
It is exceptionally hard to find power production from catching prospects who were not, at one point or another, ranked in the Top 100 of any national prospect publication. Haase is attempting to be the exception to the rule, however, and could be in line for some playing time in the near future. The 25-year-old led all minor league backstops with 27 HR in just 97 games with Double-A Akron in 2017, along with sterling marks in ISO (.315) and OPS (.930). Akron's stadium is known for being exceptionally hitter-friendly, but Haase certainly helped his cause by maintaining an eye-opening 52.2% fly-ball rate over 95 games with that affiliate, which is essentially the rate at which Joey Gallo (54.2%) lifted the ball in 2017. Fantasy owners will need to consider the risks with Haase, as his contact skills are suspect (68% ct% as a pro; 64% thus far in 2018), and he bring neither speed nor plate/OBP skills to the table. But if your the type of deep-format owner who can afford a gamble on a potentially elite power tool (remember: 52% fly balls last year!), Haase could be the man in Cleveland soon, considering Roberto Perez's less-than-stellar start (.536 OPS, -65 BPV).

Sean Murphy (C, OAK)
We've already covered two backstops who are almost locks to see playing time this season; why not switch gears and dream on one? Murphy presently resides with Oakland's Double-A affiliate in Midland, and was a third-round pick from Wright State in 2016. The 23-year-old might have the quickest transfer and strongest arm of any catching prospect in the minors, which he flaunted in last year's AFL by throwing out runners 61% of the time (7 SB, 11 CS) in 133 innings and doing stuff like this. His bat started to catch up with his arm last year (.250/.313/.410, 13 HR in 98 games), and he's off to a great start in 2018, already owning 14 extra-base hits in 16 games and an OPS over 1.100. Murphy's penchant for solid contact (81% as a pro) and decent line-drive marks should give him a chance to contribute in BA, and he'll have a chance to collect average HR totals (15-18) at maturity. He draws walks at about an average clip and can work the count well from time to time, but probably won't be a big OBP contributor. Again, a path to immediate playing time may not be in the works with Jonathan Lucroy and Bruce Maxwell in his way, but this is a name to watch closely.


Domingo Tapia (RHP, CIN)
Tapia was signed by the Reds as a non-roster invitee to spring camp just two months ago, subsequent to his first campaign from the bullpen as a pro. From that role, he managed only average surface results at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels, posting a combined 4.08 ERA and 1.45 WHIP across 88.1 innings as a setup-type arm. But a peak under the hood shows shows that Tapia has skills that could prove useful in a late-inning role in the near future. The 26-year-old mustered a career-best 8.7 Dom in 2017, a mark supported by an above-average 13.9% SwK in relief. Tapia also proved capable of keeping the ball out of the air, as the Dominican native garnered a 52.2% ground-ball rate that ranked as one of the highest marks of any pitcher at the Double-A level a season ago. Perhaps neither is very surprising, as Tapia has hummed around the 94-97 mph range with a lively, heavy fastball this spring and can reach back for 98. He also brings flashes of a plus changeup around 88-90 mph as a useable offering against lefties and an average slider in the low-80s. He was relatively platoon-proof in 2017 (.753 OPSa vs. RH; .755 vs. LH), too, which should help his cause as he battles for important innings with Cincinnati's bullpen in the near future.

Shane Bieber (RHP, CLE)
OK—so Bieber isn't technically a reliever at the moment. The 22-year-old righty has made four appearances with Double-A Akron in 2018, and each have been as a starter. Bieber has a lot of things working for him this season, however, which suggests the former fourth-round pick could be called up for work in either role in the near future. After moving up three levels in 2017 and posting stellar peripheral numbers (8.4 Dom, 0.5 Ctl, 0.4 HR/9 over 173 innings), Bieber has yet to walk a batter over his first 26 innings and has mustered a 9.7 Dom and 1.04 ERA in that same span. The Orange, Calif., native wields four pitches that ought to be effective at the next level, including a low-90s fastball (95 mph on occasion) that he can manipulate and place within the zone. His curveball has reportedly improved over the last calendar year, and the changeup and slider act as solid offerings on the side. Long-term, his future resides in the rotation, as he also brings durability, strength and an athletic frame to the table. But his ability to throw strikes (77% strike rate this year) and garner enough whiffs (11% SwK) could net him some short-term, high-leverage relief innings in the near future. Either way, the organization has high expectations for him, so keep him on your radar.

Ty Buttrey (RHP, BOS)
After four years of being nothing more than a middling minor league starter, Buttrey, a former fourth-round pick, switched to the bullpen in 2017 and started to show his potential in short spurts, gathering a 10.8 Dom across 63 innings as a late-inning arm in the upper minors. But Buttrey has parlayed a solid AFL showing into an impressive start to his 2018 campaign, as the 25-year-old owns an eye-opening 20.3 Dom (21 K, 9.1 IP) in his first six bullpen appearances. His penchant for swings-and-misses stems from his ability to blow by hitters with a upper-90s fastball that reportedly hit 101 mph at the fall league, although the pitch actually plays down due to its lack of movement and the fact that he doesn't have great command of it. Buttrey's secondaries include a mid-80s slider and changeup that grade as average, but again, an overall lack of control of either has hampered his ratios as a pro (4.0 Ctl), which brings with it some risk in a fantasy situation. Buttrey may not be nearly as refined as Bieber or have a useable secondary offering like Tapia, but the elite velocity and current pace of strikeouts makes him a name to watch in the coming weeks.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.