Friday, July 1, 2022

Fantasy Baseball: Which of Riley Greene, Oneil Cruz, Alex Kirilloff and C.J. Abrams is the priority pickup?

What a weekend for call-ups.

I suppose we had it coming, what with the projected Super Two cutoff and all. Then again, three of the four call-ups worth highlighting here had already seen time in the majors. Should that dampen our enthusiasm for them? Is Riley Greene automatically the preferred pickup in Fantasy simply because we have yet to see him fail? By most lists, he’s the highest-ranked prospect of the four.

Of course, Alex Kirilloff isn’t ranked at all. He’s not eligible to be, having already gotten 244 at-bats in the majors between this year and last. He’s sure to invite the most skepticism for precisely that reason, though extenuating circumstances have factored into his past failures. More on that in a bit.

There’s also C.J. Abrams, who hasn’t actually arrived yet but is reportedly on his way. The 21-year-old looked overmatched in 55 at-bats earlier this year but had gotten hot at Triple-A. Last but not least is Oneil Cruz, the toolsy shortstop whose impending promotion Monday has been a particularly long time coming.

We actually saw Cruz for nine at-bats at the end of last year. That’s all he needed to set a Pirates record for the hardest-hit ball in the Statcast era. Standing an Aaron Judge-like 6-feet-7, Cruz also produces Judge-like exit velocities. According to Baseball America, he averaged 94 mph on batted balls last year. No other top 100 prospect averaged more than 91.

He can also run a bit. Project his numbers in the upper minors last year over 150 games, and he ends up with 37 homers and 41 steals.

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Cruz was arguably the most hyped prospect of spring training, seemingly positioning himself for an opening day job, so when he got sent down, it figured to be for just a couple of weeks. A miserable start to the Triple-A season put that idea to rest, but he’s come around since about mid-May, batting .299 (29 for 97) with seven homers, three steals, a .953 OPS and a perfectly manageable 17.5 percent strikeout rate in his past 26 games. Those are the kinds of numbers Cruz should have been putting up all along, but clearly, the Pirates view it as more representative of his readiness than his full-season line, which remains lackluster.

Suffice it to say CBS Sports users have maintained their rosy outlook as well. Cruz’s roster rate never dipped below 55 percent. It’s only up to 64 percent now, which means you may still have a shot at him. His enormous ceiling makes him the highest-priority pickup of the four even though he may have a lower floor than someone like Greene.

Unlike Cruz, Greene did actually win a job in spring training, but then a fractured foot preempted his debut. A long rehabilitation followed, and only Saturday did he make his debut. Already he seems up to the moment, having walked twice in each of his first two games.

His polish as a hitter is what stands out most, at least offensively, though he’s not lacking in power and may even chip in some stolen bases. Of the four notable call-ups this weekend, his talent comes the easiest, making him a relatively safe pickup as prospect call-ups go and my second choice behind only Cruz.

I would advise you not to sleep on Kirilloff, though. His talent as a hitter has been evident from the time he batted .348 with a .970 OPS as a 20-year-old in A-ball. That’s A-ball, you say? A long time ago, true, but do you remember how his rookie season began last year? Insane batted-ball data, but lots of bad luck. Then came a four-game stretch in which he homered four times and doubled twice, and then came the wrist injury.

He wasn’t the same thereafter — not statistically and, more to the point, not physically. He eventually conceded to surgery, but the wrist still wasn’t feeling right at the start of this year, prompting a cortisone shot and a demotion to Triple-A. There, he was tasked with overcoming the pain in his wrist and correcting the flaws in his swing caused by it. It took him a couple of weeks to come around, but judging from these numbers, mission accomplished:

That’s the best we’ve ever seen him in the minors, with some added patience at the plate. It doesn’t seem like the wrist is an issue anymore, and we’ve hardly gotten to see him play when that’s been the case. Imagine he’s a first-time call-up who was putting up those kinds of numbers at Triple-A and then prioritizing him just after Cruz and Greene on the waiver wire.

Last up is Abrams, a surprise selection for the opening day roster with Fernando Tatis sidelined by a fractured wrist. At the time, he had played just 42 games at Double-A and was clearly pressed into big-league duty. His playing time quickly diminished, and it came as no surprise when he got sent back down in mid-May.

We don’t know the full story behind his return yet — it may have to do with Manny Machado spraining his ankle Sunday — but suffice it to say Abrams is more prepared this time around, having seemingly mastered Triple-A.

Of particular note are his past 19 games, during which he has hit .398 (35 for 88) with four home runs, seven stolen bases and a 1.033 OPS. His small build may preclude him from hitting for much power at the highest level (at least at age 21), but the hit and speed tools are both near the top of the scale. In fact, it’s tempting to move him up the priority list if your greatest need is stolen bases, but of the four call-ups, he has the most to prove and the most questions regarding his playing time.

So there you have it. If you’re wondering how to prioritize these four off the waiver wire, my suggestion is this:

  1. Oneil Cruz
  2. Riley Greene
  3. Alex Kirilloff
  4. C.J. Abrams

Of course, realistically, you’ll want to get your hands on however many you can. Each represents a ticket for a lottery well worth playing, and given the progress we’ve seen from them in recent weeks, your chances of cashing in seem higher than usual.

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