MLB: AUG 21 Angels at Tigers
Icon Sportswire

It took a whole slew of injuries, but Victor Scott is breaking camp with the Cardinals after all. The team announced that Tuesday, after testing revealed an AC Joint sprain for Dylan Carlson, the team's projected Opening Day center fielder. 

Of course, Carlson was only the projected Opening Day center fielder because of injuries to Tommy Edman (recovering from wrist surgery … very slowly) and Lars Nootbaar (two cracked ribs), which suggests how tenuous Scott's hold on a roster spot with the big club might end up being. Nootbaar has already been cleared to do soft toss, while Carlson' absence will be measured in weeks, "not a matter of months," so Scott's runway may not be as long as you'd like for a top prospect making his debut. 

But this is still a call-up Fantasy players should be extremely excited for. Scott had a pretty solid spring to get his name on Fantasy radars, hitting .316/.409/.368 with five walks and six strikeouts in 44 plate appearances. And, of course, four stolen bases in five attempts on 18 times on base. The steals are the main attraction when it comes to Scott's Fantasy upside, as he swiped an almost unfathomable 94 of them across two levels and 132 games in the minors last season – a total that jumps to 112 in 155 games when you include the Arizona Fall League, with an 87% success rate.

Scott has, by all accounts, truly elite speed, something he puts into play both on the bases and in the field, where he projects to be a potential Gold Glove caliber defensive center fielder. He also puts it into play as a hitter, too, with 17 bunt hits and a .338 and .362 BABIPs in High-A and Double-A last season.

The obvious comp here is to Esteury Ruiz, and it's one many Fantasy analysts and players will immediately leap to. But there are some signs that Scott is a better hitter than Ruiz was as a prospect, despite Ruiz ultimately putting up better numbers once he got to Triple-A especially. 

First of all, when you compare them at the same level and age, Scott was a much better hitter, so we'll start there:

Victor Scott202322AA66310282519111273444718450.3230.3730.450.8241275.81%14.52%119
Esteury Ruiz202122AA843533095277162104236728730.2490.3280.4110.7391277.93%20.68%98

Now, it's true, Ruiz did put up significantly better numbers the following season, and it wasn't all inflated by the PCL – he hit .344/.474/.611 in his second stint at Double-A the following season, before continuing to post a .900-plus OPS at Triple-A. But the thing about that is, the quality of contact metrics and scouting reports never quite backed up what Ruiz was doing, with BaseballProspectus' prospect writeup for Ruiz noting that he "routinely posts exit-velos in the mid-70s and 80s, generating triple-digit exit-velos at an extremely low rate." 

Publicly available quality-of-contact data is incomplete at the minor-league level, but what we do have backs up the idea that, while Scott is unlikely to ever hit for much power, he's working from a more projectable base than Ruiz was as a prospect. In 2022, Scott posted an average exit velocity of 84.8 mph as a 21-year-old, while Ruiz was at 82.5 as a 23-year-old (with bunts excluded from both players' data). 84.8 mph isn't great, but it is better than 82.5 mph. 

Combine that with projected elite defense in center field, and it's easy to be more optimistic about Scott than his most obvious comparison. He isn't likely to be a great hitter right away, making the leap from Double-A, but I think there is enough here to at least open the possibility that Scott could force the Cardinals to make him an everyday player even in a crowded outfield, the way Ruiz has failed to do in Oakland.

But the reason I keep harping on the Ruiz comp is because of this: Even though Ruiz hit just .254 with five homers and 94 combined runs and RBI last season, he was still a top-45 outfielder last season on the strength of 67 steals. If you run as often as Ruiz does and as Scott projects to, you don't need to be a very good hitter to have Fantasy appeal; Ruiz was a viable starter in Roto despite being a bottom-20 hitter by wOBA. 

Now, the downside here is pretty obvious, of course. It took three injuries to get Scott on the Opening Day roster, and if any of Carlson, Edman, or Nootbaar gets healthy relatively soon and Scott isn't hitting, he could go right back down to the minors. That might even be the likeliest outcome for him; hitting in the majors is hard, and if you can't punish mistakes, pitchers will attack your weaknesses aggressively and run you right back down to the minors.

But Scott's upside is significant. If all he manages to be is Esteury Ruiz but with plus defense in center field (Ruiz rates out as pretty average at best out there), we could be talking about a must-start Fantasy option. If those signs that he's a more capable hitter than Ruiz come to fruition, and he manages to hit more like .270 or better, you're potentially talking about a three-category contributor, with a ceiling that might not look that different than what Nico Hoerner did last season, except with a lot more speed.

For those of you playing in leagues with drafts still remaining, I'm taking Scott as a top-175 pick, and depending on how I start my team, I might consider him as early as 150th overall. It's a high-variance profile, as it is for any young hitter, but Scott brings a legitimate game-changing skill to the table, and it might not be his only one.