by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Which prospects are on the verge of making an impact in the Major Leagues? This weekly column will rank the ten who are closest (as well as other names that are being closely considered). Keep in mind that while talent is factored in opportunity plays a major role, so there may be some “lesser” prospects who rank fairly highly on the list (the number in parenthesis is the prospects ranking from last week):
1) Gregory Polanco – Pittsburgh Pirates – Outfielder (1)
The Pirates have a glaring need in the outfield, so they recalled Jaff Decker from Triple-A… Really?!?! It’s obvious that money is playing a major role, because what more does Polanco really have to prove? He’s hitting .357 with 4 HR and 8 SB in 140 AB, while also adding 9 doubles and 4 triples. If they want to get picky they can point to a 51.4% groundball rate, which obviously will help limit the power, but with his speed it’s a non-issue. One of the premier prospects in the game, he’s simply waiting for the Super 2 deadline to pass before joining the big club.
2) Trevor Bauer – Cleveland Indians – Starting Pitcher (2)
He continues to thrive at Triple-A, with a 1.12 ERA, 40 K and 11 BB over 40.1 IP. He has worked at least 6.0 innings in every start and has yet to walk more than 3 batters in a game, which is exactly what the Indians should be looking for. It’s really a shock that he hasn’t gotten another opportunity in the Majors to date (outside of his spot start), especially with Cleveland starters owning a 4.22 ERA (22nd in the league). They are obviously giving Danny Salazar an opportunity (5.65 ERA), and he has been pitching better of late, but another rough stretch could ticket him back to the minors. Also, Josh Tomlin? Bauer’s time should be coming before long.
3) Jonathan Singleton – Houston Astros – First Baseman (5)
Astros first baseman own the third worst SLG at .316, so you have to wonder just how long it’s going to be before Singleton is summoned. The biggest issue has always been his contact, but it’s something he has improved dramatically in recent weeks. In 10 May games he’s whiffed just 5 times while drawing 8 walks in 34 AB. In fact, 3 of those strikeouts actually came in one game. If he has actually improved in that regard, and it is a small sample size, how can the Astros continue to hold him down? They’ve already shown that they aren’t going to hold a prospect down due to service time (see George Springer) and Singleton appears to be making major strides with the one negative they could point to. His time is coming and, if you need power, grab him now before it’s too late.
4) Maikel Franco – Philadelphia Phillies – Third Baseman (4)
After an awful April (.172/.234/.253), Franco has finally settled in and figured things out at Triple-A. In May he’s slashed .340/.415/.553, while showing the tremendous eye at the plate he has been known for (7 K vs. 5 BB over 47 AB). While Cody Asche had shown signs, he fell into another slump (0-12 over four games, before going 2-4 on Sunday) and is hitting just .233 on the season. The biggest question with Franco is going to be his defensive ability at 3B, but right now he appears to be the significantly better offensive option. He also offers a potent right-handed bat for a team that is extremely left-handed, adding to his appeal. If he keeps hitting he is going to force the Phillies hand (considering they rank 24th in runs scored).
5) Rafael Montero – New York Mets – Starting Pitcher (NR)
It looks Jenrry Mejia is ticketed for the bullpen and all signs point to Montero getting the first opportunity to fill the void (over Noah Syndergaard & Jacob deGrom). Montero clearly has little left to prove at Triple-A (3.67 ERA, 41 K, 18 BB over 41.2 IP in the PCL in ’14). He also has worked 197.0 innings between Double and Triple-A over the past two seasons, giving him the experience the Mets generally look for from their young pitchers. How long he sticks in the rotation remains to be seen, but he’s well worth targeting for pitching needy teams.
Update: Montero will officially be called up on Wednesday to join the Mets’ rotation
6) Jimmy Nelson – Milwaukee Brewers – Starting Pitcher (NR)
If it wasn’t for the Brewers starters pitching well (outside of Matt Garza), Nelson would likely be getting a lot more attention. He continues to thrive in the minors, with a 2.00 ERA and 0.98 WHIP over his first 45.0 IP. It’s simply a continuation of what we’ve seen, as he’s featuring strikeouts (8.80 K/9), control (2.60 BB/9) and groundballs (56.8%). Unfortunately he’s going to be trapped at Triple-A until something happens to open up a spot for him, but his time should come before long. Given the skillset he’s shown, he’s certainly a pitcher worth eyeing in all deeper formats.
7) Kevin Gausman – Baltimore Orioles – Starting Pitcher (NR)
Back after missing some time, Gausman returned to allow 2 H and 3 BB, striking out 6, over 4.2 IP. When you look at his numbers and see that he hasn’t gone more than 5.0 IP you get concerned, but it’s clear that the Orioles are simply limiting his innings in order to have them at their disposal later on in the season (he threw 129.2 innings ’13, so 160-170 will likely be his maximum). You would have to think that the handcuffs are going to come off soon, though, and that’s when the Gausman watch will truly begin. Baltimore starters currently own a 4.24 ERA (24th in the league), with their best starter being Bud Norris (3.82 ERA). They are paying Ubaldo Jimenez too much money to think that he’s in any jeopardy, but what about Miguel Gonzalez (4.78 ERA)? Plus, thus far they have used just five starters. Sooner or later someone is going to be needed and Gausman figures to be first in line.
8) Oscar Taveras – St. Louis Cardinals – Outfielder (3)
Just when it looked like his time could be coming, Taveras goes ice cold. He’s hitting .233 with 0 HR in May (though he does have 4 doubles and a triple) and he has struck out 10 times in 43 AB. Obviously he has as much talent as anyone, but the Cardinals have ample other outfield prospects to give opportunities too. He should turn it around before long, and he’s going to need to in order to force his way into the Majors.
9) Arismendy Alcantara – Chicago Cubs – Shortstop (8)
While Alcantara has struggled lately, he still represents an upgrade over the pathetic play the Cubs have gotten at 2B (.215/.316/.269). He offers an intriguing blend of power and speed, though 37 K over 129 AB (with just 4 BB) does ring a few warning bells. The truth is, what do they have to lose by giving him a shot?
10) Tommy La Stella – Atlanta Braves – Second Baseman (NR)
We are going to talk about him in detail later today, so make sure to check back for that. He makes the list because his time is clearly coming, but a middle infielder with little power, little speed and trapped towards the bottom of an NL lineup isn’t going to excite many.
Just Missed: Eddie Butler (SP, Colorado), Andrew Heaney (SP, Miami), Jacob deGrom (SP, New York Mets), Noah Syndergaard (SP, New York Mets), Jesse Biddle (SP, Philadelphia), Javier Baez (SS, Chicago Cubs), Alex Meyer (SP, Minnesota), Michael Foltynewicz (SP, Houston)
Fell Off The List:
- Jesus Aguilar – Cleveland Indians – First Baseman (6) – He has hit a terrible stretch, with a .205 AVG and .256 SLG; Plus, there was never an obvious fit for him in the lineup
- Alex Meyer – Minnesota Twins – Starting Pitcher (7) – twins pitching in May has actually been solid (3.89 ERA), while Meyer has seen the wheels fall off (9 ER over 8.2 IP) after striking out 11 in back-to-back outings
- Matt Wisler – San Diego Padres – Starting Pitcher (9) – Since being promoted to Triple-A he’s allowed 11 ER on 16 H and 5 BB over 6.1 IP, clearly slowing his ascent to the Majors
- Jacob deGrom – New York Mets – Starting Pitcher (10) – It appears like it will be Rafael Montero who gets the first shot to step into the rotation, while deGrom could ultimately fill a bullpen role.
Sources – MILB.com, MLB.com, Minor League Central, Baseball Reference