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 question remains when the Pirates will finally recall Polanco, who is slashing .389/.563/.623 at Triple-A (and in the International League, not the PCL). He has little left to prove at this point and we all know that:
A) He’s one of the elite prospects in the game
B) The Pirates have a need in RF (.249/.309/.341)
At this point it would appear like as soon as the Super 2 deadline has come and gone, Polanco is going to be on the Pirates roster.
2) Jonathan Singleton – Houston Astros – First Baseman (3)
Brian McTaggart of mlb.com (click here for the article) recently posted the following quote from Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow:
“We see him as a guy who’s close to being able to contribute at the Major League level. We’re excited. We’ve all seen the reaction the fans had at bringing up prospects like [George] Springer and last year with [Jarred] Cosart and we have more coming. I would say Singleton is on deck.”
It has certainly sparked fantasy owners’ excitement, though Singleton’s production has been doing that on its own. He’s currently hitting .276 with 12 HR and 34 RBI in 152 AB, but his production against LHP (.340 with 4 HR) and reduction in the strikeouts in May (12 K in 53 AB) have been especially promising. Those were always the two biggest concerns hanging over him, so if he has indeed fixed them he is that much more attractive of an option. Grab him now before it’s too late.
3) Marcus Stroman – Toronto Blue Jays – Starting Pitcher (NR)
Despite his recent struggles in the bullpen there was hope he was going to be shifted to the rotation once Dustin McGowan was moved out. Instead, Toronto has decided to send Stroman to Triple-A. You would think the intention was to get him stretched back out and there is no question that he needed to be removed from the bullpen before his confidence was completely shot. He has the strikeout upside (10.7 K/9 in his minor league career) and there is at least rotation spot for the taking (it’s easy to imagine a second opening up as J.A. Happ is slotted there). Give him his 15 days in the minors to get a few innings under his belt and then don’t be surprised if he’s not only back in the Majors, but starting games by early June.
4) Andrew Heaney – Miami Marlins – Starting Pitcher (NR)
The injury to Jose Fernandez could expedite the arrival of Heaney, as the team has never been shy with pushing their prospects. Currently at Double-A, Heaney owns a 2.35 ERA and 1.08 WHIP courtesy of an 8.72 K/9, 2.18 BB/9 and 43.1% groundball rate. There’s nothing lucky in the numbers, either, as he owns a .289 BABIP. I know, the Marlins signed Randy Wolf to help fill their void in the rotation… Just let that set in for a moment (and realize that he’s not in the rotation currently). It’s just a matter of time before Heaney arrives and he arguably has as much upside as any starting pitcher in the minors.
5) Mookie Betts – Boston Red Sox – Second Baseman (NR)
I talked about Betts last week (check here for the article), speculating that his impressive play in the minors could lead to a move to shortstop (he was actually drafted there) to get him to the Majors (with Xander Bogaerts shifting back over to 3B). I may have been on the right track, but with the wrong position. On Sunday and Monday Betts was in his usual spot atop the lineup, but he wasn’t at 2B. Instead he was playing CF, and that certainly could expedite his arrival to the Majors. The Red Sox have seen their CFers slash a pathetic .199/.312/.308 thus far, so if Betts can handle the spot it may only be a matter of time. In keeper formats, now is the time to grab him because it may not be long.
6) Jimmy Nelson – Milwaukee Brewers – Starting Pitcher (6)
He continues to get the job done, with a 1.71 ERA. 0.93 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 over 58.0 innings in the PCL. Throw in a groundball ball rate consistently over 50%, and what exactly is there not to like? Control has always been the biggest question hanging over Nelson, 3.9 BB/9 in the minor leagues, though he’s been showing signs of improvement over the past few seasons (like a 2.0 BB/9 in 12 starts at Double-A last season, before regressing to 5.4 in 15 Triple-A starts). Is the new command for real? Time will tell, but his secondary stuff appears to be developing well and should help. Nelson was recently quoted by Tyler Maun of milb.com (click here for the article) as saying:
“My fastball command to start the game set the tone for everything,” Nelson said. “I used my four-seamer and my sinker, mixed those in. When I need to, [I] bust out the slider and mix in a changeup to keep them off the fastball. You can’t be a starter with just two pitches. The changeup’s come a long way for me, and it’s helped keep guys off my fastball.”
The real question right now is simply when an opportunity will come, as Brewers starters own the seventh best ERA in the league (3.29).
7) Oscar Taveras – St. Louis Cardinals – Outfielder (8)
He’s been getting more and more time working in CF, so you have to start to wonder just how long it will be before he arrives in St. Louis. Long considered one of the premier prospects in the league, if the defense is up to par and he starts hitting again (.242 with 1 HR in May) he shouldn’t be long for the Majors. That seems like a lot of “ifs”, but the talent is there to make an impact.
8) Kevin Gausman – Baltimore Orioles – Starting Pitcher (7)
Gausman finally got another opportunity in the Majors, but he struggled once again allowing 5 ER over 4.0 IP. However, you can easily make the argument that the timing of the promotion was bizare, as he had just returned from the DL due to pneumonia and also drew the Tigers. It was almost like he was setup for failure. Don’t let the poor performance discourage you, as there is no doubt he will get another chance before long. Hopefully the Orioles put him in a better spot to excel, though.
9) Maikel Franco – Philadelphia Phillies – Third Baseman (4)
Cody Asche has been producing of late (7-12, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 3 R), putting the brakes on the Franco rise a little bit. That’s not to say that he should completely fall off the map, as he still owns a May slash of .324/.418/.500 with 11 K vs. 10 BB in 68 AB. With tremendous power potential, he needs to start showing that a little bit more before he gets promoted (10 doubles, 3 HR in Triple-A). He should get an opportunity this season, but it’s not as imminent of a promotion as it appeared to be a week ago.
10) Alex Meyer – Minnesota Twins – Starting Pitcher (NR)
After a few rough outings, Meyer got things back on track by throwing 5.0 no-hit innings in his last start (7 K and 4 BB helped elevate his pitch count). There are obvious control issues (3+ BB in each of his past six starts), but the back of the Twins’ rotation has been pathetic this season. Ricky Nolasco (5.50 ERA) and Kevin Correia (6.80 ERA) have both been terrible and could conceivably be replaced at any time.
Others Considered: Eddie Butler (SP, Colorado), Noah Syndergaard (SP, New York Mets), Jesse Biddle (SP, Philadelphia), Javier Baez (SS, Chicago Cubs), Michael Foltynewicz (SP, Houston), Matt Wisler (SP, San Diego), Micah Johnson (2B. Chicago White Sox), Alex Guerrero (2B, Los Angeles Dodgers)
- Trevor Bauer – Cleveland Indians – Starting Pitcher (2)
- Rafael Montero – New York Mets – Starting Pitcher (5)
Fell off the List:
- Arismendy Alcantara – Chicago Cubs – Shortstop (9)
- Tommy La Stella – Atlanta Braves – Second Baseman (10)
Sources – MILB.com, MLB.com, Fangraphs, Minor League Central, Baseball Reference