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 continue to keep Polanco at Triple-A, with the recent strong play of Josh Harrison giving them their current excuse. However, as the team continues to try to catch-up to the Brewers and Cardinals (they entered the week 7.0 games out of first place), how much longer can they really wait?
At this point it’s obvious they are likely to hold off until the Super 2 deadline has come and gone, for better or worse. Polanco continues to prove that he should be able to give the team a spark, slashing .356/.420/.576 with 6 HR, 43 RBI, 36 R and 10 SB. How many players, whether it is in the Majors or minors, bring that type of skill set? His time is going to come, and at this point it should be soon.
2) Oscar Taveras – St. Louis Cardinals – Outfielder (7)
With the Cardinals soon entering a stretch of interleague games, the rumors have kicked up that Taveras could join the Cardinals before long. He’s certainly done his part at Triple-A, hitting .319 with 7 HR and 39 AB in 182 AB. One of the premier prospects in the game, it feels like fantasy owners have been waiting for his arrival forever. Finally, we may get to see what he can actually do.
If he is recalled, it’s easy to imagine Taveras sticking in the Majors. Both Jon Jay (.284, 1 HR, 2 SB) and Peter Bourjos (.234, 1 HR, 3 SB) haven’t done enough to entrench themselves and are easily replaceable. All Taveras needs is an opportunity, and the interleague games could give St. Louis the excuse to get him to the Majors.
3) Andrew Heaney – Miami Marlins – Starting Pitcher (4)
After dominating at Double-A (2.35 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), Heaney recently got his first taste of Triple-A and pitched fairly well (5.0 IP, 1 ER, 7 H, 0 BB, 7 K). Now on the precipice of the Majors, the only person standing in his way Randy Wolf. Since joining the Marlins organization in 2012 Heaney owns an 8.85 K/9 and 2.24 BB/9, numbers he maintained at Double-A this season (8.72, 2.18). While he’s not an elite groundball pitcher (42.0%), he is going to be in a pitchers park and in position to thrive. Now is the time to stash him, especially with the Marlins surprisingly in the mix in the NL East. An organization that has never been shy about pushing their prospects, they can’t afford not to take this opportunity.
4) Javier Baez – Chicago Cubs – Shortstop (NR)
Finally, one of the premier players in the minors is showing signs of living up to the hype. Over his past 10 games he’s hitting .390 with 4 HR and 11 RBI, while also adding 6 doubles. His overall strikeout rate is certainly a concern, at 34.0%, though he has 10 K in 41 AB over his recent hot streak. That’s right in line with what he’s done since 2011 (25.5%), so it’s a good sign that he’s finally adjusted to Triple-A. With 37 HR last season, there is no questioning the power potential. The Cubs have also tried him out at 2B, where Darwin Barney has slashed .188/.270/.263. While they could move Emilio Bonifacio there full-time, once Super 2 status has come and gone they also could look to give their fans a look at the future. If he keeps hitting, he is going to force their hands.
5) Jon Singleton – Houston Astros – First Baseman (2)
If Singleton had continued to stay hot he may already be in the Majors, but things have regressed significantly over the past few weeks. He owns a May slash of .237/.383/.395 (April was .293/.398/.646), so while he’s still getting on base via the walk he’s simply not producing as much with the bat. He still has 17 K vs. 18 BB over 76 AB in May, so there is hope in that regard.
He’s biggest issue has been an increased groundball rate (46.6%) and a decline in HR/OFB. At the same time, did anyone really think he could maintain his 34.6% April mark? His 16.7% in May is still more than enough, and there’s also room for improvement. The bottom line is that things are going to rebound before long and, when they do, he’ll be joining Houston.
6) Mookie Betts – Boston Red Sox – Second Baseman/Outfielder (5)
Betts continues to see time in the outfield, and you have to think the Red Sox are angling to get him into the Majors before long. Entering Monday they were on a 10 game losing streak, putting them 8.0 games behind the Blue Jays in the AL East. Sure they added Stephen Drew, but is he really going to provide the spark the team desperately needs? Betts is slashing .366/.452/.575 at Double-A and would clearly provide an upgrade over both Jackie Bradley Jr. (.200, 0 HR, 3 SB) and Grady Sizemore (.211, 2 HR, 3 SB). While they have never been a team to act hastily, they also aren’t about to watch their season end in May or June. It’s hardly a lock that he gets recalled, but it also wouldn’t be a major surprise at this point.
7) Jimmy Nelson – Milwaukee Brewers – Starting Pitcher (6)
He fared well in a spot start on Sunday (5.2 shutout innings) and it’s simply a matter of when a full-time rotation spot opens up for Nelson. He owns a Triple-A (Pacific Coast League) ERA of 1.71 and WHIP of 0.97 as he’s shown strikeouts (9.00 K/9), groundballs (57.5%) and new found control (2.64 BB/9). As long as he can keep the walks in check, which he did struggle with in his spot start (3 BB over 5.2 IP), he is going to be in position to thrive.
8) Marcus Stroman – Toronto Blue Jays – Starting Pitcher (3)
Since returning to Triple-A Stroman has struggled a bit, allowing 7 ER on 10 H and 2 BB, striking out 9, over 9.0 IP. We have to wonder if his run pitching out of the bullpen did a little something to his confidence. It’s unlikely and he should find his footing again before long, as it also could be taking him time to get stretched back out (in each of his starts he actually threw 3.0 shutout innings to open the game). That’s going to be important, because the Blue Jays have a need in the rotation and you would think Stroman could prove helpful. At the same time, his name has started to be bandied about in trade rumors (most notably for Jeff Samardzija), which is just something else that needs to be monitored. One of the better pitching prospects in the game, he should make an impact before long.
9) Kevin Gausman – Baltimore Orioles – Starting Pitcher (8)
Gausman actually went a season long 6.1 innings on Sunday, allowing 0 ER on 4 H and 0 BB, striking out 3. We all know the doubters are there, after he struggled in his first start in the Majors this season and then was returned to Triple-A and struggled again. However, he was placed in an almost no win situation in his start for the Orioles as he was still working his way back from pneumonia and drew Detroit. Hopefully this past start will be a springboard to better days.
10) Maikel Franco – Philadelphia Phillies – Third Baseman (9)
Cody Asche is on the DL, so you would think the team would have called upon Franco to fill the hole at the hot corner. However, he still hasn’t really impressed at Triple-A as he’s hitting .235 with 4 HR and 19 RBI (.250 with 1 HR over his past 10 games) and at least for now is remaining at Triple-A. The upside is obviously there, as is the potential opportunity, which is what is currently keeping him on the list (though the ranking is tenuous). If the Phillies aren’t willing to call him up now, it could take an extended hot streak and continued struggles from Asche (when healthy) to get him into the lineup. In other words, we may be looking at August/September, though time will tell.
Others Considered: Eddie Butler (SP, Colorado), Jesse Biddle (SP, Philadelphia), Michael Foltynewicz (SP, Houston), Matt Wisler (SP, San Diego), Micah Johnson (2B. Chicago White Sox), Trevor May (SP, Minnesota)
- Alex Meyer – Minnesota Twins – Starting Pitcher (10)
Sources – MILB.com, MLB.com, Minor League Central, CBS Sports