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)
There had been rumors that Polanco would be recalled this past Friday, but those ultimately proved to be inaccurate. Josh Harrison has been playing well of late, giving the Pirates an excuse to keep him at Triple-A (other than the Super 2 status) but we all know it’s just a matter of time.
The fact is that Polanco, one of the elite prospects in the game, has little left to prove in the minors. He brings both power (29 extra bases) and speed (15 SB) and certainly would provide a boost to the Pirates atop their order. He has been shifted to the leadoff spot at Triple-A recently, indicating that that Pirates are preparing him to take over that role in the Majors.
It’s unlikely that he’s available in many formats, but if he happens to be out there now is the time to stash him before it’s too late.
(Note: The news broke late last night that Polanco would officially be recalled later today with Neil Walk heading to the DL)
2) Andrew Heaney – Miami Marlins – Starting Pitcher (3)
He bounced back strong after having a rare poor outing, allowing 1 ER on 5 H and 1 BB, striking out 9, over 6.0 innings in his last start at Triple-A. Between Double and Triple-A this season he owns a 2.47 ERA, 79 K and 15 BB over 76.2 innings. How long does the team really leave Randy Wolf in the rotation? How about Jacob Turner (5.93 ERA, with 4+ ER in six of his eight starts)?
For a franchise that has never been shy about pushing their prospects, you have to think that Heaney could arrive at any time. Pitching in not only the NL, but also a favorable ballpark, he should be in position to hit the ground running.
While Henderson Alvarez’ injury is said to be minor, at least at this point, it appears Heaney is going to have to wait a little while longer. However, his time is coming.
3) Jimmy Nelson – Milwaukee Brewers – Starting Pitcher (4)
In almost any other organization Nelson would have already found his way into the Major League rotation. However, with a pitching staff that’s been pitching well Nelson has been limited to nothing but spot start thus far.
However, he’s dominated the Pacific Coast League to the tune of a 1.51 ERA and 0.92 WHIP over 71.2 IP. He’s shown strikeout stuff (9.54 K/9), groundballs (59.1%) and has solved his control (2.64 BB/9). As long as he continues hammering the strike zone, what’s not to like? He will be a must use option immediately when he arrives, it’s just a matter of when the Brewers are able to open up a rotation spot. You have to think it’s going to come by the All-Star Break, so now is the time to grab him before it’s too late.
4) Joc Pederson – Los Angeles Dodgers – Outfielder (7)
Matt Kemp is a shell of his former self and Andre Ethier is miscast as a CF (and also an often over-hyped offensive option, as well as now battling a back injury). Sooner or later the Dodgers are getting to realize that Pederson is wasting away at Triple-A, instead of helping out the Major League squad as he should be. The Dodgers may not want to promote Pederson until there is full-time AB available to him, but you could easily argue that they already should be there. Pederson has nothing left to prove at Triple-A, though we would like to see him reduce his strikeouts a little bit (27.7%). Still, with his power and speed there’s little doubt that he’s going to be a viable option when he arrives.
5) Mookie Betts – Boston Red Sox – Second Baseman/Outfielder (NR)
A few weeks ago, despite playing well, it seemed like a long-shot that Betts would reach the Majors in 2014. However, now that he’s transitioned to the outfield (no longer blocked by Dustin Pedroia) and been promoted to Triple-A it feels like an inevitability. It’s certainly impossible to ignore the offensive upside he’s displayed this season.
All he did at Double-A was hit .355 with 6 HR, 34 RBI, 56 R and 22 SB in 54 games and hasn’t slowed down a bit since arriving at Triple-A. It’s not like this production should be a huge surprise, considering he hit .314 with 15 HR and 39 SB a year ago.
6) Michael Foltynewicz – Houston Astros – Starting Pitcher (NR)
The Astros can argue that they already have six viable starting pitcher options, considering Brett Oberholtzer is already sitting at Triple-A after a few strong starts. At the top of the heap are Dallas Keuchel and Colin McHugh, but after that the Astros actually don’t have a starter with an ERA below 4.00 so it’s not unthinkable that Foltynewicz gets his opportunity before long.
Of course, it’s not like he’s a poor option on the mound anyways. He’s made 10 starts (13 appearances) at Triple-A and owns a 3.32 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 9.10 K/9 and 3.90 BB/9 and in his last 10 appearances he hasn’t allowed more than 2 ER in any of them. The biggest question has always been his control (3.8 BB/9 in the minors), but the former first round pick appeared to fix that issue in May (3.13 BB/9). With strikeout potential and pitching for a team looking towards the future, he needs to be on your radar.
7) Arismendy Alcantara – Chicago Cubs – Second Baseman (NR)
He is not the same type of prospect as a Javier Baez, but he likely will be the first infielder to arrive on the scene (Baez has struggled to adjust to Triple-A and Alcantara has the advantage of already being on the 40-man roster). The Cubs need help at 2B, where their mix of players have slashed .240/.325/.323 on the season. Alcantara offers an obvious upgrade at the spot, so it’s just a matter of when the Cubs want to give him an opportunity to show it.
8) Jon Gray – Colorado Rockies – Starting Pitcher (NR)
Now that Eddie Butler is pitching in Colorado it’s only a matter of time before Gray joins him. In 11 starts at Double-A he owns a 3.97 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 1.98 BB/9. His strikeout rate has dropped this season (7.47 K/9), but the former third overall pick has shown significantly more upside than that (9.34 K/9 in minors) including a 9.51 mark in April. Couple that with his control and there’s a lot to like. Of course, a non-groundball pitcher (36.6% in ’14) in Colorado is going to carry some risk but his type of strikeout stuff simply isn’t normally available on the waiver wire.
9) Alex Meyer – Minnesota Twins – Starting Pitcher (10)
Minnesota starting pitchers own a league worst 4.97 ERA, so how long do we really think it will be before the team turns to one of their youngsters? The signing of Kendrys Morales shows that they still think they can compete in 2014, so you would think it’s only a matter of time. Meyer continues to get the job done, with a 3.30 ERA, 75 K and 28 BB over 62.2 IP. He has been inconsistent of late (4+ ER in four of his past 10 starts), which could help keep him at Triple-A for a few more outings. However, once he proves he can keep his team in the game on a nightly basis he should get his opportunity.
10) Javier Baez – Chicago Cubs – Shortstop (5)
He’s one of the elite prospects in the game, but he just can’t get out of his own way. Sooner or later you would think the Cubs will give him a shot, since they clearly are already looking towards the future. However Alcantara will likely get the first shot to fill the void at 2B. Baez’ time will come if he fails, or possibly at 3B if he can force Chicago’s hand. Still, he needs to start performing before we can say that’s going to happen.
Others Considered: Jesse Biddle (SP, Philadelphia), Matt Wisler (SP, San Diego), Micah Johnson (2B. Chicago White Sox), Maikel Franco (3B, Philadelphia), Jake Lamb (3B, Arizona)
- Jon Singleton – Houston Astros – First Baseman (2)
- Kevin Gausman – Baltimore Orioles – Starting Pitcher (6)
- Eugenio Suarez – Detroit Tigers – Shortstop (8)
- Eddie Butler – Colorado Rockies – Starting Pitcher (Others Considered)
Dropped off List:
- Maikel Franco – Philadelphia Phillies – Third Baseman (8)
Sources – MILB.com, Minor League Central, Baseball Reference, MLB.com