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) Jimmy Nelson – Milwaukee Brewers – Starting Pitcher (3)
We covered Nelson in detail last week (click here to view), and with Marco Estrada again getting beaten up by the long ball it just seems like a matter of time until the Brewers turn to Nelson. As we’ve said repeatedly, he’s seemed to solve his control issue (2.67 BB/9) to go along with strikeouts (9.97 K/9) and groundballs (59.3%). That’s the trio of skills we look for, and certainly should put him on the map.
With the top two prospects on last week’s list now in the Majors, Nelson rises to the #1 spot and it shouldn’t be long for him as well. In fact, would it be all that surprising to see him post better results than Andrew Heaney in 2014?
2) Oscar Taveras – St. Louis Cardinals – Outfielder (NR)
His numbers in his first taste of the Majors were not pretty, but there was some poor luck (.200 BABIP) and we have to remember that it’s common for a few stumbles out of the gate. We will be taking a closer look at his cup of coffee tomorrow, but there is definitely reason for optimism. Expect him to make some adjustments at Triple-A and when he returns to the Majors (note that it’s not an if) expect him to thrive.
3) Mookie Betts – Boston Red Sox – Second Baseman/Outfielder (5)
Betts has slowed down since his promotion to Triple-A, hitting “just” .267 with 2 HR and 2 SB in 12 games. If that’s a slump, that’s not too bad. We all knew he couldn’t maintain the pace he had set (.355 with 6 HR and 22 SB at Double-A), and I don’t think anyone is going to complain about this type of production.
The Red Sox still have a clear need in centerfield, as the duo of Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr. continue their lackluster production. They also aren’t going to let the season slip away, especially with the AL East not living up to expectations in general, so if they think Betts can help they likely won’t hesitate. At this point it’s just a matter of him proving he’s comfortable in centerfield.
4) Jon Gray – Colorado Rockies – Starting Pitcher (8)
Eddie Butler has already been recalled (though he’s currently on the DL), so it would seem like Gray shouldn’t be too far behind (and with Juan Nicasio demoted yesterday there’s a new hole to fill) . That said, any pitcher calling Coors Field home is going to have some risk tied to them, especially one that doesn’t generate a significant number of groundballs (38.8% in his minor league career). The strikeouts have also dropped at Double-A (7.88), though that’s skewed by a poor May (6.30 K/9). Overall he brings control, strikeouts and upside to the table, just don’t be surprised if he gives up a few more HR than we’d like to see (7 HR in 69.0 IP at Double-A).
5) Joc Pederson – Los Angeles Dodgers – Outfielder (4)
We took a closer look at the potential issues facing Pederson over the weekend (click here to view) so we aren’t going to rehash everything again here. The point is, while there is unbelievable potential there also are some major question marks (most notably his current strikeout rate and concerns over not running out groundballs). He still has a lot to prove and, given the depth the team has, isn’t as close to being recalled as we’d all like to think unfortunately.
6) Javier Baez – Chicago Cubs – Shortstop (10)
Baez has shown some promise after an awful start to the season (.172 in April) and now has 10 HR and 11 SB at Triple-A. One of the premier prospects in baseball, the team could shift him to 3B to get him to the Majors or 2B if they aren’t comfortable with Arismendy Alcantara (with Kris Bryant raking at Double-A, 2B does appear to be his long-term spot outside of a trade opening up SS).
The question is how patient the team wants to be with Baez and how much they need to see from him at Triple-A before promoting him. With a 34.9% strikeout rate overall, with months of 34.9%, 34.5% and 36.2%, there clearly is work to be done before he does arrive.
7) Arismendy Alcantara – Chicago Cubs – Second Baseman (7)
He’s not the top infield prospect in Chicago, but the team has a need at 2B, he is already on the 40 man roster and he has been producing at Triple-A. Overall he’s hitting .276 with 8 HR and 12 SB, though he’s at .325 in his past 10.
His strikeouts are up this season (24.1%) and he struggles to take walks (5.4%), both of which are slightly concerning. Maybe he doesn’t hit for the best average, but the power and speed is definitely appealing.
8) Jake Lamb – Arizona Diamondbacks – Third Baseman (NR)
The Diamondbacks could look towards the future, and while Martin Prado is signed they easily could move him off of 3B thanks to his flexibility. Lamb has certainly grabbed our attention, hitting .325 with 11 HR and 56 RBI at Double-A. Just to make it even more impressive, he’s added 25 doubles and 4 triples in his 243 AB, while also keeping the strikeouts reasonable (21.2%).
There’s an awful lot to like, it’s just a matter of when the Diamondbacks could be ready to give him an opportunity.
9) Joe Panik – San Francisco Giants – Second Baseman (NR)
Giants’ second baseman are among the worst in the league, with a .173 average (second worst) and .300 SLG (fourth worst). How much longer can they really continue to run Brandon Crawford and others out there? Panik may not be the brightest prospect, but he is hitting .314 with 5 HR at Triple-A. Of course, he’s never hit more than 7 HR or stolen more than 13 bases in a season, so he’s not going to be a big-time productive middle infielder. He could offer a similar upside to a Tommy La Stella, however, so that would justify putting him on all radars.
10) Christian Bethancourt – Atlanta Braves – Catcher (NR)
He’s never been known for his bat, but with B.J. Upton continuing to struggle could the Braves try to change things up? We saw Evan Gattis play the outfield in the past and it’s not unthinkable that they shift him out there and give Bethancourt an opportunity to catch every day.
Defensively he’s ready and at Triple-A this season he’s hitting .274 with 2 HR and 29 RBI. After a slow start he’s been getting better and better, hitting .271 in May and .375 in June. He also has struck out just 35 times in 197 AB, and a catcher with the potential to hit for a solid average does have value.
Others Considered: Jesse Biddle (SP, Philadelphia), Matt Wisler (SP, San Diego), Micah Johnson (2B. Chicago White Sox), Maikel Franco (3B, Philadelphia), Michael Foltynewicz (SP, Houston), Archie Bradley (SP, Arizona, currently on DL), Noah Syndergaard (SP, New York Mets, currently on DL)
- Gregory Polanco – Pittsburgh Pirates – Outfielder (1)
- Andrew Heaney – Miami Marlins – Starting Pitcher (2)
Dropped off List:
- Michael Foltynewicz – Houston Astros – Starting Pitcher (6)
- Alex Meyer – Minnesota Twins – Starting Pitcher (9)
Sources – MILB.com, Minor League Central, Baseball Reference, MLB.com
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