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) Mookie Betts – Boston Red Sox – Second Baseman/Outfielder (3)
With Grady Sizemore released, the need for Betts on the Major League roster has increased dramatically. Jackie Bradley Jr. continues to flounder and Brock Holt had no outfield experience heading into the season, yet alone centerfield. The fact that they are letting Holt learn on the job indicates that they could do the same thing with Betts, who has already been working at the position at both Double and Triple-A.
While he got his Triple-A career off slowly, he’s suddenly caught fire once again. He’s currently on a seven-game hitting streak (through June 22) going 12-32 with 7 RBI, 2 R and 3 SB. Even more impressive then the numbers overall (and those are jaw dropping), is the fact that he has 32 K vs. 45 BB. The Red Sox have struggled, but with baseball in general mediocre this season it will only take one hot streak to get into a Wild Card position. Betts could certainly offer that spark.
2) Jimmy Nelson – Milwaukee Brewers – Starting Pitcher (1)
We continue to wait for the Brewers to make a change, but they instead stick with Marco Estrada (who is allowing 2.41 HR/9 and owns a 5.22 ERA). Nelson, meanwhile, just gets the job done every time he takes the mound in the Pacific Coast League. He was “worse” this past week, allowing 5 ER on 13 H and 4 BB over 12.2 IP, but that’s hardly a concern. On the season he owns a 1.79 ERA and 0.99 WHIP as he’s displaying strikeouts (9.56 K/9), control (2.69 BB/9) and groundballs (56.8%). There is no question that a change is coming and he should step right into the rotation and thrive. He should offer an immediate boost and is worth owning on all formats.
3) Taijuan Walker – Seattle Mariners – Starting Pitcher (NR)
An injury cost him an opportunity to break camp with the Mariners, but he’s now back and pitching at Triple-A. Unfortunately things haven’t gone all that well quite yet, having allowed 6 HR and 9 BB in his five starts (21.2 IP). He’s coming off his worst outing yet, allowing 7 R (6 ER) over 5.0 IP. He’s likely still just settling in, so we shouldn’t read too much into the struggles though we do need to keep a close eye on them.
Let’s not forget how impressive he was a year ago, with a 2.93 ERA, 10.18 K/9 and 3.63 BB/9 between Double and Triple-A (while also making three starts for the Mariners). With a groundball rate of 42.5% since 2011, his current home run issues are likely nothing but an aberration. One of the premier pitching prospects in the game, it’s just a matter of when he gets his feet back under him. You would think he’ll join the Mariners’ rotation right around the All-Star Break.
4) Oscar Taveras – St. Louis Cardinals – Outfielder (2)
There’s little doubt that Taveras will return to the Majors this season, and he also should improve on his performance. We recently took an in-depth look at him, which you can view by clicking here.
The real question is going to be when the playing time opens up in the outfield, which should happen before long. One of the premier prospects in the game, don’t hold a poor first showing against him. The prospect that hits the ground running is the anomaly, as most will struggle in their first taste.
5) Arismendy Alcantara – Chicago Cubs – Second Baseman (7)
Javier Baez continues to struggle to find his footing at Triple-A and Chicago’s management has said that they have no plans to promote Kris Bryant to the Majors this season (though that could easily change if he continues thriving). There’s no question that they need help on the infield and Alcantara, who is already on the 40-man roster, should be the first one to get the call. He’s hitting .283 with 8 HR (as well as 18 doubles and 10 triples) and 17 SB on the season, showing that he can help make an impact atop the lineup. While we would like to see a few more walks (19 in 269 AB), there’s little else we can say right now. Look for him to arrive in the not too distant future.
6) Nick Kingham – Pittsburgh Pirates – Starting Pitcher (NR)
He hasn’t shown strikeout stuff this season (6.78 K/9 between Double and Triple-A), but it’s hard to argue with the results (2.65 ERA, 1.28 WHIP). His control has been solid overall with a 2.75 BB/9, though it was at 3.17 at Double-A (where he made 12 of his 14 starts). That’s certainly not a bad number, though he also hasn’t been the biggest of groundball pitchers (42.7% since 2011).
Overall the Pirates starters haven’t been awful this season, but both Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez are carrying ERAs north of 4.50. That’s unacceptable for a team that has playoff aspirations and could obviously cause the Pirates to make a change. We’ll take a closer look at Kingham in the near future, but here’s a sneak peak of his stuff (courtesy of Rich Wilson of Prospect 361):
“Kingham has a really nice three pitch mix with a four-seamer that sits 92-93 MPH and can touch higher, a really nice change-up that showed some nice fad in a game I saw him in July, and an above-average curve that I think can be a real knock-out pitch down the road.”
There’s every reason to believe that the strikeouts and control will continue, making him a solid option for the Pirates real soon.
7) Jake Lamb – Arizona Diamondbacks – Third Baseman (8)
Trade rumors have started to surface, with Martin Prado’s name being kicked around a little bit. Even if he’s not dealt, the Diamondbacks could find a way to open up playing time for Lamb by shifting Prado to the outfield or maybe even 2B (they could always trade Aaron Hill). Regardless of how the playing time appears, there’s a good chance it presents itself for Lamb before long.
He continues to hit at Double-A, hitting .318 with 11 HR (as well as 25 doubles and 5 triples). The lefty has been impressive in every facet, including slashing .311/.382/.623 against southpaws. Throw in 62 K over 255 AB and he’s an impressive prospect that could make an impact upon his arrival this season.
8) Noah Syndergaard – New York Mets – Starting Pitcher
Not only has he struggled since coming off the DL (9 ER over 10.2 IP), he’s actually struggled overall this season (4.98 ERA, 1.48 WHIP). That said, he’s pitching in the PCL so the numbers have to be taken with a little bit of a grain of salt. The Mets’ could soon be looking towards 2015 and, as they have with some of their other young pitchers in recent seasons (Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler), figure to let him get his feet wet in the Majors in July/August.
As for his issues, keep in mind he still owns a 9.28 K/9 and 2.77 BB/9. Instead it’s an inflated BABIP (.361) and a few issues in the home run department (18.0% HR/OFB) that’s been causing the problems. There’s no need for concern. He should be able to make an impact before long.
9) Domingo Santana – Houston Astros – Outfielder (NR)
Both George Springer and Jon Singleton have reached the Majors and the 21-year old Santana may not be far behind. Strikeouts have always been the biggest concern, but he’s done a great job of reducing the strikeouts while increasing his walks as the season has progressed:
- April – 29.8%//7.0%
- May – 27.6%//11.8%
- June – 22.7%//14.7%
That’s tremendous progress for a player who we know brings both power and speed to the table. While he may not have 20 SB upside, he did swipe 12 bases last season while hitting 25 HR. Some will point to his 20.5% OFB rate this season as reason to be skeptical, but that’s skewed by a poor April (11.1%). With the trio of Alex Presley, L.J. Hoes and Robbie Grossman combining to hit .213 (27th) and SLG .321 (28th), it simply may not be long.
10) Joc Pederson – Los Angeles Dodgers – Outfielder (5) / Javier Baez – Chicago Cubs – Shortstop (6)
We are going to lump these two together, for now, because they are facing similar issues and could ultimately not arrive in 2014. There’s no questioning the upside that either possess, but unless they can get the strikeouts in order at Triple-A they aren’t going to make an impact.
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), Kris Bryant (3B, Chicago Cubs), Trevor May (SP, Minnesota)
- Jon Gray – Colorado Rockies – Starting Pitcher (4) – With the questions in the Colorado rotation, you would’ve thought he would’ve arrived already. He’s coming off a poor outing and, while he should arrive this season, his promotion is hardly imminent.
- Christian Bethancourt – Atlanta Braves – Catcher (10) – The Braves could give him a shot, but his offensive upside is limited. With others, with more upside, getting closer to arriving Bethancourt falls off the list.
- Joe Panik – San Francisco Giants – Second Baseman (9)
Sources – MILB.com, Minor League Central, Baseball Reference, MLB.com
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