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) Andrew Heaney – Miami Marlins – Starting Pitcher (4)
There’s a good chance he’s going to return to the Majors after the All-Star Break, as the Marlins have been operating with four starters since his demotion. While he struggled in his first taste of the Majors, we all know there’s often a learning curve with young pitchers and having to face more advanced hitters.
Heaney displayed solid control (2.61 BB/9) and enough groundballs (47.0%) in four starts, though he failed to generate strikeouts (5.66 K/9). An 8.7% SwStr% indicates more upside there, as does an 8.95 K/9 in the minors. While the groundballs may not be quite up to the level he’s shown thus far (42.6% in the minors) an improved strikeout rate, continued control and a favorably home ballpark hardly makes that potential “regression” a concern.
There’s a lot to like in Heaney, so if someone in your league has given up on him now is a good time to stash him. While he may be inconsistent, there’s more than enough to like.
2) Nick Kingham – Pittsburgh Pirates – Starting Pitcher (9)
While he had one hiccup at Triple-A, overall he’s been impressive with a 1.62 ERA, 30 K and 6 BB over 39.0 IP. While his overall strikeouts have been limited thus far this season (6.87 K/9), he did own a 9.04 K/9 in 2013 and we saw a similar “poor” strikeout rate from Gerrit Cole prior to his recall a year ago. There isn’t a major concern in that regard, at least not yet. He has consistently shown a good walk rate (2.51 BB/9 since 2011), though the groundball rate also hasn’t been overly impressive (42.1% in ’14, 42.9% since ’11).
It’s a solid makeup, though maybe unspectacular, but he needs to get the strikeouts back up if he really wants to excel. The Pirates rotation appears to be getting healthy, so Kingham’s arrival doesn’t appear to be as imminent as it once did. Still, it would be surprising if he doesn’t get an opportunity at some point in the near future as the Pirates are squarely in the playoff race.
3) Alex Meyer – Minnesota Twins – Starting Pitcher (5)
If he was consistently able to pound the strike zone, chances are Meyer would already be up in the Majors. He has 103 K over 89.1 IP at Triple-A this season, Ricky Nolasco is injured and the Twins rotation in general has been a disaster once again. Unfortunately for Meyer he owns a 4.33 BB/9, including 8 BB over his past 12.0 IP. He had shown signs of improving, with a 3.16 mark in June, but the recent regression may have delayed his arrival a little bit longer.
Finding a pitcher with his type of strikeout upside is difficult, and while he was limited to 78.1 innings in 2013 he was at 129.0 in 2012 so there should be plenty of innings to work with (89.1 thus far in ’14). He owns a career 10.38 K/9 and 50.0% groundball rate (44.8% in 2014), showing just how good he could be. Any young pitcher is going to bring risk with him, but the strikeouts alone are going to make him appealing.
4) Joc Pederson – Los Angeles Dodgers – Outfielder (10)
There are two questions facing Pederson:
- Can he make consistent contact?
- Where is he going to play?
Is a 26.1% strikeout rate since returning from the Triple-A DL enough to convince us? Not quite, though with his power/speed combination there’s enough to overlook the potentially poor average. The bigger issue is definitely where he’s going to play, as the Dodgers already have four outfielders for three spots. However, the majority of their outfield has a history of health issues and the team could try to jettison at least one of them (namely Andre Ethier) to open up payroll flexibility somewhere else or even trade Pederson with an eye towards the 2014 World Series. There’s just too much upside not to like Pederson, and the Dodgers proved last year that they will find a way to fit someone into the mix.
5) Maikel Franco – Philadelphia Phillies – Third Baseman (NR)
We’ve been waiting all season for him to start producing and, when the calendar turned to July, it suddenly appeared to click (.390/.419/.707). He’s not just getting hits, but hitting for extra bases (6 doubles, 2 triples and 1 home run) and driving in runs (11 RBI). With the Phillies seemingly prepared to look towards the future, there’s a good chance they try to fit him into the lineup if he continues this resurgence.
He’s consistently shown a good sense of the strike zone, even while struggling, as he hasn’t posted a strikeout rate above 19.1% in any month this season. The power hasn’t been there, which is disappointing after smashing 31 HR a year ago, part of which is due to a decreased fly ball rate (23.5% OFB through the end of last week), but with the improved numbers you have to think it’s coming. Now may be the perfect time to stash him and hope he can make an impact in August.
6) Archie Bradley – Arizona Diamondbacks – Starting Pitcher (3)
Bradley has pitched alright since returning to the mound, as his 1.47 ERA in four starts at Double-A is extremely misleading. Over 18.1 innings he has just 9 K vs. 13 BB, while also allowing 14 H. That’s an awful lot of base runners and it’s pretty obvious that his ERA is more based on luck than anything. We all know he’s better than that, though his control has always been a question hanging over him given a career 4.79 BB/9 (and a 4.09 mark last season). He needs to improve in that regard if he wants to be able to make an impact in 2014.
The Diamondbacks are looking towards the future, so they could look to get him a few starts in the Majors in order to get him accustomed to what he might face in 2015 and beyond. However, with what he’s doing right now there’s a good chance that won’t come until September. It’s possible, if he starts to show a little bit, that it could come sooner than that but that remains to be seen.
7) Jake Lamb – Arizona Diamondbacks – Third Baseman (6)
The potential rebuild of the Diamondbacks is likely soon going to become a reality, and if the team follows through with trading Aaron Hill or Martin Prado (or both) it could be Lamb who gets an opportunity (though also could use the opportunity to squeeze Did Gregorius, Nick Ahmed & Chris Owing into the lineup). He’s been an extra base machine this season, especially in June (11 doubles, 4 triples and 4 home runs). After a slow start (.244 in April) he put up marks of .321 and .368 the next two months, and is well on his way again in July.
It is a sizable jump from Double-A to the Majors, so it’s possible the Diamondbacks give him some experience at Triple-A before bringing him up. Regardless, he’s one of the more promising bats who could arrive in the Majors before September.
8) Anthony Ranaudo – Boston Red Sox – Starting Pitcher (NR)
The Red Sox are starting to look towards the future, and they’ve already started evaluating numerous youngsters at the Major League level. With rumors running rampant that they could jettison one of their veteran starters, it could give Ranaudo an opportunity to show his stuff next.
In 112.1 IP thus far at Triple-A he owns a 2.64 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 7.61 K/9 and 3.61 BB/9. He doesn’t generate many groundballs (37.4%), so why exactly would an AL pitcher with this type of makeup excite us at all? He has shown more strikeout potential than this in the past, including a 10.05 K/9 in April this season and an 8.1 K/9 at Double-A (28 starts). He also has better control, and has corrected the issue of late with a 2.34 BB/9 in June and 1.64 mark in July.
Is that enough? Perhaps, though it remains to be seen. There will likely be some growing pains, though there’s enough to consider him in the deepest of formats.
9) Jon Gray – Colorado Rockies – Starting Pitcher (7)
The options for the Rockies’ rotation continue to dwindle, or fail miserably. They have already used 13 different starters, including inspiring names like Jair Jurrjens, Yohan Flande and Christian Bergman. Brian Anderson and Eddie Butler are nearing returns, but there is little question that they still need help.
Gray has significant upside, but he also comes with significant risk (as any pitcher who would call Coors Field home would). He brings strikeouts and control, though the former has taken a step back upon reaching Double-A this season (8.25 K/9). He also doesn’t generate a lot of groundballs (38.5% for his minor league career), and we all know the more fly balls in Coors Field the more trouble a pitcher is susceptible to.
It’s not to say that Gray isn’t worth owning or that he can’t succeed, but there’s going to be a lot of risk when he does arrive.
10) Robert Refsnyder – New York Yankees – Second Baseman (8)
Is he a second baseman or is he an outfielder? From a fantasy perspective it shouldn’t really matter. What we care about is that he can hit, and thus far he’s shown no signs of slowing down. Between Double and Triple-A he’s slashed .333/.403/.547, with 25 doubles, 6 triples and 12 HR. He’s added 8 SB, but having been caught 8 times that can’t be seen as a strong point for him.
It’s important to note that, even in Yankee Stadium, there has to be concern regarding if he can bring big power or not. Over his minor league career he owns just a 27.9% OFB, so favorable locale or not it’s going to be hard to post big power numbers (at Triple-A he owns a 22.2% HR/OFB, which is likely unsustainable). He does make good contact, but his average this season is also buoyed by a .383 BABIP.
Does anyone really believe that Brian Roberts can stay healthy (or produce big numbers for that matter)? How about fitting into the outfield, where Alfonso Soriano has been jettisoned, Ichiro Suzuki is nearing the end of the line and Carlos Beltran seems unable to stay on the field? Regardless of where they see him fitting in, it’s obvious that he should get an opportunity. Is he going to be an ultra-productive option, however? That remains to be seen, but he could easily be in New York before too long.
Others Considered: Micah Johnson (2B. Chicago White Sox), Michael Foltynewicz (SP, Houston), Kris Bryant (3B, Chicago Cubs), Noah Syndergaard (SP, New York Mets), Matt Wisler (SP, San Diego Padres), Domingo Santana (OF, Houston Astros), Javier Baez (SS, Chicago Cubs)
- Jimmy Nelson – Milwaukee Bewers – Starting Pitcher (1)
- Arismendy Alcantara – Chicago Cubs – Second Baseman (2)
Fell Off The List:
- Javier Baez – Chicago Cubs – Shortstop (10) – With Alcantara raking and Baez continuing to struggle to find his footing (.227 with 13 K in 44 July AB), Baez could easily spend the year at Triple-A
Sources – MILB.com, MLB.com, Minor League Central, Baseball Reference, Fangraphs
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