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 – Outfielder (1)
At this point what does Betts really have left to prove in the minors? Every time he is returned to Triple-A, after a fruitless tenure with the Red Sox, he simply picks up right where he left off. In his last 10 games (through Saturday) he was hitting .349 with 7 RBI, 7 R and 3 SB putting him at .328 with 5 HR, 31 RBI, 31 R and 11 SB in 180 AB at the level.
One of the biggest breakout prospects of the year, you continue to wonder why they won’t give him the opportunity to prove that he’s ready to contribute in 2015. It’s become crystal clear that Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t the answer in centerfield and Brock Holt has started coming back down to earth (.232 in 26 games since the All-Star Break). Betts offers the highest upside of the three and could become a fixture with Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig on either side of him (of course, he also could be used as trade bait in the offseason).
(Note: Betts was promoted to Boston after these rankings were written)
2) Jorge Soler – Chicago Cubs – Outfielder (2)
After tearing the cover off the baseball initially at Triple-A, he’s finally stumbled a bit. Over his last 10 games (through Saturday) he’s hitting .216 and has gone eight straight games without a home run. Of course, across three levels he’s still slashing .337/.430/.692 so you could easily argue that he was due for some type of a regression.
The Cubs are a team clearly looking towards 2015 and beyond, so it’s simply just a matter of when they want to show the world the next piece of their future (they’ve already promoted Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez this season). With Chris Coughlan, Justin Ruggiano and Ryan Sweeney regularly seeing AB out there, you’d have to think it wouldn’t be long. There’s no questioning Soler’s upside, as injuries have been the only thing that’s really slowed him down.
3) Alex Guerrero – Los Angeles Dodgers – Second Baseman (NR)
On the surface it appears like there’s no place for Guerrero to fit into the Dodgers lineup, but right now they are using a left side of the infield featuring Justin Turner (with Juan Uribe on the DL) and Miguel Rojas. Guerrero has seen a handful of games at both SS (6 games) and 3B (4 games) in the minors this season and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team try to get another look at him at either spot now.
There hasn’t been a question about his bat, slashing .314/.356/.557 in 53 games at Triple-A with 11 HR and 34 RBI. Would we like to see a few more walks? With only 10 that’s about the only argument we can make against him. The question is simply where the Dodgers are going to play him, since Dee Gordon has entrenched himself at 2B, but the injuries on the left side should get him an opportunity before long. At the least he’ll be a September callup, but could be up sooner.
4) Joc Pederson – Los Angeles Dodgers – Outfielder (5)
We all know his story at this point and simply continue to wait to see how things will ultimately play out. Through Saturday he’s hitting .301 with 29 HR and 28 SB, hitting home runs in three straight games from August 12 through 14. Considering that he’s actually posted a higher slugging percentage against LHP (.623) as compared to RHP (.544), it’s hard to point to that.
It’s really just a question of when the Dodgers decide they will find playing time in centerfield for him, but it may not be much longer now. Like with Guerrero, at worst he’ll be up in September.
5) Taijuan Walker – Seattle Mariners – Starting Pitcher (6)
After a disastrous two start stretch Walker has settled back in over his past two outings, allowing 2 ER on 5 H and 4 BB, striking out 22, over 13.0 IP. While his overall Triple-A ERA is less than stellar, with a 4.09 ERA, he owns a 1.17 WHIP. The problem has been home runs (1.48 HR/9), though it’s also the PCL.
The Mariners are in the heat of a significant race for the Wild Card and they aren’t about to leave one of their best weapons at Triple-A if there’s a need. Roenis Elias, James Paxton and Chris Young (despite what he’s done) are hardly guarantees at the back end of the rotation. If Walker is producing he’s going to force his way into the Major League rotation.
6) Daniel Norris – Toronto Blue Jays – Starting Pitcher (NR)
The Blue Jays are on record that Norris isn’t far from arriving in the Majors, the question is going to be whether he gets an opportunity to start or if he will work out of the bullpen. He’s certainly made a statement in his past two starts, which also were his first two at Triple-A, posting a 0.77 ERA, 0.51 WHIP, 23 K and 1 BB over 11.2 IP.
On the season he owns a highly impressive strikeout-to-walk rate of 148-to-36, over 113.2 IP, across three levels. Couple that with a 2.22 ERA and 1.08 WHIP and what’s not to like? One concern is going to be an innings limit, having thrown just 90.2 innings last season. How much over 120 is the team prepared to let him go? Time will ultimately tell, but with strikeouts, control and a groundball rate north of 40% he has the mix that could thrive.
As we said it remains to be seen how far the Blue Jays are willing to push him, but he has the potential to be worth grabbing in all formats if the team opts to let him start. In keeper leagues, stashing him now makes a ton of sense.
7) Maikel Franco – Philadelphia Phillies – Third Baseman (4)
If Franco could ever get things going on a consistent basis, he’d likely unseat Cody Asche and get an opportunity to prove he could be the third baseman of the future. All talk out of Philadelphia is about balancing current wins with evaluating players for the future. Sooner or later evaluation has to win out and at this point we have a pretty good idea of what Asche is.
Unfortunately Franco has failed to build on his breakout 2013 season and simply hasn’t been able to maintain continued success. It looked like he had started to figure things out in July (.343/.371/.596), but he’s quickly fallen back on hard times in August (.233/.233/.383). He’s simply not giving the Phillies a reason to promote him, though we’d still expect him to get an opportunity in September at the latest. The biggest concern has been a swift decline in his outfield fly ball rate (23.6%), making it impossible for him to hit for much power. The average struggles have been more due to poor luck (.267 BABIP) and isn’t as big of a concern.
8) Andrew Heaney – Miami Marlins – Starting Pitcher (7)
We all know Heaney struggled in his first taste of the Major Leagues (6.53 ERA, 1.45 WHIP), but he owns an overall 3.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP between Double and Triple-A this season. Throw in 120 K vs. 26 BB over 112.1 IP and exactly what is there not to like? If you really want to split hairs we’d love to see a groundball rate greater than 43.6%, but he’s also going to pitch half his games in Miami.
There’s little doubt that Heaney gets another chance in 2014, as the team eyes a serious run in 2015. The only thing that could stop him is an innings limit, as he’s already thrown 133.0 innings this season (95.1 in ’13). We’ll have to wait and see just how long the team is willing to push him.
9) Anthony Ranaudo – Boston Red Sox – Starting Pitcher (8)
He’s 2-0 in the Majors, but hasn’t been given more than a spot start thus far. That should change before long, as the Red Sox try to evaluate as many of their young starters as possible to gauge what they need for 2015. Of course, his Triple-A K/9 of 7.40 and BB/9 of 3.49 leave a little bit to be desired. He also isn’t a ground ball machine, with a 36.3%, so there’s going to be questions about his overall upside. Still, the opportunity is going to be there which keeps him on our radars.
10) Matt Reynolds – New York Mets – Shortstop (NR)
Any Martino of the New York Daily News (click here for the article) recently published the following:
Las Vegas teammates are impressed by out-of-nowhere infield prospect Matt Reynolds, with some saying he is both a better hitter and fielder than Ruben Tejada. Added one rival evaluator, comparing Reynolds to Wilmer Flores at short: “Better hands, comparable range.”
Ruben Tejada has been in the dog house since the offseason and we all know that Wilmer Flores can’t handle shortstop defensively. The Mets are going to be in the market for a shortstop upgrade this offseason, but it would make sense to get an idea of Reynolds can actually handle the role (saving limited finances to be used on other upgrades). Obviously he’s not as good as his .345 average indicates (.424 BABIP this season), but he’s hit the ball hard (24.8% line drive rate) and made good contact (19.0%). With 6 HR and 13 SB he’s not going to be an extremely enticing prospect, but one to keep an eye on.
Others Considered: Micah Johnson (2B. Chicago White Sox), Christian Walker (1B, Baltimore), Dariel Alvarez (OF, Baltimore), Noah Syndergaard (SP, New York Mets), Jon Gray (SP, Colorado), Nick Kingham (SP, Pittsburgh), Henry Owens (SP, Boston)
- Rafael Montero – New York Mets – Starting Pitcher (3)
Dropped Out Of Rankings:
- Archie Bradley – Arizona Diamondbacks – Starting Pitcher (9)
- Francisco Lindor – Cleveland Indians – Shortstop (10)
Sources – Minor League Baseball, Fangraphs, Minor League Central, Baseball Reference, MLB.com
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