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) Jorge Soler – Chicago Cubs – Outfielder (2)
There’s been a bit of an adjustment for Soler at Triple-A, though we also know that he was playing over his head at the lower levels. Still, a slash of .262/.356/.563 is respectable in 103 AB and we all know he’s part of the future plans for the Cubs. They’ve already shown us Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez, and there’s a good chance Soler joins the duo come September.
He’s shown a good eye at the plate all season long, with a 13.6% walk rate. Maybe his Triple-A average is more believable, and the power will likely regress (25.0% HR/FB), but there’s more than enough upside to like. He is a lesser talent than Pederson, long-term, but he’s more likely to get regular AB in September.
(Update – It’s now been reported that Soler will be recalled and join the Cubs)
2) Rusney Castillo – Boston Red Sox – Outfielder (NR)
Freshly signed to a record breaking contract, it’s hard to imagine the Red Sox not giving Castillo a look come September (though he could get a few AB in the minors before arriving in Boston). It’s going to be interesting to see how the team allocates playing time, with Mookie Betts also in the mix, but it appears crystal clear that Castillo is going to be in the team’s starting outfielder come April 2015.
He’s thought of as more of a speed option, though reports are that he showed a bit of pop in his showcase and could conceivably produce similar numbers to Brett Gardner (if not better). We actually took a look at Castillo back in July, which you can read by clicking here.
3) Joc Pederson – Los Angeles Dodgers – Outfielder (4)
The talk is that Pederson will be up around September 1, though bringing him up earlier than that makes much more sense for the team. Remember, if he’s not up before then he’s not eligible for the postseason. While the team has gotten by in centerfield thus far, they won’t need as deep of a pitching staff for the playoffs and, at the very least, Pederson could offer a late inning defensive upgrade in the playoffs.
While strikeouts are a concern, that’s about the only negative anyone can point to. He’s hit 32 HR with 30 SB in 422 AB on the season, while also proving he can hit against southpaws (.301/.423/.609). Sure he may not be a .300+ hitter, given his inflated BABIP, but his power and speed combination are extremely hard to find. Even if he can hit .260ish, with that type of ability he’s a must own option in all formats. Don’t be surprised if he’s recalled in the next few days and he could easily force his way into the everyday lineup before long.
4) Maikel Franco – Philadelphia Phillies – Third Baseman (7)
The season has been a bitter disappoint for Franco, who was expected to make an impact in the Majors by now. Unfortunately he’s struggled mightily as he adjusted to Triple-A, though his problems could now be behind him. Since the All-Star Break he’s slashed .308/.320/.541, with 8 HR and 27 RBI over 37 games.
He’s continued to show an ability to make contact, with a 15.0% strikeout rate on the season. He’s also heating back up, including hitting for the cycle on Saturday (4-4, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R), and had four multi-hit games from August 19-23. It’s becoming crystal clear that Cody Asche may not be a long-term answer, and neither is Ryan Howard. It makes sense for the team to let Franco get his feet wet this season, with an eye towards him entering 2015 comfortable and ready to produce.
5) Alex Guerrero – Los Angeles Dodgers – Second Baseman (3)
Like Pederson, expectations are that Guerrero will join the Dodgers in September. Also like Pederson, there’s a major question as to where exactly he’ll play. That said, Dee Gordon has “struggled” a bit in August, hitting .265. Of course he’s still stolen 9 bases, but since April/May he really hasn’t made the biggest impact in that regard (34 SB over the first two months, 23 total since). He may not be quite as locked into playing time as we may perceive, especially with a second half OBP of just .305.
Guerrero, meanwhile, is slashing .329/.365/.594 at Triple-A this season. He obviously doesn’t offer the speed upside of Gordon (just 4 SB), but he offers more pop with 29 extra base hits in 219 AB. It’s certainly not impossible that he ultimately takes the job for himself before the year is out.
6) Taijuan Walker – Seattle Mariners – Starting Pitcher (5)
With the Mariners in the thick of the AL Wild Card race there is little doubt that Walker will return in September (if not sooner). Whether he’s going to be utilized as a starter or reliever, however, is a different question. However, the Mariners are hardly solidified at the back of the rotation with Chris Young showing signs of a regression (something we’ve all been waiting for) and James Paxton and Roenis Elias, a pair of rookies, holding down spots. You would think they’d need Walker, at some point, and he has as much potential as any of their alternatives.
Walker has been getting things going of late, with 29 K over 19.0 IP in a three start span. It’s just a matter of time before he gets his opportunity, because the Mariners aren’t in position to let any game slip away. Given his upside, there’s an awful lot to like.
7) Randal Grichuk – St. Louis Cardinals – Outfielder (NR)
As Oscar Taveras continues to flounder a bit in the Majors, slashing .238/.279/.314 in 54 games (though he has shown signs recently), the Cardinals may not be able to stick with him too much longer. The Cardinals are battling for a Wild Card spot and simply can’t afford to have any “empty” spots in their lineup.
Grichuk has been impressive at Triple-A, hitting .265 with 25 HR, 70 RBI, 73 R and 8 SB over 463 AB. Yes the numbers have come in the PCL, but he showed both power (40 HR) and speed (25 SB) over the past two seasons as he rose through the Angels’ system. He’s been particularly hot in August, slashing .270/.320/.506, and has 13 HR between July & August. At this point it’s just simply a matter of when the Cardinals decide it’s time to make a change.
8) Rafael Montero – New York Mets – Starting Pitcher (NR)
It’s easy to get caught up in the Noah Syndergaard hype, while ignoring the gaudy numbers he’s put up at Triple-A (partly due to injuries). However, all signs point towards the Mets not recalling him when rosters expand for September. According to Mike Puma of the New York Post (click here for the article):
“Syndergaard is expected to get two more regular-season starts for Las Vegas — the second of which will be abbreviated — before the Pacific Coast League playoffs begin. How far Las Vegas goes in the postseason will have a say in Syndergaard’s potential September call-up.”
Montero, however, finally had a strong start in the Majors before being returned to Triple-A and seems like a given to return in September (or earlier should Bartolo Colon be traded).
9) Andrew Heaney – Miami Marlins – Starting Pitcher (8)
Brad Hand owns a 4.82 ERA in 12 starts, including allowing 4 ER over 4.1 IP on Sunday. That could lead to the team giving Heaney another look, despite is struggles in the Majors earlier in the season. He brings strikeouts (9.65 K/9 in ’14), control (2.23 BB/9 in ’14) and a favorable home ballpark to the table, certainly making him an attractive option. How many innings the team allows him to throw is going to be the biggest question (125.0 in ’14, 95.1 in ’13), so keep that in mind before assuming he’s going to make the biggest impact the rest of the way.
10) Daniel Norris – Toronto Blue Jays – Starting Pitcher (6)
The Blue Jays have pushed him and it hasn’t slowed him down one bit (3-0, 1.08 ERA, 32 K over his first 16.2 IP). The team has said that there’s a good chance he’s in the Majors this season, the question is going to be if he starts or comes out of the bullpen. With 118.2 IP, after throwing just 90.2 innings in 2013, it would appear likely that it’s going to be a relief role. It’s a shame, but the outside shot of him starting keeps him squarely on these rankings.
Others Considered: 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), Anthony Ranaudo (SP, Boston), Matt Reynolds (SS, New York Mets)
- Mookie Betts – Boston Red Sox – Outfielder (1)
Dropped From Rankings:
- Anthony Ranaudo – Boston Red Sox – Starting Pitcher (9)
- Matt Reynolds – New York Mets – Shortstop (10)
Sources – Minor League Baseball, Fangraphs, Minor League Central, Baseball Reference, MLB.com
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