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 their ranking from last week):
1) Kris Bryant – Third Baseman – Chicago Cubs (1)
We continue to wait for Bryant to arrive in Chicago, but at this point it shouldn’t be very long. Over his first five games at Triple-A all he has done is hit .381 with 2 HR and 2 SB. Granted, he has struck out 6 times in 21 AB so the Cubs could use that as an excuse to keep him in the minors if they wanted to. It’s something we are going to have to watch, because that is the biggest question and if he can’t make consistent contact the power isn’t going to matter (and you expect the strikeouts to rise in the Majors). With a 28.6% strikeout rate in 297 PA at Triple-A last season, it’s a fair concern.
2) Carlos Rodon – Starting Pitcher – Chicago White Sox (3)
We talked about Rodon and his first start of the season at Triple-A yesterday (click here to view), so make sure to check that out. The bottom line was that he was working on his changeup, which he left up in the zone way too often. While he can be successful with just his fastball/slider, the development of that third pitch could make him borderline elite immediately. The White Sox will likely keep him down until he refines the pitch a little more, but the pitch has shown promise already and it shouldn’t be long until he arrives.
3) Yasmany Tomas – Third Baseman/Outfielder – Arizona Diamondbacks (4)
He played RF in his first four Triple-A games, so maybe the Diamondbacks have settled on a position for him. Once he proves he can handle the position (any position really) he should arrive in Arizona. He’s started the year hitting .235 with 1 HR (as well as a double) and 3 RBI. Defense… Defense… Defense… That’s still the key question.
4) Addison Russell – Shortstop – Chicago Cubs (NR)
How much does he really have left to prove in the minors? He’s gotten off to a fast start (.318 with 1 HR over 22 AB) after hitting .295 with 13 HR in 258 AB last season (mostly at Double-A). Unlike many Cubs prospects he has proven much more capable of making consistent contact (0 K this season, 17.1% last season). The team has questions at both 2B and 3B and, while Kris Bryant is expected to assume 3B duties, it could be Russell that comes up to man 2B before long (over Javier Baez). Considering the team finished the opening week of the season hitting .200 (sixth worst in the league) and scoring just 18 R, the move to the younger players could come sooner rather than later.
5) Rusney Castillo – Outfielder – Boston Red Sox (2)
Shane Victorino has predictably gotten off to a slow start, hitting .100 through Monday. That should mean that Castillo returns to the Majors before long, but he consistently seems to be battling some type of ailment. According to Peter Abraham (via Twitter):
“Rusney Castillo jammed his shoulder making a catch on Saturday. Out of the lineup today.”
While the injury isn’t thought to be serious, he has landed on the minor league DL and that has got to drop him down this rankings a few spots. Also it was an injury that likely cost him a chance of breaking camp with the Red Sox. When he returns he should be a tremendous option, just hope that he can stay on the field for an extended period of time.
6) Andrew Heaney – Starting Pitcher – Los Angeles Angels (5)
He looked great in his first Triple-A start of the season, tossing 7.0 shutout innings allowing 2 H and 0 BB while striking out 8. With Drew Rucinski apparently getting the first turn as the fifth starter, it likely won’t be long until Heaney joins the Major League team and gets his opportunity.
7) Byron Buxton – Outfielder – Minnesota Twins (6)
Maybe the missed time has had more of an impact on Buxton than expected, as struck out 9 times over his first 19 AB at Double-A (he did follow that up with a 4-for-6 day, though). It’s an extremely small sample size, obviously, so no one is going to push the panic button quite yet. The team clearly has a need in CF, with Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson currently sharing time out there. They are likely going to give Buxton as much time as he needs, so that could mean we see Eddie Rosario or Aaron Hicks to help bridge the gap until Buxton is deemed ready. Arguably the premier prospect in the game, it really shouldn’t take too long.
8) Jose Berrios – Starting Pitcher – Minnesota Twins (NR)
While Alex Meyer continues to struggle with his control (6 BB over 5.0 IP in his first start of Triple-A of the year), Berrios starred at Double-A by allowing 1 ER on 6 H and 1 BB, striking out 11, over 6.1 innings of work. Quickly emerging as one of the top starting pitching prospects in the game, the Twins have taken a beating in their rotation with the suspension of Ervin Santana and the injury to Ricky Nolasco. The question is going to be how quickly they want to push the 20-year old, but with Tommy Milone, Mike Pelfrey and Trevor May taking up three spots in their rotation it may not be as far off as we think.
9) Maikel Franco – Third Baseman – Philadelphia Phillies (8)
The Ryan Howard watch continues, as his presence will likely keep Franco pinned at Triple-A. Of course Howard has also opened the season 4-24 with 8 K, and the team has proven willing to sit him down before. If his struggles were to last into May, perhaps, could the rebuilding Phillies opt to shake things up? It’ll be tough, because it’s going to be hard to trade Howard’s bloated contract if he’s not good enough to play for your team, but this is Philadelphia we are talking about. Time will tell, but monitor the situation.
10) Francisco Lindor – Shortstop – Cleveland Indians (9)
Jose Ramirez is currently holding down the shortstop spot, until Lindor is deemed ready to contribute to the Major League team. It was a surprise he didn’t get a September look last year and he hasn’t done much early to prove that he’s ready offensively (.133 over his first four games). Obviously no one is going to draw any conclusions off that small of a sample size and his offense has been catching up to his defense.
Dropped off the Rankings:
- Alex Meyer – Starting Pitcher – Minnesota Twins (7)
- Aaron Blair – Starting Pitcher – Arizona Diamondbacks (10)
Others to Watch:
- Hector Olivera – Third Baseman – Los Angeles Dodgers
- Blake Swihart – Catcher – Boston Red Sox
- Jose Peraza – Second Baseman – Atlanta Braves
- Henry Owens – Starting Pitcher – Boston Red Sox
- Marco Gonzales – Starting Pitcher – St. Louis Cardinals
- Noah Syndergaard – Starting Pitcher – New York Mets
- Dylan Bundy – Starting Pitcher – Baltimore Orioles
- Miguel Sano – Third Baseman – Minnesota Twins
Sources – MLB.com, Fangraphs, Minor League Central