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 and all statistics are through Monday unless otherwise notes):
1) Carlos Correa – Shortstop – Houston Astros (1)
Entering play on Tuesday the Astros’ division lead had shrunk to 4.0 games over the Angels, so you know the pressure is building to make a move. Unfortunately for the team Correa has picked the wrong time to get ice cold, hitting .139 over his past 10 games (5-36) and posting a line of .241/.307/.430 while at Triple-A. If he was hitting at all we’d likely see him over Jonathan Villar/Marwin Gonzalez already and it may not take much from him in the minors to get recalled. As it is there are positives, despite the struggles:
- Strikeout Rate – 13.6%
- Walk Rate – 9.1%
- Line Drive Rate – 19.1% (league average is 19.9%)
Those three things put together shows the potential for further upside. It still shouldn’t be long before he joins Houston, so stay patient and wait to reap the rewards.
2) Byron Buxton – Outfielder – Minnesota Twins (2)
Minnesota centerfielders own a league worst .299 SLG this season and Aaron Hicks hasn’t been the answer (.259/.295/.328 over 58 AB). Buxton, meanwhile, has apparently found his footing after getting off to a slow start. He finished May hitting .277 with 4 HR (as well as 5 doubles and 9 triples) and 7 SB and we all know is one of the premier prospects in the game. It really should be just a matter of time, especially with the Twins in the thick of the AL Central. As we’ve said before, there’s value in having Buxton exposed to Torii Hunter for as long as possible (as you would think that’s one of the reasons the veteran was acquired).
3) Andrew Heaney – Starting Pitcher – Los Angeles Angels (5)
Heaney debuted in the Majors with the Marlins in 2014 and it’s only a matter of time before the Angels give him an opportunity this season. While Heaney struggled in his last outing (7 ER over 5.1 IP), he owns a 3.86 ERA, 8.20 K/9, 2.09 BB/9 and 48.4% groundball rate overall. He owns a 21.4% line drive rate, so it’s easy to say that he’s struggled with some poor luck (.358 BABIP) helping to explain his 1.41 WHIP (and slightly elevated ERA as well). There’s no obvious spot for him as of yet, but Matt Shoemaker has been unimpressive and could get bumped from the rotation before long.
4) Adam Duvall – Third Baseman – San Francisco Giants (NR)
Matt Duffy made a splash early, but as expected he has significantly slowed down of late (.174 with 1 HR over his past 7 games). Sure he brings some speed (20+ SB each of the past two seasons) and an ability to make contact, but he’s hardly a long-term solution. Duvall, on the other hand, could become a middle of the order presence.
While he’s also seen time at 1B (14) and in the outfielder (5), he’s played 31 games at 3B at Triple-A this season hitting .294 with 12 HR in 201 AB. He did struggle in May, with a .252 average, but a lot of that was due to poor luck (23.5% line drive rate, .278 BABIP). He was also extremely lucky in April (25.8% line drive rate, .417 BABIP), so the overall number may be a good expectation. He certainly has power (19.7% HR/OFB since ’11), the question is going to be making contact at the highest level (22.9% strikeout rate in ’15, 26.0% in the Majors in ’14). It’s something to watch, but as soon as the team is ready to move on from Duffy it should be Duvall and his power potential getting the opportunity.
5) Zach Lee – Starting Pitcher – Los Angeles Dodgers (10)
There was a thought that he could make his MLB debut on Tuesday, with the team having a double header, but it wasn’t to be. That said his debut shouldn’t be far off, as there remains to be questions at the back end of the Dodgers rotation.
In 10 starts (56.2 IP) Lee has posted an impressive 2.38 ERA and 1.09 WHIP despite pitching in the Pacific Coast League. However he’s done it without strikeouts (6.99 K/9) or a big-time groundball rate (43.1%). Instead it’s been control (1.91 BB/9) and limiting the home runs (0.64 HR/9), though the latter has been an issues at times in the past (1.08 in ’14). There’s name appeal and potential, but without a big-time strikeout rate there are likely other pitchers we’d prefer to gamble on.
6) Jose Berrios – Starting Pitcher – Minnesota Twins (NR)
You have to wonder how long the Twins will stick with the likes of Trevor May (5.07 ERA) and Ricky Nolasco (5.51 ERA) at the back of their rotation. With Berrios being one of the elite pitching prospects in the game, it certainly makes sense for the team to consider bringing him to the Majors.
Thus far he has thrived at Double-A (prior to a poor outing yesterday), with a 2.84 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 9.95 K/9 and 2.42 BB/9 over 63.1 IP. The latter go along with his career marks (9.54 and 2.64, respectively) and he’s also shown an improved groundball rate (45.0%). What exactly is there not to like in those numbers? With little at Triple-A that could make an immediate impact (given the struggles of Alex Meyer, necessitating a move to the bullpen, and Tommy Milone now up) it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 21-year old Berrios get a shot. The longer the team is in the race the more important it’s going to be to get their most talented players to the Majors. There’s no question that Berrios is among them, though the need for a move on the 40 man roster could delay things.
7) Corey Seager – Shortstop – Los Angeles Dodgers (NR)
We all know he’s among the elite prospects in the game, the question is where he fits in the Major Leagues. Could he ultimately fill the third base job over Alex Guerrero and Justin Turner? Could he replace the underperforming Jimmy Rollins at SS? Regardless of which spot, he could quickly force the team’s hand and should be considered closer than Hector Olivera.
After a slow start at Triple-A he’s now slashing .292/.339/.442 and is hitting .326 with 8 HR and 30 RBI in 193 AB overall this season. While he hasn’t drawn many walks (5.4%), it’s hard to argue against his 15.3% strikeout rate (it did “jump” to 17.1% at Triple-A) and a 23.1% line drive rate. He also continues to show his maturing power, with a 19.5% HR/OFB. With Rollins already losing his spot atop the Dodgers’ order, there’s the possibility that he loses his job all together. It’s hard to consider Seager’s promotion imminent, but he needs to be on radars in case an injury happens or the team loses it’s patience.
8) Micah Johnson – Second Baseman – Chicago White Sox (9)
Carlos Sanchez continues to struggle since being given an opportunity to claim the White Sox’ second base job (.217 over his past seven games). Considering Johnson wasn’t that bad while in the Majors (.270) and is performing well at Triple-A (.286/.380/.405 with 3 SB over 42 AB, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when he returns to the Majors.
9) Vincent Velasquez – Starting Pitcher – Houston Astros (NR)
He got a late start to the season, debuting on May 8, but since he stepped onto a mound he has been dynamite. In five starts at Double-A (26.1 IP) he owns a 1.37 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 37 K and 9 BB. With 91 K over 64.0 IP in ’14 there is no question that he belongs on all radars given the potential he can bring in that department. He also may be the next up, once the Astros feel that they have a need at the back of the rotation and should get the opportunity before Mark Appel.
10) Aaron Nola – Starting Pitcher – Philadelphia Phillies (6)
With the Phillies moving into rebuilding mode, bringing up Maikel Franco and moving Cody Asche to LF (leading to the release of Grady Sizemore), the spotlight is starting to move to the starting pitchers and the idea of getting some of their prospects up. That’s what happens when you are using guys like Shaun O’Sullivan (4.81), Jerome Williams (5.49) and Severino Gonzalez (6.88) at the back of the rotation.
You can argue that Ben Lively could arrive first, but no one will argue that Nola doesn’t have the higher upside. In 10 starts this season he’s allowed more than 2 ER just twice and more than 3 ER once (4 ER in his first start of the season). While he hasn’t shown big-time strikeouts yet, in 120.0 innings in the minors he’s gotten the job done with pinpoint control (1.28 BB/9). That’s certainly hard to ignore (though home runs could become an issue).
Brian Johnson – Starting Pitcher – Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox appear primed to give Eduardo Rodriguez a shot in their rotation, likely at the expensive of Joe Kelly. There are other issues, like Rick Porcello (5.37 ERA) and Wade Miley (4.97 ERA), though it’s harder to imagine them being removed at this point. However Johnson could force their hands, with his 2.60 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.27 K/9 and 2.77 BB/9 at Triple-A. While Boston is currently in last place in the AL East, no one is running away with the division and the team can hardly afford to give away games.
Fell off the Rankings:
- Jon Singleton – First Baseman – Houston Astros (4)
- Hector Olivera – Third Baseman – Los Angeles Dodgers (7)
- Matt Reynolds – Shortstop – New York Mets (8)
Others We’re Watching:
- Dylan Bundy – Starting Pitcher – Baltimore Orioles
- Francisco Lindor – Shortstop – Cleveland Indians
- Ben Lively – Starting Pitcher – Philadelphia Phillies
- Steven Matz – Starting Pitcher – New York Mets
- Daniel Norris – Starting Pitcher – Toronto Blue Jays
- Jose Peraza – Second Baseman – Atlanta Braves
- Dalton Pompey – Outfielder – Toronto Blue Jays
- Miguel Sano – Third Baseman – Minnesota Twins
- Luis Severino – Starting Pitcher – New York Yankees
- Rob Refsnyder – Second Baseman – New York Yankees
- Matt Wisler – Starting Pitcher – Atlanta Braves
- Eduardo Rodriguez – Starting Pitcher – Boston Red Sox (3)