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 (please note all stats are through Tuesday):
1) Austin Hays – Outfielder – Baltimore
Hays put up some solid numbers this spring (.351 with 5 HR and 13 RBI), so it was a bit of a surprise that he opens the year back at Triple-A (and the same can be said for Chance Sisco, who no longer qualifies as a prospect and was therefore left off the list). The Orioles clearly need help in terms of talent, and they specifically have a need in the outfield (their Opening Day outfield was Cedric Mullins, Dwight Smith and Joey Rickard). Hays saw time in the Majors back in ’17 and a strong start should lead to his quick return.
2) Forrest Whitley –
Starting Pitcher – Houston Astros
Widely considered the best pitching prospect in the game (and some have referred to him as one of the best pitching prospects they’ve seen), it may be just a matter of time before he forces his way into the rotation. There are going to be questions about how many innings he’ll be able to throw after 26.1 in ’18 (92.1 IP in ’17), so could the Astros limit him early in the year to save those bullets for the later months (or maybe utilize him out of the bullpen)? That’s the only reason he’s not currently sitting atop the rankings, as he has the potential to make the biggest impact of any player on this list.
3) Jonathan Loaisiga
– Starting Pitcher – New York Yankees
He had a chance to claim a spot in the rotation coming out of Spring Training, but he stumbled and lost the spot to Diego German. Throw in the addition of Gio Gonzalez and Loaisiga simply may not have enough time to force the issue and get an opportunity before Luis Severino and CC Sabathia are ready to return. That said the names in the rotation are not a pillar of health and German is hardly a guarantee to thrive in the opportunity currently being given to him. Loaisiga threw 24.2 innings in the Majors last season and could easily get a shot before long.
Update – Loaisiga is set to start today, but it will likely be a one-and-done situation
4) Oscar Mercado – Outfielder – Cleveland
There is no question that the Indians outfield is a disaster, and while they keep signing aging veterans (Cameron Maybin was the latest addition on a minor league deal) you have to wonder if the answer is already sitting in the system. Mercado, acquired from the Cardinals at the ’18 Trade Deadline, combined to hit .278 between two Triple-A teams, showing a good command of the strike zone (8.9% SwStr%, 9.0% walk rate) and plenty of speed (37 SB). With that combination and the team currently using a mish mosh of unimpressive options it may just be a matter of time.
5) Ke’Bryan Hayes –
Third Baseman – Pittsburgh Pirates
Do we fully believe in Jung Ho Kang and his ability to thrive at third base? Hayes did his best to force his way into the discussion this spring, hitting .353 with 3 HR and 12 RBI over 34 AB. His approach has never been a question, including a 5.9% SwStr% at Double-A last season. The issue has been a relative lack of power, though that’s similar to what was said about Josh Bell and we saw him explode in terms of power upon reaching the Majors (though he took a step backwards in his sophomore season). If Kang struggles out of the gate it wouldn’t be shocking to see Hayes get his shot.
6) Justus Sheffield – Starting Pitcher – Seattle
Acquired in the offseason as part of the James Paxton trade, Sheffield should just be biding his time behind a rotation that lacks many trustworthy arms. It’s easy to envision an opportunity arising very quickly, whether it’s the team resting Yusei Kikuchi or if one of their other starters struggles enough to be replaced. Sheffield made his MLB debut last year (2.2 IP) and threw 88.0 inning at Triple-A (2.56 ERA, 1.16 WHIP). He’s going to get an opportunity at some point, and there’s a good chance it comes sooner rather than later.
7) Dylan Cease – Starting Pitcher – Chicago
Do we actually trust any of the pitchers in the Chicago rotation? That alone is going to lead to opportunity, and while Cease doesn’t always get the accolades he’s emerged as one of the best pitching prospects in the game. He hasn’t pitched at Triple-A as of yet, which could delay his arrival, but he did throw 52.1 innings at Double-A to the tune of a 1.72 ERA, 78 K and 22 BB. They have been aggressive with promotions in the past and Cease already has a spot on the 40-man roster, meaning he needs to be on your radar.
8) Mitch Keller – Starting Pitcher –
For now Steven Brault is penciled in as the Pirates’ fifth starter, but how long will that last? Typically very conservative with their top prospects, Keller made 10 starts at Triple-A last season (52.1 IP). Both his control (3.78 BB/9) and groundball stuff (33.1%) took a step backwards during his time there, but that shouldn’t alter his outlook. It may not be long before he gets his shot at filling the back of the Pirates’ rotation.
9) Griffin Canning – Starting Pitcher – Los
The Angels always seem to be searching for help in the rotation and with news Andrew Heaney’s issue may be more serious than initially thought is going to lead to significant concerns (though it appears like it could’ve been worse). The team is already looking towards Felix Pena and Chris Stratton at the back of the rotation and it’s not like the Top 3 are world beaters. Enter Canning, a second round pick in 2017 who already has spent time at Double-A (1.97 ERA over 45.2 IP) and Triple-A (5.49 ERA over 59.0 IP). The ERA at the highest level wasn’t impressive, but he also struggled with poor luck (.376 BABIP, 67.8% strand rate). For a team with an eye towards winning now, don’t be surprised to see Canning get an opportunity before long.
10) Luis Urias –
Second Baseman – San Diego Padres
The Padres shocked everyone when they made the decision to have Fernando Tatis open the year as their starting shortstop, giving Urias a ticket to Triple-A. Of course Urias has a questionable offensive outlook, after he hit .208 with 2 HR and 1 SB over 48 AB in the Majors and didn’t show much power (8 HR) or speed (2 SB) over 450 AB at Triple-A. The opportunity is going to come, though it’s hard to get very excited about his “upside”.
Others to Keep an eye on:
- Kyle Tucker – Outfielder – Houston Astros – He’s one of the better prospects in the game, but where does he fit?
- Touki Toussaint – Starting Pitcher – Atlanta Braves – There were opportunities early, but he missed his shot. Now with the team getting healthy you have to wonder when he’ll be summoned.
Currently Injured – Vladimir Guerrero (TOR), Nick Senzel (CIN), Jesus Luzardo (OAK)