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) Yordan Alvarez –
Outfielder – Houston Astros (1)
He just continues to hit, now at .391 with 14 HR and 40 RBI over 110 AB. While Yuli Gurriel has been producing as of late (.400 with 1 HR over the past seven games), Tyler White continues to struggle to make an impact. In 58 AB he’s hitting .259 with 0 HR and 2 RBI, so it’s fair to wonder what exactly the team is waiting for. They may be starting to run out of patience, instead using the DH spot to give their outfielders a partial day of rest, and with Alvarez filling an outfield spot he could just join that rotation and give the offense a bit of a boost.
Does the team need that shot in the arm? You can argue against it, as they are already sitting in first place in the AL West, but Houston has shown in the past that they are willing to push the envelope. The bigger concern could be Kyle Tucker and the potential that he gets the first opportunity, but while he’s hitting .308 over his past 10 games he’s again fallen into a slump (1-13 in his past four games) and has 28 K vs. 9 BB over 109 AB. Alvarez should get the first opportunity, and he has the skills to make an impact.
2) Cavan Biggio –
Second Baseman – Toronto Blue Jays (4)
Biggio continues to roll, hitting .344 with 6 HR, 21 RBI, 20 R and 4 SB over 96 AB at Triple-A. Even more impressive is his control of the strike zone:
- Strikeouts – 20
- Walks – 25
Throw in an 8.0% SwStr% and there’s an awful lot to like, especially when it’s paired with some power and speed. It seems hard to believe that the Blue Jays could send Vladimir Guerrero Jr. back to Triple-A, but with his struggles that’s not impossible. Even if he sticks in the Majors Brandon Drury is currently playing 2B so there is a potential spot for him to play. Toronto is rebuilding and it’s just a matter of when, not if, Biggio gets an opportunity to show he’s a part of the future.
3) Oscar Mercado – Outfielder – Cleveland
He went through a little bit of a downturn recently, but appears to have turned things back up with a modest four-game hitting streak through Wednesday (6-17, 3 SB, 7 R). He’s now hitting .288 with 3 HR and 14 SB over 111 AB, and while we’d like to see a few less strikeouts (31) he has 15 BB and hasn’t had big strikeout issues before. This upturn corresponds with continuing struggles for Cleveland in the outfield, and while a pair of players have posted decent averages over the past 7 days it’s a little bit “hollow” production (this is prior to yesterday’s game, where Luplow hit 2 HR):
- Tyler Naquin – .308/.357/.308
- Jake Bauers – .300/.333/.300
- Jordan Luplow – .200/.273/.300
- Leonys Martin – .200/.200/.267
- Carlos Gonzalez – .182/.182/.182
Even the “productive” options haven’t had an extra base hit and the team seemingly could use a shot in the arm as they entered Thursday 4 games behind the Twins. That’s something Mercado can provide, and it could be just a matter of days before that opportunity comes.
4) Nathaniel Lowe –
First Baseman – Tampa Bay Rays (NR)
His numbers in the Majors weren’t particularly poor, hitting .257 over 35 AB, though he didn’t show much power (2 doubles) and struggled with his strikeouts/walks (10 K vs. 2 BB). Even during these “struggles” he still posted a solid 7.5% SwStr% and was hitting the ball relatively hard (38.5% Hard%).
While he’s back at Triple-A, at least for now, the presence of Ji-Man Choi shouldn’t be an impediment to his return. This may just be a short stay to get things back on track, and that could come quick, and then he’ll be back in the Majors and hopefully making an impact.
5) Brendan Rodgers – Shortstop – Colorado
If this was a team other than Colorado we’d have more confidence in the team “doing the right thing” and have Rodgers ranked higher, but when have they shown a willingness to commit to a young player? The need at second base is there, even though Ryan McMahon has shown signs of late (.286 with 1 HR over his past five days). Rodgers is the future at the position and is hitting .339 with 7 HR over 121 AB at Triple-A this season. Even if it’s just coming up to replace Garrett Hampson as part of a committee the move would make sense, and that’s the type of thing Colorado is known for. That said Rodgers deserves an opportunity to take the job outright, and it’s only a matter of time before he does.
6) Dylan Cease – Starting Pitcher – Chicago
White Sox (3)
The White Sox are on record as saying that the injury to Carlos Rodon will not expedite the promotion of Cease or any other pitching prospect. Cease also hasn’t started since April 30, but you can argue that he shouldn’t be far from arriving regardless. Over his first five starts this season (24.1 IP) he’s posted impressive metrics, with an 11.10 K/9, 2.59 BB/9 and 55.2% groundball rate at Triple-A. The control and groundballs are a notable step forward from last season, when he split time between High-A and Double-A and posted a 3.63 BB/9 and 48.7% groundball rate.
Cease has the potential to be among the best pitching prospects in the game, and if the new skills are for real he’s already arrived. Monitor him closely, as his time should come shortly.
7) Zac Gallen –
Starting Pitcher – Miami Marlins (8)
Gallen just keeps on rolling, allowing 1 ER on 2 H and 3 BB, striking out 7, over 7.0 IP on Wednesday. That leaves him with a 1.14 ERA and 0.57 WHIP over 47.1 IP, complimenting it with 55 K, 8 BB and a 1.24 GO/AO. It’s obvious that he’s not quite this good, though with each strong start he makes a stronger case to get an opportunity in the Majors. While there is promise in the Marlins’ rotation it’s easy to envision either Jose Urena (4.82 ERA over 46.2 IP) or Sandy Alcantara (4.93 ERA over 38.1 IP) getting demoted to the bullpen to open an opportunity. Gallen would need to be added to the 40-man roster, though that’s something the team should be able to open up without much of an issue.
8) Carter Kieboom –
Shortstop – Washington Nationals (NR)
His first stint in the Majors was highly disappointing, hitting .128 with 2 HR over 39 AB. However, as we’ve discussed recently, the underlying numbers would seem to indicate more upside:
- Hard% – 43.5%
- BABIP – .143
- SwStr% – 9.3% (yet he posted a 37.2% strikeout rate)
There should be significantly better days ahead, though it’s a shame that it won’t come in the Majors initially. That said, even with Anthony Rendon back at 3B and Trea Turner working towards a return at SS, there’s a hole at 2B that is going to need to be filled. That’s where Kieboom’s future lies, and once he proves he’s ready there’s a chance he’s back in the Majors.
9) Nicky Lopez –
Shortstop – Kansas City Royals (NR)
You would think with Adalberto Mondesi and Whit Merrifield in the middle of the Royals’ infield that there wouldn’t be an opportunity, but with questions in the outfield it’s easy to envision Merrifield shifting out there full-time to open up a spot. It’s a move that would make sense, as Lopez appears to be forcing the issue with this line at Triple-A:
.358 (38-106), 3 HR, 13 RBI, 23 R, 9 SB
Obviously he’s not a .358 hitter and he doesn’t bring massive power, but there’s some speed that’s hard to find on the waiver wire and his approach is elite. At Triple-A this season he has 4 K vs. 17 BB, a year after posting 52 K vs. 60 BB between Double and Triple-A (courtesy of a 5.1% SwStr%). There is a limit to his potential impact, especially since he’s more of a 20-25 SB threat as opposed to 30+, but there’s enough here to grab your attention.
10) Luis Urias –
Shortstop – San Diego Padres (7)
His power surge at Triple-A appears to be a thing of the past, as he’s now gone 9 straight games without a home run (and in this stretch he’s gone 9-36 with 2 RBI). It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the production has stalled, as power has never been a strong part of his game. The bigger issue is that the power may have gotten into his head, leading to a fly ball-centric approach (45.2%) and some swing and miss issues (10.2% SwStr%). For a player without much speed that’s not a good combination. He’s closer to returning than someone like Forrest Whitley, which is why he’s on this list, but that doesn’t make him a player that you necessarily want to target.
Others to Watch:
- Austin Riley – Third Baseman – Atlanta Braves – His move to the outfield has gotten people talking, but he still isn’t necessarily close, as there’s no obvious opening in the outfield or at third base
Graduated to Majors:
- Jon Duplantier – Starting Pitcher – Arizona Diamondbacks (10)
Dropped off the Rankings:
- Forrest Whitley – Starting Pitcher – Houston Astros (6) – There’s no question that he’s the best pitching prospect in the game, but is he close to arriving considering his 10.43 ERA and consistent struggles?
- Monte Harrison – Outfielder – Miami Marlins (9)
Currently Injured – Austin Hays (BAL), Jesus Luzardo (OAK)