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 (please note all stats are through Sunday):
1) Ronald Acuna – Atlanta Braves – Outfielder
The premier prospect in the game, many hoped he would make the Opening Day roster but Atlanta opted to start him in the minors. It’s likely that the decision was purely driven by service time, as he proved that he belonged during Spring Training (.432 with 4 HR and 11 RBI over 44 AB). That means he could debut as soon as mid-April, giving the Braves an extra year of control, and that likely is going to be the case. Considering Nick Markakis and Preston Tucker are currently holding down corner infield spots, it’s not hard to envision how he’ll be fit into the lineup.
2) Willie Calhoun – Texas Rangers – Outfielder
He lost the job this spring to Drew Robinson and Ryan Rua, though it’s easy to argue that Calhoun owns the highest upside of the trio. There have always been questions about his ability to maintain his power, but all he’s done is continue producing along the way. Splitting time between the Dodgers and Rangers Triple-A teams last season, he combined to hit 31 HR to go along with 27 doubles and 6 triples. Couple that with a 7.1% SwStr%, leading to an 11.4% strikeout rate, and the upside is crystal clear. It’s just a matter of when the Rangers decide to make the change, and it could come quickly. While the injury to Delino Deshields has not yet expedited the process, it may not be far off.
3) Walker Buehler – Los Angeles Dodgers – Starting Pitcher
Buehler made his MLB debut in ’17, making 8 appearances out of the bullpen. There’s no question that this time around he’ll be utilized as a starter, it’s just a matter of when the first injury hits the Los Angeles rotation (an inevitability given the history of the current group of starters). Buehler, widely considered one of the elite pitching prospects in the game, combined for a 12.69 K/9, 3.15 BB/9 and 54.3% groundball rate over 88.2 IP across three levels in the minors. How many innings and how deep into games he works is the biggest obstacle, as he could be capped at around 130-140 innings on the season. Time will tell, but the Dodgers will certainly look to make the most of the bullets they have in him.
4) Dustin Fowler – Oakland A’s – Outfielder
He lost the starting job to Boog Powell, though maybe the team opted to play the service time game since neither player stepped up and grabbed the job this spring:
- Powell – .222 (10-45), 0 HR, 2 RBI, 9 R, 2 SB
- Fowler – .222 (10-45), 0 HR, 5 RBI, 5 R, 3 SB
It makes sense to protect the control, especially for the perpetually small market A’s, but unless Powell starts hitting it will be tough for the team to justify keeping Fowler in the minors for long. No one is going to argue which player has the higher upside, and if Fowler can keep the strikeouts in check (he had 13 K vs. 2 BB this spring) he brings .260/15/15 potential when healthy.
5) Michael Kopech – Chicago White Sox – Starting Pitcher
Just look at the current rotation in Chicago, which includes a pair of underwhelming veterans (James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez) as well as three youngsters who are unlikely to stick in the rotation all season long (Lucas Giolito, Carson Fulmer and Reynaldo Lopez). In other words there are a lot of ways to imagine Kopech making the jump, and it may not take very long.
There’s never been a question about the stuff Kopech brings to the table, as he brings a big fastball and could quickly pile up the strikeouts. The question is if he’s going to be able to throw enough strikes (4.53 BB/9 in 22 starts at Double-A last season), which could ultimately lead to him being viewed as a better fit for the back of the bullpen.
6) Ryan Cordell – Chicago White Sox – Outfielder
The White Sox are currently utilizing an outfield of Nick Delmonico, Avisail Garcia and Adam Engel, with Leury Garcia backing them up, so it’s easy to see a need for an improvement. It’s also not like Cordell struggled this spring, hitting .317 with 0 HR (but 4 doubles and 2 triples) and 8 RBI over 41 AB, while also walking (7) more than he struck out (6). This could be a situation where the team wants him to get a few more reps, after seeing his 2017 limited to just 68 games at Triple-A, and nothing more. If he gets off to a strong start in the minors he’s going to force the issue, and bringing an intriguing blend of power and speed (he had 10 HR, as well as 18 doubles and 5 triples, and 9 SB in his 261 AB last season) the potential impact is there.
7) Jake Bauers – Tampa Bay Rays – First Baseman/Outfielder
There are numerous ways that the Rays can find a spot on the roster for Bauers, whether it is at DH, 1B or in the outfield. Regardless they are a team that is always looking for an offensive boost, and whether it’s growing tired of Brad Miller, an injury or another avenue, there’s going to be an opportunity for Bauers soon (there was talk of him breaking camp with the team at one point). You can argue that Wily Adames could be the first up, but Bauers’ strong plate discipline (13.6% walk rate in ’17) and growing power (45 extra base hits, including 13 HR) and ability to fit in numerous places make him an intriguing option.
8) Victor Robles – Washington Nationals – Outfielder
His opportunity will come, it’s just a matter of an injury forcing the issue or the team grows tired of Michael Taylor (obviously Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper are locked into their jobs). Taylor has gotten off to a slow start, with strikeouts again becoming an issue, so it’s possible that Robles may not be long for the Majors… At the same time he’s only gotten 158 PA at Double-A and 27 in the Majors (he never played at Triple-A), so the team could justify keeping him pinned in the minors a little bit longer than most feel is necessary. Among the premier prospects in the game, he should arrive before the All-Star Break. It’s just a matter of the opportunity presenting itself.
9) Austin Hays – Baltimore Orioles – Outfielder
The Orioles decided to break camp with both Colby Rasmus and Pedro Alvarez on the roster, but would it be surprising if either (or both) are gone by the end of April? While Hays appears primed to open the year at Double-A, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t on the precipice of rejoining the big league team. He had 63 PA with the Orioles in September of ’17, though he struggled in that time (.217 with 1 HR) and didn’t fair much better this spring (.243 with 0 HR over 37 AB). Couple that with potential strikeout issues (he had 12 K vs. 2 BB in Spring Training) and it’s easy to argue that the decision to demote him was driven by more than just service time. A strong start could change things, but for now don’t consider his recall imminent (but not far off).
10) Gleyber Torres – New York Yankees – Second Baseman
We always believed that Torres would be the second callup for the Yankees, behind Miguel Andujar, and that’s exactly what’s happened. That does call into question when Torres could join the team, especially since the outfield will get healthy at some point and the opportunity for AB could shrink (it doesn’t appear like Brandon Drury is going to cede his AB any time soon).
No one is going to argue the potential value/upside, but he does have only 202 AB above High-A (121 at Double-A and 81 at Triple-A). That helps to justify giving him extensive time in the minor leagues, so there is a chance he’s not in New York until mid-year (or later).
Five More We’re Watching:
- Wily Adames – Tampa Bay Rays – Shortstop
- Rookie Davis – Cincinnati Reds – Starting Pitcher
- Francisco Mejia – Cleveland Indians – Catcher
- Nick Senzel – Cincinnati Reds – Third Baseman
- Christin Stewart – Detroit Tigers – Outfielder
- Luiz Gohara – Atlanta Braves – Starting Pitcher
- Alex Reyes – St. Louis Cardinals – Starting Pitcher
Missed our Top 100 prospect rankings? Make sure to check it out by clicking here. Also don’t miss all of our 2018 Preseason Positional Prospect Lists: