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) Nick Senzel – Cincinnati Reds – Third Baseman (NR)
Initially word going around was that the Reds weren’t going to move Senzel back to third base in the wake of Eugenio Suarez’ injury, but that has quickly changed. Now Senzel is back manning the hot corner at Triple-A and may only be days away from making his MLB debut.
Among the elite prospects in the game, he split time between High-A and Double-A in ’17 hitting .321 with 14 HR and 65 RBI. He added 40 doubles and 3 triples, showing the soon to be 23-year old (his birthday is June 29) could quickly add power (and playing in Cincinnati will help tap into that potential). An overall 9.6% SwStr%, which rose to 10.3% over 235 PA at Double-A, does indicate the potential for strikeouts to be an issue. Couple that with the inevitable regression in his .384 BABIP and it’s obvious he may be closer to a .260ish type hitter. Even at that mark, with the potential to hit for power and chip in a few stolen bases there’s going to be an awful lot to like.
2) Ronald Acuna – Atlanta Braves – Outfielder (1)
The early season hot streak of Preston Tucker gives the Braves an excuse to keep Acuna marinating in the minors, but can we expect that to last for very long? Acuna is the premier prospect in the game, and while he’s gotten off to a bit of a slow start (0-8 with 3 K), you can argue that he’s disappointed in not making the Major Leagues out of spring training. If it weren’t for the seemingly impending callup of Senzel Acuna would’ve remained in the top spot, and there’s a good chance that he is the most productive prospect in the game this season.
3) Willie Calhoun – Texas Rangers – Outfielder (2)
The Rangers’ left fielders have gotten off to a hideous start, slashing .125/.171/.156 with 0 HR and 1 SB. The bulk of that has come from Ryan Rua, with Delino Deshields’ injury pushing Drew Robinson into centerfield. Regardless of who is generating the line, an MLB team simply can’t stick with it for very long (especially a team that has gotten off to a slow start).
While Calhoun hasn’t been much better, starting off 3-18 with 7 K, we all know the upside is significantly higher than those currently filling the spot. With Deshields likely sidelined for a few more weeks it’s not going to take much of an upturn from Calhoun to force the team’s hand. The Rangers have opened 4-7, looking up at both the Astros and Angels, and they can’t afford to fall too far behind.
4) Michael Kopech – Chicago White Sox – Starting Pitcher (5)
The ERA for White Sox starters doesn’t look bad on the surface, but it’s being pulled down by Reynaldo Lopez and his 0.69 ERA. He’s the only starter with an ERA below 5.40, and the current rotation is full of question marks (whether it’s underwhelming veterans or fellow youngsters who may not be able to thrive):
- Miguel Gonzalez – 9.00 (1 start)
- James Shields – 5.73 ERA (2 starts)
- Lucas Giolito – 6.17 (2 starts)
- Carson Fulmer – 5.40 (1 start)
No one is going to question Kopech’s stuff, and it’s obvious that there’s a need that he will be able to try and help fill. As long as he’s throwing strikes he could make a significant impact in a hurry.
5) Walker Buehler – Los Angeles Dodgers – Starting Pitcher (3)
Hyun-Jin Ryu got beat up in his first start of the season (3 ER on 5 H and 5 BB over 3.2 IP) and the Dodgers have a history of injury issues throughout their rotation (last season only Clayton Kershaw made more than 25 starts, and he got 27). The latter alone tells us Beuhler is going to get an opportunity, and another poor start from Ryu could expedite his arrival.
There is going to be the question of how many innings the Dodgers let him throw in ’18, with 98.0 total innings in ’17. That may be why they only had him throw 4.0 innings in his first Triple-A start, as they want to get as many bullets out of him as possible. That adds a different concern, though, as even last season he never went more than 5.1 innings in a Triple-A game. Can he work deep into games? Will he be a five-and-fly starter, regardless of how well he’s throwing? No one is going to question the potential, but we also can’t ignore the obvious question.
6) Victor Robles – Washington Nationals – Outfielder (8)
Robles is among the elite prospects in the game, the question is going to be how anxious the Nationals are to bring him to the Majors (though we are also awaiting word as to the injury he recently sustained). The injury to Adam Eaton could expedite the promotion, though at this point he’s avoided the DL and they do still have Brian Goodwin and Michael Taylor who can join Bryce Harper in the outfield. Of course they could also grow tired of Goodwin and Taylor, which would open a spot regardless of health. His time is going to come, just stay patient.
7) Hunter Dozier – Kansas City Royals – Third Baseman (NR)
He’s still listed as a third baseman, but the resigning of Mike Moustaks has changed that outlook. Having already seen time in the outfield (40 games in the minors, 7 in the Majors) and having played right field once already in ’18 that is likely going to be his path to the Majors. Considering the struggles of Paulo Orlando (.083/.083/.083), Jorge Soler (.200/.316/.267) and Alex Gordon (.174/.208/.217) that move could come sooner than we think.
There is a risk in terms of strikeouts for Dozier (12.4% SwStr% in ’17, though in just 11 AB), but there’s no questioning his power potential (in 2016 he combined for 45 doubles, 1 triple and 23 HR between Double-A, Triple-A and the Majors). As long as he can make enough contact, a .250/25 HR hitter is there (and he’ll look even better in OBP formats). Don’t overlook him due to the position, as his time could come quickly.
8) Dustin Fowler – Oakland A’s – Outfielder (4)
After losing the centerfield job to Boog Powell in spring training you would’ve thought a trip to the DL would’ve simply opened the door for Fowler to step into the role. Instead the team has kept Fowler at Triple-A, which makes you wonder if he ever really had a chance to win the job or if he was destined to spend time at Triple-A?
Maybe the team simply wants him getting reps after the significant knee injury he suffered in ’17 (though he has 2 SB in his first four games, so that doesn’t appear to be the issue)… Maybe it’s a short trip without a DH, so the team wants to make sure he’s playing … Maybe it’s simply service time and money… Whatever the reason we are where we are and while Fowler should remain on radars he may not be as close as we previously had hoped.
9) Gleyber Torres – New York Yankees – Second Baseman (10)
The Yankees are already dealing with a slew of injuries, which has helped to bring Miguel Andujar to the Majors. If Brandon Drury is forced to miss a significant amount of time, with Greg Bird already sidelined, would it be surprising if Torres wasn’t far behind? There are limitations to his offensive contributions, at least initially, though we had similar concerns regarding players like Francisco Lindor and we’ve all seen what he’s blossomed into.
10) Jose Lopez – Cincinnati Reds – Starting Pitcher (NR)
Here’s a name that most likely don’t know, but the Reds continue to shuffle their starting rotation giving endless youngsters an opportunity to step in and try their hand. You could argue that Robert Stephenson or Jackson Stephens will be the first up to help bolster a rotation that owns a 5.74 ERA through 8 games, but Lopez is arguably the most intriguing of the group.
He split time between High-A (50.2 IP) and Double-A (96.1 IP) last season posting a 2.57 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, courtesy of an 8.76 K/9 (11.7% SwStr%) and 3.00 BB/9. There is going to be the risk of home runs (42.9% groundball rate at Double-A), but the other numbers could help to minimize that damage. Having opened the season at Triple-A and already being on the 40-man roster, it’s just a matter of when the team decides it’s his turn to get a shot. Considering the struggles and names currently filling the rotation, it shouldn’t be long.
Dropped Off The Rankings:
- Jake Bauers – Tampa Bay Rays – First Baseman/Outfielder (7)
- Ryan Cordell – Chicago White Sox – Outfielder (6)
- Austin Hays – Baltimore Orioles – Outfielder (9)
Others We’re Watching:
- Wily Adames – Tampa Bay Rays – Shortstop
- Francisco Mejia – Cleveland Indians – Catcher
- Christin Stewart – Detroit Tigers – Outfielder
- Rookie Davis – Cincinnati Reds – Starting Pitcher
- Luiz Gohara – Atlanta Braves – Starting Pitcher
- Alex Reyes – St. Louis Cardinals – Starting Pitcher
Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com, MLB.com
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: