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 Monday):
1) Ronald Acuna – Atlanta Braves – Outfielder (2)
We continue to wait for Acuna to be summoned, with many thinking the time should’ve already come. An incredibly slow start to the season is what’s holding him at Triple-A, as he’s hitting .139 with just 1 extra base hit (a double) over his first 36 AB. He’s not showing a strong approach, with 14 K and an extremely high 17.1% SwStr% (entering play on Monday). It’s easy to say that part of his struggles come from the disappointment of not breaking camp with the team, but that’s not a good enough excuse. He needs to start showing more at the plate in to join the MLB team, and as soon as he does he’s going to be brought up and immediately given an everyday role.
2) Nick Senzel – Cincinnati Reds – Third Baseman (1)
Cincinnati third baseman have been terrible this season, slashing .167/.265/.317, with little hope on the MLB roster with Eugenio Suarez on the DL. After it initially looked like the Reds would keep Senzel, their top prospect, at 2B as they took a long-term outlook that plan quickly changed. He has played three games at the hot corner since Suarez’ injury and it’s now just a matter of when the Reds feel comfortable summoning him to the Majors.
Offensively he’s gotten off to a slow start, hitting .233 with 1 HR (only 2 doubles) over 43 AB, with 11 K vs. 3 BB. He’s swinging and missing a decent amount (12.6% SwStr%) and putting a few too many balls on the ground (50.0% groundball rate), so this could be a situation where the team wants him to show something with the bat before being recalled. We all know he’s going to hit (.321 with 14 HR, as well as 40 doubles and 3 triples in ’17), it’s just a matter of when his time comes.
3) Gleyber Torres – New York Yankees – Second Baseman (9)
It seemed like he was a long-shot to reach the Majors this early in the season, given the depth the team added late in the winter (Brandon Drury & Neil Walker) as well as Miguel Andujar getting the first opportunity. Injuries and struggles have seemingly opened the door, and Torres’ strong start could soon force the Yankees hand. Over 41 AB he’s hitting .366 with 1 HR, 10 RBI and 5 R, while also keeping his strikeouts in check (8 K).
That’s not to say that Torres is going to be an offensive force, as he doesn’t bring elite power or speed with him. He is showing an ability to hit the ball extremely hard (31.3% line drive rate) and make consistent contact (9.3% SwStr%), and with the defensive versatility he’s established (he’s seen time at 2B, 3B and SS) there’s little reason to think the Yankees can’t find a role for him. He may not be a difference maker, but he’s an asset that can help the MLB team (and a fantasy team).
4) Walker Buehler – Los Angeles Dodgers – Starting Pitcher (5)
The Dodgers have their eyes set on a World Series, and with Buehler having made his MLB debut last season (working out of the bullpen) it’s easy to imagine the team bringing one of their top prospects to the Majors in short order. Los Angeles is known for using the DL to help cycle their starting pitchers, and with Alex Wood (5.09 ERA) and Rich Hill (6.00 ERA) getting off to slow starts is it a stretch to see a move being made? How about someone just getting shifted to the bullpen if LA thinks Buehler gives them a better shot to win?
The Dodgers are clearly being careful with Buehler, and there will be questions as to how many pitches/innings he can work on a given night (he’s worked 13.0 IP in three starts at Triple-A). That said there’s no questioning the talent, with a 2.08 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and flashing the skills we look for:
- Strikeouts – 16 K
- Walks – 4 BB
- Groundballs – 2.83 GO/AO
The Dodgers have the motivation to improve, and it may not take more than one or two more poor starts (or an unexpected injury) for LA to make the move.
5) Michael Kopech – Chicago White Sox – Starting Pitcher (4)
Reynaldo Lopez has shown potential (1.42 ERA and 21 K over 19.0 IP), but after that exactly who do you believe in from the White Sox rotation? Just look at the ugly numbers:
- James Shields – 4.15 ERA
- Carson Fulmer – 4.66 ERA
- Lucas Giolito – 5.50 ERA
- Miguel Gonzalez – 8.68 ERA
Gonzalez is going to be removed, and probably in short order, and you can easily argue that Giolito needs more seasoning at Triple-A as he continues to struggle with his control (8 K vs. 12 BB over 18.0 IP). Whoever is removed first is irrelevant, as it just means opportunity for Kopech.
For his part Kopech is showing swing and miss stuff over his first two starts (12.1% SwStr%), though that was never going to be a question. The real questions were in his ability to generate groundballs (54.2%) and avoid walks (4 BB over 10.0 IP), and he’s improved in those areas significantly thus far. It’s just two starts, but if he can continue this path he’s going to flourish and be able to step into the MLB rotation and thrive. He’s only made 5 starts at Triple-A and the White Sox aren’t challenging for the playoffs so their motivation may not be there, but a few more strong outings and he could force their hands.
6) Dustin Fowler – Oakland A’s – Outfielder (8)
It was thought that Fowler had an opportunity to break camp with Oakland, but that didn’t happen and even with an injury he is still being pinned at Triple-A. Is it due to his slow start (.205 with 0 HR)? Is it because of the significant time he missed last season? It would seem obvious that the knee injury isn’t limiting him (3-for-3 on SB) and while he hasn’t shown it yet there’s power in his bat that should present itself in short order. With Oakland centerfielders slashing .123/.194/.175, if Fowler had a realistic shot at winning the job this spring it’s just a matter of one small hot streak before he’s brought to the Majors. With 15/25 type potential, assuming he can make consistent contact, he could make an instant impact upon his arrival.
7) Francisco Mejia – Cleveland Indians – Catcher (NR)
He has the upside to be a Top 10 catcher immediately, but what’s interesting is how the Indians are trying to find an alternative spot to fit his bat into the lineup. Over the winter they toyed with him at 3B, and thus far he’s played 3 games in the outfield at Triple-A in ’18. If he proves he can handle it the versatility will expedite his arrival, and with his bat starting to wake up (home runs in back-to-back games, as well as RBI in four straight), he could soon force Cleveland’s hand. It’s not like he wouldn’t represent an upgrade offensively behind the plate, but if he’s going to see time at other spots as well the value could be tremendous. His bat is among the best in the minors, regardless of position, but with catcher eligibility his value is that much greater.
8) Jack Flaherty – St. Louis Cardinals – Starting Pitcher (NR)
It’s easy to imagine Flaherty being disappointed with being sent down despite a strong start in the Majors, but it’s a numbers game and he’s going to have to bide his time. If he was disappointed he didn’t show it in his first start after his demotion as he had 11 K over 7.0 IP. He may need an injury to get a second opportunity in ’18, though both Adam Wainwright (5.06 ERA) and Michael Wacha (5.52 ERA) have gotten off to slow starts. They are veterans and are going to get ample time to correct the issues, but there is a path.
9) Hunter Dozier – Kansas City Royals – Third Baseman (7)
Still primarily seen as a 3B, Dozier has now played three games in RF this season (through Monday, so he’s played 2 games there this week) and that’s his clear path to playing time in the Majors. Kansas City right fielders are slashing .222/.321/.267, as Jorge Soler has gotten the bulk of the playing time (34 AB) and continued to fail to live up to the potential once bestowed upon him.
Even when everyone is healthy, does an outfield mix of Soler, Alex Gordon, Paulo Orlando and Jon Jay excite anyone? Abraham Almonte was the first one summoned to try and help, but it’s not like he elicits much hope/upside himself. Dozier only played 33 games in the minors in ’17 so the team may want to keep him down to make sure he’s shaken off all the rust, and there are questions about his ability to make consistent contact, but he at least brings upside to a group where that’s sorely missing. For a team with an eye towards the future, it shouldn’t be long before they opt to take a look.
10) Willie Calhoun – Texas Rangers – Outfielder (3)
The Rangers have been hit hard by injuries early on, and while it has centered around the middle infield the trickle-down effect has created an opening in the outfield (or the Rangers could’ve moved Calhoun back to 2B, his initial position). Instead the team has opted to keep him in the outfield, and pinned at Triple-A, where he’s working on his defense in the outfield.
Calhoun has consistently proven the doubters wrong, as he’s shown he can hit for power despite his size (5’8”, 187 lbs.). He’s also done it without piling up the strikeouts (11.4% strikeout rate in ’17), though that’s up in ’18 (22.9% at Triple-A) and while it’s an extremely small sample size his 13.4% SwStr% (after a 7.1% mark in ’17) is eye opening. It’s possible that he’s going to get exposed by more advanced pitching, and that’s just going to further cloud the issue.
Dropped Off The Rankings:
- Victor Robles – Washington Nationals – Outfielder (6)
- Jose Lopez – Cincinnati Reds – Starting Pitcher (10)
Others We’re Watching:
- Wily Adames – Tampa Bay Rays – Shortstop
- Jake Bauers – Tampa Bay Rays – First Baseman/Outfielder
- Ryan Cordell – Chicago White Sox – Outfielder
- Austin Hays – Baltimore Orioles – Outfielder
- 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: