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 (1)
Will he ever hit enough to force Atlanta’s hand and bring him to the Majors? He did have a 3 SB game recently and is hitting .275 over his past 10, but overall he owns a .215 average with just 2 extra base hits (1 double and 1 HR) and 20 K over 65 AB. It’s going to take more than that, so while we’ve seen others get the call in recent days we’ll have to sit tight and wait for Acuna’s time to come.
(Note – News broke late last night that Acuna would be recalled today. We’ll take a closer look at what to expect from him this afternoon)
2) Kyle Tucker – Houston Astros – Outfielder (NR)
While George Springer hasn’t necessarily produced as expected (.240 with 4 HR and 0 SB) and Josh Reddick has had some big days (though he’s a strict platoon player), it’s obvious there are questions for Houston in left field. Reddick has seen some time there, but otherwise it’s been a combination of Marwin Gonzalez (.215/.308/.315) and Derek Fisher (.128/.167/.256). Clearly there’s a void, and Tucker was always expected to get a shot to fill it. This may be sooner than imagined, but as the struggles continue and the Angels push them for the top of the AL West standings something will have to give.
Tucker hasn’t shown much power yet, though he’s hitting .270 with 1 HR, 9 RBI, 11 R and 1 SB. Those are solid numbers, but more impressive may be his 16 K vs. 11 BB over 74 AB. A year after carrying a 13.2% SwStr% and 20.8% strikeout rate, he’s opened the year at 10.6% and 15.9%, respectively (through Sunday). We know the power and speed will be there, and if the growth in his approach is real he could bring the total package to Houston (think .270/20/15, with more upside in the power department). Now is the time to stash him, before it’s too late.
3) Michael Kopech – Chicago White Sox – Starting Pitcher (5)
White Sox starters own a league worst 6.30 ERA, with Reynaldo Lopez the only starter owning an ERA better than 5.94. You can argue that the team needs multiple starters, with Lucas Giolito likely needing more time at Triple-A (he certainly would benefit from it) and Miguel Gonzalez hitting the DL (Carson Fulmer would also likely benefit from time out of the spotlight). Those questions should clear the way for Kopech, who has shown strikeouts (12.60 K/9), control (3.00 BB/9) and enough groundballs (44.1%). The biggest question has always been his control (4.35 BB/9) making people think he may fit best in the bullpen, so if he can continue down this path the sky will be the limit. The White Sox have nothing to play for, so they may opt to get him some more work at Triple-A, but sooner or later he’s going to force their hand.
4) Nick Senzel – Cincinnati Reds – Third Baseman (2)
The obvious opening for Senzel could be closing soon, as Eugenio Suarez is set to start a rehab assignment and could return to Cincinnati much quicker than anticipated. Clearly the team has opted to play it conservative with their prized prospect, as he continues to split time between second base (8 games) and third base (6 games) at Triple-A. Offensively he hasn’t been bad, hitting .259 with 1 HR, though he hasn’t been driving in runs (1 RBI) and he hasn’t been racking up the extra base hits (2 doubles, 1 triple and the 1 HR). With Suarez closing in on a return maybe it will allow Senzel to focus on one position, and therefore get his bat going, but it’s becoming obvious that he won’t arrive until he’s ready to take over the 2B job full-time.
5) Austin Hays – Baltimore Orioles – Outfielder (NR)
It’s notable that Hays has primarily been used in right field while at Double-A, considering how bad the production has been at the spot for the Orioles (.146/.186/.232). Obviously Hays would be getting more attention if he were at Triple-A or producing a bit better, as he’s hitting .232 with 21 K over his first 69 AB. He did own a 12.1% SwStr% in ’17, so we knew strikeouts were potentially an issue, but his 15.3% entering play on Monday is a bit extreme. He’s also hitting the ball hard (27.9% line drive rate) and showed more than enough power to overcome any strikeout issues (69 extra base hits, including 32 HR, in 2017). He got his feet wet late last year, so it may not take much before he is brought back to try and boost the production from the current void in the lineup.
6) Michael Soroka – Atlanta Braves – Pitcher (NR)
This isn’t a case of Atlanta’s starters being bad, though you have to wonder how long Brandon McCarthy, Mike Foltyenwicz and Sean Newcomb can continue to produce. Sooner or later Soroka may just force his way into the rotation, and with Matthew Wisler stepping in for an injured Anibal Sanchez that spot could quickly prove to be his path.
For his part Soroka is proving too difficult for Triple-A hitters, as he owns a 1.99 ERA and 0.97 WHIP over his first four starts (22.2 IP). Even more impressive than the surface numbers are the actual skills he’s put on display:
- Strikeouts – 24 K (he entered Monday’s start with a 12.9% SwStr%)
- Control – 5 BB
- Groundballs – 2.15 GO/AO
He won’t turn 21 until August, so the Braves may not want to push him too far too quickly, but if he keeps on this path they may not have a choice.
7) Sandy Alcantara – Miami Marlins – Pitcher (NR)
You can argue Zac Gallen for this spot, but he’s not on the 40-man roster and Alcantara is. Acquired from the Cardinals as part of the Marcell Ozuna deal, Alcantara has struggled with his control (13 BB over 21.0 IP), but otherwise has lived up to the hype with 23 K (he entered Monday’s start with a 13.3% SwStr%) and a 1.44 GO/AO. Also, if you take out one performance (5 BB over 4.2 IP), his 8 BB over 16.1 IP isn’t good but it also isn’t disastrous.
Considering how bad the Marlins’ rotation has been (5.33 ERA) it shouldn’t be long before they decide to give someone else an opportunity. Having already made his MLB debut that makes Alcantara the most likely candidate. As long as he can keep the walks in check, the other skills should play well in Miami.
8) Francisco Mejia – Cleveland Indians – Catcher (7)
He’s not hitting (.215 with 2 HR in 65 AB), and you have to wonder if the experiment at other positions is taking away from his focus at the plate. At the same time he’s still making consistent contact (15 K) and his ability to hit has never been a question. The Indians have utilized Mejia for 5 games in the outfield, after trying him at 3B over the winter, and he obviously would provide a boost behind the plate. If the team feels comfortable with him in the outfield it’s just another path to AB and would accelerate his full-time arrival (they aren’t going to call him up to play part time). Time will tell, but a big hot stretch would also help to expedite the process.
9) Willie Calhoun – Texas Rangers – Outfielder (10)
The Rangers were flooded with injuries, yet they decided to keep Calhoun at Triple-A to work on his defense as opposed to bringing him up to try and fill one of the many voids. Now Delino Deshields is back and Calhoun is hitting .229 over his past 10 games. In other words, while we want to believe that he’s close to contributing it’s possible that he spends significantly more time working things out in the minors.
10) Dustin Fowler – Oakland A’s – Outfielder (6)
Is Dustin Fowler’s lack of extra base hits (2 doubles) what is keeping him pinned at Triple-A right now? That’s the only thing that makes sense, as he’s making contact (10 K in 69 AB), stealing bases (5-for-5 in SB attempts) and Oakland has a need in centerfield. It really makes you wonder if the talk of him having a chance to win the job this spring was more of a smokescreen as opposed to being realistic, doesn’t it? His time should come at some point, but it doesn’t appear to be imminent.
Graduated/Dropped Off The Rankings:
- Gleyber Torres – New York Yankees – Second Baseman (3)
- Walker Buehler – Los Angeles Dodgers – Starting Pitcher (4)
- Jack Flaherty – St. Louis Cardinals – Starting Pitcher (8)
- Hunter Dozier – Kansas City Royals – Third Baseman (9)
Others We’re Watching:
- Wily Adames – Tampa Bay Rays – Shortstop
- Jake Bauers – Tampa Bay Rays – First Baseman/Outfielder
- Austin Meadows – Pittsburgh Pirates – Outfielder
- Christin Stewart – Detroit Tigers – Outfielder
- Alex Verdugo – Los Angeles Dodgers – Outfielder
- Brandon Woodruff – Milwaukee Brewers – Pitcher
- Ryan Cordell – Chicago White Sox – Outfielder
- Rookie Davis – Cincinnati Reds – Starting Pitcher
- Luiz Gohara – Atlanta Braves – Starting Pitcher
- Alex Reyes – St. Louis Cardinals – Starting Pitcher
- Victor Robles – Washington Nationals – Outfielder
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: