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) Austin Riley – Atlanta Braves – Third Baseman (NR)
The Jose Bautista experiment quickly came to an end, and that’s left Johan Camargo to get an opportunity to fill the hole at 3B (as was expected in the preseason, prior to him suffering an injury). How long do we expect that to last, though? He has shown an ability to get on base (.390 OBP), despite a .220 AVG, but with little power/speed the upside just isn’t there.
Riley is the future at the position and he hasn’t missed a beat since being promoted to Triple-A, hitting .312 with 3 HR and 14 RBI over 77 AB. He does have to prove that he can avoid the strikeouts, with 54 K vs. 15 BB over 176 AB (split between Double & Triple-A), and after a 13.9% SwStr% in 2017 he entered Monday with a 13.2% mark. That could help to limit his upside initially, but he’s coming and could arrive in short order.
2) Christin Stewart – Detroit Tigers – Outfielder (3)
The Tigers are getting a league worst .317 SLG from their left fielders, so you would think that would create an opportunity. It hasn’t happened yet, with the team citing defense among the reasons for keeping Stewart pinned at Triple-A. It’s possible that they are simply using it as an excuse until the Super 2 deadline has come and gone, which would make sense for a rebuilding team because there’s little doubt that his .285 with 12 HR and 31 RBI over 172 AB at Triple-A would help bolster the lineup and give the fanbase a bit of excitement (he hit HR #13 on Tuesday night). There has never been a question about his power, and with just 39 K (with an 11.2% SwStr%, entering play on Monday) he’s taken the necessary steps forward in his plate discipline. At 24-years old it makes sense to get him up, and at this point we may be just a few weeks away from it happening.
3) Kolby Allard – Atlanta Braves – Pitcher (10)
Allard gave us a small injury scare after a collision with Rio Riuz, but he showed no ill-effects on Sunday as he allowed 2 ER on 6 H and 2 BB over 7.0 IP and now owns a 2.09 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over 56.0 IP (9 starts). The question is if the underlying skills really justify the strong numbers:
- Strikeouts – 6.11 K/9
- Control – 2.41 BB/9
- Groundballs – 42.7%
His 10.5% SwStr% does offer hope in the strikeout department, and he did show better numbers at Double-A last season (7.74 K/9). Obviously there’s a threat of home runs, but with his control and ability the southpaw should be able to make an impact. The Braves have gotten strong starting pitching, but they’ve also given numerous youngsters an opportunity and it’s only a matter of when Allard gets his shot.
4) Michael Kopech – Chicago White Sox – Pitcher (6)
Carson Fulmer has already been sent down to Triple-A and it’s easy to argue that Lucas Giolito deserves to join him (7.53 ERA over 10 starts, before struggling again on Tuesday). Kopech figures to be the pitcher who deserves an opportunity to fill the potential void, whenever the team decides, though having started on Monday we’ll have to wait a little bit longer to see him.
After a poor outing on May 11 Kopech has bounced back strong, allowing 4 ER on 9 H and 8 BB, striking out 24, over 18.0 IP. The walks are elevated, which continues to be the biggest question hanging over him (25 BB over 51.1 IP) and could be the reason why the team has been hesitant to give him an opportunity in the Majors. Eventually they are going to run out of warm bodies and the strikeout rate will allow him to thrive immediately, when the team finally wants to push him to the next level.
5) Kyle Tucker – Houston Astros – Outfielder (4)
It appears that the Astros have found their “bridge” to Tucker, with Tony Kemp producing and settling into the role (along with the recently recalled J.D. Davis). Tucker has been struggling of late (.225 over his past 10 games, even after going 3-3 on Monday), but overall he’s shown both power (16 doubles, 5 HR) and speed (6 SB). Always a player viewed as having 20/20 potential at the highest level, strikeouts could ultimately prove to be a concern. He’s kept it in control thus far (45 K over 188 AB) and that would be more than enough. The biggest question here is when the team decides he’s ready, in order to help them battle the Angels for the AL West crown.
6) Garrett Hampson – Colorado Rockies – Second Baseman (2)
While it looked like Hampson could get an opportunity to fill the void created by the injury to D.J. LeMahieu, instead the team summoned Ryan McMahon. That leaves Hampson at Triple-A, where he will continue to develop/mature (at least for now). We all know that the Rockies haven’t committed to McMahon in the past and Hampson offers the potential to thrive at the top of the order. Colorado owns a surprisingly poor .706 OBP overall (21st in the league), and are significantly worse on the road (.654, placing them 27th). Hampson’s ability to get on base and create havoc when he does would play well and allow Charlie Blackmon to shift into the middle of the lineup. While Hampson’s time isn’t now, it also may not be far off for a team that’s battling for the NL West title.
7) Jose Suarez – Los Angeles Angels – Pitcher (NR)
We talked about Suarez in detail recently, so make sure to check that out by clicking here. The Angels are consistently looking for pitching, especially this season as they try to limit the workload of Shohei Ohtani and battle injuries (J.C. Ramirez and Matt Shoemaker are both currently on the 60-day DL). There is going to be opportunities at the back of the rotation, as they go six-deep, and Suarez recently made his Triple-A debut. That means he’s not far away from arriving, as an option similar to the Indians’ Shane Bieber, and he belongs on all radars.
8) Jake Bauers – Tampa Bay Rays – First Baseman/Outfielder (NR)
The trade of Denard Span should ultimately lead to an opportunity for Bauers, even after Carlos Gomez returned from the DL. It’s not like the team has gotten tremendous production out of their outfield, and right now they are depending on Gomez (.188/.260/.338), Rob Refsnyder and Johnny Field to fill 66% of their outfield on any given night (along with Mallex Smith). It’s an ugly mish mosh, and there’s little doubt that Bauers offers significantly more.
Bauers is currently hitting .298 with 5 HR and 8 SB over 171 AB at Triple-A, after hitting .263 with 13 HR and 20 SB at the level in ’17. All told he has 657 AB at Triple-A, and while we’d like to see more home run power he’s added 44 doubles and 1 triple showing that there’s upside. He’s also proven capable of drawing a walk (97 BB) and while he may not be one of the elite, he could easily be a solid producer.
9) Freddy Peralta – Milwaukee Brewers – Pitcher (8)
Peralta is biding his time, waiting for another opportunity in the Majors and trying to figure out his control issues. No one is about to question his swing and miss stuff (12.5% SwStr% at Triple-A) and he pairs that with a strong groundball rate (52.7% in ’18), but he does own a 4.54 BB/9 over 39.2 IP at Triple-A this season. If he could get the walks down into the 3.75 range he would be considered one of the premier pitching prospects in the league. Can he do it? Time will tell, but he’s clearly the next up starter on a competing team (even with someone like Corbin Burnes also waiting in the wings) and has the potential to take a significant step forward at any moment.
10) Willie Calhoun – Texas Rangers – Outfielder (9)
We continue to wait… And wait… And wait… He’s finally started to turn things around with the bat, hitting .310 in May, but the power has disappeared (1 HR in May, 4 total home runs in ’18) and you have to think that’s factored into the decision to keep him at Triple-A. The team could use the excuse of his defense as a reason to keep him pinned down, especially as injuries opened up opportunities, but you have to think his struggles at the plate were the bigger issue. He’s going to get his shot, and likely soon after the Super 2 deadline passes, but he needs to show a bit more in order to force the issue.
Graduated/Dropped Off The Rankings:
- Alex Reyes – St. Louis Cardinals – Pitcher (1) – Graduated
- Shane Bieber – Cleveland Indians – Pitcher (5) – Graduated
- Nick Kingham – Pittsburgh Pirates – Pitcher (7) – Graduated
Others We’re Watching:
- Willy Adames – Tampa Bay Rays – Shortstop
- Sandy Alcantara – Miami Marlins – Pitcher
- Peter Alonso – New York Mets – First Baseman
- Jalen Beeks – Boston Red Sox – Starting Pitcher
- Corbin Burnes – Milwaukee Brewers – Right-Handed Pitcher
- Enyel De Los Santos – Philadelphia Phillies – Pitcher
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – Toronto Blue Jays – Third Baseman
- Austin Hays – Baltimore Orioles – Outfielder
- Eloy Jimenez – Chicago White Sox – Outfielder
- Nick Senzel – Cincinnati Reds – Third Baseman
- Luis Urias – San Diego Padres – Second Baseman
- Ryan Cordell – Chicago White Sox – Outfielder
- Rookie Davis – Cincinnati Reds – 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: