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) Kyle Tucker – Houston Astros – Outfielder (5)
Just when it looked like the Astros had found their “bridge” things have quickly collapsed. Houston left fielders have now combined to slash .217/.303/.365 overall and while Tony Kemp appeared to be a steadying force he’s now hitting .136 (3-22) over his past seven games. Lucky for Houston the timing works, as the Super 2 deadline will shortly come and go and Tucker is heating up at the plate.
Over his past six games Tucker has gone 7-24 with 3 HR and 13 RBI. Even better is his 1 K vs. 4 BB over this stretch. Overall he’s hitting .273 with 8 HR, 46 RBI (putting him among the leaders in the minor leagues), 40 R and 6 SB while hitting the ball hard (24.8% line drive rate) and cutting his SwStr% (13.2% to 11.8%). The Astros are battling the Mariners and Angels in a tight AL West and they can’t afford to have one of their potentially stronger bats sitting at Triple-A. Look for them to soon give him an opportunity to find out if he’s truly ready or if they need to go shopping at the deadline.
2) Christin Stewart – Detroit Tigers – Outfielder (2)
How long can the Tigers continue to trot out players like Victor Reyes, Jacoby Jones and Mikie Mahtook in left field? The mis mosh has combined to slash .203/.247/.338, while giving little reason to believe that they are suddenly going to become productive options. Stewart, meanwhile, continues to show the key improvements at Triple-A as he’s hitting .288 with 13 HR, 35 RBI and 33 R to go along with an improved approach at the plate:
- Strikeout Rate – 19.7%
- Walk Rate – 11.4%
- SwStr% – 11.6%
That has always been the biggest question and improving, despite reaching Triple-A for the first time, is a tremendous sign. His time is coming quickly, and while he’s not quite at the Rhys Hoskins level that’s the type of power impact he could make upon his arrival.
3) Kolby Allard – Atlanta Braves – Pitcher (3)
The Braves have gotten good pitching overall, except for the veterans of the rotation:
- Julio Teheran – 4.31 ERA
- Brandon McCarthy – 4.83 ERA
How long they stick with McCarthy and with Teheran leaving his most recent outing with a thumb injury, it’s possible there are two spots in the rotation that need to be filled. The team has a few options (including moving Luiz Gohara back into the rotation), but don’t overlook the potential for Allard to be the latest youngster to get an opportunity. Among the team’s best pitching prospects he owns a 2.00 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over 63.0 IP as he’s proven capable of pitching deep into games (7+ IP in each of his past four starts and five of his past six).
4) Jake Bauers – Tampa Bay Rays – First Baseman/Outfielder (8)
Denard Span is now in Seattle and Carlos Gomez continues to struggle, even now that he’s back from the DL. That should finally lead to an opportunity for Bauers, despite his recent power outage. Overall he’s hitting .277 with 5 HR and 9 SB while showing more upside in the power department (14 doubles). He stole 20 bases a year ago, showing the potential to chip in there, and his 21.6% strikeout rate (courtesy of a 9.7% SwStr%) shows a solid approach. We all know the Rays are typically conservative with their prospects, but Bauers has 681 AB at Triple-A after 750 at Double-A so it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t have the upper level experience. At this point it’s simply a matter of the Super 2 deadline passing for Bauers (who brings 20/10 upside) to get his opportunity.
5) Shane Bieber – Cleveland Indians – Pitcher (NR)
It’s not surprising that Bieber is back in the minors after a lackluster MLB debut (4 ER on 8 H and 1 BB over 5.2 IP). With pinpoint control coming up through the minors there is going to be an adjustment period as there was always the potential he was going to be too close to the strike zone. Obviously it’s just one start, but an 8.0% SwStr% and 25.0% O-Swing% aren’t going to excite anyone. There’s a good chance he gets an opportunity to redeem himself when the team needs a fifth starter (or they could go back to Adam Plutko), and with a 1.10 ERA and 0.70 WHIP over 65.1 IP in the minors it’s hard to argue that he isn’t deserving of the opportunity.
6) Jose Suarez – Los Angeles Angels – Pitcher (7)
Suarez has been quickly climbing, already pitching across three levels and reaching Triple-A (two starts). While his control has wavered at the highest level of the minors (6 BB over 8.2 IP), overall he owns a 2.85 ERA and has shown enough of all three skills we look for:
- Strikeouts – 14.26 K/9 (17.3% SwStr%)
- Control – 2.85 BB/9
- Groundballs – 45.2%
The pure stuff doesn’t necessarily back that type of strikeout stuff (6 K in 8.2 IP at Triple-A), but he’s clearly on the rise. With the Angels going six-deep in the rotation, as they look to limit the innings of Shohei Ohtani, it’s just a matter of time before Suarez gets his opportunity.
7) Austin Riley – Atlanta Braves – Third Baseman (1)
The Braves are surprisingly in the playoff mix, and while there’s a lot of hype surrounding Johan Camargo recently there’s a good chance that the Braves ultimately turn to Riley. The team’s third baseman of the future, he’s hitting .284 with 4 HR over 102 AB at Triple-A. The strikeout rate has jumped, with a 15.5% SwStr% leading to a 33.6% strikeout rate, and that’s going to be a significant concern moving forward. The Braves may not push him to the Majors until he figures that out, and while the ability is there he may need a little bit more development time.
8) Michael Kopech – Chicago White Sox – Pitcher (4)
With the White Sox starters struggling it felt inevitable that Kopech would join the Major League roster. However it hasn’t happened yet (maybe due to the Super 2 deadline) and then Kopech picked the wrong time to implode (7 ER on 5 H and 4 BB over 2.0 IP in his most recent outing). Control has always been the biggest issue facing him, and that continues to be the case as he’s walked 4 batters in four of his past six starts (20 BB over 26.1 IP) and he’s struggled working deep into games (he’s gone 3.1 IP or less in three of his past six). That’s not going to force the White Sox hands, and for a team that is already going nowhere they may choose to keep Kopech down and try to iron out the kinks as opposed to testing him at the highest level (though a clear need and being the team’s top pitching prospect forces us to keep him on the rankings).
9) Nick Senzel – Cincinnati Reds – Second Baseman (NR)
Back from the DL the question for Senzel now is when the Reds will open up second base to get him to the Majors. Overall he’s hitting .267 with 3 HR (10 extra base hits) over 105 AB at Triple-A, showing a strong approach (21.3% strikeout rate, 11.5% walk rate). Among the best prospects in the game, the Reds were able to avoid the temptation of shifting him back to third base when Eugenio Suarez was sidelined earlier in the season. Next time there’s an opening, they won’t be able to do so again.
10) Sandy Alcantara – Miami Marlins – Pitcher (NR)
The Marlins pitching continues to struggle, with their starters combining for a 4.51 ERA on the season. They are currently using Elieser Hernandez (4.50 ERA) and Wei-Yin Chen (6.10 ERA) for the final two spots of the rotation, but it’s just a matter of when they cycle to the next option. Alcantara, who made his MLB debut in ’17, should be at the top of the list when it comes to alternatives. While his strikeout rate at Triple-A isn’t going to grab your attention (6.51 K/9), he’s shown enough control (3.12 BB/9) and groundballs (55.8%) to excel (especially pitching in a spacious home ballpark). His 10.4% SwStr% also justifies a slightly better strikeout rate (last year he had a 10.2% SwStr% and 7.61 K/9 at Double-A). He may not be an elite pitching prospect, but he has the potential to make an impact.
Graduated/Dropped Off The Rankings:
- Garrett Hampson – Colorado Rockies – Second Baseman (6)
- Freddy Peralta – Milwaukee Brewers – Pitcher (9)
- Willie Calhoun – Texas Rangers – Outfielder (10)
Others We’re Watching:
- Willy Adames – Tampa Bay Rays – Shortstop
- 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
- 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: