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 (1)
The Super 2 deadline is likely behind us (if it weren’t, the Rays wouldn’t be as aggressive with their recent promotions as they have been), so that should start clearing the path for some top prospects to join the Majors. One should be Tucker, who is hitting .286 with 2 HR and 2 SB over 35 AB in June. The key is in his strikeout rate (19.5%, courtesy of an 11.9% SwStr%), as there’s no question about his power (he has 18 doubles, 1 triple and 9 HR) or speed (8 SB).
With the Astros surprisingly in a fight with the Mariners in the AL West, how much longer can they continue to run out underwhelming options who have combined to slash .239/.319/.396 while manning LF? Tony Kemp has heated back up, which may buy them a little bit more time, but the Astros can’t afford to keep the upside in the minors while costing themselves in the Majors. It should be just a matter of time before Tucker’s opportunity comes.
2) Willie Calhoun – Texas Rangers – Outfielder (NR)
The Rangers have talked about defense as the reason for Calhoun being pinned at Triple-A, but you have to think his production at the plate has also played a role. Finally we are seeing signs of life, including four multiple hit games in his past five (10-23 over this stretch) and the power is also beginning to play (2 HR over his past five games). He’s gone six games without a strikeout, and with 31 K over 245 AB that’s obviously not a concern. He’s now hitting .273 with 6 HR (and he’s added 16 doubles), showing the signs we’d like to see. With the bat warming up and the season spiraling, it’s just a matter of when the Rangers decide to give him his shot (and with Delino Deshields struggling, it may not be long for that to happen).
Update – Calhoun went 3-5 with 2 RBI and 1 R yesterday (including 2 doubles), giving him five multi-hit games in his past six
3) Christin Stewart – Detroit Tigers – Outfielder (2)
Stewart’s power has disappeared of late (he hasn’t homered since May 29), and the strikeouts have been up slightly during that time (14 K over his last 36 AB), but overall he continues to show an improved approach as he’s not swinging for the fences and “pressing” to try and make up for the power outage:
- Fly Ball Rate – 39.6%
- Strikeout Rate – 21.3%
- SwStr% – 11.7%
Power has never been the question and the SwStr% is still improved, despite spending the year at Triple-A (12.2% at Double-A in ’17). With Miguel Cabrera out for the season the need for more production is going to be obvious, and Detroit leftfielders currently own an ugly .202 (next to last)/.247 (last)/.335 (fourth worst). The path, opportunity and upside are all obvious, it’s just a matter of when the Tigers decide to pull the trigger.
4) Shane Bieber – Cleveland Indians – Pitcher (5)
The Indians turned back to Adam Plutko for their fifth starter spot but he struggled and may not get another turn through the rotation. That would mean a second opportunity for Bieber, who hasn’t missed a beat since returning to Triple-A. In his most recent outing (June 12) he allowed 1 ER on 5 H and 1 BB, striking out 5, over 7.1 IP and now has 72 K, 6 BB and a 1.48 GO/AO over 76.2 IP in the minor leagues (split between Double and Triple-A).
Even in his start in the Majors (4 ER over 5.2 IP), it’s easy to point towards “bad luck” as the reason for his struggles. He had 6 K vs. 1 BB in that start and allowed 2 HR over 5.2 IP, despite a 52.9% groundball rate. The upside is there with a strong lineup behind him, so don’t let the poor outing last time out distract you from the potential when he returns.
5) Danny Jansen – Toronto Blue Jays – Catcher (NR)
Toronto is clearly heading towards a rebuild, it’s just a matter of when they opt to start looking at some youngsters. While everyone will want to point towards Vladimir Guerrero Jr., among others, the most likely to get the first taste of the Majors is Jansen. The Blue Jays’ catchers have been horrific thus far (.206/.327/.373) and we all know that the future doesn’t lie with Russell Martin or Luke Maille. That should mean seeing what Jansen can bring, and while he’s not your prototypical power catcher he brings a great approach:
26 K vs. 24 BB over 160 AB at Triple-A
That ratio tells the story, and it’s helped him to hit .313 with 4 HR (he has added 14 doubles and 1 triple) and 34 RBI. With a 4.5% SwStr% and 25.4% line drive rate, he could make an impact.
6) Nick Senzel – Cincinnati Reds – Second Baseman (9)
Senzel has really picked up the pace with the bat, hitting .385 with 0 HR, 7 RBI and 5 R over 39 AB in June. Obviously we’d like to see some home runs, though are we really going to “nitpick” like that? He has 5 K vs. 5 BB over this stretch, and overall owns a 9.8% SwStr% to go along with a 19.9% strikeout rate and 11.3% walk rate. His bout with vertigo was a concern, but he’s shown no ill effects since returning to the lineup. The bigger question comes in terms of the playing time, and with Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez in place it will likely take an injury/trade to clear the playing time. That said if Senzel continues to hit he will soon force the issue.
7) Enyel De Los Santos – Philadelphia Phillies – Pitcher (NR)
De Los Santos isn’t the biggest prospect name, but he owns a 1.47 ERA and 1.01 WHIP over 73.1 IP at Triple-A and the Phillies are certainly performing better than expected. They aren’t going to sit back and let opportunities pass them by, and with their recent slide they could opt to give a look to another prospect to make an impact. Entering Tuesday’s start (when he tossed 7.0 shutout innings with 7 K vs. 3 BB) he showed enough of the skills we look for:
- Strikeouts – 9.36 K/9
- Control – 2.71 BB/9
- Groundballs – 39.6%
Home runs could be an issue, but with Vincent Velasquez and Zach Efflin both questionable his time may not be far off.
8) Kolby Allard – Atlanta Braves – Pitcher (3)
We all know he has the upside of being a #2 or 3 starter in the MLB rotation, and he also has thrived at Triple-A (2.22 ERA, 1.10 WHIP over 69.0 IP). The big question is when the opportunity will come, as Atlanta has a slew of young starters who could get a shot at any time. Even with Mike Foltynewicz getting injured on Tuesday (though he may not miss a start), Michael Soroka has returned, Julio Teheran isn’t far behind and Luiz Gohara is stuck in the bullpen waiting for another shot. Allard’s upside is higher than some of the other names on this list, but his path to playing time isn’t quite as clear.
9) Jose Suarez – Los Angeles Angels – Pitcher (6)
The Angels had been going six deep in the rotation so there isn’t a need today, but with Shohei Ohtani sidelined it’s obvious that the Angels are going to have to tap into their depth at some point. Suarez represents the most likely candidate, though he hasn’t quite been as effective since getting bumped to Triple-A (17.2 IP, 3.57 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 5.60 K/9, 5.09 BB/9). Control has been an issue, and the SwStr% is down (7.3%). This type of regression may be extreme, but he always carried the risk of more advanced hitters adjusting and not straying outside the zone. The opportunity will be there, but there’s no guarantee he thrives in it.
10) Michael Kopech – Chicago White Sox – Pitcher (8)
After getting bombed on June 2, Kopech rebounded strong in his most recent outing allowing 2 ER with 10 K over 6.0 IP. The problem is that he walked 5 batters in that start, and now has 9 BB over his past 8.0 IP (4+ BB in five of his past seven starts). The need for the White Sox is obvious and there’s little doubt that Kopech is going to get an opportunity, but do they want to let him work these kinks out at Triple-A instead of going through the type of growing pains we’ve seen from Lucas Giolito (and others) at the highest level? The team has no reason to force the issue, as they are looking towards 2019 and beyond, so it makes sense to let him continue honing his craft for a little bit longer.
Graduated/Dropped Off The Rankings:
- Jake Bauers – Tampa Bay Rays – First Baseman/Outfielder (4)
- Austin Riley – Atlanta Braves – Third Baseman (7)
- Sandy Alcantara – Miami Marlins – Pitcher (10)
Others We’re Watching:
- Peter Alonso – New York Mets – First Baseman
- Jalen Beeks – Boston Red Sox – Starting Pitcher
- Corbin Burnes – Milwaukee Brewers – Right-Handed Pitcher
- Garrett Hampson – Colorado Rockies – Second Baseman
- Eloy Jimenez – Chicago White Sox – Outfielder
- Freddy Peralta – Milwaukee Brewers – Pitcher
- Luis Urias – San Diego Padres – Second Baseman
- Ryan Cordell – Chicago White Sox – Outfielder
- Rookie Davis – Cincinnati Reds – Starting Pitcher
- Jon Duplantier – Arizona Diamondbacks – Starting Pitcher
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – Toronto Blue Jays – Third Baseman
- Austin Hays – Baltimore Orioles – Outfielder
- 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: