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)
Sure he’s “slumped” a bit recently, with four straight hitless games (0-16) after a lengthy hitting streak. He’s still hitting .304 with 13 HR (as well as 24 doubles and 2 triples) and 14 SB over 322 AB at Triple-A. The power and speed have never been in question, it’s his ability to make consistent contact. Currently the owner of a 12.6% SwStr%, it’s an improvement from last year’s 13.2% despite spending the entire year at Triple-A. That’s led to a solid 19.3% strikeout rate, and even if it “ballooned” to 26-27% in the Majors it would be more than enough (think .260-.270 with 20/20 potential).
The Astros can’t shake the Mariners (they entered Thursday leading by 1.5 games) and they can’t afford to leave their top talent in the minors. Tony Kemp has done a nice job as the bridge (.301 with 2 HR and 3 SB over 103 AB), but we all know he’s not the long-term answer. It’s just a matter of when, not if, Tucker is summoned to join the Astros.
2) Jonathan Loaisiga – New York Yankees – Pitcher (NR)
Maybe this is a technicality, but the Yankees did demote him recently (they will likely use a Monday double-header to manipulate the roster and get him back up prior to the 10-day minimum stay in the minors). The biggest issue continues to be his ability to work deep into games, as he’s thrown 18.0 innings over 4 starts in the Majors (4.5 innings/start). He’s shown strikeouts (10.50 K/9 in the Majors), groundballs (60.0% groundball rate, though he’s not quite that good) and should improve upon his command (BB/9 of 0.45 at Double-A and 1.08 at Triple-A in ’18). He likely isn’t a long-term solution in ’18, as the Yankees are a near lock to bring in starting pitching depth, but for now he’s going to be back and he’s going to hold the potential to make an impact.
3) Francisco Mejia – Cleveland Indians – Catcher (NR)
Remember when he was an early season non-factor? Whatever the reason, he righted the ship in June and is looking like the top prospect he’s long been considered:
- April – .187 with 2 HR and 10 RBI
- May – .192 with 1 HR and 7 RBI
- June – .455 with 4 HR and 23 RBI
He had just 14 K over 99 AB in June, and he also added 14 doubles (he had a total of 6 over the first two months of the season). There’s going to be a spot for him, whether it’s behind the plate, in the outfield or as the DH, but with the bat warming his time will come before long.
4) Willie Calhoun – Texas Rangers – Outfielder (7)
We continue to wait for Calhoun, and the fact that it was Ryan Rua tapped recently over him speaks volumes. That said we all know Rua shouldn’t be an impediment to his ascent, and Calhoun is finally getting things going with the bat. Through July 4 he was hitting .405 with 1 HR and 7 RBI over a 10-game stretch (he’s on an 11-game hitting streak), and he’s only struck out twice over that span. Of course there are still obvious questions that are holding him back:
- Power – It hasn’t been there quite as we expected, with 7 HR on the year (though he does have 25 doubles)
- Walks – He’s gone 9 straight games without a walk and has 18 BB over 330 AB this season
Maybe the team is still waiting for him to make adjustments, or they are holding onto the notion that defense is the issue, but his time is going to come.
5) Cedric Mullins – Baltimore Orioles – Outfielder (8)
The Orioles recently recalled Joey Rickard to help fill out the outfield, so even if they don’t trade one of their top outfielders prior to the deadline there’s obviously a need (and there is a chance that Adam Jones is shipped out). Enter Mullins, who may not be viewed as the team’s top outfield prospect though he’s making a strong case for it.
Entering Thursday he was riding a seven-game hitting streak, going 14-31 with 1 HR, 4 RBI, 9 R and 1 SB. Splitting time between Double and Triple-A he’s hitting .300 with 9 HR, 42 RBI, 61 R and 14 SB. He’s not necessarily known for his power, though he’s added 24 doubles and 7 triples so he’s not a non-factor (12-15 HR in the Majors should be expected). Pairing that with speed and a strong approach (47 K over 327 AB, courtesy of a 6.7% SwStr%) and you get a potential difference maker at the top of the batting order.
6) Dakota Hudson – St. Louis Cardinals – Pitcher (NR)
The Cardinals are currently using John Gant as their fifth starter (with Michael Wacha sidelined) and Luke Weaver has “enjoyed” a miserable season (5.16 ERA over 17 starts). It would therefore appear that there’s going to be an opportunity, and while the Cardinals could go out and acquire an alternative why not look to see if there’s a viable in-house solution first?
Pitching at Triple-A Hudson has shown solid control (3.14 BB/9) and an elite groundball mark (57.7%). We’d like to see more strikeouts (6.91 K/9 courtesy of a 10.1% SwStr%), and that’s something that’s been a constant issue (6.08 K/9 over 114.0 IP at Double-A last season). That’s going to help to cap his upside, and we’d like to see slightly better control because of it. Still, with his groundball ability he’ll have the potential to make a splash.
7) Peter Alonso – New York Mets – First Baseman (5)
Let the Mets talk about keeping Alonso at Triple-A as long as they’d like, at the end of the day they need to start looking towards 2019 and seeing if they have the pieces (or need to go out and acquire alternatives). First base is a questionable spot, and whether it’s ultimately Jay Bruce, Dominic Smith, Alonso or someone outside of the organization they need to have answers.
Alonso has struggled over his first 17 games at Triple-A, hitting .194 with 3 HR and 15 RBI, but he showed his upside at Double-A (.314 with 15 HR) and he continues to show an ability to get on base (.351 OBP at Triple-A, with 13 BB). It may only take one hot stretch to get him to the Majors, but even if it’s not until September (though we’d expect him sooner) there’s little doubt that he’ll get an opportunity in ’18.
8) Enyel De Los Santos – Philadelphia Phillies – Pitcher (9)
Vincent Velasquez has hit the DL with a forearm contusion, and while it’s not an injury that’s going to keep him out long-term it still should open the door for a fill-in option. Will it be De Los Santos? Time will tell, though he’s clearly deserving of the opportunity. Over 15 starts at Triple-A he owns a 1.81 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, though you could question the actual “skills”:
- Strikeouts – 8.56 K/9
- Control – 3.02 BB/9
- Groundballs – 41.4%
Home runs could be an issue and his control is solid but not stellar (he had a 2.88 BB/9 at Double-A in ’17). His 12.0% SwStr% shows that he could improve his strikeout rate at least slightly (think a strikeout per inning). There’s value, but he may not make the impact of others.
9) Jalen Beeks – Boston Red Sox – Pitcher (3)
With Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright on the DL, the Red Sox are using Brian Johnson as their fifth starter but does anyone believe that will last? Beeks has already made a spot start for Boston this year and while he has had some bumps along the way he owns a 3.05 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over 82.2 IP at Triple-A. A 39.6% groundball rate, playing half his games in Fenway (and the risk of facing the Yankees routinely), is a little bit of a red flag when it comes to home runs. Of course an 11.98 K/9 and 2.50 BB/9 are inviting and even as he’s “regressed” he still put up a 3.86 ERA in June. He won’t be a must start, but as a streaming starter there’s potential appeal.
10) Danny Jansen – Toronto Blue Jays – Catcher (10)
As we’ve noted for the past few weeks, the Blue Jays are heading towards a rebuild and it’s just a matter of time before they start taking a closer look at some of their top prospects. Russell Martin and Luke Maille aren’t the long-term answer, so taking a look at Jansen makes sense despite his recent struggles (he’s hitting .176 over his past 10 games). He’s not a power hitter, but he’s hitting .283 over 205 AB at Triple-A while showing strong plate discipline (33 K vs. 29 BB). Especially in two-catcher formats, he needs to be on all radars.
Graduated/Dropped Off The Rankings:
- Nick Kingham – Pittsburgh Pirates – Pitcher (2) – Graduated
- Matt Thaiss – Los Angeles Angels – First Baseman (4) – The return of Shohei Ohtani as the DH puts Thaiss’ arrival far on the back burner
- Eloy Jimenez – Chicago White Sox – Outfielder (6) – He’s currently sidelined with a strained adductor muscle, which is expected to keep him out for 2 weeks
Others We’re Watching:
- Kolby Allard – Atlanta Braves – Pitcher
- Corbin Burnes – Milwaukee Brewers – Right-Handed Pitcher
- Garrett Hampson – Colorado Rockies – Second Baseman
- Michael Kopech – Chicago White Sox – Pitcher
- Christin Stewart – Detroit Tigers – Outfielder
- Jose Suarez – Los Angeles Angels – Pitcher
- Luis Urias – San Diego Padres – Second Baseman
- Alex Verdugo – Los Angeles Dodgers – Outfielder
- 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
- Austin Riley – Atlanta Braves – Third Baseman
- Victor Robles – Washington Nationals – Outfielder
Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com, MLB.com