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) Willie Calhoun – Texas Rangers – Outfielder (1)
Everyone has been waiting for the Rangers to summon Calhoun to the Majors, and while they’ve resisted citing defensive concerns (though it likely was more tied to his lack of performance at the plate) there’s no chance it lasts much longer. While he had an 18-game hitting streak snapped on July 15, he’s followed that up with back-to-back multi-hit games (4-8 with 1 HR, 3 RBI and 3 R). The power isn’t quite where we’d want it, he’s hitting .307 with 8 HR, 42 RBI, 56 R and 4 SB overall. Just consider he was slashing .229/.308/.365 at the end of April… Now look at the slashes for the subsequent three months:
- May – .303/.327/.413
- June – .306/.336/.444
- July – .455/.538/.673
He’s struck out 40 times over 368 AB, continuing to show an ability to make consistent contact. We all know that the power is there as well and it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s recalled shortly after the Rangers start the second half on Friday.
2) Austin Riley – Atlanta Braves – Third Baseman (NR)
After being sidelined with an injury Riley is back at Triple-A and hitting (he had a modest three-game hitting streak through Tuesday, going 6-14). No one is going to question his potential and upside, as he’s hitting .297 with 4 HR over 128 AB at Triple-A, though we’ll have to closely watch his strikeout rate (14.8% SwStr%) as it could get worse upon reaching the Majors (as it is he has 42 K over 128 AB).
That said Atlanta has a need at 3B, as they challenge for a postseason berth, as their options have slashed .255/.334/.420 with Johan Camargo offering the highest upside. While there has been a little bit of hype, does anyone truly believe that he’s the future (.265 with 8 HR over 170 AB)? The Braves are going to need all hands on deck if they want to not only reach the postseason, but thrive, so it makes sense to give Riley the chance to seize the role.
3) Cedric Mullins – Baltimore Orioles – Outfielder (2)
Manny Machado will be the first domino to fall, and the Orioles are going to soon be taking a look at numerous young players. Mullins is often overlooked, with eyes falling on Austin Hays, but Mullins is closer to the Majors today (playing at Triple-A) and impressing at each step. A prototypical leadoff hitter, he’s combined to hit .295 with 10 HR and 15 SB between Double and Triple-A this season (while adding 26 doubles and 7 triples). Would anyone complain about a 12/25 type hitter who owns a 6.8% SwStr% over 184 PA at Triple-A? The Orioles need a leadoff hitter of the future, and they need help in the outfield today (even without a trade). Mullins fills both of those needs and could thrive upon reaching the Majors.
4) Jeff McNeil – New York Mets – Second Baseman (NR)
Peter Alonso gets a lot of the attention, and rightfully so, but McNeil was promoted to Triple-A at the same time, may have a clearer path to the Majors (Asdrubal Cabrera will be traded ahead of the deadline) and has been more productive since the promotion:
- Double-A – .327 (70-214) with 14 HR and 43 RBI
- Triple-A – .385 (42-109) with 5 HR and 26 RBI
A late bloomer, the 26-year old has added 25 doubles and 5 triples, showing that the power could very well be for real. He’s kept the strikeouts in check since arriving at Triple-A (15.4% courtesy of a 10.6% SwStr%), and while he won’t maintain this average the upside is clear. As soon as Cabrera is jettisoned McNeil should join the Majors.
5) Danny Jansen – Toronto Blue Jays – Catcher (3)
Often overlooked, Jansen delivered a home run during the Future’s Game and shouldn’t be long for the Majors. People often cite a lack of power, but he has 3 HR over 30 AB in July (excluding the Future’s Game) and 6 HR and 25 RBI over 97 AB since June 1. In 291 AB at Triple-A over the past two seasons he’s posted an overall impressive line:
.292 with 11 HR, 56 RBI and 44 R over 291 AB
Add in 21 doubles and 2 triples and it’s easy to imagine the 23-year old profiling as an 18-22 HR hitter in the Majors. Couple that with an impressive approach (4.4% SwStr% in ’18) and he is a potential Top 10 catcher immediately. Russell Martin and Luke Maile shouldn’t be a deterrent, so the Blue Jays simply need to decide it’s time to bring Jansen to the Majors. His time should come, and it may be before July has come to a close.
6) Peter Alonso – New York Mets – First Baseman (4)
He became the talk of the Future’s Game over the weekend, as MLB Pipeline tweeted the following:
There has NEVER been a home run of 113+ mph with a 40+ degree launch angle measured by @statcast. Until @Mets No. 2 prospect Peter Alonso did this in today’s #FuturesGame: https://t.co/TnRERMFTjb pic.twitter.com/QHwdW49QFI
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) July 16, 2018
He’s gotten off to a slow start since being promoted to Triple-A, though he had started to show signs of turning things around prior to the Future’s Game (3-8, 2 HR, 6 RBI over two games). Through Tuesday he had continued to show an ability to work the strike zone, with a 13.1% walk rate over 107 PA, and his average should improve dramatically (.196 BABIP, 29.9% strikeout rate courtesy of a 10.7% SwStr%). The Mets may wclaim he won’t see the Majors this season (and Yoenis Cespedes seeing time at first base complicates the issue), but that’s hard to believe given the struggles of Dominic Smith and with an eye towards 2019 and beyond.
7) Christin Stewart – Detroit Tigers – Outfielder (NR)
We have been waiting and waiting and waiting for Stewart to arrive, though the Tigers have resisted the temptation. Time on the DL also helped to slow his ascent, but he’s back at Triple-A and the calls for his recall should soon start to grow once again. We all know the power that he has (16 HR over 292 AB at Triple-A), and he’s shown an improvement in his contact rate (10.8% SwStr%). Couple those marks with a 10.3% walk rate and a team that’s clearly in rebuilding mode, it makes sense to get a look at him at the highest level this season and prepare him for a starting role from Opening Day 2019. Why continue running out Mikie Mahtook and Jacoby Jones, who likely aren’t a part of the future?
8) Dakota Hudson – St. Louis Cardinals – Pitcher (8)
You could argue that the Cardinals have an opportunity regardless of if they fall out of playoff contention or not, with Michael Wacha on the DL and Jack Flaherty struggling (4.73 ERA in three July starts). Now throw in the potential for trades to further open an opportunity and it’s easy to imagine Hudson getting his shot.
Outside of the strikeouts (79 over 104.1 IP) it’s hard to argue against him, as he’s gone 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA. A groundball machine (57.6%) coupled with enough control (3.11 BB/9) and a little bit more strikeout potential (10.4% SwStr%), it’s easy to envision a strong performance upon reaching the Majors.
9) Kolby Allard – Atlanta Braves – Pitcher (6)
Allard has made 17 starts at Triple-A, posting a 2.85 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, though he’s done it with solid control and questionable strikeouts (6.99 K/9) and groundballs (39.3%). There is a little bit more upside in the strikeout rate (10.6% SwStr%), which helps, but the team has ample depth in the rotation and he’s not necessarily the first up when/if an opportunity arises. That said the Braves remain in a pennant race and Allard could offer an upgrade/option if others struggle or run out of innings.
10) Jalen Beeks – Boston Red Sox – Pitcher (NR)
He was up in the Majors prior to the All-Star Break, though he worked out of the bullpen. While the Red Sox could go out and acquire an option to replace Eduardo Rodriguez, who is expected to miss a significant amount of time, they could also look to Beeks to fill the new hole on the roster. In 15 starts at Triple-A he owns a 3.05 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 110 K and 23 BB over 82.2 IP. A 39.6% and pitching in the AL East does bring risk of home run issues, but a 12.6% SwStr% and his solid control should help to limit the damage. He may not have the overall upside of others, but given the team behind him there’s obvious value.
Honorable Mention – Luis Urias – San Diego Padres – Second Baseman (7)
San Diego second baseman have been among the worst in the league, slashing .234/.297/.315 (the SLG is the worst in baseball) with just 5 HR and 4 SB. You can argue that Urias doesn’t offer significantly more upside, with 7 HR and 2 SB over 320 AB at Triple-A (the Pacific Coast League). That said he does know how to get on base (.391 OBP courtesy of 55 BB) and is an ideal #2 hitter ahead of Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer. The Padres have an eye towards the future, and getting Urias acclimated and ready to produce in 2019 makes a lot of sense.
Graduated/Dropped Off The Rankings:
- Francisco Mejia – Cleveland Indians – Catcher (5)
- Alex Verdugo – Los Angeles Dodgers – Outfielder (9)
- Kevin Newman – Pittsburgh Pirates – Shortstop (10)
Others We’re Watching:
- Griffin Canning – Los Angeles Angels – Pitcher
- Garrett Hampson – Colorado Rockies – Second Baseman
- Michael Kopech – Chicago White Sox – Pitcher
- Ryan Mountcastle – Baltimore Orioles – Shortstop
- Justus Sheffield – New York Yankees – Pitcher
- Jose Suarez – Los Angeles Angels – Pitcher
- 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
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Midseason Rankings: