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 Tuesday):
1) Eloy Jimenez – Chicago White Sox – Outfielder (1)
Quite a stir was created recently when Jimenez was held out of the lineup at Triple-A, but it turned out that he was suffering from flu-like symptoms and not being promoted to the Majors. That said a promotion appears to be imminent as he’s hitting .376 with 8 HR (and 9 doubles) over 109 AB while also making consistent contact (14 K). Further flaming the fire is this quote from the White Sox player development director Chris Getz, courtesy of Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune:
“He has done nothing but perform,” Getz said. “This guy’s been able to drive the ball to all fields. He’s been able to set up pitchers. … He’s got a pretty good arm. We just want to make sure he’s as ready as possible. We’re getting really close.”
At this point it would be shocking if he wasn’t up before September, and once he’s back on the field he could be just days away.
2) Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – Toronto Blue Jays – Third Baseman (2)
The Blue Jays have kept their promise in having Guerrero make a stop at Triple-A before bringing him to the Majors, and thus far it appears to be little more than a speed bump as he’s hitting .389 (7-18) with 8 BB vs. 2 K over his first 7 games. He hasn’t produced many extra base hits (just 1 double and 0 HR), but if you are going to point towards that you are looking for a reason to be “down” on him (he had 19 doubles, 1 triple and 14 HR over 234 AB at Double-A). Arguably the elite prospect in the game, he could spend a few more weeks at Triple-A and ultimately join the Blue Jays for September. The fact that he could be held down longer is the only reason he’s a step behind Jimenez, but his impact could be equal (if not greater).
3) Kyle Tucker – Houston Astros – Outfielder (NR)
We took an in-depth look at him yesterday (click here for the article) as we tried to figure out what to make from his poor performance in his first taste of the Majors (.156 with 0 HR and 1 SB over 45 AB). His performance since returning to Triple-A only got better after writing that article, as he went 4-6 with 1 HR, 3 RBI and 4 R on Tuesday night, bringing him to 11-28 with 2 HR, 7 RBI, 9 R and 2 SB in 6 games since being demoted. It’s easy to be down on him, given the struggles in the Majors, but there’s little doubt that he has the upside of a must use fantasy option. Don’t lose hope as many players struggle the first time around, the key is taking that experience and growing from it. Thus far Tucker is showing us just that (even though it’s an extremely small sample size).
4) Peter Alonso – New York Mets – First Baseman (3)
Finally the Mets are talking about Alonso getting a look in the Majors this season, as MetsBlog recently noted:
Mets assistant GM John Ricco said last week that Alonso was entrenched in Triple-A for now, but it would make sense for him to get a long look this September as the team decides what to do at first base in 2019 and beyond.
After a slow start at Triple-A he’s clearly starting to force their hand. After homering on Tuesday (4-5, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 R) Alonso has now homered in three of his past four games and has brought his average up to a far more respectable .247 to go along with 12 HR and 47 RBI over 166 AB. The biggest change in his performance has been a spike in his strikeouts (55 K over 166 AB), though he entered Tuesday with a still respectable 10.7% SwStr% and 11.6% walk rate. He’s clearly making the necessary adjustments, and if he continues to thrive he could join former teammate Jeff McNeil on the right side of the Mets infield before long.
5) Michael Kopech – Chicago White Sox – Pitcher (NR)
Control has always been the biggest question hanging over him, but suddenly he’s trying to put that behind him. Over his past 5 starts (31.0 IP) he’s walked just 4 batters while striking out 41. The strikeouts have never been a question and while he’s not a groundball machine (0.76 GO/AO), if opponents aren’t making contact they can’t hit the ball out of the ballpark (and if he’s avoiding walks their damage will be minimal).
The White Sox also have a clear need in the rotation, with their starters owning the fifth worst ERA (5.11) and since the All-Star Break their staff owns a similarly bad 5.13 ERA. How long can they keep running Dylan Covey (5.32 ERA in 4 starts), Reynaldo Lopez (6.17 ERA in 4 starts) and others out there? Kopech is getting close, and with his strikeout stuff could be a difference maker down the stretch. He also should have about 50-55 innings to work with, only further improving his stock.
6) Taylor Ward – Los Angeles Angels – Third Baseman (5)
Splitting time between Double and Triple-A the converted catcher is hitting .350 with 14 HR, 59 RBI, 61 R and 17 SB over 360 AB. While he is hitting .342 over his past 10 games, it has come with 0 HR, 0 SB and 14 K so you at least have to wonder exactly what’s been going on. He also had a 7.6% SwStr% at Triple-A entering Tuesday so the strikeouts aren’t a big concern, while he’s continued to hit the ball hard (24.8% line drive rate).
This week the Angels cut ties with Luis Valbuena, and with David Fletcher shifting over to second base after the trade of Ian Kinsler (and with Zack Cozart out for the season) the team has a clear hole at the hot corner. Kaleb Cowart has gotten the bulk of the starts of late, but he’s hitting .185 in 27 AB in the Majors this season (and is a career .196 hitter with 5 HR in 260 AB). We all know he’s not the solution and it’s just a matter of time before Ward is summoned so the team can take a look and see if he could fill the role for 2019.
7) Justus Sheffield – New York Yankees – Pitcher (NR)
Chance Adams is currently getting a look in the Yankee rotation, but Sheffield has been the better pitcher this season and could force his way into the mix before long. He’s thrown as many as 127.2 innings in a season, though that came in 2015 so we’ll have to see how far they are willing to push him. Figuring in the 150ish range, he’d still have about 50 innings and that should be more than enough.
Sheffield has also been on quite a roll of late, allowing 1 ER or fewer in six straight starts (5 ER on 19 H and 12 BB, striking out 30, over 35.1 IP). Between Double and Triple-A he does own a 3.88 BB/9 and 43.6% groundball rate, which is a scary mix for someone who will pitch in the AL East (and Yankee Stadium). It’s easy to envision home run issues, assuming opponents can make consistent contact (12.3% SwStr%). There’s obvious potential, but there’s also risk that’s going to keep his ranking suppressed a bit.
8) Danny Jansen – Toronto Blue Jays – Catcher (4)
Russell Martin has suddenly started producing at the plate, and you have to wonder if that could keep Jansen pinned down at Triple-A for a little while longer. That said Jansen continues his steady performance at Triple-A, hitting .269 with 12 HR and an impressive 48 K vs. 42 BB over 290 AB. In 357 career AB at the level he’s hit .280 with 15 HR, which sets a pace of 21 HR over a 500 AB season. Couple that (which could easily translate to Toronto) with an elite approach and is it hard to envision a Top 10 offensive catcher? The Blue Jays need to see if he’s going to be the answer for 2019, and regardless of what Martin is doing he’ll be up to the Majors at some point in ’18.
9) Cedric Mullins – Baltimore Orioles – Outfielder (6)
Mullins had slowed down a little bit, but he’s picked things up again with a mini three-game hitting streak (4-12 with 3 SB) and has now drawn a walk in 4 straight games. Between Double and Triple-A he’s hitting .288 with 11 HR and 21 SB over 441 AB. A potential top of the order bat we’d obviously like to see better than a 7.6% walk rate, which is why the recent walk streak could be key to his development and eventual recall. There’s no questioning his approach (6.7% SwStr%) and the Orioles clearly have a need in the outfield and at the top of the order (Baltimore’s .300 OBP from the leadoff spot is the sixth worst in baseball and their 3 SB is tied for the second fewest in the league). Mullins could be the ideal table setter that they are looking for, and it makes sense to give him a look and see what he can do.
10) Francisco Mejia – San Diego Padres – Catcher (NR)
Likely the best prospect traded at the deadline, Mejia continues to get himself right at the plate after a slow start to the season. Since the trade he’s hitting .341 with 1 HR over 41 AB, but even better is his 6 K vs. 5 BB. No one was ever going to question his upside, the issue now is when the team wants to push him into the Majors and send Austin Hedges to the bench (or at the very least a timeshare).
Graduated/Dropped Off The Rankings:
- Kolby Allard – Atlanta Braves – Pitcher (7)
- Oscar Mercado – Cleveland Indians – Outfielder (8)
- Austin Riley – Atlanta Braves – Third Baseman (9)
- Christin Stewart – Detroit Tigers – Outfielder (10)
Others We’re Watching:
- Griffin Canning – Los Angeles Angels – Pitcher
- Ryan Mountcastle – Baltimore Orioles – Third Baseman
- Kevin Newman – Pittsburgh Pirates – Shortstop
- Victor Robles – Washington Nationals – Outfielder
- Jose Suarez – Los Angeles Angels – 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
- Austin Hays – Baltimore Orioles – Outfielder
Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com, MLB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Midseason Rankings: