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)
How much more does he have left to prove at Triple-A? In 36 games he’s hit .348 with 11 HR and 26 RBI, showing an ability to make consistent contact (19 strikeouts). The White Sox have said his promotion was coming close, and while they could keep him down until September it’s going to start to be harder and harder to justify.
We took a look recently at what we should expect from Jimenez upon his promotion to the Majors, which you can read by clicking here.
2) Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – Toronto Blue Jays – Third Baseman (2)
He just keeps hitting… And hitting… And hitting… Over his first 13 games at Triple-A he’s hitting .372 with 4 HR and 7 RBI, while drawing more walks (9) than strikeouts (6). That’s highly impressive for any player, let alone a 19-year old. The Blue Jays said that Guerrero wouldn’t bypass Triple-A, after he tried to force their hand with his Double-A performance (.402 with 14 HR over 234 AB), and they’ve stayed true to their word. At the same time with Danny Jansen recently being recalled it’s clear that the Blue Jays are starting to look towards the future.
The bigger question here is with Josh Donaldson and when/if he’s going to return to the Major League lineup. His return isn’t imminent, and he also is likely to leave via free agency in the offseason so the team shouldn’t allow his presence to stop Guerrero but it needs to be noted all the same.
3) Michael Kopech – Chicago White Sox – Pitcher (5)
Control… Control… Control… That’s always been the question facing Kopech and it appears that he has finally answered it. He’s on a streak of six straight starts having walked 2 batters or fewer (4 BB over 34.0 IP) and he has 0 BB in three of his past four starts. That alone would be enough to excite fantasy owners, but he has complimented it with 8+ K in five of the six starts (over his past two starts he has 18 K vs. 0 BB).
If you wanted to split hairs you can point to a 38.3% groundball rate, but with the other numbers any home run damage should be minimal. There is no question that the White Sox have a glaring need in their rotation and there’s no reason to fear a potential shutdown (120.1 IP in ’18 after 134.1 IP in ’17, meaning he should have 45-50 innings left to work with). If he continues to throw strikes, he’s going to continue producing and get the opportunity in the Majors.
4) Justus Sheffield – New York Yankees – Pitcher (7)
The Yankees are going to need a starter to step in for CC Sabathia, and it’s also possible that they “find” an injury for Luis Severino to give him a breather. Regardless, while you’d think Chance Adams would be the favorite to step in he was shelled in his return to Triple-A (7 ER over 3.1 IP) and allowed 2 HR in his MLB debut. That could open the door for Sheffield, who has been on a dominant roll at Triple-A over his past seven starts.
During this stretch he’s allowed 1 ER or fewer in each start, totaling 5 ER on 28 H and 13 BB, striking out 35, over 40.1 IP. In 15 appearances at Triple-A (he made 5 starts at Double-A) he owns a 2.16 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, though there is some risk as his control has been a little inconsistent (3.53 BB/9) and there’s the potential of home run issues (0.91 GO/AO) pitching in Yankee Stadium. That said the Yankees are still looking for answers in the rotation, and at this point they should simply be looking for the best pitchers they have.
5) Frank Schwindel – Kansas City Royals – First Baseman (NR)
Kansas City first baseman own the fourth lowest SLG in the league, with an overall slash of .217/.292/.364. Ryan O’Hearn was recently recalled, but he’s opened going 4-25 with 2 HR and the two “top” options have been a disaster:
- Hunter Dozier – .211 (47-223), 5 HR, 14 RBI
- Lucas Duda – .242 (64-265), 10 HR, 42 RBI
Enter Schwindel, who at 26-years old is hitting .284 with 21 HR and 76 RBI at Triple-A. He’s added 31 doubles and 1 triple, showing the power potential, while keeping the strikeouts down (13.1% strikeout rate courtesy of a 10.5% SwStr%). You can argue that his average is likely to tumble (14.6% line drive rate), but he’s been particularly hot as of late (.373/.407/.647 in August) and has little left to prove at Triple-A (.302 with 38 HR over 822 AB). They might as well see if he has a role in the Majors moving forward.
6) Francisco Mejia – San Diego Padres – Catcher (10)
The struggles of Mejia appear to be behind him, as he’s hitting .306 with 2 HR and 6 RBI over 62 AB since the trade to San Diego. Overall he is hitting .283 with 9 HR (and 25 doubles), which is amazing considering how bad he was at the start of the season (.187 in April, .192 in May). He’s continued to bring a strong approach (8.9% SwStr%) and hit the ball hard (22.9%), and while now calling San Diego home may limit his power potential he should be able to be an extra base machine and a force in the middle of the order. Think of him as a potential .280+ hitter with 10-12 HR (and potentially 30+ doubles), though at 22-years old further growth in the power department is very possible. Regardless, he’s going to push Austin Hedges and while they may share the role initially, there’s little question who the long-term answer is.
7) Victor Robles – Washington Nationals – Outfielder (NR)
We spoke about him in detail yesterday, so click here for the article. The fact is that the Nationals season appears to be going nowhere, and while the outfield is crowded there’s a good chance Robles gets an extended look by September. Assuming they resign Bryce Harper (no guarantee), how does an outfield of Harper, Robles and Juan Soto sound? At the same time, getting Robles right and thriving in the Majors could make it easier for Washington to watch Harper leave as a free agent if the price tag really gets ridiculous.
8) Ryan Mountcastle – Baltimore Orioles – Third Baseman (NR)
A year ago it was Austin Hays who was brought up directly from Double-A. This year could Mountcastle make a similar leap? There’s no question that the team has a need at the hot corner, with Tim Beckham shifting to shortstop after the trade of Manny Machado. For his part Mountcastle has done his best to force the issue:
.303 (95-314) with 12 HR, 50 RBI, 50 R and 1 SB
There is the risk of strikeout issues, especially if he makes this type of leap, as he owned a 13.9% SwStr% entering play on Tuesday (despite a seemingly solid 17.5% strikeout rate). That’ll be something to watch closely, though considering his extra base showing a year ago (48 doubles, 1 triple and 18 HR) and the success he’s had this season there’s enough upside. It’s quite possible he’s viewed as the third baseman for 2019, so it makes sense to give him a taste of the Majors now to get his feet wet and allow him to start learning/adjusting to MLB pitching.
9) Peter Alonso – New York Mets – First Baseman (4)
You would think that Alonso would be a lock to be recalled, but the Mets may ultimately be reluctant to put him on the 40-man roster when they don’t have to this offseason. Obviously it would be great to see if he could be the answer, but Jay Bruce and David Wright could both see time there in September and Dominic Smith could get one last chance to prove himself. It doesn’t make sense to put him on the roster and not have him playing regularly, so the chances of him arriving appear to be diminishing.
That said he’s doing his best to force the issue. After a slow start at Triple-A he’s now hitting .251 with 14 HR over 187 AB, including hitting .348 with 5 HR in just 46 AB in August. He’s now hitting .285 with 29 HR and 105 RBI on the season, showing that there’s little question about his ability at the plate. The question is if there’s an opportunity, and depending on how Bruce and Wright look in their rehabs it’s possible this is the last time Alonso appears on these rankings this season.
10) Nathaniel Lowe – Tampa Bay Rays – First Baseman (NR)
He’s not going to supplant Jake Bauers, but if Lowe keeps raking at Triple-A could he get an opportunity to push C.J. Cron to the bench and hold down the DH spot? It’s easy to envision, as he’s hitting .348 with 25 HR and 93 RBI over 411 AB across three levels. Couple those numbers with an 8.0% SwStr% (which was his number over 224 PA at Double-A) and a 12.9% walk rate, showing a strong approach, and the upside outlook continues to grow.
The 2016 13th round draft pick has come out of nowhere and hasn’t shown a sign of slowing down. He only has 30 AB of Triple-A experience, so there’s a good chance he stays in the minors until the Triple-A season ends (and it’s possible the 23-year old never arrives, as they may not want to add him to the 40-man roster). That said there’s a clear path and obvious upside, so he has to be on radars.
Graduated/Dropped Off The Rankings:
- Kyle Tucker – Houston Astros – Outfielder (3)
- Taylor Ward – Los Angeles Angels – Third Baseman (6)
- Danny Jansen – Toronto Blue Jays – Catcher (8)
- Cedric Mullins – Baltimore Orioles – Outfielder (9)
Others We’re Watching:
- Griffin Canning – Los Angeles Angels – Pitcher
- Jon Duplantier – Arizona Diamondbacks – Starting Pitcher
- Oscar Mercado – Cleveland Indians – Outfielder
- Kevin Newman – Pittsburgh Pirates – Shortstop
- Austin Riley – Atlanta Braves – Third Baseman
- Christin Stewart – Detroit Tigers – 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
- Austin Hays – Baltimore Orioles – Outfielder
Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com, MLB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Midseason Rankings: