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 (the number in parenthesis is their ranking from last week and all statistics are through Sunday unless otherwise noted):
1) Jameson Taillon – Pittsburgh Pirates – Starting Pitcher (1)
Taillon continues to bide his time at Triple-A, simply awaiting the opportunity to make his MLB debut. The hype that surrounded Juan Nicasio (4.79 ERA) prior to the season is quickly disappearing and Jeff Locke is hardly a “lock” to keep his rotation spot (5.08 ERA). Throw in the struggles of Francisco Liriano (4.63 ERA) and Jonathan Niese (4.42 ERA) and there are countless ways for the team to open up a rotation spot.
After missing 2014 & 2015 due to injuries there are limited bullets for Taillon this season, and it makes sense for the team to get him to the Majors and take advantage of them. You could argue Tyler Glasnow will be the first to arrive, but Taillon has been every bit as good, if not better (55.1 IP, 1.79 ERA, 0.80 WHIP), and has shown both strikeouts (54 K) and control (5 BB).
2) A.J. Reed – Houston Astros – First Baseman (6)
Tyler White continues to stumble along (.118 over the past 7 games, .167 over the past 30 games), and with Reed healthy the writing is on the wall for a change. He has hits in 6 of 7 games since being activated from the DL, going 7-22 with 2 RBI and 2 R. He’s continuing to show a good command of the strike zone, with a 22.2% strikeout rate and 13.9% walk rate, and we know it’s just a matter of time before the home runs start to present themselves (as it is he has 9 doubles and 6 HR over 123 AB). His time is coming, and it should be coming in short order.
3) Alex Reyes – St. Louis Cardinals – Starting Pitcher (5)
He’s thrived since returning from his 50-game suspension, so if there was an obvious rotation spot for him to take he’d likely come in atop these rankings. That said the two starters who have struggled the most, Michael Wacha (4.99 ERA) and Adam Wainwright (5.71 ERA), aren’t going to be bumped outside of an injury. Jaime Garcia could go down at any time, given his history, so that may ultimately be Reyes’ ticket though the team is no lock to make the playoffs and they can’t afford to leave a potential ace marinating at Triple-A.
In two starts (9.0 IP) Reyes has struck out 15 batters. He needs to make sure that he irons out his control (5 BB), something that has often been an issue, though he did walk just 2 in 5.0 IP in his most recent outing. He will get an opportunity and he may have the highest upside of anyone who is close, it’s just a matter of when there’s an opening.
4) Trea Turner – Washington Nationals – Shortstop (2)
If the decision to make a promotion was strictly based on offense Turner would already be in the Majors. While gaining an extra year of control may no longer be a question, Turner’s defense could keep him pinned at Triple-A. He’s already made 8 errors at Triple-A (.961 fielding percentage), compared to just 4 errors for Danny Espinosa. The Nationals starters have recorded 320 outs on the ground this season (11th in the league), so we know that’s not something they are simply going to overlook. Turner may not have much left to prove offensively (.319, 3 HR, 16 SB), but that’s not the only factor to consider.
5) Daniel Mengden – Oakland A’s – Starting Pitcher (NR)
With Sonny Gray on the DL and Oakland starters owning a 5.16 ERA (third worst in the league), it makes sense that Oakland will want to look for alternatives. Sean Manaea (7.03 ERA) has been among the biggest offenders, but he’s not alone as Rich Hill is the only starter with a sub-4.00 ERA and Jesse Hahn is the only other starter below 5.00.
Mengden has posted a 0.79 ERA and 0.91 WHIP between Double & Triple-A this season showing all of the skills that we look for:
- Strikeouts – 8.8 K/9
- Control – 2.7 BB/9
- Groundballs – 1.53 GO/AO
These 57.0 innings are his first above High-A, so the team could be conservative. Having already being promoted to Triple-A, though, maybe not. He’s already 23-years old and could be close to making an impact.
6) Joe Musgrove – Houston Astros – Starting Pitcher (7)
Most of the Astros’ starters have shown some life in May, though Mike Fiers has a 5.47 ERA in 5 starts (4 appearances) and represents the most likely rotation opening. The team could turn back to Chris Devenski, who is operating out of the bullpen, but you could argue that Musgrove is on the verge of forcing their hand.
Splitting time between Double and Triple-A he’s posted a 1.02 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 49 K and 5 BB over 44.1 IP. If that weren’t enough he also owns a 1.80 GO/AO, meaning he has shown the entire skillset that we look for from a starter. Over his minor league career he owns 282 K vs. 36 BB, so the control is hardly an aberration, and he also has a 1.43 GO/AO. All the skills are there, it’s just a matter of when the team opts to get him to the Majors.
7) Tim Anderson – Chicago White Sox – Shortstop (8)
His bat has come to life in May, hitting .353 with 3 HR and 6 SB. He’s also shown improved command of the strike zone (22 K over 119 AB) and has actually drawn a few walks (8 BB vs. 0 in April). It is looking more and more likely that the team is going to soon move on from Jimmy Rollins, and while Tyler Saladino could get the first opportunity the team may feel he’s better utilized in a utility role. That could lead to Anderson’s opportunity, and if he can make consistent contact his speed will certainly play in the Majors.
8) Blake Snell – Tampa Bay Rays – Starting Pitcher (3)
He allowed 5 ER in his last outing and also walked 3 batters over 5.1 IP. The latter is the big key, as his 22 BB over 46.1 IP represents a potential issue and a reason for the Rays to justify keeping him down to work on things. The success of Matt Andriese also helps to keep him suppressed, though Matt Moore has struggled (5.31 ERA) and has suddenly become mentioned in trade rumors. That could ultimately prove to be Snell’s path to the Majors, though time will tell.
9) Tyler Glasnow – Pittsburgh Pirates – Starting Pitcher (9)
His control has not been spot on this season, with a 4.02 BB/9, and that is the key reason why he finds himself behind Jameson Taillon on the depth chart. That’s not to say that there isn’t going to be an opportunity, because there are numerous ways for the Pirates to fit both youngsters into the rotation in short order. However Glasnow needs to consistently find the strike zone before we push him too high up these rankings.
10) Julio Urias – Los Angeles Dodgers – Starting Pitcher (4)
His first taste of the Majors didn’t go as planned, though we know it likely won’t be long before he returns. Part of the question now is going to be if he is utilized as a starter or a reliever, as the team has said they would employ him out of the bullpen to help limit his innings. That obviously will help to limit his potential impact in ’16, so despite being among the elite pitching prospects in the game we need to limit our expectations for the short-term.
Dropped Off Rankings – Nick Williams (PHI, OF)
Others to Watch:
- Ozzie Albies – Atlanta Braves – Shortstop
- Orlando Arcia – Milwaukee Brewers – Shortstop
- Alex Bregman – Houston Astros – Shortstop
- Willson Contreras – Chicago Cubs – Catcher
- P. Crawford – Philadelphia Phillies – Shortstop
- Lucas Giolito – Washington Nationals – Starting Pitcher
- Josh Hader – Milwaukee Brewers – Starting Pitcher
- Jeff Hoffman – Colorado Rockies – Starting Pitcher
- Aaron Judge – New York Yankees – Outfielder
- Peter O’Brien – Arizona Diamondbacks – Outfielder
- Jose Peraza – Cincinnati Reds – Second Baseman
- Robert Stephenson – Cincinnati Reds – Starting Pitcher
Sources – MILB.com, MLB.com, Fangraphs, Baseball Reference