Predicting the First 10 Minor League Hitters Who Will Be Promoted to MLB
Even though prospects such as Jackie Bradley Jr., Jedd Gyorko and Aaron Hicks cracked their respective team’s Opening Day roster, the game’s best young hitters will open the 2013 season in the minor leagues.
Lacking a path to consistent playing time in the major leagues, Prospect Pipeline’s top offensive prospects Jurickson Profar, Oscar Taveras and Wil Myers will begin the year in Triple-A. Meanwhile, fast-rising mashers such as Christian Yelich, Mike Zunino and Yasiel Puig are ticketed for Double-A, although their stay may be short-lived.
After looking at the first pitching prospects expected to be recalled from the minor leagues earlier in the week, I thought that I’d do something similar involving hitters. So, based upon organizational needs as well as each player’s service-time situation, here are my predictions for the first 10 hitters to receive a promotion to the major leagues this season, presented in chronological order.
Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
Coming off a monster campaign last season when he batted .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs in 134 games between Double-A and Triple-A, Myers was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays during the offseason as part of the prospect package used to acquire James Shields and Wade Davis.
However, Myers is actually in a perfect situation with his new team. Although he’s opening the season at Triple-A Durham, the 22-year-old essentially has a spot waiting for him in Tampa's outfield. However, it makes sense for him to open the season in the minors, as the organization will retain team control over its top prospect through 2019 by delaying his arrival until late April.
But once he’s free of those service-time restrictions, Myers should be the first major position prospect recalled from the minors.
Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Since he's the best hitter in the minor leagues, it’s going to be difficult for the St. Louis Cardinals to keep Taveras in the minors for an extended period of time. Despite making the jump from Low-A to Double-A last season, the 20-year-old thrived against more advanced competition, batting .321/.380/.572 with 67 extra-base hits (23 home runs) and 56/42 K/BB.
Due to Carlos Beltran’s participation in the World Baseball Classic, Taveras was the recipient of an extended look this spring in major league camp. The left-handed hitter certainly didn’t disappoint, batting .289/.325/.421 with six extra-base hits in 24 games.
The Cardinals won’t promote Taveras until he’s guaranteed everyday playing time. However, that could come at any moment given the overall fragility of the team’s corner outfield options. While he’s set to begin the 2013 season in Triple-A, the 20-year-old will be free of service-time concerns by late April, meaning the Cardinals can call him up at the end of the month and still retain control over his contract through the 2019 season.
Mike Olt, 3B-1B-RF, Texas Rangers
In a similar situation to teammate Jurickson Profar, Olt is blocked at the major league level at essentially every position. With Adrian Beltre in his way at the hot corner, the 24-year-old showcased his improved defensive versatility this spring in right field—though he’s still blocked by Nelson Cruz.
Promoted directly from Double-A to the major leagues last August, Olt batted .152/.250/.432 with 13 strikeouts in 40 plate appearances. He stood an outside chance of making the Opening Day roster this spring but was ultimately optioned to Triple-A after batting .194 with 12 strikeouts in 24 games.
Olt will be free of service-time concerns by late June and could return to the majors at that time, as he’s more likely than Profar to be utilized in a reserve role.
Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Signed to a massive contract last summer, nobody really knew what to expect from Puig. However, following his eye-opening performance in major league camp this spring, it’s clear that the 22-year-old isn’t far away from making an impact at the highest level.
Receiving an extended look this spring in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ outfield, Puig was a one-man wrecking crew, as he batted an astounding .517/.500/.828 with 30 hits (10 extra-base hits) and four stolen bases in 27 games.
Considering the nature of his contract, the Dodgers will only keep Puig in the minors as long as necessary. While the team’s big league outfield is stacked with Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier from left to right, Puig will surely be the first player recalled from the minor leagues if any of the aforementioned players are expected to miss an extended period of time. His arrival could even make one of them expendable.
While Puig is expected to arrive sometime after the All-Star break, parlaying his torrid spring into a hot start for Double-A Chattanooga could lead to an ahead-of-schedule debut in the major leagues.
Jurickson Profar, SS-2B, Texas Rangers
While there’s no doubt that the 20-year-old Profar is ready for an everyday role in the major leagues, he’s blocked at both middle infield positions by Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler, respectively. As a result, the Texas Rangers optioned the phenom to Triple-A to open the 2013 season, where he’ll bide his time until an inevitable return to the major leagues.
The good news, at least for the organization, is that the Rangers will benefit from keeping Profar in the minors until late May. At that time, they can call him up and still retain team control over his contract through the 2019 season. However, don’t expect the Rangers to promote Profar just because they can; the last thing they want to do is alter his current course of development.
Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners
The third overall pick in the 2012 draft, Zunino enjoyed an insanely good professional debut last summer. He not only made the jump from short-season to Double-A but batted .360/.447/.689 with 13 home runs in 44 games across both levels in the process.
Although he’s advanced enough to have opened the year in the major leagues, the 22-year-old stands to benefit from at least another half season in the minors. Service time won’t be an issue with Zunino, as the organization will only have to wait until late April to retain an extra year of team control. That said, he’ll definitely stay in the minor leagues beyond the first month of the season, as a call-up after the All-Star break seems most likely.
Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
In possession of the most exciting and dynamic tool in the game, Hamilton will use his elite speed to reach the major leagues this season. However, after struggling to the tune of .192/.250/.346 with nine strikeouts in 13 games this spring, it’s obvious that the switch-hitter is in need of further seasoning in the minor leagues.
Assigned to Triple-A to begin the year, Hamilton will work to improve his contact rate and on-base skills from both sides of the plate. Additionally, after moving from shortstop to the outfield this fall, the 22-year-old will benefit from the additional reps to begin the season.
With Shin-Soo Choo blocking his path to everyday playing time in center field, it’s doubtful that the Cincinnati Reds will recall the speedster in late April once he’s clear of service-time concerns. That said, it’s likely that Hamilton will serve as a late-season call-up. And while he may receive the occasional start in the outfield down the stretch, expect the Reds to primarily use him off the bench as a pinch hitter and pinch runner.
Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins
Yelich emerged as one of the best hitters in the game last season by batting .330/.404/.519 with 46 extra-base hits (12 home runs) and 20 stolen bases in 106 games in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. Despite having never played a game above High-A, the 21-year-old made a strong case to break camp in the major leagues by batting .364/.451/.818 with five home runs and 7/6 K/BB in 22 games this spring.
Reassigned to Double-A Jacksonville toward the end of camp, Yelich will unfortunately begin the 2013 season on the disabled list with plantar fasciitis. However, the injury isn’t considered serious, and he’s not expected to miss a significant amount of time.
Once he returns, Yelich will likely tear up Double-A pitching, because, well, that’s what he does. And considering the Miami Marlins’ aggressiveness in promoting top prospect Jose Fernandez from High-A to the major leagues, it’s likely that the left-handed hitting outfielder will debut at some point after the All-Star break.
Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
Selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the 2011 draft out of the University of Hawaii, Wong batted .287/.348/.405 with 38 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases last season in 126 games for Double-A Springfield.
Although he received his share of playing time this spring, Wong was ultimately limited to only 28 at-bats as the organization busily groomed both Daniel Descalso and Matt Carpenter at the keystone. Still, the 22-year-old made the most of his opportunities by batting .250/.276/.500 with four extra-base hits in 19 games.
While he’s clear of service-time restrictions in late April, it’s doubtful that the Cardinals will promote Wong if the Descalso-Carpenter combination is yielding results. However, it’s a forgone conclusion that he’ll at least serve as a late-season call-up.
Nick Franklin, 2B-SS, Seattle Mariners
After an injury-plagued 2011 campaign, Franklin bounced back in a big way last season by batting .278/.347/.453 with 52 extra-base hits (11 home runs) and 12 stolen bases in 121 games between Double-A and Triple-A.
Although he’s been developed at both middle infield positions, Franklin’s range and arm are a cleaner fit at second base than shortstop. And while he saw time at both spots this spring, the 22-year-old switch-hitter didn’t help his cause by batting .233/.294/.433 with a home run and eight strikeouts over 14 games.
In need of further seasoning in the minor leagues, Franklin will begin the year back in Triple-A. He doesn’t represent an upgrade over either Brendan Ryan and Dustin Ackley—at least not yet—though it’s worth noting that the Mariners will retain control of his contract through 2019 by holding him in the minors until late April. While a hot start could conceivably earn him a quick promotion, the organization would be wise to call him up later in the season.