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MLB Prospect Watch: 10 Players on the Verge of Being Called Up

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistMay 7, 2013

MLB Prospect Watch: 10 Players on the Verge of Being Called Up

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    Now that we have entered the month of May, you are going to start hearing a lot of chatter about prospects who will be getting the call to the big leagues. 

    Major league clubs won't come out and admit it, but they want to keep their top players in the minors to delay their arbitration clocks and gain another year of control. It is a smart financial strategy, though it can hurt your playoff chances come October. 

    For instance, last year, the Los Angeles Angels kept the corpse of Vernon Wells in left field and sent Mike Trout back to Triple-A to start the year. Wells was awful, as expected, for a month, leading to Trout being called up and having the season he had. 

    But because the Angels started out the year so slowly, they missed the playoffs by four games. The odds of Trout alone being worth four wins in one month are zero, but having that presence at the top of the lineup might have helped Albert Pujols and others start faster. 

    Of course, not every prospect will have the impact that Trout did last year. A lot of the names on this list are going to struggle out of the gate, but that is to be expected. It is how they adjust that will make all the difference. 

    Here are the 10 prospects on the verge of breaking into the big leagues very soon. 

    Note: All stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted. 

Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

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    If by the time you are reading this the Rays have called up Wil Myers, it would not be a surprise. Any moment between now and June 1 seems realistic for the star outfielder acquired from Kansas City in the offseason.

    When the Rays sent Myers down to Triple-A in spring training, the thinking was he needed more work in right field before he was ready to play the position at the major league level. He is a good enough athlete that the adjustment shouldn't take too long. 

    The power hasn't been there for Myers in the first month of the year, as he has hit just three home runs and is slugging .422, but he is hitting for average (.275) and getting on base (.372). 

    One alarming trend that has continued from last season is the swing and miss in Myers' swing. He struck out 140 times in 522 at-bats last year. He has already punched out 39 times in just 109 at-bats in 2013. 

    Because Myers' approach and power are so good, I am not overly concerned about his ability to hit. I do wonder if he will be a player who hits more in the .260 range than .280-.290. As long as he drives the ball over the fence and hits in the middle of the lineup, the Rays will be happy. 

Adam Eaton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Admittedly this one is cheating, because Adam Eaton spent the first month of the season on the disabled list with an elbow injury suffered in spring training. If he hadn't gotten hurt, he would have started the season in the big leagues. 

    But since Eaton is still a prospect and playing rehab games in Triple-A Reno, we can include him here just to remind you that he is getting closer to returning. 

    Eaton was my choice for National League Rookie of the Year before he got hurt because I knew he was guaranteed a job out of spring training and his skill set seemed like one that would transition smoothly to the big leagues. 

    The 24-year-old doesn't bring much home run power with him, but he does almost everything else on a baseball field well. He has some bat speed with great plate coverage, plus-plus speed and a very good approach. His defense in center field is also plus. 

    When you combine Eaton's ability to hit for average, get on base, use his speed to take the extra base and play plus defense at a premium position, you have at least an above-average everyday player.

Scooter Gennett, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers

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    This is probably going out on a limb, at least at this particular moment, because Milwaukee has a second baseman in Rickie Weeks who is making $23 million total through 2014 and Scooter Gennett has just 24 games of experience at Triple-A. 

    But Weeks is a complete trainwreck right now. He is hitting .189/.302/.297 with just two home runs and 30 strikeouts in 111 at-bats. That is coming after a disappointing 2012 season when he posted a .230/.328/.400 line. 

    Weeks' calling card has always been his plus-plus bat speed, but now that he is over 30 and injuries have beaten his body up throughout his career that tool is gone. 

    Gennett is a fringy prospect to begin with, fitting into the gritty and gutty category--you wonder why Arizona hasn't tried to snatch him up. He has hit for average everywhere he has played in the minors, but doesn't walk much and won't hit home runs. 

    That said, Gennett does make a lot of contact and hits a ton of doubles (89 in the last three years). For a major league team that has seen its second baseman unable to make any kind of consistent, hard contact, perhaps Gennett is the kind of player they would like to see in the lineup. 

    It will likely take an injury to Weeks before Gennett gets the call, but how long can a team put up with the numbers Weeks has had the last one-plus seasons?

Nick Franklin, 2B, Seattle Mariners

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    To try and list all the problems with Seattle's offense over the last five years would take more time than you have. But one of the biggest issues has been an inability to develop homegrown talent that everyone assumed would hit. 

    The three big hitting prospects brought into the fold by the Mariners in the last three years were Dustin Ackley (drafted second overall in 2009), Justin Smoak (acquired from Texas in July 2010) and Jesus Montero (acquired from New York in January 2012). 

    Smoak is virtually done. He is in his fourth full season in the big leagues, can't hit off-speed stuff and has a career line of .224/.309/.372. He is getting on base this year (.347), but isn't adding anything else. 

    Montero still has time to figure things out, as this is just his second full season. But a .203/.250/.324 start for a player regarded as the best hitting prospect in baseball two years ago and as close to a can't-miss bat as there was has taken a lot of the shine off his star. 

    Then there is the second base conundrum the Mariners are in. At the time he was drafted, Ackley was regarded as the best pure hitter in the 2009 class. He had a great swing, made hard line-drive contact and could eventually turn into a 15-20 home run hitter. 

    A strong rookie season when he hit .273/.348/.417 made it look as if the Mariners had found a rock to plug into the top of their order for a long time and build around. Instead, Ackley has regressed in spectacular fashion. 

    Ackley hit .226/.294/.328 in 153 games last year, and he is off to an even worse start this year at .248/.288/.305. 

    The Mariners do have a second baseman in Nick Franklin just waiting for an opportunity. He has a good understanding of how to hit, brings solid home run power and can hit a lot of doubles and will play at least average defense with solid hands and range to both sides. 

    Franklin's numbers in the Pacific Coast League (.337/.461/.518) are a little inflated because that league caters to hitters, but he also has a history of performance, the tools to be a big leaguer and, frankly, couldn't be worse with the bat than Ackley. 

Grant Green, 2B, Oakland Athletics

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    The Oakland Athletics liked Grant Green so much coming out of USC they made him the No. 13 pick in the 2009 draft. He was an advanced college hitter without a clear position when he was taken, so his path to the big leagues was somewhat skewed. 

    Eventually Green found a home at second base. He isn't an elite defender at the position, but he does have enough range and arm strength to be adequate. 

    Despite a successful transition to second base and a career line of .302/.350/.461 in the minors, the Athletics have yet to give him a shot in the big leagues. He was added to the 40-man roster after last season, so he is clearly getting closer. 

    Oakland has used journeyman Adam Rosales and Andy Parrino at second base this season. Rosales has hit for average and gotten on base in an 11-game sample, but neither player is the future for this team. 

    At 25 years old, Green is getting up there in age. He is repeating Triple-A, a level he had success at last season, so what is he really gaining from another tour?

    He has enough bat to hit for average with a lot of doubles and 15 home runs. If he is average defensively, he is a starter in the big leagues. The A's aren't exactly hurting for offense right now, as they lead the league in runs scored, but they do have an upgrade at second base available when they want it. 

Zack Wheeler, RHP, New York Mets

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    Even though numbers aren't a proper way to evaluate a player, it was hard to ignore Zack Wheeler's line after five starts with Triple-A Las Vegas. He allowed 26 hits and 14 walks in 23.1 innings.

    That is a bad place to pitch anyway, but for a top-tier right-hander it might be better to just let him repeat Double-A before bringing him up. The Mets opted to challenge Wheeler with a Triple-A assignment. 

    It turns out that Wheeler wasn't just having problems with the level, as he had to tweak some things with his mechanics to get back to the high level he set for himself. 

    The results have shown, as Wheeler has worked 12.2 innings in his last two starts, allowing just eight hits and one run with two walks and 12 strikeouts. 

    While there isn't a rush to get Wheeler to the big leagues because the Mets aren't going to compete for a playoff spot this year, his time is rapidly approaching. He just needed to iron out a few things and get more consistent fastball command before getting the call. 

    Things started slowly for the 23-year-old but have quickly turned around. It will be fun to watch this New York team when Harvey and Wheeler are pitching in that rotation. 

Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

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    From start to start you never know which Chris Archer you are going to see. He can look like the most dominant pitcher in the minors with three plus pitches one day, then be unable to find the strike zone the next. 

    It is that level of inconsistency that holds Archer back from being one of the best pitching prospects in the game. In terms of raw stuff, he is electric. The 24-year-old can pump fastballs at 97 with ease and features a knockout slider. 

    The problems for Archer stem from lack of a consistent third pitch—his changeup can flash plus but he has to throw it more to get a better feel—and throwing strikes. No one doubts that he can miss bats, but his ultimate role will depend on his ability to command all his pitches. 

    This season Archer has allowed 33 hits and 12 walks but also struck out 35 in 31 innings of work. The Rays don't have an immediate need in the rotation, but with Fernando Rodney's continued struggles and the entire bullpen's 4.80 ERA (28th in baseball), Archer should get a look very soon. 

    Even if moving Archer to the bullpen, for at least some, if not all, of the 2013 season minimizes his value, it fills an immediate for a team that has playoff aspirations. 

Kyle Gibson, RHP, Minnesota Twins

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    When you look at the work the Minnesota Twins have done over the last year to add high-ceiling talent to their system, you can't help but marvel at how bright the future for this franchise looks.

    From Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton to Aaron Hicks, Eddie Rosario and Oswaldo Arcia, they are loaded with position players. Their pitching isn't quite as exciting right now, but there are a lot of intriguing arms. 

    Alex Meyer probably has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the system. Kyle Gibson is the closest of their top prospects to debuting. 

    Gibson was taken in the first round of the 2009 draft and was on a relatively fast track to the big leagues before Tommy John surgery late in 2011 delayed everything. The right-hander worked his way back to pitch 11 innings in the minors last year before throwing in the Arizona Fall League. 

    While the command was still off, Gibson did look a little stronger post-surgery. His fastball was touching 95 and slider had good break when he controlled it. 

    He is still missing a bit in the zone this season, giving up 32 hits in 31.2 innings, but he has an excellent 27-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and only allowed two home runs.

    You can understand why the Twins are playing things slowly with Gibson, but given where he is and where they are, it is not a stretch to say that he should see the big leagues before June 1. 

Trevor Bauer, RHP, Cleveland Indians

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    Another player I am taking some liberties with, since Cleveland has already used Trevor Bauer in spot starts twice this season. But there is going to come a point where the 22-year-old makes consecutive starts in the big leagues. 

    Anyone who has seen Bauer's two starts with the Indians this season knows what his biggest problem is right now: fastball command and control. He has walked 13 in 10 innings, but has only given up three hits and three runs. 

    Bauer had his curveball and changeup working well against Philadelphia on May 1. He just has to be able to pitch off his fastball, which he can't because he tries to overthrow it and it sails high on him. You can get away with elevating the heater in Triple-A, but big leaguers are going to lay off the pitch. 

    It is not time to panic with Bauer, because the stuff is still very good and he has a 24-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Triple-A. The Indians are going to need starting pitching as the season moves along, but they see the few things he has to work on to be his most-dominant self. 

    Perhaps letting Bauer work them out in Triple-A is bad for him, since he knows he can succeed there. He did it last year when he was in Arizona's system and has done it early in 2013. The only way to get better at throwing strikes against big league hitters is to face them.

    Bauer won't have to wait too long before he gets to do that on a consistent basis. 

Jarred Cosart, RHP, Houston Astros

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    There is going to come a moment this year where the Houston Astros start bringing up some of the players who figure prominently in their future plans. Jonathan Singleton could have been the first of the bunch had he not been suspended for the first 50 games of the season. 

    Instead, look for outfielder George Springer and right-handed pitcher Jarred Cosart to be at the top of the list. Springer is off to a fantastic start this year, hitting .288/.378/.644 with 11 home runs in the Texas League. He is still striking out too much with 40 in 118 at-bats. 

    Cosart has carried over his strong, albeit brief, run in Triple-A at the end of last year into 2013. He has allowed just 19 hits with 29 strikeouts, 11 walks and a 2.63 ERA in 27.1 innings. 

    Throwing strikes has always been a big knock against Cosart. He generates velocity and movement on his fastball thanks to an incredibly quick arm, but he doesn't finish the delivery after the ball leaves his hand. That is what leads to his wildness and could end up pushing him to the bullpen. 

    Cosart also throws a curveball that will flash plus with great shape and sits in the low- to mid-80s. His changeup is still a work-in progress, though it can be an effective weapon if he gets a feel for it. 

    The Astros are in a spot where they can put Cosart in the rotation and see how he handles himself before making a long-term decision. 

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