Each MLB Team's MLB-Ready Minor Leaguer Who Could Help out the Most

Mike RosenbaumMLB Prospects Lead WriterMay 8, 2013

Each MLB Team's MLB-Ready Minor Leaguer Who Could Help out the Most

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    The first week of May is usually when the first wave of prospects are promoted to the major leagues. And no, it’s not a coincidence.

    Due to the respective service-time concerns of each prospect, most teams are hesitant to promote one of their budding stars ahead of schedule. Besides delaying their arbitration clock, keeping a player in the minor leagues for a designated amount of time results in an additional year of team control over their contract. And it just so happens that the first week of May is when a large contingent of prospects are finally clear of the aforementioned service-time concerns.

    Furthermore, with a full month’s worth of games to reflect on, both at the minor- and major-league level, the beginning of May is a period during which every team assesses their strengths and weaknesses, and determines how to improve their on-field product.

    For some organizations, that solution lies within the upper echelons of their farm system.

    Here’s a look at every team’s seemingly big-league ready prospect who could help the most right now.

Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles

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    2013 Stats: .257/.336/.347, 7 XBH, 13 RBI, 20/9 K/BB (26 G)

    40-man Roster: Yes

    Second base continues to be a weak spot for the Orioles, as Brian Robert’s latest injury—I know; shocker—has left the team with a platoon of Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla. Obviously neither of those two players is their long-term answer at the position, while Roberts is completely unreliable given his age (35) and checkered medical history.

    Much like their former prospect-turned-star Manny Machado, who was promoted from Double-A to the major leagues last August, the Orioles have moved future second baseman Jonathan Schoop through their system aggressively. The 21-year-old is beginning to heat up at Triple-A Norfolk, and it may only be a matter of time until the organization gives him a crack at the keystone in the major leagues.

Allen Webster, RHP, Boston Red Sox

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    2013 Stats: 20 IP, 2.70 ERA, .171 BAA, 26/6 K/BB (4 GS)

    40-man Roster: Yes

    Webster made his big-league debut last month in the nightcap of a double-dip against the Royals, and except for his inability to retire Alex Gordon, was impressive. At 6’2”, 190 pounds, the right-hander has a power arm that results in easy mid-90s fastballs with arm-side action. While his slider is already a slightly above-average pitch for the level, the strides that Webster has made with his changeup is what makes him ready for a more consistent role in the major leagues. Thrown in the low-to-mid-80s, he has a legitimate feel—at least relative to previous seasons—for locating the pitch at the bottom of the zone, as it’s emerged as his primary weapon against left-handed hitters.

    While the Red Sox rotation has already surpassed all expectations through the first month of the season, the lone straggler is Felix Doubront who owns a 5.67 ERA and .302 BAA through five starts. He may not be immediately supplanted by Webster at the backend of the rotation, but don’t expect the Red Sox to tolerate his overall inconsistency for much longer.

     

    Update: Between the time this article was written and published, the Red Sox announced that Webster will be recalled from Triple-A and start in place of Felix Doubront on Wednesday.

Mark Montgomery, RHP, New York Yankees

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    2013 Stats: 14.1 IP, 1.88 ERA, .200 BAA, 20/7 K/BB (9 G)

    40-man Roster: No

    Besides David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, the Yankees bullpen is in need of more game-changing arms, especially those capable of missing bats in the late innings. The good news is that they house one of the game’s top relief prospects at Triple-A in Mark Montgomery.

    Since he was drafted in 2011, the right-hander has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the Yankees’ system thanks to a plus-plus slider that’s resulted in an astonishing 14.4 K/9 through 106 innings. Viewed as a potential heir to the throne once Rivera retires, Montgomery is ready to contribute at the major-league level and, in my opinion, overdue for a promotion.

Alex Torres, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays

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    2013 Stats: 32 IP, 1.69 ERA, .165 BAA, 41/11 K/BB (6 GS)

    40-man Roster: Yes 

    With a loaded starting rotation that features two of the game’s premier left-handed arms in David Price and Matt Moore, not to mention the fact that they have Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi waiting in the wings at Triple-A Durham, it’s doubtful that Torres will get a chance to start in the major leagues this season barring a rash of injuries.

    With that said, Torres has demonstrated improved control and command this season at Triple-A with an impressive .161 BAA and 34/9 K/BB in 26 innings. The organization used him as a reliever in late 2011, and given the struggles of their bullpen through the first month of the season, his return to the major leagues in such a role seems imminent.

Erik Johnson, RHP, Chicago White Sox

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    2013 Stats: 34.2 IP, 1.30 ERA, .160 BAA, 36/10 K/BB (6 GS)

    40-man Roster: No 

    In the wake of Monday’s news that Gavin Floyd will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, the White Sox will presumably go with left-hander Hector Santiago at the backend of their starting rotation. While I can’t argue that the decision is in the best interest of the organization, as Santiago is more than capable of such a role, Floyd’s injury could also serve as an opportunity to work one of their few pitching prospects into the mix.

    Right-hander Erik Johnson, 23, is off to a terrific start at Double-A Birmingham and making a strong case for a big-league promotion with a 1.30 ERA, .160 BAA and 36/10 K/BB through six starts. With a four-pitch mix that includes one of the better sliders in the minor leagues, I don’t see the harm in giving him a chance to start a few games before the All-Star break, even if only to assess his potential role for the 2014 season.

Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland Indians

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    2013 Stats: 28.2 IP, 2.83 ERA, .212 BAA, 43/9 K/BB (6 GS)

    40-man Roster: Yes

    After missing most of the 2010 and 2011 seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Salazar has quietly emerged as the Tribe’s second-best pitching prospect behind Trevor Bauer, who was acquired from the Diamondbacks during the offseason.

    Thanks to a plus fastball in the mid-to-upper-90s and steadily improving secondary offerings, the 23-year-old right-hander is currently dominating at Double-A Akron, while his 43 strikeouts is tied with Yordano Ventura (Royals) for the highest total in the Eastern League. And since he’s already on the 40-man roster, it’s possible that the organization may choose to promote him over Trevor Bauer—who still has serious command issues to iron out in the minor leagues—the next time there’s an opening in the starting rotation.

     

    Update: The Indians promoted Salazar to Triple-A Columbus on Tuesday night.

Kenny Faulk, LHP, Detroit Tigers

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    2013 Stats: 11.2 IP, 0.77 ERA, .135 BAA, 18/7 K/BB (9 G)

    40-man Roster: No

    Although Rick Porcello has pitched better in his last two outings, the right-hander remains on thin ice with the organization due to his disappointing start to the season. If he is replaced in the starting rotation in the near future, chances are that southpaw Drew Smyly will get the nod given his success in a variety of bullpen roles this season.

    If that does take place, the Tigers could, in theory, replace him with another left-hander, Kenny Faulk. Through five seasons in the Tigers’ system, Faulk, 25, has amassed 45 saves while posting a 11.2 K/9. More importantly, he’s been highly effective against left-handed hitters with a .162 BAA over the last three seasons.  

Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals

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    2013 Stats: 29.1 IP, 1.84 ERA, .181 BAA, 43/11 K/BB (6 GS)

    40-man Roster: No

    Much like Danny Salazar, Ventura, a wiry-thin, hard-throwing right-hander, is making a strong case for an ahead-of-schedule promotion to the major leagues thanks to an outstanding start at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. With a fastball that sits in the upper-90s and routinely touches triple-digits, Ventura, 21, has made considerable progress with his curveball and changeup over the last year, which has aided his success at Double-A this season.

    While there’s no obvious spot for him in the starting rotation, the organization may ultimately decide to get his feet wet as a reliever so as to prepare him for a starting role later in the season and/or boost his trade value.

Kyle Gibson, RHP, Minnesota Twins

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    2013 Stats: 31.2 IP, 4.26 ERA, .267 BAA, 27/9 K/BB (6 GS)

    40-man Roster: Yes

    After missing a majority of the 2012 season recovering from the Tommy John surgery, Gibson’s stuff and command is finally back where it should be—though his numbers in Triple-A thus far don’t necessarily corroborate that notion.

    Considering the early-season struggles of Vance Worley and Mike Pelfrey in the starting rotation, it won’t be long until the Twins turn to their vastly improved farm system for assistance. While Alex Meyer offers the most upside and has the ability to make the greatest impact, the right-hander has just a few Double-A starts under his belt. Therefore, expect the 25-year-old Gibson to be the first arm recalled from the minors.

Jarred Cosart, RHP, Houston Astros

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    2013 Stats: 27.1 IP, 2.63 ERA, .190 BAA, 29/11 K/BB (6 G/5 GS)

    40-man Roster: Yes 

    One of the more frustrating pitchers in the minor leagues due to his impressive pure stuff but inability to miss bats with a hint of consistency, Cosart appears to finally be putting all together this season at Triple-A Oklahoma City. For the first time in several years, the 22-year-old right-hander is commanding his three-pitch mix and in turn has seen his strikeout and walk rates trend in the right direction.

    While the Astros remain cautious in terms of rushing his development, their big-league rotation has been a revolving door over the first month of the season, and it shouldn’t be long until Cosart receives an opportunity to prove he belongs.

Michael Choice, OF, Oakland Athletics

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    2013 Stats: .309/.422/.527, 6 HR, 26 RBI, 25/19 K/BB (29 G)

    40-man Roster: No 

    Had it not been for a broken hand last July, there’s a decent chance that Choice would have reached the major leagues as a September call-up. However, the 23-year-old masher is making up for lost time last season with a red-hot start at Triple-A Sacramento.

    With Coco Crisp on the disabled list and Yoenis Cespedes manning center field in the interim, the A’s may consider promoting Choice depending on the length of the former’s absence. Even though Choice is seemingly best suited for a corner spot, he’s stuck in center field longer than most expected, and should at least be serviceable in the major leagues.

Nick Franklin, SS/2B, Seattle Mariners

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    2013 Stats: .337/.461/.518, 19 R, 9 XBH, 13/18 K/BB (23 G)

    40-man Roster: No 

    Through the first five weeks of the season, the Mariners’ middle infielders—Brendan Ryan, Dustin Ackley and Robert Andino—are collectively batting .198 with seven extra-base hits and 14 RBI. And if it wasn’t for Ackley’s recent awakening after losing playing time to Andino, that average would probably be closer to .170. On the other side of the infield, though, the combination of Ryan and Andino is unbearable.

    While I believe that Franklin would benefit from at least a half season at Triple-A Tacoma, his across-the-board improvements—more consistent approach; actually driving the ball from his natural right side—warrants consideration for a call-up in the near future. Even if he’s over-matched against major-league pitching, Franklin’s bound to be more productive than the team’s current dreadful duo.

J.R. Graham, RHP, Atlanta Braves

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    2013 Stats: 28.2 IP, 3.45 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 25/8 K/BB (6 GS)

    40-man Roster: No 

    After an excellent full-season debut across two levels in 2012, Graham, 23, boosted his stock with an impressive showing in major-league camp this spring out of the Braves’ bullpen. With a loaded starting rotation that already features one rookie (Julio Teheran), the organization’s decision to audition Graham as a reliever foreshadowed his use in such a role later this season.

    Boasting a ridiculously heavy fastball that reaches 96-97 mph in shorter stints, the right-hander has the potential to be an immediate asset as a big-league reliever. And with the recent struggles at the back end of the team’s bullpen, his promotion could be sooner than expected.

Brian Flynn, LHP, Miami Marlins

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    2013 Stats: 35 IP, 2.31 ERA, .228 BAA, 34/7 K/BB (6 GS)

    40-man Roster: No

    Acquired by the Marlins shortly before the trade deadline last season in the deal that sent Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to Detroit, Flynn has always showcased good stuff with average command of a four-pitch mix, but the 6’7” left-hander has never thrived as he seemingly should.

    However, Flynn appears to be putting it all together this year, as he was already handed a promotion to Triple-A after a red-hot start for Double-A Jacksonville. The Marlins have been aggressive with the 23-year-old’s development since acquiring him last July. And given Wade LeBlanc’s dismal start to the season in the big-league rotation, it only makes sense that they’ll challenge him with a call-up sometime soon.

Zack Wheeler, RHP, New York Mets

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    2013 Stats: 36 IP, 4.00 ERA, .246 BAA, 40/17 K/BB (7 GS)

    40-man Roster: Yes 

    Wheeler got off to an unexpected shaky start for Triple-A Las Vegas this season as he dealt with a bothersome blister situation and struggled to adjust to the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League environments. But after dominating in his last two outings, the 22-year-old appears to have righted the ship. 

    Widely regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in the game, there’s no question that Wheeler has the stuff and makeup to pitch in the major leagues right now. And with his recent turnaround it’s reached the point where each subsequent start at Triple-A may be his last.

Adam Morgan, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies

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    2013 Stats: 34.2 IP, 3.89 ERA, .233 BAA, 26/11 K/BB (6 GS)

    40-man Roster: No

    Before the Phillies announced that they would recall Tyler Cloyd from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to start Wednesday’s game, it was reported that they were also considering promoting left-hander Adam Morgan.

    Thanks to three above-average-to-plus offerings and impressive pitchability, Morgan, 23, has moved quickly through the Phillies’ system after opening the 2012 season in High-A. Although he’s off to a solid start at Triple-A, the organization’s decision to promote Cloyd makes sense as he’s already on the 40-man roster. However, Morgan’s time is coming—soon.

Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers

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    2013 Stats: 33 IP, 1.91 ERA, .197 BAA, 37/6 K/BB (6 GS)

    40-man Roster: No 

    The Brewers already made an adjustment to their starting rotation this season when they replaced swingman Mike Fiers with Hiram Burgos, a 25-year-old right-hander who opened the 2012 season in the Florida State League (High-A). And considering rookie Wily Peralta struggling to miss bats and work deep into starts, another shakeup could be in order.

    Meanwhile, Jimmy Nelson is off to great start at Double-A Huntsville, as the 6’6” right-hander is showcasing improved fastball velocity in the mid-90s, his usual plus slider and a noticeably refined changeup. That being said, the Brewers may also consider using him as a reliever given his two plus pitches. Either way, the organization will have to designate a player for assignment to make room for Nelson on the 40-man roster.

Andy Oliver, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    2013 Stats: 38.1 IP, 2.82 ERA, .187 BAA, 44/23 K/BB (7 GS)

    40-man Roster: Yes 

    A second-round draft pick of the Tigers in 2009, Oliver was rushed through their system and reached the major leagues in his professional debut. After that, however, the left-hander’s once-promising career spiraled out of control as he struggled mightily at Triple-A Toledo and during a second big-league audition.

    With no hope in sight, the Tigers cut ties with Oliver last December when they traded him to the Pirates. Although his control and command hasn’t fully returned, the 25-year-old has benefited from the change of scenery and is off to a solid start at Triple-A Indianapolis. And with multiple starters already battling injuries this season, it’s a safe bet that Oliver finally makes it back to the major leagues in the near future.

Michael Blazek, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    2013 Stats: 11 IP, 5 SV, 0.82 ERA, .175 BAA, 13/6 K/BB (11 G)

    40-man Roster: Yes 

    The Cardinals made it well known last week that they were displeased with the collective early-season performance of their bullpen, as they demoted Mitchell Boggs to Triple-A and called up right-handers Carlos Martinez and Seth Maness late last week.

    However, the organization houses yet another hard-throwing starter-turned-reliever in Michael Blazek, 24, who currently serves as the closer at Double-A Springfield. And since he’s already on the team’s 40-man roster, he could be first in line for a promotion when the need arises.

Jake Barrett, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    2013 Stats: 11 IP, 8 SV, 1.64 ERA, .150 BAA, 18/2 K/BB (11 G)

    40-man Roster: No 

    Even though Barrett, the Diamondbacks’ third round draft pick last June, is currently pitching for High-A Visalia, the right-hander’s fastball-slider mix is already good enough to retire big-league hitters. The 21-year-old has been utterly dominant to begin the season—as evidenced by his video game-like numbers—and is due for a promotion to Double-A in the coming weeks, and could conceivably finish the year in the Diamondbacks’ bullpen. (Think Carter Capps in 2012.)

Zach Lee, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    2013 Stats: 31.2 IP, 2.56 ERA, .268 BAA, 25/8 K/BB (6 GS)

    40-man Roster: No

    Although Lee no longer projects to be the frontline starter that was envisioned at the time he was drafted in 2010, his deep arsenal and mature feel for pitching has allowed him to move through the Dodgers’ system quickly. Despite going through a learning year in 2012 between High-A and Double-A, the organization remained aggressive with the 21-year-old right-hander by assigning him to Triple-A for the 2013 season.

    As one of the younger pitchers at the level, Lee has showcased impressive command of his four-pitch mix, and more importantly, continued to improve in the face of advanced competition. And if Matt Magill struggles on Friday as he did in his previous start, it wouldn’t surprise me if Lee gets the call the next time through the rotation. 

Robbie Erlin, LHP, San Diego Padres

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    2013 Stats: 18.1 IP, 3.44 ERA, .270 BAA, 13/7 K/BB (4 GS)

    40-man Roster: Yes 

    Called up by the Padres for additional bullpen depth in late April, Erlin, 22, appeared in two games before he was sent back to Triple-A. Having been developed as a starter in the minor leagues, the left-hander has impressive command of three above average-or-better offerings and a feel for attacking hitters’ weaknesses; he’s the type of pitcher who should thrive in spacious Petco Park.

    And considering the Padres placed southpaw Clayton Richard on the disabled list over the weekend, Erlin is arguably the top candidate to start in his place later this week.  

Heath Hembree, RHP, San Francisco Giants

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    2013 Stats: 15.1 IP, 8 SV, 2.35 ERA, .196 BAA, 16/4 K/BB (14 G)

    40-man Roster: No

    With a lack of talent in the upper levels of their system, the only prospect capable of making an impact in the near future is Heath Hembree. After struggling last season in his first taste of the Pacific Coast League, the 6’4” right-hander has fared much better in his second tour with eight saves and a 2.35 ERA. Hembree lacks a clear path to playing time in the major leagues, but should be the first reliever promoted in the event of an injury.

Not so Fast...

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    Unfortunately, every team doesn't necessarily house a prospect capable of improving the on-field product in the major leagues. For the teams selectively omitted from this article, here's a look at their next-in-line prospect with a few quick thoughts.

     

    Toronto Blue Jays: Receiving minimal production from Emilio Bonifacio at the keystone, the Blue Jays could turn to Ryan Goins at some point this season. Although he lacks an impact tool, the 25-year-old middle infielder is a gamer who manages to make things happen on both sides of the ball.

     

    Los Angeles Angels: In possession of arguably the worst farm system in the game, the Angels current lack of serviceable prospects is astonishing. The only conceivable option would be right-hander A.J. Schugel, though he'd likely be used as a swingman much like Michael Roth.

     

    Texas Rangers: While calling up Jurickson Profar would seemingly help the Rangers' scuffling offense, the organization made it clear at the onset of the season that they want the 20-year-old to receive everyday at-bats. In terms of pitchers, the organization may considering promoting right-hander Cory Burns, who has been excellent as the Triple-A Round Rock closer.

     

    Washington Nationals: Anthony Rendon showed that he belong in the major leagues before Ryan Zimmerman's return from the disabled forced a demotion back to Double-A. And much like Profar, the Nationals would rather having him get regular at-bats in the minors than serve as a reserve in the major leagues.

     

    Chicago Cubs: With a majority of the Cubs' top prospects stashed in the low minors, right-hander Trey McNutt is probably the only player capable of contributing in the major leagues this season, likely as a long reliever.

     

    Cincinnati Reds: He may be the fastest player in the game, but Billy Hamilton needs further experience and refinement in the major leagues. He should receive a promotion at some point later this season, but for now he has his share of adjustments to make in Triple-A.

     

    Colorado Rockies: Like many of the other teams on this list, the Rockies' best young talent is still years away from reaching the major leagues. However, one intriguing candidate is outfielder Corey Dickerson, who has mashed his way up the ladder and currently owns a .945 OPS at Triple-A Colorado Springs.