Nick Castellanos represents an upgrade in left field for the Tigers.
The 2013 season has already featured promotions of many of the game’s top-ranked prospects to the major leagues. And now that service time is no longer a concern for most teams, the arrival of more young talent during the second half is imminent.
While the 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star Game is still a few weeks away, the halfway point of the minor league season has already come and gone. For teams that handled their top prospects conservatively to begin the season, the second half offers an opportunity to challenge them at more advanced levels, with the goal of furthering their development and gauging their proximity to the major leagues.
Therefore, the flurry of promotions over the last two weeks throughout the minor leagues shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
But which prospects should we expect to see in the Show this season? Here’s a look a five prospects likely to receive a second-half promotion.
The No. 18 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Gray was expected to move quickly through the A’s system given his college background and pure stuff. But after a brief but impressive stint at Double-A to conclude his professional debut, the 5’11” right-hander struggled at the level in 2012 and posted a 4.14 ERA with 97/57 K/BB in 148 innings.
This season, the organization once again challenged Gray with an aggressive Opening Day assignment, moving him up to Triple-A Sacramento in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, despite the fact that he had yet to master Double-A.
But things have come together quickly for the 23-year-old, who owns a 3.02 ERA with 98/32 K/BB in 95.1 innings spanning 15 starts.
While he had always shown a live fastball in the mid-90s and a hammer-like breaking ball, Gray has commanded both pitches more effectively this season. Meanwhile, his changeup has noticeably improved over the last year and now serves as a viable third offering for the right-hander.
So far this season, Dan Straily has served as the A’s fifth starter on an as-needed basis, though his recent struggles may have opened the door for Gray. At worst, he’ll be able to step into the rotation when some of the team’s other starters require additional rest during the second half of the season.
Headed into the season, nobody quite knew what to make of Henry Urrutia. Firstly, he wasn’t regarded as an impact player like fellow Cuban defectors Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jorge Soler. He was also making his stateside debut as a 26-year-old.
The Orioles decided to challenge Urrutia with an assignment to Double-A Bowie, but it turned out to be anything but that for the outfielder. Through his first 52 games in the minor leagues, the 6’5”, left-handed hitter batted .365/.433/.550 with 73 hits, 16 doubles, seven home runs and 36/24 K/BB.
More importantly, the organization recognized his immediate success by handing him a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday.
Considering the collective success of Nate McLouth, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis this season, there’s no obvious spot for Urrutia in the O's outfield. However, considering that the team currently employs a designated hitter tandem of Danny Valencia and Travis Ishikawa, the 26-year-old could serve as an upgrade at some point during the second half.
Castellanos opened the 2012 season on fire, as the then-20-year-old batted .405/.461/.553 with 87 hits for High-A Lakewood in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. However, his lack of plate discipline and tendency to expand the strike zone was exploited following a midseason promotion to Double-A Erie. Through 79 games, he batted just .264/.296/.382 with 76/14 K/BB.
Despite his second-half struggles, the organization continued to challenge its top prospect with a promotion to Triple-A Toledo for the 2013 season. As one of the younger everyday players at the level, the 21-year-old has shown all the signs of becoming a star by making vast improvements in the face of more advanced competition.
In addition to refining his plate discipline and pitch recognition (57/41 K/BB in 81 games), the 6’4" outfielder is finally learning to tap into his above-average raw power (24 doubles, 10 home runs).
It just so happens that the one position the Tigers can stand to upgrade the most over the second half of the season is left field, as they currently employ a righty-lefty platoon of Avisail Garcia and Andy Dirks.
Once Castellanos is deemed ready for the major leagues—which will be soon—he’ll likely receive a majority of the playing time at the position, and probably even spell Torii Hunter at times in right field.
Even though he’s already 23 years old, there are few prospects who have as high of a ceiling as George Springer. At 6’3”, 200 pounds, Springer is absolutely loaded with athleticism and tools, including a sexy combination of plus speed and power.
In his full-season debut in 2012, the right-handed hitting outfielder batted .302/.383/.526 with 24 home runs and 32 stolen bases between High-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi. However, his 156 strikeouts in 128 games certainly left something to be desired, as it reflected his rawness and lack of maturity as a hitter.
Assigned back to Double-A to begin 2013 season, strikeouts have still been a problem for the 23-year-old, as he fanned 96 times in 73 games. While Springer’s game will always feature a lot of swing-and-miss, the fact that he has improved his walk rate this year is an encouraging trend.
After 95 games at the Double-A level between the last two seasons, the Astros recently promoted Springer to Triple-A Oklahoma City. And with nobody blocking his path to center field in the major leagues, Springer may not be long for the new level.
Selected in the second round of the 2011 draft out of the University of California, Johnson made an immediate impact during his full-season debut in 2012. Making 17 starts between both of the team’s Class-A affiliates, the right-hander registered a 2.53 ERA with 87/29 K/BB in 92.1 innings.
Moved up to Double-A Birmingham for the 2013 season, the 23-year-old continued to improve at the more advanced level, going 8-2 with a 2.23 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 74/21 K/BB through 14 starts. Johnson was once again rewarded for his success with a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte for the second half of the season.
At 6’3”, 225 pounds, the right-hander boasts a fastball that sits in the low to mid-90s with some late run to the arm side. His best secondary offering is a plus slider that’s thrown with impressive tilt and depth, and should serve as his out pitch at the next level.
Meanwhile, Johnson also mixes in an average curveball and changeup that helps him keep opposing hitters off balance.
Considering that the White Sox will be sellers this summer, Johnson will inevitably get a look in the major leagues at some point during the second half of the season. And even though he’s not regarded as a top-tier pitching prospect, the right-hander has the potential to be a solid mid-rotation starter and could be a fixture in the White Sox’s rotation for years to come.