1 MLB-Ready Prospect Who Could Fill Each Contender's Biggest Need
Every year, the final two months of the regular season marks the arrival of baseball’s top prospects.
For those teams still vying for a postseason berth, the timely promotion of an impact prospect may offer a much-needed boost to their lineup, starting rotation or bullpen.
A perfect example can be seen in the Orioles’ decision to promote then-19-year-old Manny Machado from Double-A to the major leagues at this time last season.
After debuting with the Orioles on August 9, Machado batted .262/.294/.445 with 18 extra-base hits and 26 RBI in 51 games while flashing Gold Glove-caliber defense at the hot corner. More significantly, the team posted a 33-18 record with him in the lineup and ultimately secured one of the two Wild Card spots in the American League.
Here’s a look at one near-big league ready prospect from each contender with the potential to influence the team’s success during the home stretch of the 2013 season.
Xander Bogaerts, SS-3B, Boston Red Sox
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): .298/.389/.480, 126 H, 43 XBH (14 HR), 7 SB, 89/60 K/BB (110 G)
No prospect is more ready to make an impact in the major leagues than Xander Bogaerts.
Assigned back to Double-A Portland to begin the 2013 season, the 20-year-old posted a .909 OPS with 24 extra-base hits and a 51/35 K/BB ratio in 56 games at the level before a midseason promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket. Bogaerts hasn’t skipped a beat at the more advanced level, posting an .824 OPS with eight home runs and an improved 38/25 K/BB ration in 54 games.
Projected to hit for both average and power in the major leagues, Bogaerts is essentially biding his time at Triple-A Pawtucket in anticipation of a late-season call-up with the Red Sox. Heading into the 2013 season, the biggest question was how his plate discipline would hold up against advanced pitching in the high minors. Thus far, he’s surpassed all expectations by tightening the strike zone and eliminating some of the swing-and-miss from his game.
Although he’s played mostly shortstop at Pawtucket, Bogaerts has started roughly every fifth or sixth game at the hot corner, hinting that he may be used at both left-side-of-the-infield positions once he’s inevitably promoted.
Enny Romero, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
2013 Stats (AA): 124.1 IP, 2.75 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .221 BAA, 91/60 K/BB (24 GS)
After spending the first three seasons of his career between the complex and rookie levels, Romero has since moved at a one-level-per-year pace through the Rays system while improving in each subsequent season.
While he’s always been able to miss bats and minimize hard contact, the 22-year-old has repeatedly struggled with his command. During his full-season debut at Low-A Bowling Green in 2011, Romero fanned 140 batters in 114 innings but also issued 68 free passes. Similarly, in 2012, the left-hander posted a 107/76 K/BB ratio in 126 innings with High-A Charlotte.
This year, however, Romero has taken a huge step forward in his evolution from a thrower into a pitcher. In his first exposure at the Double-A level this season, he has posted a career-best 2.75 ERA in 124.1 innings with a 91/60 K/BB ratio.
Since Romero is close to eclipsing his 2012 innings total (126 innings), it’s doubtful that he’ll be considered for a starting role with the Rays over the final month of the season. However, the team’s left-handed relievers have fallen on hard times, as Alex Torres (3.97 ERA), Jake McGee (5.68 ERA) and Josh Lueke (10.12 ERA) have all struggled since the All-Star break.
And even though the team acquired southpaw Wesley Wright from the Astros on Monday, there’s no guarantee that he’ll serve as the team’s primary option down the stretch. Therefore, don’t be surprised if the team promotes Romero, who’s already on the Rays’ 40-man roster, on September 1 to work out of the bullpen.
Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 74 IP, 3.89 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .266 BAA, 71/14 K/BB (14 G/13 GS)
2013 Stats (MLB): 33.1 IP, 6.21 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, .301 BAA, 26/9 K/BB (9 G/5 GS)
Assigned to Double-A Bowie for his first full minor league season, Gausman, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 draft, made quick work of Eastern League hitters with a 3.11 ERA and 49/5 K/BB ratio in 46.1 innings.
While he was expected to move quickly through the Orioles system, the 22-year-old was promoted to the major leagues ahead of schedule in late May. While he showed excellent stuff with a three-pitch mix highlighted by a plus fastball-changeup combination, Gausman struggled with his command against big league hitters and posted a 7.66 ERA and 20/5 K/BB ratio in five starts. The right-hander was subsequently optioned to Triple-A Norfolk to resume his development as a starter.
Gausman’s stay in the minors turned out to be temporary, though, as he was recalled in late June to work out of the Orioles bullpen. He fared significantly better in the adjusted role, registering a 2.08 ERA in 8.2 innings over four appearances (three of which were scoreless). However, the right-hander was ultimately optioned back to Triple-A where he’s registered a 3.82 ERA and 18/8 K/BB ratio over five starts.
While it’s unclear in what role Gausman will be used when returns to the major leagues, he has the potential to be the Orioles’ X-factor as they make a final push toward the postseason.
Nick Castellanos, OF, Detroit Tigers
2013 Stats (AAA): .278/.351/.438, 47 XBH (13 HR), 81/52 K/BB (118 G)
Promoted to Triple-A Columbus for the 2013 season, Castellanos’ got off to slow start but steadily heated up along with the weather. In June, the 21-year-old batted .361/.441/.583 with 14 extra-base hits and a 13/16 K/BB ratio in 28 games, and, more importantly, appeared to be on the verge of a promotion to the major leagues.
But as the calendar turned to July, the outfielder’s bat cooled off in a hurry. Over his last 34 games, Castellanos has batted only .222 with nine extra-base hits and a 23/10 K/BB ratio, and has seen his overall batting average drop by .25 points as a result.
Around the All-Star break it seemed as though Castellanos would likely reach the major leagues as a September call-up. However, with his drop-off in production during the second half, that’s no longer a guarantee.
But considering that the Tigers’ trio of left fielders (Matt Tuiasosopo, Andy Dirks and Don Kelly) are batting a combined .231 with seven extra-base hits and 27 strikeouts over their last 30 games, I still believe he’ll get the call later this season.
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 112.1 IP, 2.96 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, .221 BAA, 133/43 K/BB (22 G/21 GS)
Coming off a breakout 2012 campaign in which he registered a 3.62 ERA and 130/42 K/BB in 109.1 innings and reached Double-A for the first time, Ventura has continued to make strides in his development this season in the high minors.
Assigned back to Double-A following an impressive spring in major league camp, the 22-year-old mastered the level over the first half of the season, registering a 2.34 ERA, .189 BAA and 74/20 K/BB ratio in 57.2 innings.
Promoted to Triple-A Omaha in early June, Ventura got off to somewhat of a shaky start within the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, posting a 5.95 ERA with 26 hits allowed and a 21/13 K/BB ratio over his first 24.1 innings (five starts). Since then, however, the flame-throwing right-hander has righted the ship with a 1.35 ERA and 23/6 K/BB ratio over his last 20 frames (four starts).
Because he’s not currently on the 40-man roster, the Royals will need to make a corresponding move when they decide to promote Ventura to the major leagues. Additionally, given the collective success of team’s starting pitching since the All-Star break, it seems that his clearest path to playing time will come as a reliever. However, that actually works in the right-hander’s favor, as he possesses an explosive arsenal that undoubtedly will play up in short bursts.
Wilmer Font, RHP, Texas Rangers
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 13 SV, 46 IP, 0.98 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .130 BAA, 64/32 K/BB (37 G)
2013 Stats (MLB): 1.1 IP, H, 2 K (2 G)
After missing the entire 2011 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Font made up for lost time last year by pitching at three levels, including the major leagues.
Working primarily as a starter at High-A Myrtle Beach to begin the 2012 season, the 23-year-old registered a 4.21 ERA, .198 BAA and 109/37 K/BB ratio in 83.1 innings. Due to his ability to consistently miss bats, Font was converted to a full-time reliever following a promotion to Double-A Frisco after the trade deadline in late July. He enjoyed immediate success in the new role, registering a 3.00 ERA and 29/7 K/BB ratio in 15 innings and ultimately appeared in three games out of the Rangers bullpen.
The right-hander has been outstanding this year in his first full season as a reliever, recording 13 saves, a 0.98 ERA, .130 BAA and 64/32 K/BB ratio in 46 innings between Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock. He also added two more scoreless appearances out of the Rangers bullpen to his résumé shortly before the All-Star break.
Since Font has performed well in two brief stints in the majors and has little left to prove in the minors, he should be ready for a more serious role once he’s inevitably recalled.
Michael Choice, OF, Oakland Athletics
2013 Stats (AAA): .301/.388/.452, 38 XBH (14 HR), 109/60 K/BB (114 G)
The No. 10 overall selection in the 2010 draft, Choice probably would already be in the major leagues had he not suffered a season-ending injury in 2012.
After a sluggish start last year at Double-A Midland, Choice finally appeared to be turning the corner when an errant pitch broke his hand in July. But despite the injury, the 23-year-old was still moved up to Triple-A Sacramento for the 2013 season.
While he hasn’t showcased the robust light-tower power that he did during his full-season debut in 2011 (30 home runs in 118 games), Choice has made noticeable improvements as a hitter by employing a more consistent approach. Even though he’s fanned 109 times in 114 games this season, the outfielder has shown considerable pop with 38 extra-base hits and vastly improved strikeout (21 percent) and walk (11.5 percent) rates.
Since he’s not on the 40-man roster, the A’s will need to make room for Choice when they ultimately promote him to the major leagues. However, that’s a situation that can be easily resolved with the DFA of either Michael Taylor or Shane Peterson.
Cody Martin, RHP, Atlanta Braves
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 123.2 IP, 3.35 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, .247 BAA, 126/52 K/BB (26 G/20 GS)
A seventh-round draft pick out of Gonzaga in 2011, Martin made quick work of Carolina League hitters last season with a 2.93 ERA and 123/34 K/BB ratio in 107.1 innings for High-A Lynchburg.
Moved up to Double-A Mississippi to begin the 2013 season, the 23-year-old got off to a similar hot start at the more advanced level and posted a 2.82 ERA and 71/27 K/BB ratio in 67 innings during the first half. And, as a result of his continued success, the right-hander was bumped up to Triple-A Gwinnett in early June.
As has been the story throughout his minor league career, Martin made an immediate impact at the new level with a 1.39 ERA and 32/9 K/BB through his first 26 innings (four starts). Since then, however, he’s been knocked around for the first time in his career, posting a 6.18 ERA with 35 hits and 16 walks allowed in 30.2 innings.
Despite his recent struggles, Martin, who has above-average command of a four-pitch mix, is a solid candidate to eat some innings for the NL East-leading Braves over the final month of the season as they prepare for the playoffs.
Vic Black, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
2013 Stats (AAA): 16 SV, 39.2 IP, 2.27 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, .157 BAA, 55/17 K/BB (32 G)
2013 Stats (MLB): 4 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3/2 K/BB (3 G)
The No. 49 overall selection in the 2009 draft, Black quickly flamed out as a starter due to his inability to stay on the field. As a result, the right-hander struggled mightily during the first three seasons of his career, registering a 4.65 ERA and 69/40 K/BB in 71.2 innings.
Finally healthy entering the 2012 season, the 6’4” right-hander had a breakout campaign as a full-time reliever, posting a 1.65 ERA, 85/29 K/BB ratio and 13 saves in 60 innings at Double-A Altoona.
The 25-year-old has built upon his success this season at Triple-A Indianapolis, as the hard-throwing right-hander has vastly improved the command of his upper-90s fastball and wipeout slider. Overall, he’s registered a 2.27 ERA and 55/17 K/BB ratio with 16 saves in 39.2 innings. Black also received his first taste of the major leagues, making three appearances out of the Pirates bullpen following the injury to closer to Jason Grilli.
While he lacks a clear path to the ninth inning due to the presence of both Grilli and Mark Melancon, Black, who’s already on the team’s 40-man roster, will be back in the major leagues once the roster expands on September 1, if not sooner.
Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
2013 Stats (AAA): .306/.341/.462, 17 XBH, 32 RBI, 22/9 K/BB (46 G)
Promoted from Low-A Quad Cities to Double-A Springfield for the 2012 season, Taveras solidified his reputation as the best pure hitter in the minor leagues by batting .321/.380/.572 with 37 doubles, 23 home runs and a 56/42 K/BB ratio in 124 games.
Expected to at least spend a significant portion of the 2013 season in the major leagues, the 21-year-old has endured an injury-plagued campaign at Triple-A Memphis, as a high-ankle injury has limited him to only 45 games. Taveras last played in a game on July 15 during an aborted rehab stint in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
However, there's good news on the Taveras front. According to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the left-handed hitting outfielder is “about ready” to begin playing in rehab games.
If Taveras can prove he’s healthy during the second half of the month and appear in some meaningful games at Triple-A, he should get his first taste of the major leagues at some point in September.
Michael Lorenzen, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
2013 Stats (R/A-/A+): 4 SV, 14 IP, 0.64 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, .231 BAA, 12/6 K/BB (14 G)
The top two-way college player in the 2013 class, Lorenzen was drafted by the Reds as a pitcher, though it’s believed they will allow him to attempt both roles next season. For now, however, he’s working as a late-inning reliever and rising through their system in a hurry.
After making his professional debut in the rookie-level Arizona League, the 21-year-old made a brief stop at Low-A Dayton before a recent promotion to High-A Bakersfield. It’s not a surprise that the right-hander is moving quickly; he has legitimate closer stuff, including an explosive fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s and a hammer curveball.
If the Reds do, in fact, plan to develop Lorenzen as a two-way guy beginning next year, then there’s certainly reason to read into his strict use as a reliever this season. And while it may seem like a stretch, I do believe there’s an outside chance he pitches out of the Reds bullpen before the end of the year.
Onelki Garcia, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 53.1 IP, 2.70 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, .211 BAA, 53/32 K/BB (26 G/6 GS)
A third-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2012, Garcia logged only two innings (one start) during his professional debut last summer. However, he showed the organization enough to warrant a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga for the 2013 season.
In his first full season as a professional, the 23-year-old got off to a slow start with a 4.00 ERA and 13/15 K/BB ratio in 18 innings spanning four starts. But after struggling with his control, the Dodgers relegated the left-hander to the bullpen where he’s been lights out since early June.
As a reliever, Garcia posted a 1.39 ERA with 20 hits allowed and a 36/16 K/BB ratio in 32.1 innings. More importantly, he held same-side hitters to a .160/.295/.160 batting line with a 19/8 K/BB ratio in 61 plate appearances.
Based on that information, as well as his promotion to Triple-A Albuquerque on Monday, there’s a realistic chance that Garcia will be utilized as a LOOGY later this season.
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