Predicting the Next Top Prospects to Debut in MLB
For baseball fans, there's nothing quite like the allure of prospects. As every franchise hopes to stockpile young, cheap talent, fans buy into the idea of homegrown players emerging to become the next once-in-a-generation stars.
Over the past few years, emerging talents like Washington's Bryce Harper and Los Angeles' Mike Trout have become the gold standard for minor league standouts with the ability to make a difference at the big league level.
With the 2014 season reaching the second week of June, teams will soon be less reluctant to promote stars too soon, alleviating the fear of rising arbitration costs and lost free-agent years. When the Houston Astros called up George Springer in April and the St. Louis Cardinals summoned Oscar Taveras one month later, the first big prospects of the season arrived.
Now that the door has been broken down, expect at least a handful of big names to arrive at the big league level over the next few months. By the time September rolls around, more than a dozen of baseball's future stars could be impacting the pennant races.
Here are the next top prospects who will arrive in the major leagues.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
With the 2014 draft complete, it's instructive to look back at the top of the 2013 MLB draft class. When the Chicago Cubs made University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant the No. 2 overall pick, it was clear that they believed he could be a difference-making hitter.
Over the next few months, he could begin to make that difference in Chicago. At this point, it's not about his readiness but rather when the Cubs want to make him a full-time third baseman at the big league level.
Heading into play on June 9, he is proving to be too advanced for Double-A pitching. Through 62 games, the 22-year-old boasts the following season stat line: 269 PA, 21 HR, 54 RBI, .356/.461/.716/1.177, 39 BB.
Despite the outstanding play and readiness for the next step, the Cubs seem content to leave Bryant in Double-A for now. Prior to a recent series against the New York Mets, Chicago general manager Jed Hoyer sounded like an executive who was in no rush to make this prediction prescient, per Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago: “It is fun to see a guy put up that kind of month,” said Hoyer. “We tell every prospect to go dominate. He’s obviously doing that. We probably want to see it for a little while longer.”
While that's admirable, Chicago's front office can't ignore Bryant's special bat for much longer.
Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami Marlins
As the Miami Marlins watch left-handed prospect Andrew Heaney show big league ability in the minor leagues, it's easy to imagine what a second-half rotation might have looked like at Marlins Park if Jose Fernandez hadn't succumbed to Tommy John surgery.
When reality sets back in for South Florida baseball fans, simply watching Heaney in the majors will suffice this summer.
Due to a combination of Heaney's ability, the impending birth of Nate Eovaldi's child and injury concern with Henderson Alvarez, the 23-year-old lefty could be in the majors by the end of the week or early next week, per Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald.
With 13 starts between Double and Triple-A on his ledger this season, Heaney's performance has been nothing short of remarkable. It remains to be seen if a 2.47 ERA will translate to NL East dominance, but a young pitcher with enough command to post a ratio of 5.27 strikeouts to walks merits attention.
Entering play on June 10, the Marlins sat just one loss behind the Atlanta Braves for the top spot in a competitive National League East. Heaney's arrival could keep one of baseball's surprise teams relevant through the upcoming All-Star break.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
This prediction can be taken more as a guarantee. When news broke, per Gregory Polanco, on Monday evening, the city of Pittsburgh started to prepare for the arrival of one of baseball's best outfield prospects.
As Bleacher Report's Scott Miller detailed in an excellent piece, Polanco's arrival adds to the growing list of top prospects to arrive in baseball this year. Now, the Pirates' new right fielder joins George Springer, Jon Singleton and Oscar Taveras as the bright stars of 2014.
With a sweet, looping left-handed swing, plate discipline, speed and power, Polanco can help put the Pirates back in the postseason picture. Yes, folks, despite a poor start (9-16), Pittsburgh enters play on June 10 just three games behind Miami for the second National League wild-card berth.
With a young, athletic outfield of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Polanco, the Pirates may have enough to reach .500 and make a run back to October.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
When Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Archie Bradley was diagnosed with a mild flexor strain in his throwing arm, one of baseball's most downtrodden organizations dodged a major bullet. With Tommy John surgeries happening at a breakneck pace, the Diamondbacks avoided a long-term injury for a potentially great right arm.
Now, as Bradley is progressing in a throwing program, it's just a matter of time until the 21-year-old arrives in the desert to rescue a dismal starting rotation. Heading into play on June 9, Arizona starters owned an NL-worst 4.87 ERA, per ESPN.
According to Bradley's Twitter post on May 26, he's feeling well and building strength during rehabilitation.
When the former first-round pick is strong enough to throw 100 pitches in a game again, expect the Diamondbacks to make those pitches count against NL West competition. With a 2.95 career ERA in the minors, Bradley is ready for the opportunity.
Alex Meyer, RHP, Minnesota Twins
If the Minnesota Twins are truly serious about making a push for the postseason in a parity-filled American League, better starting pitching is needed to complement an offense that just added first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales.
With a 4.97 ERA from starters, per ESPN, no group in baseball—including the dismal Diamondbacks staff—has been worse than Minnesota's arms. Amazingly, that includes solid efforts from both Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson. Over the next few months, the Twins could hover around .500 and stay in the race with an additional power arm in the rotation.
Enter Alex Meyer.
The former Washington Nationals prospect—acquired in the Denard Span trade—owns a 10.5 SO/9 rate across 270 minor league innings. To put that kind of swing-and-miss ability into perspective, the 16 pitchers who have toed the rubber at Target Field this season own a combined strikeout rate of just 6.1, per Baseball-Reference.
As Judd Zulgad and Derek Wetmore of ESPN 1500 describe here, Meyer's strikeout ability has translated into success at Triple-A. If the team feels he can reprise that type of dominance in the big leagues, Twins fans will see him joining Hughes and Gibson atop Minnesota's rotation very soon.
Which prospect are you most excited to see?
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted and are valid through the start of play on June 9. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts.