Top MLB Prospects Ready to Step Up to Fill Teams' Biggest Offseason Holes

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2017

Top MLB Prospects Ready to Step Up to Fill Teams' Biggest Offseason Holes

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    There's never a shortage of speculation as to how MLB teams will fill their various roster holes during the offseason.

    In some cases, a flashy free-agent signing or a blockbuster trade is the answer to addressing a significant area of need.

    However, other times the answer is already in-house in the form of an up-and-coming prospect.

    With that in mind, we set out to identify 10 top prospects who are ready to fill glaring roster holes during the upcoming season.

    To clarify, the goal here was to identify prospects who are replacing players who have departed during the offseason.

    So while guys like Jorge Alfaro (Philadelphia), Austin Hays (Baltimore), Brett Phillips (Milwaukee) and Tyler Mahle (Cincinnati) could very well break camp with starting jobs, they won't be doing it as direct replacements for players who departed this offseason, so they weren't included in this conversation.

Other Prospects Poised to Make an Immediate Impact in 2018

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    Will Esteban Quiroz seize the Red Sox second base job as Dustin Pedroia continues to recover from knee surgery?
    Will Esteban Quiroz seize the Red Sox second base job as Dustin Pedroia continues to recover from knee surgery?Luis Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Let's kick things off with a sweeping overview of all the prospects that appear to be positioned to make a significant impact early in the 2018 season before we proceed to the task at hand.

           

    Position Players

    • C Jorge Alfaro, PHI
    • OF/DH Willie Calhoun, TEX
    • 1B Garrett Cooper, MIA
    • 3B/OF Hunter Dozier, KC
    • 1B Ronald Guzman, TEX
    • OF Austin Hays, BAL
    • C/3B Francisco Mejia, CLE
    • 3B/OF Renato Nunez, OAK
    • 2B Esteban Quiroz, BOS
    • OF Victor Reyes, DET
    • 1B/OF Chris Shaw, SF
    • OF Magneuris Sierra, MIA
    • IF Gleyber Torres, NYY

         

    Pitchers

    • SP Walker Buehler, LAD
    • RP John Curtiss, MIN
    • SP Erick Fedde, WAS
    • SP Max Fried, ATL
    • SP Carson Fulmer, CWS
    • SP Tyler Mahle, CIN
    • RP A.J. Minter, ATL
    • RP Jimmie Sherfy, ARI
    • SP Aaron Slegers, MIN
    • RP Thyago Vieira, CWS

           

    Players who could be thrust into larger roles as a result of trades

    • 2B Franklin Barreto, OAK (Jed Lowrie trade)
    • OF Brett Phillips, MIL (Keon Broxton/Domingo Santana trade)
    • SP Brent Honeywell, TB (Jake Odorizzi/Chris Archer trade)
    • OF Jordan Luplow, PIT (Andrew McCutchen trade)
    • OF Jesse Winker, CIN (Adam Duvall trade)

Dillon Peters, Miami Marlins

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Role: No. 3/4 SP

    Stats (Rk/A+/AA): 13 GS, 7-3, 1.57 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 55 K, 63 IP

    Replacing: Edinson Volquez (4-8, 4.19 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 81 K, 92.1 IP, 0.7 WAR)

         

    Outlook

    A 10th-round pick out of the University of Texas in 2014, Dillon Peters quickly rose through the ranks to emerge as the best pitching prospect in a thin Miami Marlins organization.

    The 25-year-old missed nearly two months last season with a fractured thumb, but he was dominant enough in nine starts at the Double-A level (6-2, 1.97 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) to jump Triple-A and straight to the majors.

    While the initial results weren't great—1-2 with a 5.17 ERA in six starts—there's plenty of reason to believe he can still reach his ceiling as a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.

    His 5.5 walks per nine innings during his brief time in the majors was uncharacteristically high. He carries a 1.9 BB/9 over 236.2 innings in the minors, and it may have simply been a case of him not trusting his stuff and trying to be too fine against higher-level competition.

    While Peters is undersized at 5'9", 195 pounds, he touches 96 mph with his fastball and backs it with a polished curveball/changeup pairing, so he has the stuff.

    Recently acquired prospects Sandy Alcantara, Jorge Guzman and Nick Neidert will likely leapfrog him in the team's new prospect rankings, but it's Peters who is most likely to make an immediate impact in 2018.

Brian Anderson, Miami Marlins

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    Brett Davis/Associated Press

    Role: Starting 3B

    Stats (AA/AAA): 498 PA, .275/.361/.492, 46 XBH (22 HR), 81 RBI, 74 R

    Replacing: Martin Prado (70 OPS+, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 0.1 WAR)

          

    Outlook

    Technically, Brian Anderson is not replacing Martin Prado on the roster. He's just pushing him off the hot corner and out to left field.

    It's actually more like he's replacing one of Giancarlo Stanton or Marcell Ozuna in the lineup.

    The 24-year-old won't make fans forget about the 59-homer slugger or the budding All-Star anytime soon, but he's more than capable of developing into a solid everyday third baseman.

    MLB.com wrote of his offensive tools:

    "Anderson's right-handed swing has cleaned up nicely since signing, and he's long showed good feel for finding the barrel along with a selective approach. Tall and athletic in the box, he knows how to create leverage and extension through the hitting zone, giving him at least average power potential, with above-average raw pop to his pull side."

    Anderson hit .262/.337/.369 with seven doubles and one triple in 95 plate appearances in the majors last season.

    While a low-cost veteran addition or two could mean he starts the season in the minors, there's really no reason to hold him back at this point with the Marlins going all-in on rebuilding.

Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Role: Starting 3B

    Stats (AA/AAA): 522 PA, .315/.352/.498, 54 XBH (16 HR), 82 RBI, 66 R

    Replacing: Chase Headley (100 OPS+, 12 HR, 61 RBI, 1.8 WAR)

         

    Outlook

    After trading veteran Chase Headley and his $13 million salary to the San Diego Padres and with Todd Frazier departing in free agency, the third base position for the New York Yankees is wide-open.

    For now, let's go ahead and assume they're not getting Manny Machado.

    It could wind up being a battle between heralded prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar if no outside addition is made.

    Gary Phillips of FanRag Sports offered up the following insights on Andujar:

    "The consensus is that he's ready to hit at the big league level on a daily basis. His glove, however, could keep that from happening, at least at the start of 2018.

    In 590 career games, Andujar has made 119 errors at third. He has a strong arm and some range, but his consistency has lacked in the field. If he enters camp with polished leather, he has a real chance to man third base for the Yankees on opening day."

    Phillips also mentions that Torres—a natural shortstop—might actually be more likely to break camp as the starting second baseman following the Starlin Castro trade. His continued recovery from Tommy John surgery could also mean the team eases him back into action.

    So as long as Andujar doesn't look like a complete liability defensively this spring, he has to be considered the front-runner for the job.

Jake Bauers, Tampa Bay Rays

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Role: Starting 1B

    Stats (AAA): 575 PA, .263/.368/.412, 45 XBH (13 HR), 63 RBI, 79 R

    Replacing: Logan Morrison (135 OPS+, 38 HR, 85 RBI, 3.6 WAR)

          

    Outlook

    The Tampa Bay Rays re-signed Logan Morrison to a one-year, $2.5 million deal last offseason and it wound up being one of the best bargains of the year.

    The 30-year-old posted a 135 OPS+ and slugged 38 home runs en route to a 3.6 WAR and now he's set to cash in with a multiyear deal and a significantly higher annual salary.

    That means the Rays will likely be looking elsewhere to fill the first base position.

    Prospect Jake Bauers might be the leading in-house candidate if they don't make a play for another low-cost free agent.

    The 22-year-old has rocketed through the Rays system since he was acquired from the Padres in the Steven Souza/Trea Turner blockbuster, spending the entire 2017 season in Triple-A.

    While his power game is still developing and MLB.com notes that "questions remain about his ultimate power ceiling," there's a lot to like about his hit tool and he could wind up as a James Loney-type.

    A 19.5 percent strikeout rate against a 13.6 percent walk rate speaks to his advanced approach, and a strong spring could be enough to earn him a spot on the Opening Day roster.

    Otherwise, he'll be along in short order.

Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Role: No. 4/5 SP

    Stats (Rk/AAA): 17 GS, 6-5, 4.31 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 71 K, 77.1 IP

    Replacing: Matt Garza (6-8, 4.94 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 79 K, 114.2 IP, -0.2 WAR)

         

    Outlook

    Brandon Woodruff began the 2016 season as the No. 31-ranked prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers system, according to Baseball America.

    What a difference a couple of years can make.

    An 11th-round pick in 2014, Woodruff emerged as a top prospect with a breakout 2016 season, going 14-9 with a 2.68 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 173 strikeouts in 158 innings between High-A and Double-A.

    A hamstring injury interrupted his 2017 season, but he still made his MLB debut, starting eight games and going 2-3 with a 4.81 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 32 strikeouts in 43 innings for a Brewers team in the thick of a postseason race.

    MLB.com wrote of his stuff:

    "Woodruff's fastball operates at 93-95 mph with late sinking action that helps him miss barrels and consistently generate ground-ball outs. His slider is the better of his two secondary pitches, receiving above-average grades from scouts, though his changeup has the chance to be at least a Major League-average offering."

    With Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time recovering from shoulder surgery and Matt Garza departing in free agency, a full-time spot in the rotation will be ripe for the taking this spring.

J.P. Crawford, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Role: Starting SS

    Stats (AAA): 556 PA, .243/.351/.405, 41 XBH (15 HR), 63 RBI, 75 R

    Replacing: Freddy Galvis (83 OPS+, 12 HR, 61 RBI, 1.3 WAR)

         

    Outlook

    The Philadelphia Phillies picked up a nice prospect from the San Diego Padres in exchange for Freddy Galvis, acquiring hard-throwing right-hander Enyel De Los Santos.

    They also cleared a path for J.P. Crawford to break camp with the everyday shortstop job.

    A disappointing 2016 season sent Crawford tumbling down prospect rankings, and his overall numbers this past season don't exactly jump off the page.

    However, he finished his Triple-A season on a tear, posting a .929 OPS with 29 extra-base hits in 265 plate appearances from July 1 until he was called up to the majors on Sept. 5.

    He actually spent the bulk of his time playing third base in his first taste of the majors, grading out as a standout defender (101 INN, 6 DRS, 19.7 UZR/150) in the process.

    The 22-year-old is still viewed as a potential franchise cornerstone at the shortstop position, though.

    If nothing else, Crawford should be an immediate upgrade in the on-base department with a .367 on-base percentage during his time in the minors and a 14.2 percent walk rate in Triple-A last season.

    By comparison, Galvis carries a .287 career on-base percentage and he drew a free pass just 6.8 percent of the time in 2017.

Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Role: Starting 1B

    Stats (AA/AAA): 519 PA, .355/.403/.583, 63 XBH (20 HR), 88 RBI, 74 R

    Replacing: Mark Reynolds (105 OPS+, 30 HR, 97 RBI, 0.9 WAR)

          

    Outlook

    The Colorado Rockies' initial plan last season was to slot Ian Desmond at first base after he signed a five-year, $70 million deal in free agency.

    Instead, Desmond began the season on the disabled list, which opened the door for non-roster invitee Mark Reynolds to win a roster spot and seize the everyday job with a strong start to the season.

    With the departure of Carlos Gonzalez in free agency and the ongoing health questions surrounding David Dahl, there's a good chance Desmond will be lining up in the outfield once again in 2018.

    So who does that leave to play first base?

    "Right now, I think rookie Ryan McMahon is penciled in at first," Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post said in a recent live chat.

    A third baseman by trade, McMahon added second base to his repertoire last season, but he profiles best at first base, where he has a chance to be an above-average defender.

    His .355/.403/.583 line and 63 extra-base hits between Double-A and Triple-A are a clear indication he has nothing left to prove in the minors, and a 25-homer season with a significantly lower strikeout rate than Reynolds is very doable.

Luiz Gohara, Atlanta Braves

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    Luiz Gohara
    Luiz GoharaTami Chappell/Associated Press

    Role: No. 3/4 SP

    Stats (A+/AA/AAA): 25 GS, 7-4, 2.62 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 147 K, 123.2 IP 

    Replacing: R.A. Dickey (10-10, 4.26 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 190 IP, 2.1 WAR)

          

    Outlook

    Who will be the first high-profile pitching prospect from the Atlanta Braves system to emerge as a long-term rotation piece?

    Sean Newcomb and Max Fried showed some flashes last season, and there's no shortage of options down on the farm who have yet to make their MLB debuts—Kolby Allard, Kyle Wright, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, Bryse Wilson and Kyle Muller to name a few.

    The smart money might be on Luiz Gohara, though.

    The 21-year-old went 1-3 with a 4.91 ERA in five starts with the big league club last season.

    That's nothing to write home about until you look at his peripherals, specifically a 2.75 FIP and a 31-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 29.1 innings.

    He's by no means a finished product as his changeup still needs further refining as a viable third pitch, and he'll need to keep an eye on his conditioning.

    However, with a fastball that has ticked up into the triple digits and a plus slider, he has swing-and-miss stuff and the results in the upper levels of the minors last season speak for themselves.

    Assuming the Braves don't intend on using both Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir in the rotation, Gohara should be in a good spot to break camp with a starting gig.

Chance Sisco, Baltimore Orioles

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Role: Starting C

    Stats (AAA): 388 PA, .267/.340/.395, 30 XBH (7 HR), 47 RBI, 47 R

    Replacing: Welington Castillo (115 OPS+, 20 HR, 53 RBI, 2.1 WAR)

         

    Outlook

    Welington Castillo performed as well as anyone could have hoped for the Baltimore Orioles while serving as a one-year stopgap to prospect Chance Sisco.

    Now it's time for the 22-year-old prospect to take the reins.

    A second-round pick in 2013, Sisco belongs right alongside Francisco Mejia, Carson Kelly, Jorge Alfaro and Keibert Ruiz in the conversation for best catching prospect in baseball.

    With a .311/.390/.425 line over parts of five minor league seasons, there's little question he has the bat to make an impact at the next level.

    It's his defense that has always been the question mark and it's the reason the team wasn't quite ready to hand him the job this past season.

    As MLB.com wrote, he has continued to refine his defensive skills: "Improvements in Sisco's blocking, receiving and game-calling last season have helped to assuage some concerns about his defensive profile. Scouts now project him to be average behind the plate, though his fringy arm and catch-and-throw skills limit his impact on the running game."

    Veteran backup Caleb Joseph will likely see at least a couple starts a week to help ease the transition, but make no mistake, Sisco is the catcher of the future in Baltimore.

Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Role: Starting RF

    Stats (A+/AA/AAA): 612 PA, .325/.374/.522, 60 XBH (21 HR), 82 RBI, 88 R, 44 SB

    Replacing: Matt Kemp (103 OPS+, 19 HR, 64 RBI, -1.3 WAR)

           

    Outlook

    There was a lot to unpack from the recent trade that saw the Braves send Matt Kemp to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and Charlie Culberson.

    Financially, it amounted to the Braves taking on more money in 2017 in the form of three expiring contracts, in exchange for getting out from under the $16.75 million that was owed to Kemp in 2019.

    From a roster standpoint, it meant the Braves were clearing a path for Ronald Acuna.

    Baseball America and USA Today's Minor League Player of the Year this past season, there's a good chance the 20-year-old will open 2018 as the No. 1 prospect in baseball.

    Acuna climbed three minor league levels in 2017 and didn't miss a beat along the way, then followed that up with a .325/.414/.639 line in the Arizona Fall League that included seven home runs and 16 RBI in 23 games to claim MVP honors.

    Simply put, the 2014 international signee has a chance to be a generational talent and the centerpiece of the Braves' rebuilding efforts.

    As MLB.com wrote:

    "Acuna has the chance to be a true five-tool player. He's already showing an advanced approach at the plate, especially for his age. His raw power is just starting to show up in games and it could be a plus tool when all is said and done, coming from a buggy whip of a swing. Acuna's speed is also legitimate, and it helps him be a base-stealing threat as well as play a plus center field."

    The hype train has already left the station and now that he has a clear path to playing time, there's no reason to think he won't be part of the Opening Day roster.

          

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.