I’m sure you’ve heard the Pirates have finally decided to call up third baseman Pedro Alvarez. In addition to Alvarez, Neil Walker, Brad Lincoln, and Jose Tabata have gotten the call within the last month.
The future starts now in Pittsburgh.
Who else is left in Triple-A who’s young enough to be a prospect and actually playing well enough to get serious consideration for a promotion to the show?
Here are my thoughts, starting with the Triple-A International League.
As expected, most of the top Triple-A offensive performers so far in 2010 who have not been promoted to the majors are the usual Quad-A players who are too old to get a shot, unless some people get hurt at the major league level.
In the International League, these guys include Dan Johnson (age 30, his 1.011 OPS is currently second in the IL, after C Carlos Santana, who was recently promoted to the Indians), Mike Hessman (age 32, .985 OPS, good for third place), and Chris Richard (age 36, .952 OPS, good for fourth).
I have a soft spot in my heart for Quad-A players, because they’re the ones who give Triple-A ball the level of play necessary to produce young stars and replacement level players when someone gets hurt at the major league level.
But enough about the geezers—let’s get on to the prospects.
3B Dayan Viciedo (age 21, White Sox)
Viciedo looks to be the best, closest-to-major-league ready position prospect left in the International League after the promotion of Pedro Alvarez. The ChiSox signed him in 2008 to a four-year, $10 million deal as a free agent after he defected from Cuba.
Viciedo is a huge man, listed at 5’11″ and 240 lbs already, which kind of makes me wonder if he really is only 21. However old he is, he’s close to being major league ready. His .843 OPS is good for 15th in the IL, and he’s hit 13 HRs and 27 extra base hits so far in 2010.
The biggest concern with Viciedo is his horrible eight walks and 52 strikeouts. He’s not going to succeed for long in the majors with a Ks-to-walks ratio like that.
Viciedo definitely needs more time at Triple-A, but if he improves on his current numbers, there’s a good chance he’ll be promoted before the September call-ups.
C Tyler Flowers (age 24, White Sox)
Flowers has a fine (for a catcher) .825 OPS in the IL, but he is batting only .228. He’s close to being major league ready, but needs to pull his Triple-A batting average up over .250 or .260 before he’ll be ready for a promotion.
SS Eduardo Nunez (age 23, Yankees)
His .322 batting average is good for second in the IL, and he has a fine (for a middle infielder) on-base percentage of .362. He had a strong year at Double-A Trenton in 2009.
Of course, Nunez is stuck behind Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano in New York, so you have to think there’s a good chance Nunez will end up as a trade chip around the August 1st trade deadline as the Yankees look to plug holes for the stretch drive.
CF Michael Brantley (age 23, Indians)
Brantley’s .385 OBP is good for ninth in the IL, behind numerous Quad-A players and true prospects who’ve already been promoted to the majors.
Brantley got a cup of coffee from the Indians earlier this year in which he hit only .156. However, that was in only 32 ABs, which was not particularly indicative of anything.
After Grady Sizemore’s season ending injury/surgery, the Indians have been playing Trevor Crowe in center. Crowe is a former first-round draft pick (14th in 2005), but he’s three years older than Brantley, and doesn’t look like a future star.
My guess would be that once the Indians start trading away veterans, Brantley gets called up again sometime between the All-Star break and August 1st.
Identifying pitching prospects tends to be a little more complicated than identifying position players, because pitchers with live arms sometimes suddenly find their command or develop a new pitch, which makes them potential major league regulars even if they are already in the mid- or late-20s.
Here are some of the young starters in the International League having fine seasons.
RHP Jeremy Hellickson (age 23, Rays)
Hellickson is young and pitching great. He’s 8-2 with a 2.42 ERA and a line of 81.2 IP, 71 hits, three HRs, and 20 walks and 84 Ks. He looks ready to be a major league pitcher right now.
LHP Aroldis Chapman (age 22, Reds)
He’s pitching well, but I don’t think he’s ready yet. He has a 4.22 ERA and 70 Ks in 59.2 IP, but he’s been wildly inconsistent. In most of his last 10 starts, he’s given up six, eight, and seven earned runs in five or fewer innings pitched.
Chapman still does not appear to have major league command, having allowed 36 walks to date.
If I were the Reds, I’d keep him at Triple-A Louisville until the September call-ups or until he can put together five strong starts in a row with low walk totals, whichever comes first.
RHP Ivan Nova (age 23, Yankees)
Nova is 5-2 with a 3.42 ERA and a line of 71 IP, 73 hits, 5 HRs, and 25 walks allowed and 53 Ks. He made two appearances for the Yankees earlier this season and did not allow a run in three innings pitched.
Nova’s close to being ready, but it remains to be seen whether the Yankees have the patience to try to develop him or instead use him as a trade chip.
LHP Travis Wood (age 23, Reds)
Wood is 4-5 with a 3.56 ERA, but what I like about him, aside from his tender age, is his 81 Ks and only 20 walks allowed in 83.1 Triple-A innings pitched this year.
He’s yet another fine IL pitcher who is only four or five consecutive strong starts from a major league job.
RHP Dan Hudson (age 23, White Sox)
Hudson is 8-3 with a 3.91 ERA and excellent ratios, including 86 Ks and only 21 walks allowed in 71.1 IP. His ERA is little high because he’s served up 10 gopher balls.
There have been some other pitchers like Josh Tomlin, Matt Maloney, Carlos Torres, and Todd Redmond, who have pitched well in the IL this year and could be called up if they get hot in the second half of the year.
Overall, I think I’ve captured the most promising prospects in terms of age and current performance.