Predicting 5 Top Prospects Who Will Fall Short in Opening Day Roster Push
One of the hottest topics of this spring training centers around Kris Bryant, the Chicago Cubs' uber-prospect who is blowing up and lapping the field with nine home runs during the exhibition season so far.
In case you're wondering, no other player has more than five homers.
The shame of it is, Bryant has become such a story not because of the hype and buzz he has created with his mammoth power and promising career about to get underway, but because he probably won't start the 2015 regular season in the majors.
The Cubs can couch that likelihood all they want, saying Bryant still needs a little more Triple-A time to improve his ability to make contact at the plate or his defense at third base and/or in the outfield. But it's no secret that the underlying reason why Bryant might not debut until late April is because doing so allows Chicago to tack on an extra year of team control through the 2021 campaign.
But what about other nearly MLB-ready prospects who are still in big league camps and on the verge of getting to The Show?
Some rookies-to-be are positioned to be in the bigs at the start of the 2015 season, like Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Toronto Blue Jays' Daniel Norris, Aaron Sanchez and Dalton Pompey, and Jorge Soler, Bryant's soon-to-be Cubs teammate.
There are many prospects, though, who are this-close to the majors but ultimately might not be there on Opening Day for any number of reasons, from the need for more development in the minors to service time machinations to mediocre spring performances.
And despite strong showings, Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians, Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers' Joey Gallo already have been sent down. We could—and probably should—see all three of them before 2015 is up.
But remember, not being there on Opening Day doesn't mean these top youngsters won't be there—and making an impact—soon enough.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
Look, when it comes to Bryant, the situation is obvious. The Cubs are shooting to return to relevance in 2015 and beyond, with the "and beyond" part of that being arguably more important than the "2015" portion. That means, despite an unstoppable spring in which he has hit a ridiculous .406/.472/1.313 so far, Bryant is more or less destined to open this season at Triple-A.
Although Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein won't (or can't) admit it publicly, having Bryant in Chicago for the entire 2021 season gives him a chance to have a bigger impact than having him on the North Side for the first few weeks of 2015.
Here's how Epstein put it to Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com:
I've never put a guy on an Opening Day roster who hadn't played in the big leagues previously. In 13 years, I've never done it. I'm not saying I'd never do it, but the general rule, the presumption, is to allow those guys to go out, play, get comfortable, get in rhythm, and come up when you handpick just the right moment for them to have success.
Ultimately, whether Bryant is with the Cubs on Opening Day or soon thereafter doesn't really matter, despite what agent Scott Boras says. The 23-year-old, who hit .325/.438/.661 with a baseball-best 43 homers in his first full pro season after being drafted No. 2 overall in 2013, likely will be up by the end of April, and his impact should be immediate.
"In terms of temperament and makeup and sheer talent, Bryant is on the fast track to being the face of the Cubs and one of the special players in the game," Richard Justice of MLB.com writes. "Forget the debate about when he'll make his debut. Let's give him the National League Rookie of the Year Award now and sweat the small stuff later."
If Bryant in the bigs is anything like Bryant this spring, then the baseball industry is in for a treat.
Addison Russell, SS, Chicago Cubs
It's been quite a spring showing for the Cubs, who place a second player on this list in Addison Russell.
Still in big league camp, the 21-year-old shortstop has gone 10-for-29 (.345), showing that he's really not far off despite having played all of 69 games above A-ball since being selected 11th overall in the 2012 draft by the Oakland Athletics.
As good as Russell, arguably the top all-around shortstop prospect in the game, has looked so far, Chicago has too many infield options for him to come north with the club in April, including incumbent shortstop Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, Tommy La Stella and, yes, Kris Bryant, too.
Heck, as it is, Bryant has been seeing some action in the outfield in case the organization needs to put him there to make room down the line, perhaps for Russell, once he's ready in the second half of 2015 or the early part of 2016. Until then, Russell will be spending his time at Triple-A Iowa.
Carlos Rodon, LHP, Chicago White Sox
When Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale came down with a foot and ankle injury early in spring training, it seemingly opened the door for fellow left-hander and top prospect Carlos Rodon to make his way to the majors. That still could happen, although it might be rushing things just a bit.
While Sale's recovery has gone according to plan, he's still expected to miss the very beginning of April, per Bruce Levine of CBSChicago.com. But if the White Sox turn to Rodon to help fill in for a start or two, they'll be pushing a 22-year-old who was drafted No. 3 overall just last June all the way to the majors before even his 10th appearance as a professional.
Rodon, a North Carolina State product, made it into nine games (six starts) last summer, reaching Triple-A for three turns in late August.
"You don’t want to put him in there with one pitch or two pitches," White Sox manager Robin Ventura told Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com. "You want him to be armed with the things that make him successful and you don’t want him to come up here and be a flash in the pan and he’s got to go down and work on stuff. He needs to be a complete product when he comes out of here."
Despite the limited experience, Rodon has thrown well this spring, allowing five earned on 13 hits in 12.1 innings, including a dazzling performance on Wednesday in which he whiffed a whopping nine in four scoreless frames. That has put Rodon on the verge of the big leagues, but it might be too soon just yet to put him on the Opening Day roster.
Jon Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies
The Colorado Rockies need as much pitching as they can get, which is why there's still a chance top pitching prospect Jon Gray cracks the rotation. In fact, the same goes for fellow right-hander Eddie Butler.
Both have thrown well this March, with Gray—the third overall pick in 2013—permitting only three earned runs on 11 hits with a 9-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Butler has allowed just four runs on 13 hits in 13.2 frames.
Gray's arrival in Denver on Opening Day would be the bigger surprise, because while Butler already has made three starts with the Rockies last season, Gray has yet to pitch above even Double-A.
That said, Colorado recently released righty Jhoulys Chacin, leaving David Hale and Christian Bergman as the other two candidates for the back of the rotation. Besides, the front office has indicated that Gray's service time and arbitration timeline isn't going to be a factor.
"That is not part of our consideration," general manager Jeff Bridich said via Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post. "Jon has pitched very well, but there still are a lot of things to consider, but the decision will not be based on (arbitration)."
Look for Butler to be in the five-man to open the season. While Gray isn't as likely, he might be worthy of it—and sooner than later—especially given the Rockies' other options.
Andrew Heaney, LHP, Los Angeles Angels
This one might be cheating a bit, because it's possible that Andrew Heaney, who is competing with Nick Tropeano, could be the Los Angeles Angels' nominal fifth starter but not actually be on the 25-man roster when the games begin.
Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times explains:
There's still a good chance that the winner and loser [of the competition to be the No. 5] will open the season with Salt Lake. One could be called to Texas to start April 14 against the Rangers, the first game in which the Angels need a fifth starter, but that stay could be short if Garrett Richards is ready to pitch again in mid-April, as he hopes.
Both Heaney, a lefty, and Tropeano, a righty who is a prospect in his own right (albeit one who isn't regarded as highly), have big league experience from 2014. Neither, though, has fared particularly well this spring, with Tropeano giving up nine hits and eight runs (four earned) in 10.1 innings, while the 23-year-old Heaney has surrendered 13 runs on 21 hits in 14 innings.
Because Heaney, acquired via trade this offseason, is a more highly touted prospect and thus more important to the club's future, both near and long term, it wouldn't be surprising if the Angels decide to give Tropeano the first shot while Heaney gets a little more time to marinate in the minors.