Spring Training's Top Prospects Who Clearly Aren't MLB-Ready
Ideally, a top prospect on the cusp of carving out a big league role would step into spring training and make it abundantly clear he belongs on the MLB roster.
That's not always the way it works, though.
Oftentimes, a sluggish spring training performance serves as proof that a rising prospect needs a bit more seasoning before he's ready for the show.
Those are the players we'll be focusing on here.
Looking at top prospects who are expected to arrive in the majors at some point in 2018, we've highlighted seven guys who look like they need more time in the minors.
CF Dustin Fowler, Oakland Athletics
Spring Stats: 32 PA, 5-for-30, 2 XBH (0 HR), 2 BB, 9 K
With a clean bill of health, Dustin Fowler was expected to be a candidate for the Oakland Athletics' starting center field job heading into spring training.
Acquired from the New York Yankees in the Sonny Gray trade, Fowler suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in his MLB debut on June 29 last season.
Prior to that, he was hitting .293/.329/.542 with 19 doubles, 13 home runs, 42 RBI and 13 stolen bases in 70 games at Triple-A.
A lack of other center field options on the roster means he could still break camp with the starting job—or at least a timeshare with Jake Smolinski—but his performance this spring has left the impression he might benefit from a bit more time in the minors.
RHP Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers
Spring Stats: 4 G, 7.2 IP, 11 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 9 K
As an 11th-round pick in the 2014 draft, Brandon Woodruff has been a pleasant surprise as a pop-up prospect for the Milwaukee Brewers over the past two seasons.
The burly 6'4" right-hander got his first taste of big league action last year, going 2-3 with a 4.81 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in eight starts down the stretch for a contending Brewers team.
That was enough to put him in the running for one of the vacant spots in the starting rotation heading into spring training, but he appears to have fallen behind the rest of the field.
With Chase Anderson, Zach Davies and Jhoulys Chacin locked into three spots, Junior Guerra, Yovani Gallardo and non-roster invitee Wade Miley now appear to have a leg up on the other two rotation jobs and the long relief role in the bullpen.
C Carson Kelly, St. Louis Cardinals
Spring Stats: 35 PA, 3-for-30, 2 XBH (0 HR), 4 BB, 2 K
Carson Kelly is the heir apparent to Yadier Molina behind the plate for the St. Louis Cardinals. After making his MLB debut last season, he looked like the front-runner to win the backup job and perhaps steal a start or two per week from the incumbent.
However, he was optioned to Triple-A over the weekend, and it now looks like veteran non-roster invitee Francisco Pena will break camp with the bench job.
Kelly, 23, has a chance to be a standout defender with the hit tool to make an impact at the plate as well.
In 280 plate appearances with Triple-A Memphis last season, he hit .283/.375/.459 with 13 doubles, 10 home runs and 41 RBI, and a hot start in his return could see him quickly bumped up to the big league roster.
LHP Max Fried, Atlanta Braves
Spring Stats: 4 G, 6.2 IP, 13 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 6 K
After a stellar showing in the Arizona Fall League (26.0 IP, 15 H, 5 ER, 8 BB, 32 K), there was a chance Max Fried could win the No. 5 starter job for the Atlanta Braves in a crowded field of rotation options.
The 24-year-old left-hander was finally back to full strength last season after missing most of the 2014 season and all of the 2015 season following Tommy John surgery.
MLB.com noted: "During his dominant AFL stretch, Fried showed a much better understanding of what would and wouldn't work against big league hitters. The Braves feel his September callup will act as a springboard to making a larger contribution in 2018 and reaching his ceiling as a No. 3 starter."
That could still be the case, but he'll start the season at Triple-A, with veterans Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir likely to break camp with the final two spots in the starting staff.
CF Victor Robles, Washington Nationals
Spring Stats: 50 PA, 9-for-47, 4 XBH (1 HR), 1 BB, 12 K
The term "precocious" gets thrown around a lot when discussing up-and-coming prospects who are ahead of the developmental curve, and Victor Robles is a prime example.
Just how good can the 20-year-old be?
MLB.com noted: "From his athleticism to his immense physical tools and his baseball savvy, Robles has the makings of becoming a true franchise player for the Nationals, one who has the upside of a perennial All-Star and possibly an MVP candidate."
He made his MLB debut last season after hitting .300/.382/.493 with 55 extra-base hits and 27 stolen bases in 496 plate appearances between High-A and Double-A.
The Washington Nationals don't necessarily need him to make an impact this season, but his continued development will be a major component to replacing Bryce Harper if he leaves in free agency next offseason.
RHP Michael Kopech, Chicago White Sox
Spring Stats: 4 G, 7.0 IP, 11 H, 9 ER, 7 BB, 7 K
Armed with an 80-grade fastball and a devastating slider, Michael Kopech stacks up to any pitching prospect in baseball in terms of pure stuff.
It's also hard to argue with the results last season when he went 9-8 with a 2.88 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and an eye-popping 172 strikeouts in 134.1 innings.
The 21-year-old still has work to do fine-tuning his command, as he walked hitters at a 4.4 BB/9 clip.
"I haven't had much time in Triple-A," Kopech told Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Tribune. "I feel I could go up and compete right now, but there are some things that need to be refined."
A rough showing this spring should do nothing to dissuade White Sox fans of his future ace potential. However, it's a clear sign he's not ready to make the MLB leap just yet.
SS Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees
Spring Stats: 28 PA, 4-for-25, 2 XBH (0 HR), 3 BB, 7 K
After his 2017 season ended abruptly June 17 when he suffered an elbow injury that would eventually require Tommy John surgery, it should come as no surprise that Gleyber Torres had some rust to shake off this spring.
That said, the 21-year-old still has all the makings of a future superstar.
Torres was hitting .287/.383/.480 with 23 extra-base hits in 235 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A at the time of the injury, and he almost certainly would have seen time in the majors before the 2017 season was over if he hadn't been sidelined.
The team's decision to add Brandon Drury and Neil Walker to the lineup means he'll have all the time he needs to return to form in Triple-A.
Don't expect either of those guys to stand in his way once he's deemed ready.