10 MLB Prospects Proving They'll Be 2018 Breakout Stars

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2018

10 MLB Prospects Proving They'll Be 2018 Breakout Stars

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    There are few things more exciting in baseball than a prospect on the precipice of MLB stardom. Close your eyes and imagine the potential. See the sky? That's the limit.

    Of course, not all touted youngsters have a path to big league playing time. Some need seasoning; others are blocked at their position of choice.

    Here are 10 highly rated MiLB blue chips who have demonstrated their worth in the minor leagues and spring training and who have plausible paths to playing time in the majors.

    Meet 2018's most likely breakout stars.

Austin Meadows, LF/CF/RF, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Injuries dogged Austin Meadows last season, but the 22-year-old outfielder showed what he can do when healthy this spring.

    Before he was sent to minor league camp, Meadows went 7-for-19 with a home run and eight RBI in the Grapefruit League.

    Meadows worked on his conditioning this offseason, hoping to avoid the disabled list. 

    "I definitely feel strong, especially in my core and hips," he said, per Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "That's where a lot of the focus was on this offseason...to strengthen those areas."

    The Bucs have already traded ace Gerrit Cole and star outfielder Andrew McCutchen this winter. Further moves should soon open a spot for Meadows.

Ryan McMahon, 1B, Colorado Rockies

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    Ryan McMahon's chances of making the Colorado Rockies' Opening Day roster took a hit when the club re-signed outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. 

    That will likely push Ian Desmond back to first base and send McMahon to Triple-A Albuquerque. Still, McMahon has done all he can to earn a place in the Rockies' everyday lineup.

    The 23-year-old is 20-for-59 this spring with a pair of home runs. At some point, a place will be made for him in Colorado and he'll get his opportunity to play full-time in the Mile High air. 

    "I think if I play well, hopefully [general manager] Jeff [Bridich] and [manager] Bud [Black] will want to have me on the team, but they've got to do what's best for the team," McMahon said, per MLB.com's Thomas Harding.

Scott Kingery, INF, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Scott Kingery is the Philadelphia Phillies' top position-player prospect, according to MLB.com. Ranked 35th in their overall rankings, Kingery is hitting .375 with two doubles and three home runs this spring. 

    There may not immediately be room for the 23-year-old in the Philly infield, but he's logged innings at second base, third base and in the outfield. 

    His time is coming in the City of Brotherly Love.

    "Based on his skill set, I think he could play, legitimately, anywhere on the diamond and be just fine," manager Gabe Kapler said, per Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I don't think there's much that he can't do on a baseball field athletically."

A.J. Puk, LHP, Oakland Athletics

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    A.J. Puk showed why he's the Oakland Athletics' potential ace of the future by posting a 3.38 ERA in 10.2 spring innings and holding opposing hitters to a .184 average.

    The 22-year-old was sent to minor league camp, likely to game MLB's service-time rules and to get him some reps at Triple-A (he got as high as Double-A last season).

    It won't be long before he joins the A's rotation, however.

    "It got to the point where we were comfortable with the guys we had here," manager Bob Melvin said, per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. "There was a lot of speculation with [Puk] and rightly so, based on the way he was pitching."

    Soon, speculation should morph into results.

Lewis Brinson, CF, Miami Marlins

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    After coming over from the Milwaukee Brewers in the Christian Yelich trade, Lewis Brinson has been a revelation for the Miami Marlins.

    The 23-year-old is hitting .341 this spring and is a candidate to lead off for the Fish, per Craig Davis of the Sun-Sentinel.

    "He's a guy that we think is going to steal bags," manager Don Mattingly said, per Davis. "Not that he's a 50 [stolen base] guy, but he's a 20- to 30-[stolen base] guy, and at some point he's going to hit some homers too. He's a guy that's made adjustments, gotten on base."

    Miami gutted its outfield this winter. Brinson won't offset the losses of Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton, but he could help ease the pain in South Beach.

Willy Adames, INF, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Willy Adames turned heads this spring for the Tampa Bay Rays, as he went 8-for-22 with two doubles and two home runs. 

    The 22-year-old was sent to minor league camp, but he should get a shot with the rebuilding Rays.

    Tampa Bay traded third baseman Evan Longoria, right-hander Jake Odorizzi and outfielder Corey Dickerson this winter. More moves that clear a space for Adames, who played 11 games last season at second with Triple-A Durham and 117 at shortstop, seem likely.

    Notably, Adames honed his defense in the Grapefruit League alongside shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.

    "I think Willy has done a tremendous job this spring of kind of following Hech around, watching the consistency of a big league shortstop," manager Kevin Cash said, per Roger Mooney of the Tampa Bay Times. "You can see drastic improvement from his consistency from last year this time to now."

Alex Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Alex Reyes was supposed to break out last season, but Tommy John surgery derailed those plans. The 23-year-old posted a 1.57 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 46 innings for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016 while touching 100 mph with his fastball.

    The Cards are treating him carefully this spring, and he may ease his way back in as a reliever. Still, he has flashed his blazing fastball and bat-missing changeup in batting-practice sessions.

    "That [expletive] is nasty," an unnamed minor leaguer said after facing Reyes in BP, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

    "The guy can be a superstar in this league," veteran Cardinals hurler Adam Wainwright said of his young teammate in January, per Kurt Voigt of the Associated Press. "I think he has humongous talent and will be one of the best pitchers in the game." 

Walker Buehler, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    A first-round pick (24th overall) by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2015 draft, Walker Buehler put up a 3.35 ERA with 125 strikeouts in 88.2 innings in 2017 while ascending from High-A to Double-A and Triple-A before making his big league debut.

    It was his first full season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and the Dodgers have been understandably cautious with him in the Cactus League. So far, he's fanned seven in four scoreless innings.

    "I have a new ligament," Buehler said, per Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times. "I have a new arm. I have new kind of arsenal. It's a different world now."

Victor Robles, CF, Washington Nationals

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    There isn't an obvious place on the Washington Nationals roster for top prospect Victor Robles. It makes little sense for the Nats to call him up just to ride the pine.

    At the same time, the 20-year-old debuted in the majors last season and was part of Washington's postseason roster. If the Nationals think he can help them in what may well be Bryce Harper's D.C. swan song, they'll promote him.

    "The whole five-tool thing everyone talks about, he's got a really good chance to be one of those guys," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said, per USA Today's Jorge L. Ortiz. "When he came up, his plate discipline and strike-zone judgment for such a young guy was impressive. I feel like he's ahead of where a lot of guys are at that age, especially at this level."

Ronald Acuna, CF, Atlanta Braves

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    In the most blatant example of MLB's service-time rules impacting roster decisions, the Atlanta Braves reassigned outfielder Ronald Acuna to minor league camp.

    The 20-year-old did everything he needed to do in the Grapefruit League. He hit .432 with four home runs and four stolen bases and more than passed the MLB-ready eyeball test.

    As MLB.com's Mark Bowman noted, the Braves must keep Acuna in the minors until at least April 13 to maintain another season of team control. 

    It'll be a shock if he isn't plying his trade in Atlanta by May. Once he arrives, expect him to stick around.


    All statistics current as of Tuesday and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.