MLB's Next 10 Superstars to Know Before the Breakout
Can you hear that sound? It's footsteps.
MLB's next wave of superstars is coming. Some are already on big league rosters. Others are gestating in the minors, awaiting their inevitable call-up. All are worth knowing before they break out.
Here's a look at 10 burgeoning studs who should soon be stuffing stat sheets at the highest level.
Remember their names, listen for the footsteps.
Scott Kingery, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies
Before the season began, the Philadelphia Phillies inked top position-player prospect Scott Kingery to a six-year deal worth a guaranteed $24 million and placed him on the 25-man roster.
Through four games, Kingery is hitting .286 with a pair of doubles. Add the .304 average and 26 home runs the 23-year-old tallied between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and there's ample cause for excitement in the City of Brotherly Love.
There's also some consternation surrounding the use of Kingery in the early going. So far, he's been shifted from third base to shortstop to left field. His natural position is second base, where the Phils are currently rolling with Cesar Hernandez.
Versatility is well and good, but yo-yoing a young player all over the diamond could threaten his defensive and offensive development.
That said, Kingery looks like the kind of talent who can handle it. Wherever he plays, he's a key piece for Philadelphia now and going forward.
Lewis Brinson, CF, Miami Marlins
The Miami Marlins jettisoned their entire 2017 starting outfield this winter, as they traded away Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich. That's a massive talent exodus.
They acquired at least one heir apparent in Lewis Brinson, who came over from the Milwaukee Brewers in the Yelich deal and looks like Miami's center fielder of the future.
Through six games, Brinson is hitting only .226. He's shown flashes at the plate, however, and made some highlight-reel catches. Exhibit A: His robbery of a would-be home run off the bat of Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts, via the Marlins' official Twitter feed.
The Fish will have all the patience in the world for their young talent as they continue an everything-must-go fire sale. Brinson is primed to reward said patience.
Michael Kopech, RHP, Chicago White Sox
After posting a 2.88 ERA with 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017, right-hander Michael Kopech sat on the precipice of MLB stardom.
The 21-year-old with the triple-digit fastball coughed up 13 runs (nine earned) in seven innings this spring and was sent to Triple-A for more seasoning. Also, quite possibly, to delay his service-time clock.
It won't be long before Kopech—the No. 10 prospect in baseball according to MLB.com—is plying his trade on the South Side. The ChiSox bats have looked strong in the early going, but their pitching staff owns a 6.07 ERA through five games.
Assuming Kopech continues dominating in the minors, he'll be singeing radar guns in The Show by this summer.
Austin Hays, CF/RF, Baltimore Orioles
Austin Hays entered Baltimore Orioles camp with an outside chance of making the Opening Day roster, but the 22-year-old was re-assigned to Double-A Bowie.
He posted a .960 OPS at that level last season, suggesting he's got little left to prove.
"I would say that it's a little bit of a letdown," Hays said of his demotion, per Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. "You come in from a really hard offseason where I put in a lot of time into trying to get bigger, faster, stronger for spring and try to win a job."
If he keeps raking in the minors, he'll have a job in Baltimore posthaste.
Gleyber Torres, INF, New York Yankees
After undergoing Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow last season, Gleyber Torres came into spring with some rust.
The New York Yankees' top prospect slashed .219/.286/.313 in the Grapefruit League and missed a chance to win an infield gig with the big club.
The 21-year-old Venezuelan will be in the Bronx before long. He's an elite talent when healthy, with excellent contact skills, top-notch pitch recognition, emerging power and the defensive tools of an above-average shortstop—though he could also slot at either third base or second base.
A September call-up is assured; future stardom is probable.
Francisco Mejia, C, Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians opted to begin the season with the established catching twosome of Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez. They're merely keeping a place warm for top prospect Francisco Mejia.
While he needs to refine his skills behind the dish, Mejia proved his bat is more than MLB-ready with a .421 average and 1.292 OPS in spring training.
He could get a call-up sooner as an outfielder, where he'll get reps in the minors, as manager Terry Francona explained, per Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com.
"I told him, 'Look we have Perez and Gomes. Do the math,'" Francona said, per Hoynes. "He's such an advanced hitter. And if he's able to play another position and there's an injury, he could find himself not only in the big leagues, but playing."
Kyle Tucker, CF, Houston Astros
Kyle Tucker hit .409 this spring with five home runs and 21 RBI. Houston Astros fans can be forgiven for wanting to see him at Minute Maid Park right now.
But with Marwin Gonzalez, George Springer and Josh Reddick locked in from left to right, the 'Stros have no room for Tucker in their starting outfield.
Better to get him regular reps at Triple-A Fresno and await the inevitable call-up.
"We want him to continue to work on defense, we want him to continue to work on some swing adjustments so he can just get more reps and face better and better pitching," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. "Obviously he showed this spring he can handle some good pitching."
Nick Senzel, INF, Cincinnati Reds
The second overall pick by the Cincinnati Reds in 2016, Nick Senzel climbed to Double-A in 2017, where he hit .340 with a .973 OPS in 57 games.
The 22-year-old will open the season at Triple-A Louisville. He's a natural third baseman but is blocked on the Reds roster by Eugenio Suarez.
In spring, Senzel received most of his reps at shortstop, though he's expected to play second base in the minors, per MLB.com's Mark Sheldon.
Regardless of position, you can bet the rebuilding Reds will keep a close eye on their most potent, MLB-ready prospect.
Walker Buehler, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Walker Buehler posted a 3.35 ERA with 125 strikeouts in 88.2 innings in the minors while climbing from High-A to Double-A to Triple-A.
Eventually, he made his big league debut, posting a 7.71 ERA in eight appearances but showing the stuff that makes him the Los Angeles Dodgers' top pitching prospect.
This spring, the Dodgers treated Buehler with caution, limiting him to four innings. In those four frames, he struck out seven with one walk, one hit and zero runs allowed.
The Dodgers have enough pitching depth to bring the 23-year-old along slowly. It would be a shock, however, if he didn't contribute to L.A.'s title run this season while slotting into the top of their rotation in 2019 and beyond.
Ronald Acuna Jr., CF, Atlanta Braves
Ronald Acuna Jr. hit .432 with four home runs and four stolen bases for the Atlanta Braves in the Grapefruit League. He's the No. 2 prospect in baseball, per MLB.com. Set aside sample-size caveats and spring equivocations. The 20-year-old passed the eyeball test with flying colors.
He's ready for the big leagues.
Still, Atlanta sent him down to Triple-A. If they keep him there until April 13, they'll gain another year of club control. Gnash your teeth and stomp your feet if you wish; such is the reality of MLB's service-time rules.
We'll have to wait a bit longer for Acuna's debut. Once it comes, expect an instant impact and a front-runner for NL Rookie of the Year honors.
No pressure, kid.