Each MLB Team's Prospect Who Could Help Right Away
We spend a lot of time talking about a team's top prospects, but what about the next prospect?
Sometimes those are one in the same, as highly regarded youngsters such as Ronald Acuna Jr. and Gleyber Torres are knocking on the door for a big league promotion.
Other times, it's a largely unheralded middle reliever or a second-tier position player who winds up providing in-house support.
Ahead we've taken a closer look at the one prospect from each team who is ready to help in the majors.
Players were chosen based on a combination of their individual development and production as well as their path to MLB playing time based on current or expected team needs.
Baltimore Orioles: RF Austin Hays
Hays rocketed through the minors after being selected in the third round of the 2016 draft, posting a .958 OPS with 32 home runs and 95 RBI between High-A and Double-A last year to earn a late call-up.
The 22-year-old entered camp as the front-runner to win the starting right field job but hit just .243 with 12 strikeouts in 40 plate appearances before being optioned to Double-A.
With Anthony Santander, Colby Rasmus and Craig Gentry combining for a .167/.214/.273 line while manning right field, Hays will get his chance soon.
Boston Red Sox: RP Williams Jerez
Sam Travis is Boston's most MLB-ready prospect, but the first baseman doesn't have a clear path to playing time over Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland.
Instead, look for reliever Williams Jerez to be the next prospect to carve out a role in the majors.
Using a heavy mid-90s fastball and plus slider, he held left-handed hitters to a .485 OPS while posting a 26.1 percent strikeout rate last year. His ability to be more than a specialist will hinge on his splitter's development.
New York Yankees: 2B/3B Gleyber Torres
The late-offseason additions of Neil Walker and Brandon Drury meant the Yankees did not start Torres' arbitration clock by putting him on the Opening Day roster. He'll push his way into the picture soon, though.
The 21-year-old underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery last June or he likely would have already made his MLB debut.
With a hot start in Triple-A (16-for-43, 5 XBH), he could be promoted in short order.
Tampa Bay Rays: 1B Jake Bauers
The decision to let Logan Morrison walk in free agency has left the Rays with a hole at first base.
A groin injury to Brad Miller has left C.J. Cron as the everyday starter, and he's off to a middling start with a .732 and 19 strikeouts in 69 plate appearances.
That should open the door for Bauers in the near future.
The 22-year-old hit a solid .263/.368/.412 with 31 doubles, 13 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a full season at Triple-A last year. While he's seen significant time in the outfield in recent seasons, first base is his natural position, and he has the advanced approach to be an immediate upgrade.
Toronto Blue Jays: SP Ryan Borucki
A 2012 15th-round pick who dealt with injuries early in his career, Borucki finally turned in a healthy season in 2016, and he followed that with a breakout 2017 campaign.
The 6'4" left-hander went 8-8 with a 2.93 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 157 strikeouts in 150.1 innings over three minor league levels, closing out the season with his Triple-A debut.
Toronto's signing of veteran Jaime Garcia closed the door on his chances of winning a rotation spot this spring, but he looks like the next man up should injury strike.
Chicago White Sox: SP Michael Kopech
Kopech did not exactly light the world on fire this spring:
- 7.0 IP, 11 H, 7 BB, 13 R, 9 ER
The 21-year-old is still one of the game's most electric pitching prospects, though, and after being optioned to Triple-A to start the year, he could make his debut in short order.
With an 80-grade fastball, wipeout slider and improving changeup coming from a strong 6'3", 205-pound frame, he could soon ascend to the top of the MLB rotation.
Cleveland Indians: C Francisco Mejia
The platoon of Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez will always constitute a defensive-minded approach to the catcher position, so the fact that they're hitting a combined .214/.302/.393 isn't too concerning.
However, considering Mejia hit .297/.346/.490 with 37 extra-base hits in Double-A last year, his plate skills will soon help him push into the MLB picture in some capacity.
The 22-year-old has split time between catcher and left field in the season's early going, and establishing some level of comfort in the outfield looks like the remaining big league hurdle.
Detroit Tigers: 2B Dawel Lugo
Lugo was part of the three-prospect package the Tigers acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for slugger J.D. Martinez last summer. The 23-year-old began his career as a shortstop and played primarily third base last season, but his long-term future may be at a different spot.
MLB.com wrote: "The Tigers think he could end up being a solid offensive-minded second baseman when all is said and done, knowing he could contribute as a bat-first utility man if the need arises."
Dixon Machado broke camp with the starting second base job after Detroit traded Ian Kinsler during the offseason, but the position has produced a .224/.250/.397 line thus far, and it shouldn't be long before Lugo gets a look.
Kansas City Royals: IF/OF Hunter Dozier
Dozier was on the cusp of breaking through when he posted an .899 OPS with 44 doubles and 23 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016.
However, an oblique injury limited him to 33 games last season.
The 26-year-old is capable of playing both corner infield and outfield spots and is one of the few prospects ready to make an impact for a Royals team in the early stages of rebuilding.
Off to a strong .308/.426/.462 start in Triple-A, he doesn't have much left to prove in the minors.
Minnesota Twins: SP Fernando Romero
While the Twins didn't land top offseason target Yu Darvish, they did move aggressively to improve the starting rotation with the additions of Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi.
That will allow them to be patient with top prospects Fernando Romero and Stephen Gonsalves. But after Romero tossed eight no-hit innings this spring before being optioned to Triple-A, he could be ready to make an impact soon.
The 23-year-old still has work to do refining his overall command and developing his changeup as a reliable third offering, but he's capable of making those adjustments in the majors while still contributing.
Houston Astros: OF Kyle Tucker
The left field position has produced a .153/.246/.254 line for the Astros, with Marwin Gonzalez and Derek Fisher both off to slow starts.
How much longer before Tucker gets a look?
The No. 5 pick in the 2015 draft is one of baseball's best pure hitting prospects, and he's just beginning to tap into his raw power after posting an .874 OPS while slugging a career-high 25 home runs last season across two levels.
Still just 21, Tucker is off to a solid start in Triple-A and could be an immediate upgrade to an already potent lineup.
Los Angeles Angels: SP/RP Miguel Almonte
Once one of the top prospects in the Royals system, Almonte was designated for assignment earlier this month and acquired by the Angels in exchange for cash or a player to be named.
MLB.com wrote: "Almonte has a pair of legitimate plus pitches in a running fastball that ranges from 92-98 mph and a deceptive changeup with sink. His changeup is so good that he was able to get by at lower levels without developing much of a breaking ball, but more advanced hitters have taken advantage of that shortcoming."
Sounds like a pitcher who would benefit from a full-time move to the bullpen, where his standout two-pitch mix would play up. The 25-year-old is dealing with shoulder soreness, but he could make an impact out of the big league 'pen once he's healthy.
Oakland Athletics: CF Dustin Fowler
The Athletics have gotten a .167/.247/.273 line from the center field position.
To put that into perspective, the Washington Nationals have gotten a .150/.190/.225 line from their pitchers. And while Jake Smolinski, Boog Powell, Mark Canha and Trayce Thompson have all seen time in center in the early going, they may all just be keeping the position warm for Fowler.
The 23-year-old suffered a season-ending knee injury in his MLB debut last season.
Healthy once again, he has average-or-better tools across the board and should be an immediate upgrade in center field where he has a chance to be a long-term piece for a team on the rise.
Seattle Mariners: RP Nick Rumbelow
In an under-the-radar move largely lost in the shuffle of another busy offseason from general manager Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners acquired Rumbelow from the Yankees for fellow prospects JP Sears and Juan Then.
"That the Mariners traded a pair of promising young arms for Rumbelow underscores their belief in him as an impactful big league reliever," wrote MLB.com.
After missing most of the 2016 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, Rumbelow returned last season to post a 1.12 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 10.0 K/9 in 25 appearances between Double-A and Triple-A.
The 26-year-old has three above-average pitches and has shown the ability to miss bats throughout his pro career with a 10.4 K/9 rate. A late-inning big league role could be in his near future.
Texas Rangers: LF Willie Calhoun
Calhoun can flat-out rake, and he showed that last season when he posted a .927 OPS with 31 home runs in Triple-A.
The question is: Where does he fit defensively?
Originally a second baseman, he'll likely be limited to left field and DH duties in the big leagues. A midseason trade from the Dodgers to the Rangers last season was in his best interest in that regard.
With Rangers left fielders hitting .162/.205/.265 on the year, he'll get the call in 2018 and could be an immediate 30-homer threat.
Atlanta Braves: SP Max Fried
Acuna is the easy answer here.
However, with Preston Tucker (53 PA, .821 OPS, 5 XBH) off to a strong start and Acuna scuffling in Triple-A (51 PA, .182 BA, .567 OPS, 17 K), there's no reason to rush one of the game's most promising prospects.
Instead, the first opening could come in the starting rotation, where Max Fried has a strong case to be the next man up. The 24-year-old lefty turned heads in the Arizona Fall League with a 1.73 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 32 strikeouts in 26 innings, and he's thrown well in his first two starts this season.
Luiz Gohara is also worth a mention, but he's been nursing a strained oblique since spring training.
Miami Marlins: SP/RP Sandy Alcantara
Miami acquired the hard-throwing Alcantara from the St. Louis Cardinals as part of the Marcell Ozuna trade, and he immediately became one of the top pitching prospects in its thin system.
While his triple-digit fastball has good late life, his off-speed pitches lag. His slider and changeup both have a chance to be above-average pitches, but his future may be in the bullpen.
That said, there's every reason for the rebuilding Marlins to give him a chance to continue his development as a starter. And with Dillon Peters (6.75 ERA) and Caleb Smith (6.89 ERA) both struggling, his shot could come soon.
New York Mets: SP Corey Oswalt
A seventh-round pick in the 2012 draft, Oswalt enjoyed a breakout season in 2017 when he went 12-5 with a 2.28 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and a 119-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 134.1 Double-A innings.
The 24-year-old earned a brief call-up earlier this season, only to be demoted later that same day before he had a chance to make his MLB debut.
MLB.com wrote: "Oswalt's ceiling is somewhat limited to that of a back-end starter, but he's very close to reaching that and impacting a big league rotation."
The Mets have enjoyed good pitching health in 2018, but Oswalt is waiting in the wings if and when a spot opens on the starting staff.
Philadelphia Phillies: OF Roman Quinn
With 80-grade speed, enough of a hit tool to be a table-setter and the defensive chops to stick in center field, Quinn has the potential to be an impact player.
So what's the issue?
As MLB.com explained: "Quinn has been dynamic, more often than not, when he's been on the field. The main issue has been his inability to stay there, as a number of injuries have kept him from playing more than 100 games in any one season, the most recent one a damaged UCL in his non-throwing elbow that didn't require surgery."
The 24-year-old is healthy, and even with a crowded Phillies outfield, he's capable of contributing in some capacity.
Washington Nationals: SP Erick Fedde
With Joe Ross recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Nationals have a hole to fill at the back of the rotation.
A.J. Cole got the first opportunity, making two starts and allowing 13 hits and 12 earned runs in nine innings. Now it's veteran Jeremy Hellickson's turn, as he signed a minor league deal during spring training and made his Nationals debut Monday when he allowed seven hits and two earned runs in 4.2 innings.
Meanwhile, Fedde remains the team's most MLB-ready pitching prospect. He threw the ball well this spring with a 2.45 ERA over 14.2 innings. If Hellickson falters or injury strikes, he'll get the call.
Chicago Cubs: RP Dillon Maples
Most of the Cubs' top prospects are still in the lower levels of the minors. However, two that could make an impact this season are Jen-Ho Tseng and Dillon Maples.
Tseng would likely be the first minor league pitcher called upon to fill a spot in the rotation, but reliever Mike Montgomery is the true next man up, so it would take more than one injury for his opportunity to present itself.
So we'll go with Maples, who was signed to a $2.5 million bonus as a 14th-round pick in 2011—still a record for a player taken after the third round. The 25-year-old has an electric fastball/slider/curveball mix and his swing-and-miss ability was abundantly clear last season when he struck out 111 batters across 68.2 innings in the minors and majors.
His command still needs work, but he's ready to make an impact now.
Cincinnati Reds: 3B Nick Senzel
Here's what Reds GM Dick Williams told reporters recently on the topic of Senzel:
"The most important thing is to make sure we're all convinced that he is ready to be here and playing productively. A lot goes into that. It's just making sure his confidence is in the right place and the approach we're seeing is right and he is doing it consistently. Bringing a guy like that up, you want him to come and stay. You want it to be more dictated by his performance and confidence as opposed to being dictated by the situation here."
With Eugenio Suarez sidelined with a fractured thumb, there's a clear path to playing time at third base.
It might simply be a matter of stringing together a few good games before he gets the call.
Milwaukee Brewers: SP Freddy Peralta
The Brewers failed to land an impact starter during the offseason, settling on signing Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley to supplement the team's in-house options.
To this point, the team's starters have gone 4-6 with a 4.07 ERA and 10 quality starts in 19 games, and only Opening Day starter Chase Anderson (4 GS, 1-1, 2.82 ERA, 0.99 WHIP) is off to a strong start.
Brandon Woodruff will get another look at some point, but we'll focus on fellow right-hander Peralta.
The 21-year-old posted a 2.63 ERA and racked up 169 strikeouts in 120 innings between High-A and Double-A last season, and he's gone 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 20 strikeouts in 16 innings in his first three Triple-A starts this year.
Pittsburgh Pirates: SP Nick Kingham
Tommy John surgery limited Kingham to a combined 77.1 innings between the 2015 and 2016 seasons, and he largely fell off the prospect radar as a result.
The 26-year-old re-established himself last season, though, going 10-6 with a 3.95 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 93 strikeouts in 118.1 innings between High-A and Triple-A.
The 6'5", 225-pound right-hander has an advanced three-pitch mix and plus command, giving him legitimate middle-of-the-rotation upside which he could realize this season for a Pirates team that is off to a surprisingly hot start.
He's allowed just nine hits in his first 17 innings in Triple-A, walking four and striking out 21.
St. Louis Cardinals: SP/RP Ryan Helsley
With the bullpen still in flux, the Cardinals could look to call on another young pitching prospect in Helsley to bolster the bullpen, a la Jordan Hicks.
MLB.com wrote: "Because of his size, arm strength and command, some have thought Helsley was destined to land in a bullpen. He'll continue to start for now, with the Cardinals knowing that his fastball-curve combination would play up nicely in shorter stints as needed."
The 23-year-old went 11-3 with a 2.72 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 137 strikeouts in 132.1 innings over three minor league levels last season.
Arizona Diamondbacks: RP Jimmie Sherfy
The Diamondbacks have the best bullpen in the majors so far this season with a 2.09 ERA and 1.05 WHIP while going 6-for-6 on save chances.
There's always room for more bullpen help, though.
The 26-year-old posted a 3.12 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 11.2 K/9 with 20 saves in Triple-A last season, capping off the season with 10.2 scoreless innings in the big league bullpen.
Colorado Rockies: 1B/OF Jordan Patterson
The first base position has produced a brutal .110/.177/.219 line with just four extra-base hits this season for the Rockies.
Ian Desmond, Pat Valaika and Ryan McMahon have all made starts at the position, but continued struggles could be enough for the team to give someone else a chance.
That someone could be Patterson.
The 26-year-old posted an .887 OPS with 32 doubles, 26 home runs and 92 RBI in his second go-around at the Triple-A level last year. He's also capable of playing the corner outfield spots, and with little left to prove in the minors, he's ready for a call-up.
Los Angeles Dodgers: SP/RP Walker Buehler
The Dodgers moved Buehler to the bullpen midway through the 2017 season and he made his MLB debut on Sept. 7 after racking up 125 strikeouts in 88.2 innings in the minors.
The 23-year-old is now back in the minors and back in a starting role, and he's gone 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 16 strikeouts in 13 innings over his first three starts in Triple-A.
Whether he returns to a bullpen role in the short term or a spot in the rotation opens up, he has the makings of a future frontline starter and the stuff to make an immediate impact.
San Diego Padres: 2B/SS Luis Urias
Urias has one of the best hit tools of any prospect.
The 20-year-old hit .296/.398/.380 with more walks (68) than strikeouts (65) in a full season at the Double-A level last year.
He also played primarily shortstop for the first time in his career after typically lining up at second base to start his pro career, holding his own at that new position.
Carlos Asuaje and Freddy Galvis make up the current Padres middle infield, but neither player will stand in the way once Urias is deemed ready.
San Francisco Giants: CF Steven Duggar
It's looking more and more like it might be time to move 35-year-old Hunter Pence (61 PA, .172 BA, .386 OPS, 22 K) to a backup role.
That would open up a spot for Duggar in the starting lineup.
The 24-year-old was limited to 44 games last season with forearm and hamstring injuries, but he still impressed with an .810 OPS that included 18 extra-base hits and 10 stolen bases in 192 plate appearances.
The former sixth-round pick followed that up with an .813 OPS, four home runs and 10 RBI this spring, proving he's ready for a shot at the next level.