Each MLB Team's Prospect off to an Explosive Start to 2018

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2018

Each MLB Team's Prospect off to an Explosive Start to 2018

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    Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

    Fans are often cautioned to take a small sample size with a grain of salt.

    That's prudent advice when it comes to established MLB players or teams not matching preseason expectations.

    In the case of prospects, however, a red-hot start can often be an indicator of bigger things to come.

    With that in mind, ahead is a look at one prospect from each team who is off to an explosive start to the 2018 season.

    In order to be included, players simply had to still have rookie eligibility (no more than 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched or 45 days on the active roster) and be playing in the minor leagues.

AL East

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    Jalen Beeks
    Jalen BeeksBillie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Baltimore Orioles: SP Zac Lowther, Single-A
    (3 GS, 2-1, 0.56 ERA, 0.44 WHIP, 2 BB, 31 K, 16.0 IP)

    The No. 74 pick in last year's draft, Lowther turned in a standout junior season at Xavier, setting a program record with 123 strikeouts at a rate of 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

    The 6'2", 235-pound lefty was one of the more polished arms in the class, and his advanced pitchability should allow him to quickly reach his ceiling as a back-end starter. It's worth watching how his modest stuff plays against higher-level competition, but he could be pushed aggressively if he continues to dominate in Single-A.

        

    Boston Red Sox: SP Jalen Beeks, Triple-A
    (3 GS, 1-1, 0.64 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 5 BB, 26 K, 14.0 IP)

    Beeks was the Red Sox's Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season, when he went 11-8 with a 3.29 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 155 strikeouts in 145 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.

    Back at Triple-A Pawtucket to start the 2018 season, the 5'11" left-hander has picked up right where he left off. The 2014 12th-round pick is looking more and more like a safe bet to outperform his draft position, and he should get his shot soon with little left to prove in the minors.

        

    New York Yankees: SP Trevor Stephan, High-A
    (3 GS, 1-0, 1.13 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, 3 BB, 22 K, 16.0 IP)

    The Yankees selected Stephan in the third round last June, and he posted a 1.31 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 34.1 innings in his first pro season.

    The 6'5", 225-pound right-hander can touch 97 with his fastball, and he backs that with a promising slider. His unique crossfire delivery and lack of a reliable third pitch, however, could land him in the bullpen. For now, the Yankees will try to develop him as a starter.

        

    Tampa Bay Rays: 1B/SP Brendan McKay, Single-A
    (43 PA, .345/.558/.379, 1 XBH, 0 HR, 10 RBI, 6 R)
    (3 GS, 0-0, 2.00 ERA, 0.56 WHIP, 1 BB, 15 K, 9.0 IP)

    McKay was last year's Golden Spikes winner after a standout junior season at Louisville, and the Rays appear ready to give him every chance to make it as a two-way player.

    He's looked strong on the mound and at the plate with an impressive 15.0 K/9 rate over three starts and a ridiculous .558 on-base percentage with far more walks (14) than strikeouts (4).

        

    Toronto Blue Jays: 2B Cavan Biggio, Double-A
    (58 PA, .313/.414/.708, 10 XBH, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 10 R)

    The son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a fifth-round pick in 2016 out of Norte Dame and seems to be finding his footing after a slow start to his pro career.

    The 23-year-old hit .233/.342/.363 with 17 doubles, 11 home runs, 60 RBI and 11 steals in a full season at High-A last year. With strong on-base skills and double-digit home run power, he has a chance to be an offensive-minded second baseman at the highest level.

AL Central

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    Chicago White Sox: CF Luis Alexander Basabe, High-A
    (71 PA, .339/.443/.627, 10 XBH, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 12 R)

    Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech were the headlining return pieces in the trade that sent Chris Sale to the Red Sox, but the White Sox acquired two other prospects in that deal—one of whom was Basabe.

    The 21-year-old outfielder has been ahead of the development curve since he made his stateside debut at the age of 17. After hitting .221/.320/.320 with 22 extra-base hits in 435 plate appearances in High-A last year, he is back for a second stint, and it looks like the pieces are starting to fall into place.

        

    Cleveland Indians: SP Shane Bieber, Double-A
    (4 GS, 3-0, 1.04 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 0 BB, 28 K, 26.0 IP)

    One of the under-the-radar breakout prospects of 2017, Bieber went 10-5 with a 2.86 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 162 strikeouts in 173.1 innings while climbing two levels to reach Double-A in his first full season.

    The 22-year-old could push his way onto top 100 prospect lists by midseason if he continues to impress. Armed with three above-average offerings and 70-grade control, the 2016 fourth-round pick may wind up blowing past expectations.

        

    Detroit Tigers: SS Isaac Paredes, High-A
    (65 PA, .263/.323/.491, 6 XBH, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 6 R)

    Paredes will be 19 years old for the entirety of the season.

    So while his numbers may seem modest in comparison to many of the others players featured in this article, that he's enjoying that level of production as one of the youngest players in the High-A Florida State League makes them equally impressive.

    Acquired from the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline last year, Paredes has all the tools to develop into a standout two-way shortstop.

        

    Kansas City Royals: RF Seuly Matias, Single-A
    (55 PA, .308/.345/.731, 9 XBH, 6 HR, 13 RBI, 11 R)

    The Royals gave Matias a $2.3 million bonus as one of the top prospects in the 2015 international free-agent class, and he has the highest ceiling of anyone in their system by far.

    "With his combination of tools and physical presence, he draws comparisons to Yoenis Cespedes and Andre Dawson," according to MLB.com.

    The 6'3", 200-pound outfielder won't turn 20 until September, and with his raw power and cannon arm, he has the makings of a prototypical right fielder. That said, as good as the above numbers look, he's also struck out at a 38.2 percent clip, so there's work to be done.

        

    Minnesota Twins: OF Jimmy Kerrigan, High-A
    (72 PA, .387/.444/.694, 12 XBH, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 12 R)

    Kerrigan went undrafted in 2016 after a strong senior season at VCU, and he began the 2017 season playing for the River City Rascals of the independent Frontier League.

    A .328/.369/.532 line with 17 doubles, 10 home runs and 47 RBI in 62 games caught the attention of the Twins, and he's off to a scorching start in 2018. The scouting process has come a long way, but there are still a few diamonds in the rough, and it looks like Minnesota may have found one.

AL West

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    Sean Murphy
    Sean MurphyJustin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Houston Astros: SP/RP Corbin Martin, High-A
    (3 G, 2 GS, 1-0, 1 SV, 0.00 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 6 BB, 21 K, 14.0 IP)

    Martin spent his junior season at Texas A&M as a reliever and then a starter, and while he showed some potential, he was something of an enigma heading into the draft.

    The Astros scooped him up in the second round at No. 56 overall, and while his long-term role is still unclear, his stuff is tough to ignore. His fastball command still needs work, but he can dial that pitch up to 96 mph with late life. He backs it with an excellent hammer curve that can be unhittable. That two-pitch mix could make him a closer candidate down the line if he doesn't work out as a starter.

        

    Los Angeles Angels: SP Jose Suarez, High-A/Double-A
    (3 GS, 0-1, 2.13 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 1 BB, 27 K, 12.2 IP)

    Slowly but surely, the Angels are building a solid farm system.

    Suarez is by no means one of the headliners, but he announced himself as a name to watch last season by posting a 3.28 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 90 strikeouts in 68.2 innings.

    Armed with perhaps "the best changeup in the system," per MLB.com, and a heavy low-90s fastball that he commands well, Suarez is just 20 years old, and he's already reached Double-A.

        

    Oakland Athletics: C Sean Murphy, Double-A
    (65 PA, .393/.431/.705, 13 XBH, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 16 R)

    Finding a franchise catcher is tough, but it looks like the A's might have done just that when they picked Murphy in the third round of the 2016 draft.

    While his rocket arm and strong receiving skills were the driving force behind his draft stock, he's been far better than expected offensively. After posting a .723 OPS with 13 home runs between High-A and Double-A in his first full season last year, he showed well in the Arizona Fall League with a .309/.413/.368 line over 80 plate appearances.

    With Jonathan Lucroy signed for just 2018, Murphy could be the guy in 2019.

        

    Seattle Mariners: SS Bryson Brigman, High-A
    (62 PA, .415/.492/.660, 8 XBH, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 10 R)

    The 2016 draft was incredibly thin on collegiate shortstops, with only C.J. Chatham (No. 51 overall to the Red Sox) and Garrett Hampson (No. 81 overall to the Colorado Rockies) being selected ahead of Brigman—who was picked 87th by the Mariners.

    The classic polished college player who does everything well but nothing great, Brigman might need to slide to second base. That said, it's the development of his bat that will determine whether he's an everyday player or a utility guy.

        

    Texas Rangers: SP Jonathan Hernandez, High-A
    (3 GS, 2-1, 1.76 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 5 BB, 19 K, 15.1 IP)

    A Futures Game participant in July, Hernandez has been part of the organization since 2013, when he signed for $300,000 out of the Dominican Republic.

    An uptick in velocity has made his stuff more dynamic, as he can now touch 97 mph with his fastball and flash a plus slider and changeup. At 21 years old, he offers intriguing upside as he approaches the upper levels of the minors.

NL East

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    Austin Riley
    Austin RileyMark Cunningham/Getty Images

    Atlanta Braves: 3B Austin Riley, Double-A
    (69 PA, .381/.435/.746, 14 XBH, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 12 R)

    The Braves have a big enough hole at third base that they signed the 37-year-old Jose Bautista last week despite the fact that he hasn't manned the hot corner on even a semiregular basis since 2011.

    That said, regardless of who lines up at third in Atlanta this season, they're just keeping the spot warm for Riley. The 21-year-old has posted back-to-back 20-homer seasons in the minors while making significant strides defensively, and if his hot start is any indication, he may just be scratching the surface.

         

    Miami Marlins: SP Jeff Brigham, Double-A
    (3 GS, 3-0, 0.60 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 3 BB, 20 K, 15.0 IP)

    Brigham was brought along slowly early in his pro career after undergoing Tommy John surgery in college, and he was limited to 59 innings last season while dealing with a bum shoulder, which explains why he's just now reaching Double-A as a 26-year-old.

    Now that he's back to 100 percent, he's once again flashing a big fastball and plus slider. The development of his changeup and his command will dictate whether he sticks as a starter.

         

    New York Mets: 1B Peter Alonso, Double-A
    (63 PA, .346/.444/.635, 9 XBH, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 11 R)

    Despite his first base-only defensive profile, the Mets grabbed Alonso in the second round of the 2016 draft after his impressive junior season at the University of Florida.

    The 23-year-old rewarded their faith with a standout first full season in the organization, posting an .883 OPS with 27 doubles, 18 home runs and 63 RBI between High-A and Double-A. His bat will need to carry him to the big leagues, and so far it's looked more than capable.

         

    Philadelphia Phillies: RP Seranthony Dominguez, Double-A
    (7 G, 1-2, 2.25 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 2 BB, 18 K, 12.0 IP)

    While Dominguez was used primarily as a starter heading into this season, MLB.com wrote the following: "His overall lack of command, to go along with some durability concerns, means the bullpen move could make a lot of sense. In shorter stints, he could come at hitters with a true 80 fastball and two very good secondary weapons."

    Sure enough, he's off to a dominant start as a reliever. He fanned 82 hitters in 67.2 innings last season, so there's no question he has swing-and-miss stuff. The full-time move to relief work could put him on the fast track.

         

    Washington Nationals: RF Juan Soto, Single-A/High-A
    (74 PA, .373/.486/.814, 13 XBH, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 12 R)

    A torrid start in Single-A earned Soto an early promotion to High-A, and he won't turn 20 until October.

    While Victor Robles receives the bulk of the attention as the Nationals' prospect headliner, Soto is not far behind with loud tools and middle-of-the-order potential. He hit .351/.415/.505 with 10 extra-base hits in 123 plate appearances between rookie ball and Single-A last year, and it looks like Washington is ready to turn him loose.

    He could be a top-10 prospect in MLB by season's end.

NL Central

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    Nick Kingham
    Nick KinghamB51/Mark Brown/Getty Images

    Chicago Cubs: RF Jeffrey Baez, Double-A
    (35 PA, .375/.429/.813, 8 XBH, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 6 R)

    Signed all the way back in 2010, Baez moved slowly before showing potential in 2015, when he hit .280/.321/.422 with 32 extra-base hits in 421 plate appearances between Single-A and High-A.

    The 24-year-old failed to duplicate that success in subsequent seasons, though, hitting .217 with a .674 OPS at Double-A last year. A return to that level appears to be serving him well, and he could yet develop into an MLB contributor.

         

    Cincinnati Reds: SP Tony Santillan, High-A
    (4 GS, 3-0, 0.40 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 5 BB, 24 K, 22.2 IP)

    Simply put, Santillan has the potential to develop into one of the game's elite pitching prospects.

    The 21-year-old boasts a 70-grade fastball with good movement, and he backs that pitch with a plus slider and a changeup that has come a long way since he was picked 49th overall in the 2015 draft.

    The 6'3", 240-pound right-hander went 9-8 with a 3.38 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 128 strikeouts in 128 innings at Single-A last year, trimming his walk rate from 5.2 to 3.9 per nine innings.

         

    Milwaukee Brewers: SP Freddy Peralta, Triple-A
    (4 GS, 4-0, 1.29 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 9 BB, 27 K, 21.0 IP)

    Peralta was one of three prospects the Brewers acquired from the Mariners for Adam Lind after the 2015 season. The 21-year-old has flown under the radar in a deep Milwaukee system, but he turned heads last year, posting a 2.63 ERA and striking out 169 batters in 120 innings between High-A and Double-A.

    His command needs work (4.7 BB/9 rate in 2017), but he has the stuff to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter and could even debut before the All-Star break.

         

    Pittsburgh Pirates: SP Nick Kingham, Triple-A
    (4 GS, 2-1, 1.59 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 7 BB, 27 K, 22.2 IP)

    Tommy John surgery limited Kingham to 77.1 innings combined in 2015 and 2016, but he returned strong last season with 118.1 innings of 3.95 ERA and 1.26 WHIP ball mostly in Triple-A.

    While his ceiling might be a No. 4 starter, he has the polished three-pitch mix and 6'5", 225-pound frame to be a rotation staple. He should get his first taste of MLB action before the season is over.

         

    St. Louis Cardinals: CF Lane Thomas, Double-A
    (67 PA, .344/.403/.705, 12 XBH, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 15 R)

    A fifth-round pick out of high school in 2014, Thomas landed a $750,000 bonus that was more than double the $343,000 slot value of his selection spot.

    Despite a slow start to his pro career offensively, the Cardinals liked his upside enough to acquire him from the Blue Jays last summer in exchange for international bonus pool money. He has the defensive skills to stick in center field, and the change of scenery seems to have served him well.

NL West

6 of 6

    Josh Naylor
    Josh NaylorAndy Hayt/Getty Images

    Arizona Diamondbacks: RP Colin Poche, Double-A
    (6 G, 1 SV, 0.00 ERA, 0.25 WHIP, 1 BB, 19 K, 8.0 IP)

    A fifth-round pick out of high school in 2012, Poche signed with the D-backs as a 14th-round pick four years later following a standout season as the ace of the Dallas Baptist staff.

    The left-hander moved to the bullpen to begin his pro career and announced himself as a prospect to watch last year, when he posted a 1.25 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 81 strikeouts in 50.1 innings. His solid three-pitch mix makes him more than just a situational lefty, and he could wind up in a setup role if he keeps missing bats.

        

    Colorado Rockies: C Tom Murphy, Triple-A
    (74 PA, .359/.432/.672, 12 XBH, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 12 R)

    At 27 years old, Murphy has fallen into the dreaded Quadruple-A category.

    This is not the first time he's crushed Triple-A pitching, but he's managed just a .214/.289/.485 line over 114 plate appearances in the majors during the past three seasons.

    With Rockies catchers hitting a paltry .191/.288/.286, it might be time for Colorado to give Murphy another look.

        

    Los Angeles Dodgers: C Connor Wong, High-A
    (54 PA, .396/.463/.979, 12 XBH, 8 HR, 17 RBI, 16 R)

    Despite already boasting two of the best catching prospects in baseball in Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith, the Dodgers grabbed Wong in the third round last June.

    An elite athlete, Wong was the starting shortstop for the University of Houston during his freshman season. His receiving skills are still a work in progress, but there's reason to believe he can be an above-average defender.

    Meanwhile, his bat has already far exceeded expectations, as he posted an .823 OPS with 11 extra-base hits in 108 plate appearances last year. He's already launched eight home runs this season.

    Los Angeles could opt to develop him as an Austin Barnes-type utility player given the other catching options in its system, but either way, he's a prospect to watch.

        

    San Diego Padres: 1B Josh Naylor, Double-A
    (78 PA, .354/.449/.708, 9 XBH, 7 HR, 17 RBI, 14 R)

    Naylor possessed some of the best raw power in the 2015 draft, and the Marlins picked him 12th overall. One year later, he was traded to the Padres for Andrew Cashner in a deal involving five other players.

    The 20-year-old is still working to turn his raw pop into over-the-fence production, and after hitting just 10 home runs in 488 plate appearances last year, he already has seven long balls in 2018. It's not clear exactly where he would fit following the Eric Hosmer signing, but his bat should carry him to the majors in short order.

        

    San Francisco Giants: SP John Gavin, Single-A
    (3 GS, 1-0, 0.61 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 4 BB, 19 K, 14.2 IP)

    The Giants selected Gavin in the eighth round last June out of Cal State Fullerton, and he didn't allow an earned run in his first pro season, striking out 22 over 16 innings in rookie ball.

    The 6'6", 230-pound left-hander will need to refine his curveball as a third viable pitch alongside his low-90s fastball and solid changeup if he hopes to remain a starter, but he's missed more bats than expected to begin his career. His stock is trending upward.

        

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and the Baseball Cube and accurate through Monday.