Why Wait? 1 Top Prospect Each MLB Team Must Call Up Now
With the non-waiver trade deadline passed and August waiver trade activity always unpredictable, the next surefire MLB shake-up will come when rosters expand in September.
That's when we'll get a chance to see some of the game's top prospects make their big league debuts, whether it's a contender looking for a spark or a rebuilding team assessing their in-house talent while looking ahead to next year.
But why wait until September to promote a guy who's ready now?
The obvious answer is that teams don't want to start a player's service time clock any sooner than they need to, especially in the case of those aforementioned rebuilding teams.
However, we've decided to throw caution to the wind and highlight one prospect that each MLB team should promote immediately.
To be eligible for inclusion, a player must not have passed rookie-eligibility limits (130 AB, 50 IP, 45 days on the active roster prior to Sept. 1).
Baltimore Orioles: 3B Ryan Mountcastle
(AA: 325 PA, .302/.351/.485, 29 XBH, 11 HR, 46 RBI, 44 R)
Since shifting Tim Beckham back to shortstop following the Manny Machado trade, the Orioles have used Renato Nunez, Danny Valencia and Jace Peterson to man third base—a pair of waiver claims and a minor league free-agent signing.
In other words, a long-term answer at the position is needed.
The O's are hoping Ryan Mountcastle can be that answer. Drafted as a shortstop, he's since slid over to the hot corner, and his bat should play there based on his production in the upper levels this season. A late-season audition with an eye on seizing the everyday gig in 2019 makes sense for the rebuilding club.
Boston Red Sox: LHP Daniel McGrath
(AA: 28 G, 1 SV, 3.38 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 25 BB, 58 K, 64.0 IP)
Daniel McGrath began his pro career pitching for the Melbourne Aces in his native Australia at the age of 15 before eventually joining the Red Sox as an international free agent in 2013.
The 24-year-old stalled out as a starter in High-A, but he's found new life in the bullpen, and that looks like the most likely area for the first-place Red Sox to add some late-season help.
The current eight-man relief corps in Boston doesn't feature a single left-hander, while McGrath has held opposing lefties to a .156 average and .481 OPS in 92 plate appearances this season.
New York Yankees: LHP Justus Sheffield
(AA/AAA: 18 GS, 6-5, 2.29 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 44 BB, 109 K, 102.0 IP)
The Yankees added rotation reinforcement at the trade deadline with the additions of J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn, and prospect Chance Adams was also recently promoted to the majors, so it's looking less and less likely that Justus Sheffield will get a chance to contribute as a starter this season.
That said, the hard-throwing lefty is still the prospect with the best chance of making an impact down the stretch.
His fastball/slider mix would presumably play up in short stints, and he'd also be capable of providing multiple innings if needed—something that could prove useful after Adam Warren was traded to Seattle at the deadline.
Tampa Bay Rays: LHP Colin Poche
(AA/AAA: 33 G, 2 SV, 0.65 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 16 BB, 96 K, 55.1 IP)
The Rays acquired Colin Poche from the Arizona Diamondbacks in May as one of the players to be named in the deal that sent Steven Souza Jr. to Tampa Bay during the offseason.
A 14th-round pick in 2016 after serving as the ace of the Dallas Baptist University staff, Poche moved to the bullpen early in his pro career, and he's completely dominated hitters in the upper levels of the minors this season.
He'll almost certainly be vying for a spot in the Tampa Bay bullpen next season, and his ability to work multiple innings will be valued on a team that has been crowdsourcing starts all season.
MLB.com wrote: "Poche may not have typical late-inning stuff, but there's something to be said for his ability to both miss bats and generate weak contact against hitters on both sides of the plate -- traits that could soon make him an effective fireman reliever at the highest level."
Toronto Blue Jays: C Danny Jansen
(AAA: 349 PA, .269/.382/.466, 32 XBH, 12 HR, 56 RBI, 43 R)
The Russell Martin era is rapidly winding down in Toronto.
The 35-year-old is hitting .197/.336/.347 with a 1.6 WAR on the season, and despite his $20 million salary, he's best utilized in a part-time capacity at this point in his career.
He'll earn that hefty figure once again next season in the final year of his five-year, $82 million deal, at which time all signs point to Danny Jansen as the catcher of the future.
The 23-year-old was one of the breakout prospects of 2017, and he's backed it up with an equally strong showing at Triple-A. Giving him a chance to get his feet wet over the final two months before stepping into a timeshare with Martin next season will give him the best chance to succeed once the everyday job is finally his in 2020.
Chicago White Sox: RHP Ian Hamilton
(AA/AAA: 35 G, 17 SV, 1.90 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 16 BB, 52 K, 42.2 IP)
The popular answer here would be Eloy Jimenez or Michael Kopech.
However, with Matt Davidson, Nicky Delmonico and Daniel Palka all battling for playing time in left field and at designated hitter, the White Sox might be best served to hold off on promoting Jimenez to get a better look at those guys and decide if they have a long-term place on the roster.
As for Kopech, the stuff is eye-popping, but his 4.8 BB/9 are a good indication he could use more seasoning.
That leaves us with a lesser-known prospect in Ian Hamilton—an 11th-round pick in 2016 who has looked dominant in the upper levels this season. The 23-year-old features a heavy upper 90s fastball and a biting slider, and he has closer upside if he can show his best stuff more consistently.
Cleveland Indians: OF Oscar Mercado
(AAA: 444 PA, .282/.348/.403, 31 XBH, 8 HR, 42 RBI, 75 R, 31 SB)
The Indians acquired Oscar Mercado from the St. Louis Cardinals at the deadline in a rare midseason prospect swap, and it looks like a potential outside-the-box solution to what's been a weak link in center field.
The 23-year-old struggled early in his career after going in the second round of the 2013 draft, but a move from shortstop to center field last season "seemed to free his mind as he re-worked his swing and was able to focus on his offense," wrote MLB.com.
At this point, releasing Rajai Davis (185 PA, .249 BA, 64 OPS+) in favor of Mercado as the right-handed hitting side of a center field platoon with deadline addition Leonys Martin looks like an easy in-house upgrade for the Indians.
Detroit Tigers: LHP Matt Hall
(AA/AAA: 32 G, 9 GS, 1.88 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 35 BB, 113 K, 86.1 IP)
The Detroit system is thin on position-player talent, and most of the top-tier pitching prospects are still in the lower levels of the minors, so that leaves lefty Matt Hall as the best candidate for an immediate promotion.
A starter throughout his pro career prior to this season, he kicked off 2018 in the bullpen and worked to a 2.48 ERA and 1.21 WHIP with 12.4 K/9 and a .164 opponents' batting average in 23 games before returning to a starting role.
He's been excellent since moving back into the rotation, going 5-0 with a 1.42 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in nine starts between Double-A and Triple-A, but a below-average fastball and the lack of a third plus offering alongside his terrific curveball could mean a future in the bullpen.
Regardless, the 25-year-old is ready to show what he can do in Detroit.
Kansas City Royals: LHP Richard Lovelady
(AAA: 37 G, 5 SV, 2.70 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 19 BB, 54 K, 60.0 IP)
Richard Lovelady was my "underhyped prospect to know" for the Royals entering the season, and he's continued to quietly impress as one of the better relief pitching prospects in baseball right now.
The left-hander features an upper 90s fastball and a plus slider, and his low arm slot gives makes him deceptive while also helping generate plenty of ground balls to go along with his strikeouts.
The rebuilding Royals have gotten an MLB-worst 5.35 ERA from their bullpen this season, and Lovelady has held Triple-A hitters to a .215 average with a 2.70 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. It's not hard to connect the dots on this one.
Minnesota Twins: LHP Stephen Gonsalves
(AA/AAA: 20 GS, 10-3, 2.82 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 60 BB, 106 K, 108.2 IP)
There's a reason Stephen Gonsalves hasn't gotten the call yet, and it's those 60 walks in 108.2 innings. That represents a sharp spike in his walk rate from 2.5 to 5.0 BB/9 going back to last year.
He has, however, offered up just four free passes in 18.1 innings over his last three starts, pitching to a 1.96 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in the process. If he keeps it up, a September audition for a Twins team that has slipped out of the playoff hunt could be coming.
The 24-year-old lefty has seen Fernando Romero beat him to the majors and Brusdar Graterol surpass him as the top pitching prospect in the system, but he still has a chance to be a quality MLB starter. A rotation spot in 2019 is not out of the question.
Houston Astros: RHP Josh James
(AA/AAA: 20 G, 18 GS, 5-4, 3.18 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 42 BB, 154 K, 99.0 IP)
How overpowering has Josh James been this season?
The former 34th-round pick is currently two strikeouts ahead of White Sox uber-prospect Michael Kopech for the MiLB lead, and he's holding opposing hitters to a .180 average.
MLB.com wrote: "James credits his jump to addressing his sleep apnea two offseasons ago, and he dedicated himself to conditioning last offseason and was the most improved Astros prospect in Spring Training this year. After working with a 92-94 mph fastball in the past, he's now sitting at 95-97 and reaching triple digits."
Spotty command and inconsistent mechanics may ultimately land him in the bullpen, so the Astros could call on him this season in a relief role if a spot opens up.
Los Angeles Angels: 3B Taylor Ward
(AA/AAA: 427 PA, .350/.445/.533, 38 XBH, 14 HR, 59 RBI, 61 R)
It's once again time for the Angels to start looking ahead to next season.
The third base position has been a revolving door for the Halos since the days of Troy Glaus, but it looks like they may finally have a long-term answer at the position in former first-round pick Taylor Ward.
Originally drafted as a catcher, Ward moved to the hot corner at the start of this season, and his offensive game has taken off since moving out of the crouch.
The 24-year-old has always possessed plus on-base skills. With his uptick in power production and an improved hit tool, he now has the makings of an everyday third baseman, and one with little left to prove in the minors.
Oakland Athletics: LHP Jesus Luzardo
(A+/AA/AAA: 20 GS, 10-4, 2.01 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 23 BB, 117 K, 98.1 IP)
The Athletics were wise to stay the course at the trade deadline rather than mortgaging any significant future assets to chase a postseason berth in 2018.
That said, it's a two-team race for the second AL wild-card spot between Oakland and Seattle, so calling up top prospect Jesus Luzardo can't be ruled out as a possibility.
Still just 20, the precocious lefty started the season at High-A, but he made his Triple-A debut earlier this week. Clearly, he's on the fast track.
With scrapheap veterans Edwin Jackson and Brett Anderson currently holding down rotation spots, it might only be a matter of time before Oakland's hand is forced and Luzardo becomes a central figure in the playoff push.
Seattle Mariners: RHP Wyatt Mills
(A+/AA: 37 G, 11 SV, 2.89 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 10 BB, 51 K, 43.2 IP)
After a standout run as Gonzaga's closer, Wyatt Mills was taken in the third round of the 2017 draft. A year later, he's already knocking on the door for an MLB promotion.
The 23-year-old has two 60-grade offerings—a mid-90s fastball and a tight slider—and he's used them to fan hitters at a 10.4 K/9 clip so far this season.
MLB.com wrote: "Mills draws comparisons to Steve Cishek because he's a lanky, side-armed right-hander with two above-average pitches."
The Mariners promoted current closer Edwin Diaz straight from Double-A back in 2015, so the fact that Mills has yet to make his Triple-A debut does not necessarily preclude him from being promoted in short order.
Texas Rangers: OF Scott Heineman
(AA/AAA: 431 PA, .310/.381/.449, 31 XBH, 10 HR, 61 RBI, 67 R, 18 SB)
At 25 years old, Scott Heineman stands on the outer edge of the prospect scale, so starting his service clock shouldn't be a factor in whether the Rangers decide to promote him.
An 11th-round pick back in 2015, he carries a .298/.377/.463 career line over parts of three minor league seasons, and he provides a nice mix of power and speed with the added ability to play all three outfield spots.
Heineman best profiles as a fourth outfielder at the MLB level, but he's ready to fill that role now. With the season already lost, the Rangers might as well give him a shot, even if it's just in a part-time role.
Atlanta Braves: LHP Luiz Gohara
(AA/AAA: 11 GS, 2-5, 5.36 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 16 BB, 51 K, 48.2 IP)
Luiz Gohara was expected to compete for a rotation spot this past spring after showing well in five starts down the stretch in 2017. Instead, he missed significant time early with an ankle injury, and he's essentially been a non-factor at the MLB level with a 5.95 ERA over 19.2 innings of work.
His minor league numbers aren't pretty either, but he's starting to look like the prized prospect of old, as he struck out 10 in 5.2 innings last time out.
With fellow prospect Kolby Allard failing to provide rotation support, Gohara could be next in line for a spot start when needed. Otherwise, his power stuff from the left side could be an asset out of the bullpen for a Braves team that's battling for a playoff spot.
Miami Marlins: OF Austin Dean
(AA/AAA: 429 PA, .340/.406/.495, 34 XBH, 10 HR, 64 RBI, 67 R)
According to Baseball America, Austin Dean was a top-20 prospect in the Marlins system five years running from 2013 to 2017, peaking at No. 7 going into the 2016 season.
An injury-plagued 2017 season during a repeat performance of the Double-A level dropped him off the organizational list, but he's bounced back nicely this year. After hitting .420/.466/.654 over 88 plate appearances, he earned an early promotion to Triple-A, and he's continued to rake against upper-level competition.
Dean is still just 24 years old, and the rebuilding Marlins freed up some potential playing time with the deadline trade of Cameron Maybin. He's slipped behind some other outfielders on the depth chart, but it's not too late for him to carve out an MLB role.
New York Mets: 1B Peter Alonso
(AA/AAA: 468 PA, .285/.402/.557, 50 XBH, 27 HR, 99 RBI, 73 R)
Peter Alonso has joined the leaguewide top-100 prospect conversation with a huge offensive season, and after some initial struggles following his promotion to Triple-A, he's once again crushing the baseball.
A second-round pick in 2016 with a first-base-only defensive profile, Alonso will have to hit his way to the majors. A 27-homer, 99-RBI season so far here in 2018 has him well on his way.
While he's batting just .247 overall in 195 plate appearances at Triple-A, he's hitting .339/.400/.644 with six doubles, four home runs and 19 RBI in his last 14 games.
Dominic Smith was long viewed as the first baseman of the future for the Mets, but that's no longer the case. A strong late-season audition from Alonso could cement his place in the team's 2019 plans.
Philadelphia Phillies: LHP Kyle Dohy
(A/A+/AA: 39 G, 10 SV, 1.60 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 31 BB, 97 K, 56.1 IP)
Since being selected in the 16th round of the 2017 draft, Kyle Dohy has jumped onto the fast track as a potential late-inning arm for the Phillies.
The 21-year-old began the season at Single-A, and he's already climbed two levels while saving 10 games and racking up strikeouts at an impressive 15.5 K/9 clip.
His command is still a work in progress, as his 5.0 BB/9 mark shows. Still, his power stuff from the left side would play in the majors right now, and the Phillies could eventually call on him as they push for a playoff berth.
Washington Nationals: RHP James Bourque
(A+/AA: 32 G, 5 SV, 2.13 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 20 BB, 59 K, 42.1 IP)
Unless the Nationals plan on giving Victor Robles everyday playing time, there's no sense calling him up and interfering with his continued development as he prepares for a potential everyday role next season.
That leaves the bullpen as the likely place for a prospect addition, especially following the departures of Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelley. Double-A right-hander James Bourque could be ready to make the jump.
MLB.com wrote: "A big and physical right-hander, Bourque has proved to be a late-inning force with his power fastball-curveball combo. He reaches 97-98 mph with his heater and throws it with late life that makes it difficult to lift for hitters on both sides of the plate. Bourque's breaking ball is equally dynamic, thrown in the upper 80s with sharp, downer action that helps him miss bats with ease."
As the Nationals head for some unavoidable retooling, Bourque could emerge as a key member of the relief corps going forward.
Chicago Cubs: RHP Trevor Clifton
(AA/AAA: 20 GS, 5-6, 3.35 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 42 BB, 86 K, 104.2 IP)
Once viewed as one of the better arms in a pitching-thin Cubs system, Trevor Clifton saw his stock tumble last season when he went 5-8 with a 5.20 ERA and 1.57 WHIP over 100.1 innings at Double-A.
MLB.com explained: "He entered last year as the best mound prospect in the upper levels of the system, but returning nearby where he grew up to pitch for Double-A Tennessee proved to be too much of a distraction. He got hammered to the tune of a 7.99 ERA during the final three months, earning a mandate from club officials to get stronger mentally and physically."
It appears he's done just that, as an excellent start back at Double-A has earned him his first taste of Triple-A action. The Cubs have already turned to Duane Underwood, Jen-Ho Tseng and Luke Farrell for spot starts with little success, so don't be surprised if Clifton is next.
Cincinnati Reds: RHP Jimmy Herget
(AAA: 41 G, 1-2, 2.77 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 20 BB, 54 K, 48.2 IP)
The bullpen has been a strength this season for the rebuilding Reds. They rank 16th in the majors with a 4.04 ERA as a group, and while that might not sound like much, it's a stark improvement over the 4.65 ERA they posted a season ago.
Unfortunately, that stability has meant fewer opportunities for someone like Jimmy Herget.
A Futures Game participant in 2017, Herget is MLB-ready with a mid-90s fastball, plus slider and a deceptive delivery that helps his already solid stuff play up.
The 24-year-old will need to be added to the 40-man roster this winter anyway to be protected from the Rule 5 draft, so that should increase his chances of earning a late promotion.
Milwaukee Brewers: LHP Quintin Torres-Costa
(AA/AAA: 34 G, 4 SV, 1.45 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 18 BB, 54 K, 43.1 IP)
It's unlikely the Brewers would consider calling up top prospect Keston Hiura given the current infield logjam, and top pitching prospect Corbin Burnes is already working out of the big league bullpen, so we have to dig a bit deeper here.
Aside from All-Star Josh Hader, the only lefty in the bullpen is Dan Jennings, who has been excellent in middle relief.
With a number of potent lefties residing in the NL Central, it wouldn't hurt to add another southpaw to the mix for the stretch run, and Quintin Torres-Costa looks like the leading candidate.
A late-round find as a 35th-round pick out of Waiakea High School in Hawaii in 2015, Torres-Costa showed well in the Arizona Fall League last year (10 G, 4.50 ERA, 16 K, 14.0 IP), and he's continued to impress against upper-level competition.
Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Clay Holmes
(A+/AAA: 17 GS, 7-3, 3.30 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 38 BB, 100 K, 95.1 IP)
The Pirates added a major weapon to the bullpen when they acquired Keone Kela from the Rangers at the trade deadline, but there's still room to improve a unit that ranks 19th in the majors with a 4.21 ERA.
While Clay Holmes has been used almost exclusively as a starter since he was selected in the ninth round of the 2011 draft, he has the stuff to be an asset out of the bullpen, even if it's just a temporary move.
To that point, MLB.com wrote: "There has been talk about moving Holmes to the bullpen, where that sinker-cutter combination could be extremely effective. For now, he'll likely keep starting as rotation depth so he can fill any kind of role once the need arises in Pittsburgh."
The immediate need is in the bullpen, and he's ready to help.
St. Louis Cardinals: RHP Giovanny Gallegos
(AAA: 20 G, 2 SV, 3.41 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10 BB, 44 K, 31.2 IP)
Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos were both acquired in the deal that sent slugging first baseman Luke Voit to the Yankees ahead of the trade deadline. The Cardinals slotted Shreve in the big league bullpen immediately, and Gallegos should soon follow.
The 26-year-old has punched out 169 batters in 123 innings at the Triple-A level over parts of the last four seasons, posting a 2.12 ERA and 0.94 WHIP along the way.
His fastball/curveball gives him legitimate swing-and-miss stuff and he's already a member of the 40-man roster, so expect to see him in St. Louis at some point before the season is over.
Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Jimmie Sherfy
(AAA: 31 G, 14 SV, 1.30 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 15 BB, 48 K, 34.2 IP)
It's a bit puzzling that Jimmie Sherfy has not gotten more of a chance at the MLB level.
The 26-year-old was lights-out during the 2017 season, posting a 3.12 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 11.2 K/9 in 44 appearances at Triple-A before capping off the year with 10.2 scoreless innings out of the big league bullpen.
He's continued to dominate Triple-A hitters this season with his 70-grade fastball and plus curveball, yet he's seen just four innings of work in the majors.
The deadline additions of Brad Ziegler and Jake Diekman won't make it any easier for Sherfy to find work. Contenders can always use more bullpen help for the stretch run though, and he'll be ready when the need arises.
Colorado Rockies: RHP Peter Lambert
(AA/AAA: 21 GS, 10-5, 2.82 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 91 K, 121.1 IP)
With Chad Bettis looking extremely rusty in his return to action (4.2 IP, 8 H, 9 ER), the Rockies might need to consider other options for the rotation if he doesn't improve quickly.
Peter Lambert is the top pitching prospect in the system, and he's enjoying a breakout season in the upper levels of the minors that has vaulted him into the top-100 prospect conversation.
MLB.com wrote: "Lambert shows the potential for four pitches that could be at least solid. His fastball sits at 92-94 mph and peaks at 96, and he keeps it off barrels with sink, angle and very good command. His tumbling changeup may be his most consistent plus pitch, though his low-80s curveball can be even better than that at times."
His 4.71 ERA and 1.79 WHIP in six starts since being promoted to Triple-A gives some reason for pause, but that's largely a result of one brutal start (1.1 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 2 ER), and there's little doubt he's capable of making a major impact at the next level.
Los Angeles Dodgers: OF Alex Verdugo
(AAA: 310 PA, .345/.397/.489, 25 XBH, 8 HR, 40 RBI, 36 R)
Matt Kemp (64 PA, .179 BA, .569 OPS) and Kike Hernandez (51 PA, .146 BA, .409 OPS) have gone ice cold at the plate since the All-Star break, yet both players continue to see regular playing time in the Dodgers outfield.
Meanwhile, top prospect Alex Verdugo has once again owned Triple-A pitching, while also posting a .280/.345/.440 line in 56 plate appearances scattered over a handful of call-ups to the majors.
The strong first-half performance from Kemp was a pleasant surprise and Hernandez is a valuable utility option off the bench, but if the Dodgers are serious about winning a title, they need to consider giving Verdugo a regular role down the stretch.
The status quo doesn't make sense when guys aren't hitting.
San Diego Padres: 2B Luis Urias
(AAA: 461 PA, .273/.383/.415, 35 XBH, 8 HR, 39 RBI, 68 R)
Is Luis Urias ready to take over the everyday second base job in 2019?
That's a question that will need to be answered, and giving the 21-year-old an extended look the rest of the way could help provide some clarity.
Carlos Asuaje (209 PA, .198 BA, .569 OPS), Cory Spangenberg (219 PA, .238 BA, .652 OPS) and Jose Pirela (398 PA, .251 BA, .647 OPS) are not long-term pieces of the puzzle.
Meanwhile, with a 70-grade hit tool, plus speed and the glove to play on either side of second base, Urias has a chance to be a cornerstone piece in San Diego.
San Francisco Giants: RHP Shaun Anderson
(AA/AAA: 20 GS, 7-7, 3.74 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 32 BB, 108 K, 118.0 IP)
The Giants have been forced to cobble together a starting rotation for much of the season, and with Johnny Cueto lost for the year to Tommy John surgery, that figures to continue the rest of the way.
Shaun Anderson has emerged as the best pitching prospect in the system this season, and after earning a promotion to Triple-A, he's knocking on the door.
The 23-year-old "has the look of a durable No. 3 starter," according to MLB.com, and giving him a chance to prove himself down the stretch could have an impact on the team's offseason plans. Shoring up the starting staff figures to be a priority, but if Anderson shows well, perhaps they can focus their attention elsewhere.