Projecting the Next Big Thing on Each MLB Team

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistFebruary 22, 2019

Projecting the Next Big Thing on Each MLB Team

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    Spring training is full of narratives—from position battles to injury comebacks. It's also a time when all 30 teams look to identify their next big thing.

    That could be a young player poised for a breakout, or a prospect on the verge of superstardom.

    Ahead, we'll highlight every club's next big thing, defined as a guy who should at least get an MLB audition in 2019 and could be a franchise building block by 2020.

Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Jon Duplantier

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    With a heavy sinking fastball and plus slider, Jon Duplantier has the repertoire to be an elite MLB starting pitcher, even at hitter-friendly Chase Field.

    The 24-year-old Arizona Diamondbacks prospect posted a 2.55 ERA in 74 minor league innings and rose to Double-A last year. 

    He missed time with an elbow issue and arm fatigue, meaning the D-backs should be cautious with his development. He might get a big league audition in 2019, though, and could slot near the front of Arizona's rotation by 2020.

Atlanta Braves: RHP Ian Anderson

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    Ian Anderson struck out 142 hitters in 119.1 innings with a 2.49 ERA between the Atlanta Braves' High-A and Double-A affiliates.

    The Braves are flush with young pitchers, meaning they can afford to let the 20-year-old develop.

    If he continues to put up those kind of numbers, though, don't be surprised if Anderson makes his MLB debut in 2019 and is soon a fixture in the Braves' starting corps. 

Baltimore Orioles: OF Yusniel Diaz

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    The main return piece in the trade that sent Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles to the Los Angeles Dodgers last July, Yusniel Diaz posted an .841 OPS in 2018 and ascended to Double-A. 

    The rebuilding Orioles won't rush his development, but they won't shy away from calling him up either.

    Diaz is raw, but he possesses tantalizing five-tool potential that should give O's fans cause for much-needed optimism. 

Boston Red Sox: INF Michael Chavis

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    Michael Chavis rose through the Boston Red Sox system as a third baseman—where Rafael Devers sits in the majors. But he could have a path to playing time at second base if franchise icon Dustin Pedroia doesn't return strong from the knee surgery that limited him to three games in 2018.

    To that end, Chavis got reps at the keystone sack this offseason.

    He served an 80-game performance-enhancing drug suspension last season but posted a .919 OPS in 46 minor league contests and rose to Triple-A. He'll be a part of Boston's infield mix sooner than later. 

Chicago Cubs: LHP Justin Steele

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    In a thin Chicago Cubs farm system, Justin Steele has a chance to break through in 2019.

    The 23-year-old left-hander posted a 2.31 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 46.2 innings last season and climbed from the rookie leagues to Double-A.

    If he can develop his changeup and breaking ball to augment a sinking, mid-90s fastball, he could see action at the highest level this season and be a serious contender for a rotation spot by 2020.

Chicago White Sox: OF Eloy Jimenez

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    We'll gnash our teeth, but service-time considerations will keep Eloy Jimenez in the minor leagues at the start of the 2019 season. He shouldn't be down for long, though.

    The 22-year-old has nothing left to prove in the minors after he hit .337 with a .961 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. Limited defensive capabilities could eventually relegate him to first base or designated hitter, but his immense power and contact skills call to mind a combination of Aaron Judge and Miguel Cabrera. 

    Get excited, South Side faithful. Get very excited. 

Cincinnati Reds: INF Nick Senzel

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    Nick Senzel posted an .887 OPS at Triple-A before a fractured right index finger ended his campaign in June. He's banging on the MLB door for the Cincinnati Reds.

    Second baseman Scooter Gennett and third baseman Eugenio Suarez are momentarily blocking him on the depth chart, but an injury or underperformance would open a place in the near term. That is—if Senzel doesn't win the center field job first.

    Once he arrives in The Show, bet on Senzel and his polished hit tool to stay for the long haul. 

Cleveland Indians: RHP Triston McKenzie

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    His lanky frame (6'5", 165 lbs) raises durability red flags, but Triston McKenzie has ace-level stuff.

    The 21-year-old proved it last season with a 2.68 ERA and .191 opponents' batting average at Double-A.

    He won't crack a deep Cleveland Indians rotation out of camp. But he could easily get a call-up in 2019 and join the likes of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer in the Tribe's rotation before long. 

Colorado Rockies: INF Brendan Rodgers

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    DJ Lemahieu's free-agent exit should open an opportunity in the Colorado Rockies' middle infield for top prospect Brendan Rodgers.

    After posting a .940 OPS at High-A and Double-A in 2017, Rodgers saw that number tumble to .790 in Double-A and Triple-A last year.

    Still, after going third overall in the 2015 amateur draft, Rodgers has the pedigree and skill set to get a long look and every chance to succeed this spring.

Detroit Tigers: RHP Casey Mize

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    The No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Casey Mize is already impressing his future Detroit Tigers teammates this spring.

    "Some guys come in cocky, not confident," Detroit hurler Daniel Norris said, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. "But he came in here quiet, with a lot of attention to detail, very mature for his age, and he's earning a lot of respect."

    Mize will obviously get MiLB seasoning, but the 21-year-old could be on the fast track for the rebuilding Tigers.

Houston Astros: OF Kyle Tucker

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    Houston Astros right fielder Josh Reddick posted a .242/.318/.400 slash line in 2018. The veteran will get some leeway...but not much.

    Especially with Kyle Tucker nipping at his heels.

    Tucker hit .332 with a .989 OPS at Triple-A last season and sipped his MLB cup of coffee. He could force the issue this spring, but he'll be a fixture in the Astros outfield by 2020 after the club resisted the temptation to trade him this winter. 

Kansas City Royals: Adalberto Mondesi

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    Adalberto Mondesi broke out in 2018 with 14 home runs, 32 stolen bases and an .804 OPS in 75 games.

    The 23-year-old needs to improve upon his substandard .302 on-base percentage, however, and the rebuilding Kansas City Royals will afford him every opportunity to do so.

    He's got the defensive tools to stick at shortstop. If his OBP climbs, he could go from rising star to superstar for K.C. 

Los Angeles Angels: OF Jo Adell

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    If the Mike Trout era ends after the 2020 season, when he's set to become a free agent, the Jo Adell era could begin.

    The Los Angeles Angels' top prospect turns 20 on April 8. That said, he posted an .897 OPS last season and climbed to Double-A.

    As the Halos brace themselves for a possible post-Trout future, they can pin their hopes on Adell's rise behind head-turning pop, impressive speed and a howitzer arm. 

Los Angeles Dodgers: OF Alex Verdugo

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers traded outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to the Cincinnati Reds this offseason. It's still a crowded picture after free-agent A.J. Pollock's arrival, but there could be room for top prospect Alex Verdugo. 

    Verdugo hit .329 at Triple-A last season before making his MLB debut and hitting .260 in 86 plate appearances.

    It's fair to question his power after he hit only 10 home runs in 91 games in the hitter-happy Pacific Coast League. But he's got the all-around skill set to be a quality major league outfielder for the National League champs. 

Miami Marlins: OF Victor Victor Mesa

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    Landing Cuban standout Victor Victor Mesa (and his younger brother, 17-year-old Victor Mesa Jr.) was a rare bit of positive PR for Derek Jeter and the rest of the Marlins' beleaguered ownership group. 

    The elder Mesa is 22 years old and boasts the plus speed, defense and arm strength of an impact major leaguer.

    His power and on-base abilities remain in question, but look for the Fish to promote him quickly and make him a franchise centerpiece as soon as possible.  

Milwaukee Brewers: 2B Keston Hiura

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    Keston Hiura rose from High-A to Double-A last season and displayed the contact skills and bat control of a classic No. 2 big league hitter as he hit .293 with an .821 OPS.

    The Milwaukee Brewers will likely give him time at Triple-A, but he could easily earn a promotion in 2019 and be part of the Brewers' quest to retain supremacy in the deep National League Central.

    Alternately, the 22-year-old could serve as a deadline trade chip if Milwaukee requires pitching help.

Minnesota Twins: OF Alex Kirilloff

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    While the Minnesota Twins await the arrival of 19-year-old shortstop Royce Lewis, they can fix their gaze on 21-year-old outfielder Alex Kirilloff.

    Kirilloff posted a .348 average and .970 OPS between Single-A and High-A last season and could get a call-up in 2019 if he continues to rake.

    That, in turn, might precipitate a full-time MLB gig with the cost-conscious Twinkies by 2020. 

New York Mets: SS Andres Gimenez

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    Andres Gimenez hit .281 with a .347 on-base percentage between High-A and Double-A in 2018. He turns 21 in September, and Amed Rosario is theoretically blocking him at shortstop.

    Then again, after Rosario slashed .256/.295/.381 for the Mets in 2018, his position could soon be vulnerable.

    "I think he's a young guy, and we don't put any sort of ceilings on him," Mets executive director of player development Jared Banner said of Gimenez, per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. "He's going to get smarter, stronger, and he's going to continue to adjust as he grows in the game and gets more strength."

New York Yankees: OF Clint Frazier

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    Clint Frazier's time has arrived.

    With veterans Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury on the fringe of the depth chart, Frazier could seize a central role in the Yankees outfield with a strong spring.

    Lingering concussion symptoms cost him most of 2018. Now, he's coming in ready. 

    "Obviously, the talent speaks for itself," said manager Aaron Boone, per Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. "He's a guy that can really run. He has bat speed, power. We like the plate discipline that he's shown in some small doses last year in the big leagues."

Oakland Athletics: LHP Jesus Luzardo

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    Jesus Luzardo posted a 2.88 ERA and struck out 129 batters in 109.1 innings while reaching Triple-A last season for the Oakland Athletics. 

    He's 21 years old and should marinate in the MiLB ranks a little longer. Then again, if he masters a curveball to go along with his high-90s fastball and effective changeup, the small-market A's won't wait to give him a taste of big league action.

    As A's skipper Bob Melvin put it, per Martin Gallegos of the Mercury News: "When you're that young and have that kind of composure and stuff, you're going to be talked about quite a bit."

Philadelphia Phillies: OF Adam Haseley

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    Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported the Philadelphia Phillies have grown "confident" they will sign top free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper.

    Regardless, Philadelphia can bank on the continued development of 22-year-old outfielder Adam Haseley, who hit .305 overall in 2018, posted a .403 on-base percentage in 39 games at Double-A and could soon join the burgeoning Phillies lineup.

    Harper or not, he's a meaningful piece of the puzzle in the City of Brotherly Love. 

Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Mitch Keller

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    Mitch Keller throws a high-90s fastball and hammer-dropping curveball. His stuff is that of an ace.

    He needs to develop a plus third pitch, but the 22-year-old will soon get the call from the Pittsburgh Pirates after advancing to Triple-A in 2018.

    The tight-budgeted Bucs are ostensibly trying to contend in the stacked National League Central and need cost-controlled talent.

    Get ready, Mitch. Your moment is at hand. 

San Diego Padres: SS Fernando Tatis Jr.

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    A .286/.355/.507 line with 22 doubles, 16 home runs and 16 steals as a 19-year-old at Double-A put Fernando Tatis Jr. on the San Diego Padres' radar, to say the least.

    Age and service-time shenanigans will keep him in the minors for the time being, but a 2019 call-up is likely as superstardom in the near future seems inevitable.

    Soon enough, Friars fans could soak in the sight of Tatis and recently signed Manny Machado patrolling the left side of the infield on a World Series contender. 

San Francisco Giants: OF Steven Duggar

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    Top San Francisco Giants prospects Joey Bart (catcher) and Heliot Ramos (outfielder) are at least a year away from any kind of meaningful big league contribution.

    Instead, the Giants can look to Steven Duggar, who showed flashes in 41 MLB games last season before a shoulder injury ended his season. 

    The 25-year-old has the speed and defensive instincts to stick as an MLB center fielder and top-shelf base-stealer, and should get every opportunity to win a job in San Francisco's muddled outfield. 

Seattle Mariners: LHP Justus Sheffield

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    Justus Sheffield posted a 2.48 ERA with 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season before making his MLB debut with the Yankees.

    He was dealt from the Yanks to the Seattle Mariners this winter in the James Paxton trade and should soon be a fixture in the M's rotation.

    He'll have to deal to earn a spot this spring, but it won't be long before the 22-year-old is plying his trade at the highest level.

St. Louis Cardinals: RHP Alex Reyes

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    It's been a long journey for Alex Reyes, who has battled Tommy John surgery and serious shoulder troubles on his path to big league success.

    Barring more hiccups, the hyper-talented 24-year-old could soon be in the St. Louis Cardinals rotation.

    "For me, that's the goal," said Reyes, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It's a goal for me to be healthy and to be ready to break with the club."

Tampa Bay Rays: LHP/DH Brendan McKay

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    Is Brendan McKay the next Shohei Ohtani? The Tampa Bay Rays hope so, without the injury baggage

    McKay's fastball sits comfortably in the mid-90s, and he's got a plus cutter and emerging curveball. Toss in the .727 OPS he posted while ascending to High-A, and you've got a next-generation, two-way star in the offing.

    Oh, and let's not forget he's 23 years old, meaning the cost-conscious Rays shouldn't and won't be shy about promoting him swiftly. 

Texas Rangers: OF Leody Taveras

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    Leody Taveras stole 19 bases and hit seven triples in 132 MiLB games last season and displayed the defensive ability to play a plus center field.

    He's only 20 years old and certainly won't don a Texas Rangers uniform at the outset of the 2019 season.

    As the Rangers lurch into a rebuild, however, Taveras could soon find a place on the 25-man roster if he keeps upping his enticing, athletic profile. 

Toronto Blue Jays: 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

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    Vladimir Guerrero Jr. began 2018 in the rookie leagues and finished at Triple-A. In all, the second-generation masher finished with a .381 average and 1.073 OPS. 

    He's ready.

    As with Fernando Tatis Jr., the son of Vlad will begin 2019 in the minor leagues because of service-time machinations. Soon enough, he'll be swatting baseballs with extreme prejudice for the Toronto Blue Jays.

    A 2019 call-up is assured. Stardom by 2020 feels like a near lock.

Washington Nationals: OF Victor Robles

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    Outfielder Juan Soto broke out for the Washington Nationals in 2018. If Bryce Harper signs elsewhere (or even if he returns), Victor Robles should be next.

    The 21-year-old hit .276 with 19 stolen bases in 52 minor league games and hit .288 with an .874 OPS in 21 games with the Nats. 

    He's got the defensive instincts and pure speed of a true center fielder and could join Soto in 2019 to form a "Bryce who?" tandem. 


    All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.