MLB Prospects You Need to Know Who Will Impact Pennant Races

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2021

MLB Prospects You Need to Know Who Will Impact Pennant Races

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    The MLB trade deadline has come and gone, but contenders aren't finished adding reinforcements.

    While the August waiver trade period is no more, teams can still upgrade their MLB squads by promoting young talent to the big leagues. A handful of high-profile prospects are knocking on the door for contending teams.

    Hard-throwing right-hander Shane Baz and slugging first baseman Triston Casas are suiting up as teammates for Team USA in the Olympics. Could they soon face off in the heat of the pennant race for AL East rivals?

    We've highlighted seven prospects capable of making an impact on contending teams down the stretch.

LHP Aaron Ashby, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Aaron Ashby had a tough go of it in his MLB debut.

    In a spot start against the Chicago Cubs on June 30, he allowed four hits, three walks and seven runs (four earned) while recording just two outs before he was lifted from the game.

    He could still make an impact down the stretch, though.

    The 6'2" left-hander will need to improve his command to find a regular spot in the big league rotation, but his wicked fastball-slider combination can be an asset in the bullpen now.

    He has piled up 98 strikeouts in 62.1 innings at Triple-A this season. Last time out, he allowed one hit in six scoreless innings with one walk and 11 strikeouts.

    The Brewers have shown a willingness to utilize top pitching prospects in a relief role. Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes both filled key multi-inning roles during the team's run to the NLCS in 2018.

    Ashby could be the next starter-turned-reliever X-factor.

C Joey Bart, San Francisco Giants

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    Buster Posey has returned to elite form, and Curt Casali is holding his own with a 100 OPS+ and a 2.77 ERA for the pitching staff in 350.1 innings behind the plate, giving the San Francisco Giants one of the best catching situations in baseball.

    That hasn't left many opportunities for Joey Bart.

    The No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft, he hit .233/.288/.320 with seven extra-base hits in 111 plate appearances in the majors last year after Posey opted out of the season.

    Back at Triple-A this year, he's hitting .311/.376/.532 with 12 doubles, 10 home runs and 41 RBI in 210 plate appearances. He remains the catcher of the future in San Francisco with the 34-year-old Posey in the final guaranteed season of his contract.

    The Giants have only started Posey behind the plate in 66 of the team's 109 games to keep him fresh, so they have room for Bart to start a couple of games a week once rosters expand in September if they want to get his bat in the lineup.

RHP Shane Baz, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Shane Baz is away from the Tampa Bay Rays pitching for Team USA in the Olympics, but he was establishing himself as an elite pitching prospect before he departed for Tokyo.

    Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the same deal that brought Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow to Tampa Bay, Baz was chosen No. 12 overall in the 2017 draft as a projectable right-hander with electric stuff and a long way to go developmentally.

    That tantalizing upside is coming to fruition. He's dominated the upper levels of the minors with a 2.26 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 82 strikeouts in 55.2 innings this season while limiting opponents to a .189 batting average.

    The Rays are leaning heavily on young arms behind Ryan Yarbrough in the starting rotation after losing Charlie Morton and trading Blake Snell during the offseason and then seeing Tyler Glasnow have Tommy John surgery this week.

    That could make Baz a critical reinforcement down the stretch, one who could conceivably pitch his way into a significant postseason role.

C Luis Campusano, San Diego Padres

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    The San Diego Padres rank 28th in value provided by the catcher position, according to FanGraphs.

    Austin Nola has been limited by a knee injury, leaving Victor Caratini overexposed as the everyday guy. He's posted an 87 OPS+ and 0.1 WAR in 85 games.

    That could open the door for Luis Campusano to steal playing time as the Padres jockey for position in an ultra-competitive NL West race.

    The 22-year-old went 3-for-34 with 11 strikeouts in 11 games of big league action earlier this year, but he's hitting well at Triple-A with a .278/.345/.494 line that includes 19 doubles, nine home runs and 32 RBI in 267 plate appearances.

    He had a terrific month of July where he hit .306/.366/.600 with six doubles, five home runs and 14 RBI. That could be a springboard for another MLB promotion.

1B Triston Casas, Boston Red Sox

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    Triston Casas is putting on a show with Team USA in the Olympics.

    The 21-year-old has gone 5-for-19 with one double and three home runs, driving in eight runs in five games hitting out of the No. 3 spot in the lineup.

    Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters Wednesday:

    "He's done an amazing job. He's carrying this team offensively. ... We've been in touch with (minor league coach Darren Fenster) throughout the tournament, and they're very pleased not only with what he's doing on the field, but the way he's doing stuff off the field, the way he has connected with veteran players. And this is part of player development. The fact he can go into a high-pressure situation and perform at this level is amazing."

    Cora stopped short of saying Casas was positioning himself for a late-season promotion, and that's not surprising. He has played just 168 games in the minors since going No. 26 overall in the 2018 draft, and only 46 of them have come above the High-A level.

    Still, what happens if Kyle Schwarber is not capable of making the transition from left field to first base?

    The Red Sox face a 1.5-game deficit in the AL East with the rival New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics hot on their trail in the wild-card race.

    If Casas returns stateside and continues raking in the upper levels of the minors, he can't be ruled out for a late call-up.

RHP Ryan Pepiot, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    With Josiah Gray included in the package of players sent to the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline, Ryan Pepiot has a strong case for the title of top pitching prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system.

    A third-round pick in 2019, he was promoted to Triple-A last week after putting up a 2.87 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 81 strikeouts in 59.2 innings with Double-A Tulsa.

    Armed with a 70-grade changeup that might be the best in the minors, Pepiot is still refining his command as he builds toward a middle-of-the-rotation ceiling, but he could be a weapon out of the bullpen now.

    "He could become a Devin Williams-style reliever if he winds up in the bullpen," wrote MLB.com, referencing the Milwaukee Brewers changeup specialist who won NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2020.

    The Dodgers used guys like Walker Buehler and Julio Urias out of the bullpen early in their careers, so they won't hesitate to give Pepiot a look in the relief corps if they think he can provide a spark.

IF/OF Kevin Smith, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Kevin Smith soared up prospect rankings when he hit .302/.358/.528 with 31 doubles, 25 home runs, 93 RBI, 93 runs scored and 29 steals between Single-A and High-A in his first full professional season in 2018.

    He opened the 2019 season as the No. 91 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America, but the jump to Double-A did not go smoothly.

    He hit .209 with a .263 on-base percentage and an ugly 32.3 percent strikeout rate, and his prospect star faded.

    After going 6-for-63 with 38 strikeouts in the Arizona Fall League in 2019 and then watching from the sidelines during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he began the 2021 campaign as the No. 19 prospect in the Toronto farm system.

    The time off seems to have given him a chance to reset. He's come out strong this year with a .293/.380/.593 line that includes 21 doubles and 18 home runs in 74 games at Triple-A.

    He has trimmed his strikeout rate to a more palatable 23.6 percent while walking at a career-high 12.1 percent clip, which has significantly improved his overall offensive profile.

    With experience playing shortstop, third base and both corner outfield spots, he would give the Blue Jays a versatile bench piece capable of hitting his way into regular playing time in a super-utility role.

        

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs and accurate through Thursday's games.

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