Thursday, October 5, 2023
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Each team’s prospects to watch in second half

Each team’s prospects to watch in second half

Another All-Star break has come and gone, and as trade talks heat up and final rosters take shape, more opportunities will come for young players to contribute with their big league clubs. 

So, with the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline nearly upon us and the push to the postseason not far behind, here’s a prospect (or two) from each club to keep an eye on in the second half.

American League East

Blue Jays: INF Addison Barger (Blue Jays’ No. 6 prospect)
The elbow injury that cost Barger time earlier this season was a tough blow. He’d started slow in Triple-A, but Barger was one of the stars of Spring Training and looked like a prospect who could push for an MLB job by mid-summer. Now back in Triple-A, though, he’s putting together some much better at-bats while splitting time between shortstop and third base. The Blue Jays aren’t about to let Barger ride the bench in the big leagues, as he needs all the reps he can get, but Barger could play himself into a spot where he’s only an injury away. Besides, with Matt Chapman a pending free agent, the Blue Jays need to have the best possible feel for how Barger fits into the third-base conversation next year.

Orioles: OF Colton Cowser (No. 2) and INF Jordan Westburg (No. 3)
Cowser (MLB Pipeline’s No. 13 overall prospect) and Westburg (No. 31) both made their big league debuts late in the first half. Westburg, a 24-year-old infielder, arrived June 26, then Cowser, a 23-year-old outfielder, was called up nine days later. They’ve only shown small tastes of what they’re capable of. Westburg slashed .325/.400/.500 with three doubles, two triples and six RBIs through his first 11 games, while Cowser had a .188/.381/.188 slash line with two RBIs and four walks in his first five games. Both should only improve as they gain big league experience in the second half.

Rays: 2B/3B Curtis Mead (No. 3)
There might not be a prospect who comes up to make an immediate impact down the stretch for the Rays; starter Taj Bradley is already in the rotation, hot-hitting Jonathan Aranda has graduated off MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 list, and reliever Colby White is still working his way back from injury. But Mead has returned to Triple-A Durham after a frustrating stint on the injured list, and he reminded everyone why he rocketed up the Top 100 list by going 11-for-29 with five extra-base hits and twice as many walks (six) as strikeouts (three) in his first seven games back. The Rays have plenty of position-player depth if they’re dealt an injury in the infield, but don’t forget about Mead.

Red Sox: SS/OF Ceddanne Rafaela (No. 2)
The highly-athletic center fielder from Curaçao has one main mission to complete his development in the Minor Leagues, and that’s to improve his selectivity at the plate. Rafaela is already a skilled enough defender and baserunner to play in the Major Leagues. Since moving up to Triple-A on June 25, Rafaela has just one walk in 49 plate appearances. Until that changes, he will stay in the Minors. If the Red Sox make the postseason, Rafaela, who can also play shortstop, could be an ideal roster fit as a defensive replacement/pinch runner.

Yankees: C Austin Wells (No. 2)
Wells has been in the news the past few weeks for sharing some much-discussed chicken parm with resurgent rookie Anthony Volpe, but he’s much more than a pleasant dinner companion. The Yankees’ No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Wells missed all of Spring Training with a fractured rib, but he’s been back behind the plate and slugging a bit at Double-A Somerset. Don’t rule out the 23-year-old getting a taste of the Majors this year.

AL Central

Guardians: C Bo Naylor (No. 3)
The hype for Naylor’s callup was off the charts, and rightfully so. He had an .890 OPS with 13 homers, 12 doubles, one triple and 48 RBIs in 60 games for Triple-A Columbus. When he finally got to the Majors in mid-June, he got off to a slow start, going 0-for-9 after he was promoted. Right before the break, he had another 0-for-19 stretch. But just before the break, he spent extra time with his hitting coach and made some tweaks. The next day, he went 3-for-4. The Guardians have struggled to get offensive production from their catchers. If what he did in Triple-A can translate to the big leagues, Cleveland will be in good shape.

Royals: INF Maikel Garcia (graduated)
Just like his steady rise in the Minor Leagues, Garcia has been on the rise ever since reaching the big leagues. His 1.8 WAR, per FanGraphs, ranks fourth among American League rookies this year, in large part because his third-base defense is so good with three defensive runs saved and eight Outs Above Average (which is tied for third best among all third basemen). Garcia’s .284 average is third among AL rookies, while his .342 on-base percentage ranks eighth. And his 102 wRC+ ranks in the top 15 among AL rookies. The Royals are all about prospects in the big leagues this season. Garcia is proving to be one of the best they have.

Tigers: 2B/3B Colt Keith (No. 1)
Had Keith gone to college, he would’ve been one of the top prospects available in this year’s Draft. Instead, he’s the Tigers’ top prospect, and sitting on Detroit’s doorstep after he was promoted to Triple-A Toledo. The 21-year-old has always had a sharp eye and plate discipline, and has added power along with weight. The combination sent him into the break batting .335 with 16 homers, 57 RBIs and a .993 OPS between Toledo and Double-A Erie. More than one evaluator believe he could hit in Detroit right now. If he keeps up this production, he could get a shot late in the season, if not sooner.

Twins: SS Royce Lewis (graduated)
Lewis is expected to be down until mid-August with an oblique strain, but while he was finally healthy and performing as a big leaguer after missing two years with torn ACLs, he was a needed sparkplug in a Minnesota lineup that otherwise struggled to find hits and contact, hitting .326/.354/.474 with four homers with a contact-oriented approach and high energy. His dugout presence is as significant as his ability to put bat to ball and find grass — and he’ll provide a meaningful and needed boost down the stretch upon his return.

White Sox: OF Oscar Colás (No. 2)
The No. 2 White Sox prospect, per MLB Pipeline, broke camp with the team from Spring Training as the potential right fielder of the future but struggled enough to be optioned to Triple-A Charlotte on May 2. The on-field statistics were far from the only issue for the 24-year-old left-handed hitter, as he needed to work on plate discipline and pregame approach, not to mention handling the inherent pressure and failure coming with being a rookie. That developmental snag was no surprise to the White Sox, and to the credit of Colás, he worked hard at Charlotte and returned on July 4 to the big leagues. He’ll have the rest of the regular season to show his adjustments matching his overall talent.

AL West

Angels: C Logan O’Hoppe (No. 1)
O’Hoppe has retained his prospect eligibility because he played in just 16 games before he suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder on April 20. O’Hoppe is ranked as the club’s No. 1 prospect by MLB Pipeline and the No. 30 overall prospect. He’s been making solid progress in his rehab from his shoulder surgery and has been taking dry swings without any issues. There was a chance he could be out for the season when he first sustained the injury but now it looks like he could return at some point in August.

Astros: RHP Spencer Arrighetti (No. 9)
Could the Astros’ addition to their starting rotation be one of their top pitching prospects? Look at it this way: If the Astros aren’t going to acquire a big-name pitcher, why not see what Arrighetti has to offer? And all it will cost is some service time. Arrighetti, the team’s highest-ranked right-handed pitching prospect, had a 4.15 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings at Double-A before getting promoted last month to Triple-A, where he has a 4.50 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 12 innings.

Athletics: C/1B Tyler Soderstrom (No. 1) and INF Zack Gelof (No. 3)
Both Soderstrom (MLB Pipeline’s No. 34 overall prospect) and Gelof have arrived. The A’s anticipate that both players – who project to develop into potential franchise-type players – will make an impact on the big league club at some point in 2023. At the time of their dual callup, Soderstrom’s 20 homers led Triple-A Las Vegas, while Gelof had a team-leading .930 OPS.

Mariners: RHP Emerson Hancock (No. 5)
After the promotions of Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo, Hancock represents the next wave of top-end pitching talent in the Mariners’ pipeline, and given that the club will need to be creative to curb the innings of the two that preceded him, it’s certainly possible that they find a way to work Hancock into the mix down the stretch.

Rangers: RHP Owen White (No. 2)
White made his MLB debut straight from Double-A out of the bullpen on June 13 with the Rangers in need of length for a bullpen game, but has since returned to Triple-A for the time being. Depending on what takes place at the Deadline, White could be an important piece down the stretch, or even in a potential postseason run. The right-hander is the best starting pitcher in the Rangers farm system, but if he’s to make an impact in the big leagues, it’ll likely be in long relief out of the bullpen.

National League East

Braves: RHP AJ Smith-Shawver (No. 1)
Smith-Shawver has already made the rise to the Majors just two years after graduating high school. His three starts showed he wasn’t quite ready for the Majors, but he could still be needed again at some point this year. Even if there isn’t a need for him to fill a void in the rotation, there’s always a chance he could be utilized out of the bullpen at some point down the stretch.

Marlins: RHP Sean Reynolds (No. 23)
Since Eury Pérez has graduated from prospect status, 25-year-old converted pitcher Reynolds could be that dude in the second half. Though the 6-foot-8 flamethrower was just recalled for his first MLB stint, he possesses a triple-digit fastball and closing experience in the Minor Leagues. While the Marlins have four high-leverage lefties in the bullpen, they are light on righties. The opportunity is there for the taking for Reynolds.

Mets: RHP Mike Vasil (No. 8)
With respect to Ronny Mauricio, who remains one of the most talented prospects in the system and a potential future star, a promotion of Vasil would likely have the biggest impact on the Major League team this season. It remains a long-shot, considering the Futures Game participant has struggled a bit since his promotion to Triple-A Syracuse. But Vasil, unlike Mauricio, would not need an injury to force a promotion. There’s little doubt he’s a future rotation piece for the Mets — it’s just a matter of when.

Nationals: OF James Wood (No. 1)
Wood, a 20-year-old, 6-foot-6, 240-pound outfielder, has been turning heads in his first full season in the Nationals organization since being acquired from the Padres in the Juan Soto blockbuster trade. Wood advanced from High-A to Double-A in the first half of the season, during which he slashed .262/.360/.520 with 14 home runs. Wood was named to the 2023 Futures Game, and it would not be a complete surprise to see him make his Major League debut this season.

Phillies: RHP Noah Song (unranked)
The Phillies hoped top prospect Andrew Painter would join the rotation, but he is experiencing soreness in his right elbow. He is hardly a sure thing at this point. Song has a chance to make the team, albeit as a long man. The Phillies selected Song in the Rule 5 Draft, despite not pitching competitively since 2019 because of his commitment to the Navy. Song, who is on a rehab assignment, must be promoted by July 28 be placed on waivers. If the Phillies think he can get batters out in limited, low-leverage situations, he could stick.

NL Central

Brewers: OF Sal Frelick (No. 2)
Frelick rocketed from High-A to Triple-A in 2022 with an .883 OPS in his first full professional season, putting him squarely in position for a callup this year if needed. But he suffered a thumb injury in mid-April that required surgery and a nearly two-month absence, and he’s struggled since returning to action (.230/.313/.297 in 18 Triple-A games post-surgery). If he gets the bat going again, Frelick would be in position for a callup; Brewers outfielders finished the first half 25th of 30 years with a wRC+ of 94.

Cardinals: SS Masyn Winn (No. 1)
The slick-fielding shortstop could get a callup to the big leagues for his MLB debut if the Redbirds deal shortstop Paul DeJong, infielder Nolan Gorman or utility aces Tommy Edman or Brendan Donovan at the deadline to acquire pitching. Winn, who opened eyes in Spring Training, hit his 10th home run of the season on Sunday for Memphis. He has hit .266 with 37 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 16 attempts in his first Triple-A season. Winn, 21, could soon join fellow 2020 draftee Jordan Walker in the Cardinals everyday lineup.

Cubs: RHP Daniel Palencia (No. 13)
Palencia was recently promoted after a mid-season transition to the bullpen in the Minors. The 23-year-old righty made a strong first impression, logging three shutout frames in his first two outings and reaching at least 100 mph five times (already tied for the most this year by a Cubs pitcher. Palencia – acquired from the A’s in the ‘21 deal for lefty Andrew Chafin – balances his high-octane fastballs with a sharp slider, and has more pitches in his arsenal given his background as a starter. He has the potential to grow into a relief weapon for a Chicago bullpen that has started to find stability in its relief corps.

Pirates: RHP Jared Jones (No. 10)
There’s a strong likelihood that the Pirates promoted right-hander Quinn Priester, the No. 4 prospect in their organization, sometime during the second half, but Jones’s short-term future is more up in the air. Jones earned a promotion from Double-A Altoona to Triple-A Indianapolis in mid-June, and while he’s initially struggled at the higher level (5.12 ERA), he finished the first half with four innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts. The Pirates’ starting depth has taken a hit after losing JT Brubaker, Vince Velasquez and Mike Burrows, the organization’s No. 8 prospect, to season-ending injuries. If Jones can string together a run of good starts, it’s not unlikely that he finds himself in Pittsburgh before season’s end.

Reds: 1B/3B Christian Encarnacion-Strand (No. 6)
Encarnacion-Strand is the next key prospect awaiting his first promotion to follow in the footsteps of Matt McLain, Elly De La Cruz and Andrew Abbott. Encarnacion-Strand, a right-handed power bat who would likely get time at first base, has 20 homers while batting .321 with a 1.012 OPS at Triple-A Louisville.

NL West

D-backs: RHP Brandon Pfaadt (No. 3)
Pfaadt is the No. 3 ranked prospect in the Arizona system per MLB Pipeline, but his first two stints in the big leagues this year have not gone well. The organization still is extremely high on Pfaadt and the chances seem good that they will call on him again at some point during the second half.

Dodgers: RHP Gavin Stone (No. 4)
Stone’s first taste of the Majors didn’t go as anybody expected with the right-hander allowing four or more runs in each of his first three starts. But Stone will get another opportunity at some point this season and the Dodgers will need him to make an impact if that happens. Same could be said about Michael Busch (No. 2) and Landon Knack (No. 17), who will surely be up in the Majors at some point this season.

Giants: LHP Kyle Harrison (No. 1)
Harrison was scheduled to represent the Giants at the All-Star Futures Game, but he ended up skipping the event due to a “moderate” right hamstring strain. The injury is likely to delay Harrison’s arrival to the Majors, but the Giants still expect the 21-year-old lefty to join their rotation mix at some point in the second half.

Padres: C Ethan Salas (No. 2)
Not that Salas matters all that much to the 2023 Padres. They aren’t trading him. He’s not going to impact the big league club anytime soon. But holy smokes, this kid is something else. The top international prospect in the most recent class, Salas went directly to the California League — at 16 years old. He’s holding his own there, too, posting an .881 OPS with reports of solid defense and game management. Padres scouting director Chris Kemp recently called Salas the best young player he’d ever scouted. That statement looks less and less hyperbolic by the day.

Rockies: OF Yanquiel Fernandez (No. 3)
Some of the best stories of any rebuild are the prospects who blow through development steps until it’s impossible to keep them out of the Majors. Fernandez, 20, looks headed that way. He began the year in Class A, but earned a promotion to Double-A — where (entering this week) he had five home runs and a .578 slugging percentage in his first 15 games. Fernandez also turned heads at the All-Star Futures Game with a solid single and a 103.3 mph throw from right field. Remember, last year SS Ezequiel Tovar, barely 21, forced his way into the Majors and has established himself as a big part of the future.



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