It's been a big week for some top prospects. C.J. Cron has already proven his power is legitimate for the Halos. Kolten Wong returns to the Cardinals after a short stint at Triple-A, while Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas get their chance to play for the Rangers with the injuries to Donnie Murphy and Jurickson Profar. Kevin Gausman made his season premiere for the O's on Wednesday, while Rafael Montero and Anthony DeSclafani made their MLB debuts for the Mets and Marlins, respectively. With tenured players succumbing to injury at a seemingly record pace, the youth movement is in full effect in the big leagues.
Chew on these tidbits in this week's "Three Strikes" segment:
1. Houston's Jonathan Singleton is a must-add in AL-Only leagues, as a promotion seems imminent. The 22-year-old lefty has 12 dingers in 38 games, and is hitting .324 over his last 10 contests at Triple-A. He should already be owned in all keeper formats, and could make an impact in deeper, non-keeper leagues as well.
2. Micah Johnson of the White Sox is arguably one of the top-50 prospects in baseball.
3. I will keep mentioning Danny Winkler of the Rockies until he gets the publicity he deserves. The 24-year-old is outpitching elite prospects Jon Gray and Eddie Butler at Double-A Tulsa.
Let's look at the rest of the prospect landscape in this week's Minor League Barometer.
Jimmy Nelson, P, MIL - The next elite pitching phenom promoted to the majors could be Nelson. The 24-year-old righty has been dominant for Triple-A Nashville, posting a 1.76 ERA and 53:16 K:BB ratio through 51 innings. Opposing batters are hitting a putrid .181 against him. Nelson has also induced a plethora of ground balls, posting a 1.67 GO:AO ratio. Nelson has a big, burly frame and features an excellent fastball/slider combination. His two-seamer dives down in the zone, causing the aforementioned grounders. As long as his control stays true and his changeup continues to develop, he could be a frontline starter for the Brew Crew if injury strikes, or Matt Garza continues to struggle.
Peter O'Brien, C, NYY - It seems as though the Yankees have been flush with catching prospects who haven't panned out since Jorge Posada's retirement. Although Brian McCann currently fills the catching slot for the Bronx Bombers, the Yanks first had to trade Jesus Montero and realize that Austin Romine is a career backup at the position. Likewise, the Yankees top overall prospect remains Gary Sanchez, the monstrous 21-year-old backstop who is having a mediocre season thus far for Double-A Trenton. O'Brien has also thrown his hat into the ring this season. The 23-year-old has 13 home runs and 28 RBI through 34 games, mostly at High-A Tampa. He was recently promoted to Double-A Trenton, where he will share catching duties with Sanchez and also DH. O’Brien had 22 home runs and 96 RBI in 2013, so his power is for real. However, he’s taking his game to the next level thus far in 2014.
J.P. Crawford, SS, PHI - Crawford is only hitting .400 over his last 10 games for Low-A Lakewood. Still a teenager, the cousin of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford has been as good as advertised thus far for the Phillies. The 19-year-old is slashing .328/. 421/.481 with three home runs, 12 RBI and eight steals through 34 games. Crawford has shown plate discipline well beyond his years, as he has almost as many walks (20) as strikeouts (21). He’s already shown more pop than expected, and is working on translating his raw speed into even more stolen bases. In a Philadelphia system that is mostly sub-standard, Crawford is the exception and the crown jewel.
Gavin Cecchini, SS, NYM - The Mets have been searching for a shortstop ever since Jose Reyes departed via free agency a few years ago. Cecchini could eventually fill the need. Playing in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark at Low-A, the supposedly light-hitting Cecchini has 12 extra-base hits, including three home runs. He had just one home run in his entire, albeit brief, professional career before this season. Likewise, he has swiped six bags in 34 games; by contrast, he stole just two bases in 51 games in 2013. As such, the 20-year-old is clearly making strides with his offense. Though his .268 batting average may not seem like anything special, he has already knocked in 16 runs this season. Cecchini’s offensive numbers appears to be trending upward, and he looks to be just scratching the surface of the potential that made him the No. 12 overall selection in the 2012 draft straight out of high school.
Mark Appel, P, HOU - Something doesn't appear to be quite right with Appel. He was supposed to be a finished product out of Stanford when he was drafted No. 1 overall last season. He aimed at skyrocketing through the ranks and making an almost immediate impact for the Astros. However, that has not materialized. Appel started the season at High-A, but indicated that he felt generally uncomfortable after four starts where he posted a bloated 6.23 ERA, and was sent back to extended spring training. He should re-join his High-A squad shortly, but a 2014 MLB debut looks entirely out of the question, and he may not be ready when 2015 begins, either. Appel remains a top-flight prospect, but is going to need more development than anticipated.
Orlando Calixte, SS, KC - Calixte had some issues with his visa that delayed his return this season, but he came back to Double-A Northwest Arkansas last week and subsequently bashed two home runs in his second game. This could be a breakout season for Calixte, who is a toolsy middle infielder with double-digit potential in both home runs and stolen bases. He had eight home runs and 14 stolen bases in 123 games at the same level. The Royals wants Calixte to continue to work on his plate discipline; he fanned 131 times in 2013, while hitting just .250. Whether he can hit for average at the higher levels will be the ultimate question, but Calixte is still a prospect to watch due to his emerging power/speed combination.
Joe Munoz, 3B, AZ - A second round pick in 2012, Munoz is off to a hot start for Low-A South Bend. The 20-year-old third baseman is slashing .310/.376/.496 with five home runs and 15 RBI through 30 games. Munoz has been buoyed by a scorching last 10 games in which he hit .349 with four home runs and 12 RBI. Strikeouts remain a concern, as he has fanned 29 times thus far in 2014. A converted shortstop, Munoz is still maturing and refining his skills, as he was drafted straight out of high school as an extremely raw product. He has the physical attributes to succeed, and should be able to add more weight and develop his power stroke as he works his way through the minors.
Tyler Goeddel, 3B, TB - Another player off to a rousing start in 2014, the 21-year-old Goeddel is hitting .305/.395/.523 with four home runs, 25 RBI and nine steals through 34 games for High-A Charlotte. Goeddel offers that intriguing speed/power mix, though admittedly the speed has been more prevalent than the power over his brief professional career. Goeddel swiped 30 bags in each of the last two seasons for the Rays, but managed just 13 total home runs. Still, his power stroke has looked better thus far in 2014, and he has been extremely productive in knocking in runs. He will be tested at the higher levels in two ways; can he hit for average, and can he find a position? Goeddel has not hit above .249 at any level since entering the minors, and he has been lackluster fielding at third base this season. The clearer the answers to those two questions become, the better of an idea we’ll have about Goeddel’s future.
Byron Buxton, OF, MIN - The caveat with this downgrade is that Buxton remains, in my opinion, the best prospect in baseball. He has the speed, power and plate discipline to become a future star in this league. However, he has played just five games this season due to a nagging left wrist injury. He originally injured the wrist in spring training, then re-aggravated the injury last weekend. Though the injury is still not considered serious, it all but ends his chances to make any sort of big-league impact in 2014. He should still be stashed in all keeper formats, though.
Trey Ball, P, BOS - A 6-foot-6 lefty drafted with the No. 7 overall selection in the 2013 draft, Ball oozes upside but was been battered and bruised in three starts at Low-A Greenville to begin the 2014 campaign. Ball’s ERA was 6.59, as he gave up 23 hits in 13.2 innings. In total, opposing batters hit an absurd .377 against him. He was subsequently placed on the Disabled List with an illness that is not considered serious. However, Ball’s return date is unknown, and he wasn’t exactly mowing down the opposition before the injury. As a result, it will take a little bit of time to get back into game shape, then take even more time to tap into his potential and start the path toward becoming an ace. In other words, the 19-year-old southpaw has a long road ahead of him.
Raul Alcantara, P, OAK - Alcantara looks to be the latest victim of the Tommy John epidemic that is sweeping through Major League Baseball. Though not confirmed, Alcantara appears headed toward the now infamous UCL procedure after being previously diagnosed with a sore elbow. Alcantara is arguably the top pitching prospect for the Athletics; he had a breakout season in 2013, notching a 3.11 ERA and 124:24 K:BB ratio in 156.1 innings between Low-A and High-A. The 21-year-old righty had a 2.29 ERA through three starts at Double-A Midland before the injury. The drop off in the Oakland organization after Alcantara is steep at the starting pitching position.
Lewis Brinson, OF, TEX - Brinson is a tantalizing prospect due to his power/speed combination. The 20-year-old outfielder hit 21 home runs and swiped 24 bags in 122 games at Low-A in 2013. On the downside, he hit just .237, and struck out a staggering 191 times. Brinson was off to a better start with regard to average in 2014, hitting .287 through 22 games at the same level. However, he had still fanned 27 times over that span. Thereafter, Brinson injured his quad and has not appeared in a game since April 26. Brinson has a ton of raw talent, but needs to become a better baseball player upon his return from injury.