Minor League Barometer: Prospects Worth Keeping Tabs On

Minor League Barometer: Prospects Worth Keeping Tabs On

This article is part of our Minor League Barometer series.

Injuries can provide unexpected opportunities, even for high-profile prospects.  Through the first two months of the season, it looked as though the Yankees had a surplus of outfielders.  After all, Aaron Judge has been playing like an MVP, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have made All-Star teams in the past, and Aaron Hicks was having by far the best season of his career.  Then Ellsbury went on the DL with a concussion, Hicks hurt his Achilles and subsequently his oblique, and the unfortunate incident with Dustin Fowler occurred.  Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Fowler, making his MLB debut, crashed into a wall in the first inning of his first game, suffering an open rupture of his right patella tendon.  Fowler is predictably out for the season.  And this doesn't even include the season-ending injury to top prospect Gleyber Torres, a shortstop/third baseman.

So while it looked as though the Yankees outfield, mashing for the first two months of the season, would need no help whatsoever, the narrative has quickly changed.  Instead, now the Bronx Bombers have called up yet another elite prospect, Clint Frazier, even though it didn't look like Frazier would see the bigs until much later this season, if at all.  Frazier smacked a home run in his first game, provided a captivating walk-off dinger this past weekend, and now should be in line for extended playing time.  In sum, injuries can move up the timeline for phenoms and neophytes alike.

Injuries can provide unexpected opportunities, even for high-profile prospects.  Through the first two months of the season, it looked as though the Yankees had a surplus of outfielders.  After all, Aaron Judge has been playing like an MVP, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have made All-Star teams in the past, and Aaron Hicks was having by far the best season of his career.  Then Ellsbury went on the DL with a concussion, Hicks hurt his Achilles and subsequently his oblique, and the unfortunate incident with Dustin Fowler occurred.  Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Fowler, making his MLB debut, crashed into a wall in the first inning of his first game, suffering an open rupture of his right patella tendon.  Fowler is predictably out for the season.  And this doesn't even include the season-ending injury to top prospect Gleyber Torres, a shortstop/third baseman.

So while it looked as though the Yankees outfield, mashing for the first two months of the season, would need no help whatsoever, the narrative has quickly changed.  Instead, now the Bronx Bombers have called up yet another elite prospect, Clint Frazier, even though it didn't look like Frazier would see the bigs until much later this season, if at all.  Frazier smacked a home run in his first game, provided a captivating walk-off dinger this past weekend, and now should be in line for extended playing time.  In sum, injuries can move up the timeline for phenoms and neophytes alike.

Here are some other prospects worth keeping tabs on as we head into the All-Star break…

UPGRADE

Daniel Johnson, OF, WAS – Perhaps it is not surprising that the 22-year-old lefty, a polished college product out of New Mexico State, is raking at Low-A Hagerstown. Still, a fifth-round selection in the 2016 draft, Johnson was not considered among the top hitting prospects even in his own organization prior to this season. However, the narrative may be changing, as Johnson is slashing .313/.371/.556 through 77 games. He has shown more pop than expected, bashing 16 home runs and knocking in 46 runs. He is second in the South Atlantic League in home runs. Johnson has also swiped nine bases, showing that intriguing power/speed combination that makes scouts and fantasy owners alike salivate. Johnson has been caught nine times as well, though, and is not particularly patient at the dish. Still, he doesn't strike out a ton either, and Johnson might just be playing his way into the Nats' future plans.

Sixto Sanchez, P, PHI – While hitters like Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams and Dylan Cozens are viewed as the building blocks for the Phillies, it may just be hurlers like Franklyn Kilome and Sanchez who are the keys to success in Philadelphia. In five starts since returning from injury, Sanchez has allowed seven earns runs while posting a 22:2 K:BB. Sanchez has shown pinpoint control throughout the season, walking just five batters in 50.1 innings at Low-A. Opposing batters are hitting just .2015 against the 18-year-old righty, who is inducing a bevy of ground balls to the tune of a 1.50 GO:AO ratio. With three pitches, outstanding control and the ability to keep the ball down, Sanchez is vaulting up the prospect charts in 2017. He'll just have to prove his body can handle the rigors of being in the starting rotation.

Dane Dunning, P, CHW - The rotation at High-A Winston-Salem could provide a positive glimpse into the future for the White Sox.  Along with Alec Hansen, Dunning has looked the part of a frontline starter.  He tormented the opposition at Low-A to begin the season, and hasn't missed a beat since being promoted. The 22-year-old righty has a 3.03 ERA and 71:25 K:BB through 62.1 innings at High-A. Dunning does not throw hard like fellow White Sox phenom Michael Kopech, but he works down in the zone and throws strikes. It is difficult to argue with the results thus far, and if Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez can turn things around, the White Sox could have a ferocious future rotation on the horizon.

Nick Neidert, P, SEA – The standout season for Neidert in the California League should not go unnoticed. The 20-year-old righty is having a stellar campaign despite hitter-friendly confines. A second round selection in the 2015 draft, Neidert has a 2.86 ERA and 98:14 K:BB in 94.1 innings for High-A Modesto. He's third in both ERA and strikeouts. His strikeout rate has seen a huge uptick from a season ago, largely due to his improving off-speed pitches. As long as he keeps the ball in the ballpark, Neidert's breakout season should continue, and he should begin to gain much more notoriety.

CHECK STATUS

Stephen Gonsalves, P, MIN – Gonsalves is a sturdy 23-year-old southpaw who does not get enough publicity, likely because his fastball is not overpowering. Still, both he and Double-A teammate Fernando Romero are starting to turn some heads. Gonsalves missed some time with a minor injury earlier in 2017, but has been tremendous when on the mound. Gonsalves has a 2.95 ERA and 65:12 K:BB in 58 innings at Double-A Chattanooga. The strikeouts jump off the page, as does the control. Opposing batters are hitting just .200 against him. Despite the lack of a 100-mph heater, Gonsalves has developed superb secondary offerings, and he knows how to pitch. The Twins may just have a gem on their hands, even if he is still flying under the radar.

Jacob Nix, P, SD - The Padres may have found a diamond in the rough with Dinelson Lamet, but the rotation at High-A is where the future of the organization may lie.  Anderson Espinoza has the highest upside of all the hurlers at this level, but is currently on the Disabled List.  Southpaw Eric Lauer parlayed dominance at High-A into a recent promotion to Double-A, and Cal Quantrill has more than held his own in a successful return from Tommy John surgery.  20-year-old Logan Allen just joined the mix after fanning 85 batters in 68.1 innings at Low-A.  Nix is yet another quality arm, displaying exceptional control through six starts for High-A Lake Elsinore.  A groin injury shelved Nix for nearly two months at the start of the 2017 campaign, but he has posted a 3.61 ERA and 36:5 K:BB in 42.1 innings.  Nix has the size and command of his three-pitch arsenal to move rather quickly through the system, though he did get pasted in his last start for the Storm.

Tony Santillan, P, CIN - A second round pick in the 2015 draft, Santillan has allowed just two earned runs in his last 17 innings for Low-A Dayton. He has a terrific fastball and above-average curveball, but is still working on a consistent third offering. In addition, his command can be erratic, and he has walked 33 batters in 86.2 innings in 2017. Nevertheless, his other statistics are stellar, including a 2.70 ERA and 85 strikeouts over that span. At 6-foot-3, 240-lbs, Santillan has the body frame to carry the heavy burden of starting, but he must prove he can be more than a two-pitch pitcher. Otherwise, he will end up in the bullpen.

Estevan Florial, OF, NYY – Florial has had a breakout season at Low-A, slashing .300/.383/.502 through 74 games. The toolsy teenager has shown power and speed from the left-hand side of the plate, hitting 11 home runs and swiping 15 stolen bases during that time period. There is a red flag lurking, though; Florial has fanned 98 times in those 74 contests. This may not be so surprising for a teenager in his first year of full-season ball, but it does bear monitoring. Regardless, Florial has shown pop, speed and the ability to hit for average from the centerfield position. He is a few years away from seeing the big leagues, but the Bronx Bombers may have yet another burgeoning outfield prospect on their hands.

DOWNGRADE

Luis Robert, OF, CHW – The White Sox gave Robert a $26 million signing bonus earlier this year, yet have decided to proceed cautiously with their prized phenom. The 19-year-old Cuban outfielder was sent to the lowest level of the farm system, the Dominican Summer League. Robert was hitting .255 with a .479 On-Base Percentage through 17 games. He had more walks (17) than strikeouts (14). Unfortunately, Robert injured his left knee while attempting to steal home, and hasn't seen the field since Independence Day. There is currently no timetable for his return. While the injury is not considered serious, the White Sox have a lot invested in Robert, making his return to the field in 2017 not necessarily guaranteed.

Travis Demeritte, 2B, ATL – Demeritte is mired in a horrific slump, hitting a putrid .077 with 15 strikeouts over his last 10 games for Double-A Mississippi. His average has dipped to .215 on the season. Perhaps predictably, Demeritte's home run total has declined since moving out of the hitter-friendly confines of the California League as well. After cracking 28 dingers in 123 games in 2016, Demeritte has just 11 home runs through 81 games at his new level. His stolen base total is also down, as can be expected for a player not getting on base as much. Add in the presence of Ozzie Albies directly ahead of him on the depth chart, and Demeritte has some work to do in order to work his way back into the good graces of the Atlanta Braves.

Tyler Mahle, P, CIN and Beau Burrows, P, DET – I'm lumping these two pitchers together because they're in similar boats. Both hurlers dominated at a lower level, then were promoted and have struggled a tad over a small sample size since that time. For Mahle, the 22-year-old right has a 5.02 ERA through three starts for Triple-A Louisville. Opposing batters are hitting a crisp .322 against him through 14.1 innings. Meanwhile, Burrows has a 5.59 ERA over a bit of a larger sampling, 29 innings for Double-A Erie. Walks have been a bigger problem for Burrows, who has issued 16 free passes over that span. Both hurlers are still among the better pitching prospects in their respective organizations, but may take a little while to get back on track.

Gavin Lux, SS, LAD – Lux was drafted straight out of high school in the first round of the 2016 draft, described as a glove-first shortstop with some upside with the bat. Perhaps the Dodgers were a tad aggressive in promoting him to Low-A, though, as he has struggled to make consistent contact. In fact, the 19-year-old is hitting just .205/.304/.295 through 63 games. Lux is not expected to develop much power, though he does show the ability to work the count and does not strike out a ton. Nevertheless, he remains raw at the dish, and his lack of pop at a position suddenly flush with big bats (Corey Seager, Carlos Correa immediately come to mind) knocks him down a few rungs on the prospect ladder.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jesse Siegel
Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
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