Minor League Barometer: Risers & Fallers

Minor League Barometer: Risers & Fallers

This article is part of our Minor League Barometer series.

The World Baseball Classic gave us a taste of meaningful baseball over a couple of weeks earlier this month. Shohei Ohtani displayed why he's the best player on the planet as he closed out Team USA to give Japan the crown. We also got a sneak peak of Masataka Yoshida and what he'll bring to the table for the Red Sox.

This article will operate as it has in the past, where each week several phenoms will be analyzed as to whether their causes are being helped or hurt. It will be skewed more toward players closer to the big leagues, but that doesn't mean we won't highlight a couple neophytes at the lower levels.  Also, this isn't a ranking of prospects. Each article isn't supposed to be exhaustive and fantasy impact will be weighed more heavily over real-life impact.

For the first Minor League Barometer, let's focus on some players who'll either make the Opening Day rosters for their respective squads, or certainly make their way to the majors later this season.

UPGRADE

Anthony Volpe, SS, NYY – A stellar spring forced the Yankees' hand, and the future is now for Volpe as he's projected to start as Opening Day shortstop. He hit .308 with a .419 OBP over 52 spring training at-bats while hitting three home runs and stealing five bases. Volpe won't turn 22 until the end of April, but his play and demeanor have already invoked comparisons to the incomparable Derek Jeter. Those are colossally huge shoes to fill, but the pressure

The World Baseball Classic gave us a taste of meaningful baseball over a couple of weeks earlier this month. Shohei Ohtani displayed why he's the best player on the planet as he closed out Team USA to give Japan the crown. We also got a sneak peak of Masataka Yoshida and what he'll bring to the table for the Red Sox.

This article will operate as it has in the past, where each week several phenoms will be analyzed as to whether their causes are being helped or hurt. It will be skewed more toward players closer to the big leagues, but that doesn't mean we won't highlight a couple neophytes at the lower levels.  Also, this isn't a ranking of prospects. Each article isn't supposed to be exhaustive and fantasy impact will be weighed more heavily over real-life impact.

For the first Minor League Barometer, let's focus on some players who'll either make the Opening Day rosters for their respective squads, or certainly make their way to the majors later this season.

UPGRADE

Anthony Volpe, SS, NYY – A stellar spring forced the Yankees' hand, and the future is now for Volpe as he's projected to start as Opening Day shortstop. He hit .308 with a .419 OBP over 52 spring training at-bats while hitting three home runs and stealing five bases. Volpe won't turn 22 until the end of April, but his play and demeanor have already invoked comparisons to the incomparable Derek Jeter. Those are colossally huge shoes to fill, but the pressure didn't seem to bother him much the last couple months. There will likely be some growing pains for Volpe, but he certainly appears to have the green light throughout the Yankees organization.

Miguel Vargas, 1B/2B/OF, LAD – The serious injury sustained by Gavin Lux opens up an opportunity for Vargas to play second base to kick off 2023. Though he only hit .236 this spring, he also recorded a .396 OBP. Vargas has also played a number of positions to provide even more versatility on top of his impressive minor-league resume, including slashing .304/.404/.511 with 17 home runs, 82 RBI and 16 steals across 113 games at Triple-A in 2022 prior to a late call-up with the Dodgers.

Corbin Carroll, OF, AZ – With apologies to Gunnar Henderson of the Orioles - who could've also easily been in this section - Carroll may be the best prospect in baseball, and he'll get the chance to play every day for the Diamondbacks to open 2023. The 22-year-old slashed .307/.425/.610 with 24 home runs, 62 RBI and 31 steals in 93 games between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He also logged a respectable 32 contest with the big club down the stretch. Carroll boasts the power/speed combination that makes scouts salivate, but he also has the ability to hit for average and isn't afraid to take a walk. Carroll is going to get every chance to succeed for the rebuilding D-Backs.

Jordan Walker, 3B/OF, STL – At just 20, Walker will be a part of the Cardinals' roster on Opening Day. He's hit at every level of the minors, both for average and power. He also stole more bases than expected. Nolan Arenado occupies the hot corner, but Walker has been trying his hand at outfield this spring and could also see time at DH. He didn't display much patience at the dish during the spring, yet still hit .277 with three home runs and two steals. It remains to be seen how frequently Walker will play with Arenado blocking his ultimate path, but it would be foolish for the Cards to keep him on the roster and have him ride the pine.

CHECK STATUS

Oscar Colas, OF, CHW – Colas crossed three levels in 2022 and slashed a combined .314/.371/.524 with 23 home runs and 79 RBI while finishing the season with seven games at Triple-A. The 24-year-old Cuban hit .270 with three home runs this spring, which was deemed enough to warrant a spot on the Opening Day squad. Colas isn't the most patient player at the dish, which is certainly a red flag and something to monitor especially if he starts in the outfield for the White Sox with everyday at-bats. He'll need to prove he can hit for average on a regular basis and make consistent contact to remain a starter.

Josh Jung, 3B, TEX – Although perhaps unfairly, Jung has already been labeled as injury-prone during his brief professional career. He was even involved in a minor car accident during spring training, though thankfully wasn't injured. Jung's power stroke has evolved to the point where it's just as valued as his hitting ability, though he'll obviously need to prove he can stay on the field. If he can, everyday at-bats await him at the hot corner for a Texas squad in desperate need of some infield help for Marcus Semien and Corey Seager.

Esteury Ruiz, OF, OAK – The A's are in full rebuilding mode, and Ruiz has been informed he'll be on the Opening Day roster. However, Cristian Pache also remains in the mix for at-bats, and Ruiz was downright dreadful in 17 games with the Brewers last season - albeit in a very small sample size. Nevertheless, there should be plenty of opportunities for at-bats given the current state of the A's roster, and Ruiz remains arguably Oakland's top overall prospect along with Tyler Soderstrom. He was impressive this spring by hitting .318 with one homer, 14 RBI and six steals.  Ruiz's speed is what really sets him apart, and the A's are hoping to set him loose with great frequency on the basepaths this season.

Jared Shuster, P, ATL – Shuster will join the Braves' starting rotation, partly due to the injury to Kyle Wright, but also because of a standout spring where he posted a 1.45 ERA and 18:4 K:BB over 18.2 innings while opposing batters hit a putrid .115 against. He's known for control, a stellar changeup and a slider that also operates as a swing-and-miss offering. While Shuster's heater is not overpowering, it plays up due to his off-speed offerings and ability to throw strikes. He may not offer the ceiling of a frontline rotation anchor, but he could end up as a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter.

DOWNGRADE

Brett Baty, 3B, NYM – This downgrade is more about opportunity and situation than Baty's skills or prospect profile. The Mets spent a boatload of money in the offseason and list the highest payroll in baseball - and it isn't particularly close. In other words, it's World Series or bust for residents of Citi Field. Where does that leave a blossoming neophyte?  Catching phenom Francisco Alvarez was already sent down despite the fact the only current Mets catchers are Omar Narvaez and Tomas Nido. Baty found himself a similar casualty as the team opted for the veteran Eduardo Escobar at third. In other organizations, he may have already been a starter at the hot corner.  With expectations as high as skyscrapers, he'll instead have to wait a bit longer for his turn for regular action.

Grayson Rodriguez, P, BAL – Arguably the MLB's top pitching prospect, Rodriguez was considered a shoe-in to crack the Orioles' starting rotation. Unfortunately, he was roughed up during spring training where he produced a horrible 7.04 ERA across five starts that covered 15.1 innings.  Rodriguez did fan 19 batters over that span, but also allowed three homers and was easily hittable. As a result, he was sent to Triple-A, where he'll work on his consistency. Rodriguez should make the Baltimore rotation soon enough.

Michael Toglia, 1B/OF, COL – If Toglia played his home games anywhere else besides in the thin air of Colorado, he likely wouldn't be considered as much of a fantasy option for the upcoming season. And with the other Rockies options a bit suspect, the switch-hitter could see at-bats if he makes the roster. Toglia strikes out a lot, though he did crack 30 home runs combined between Double-A and Triple-A last season and also clubbed two more in 31 big-league contests. However, he fanned 44 times during the same stretch, and it's highly doubtful he'll be able to hit for any sort of average in the majors. And Ezequiel Tovar is the prospect to really watch for the Rockies this year.

Canaan Smith-Njigba, OF, PIT – Perhaps Smith-Njigba's younger brother and former Ohio State wide receiver is more well-known, but all signs point to him making Pittsburgh's Opening Day lineup. That will likely be in a reserve role since the Pirates never found a trade suitor for Bryan Reynolds and they also re-signed former MVP Andrew McCutchen. Smith-Njigba's best asset may be his plate discipline, but his power and speed and below average since entering the minors.  However, he managed had an excellent spring by hitting .326 with two home runs, 11 RBI and two steals. That being said, it would be unwise to expect consistent playing time right away.

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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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