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The Long Game: The Next Wave

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.

It happens every April. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, or salmon swimming upstream to spawn, the great prospect migration of 2017 has begun, with big names like Cody Bellinger, Dan Vogelbach and Julio Urias already getting called up to the majors. MLB teams make no secret anymore about the fact that they're willing to delay the start of service time clocks for important parts of their future roster, so as April turns into May and then June, more and more players will make the leap from the minors to the big leagues.

Of course, the prospects have to hold up their end of the bargain too by performing, both in the minors and the majors, and that's where the following list comes in. The 14 players highlighted here are off to blistering starts for their minor-league teams, and while this is far from an exhaustive list of prospects who could get called up over the next couple of months, these are the players who seem to be pounding on the door the loudest, and thus demanding of the most attention from fantasy GMs, especially in shallow keeper and dynasty formats where players who aren't yet contributing in the majors are rarely worth roster spots. Whether their performance is enough to force their way onto the 25-man, or in some cases even the 40-man, roster is a question only their employers can answer.

Jorge Alfaro, C, Phi: The 23-year-old already got a brief taste of the majors at the end of last season, and his numbers so far at Triple-A indicate he's hungry for more. Alfaro is slashing .354/.373/.569 with three homers through 16 games for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and while his 1:17 BB:K is far from ideal, his plate discipline issues are nothing new. The Phillies also aren't getting anything out of their current catching tandem; between them, Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp are hitting .172 with one homer and four RBI. Even if Alfaro struggles to make contact in the majors, he should be able to do better than that. ETA: Early June, if not sooner

Franklin Barreto, Oak: The A's have already said they aren't calling Barreto up until at least June, but c'mon, really? The kid's hitting .358/.408/.522 as a 21-year-old at Triple-A, and you're trotting out Adam Rosales and Chad Pinder at shortstop. On the other hand, Oakland may have a point. Barreto's line is fueled by an impossibly high .512 BABIP, while his strikeout rate is up and contact rate down through 17 games, so a premature promotion to the majors could result in a major crash at the plate. If he starts making more consistent contact again, though – even if his luck on balls in play falters – it could be the last piece of the puzzle needed before his promotion. ETA: Early June

Jose Berrios, Min: His 2016 debut was a total train wreck, but Berrios has shrugged it off and begun his 2017 campaign with a 1.44 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 28:6 K:BB through 25 innings for Triple-A Rochester. That's pretty good. Last year's struggles with the Twins were really the first adversity Berrios had dealt with since Low-A, so the fact that he hasn't let it affect him this year is a great sign for his mental toughness. Minnesota is about a week away from needing a fifth starter again, which means Berrios is probably about a week away from getting called back up. Expect the results this time to be much different than what happened in 2016. ETA: May 6

Lewis Brinson, Mil: Keon Broxton's .169/.258/.305 start to the season has Brewers fans looking for the Next Big Thing in center field, and the shiny toy in the upper minors is Brinson, who's slashing .388/.426/.653. More encouragingly, his strikeout and walk rates are improved from his first crack at Triple-A last year, although still not great. If Broxton doesn't get things turned around soon, look for Brinson to get his shot. ETA: Mid-May

Mike Clevinger, Cle: Clevinger had a good season at Triple-A last year but couldn't match those numbers in 53 big-league innings, so back to the minors he went to begin 2017. The 26-year-old has been absolutely dealing for Columbus, posting a 0.76 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 27:8 K:BB through 23.2 innings, and the phrase “nothing left to prove” comes to mind. Even better for his chances at a promotion is what the back of Cleveland's rotation has been up to. Trevor Bauer has a 6.26 ERA, but that looks positively rosy next to Josh Tomlin's 9.33 ERA. Even if Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar don't have their usual breakdowns any time soon, Clevinger may find his path back to the majors getting clearer very soon. ETA: Before the end of May

Carson Fulmer, ChW: Fulmer was the first player from the 2015 draft to make the majors last year, but that's about the only positive takeaway from the campaign, as his control issues and rough big-league numbers seemed to back up those who predicted he would eventually become a reliever. Through four Triple-A starts in 2017, though, the right-hander's shown signs of figuring things out as a starter, posting a 3.52 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 19:5 K:BB in 23 innings. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are both having trouble finding the strike zone, so if and when the White Sox begin their rotation youth movement in earnest, Fulmer could be the first one to get the call. ETA: Before the end of June

Ronald Guzman, Tex: The Rangers' offense has not been living up to expectations through the early part of the season, and Mike Napoli's .150/.236/.300 line hasn't been helping. Guzman hasn't been considered an elite first-base prospect, but the 22-year-old is off to a .351/.422/.514 start for Triple-A Round Rock, and his contact skills and modest power could help provide some stability to a lineup that features a lot of empty swings now that Joey Gallo is a regular. ETA: Early June

Rhys Hoskins, Phi: Tommy Joseph is hardly a broken-down veteran – in fact, he's only about a year and a half older than Hoskins – but that lack of a track record may also work against him if his .203/.250/.288 slash line lingers into the summer. For his part, Hoskins is destroying the International League is his first taste of Triple-A, hitting .344/.437/.656 with five homers in 19 games. Working against him is the fact that he doesn't yet have a spot on the 40-man roster, plus it's not like the Phillies are competing for anything in 2017. Still, if he keeps raking, he'll get his chance. ETA: After the All-Star break

Ketel Marte, Ari: After 176 games in the majors with the Mariners over the prior two seasons, Marte was apparently insulted by his demotion to begin the year and has been taking it out on PCL pitching, slashing .438/.471/.525 through 18 games. Unfortunately, that hot start may not be enough to muscle his way back to the bigs, as Chris Owings and Brandon Drury are each hitting over .310 while even Nick Ahmed is hitting .270 in a bench role. It might take an injury to one of those three, or a Yasmany Tomas trade that clears a spot in left field for Drury, before Marte starts pulling in that sweet major-league per diem again. ETA: August, after the trade deadline

Yoan Moncada, ChW: It almost doesn't even matter what Moncada is hitting, as we all know he'll get called up as soon as the White Sox are confident last year's cup of coffee with Boston is accounted for in their Super 2 calculations. The 21-year-old hasn't been sulking, though, slashing .290/.372/.507 through 17 games. His strikeout rate remains an issue (30.8 percent), but he walks enough and makes hard enough contact that he should still be productive in the majors even if he isn't hitting above .260. Tyler Saladino's .218/.328/.291 line probably won't speed up Moncada's timetable, but it certainly won't slow it down either. ETA: Mid-June

Nick Pivetta, Phi: Listed Pivetta here is a bit of a cheat, as he was already set to make his major-league debut Tuesday before a rainout postponed it until Sunday. The 24-year-old was picked up from the Nats a couple of years ago for Jonathan Papelbon, and while he doesn't profile as an elite starter, his 0.95 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 24:2 K:BB through 19 Triple-A innings were more than good enough for the Phillies to bring him up. Pivetta might get sent back down when Aaron Nola (back) comes off the DL, but if he does well in his debut he might just stick around. ETA: Sunday

Amed Rosario, NYM: The Mets' slow start has the New York media in a panic, with Jose Reyes' .114/.205/.143 line in particular drawing their ire. The fact that Rosario, the club's top prospect, is hitting .397/.444/.466 in his first 19 Triple-A games makes a promotion an obvious solution to the offense's woes for the ink-stained wretches at the tabloids, but not so fast. Rosario is only 21 years old, so the club doesn't want to rush him, and even if he does get promoted, where do you put him? Do you play Rosario out of position at third base? Do you move Asdrubal Cabrera to third to accommodate the kid? This is a team that already can't figure out that Michael Conforto should be playing every day. Rosario's day is coming, but maybe not as quickly as it seems right now. ETA: Early June

Dominic Smith, NYM: Like Rosario, Smith is tearing it up for Triple-A Las Vegas (.329/.376/.468) as a 21-year-old, but unlike his teammate the first baseman isn't yet on the 40-man roster, creating an added obstacle to a potential promotion. The cold corner also isn't as pressing a need for the Mets right now, as Jay Bruce is filling in just fine for the injured Lucas Duda (elbow), who should be back soon. Smith also still hasn't seen his power stroke blossom yet, as a .139 ISO isn't all that impressive in the desert. ETA: September

Alex Verdugo, LAD: With Bellinger and Urias already up, it's clear the Dodgers aren't an organization that worries too much about service time issues when it comes to their prospects, instead bringing them up the moment they feel they're ready and there's a need at the big-league level. If Bellinger flops in his debut, though (or even if he doesn't), it could soon be Verdugo's turn. Although he doesn't turn 21 for another few weeks, the outfielder is slashing .371/.429/.500 through his first 17 games at Triple-A with an amazing 7:8 BB:K in 70 plate appearances. His power potential hasn't developed yet – he's got six extra-base hits so far for Oklahoma City, but zero homers – and likely wouldn't show up immediately in the majors, but that plate discipline indicates he should at least be able to supply a solid batting average once he gets the call. His age, more than his performance, could be the biggest sticking point, but youth didn't make the Dodgers flinch when it came to Urias, and likely won't here. ETA: After the All-Star break