I spend most of my time in this column focusing on players who still have that prospect shine on them. However, every season we see minor league veterans ascend to the Majors and a lucky few finally break through to become viable major leaguers or at the very least get an opportunity to do so. With that in mind, let's take a look at some post-hype (and never-hyped) players, some being recent MLB call-ups, who should be on your radar in deeper AL-only and NL-only leagues.
The injury to Mitch Moreland opened up a temporary gateway for Kyle Blanks. The 28-year-old former 42nd round pick worked his way to being one of the Padres’ top prospects only to suffer injury and was subsequently ineffective once given other opportunities with the club. Now with his third organization, Blanks still has plenty of raw power (30+ HR talent). Over his career, the righty has shown a patient approach and has not necessarily been a high strikeout rate hitter at any one level, usually striking out a quarter of the time. The main issue comes from his handedness and his struggles against righties (.227/.306/.400 with a 33% strikeout rate). If used in a strict platoon, Blanks could bring his more solid skills to bear as a career .254/.349/.442 hitter who strikes out only 23% of the time. He’ll see fairly regular action until Moreland returns in a few weeks after having bone chips cleaned out, but it will be interesting to see if the Rangers try to keep him with the club to be utilized in the aforementioned fashion where he could be an asset.
Johnny Giavotella has had an excellent minor league career. The former second-round pick of the Royals had been given multiple extended opportunities to lock down their second base job. Once in 2011, again in 2012 and briefer chances in 2013 and 2014, all resulting in failure and an uninspiring career .245/.288/.339 slash. That said, throughout his minor league career, Giavotella has displayed extremely advanced plate discipline skills, walking and making contact at frequent rates while showing gap power and good instincts on the base paths. He went into 2015 probably on course to open the year in Triple-A only to win the starting 2B job out of spring training, and so far he has shown much of that minor league skill. Before you get too excited about his change in fortune, Giavotella’s power numbers have been trending downward for three straight seasons and while he is hitting for average thus far, his .288/.346/.370 line may not be enough to hold down the job for the entire season.
Joey Butler is yet another journeyman taking advantage of an injury situation. While Desmond Jennings is only expected to miss a few weeks due to bursitis in his left knee, the 29-year-old Butler is expected to play at least semi-regularly during his absence and received the opportunity to start Monday night, responding with his first MLB home run. Butler has spent most of the past four seasons at Triple-A, where he's done nothing but hit. He’s batted no lower than .290 while walking at high rates, (13%+), minimizing his strikeouts and showing mid-teens if not high-teens power potential. Butler is not a high-end starter, but he has enough game to be a solid fill-in and part-time starter at the very least.
Continuing on a theme, Ezequiel Carrera recently was recalled and has been playing regularly in a new outfield alignment along with Kevin Pillar and Michael Saunders (who recently returned from the DL) while Jose Bautista handles DH duties. Formerly of the Mets, Mariners and Indians, the 27-year-old has long been noted for his plus speed, and he is coming off two 40+ SB minor league seasons. At the minor league level, Carrera has been a fairly effective contact hitter with an average to slightly aggressive plate approach, though he has been more selective in recent seasons, including a 1:1 BB/K ratio so far this year. When given opportunities in the Majors, he has not been able to translate those skills. Right now, however, may be Carrera’s single greatest opportunity to prove otherwise. At the very least, his speed alone makes him worthy of a FAAB bid, if for no other reason than to obtain a few steals in AL-only formats, even if he does not break through and become an everyday player long-term.
In non-Journeyman news, the Padres recalled their former first-round pick and top catching prospect, Austin Hedges to the Majors. An elite defender, Hedges has yet to show very much with the bat, struggling to hit even Double-A pitching and far from dominating the lower levels of minor league play. However, to begin 2015, Hedges appears much improved, albeit over a tiny 79 plate appearance sample, making contact 90% of the time and walking the same while showing slightly more power and batting about 100 points higher than last season. The righty has a lot to prove before I can recommend getting on his bandwagon, especially considering he’ll still play in a back-up role. His glove, however, should get him to stick in the Majors eventually, even if his bat does not ever come around.
Also in the NL, the Reds called up their 2013 supplemental first-round pick, Michael Lorenzen, to fill a rotation spot as a result of Homer Bailey’s season-ending injury. This is a true opportunity for Lorenzen to claim a long-term rotation spot, so in NL-only leagues, he is someone to pursue with some vigor on that basis alone. The righty was a closer when drafted out of college and remained in that role until the beginning of last year. He has a plus fastball that can reach the upper nineties, controls it fairly well, and does a solid job of keeping the ball on the ground. That said, while he technically has a fastball, change-up and slider, the pitches beyond his 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs are all adequate at best and are works in progress. Over his first three minor league starts this season, he was able to muster just a 5.7 K/9 after a Double-A season in which he managed a 6.3 K/9 in 24 starts. These are far from the strikeout rates one wants from a top end starting pitching prospect. Barring significant improvement of his secondary pitches, expect Lorenzen to shift back to a relief role before the year is out.