We are almost two months into the season and the pressure to produce is becoming more and more intense. Teams have already been making changes and promoting from within and it is a trend that is not going to stop. With that in mind, we will take a glance at some players who are putting some pressure on their MLB counterparts.
The Houston Astros are one of the first teams you should be looking at to find some players who could crack the MLB lineup. The club has already shown a willingness to promote with the two-level jump of pitcher Lance McCullers, so more moves of this nature may happen soon.
It is no secret that Carlos Correa is on the fast track and that the Astros combination of Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar has been treading water at best. Meanwhile, the former first overall pick hit .385 over 133 plate appearances in Double-A with seven home runs and 15 steals and has followed up strongly since being promoted to Triple-A. While he projects as having only average (teens) power long-term, the 20-year-old has extremely advanced plate discipline skills and plus speed, not to mention legitimate starting shortstop ability. Unfortunately, he is likely only still available in mixed leagues and perhaps some redraft AL-only leagues. Take the opportunity to grab him if you can, as a call-up before the trade deadline, if not before the All-Star break, is a very real possibility. He’s a potential impact player from both a real baseball and fantasy baseball perspective.
Another question the Astros have on offense is Chris Carter. No one ever expected this consistent 30%+ strikeout threat to hit much more than .220, but .170 may be trying their patience, especially with perennial prospect Jon Singleton crushing the ball. The former Phillie is still just 23 years old, the age when most prospects get their first taste of the Majors. Once again, the lefty is displaying 30+ HR potential with 14 homers, but he is also drawing walks at a high rate (15%) and has cut down on his strikeout rate to less than 80% of the time to produce an overall slash of .291/.399/.646. Both Singleton and Carter have similar power and they both know how to draw a walk. Singleton, however, does have a chance of actually making contact on occasion and producing an OBP desired closer to the top of the lineup. The time for him to get another chance may occur soon.
Speaking of knocking on the door to the Majors, we come to Buck Farmer. Farmer will actually get the call to the Tigers rotation this coming Thursday, taking the place of the injured Kyle Lobstein. Farmer is the Tigers top rated upper level pitching prospect. The 24-year-old is a former fifth-round pick and is currently sporting an 8.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 for Toledo. He throws fairly hard for a lefty, has a slider that generates plenty of swings and misses and a changeup that ranges anywhere from average to plus. The overall combination does not scream ace, but there is enough solid stuff and command here to consider him as a potential #3 or #4 starter long-term, worthy of note in AL-only formats.
For those, including myself, who thought Andrew Heaney was going to crack the opening day rotation for the Angels, don’t lose heart for his long-term success. Short-term, however, there just does not seem to be any openings. The former 9th overall pick really has nothing left to prove in the Minors and has produced an 8.7 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. He is a hard-throwing lefty like Farmer, only he has better command and consistent plus pitches across the board, making him a potential #2 starter candidate down the road. It may take a trade or injury in order for him to get his shot.
Ian Desmond should watch out. Trea Turner technically won’t be acquired by the Nationals until he is eligible (a drafted player cannot be traded until a year since being drafted has passed), but he is making headway to unseating the Nationals current shortstop. The 13th overall pick, Turner has now hit over .340 at two levels of play, showing plus speed and the selectivity to be a top of the lineup batter. Turner is not without power, hitting five homers in 170 plate appearances, and projects into the mid-teens in that department down the road. Desmond’s job is not likely in jeopardy this season, but Turner could easily get a late-season call-up and be a factor in the team’s 2016 opening day lineup.
Neither Brad Miller nor Chris Taylor have run away with the M’s starting shortstop job, even with the trade of Nick Franklin to reduce the competition. This season, a new player entered in the field in the form of Ketel Marte. The 21-year-old is making contact over 90% of the time and hitting .343/.393/.440 with 14 steals to boot. The soft-handed Marte is a switch-hitter with limited, single-digit HR power, but he's made great strides the last two seasons in terms of his selectivity. He may yet end up a utility player if he cannot translate his contact-making gains to the Majors, but the other M’s middle infielders should at least be on notice.
Back over in the NL, the Mets are not quite done pushing starting pitching talent through their system. Noah Syndergaard is now up at least temporarily with Dillon Gee and Rafael Montero on the shelf, but they also have Steven Matz lurking in wait. The 2009 second-round pick has spent a lot of time recovering from injuries, but he has spent three seasons showing he is indeed one of the team's upper end arms in their system. The lefty throws in the mid to upper nineties and generates plenty of strikeouts with his changeup and curveball, which he throws fairly consistently for strikes (3.2 BB/9). He projects as a possible #2 or #3 type starter. The club's biggest problem is keeping everyone healthy long enough so they can figure out how to use all this starting pitching depth to leverage them some hitting in trades.