Thank God it’s Friday. I don’t mean that in a generic, gateway-to-the-weekend sort of way that would apply to any old Friday. I’m not writing this on Friday, so unless you happen to be reading this on Friday, it’s not Friday.
But something is Friday, and you know what it is? That magic date when a prospect can debut without costing his team a year of service time.
That’s Friday – specifically, this Friday – a day that Ronald Acuna owners will remember well.
But Acuna is already 96 percent owned in CBS Sports leagues. Everyone drafted him expecting his arrival on that date or shortly thereafter, and no other top prospects came with any such timetables, presumed though they may be.
Acuna may not be the only prospect counting down the days, though. You see, the Reds recently lost their starting third baseman to a broken thumb, and their top prospect’s natural position just so happens to be third base.
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Ronald Acuna, OF, Braves
2017 minors: .325 BA (557 AB), 21 HR, 44 SB, .896 OPS, 43 BB, 144 K
2018 spring: .432 BA (44 AB), 4 HR, 4 SB, 1.246 OPS, 4 BB, 8 K
Acuna is still No. 1, but I have every confidence that by next week’s Prospects Report, his presence here will be long forgotten. He’ll be on to bigger and better things, and we’ll instead be asking, sort of like for Shohei Ohtani, just how much he should be moving up the rest-of-season rankings. It’s true that his placeholder, Preston Tucker, has performed well over the first couple weeks, and it’s also true that Acuna himself is off to a 2-for-15 start at Triple-A Gwinnett. But with the spring he had, there’s no doubting he would have made the opening day roster if not for that whole year-of-control thing.
The only way he doesn’t get the call Friday is if the Braves prefer to debut him at home Monday.
Jack Flaherty, SP, Cardinals
2017 minors: 14-4, 2.18 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 148 2/3 IP, 35 BB, 147 K
2018 majors: 5 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K
Adam Wainwright’s first start back from a hamstring injury – the one that allowed Flaherty to take that first turn in the rotation April 3 – went as disastrously as expected, but then he followed it up with a quality outing Wednesday. Just can’t make it clean and quick, can he? Flaherty, meanwhile, did his part, striking out 11 over seven one-run innings in his debut for Triple-A Memphis Sunday, giving him a 3.25 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings in seven appearances between spring, the majors and the minors this calendar year. As Dr. Ian Malcolm would say, life finds a way, and you really want to have Flaherty stashed when it does.
2016 majors: .315 BA (222 AB), 7 HR, 5 SB, .859 OPS, 15 BB, 59 K
2018 spring: .274 BA (62 AB), 5 HR, 4 SB, .915 OPS, 4 BB, 15 K
Dahl finished the spring on a 17-for-47 (.362) tear and seems to have picked up where he left off, beginning the minor-league season 4 for 9. If he hadn’t missed all of 2017 with a stress reaction in his rib cage, he wouldn’t have even been a candidate for the minors because he’d be entrenched in the Rockies lineup, at least if his 2016 debut tells us anything. He has given us every reason to believe rust isn’t a factor, so he just needs an opening. And I don’t think Ian Desmond and Gerardo Parra are good enough to hold him off forever. His biggest problem is, with Ryan McMahon already hurting for at-bats in the majors, it might actually take two openings to get Dahl in the lineup full time.
Nick Senzel, 3B, Reds
2017 minors: .321 BA (455 AB), 14 HR, 14 SB, .905 OPS, 49 BB, 97 K
2018 minors: .190 BA (21 AB), 1 2B, 1 SB, .465 OPS, 1 BB, 6 K
Why only fourth here if he has a chance of coming up this weekend? After all, he was a top-10 prospect just about everywhere this preseason and was the second overall pick in the 2016. Yes, there’s no arguing the credentials nor the upside for Senzel, and I’d be adding him anywhere I could justify it. But I couldn’t justify it in a league where I’d have to drop one of the three above him, and here’s why: I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion he’s up this weekend, not with the way he has performed at Triple-A Louisville so far. Unlike Acuna, he hasn’t mastered that level already, and unlike Acuna, he didn’t look great this spring, putting together a .633 OPS. The Reds are optimistic about Suarez’s timetable, projecting him to miss about a month, so why start the clock on Senzel, particularly if they’re not confident he’ll perform?
Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees
2017 minors: .287 BA (202 AB), 7 HR, 7 SB, .863 OPS, 30 BB, 47 K
2018 minors: .348 BA (23 AB), 1 HR, 1 3B, .913 OPS, 0 BB, 6 K
Torres also looked awful this spring, batting .219 (7 for 32), but he has a pretty good excuse, having missed the final three months last year because of Tommy John surgery. He appears to have shaken off the rust at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which is notable because the Yankees were gearing up to call him up at the time of his elbow injury last year.
“He just needs to play,” Scranton/Wilkes-Barre manager Bobby Mitchell told MLB.com. “Obviously, he’s a big leaguer-in-the-making and as soon as they feel he’s ready, I’m sure he will be and be ready to go to help the big league club win.”
Five on the periphery
(These are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Michael Kopech, SP, White Sox
2017 minors: 9-8, 2.88 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 134 1/3 IP, 65 BB, 172 K
2018 spring: 1-1, 11.57 ERA, 2.57 WHIP, 7 IP, 7 BB, 7 K
Having seemingly turned the corner by issuing 1.9 walks per nine innings (to go along with a 1.29 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings) over his final nine minor-league starts, Kopech regressed this spring or at least showed that he isn’t quite ready for the big time yet.
“Spring training shows you how important it is to execute your other pitches,” Kopech told MLB.com. “I have a good fastball and a pretty good breaking pitch, but I needed to work on my change, which I wasn’t throwing too well.”
Juan Soto, OF, Nationals
2017 minors: .351 BA (111 AB), 3 HR, 6 2B, .919 OPS, 12 BB, 9 K
2018 minors: .391 BA (23 AB), 3 HR, 1 SB, 1.357 OPS, 3 BB, 5 K
Despite missing most of last year with a fractured ankle, a broken hamate bone and a strained hamstring, ensuring he wouldn’t advance beyond low Class A, Soto’s prospect standing didn’t suffer in the slightest, and we’re seeing now what makes him so highly regarded. He’s only 19 but has already demonstrated, across three levels over the last three seasons, the perfect combination of power, bat control and plate discipline.
“Soto is amazing. When he’s healthy, he can do anything in this game,” low Class A Hagertown hitting coach Amaury Garcia told MLB.com. “He’s a hitter. He can use the whole field. He has a plan every time he goes up there, and he can make adjustments right away.”
Despite his youth, Soto should move fast enough to be in the conversation next year.
Tyler O’Neill, OF, Cardinals
2017 minors: .246 BA (495 AB), 31 HR, 14 SB, .820 OPS, 54 BB, 151 K
2018 minors: .360 BA (25 AB), 4 HR, 1 2B, 1.240 OPS, 0 BB, 5 K
The Marcell Ozuna trade this offseason seemingly blocked O’Neill’s path to the majors, but the former Mariners prospect isn’t pouting about it, instead homering four times in a span of five games. His power is his calling card, and he showed plenty of it down the stretch last season, homering 17 times in his final 42 games, most after joining the Cardinals organization in the Marco Gonales trade. Though he was seemingly knocking on the door all of last year, too, he’s only 22, so it’s not a now-or-never situation.
Shane Bieber, SP, Indians
2017 minors: 10-5, 2.86 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 173 1/3 IP, 10 BB, 162 K
2018 minors: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.46 WHIP, 13 IP, 0 BB, 17 K
Bieber hasn’t been among the most highly regarded prospects up to this point, but I have feeling that’s about to change. Just look at those strikeout-to-walk ratios, both last year and this year. That’s some uncommon control for a 22-year-old with only about 200 professional innings under his belt. And while it’s that control that got him drafted, the stuff appears to be catching up to it. He pushed his fastball into the mid-90s last year and enjoyed an uptick in strikeouts as a result. And early indications are his four-pitch arsenal will thrive at Double-A as well.
Zac Lowther, SP, Orioles
2017 minors: 2-2, 1.66 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 54 1/3 IP, 11 BB, 75 K
2018 minors: 6 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 13 K
Joey Lucchesi’s early success probably has dynasty owners wondering how they could have overlooked a pitcher with such impressive minor-league numbers. Well, it may only be the lower minors, but the Orioles’ Zac Lowther is doing Lucchesi-like things in a Lucchesi-like way, throwing only a low-90s fastball but dominating on pure deception. Maybe minor-league hitters figure him out further up the ladder, but striking out 13 over six no-hit innings is a good way to ring in the new year (the baseball one, anyway), especially after the year he just had.
By Scott White