By: Nate Leer
Part of the fun of baseball is attempting to identify impact rookies before they reach the major league level. Many leagues even have an NA designation for players who are still in the minor leagues. This year’s crop of close-to-ready rookies seems to be heavier with starting pitchers than with hitters.
This list attempts to balance greatest upside with the likelihood to make an impact soon:
- Number 1 with a bullet is Lucas Giolito. The reference makes sense as Giolito throws lights-out heat, long with a top-end curve and improving changeup. Giolito has the arm talent to force his way into the back end of Washington’s rotation. If Washington struggles during the season or if rotation issues surface (think Strasburg sore something), fans may demand to see the phenom if he is blowing away minor leaguers.
- Robert Stevenson was a minor leaguer when I started this post. Now he will start for Cinncinati yet this week. Stephenson still deserves mentioning as he technically was sent down to the farm. He is number 2 on this list because, although he doesn’t have the most dominant peripheral numbers in the minors, his strikeout rate is high indicating good upside and his time is NOW. Even marginal success in his first start coupled with being on a pitching-poor team may give him a chance to rack up strikeout numbers while learning on the job.
- Trea Turner is the first position player on this list as he has a lot going for him to be a possible impact call-up in the near future. He is another Washington prospect who could benefit from the high expectations of the parent club and a lack of stars ahead of him. If starting SS Danny Espinoza struggles, which he has often done in his career, or there is an injury that moves David Murphy off of 2B, Turner could be plugged right in with immediate upside in SBs.
- AJ Reed‘s situation is similar to Turner’s even if his game is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Houston expects to win, has a replaceable player at 1B and other options (DH) that could get Reed into the line-up. Reed’s power (along with his advanced approach to pitch selection) translated to him leading the minors in HRs last year and could fit well in Houston’s young line-up.
- All 6’8″ of Tyler Glasnow could find its way into the Pittsburgh rotation which has a few options after its big two no real quality. The coaching staff in Pittsburgh has been known to get the best out of retread pitchers but at some point they will need to shift their focus to Glasnow and all of his talent.
- Blake Snell is stuck behind several good arms in the Tampa Bay but he is close to ready and has as much upside as anyone ahead of him in Tampa or on this list. Tampa usually does a great job bringing along young stud pitchers so whenever they bring up Snell, expect him to shine!
- Julio Urias is the youngster on the list but has shown the ability to dominate throughout the minors. His age may mean Los Angeles may try not to rush him this year. However, the lack of quality, healthy depth in the LA rotation and high expectations for the team may force them to give the kid a shot.
- JP Crawford is another guy with a potential opportunity in Philly although the team and line-up are not great. Still, given a chance he could be ready to produce in a number of categories about the time when Tulo gets hurt or one of the other young SSs shows he is not that good.
- The guy I am most intrigued to see is Jose Berrios because he plays for my home team in Minnesota and because he is an athlete and workout warrior. However, his stuff is not as great as some of the names mentioned earlier so he will have to learn how to pitch and locate well to be a very good pitcher. So far Minnesota has been patient with him so they will try to let him grow into a starting role, maybe yet this summer.
- Sean Newcomb is a high-end prospect for Atlanta. He is only a couple of years removed from college but tore his way through 3 levels last year to end up at AA. If he improves his command a bit, the rebuilding Braves may have to give him a shot.
- Joey Gallo is the classic post-hype prospect who could re-emerge as a force. Often times players with his kind of talent get brought up before they are ready. Sometimes they are exposed and never recover. Other times they take the lessons learned then go back to the minors and improve. We will see which case Gallo is but his power potential makes him well worth the gamble.
- Archie Bradley is another post-hype guy who is still a big strong kid with a power arm and developing secondary pitches. A little more polish may be all he needs to shine!
Honorable mentions: Alex Reyes – SP St. Louis (tons of upside but suspended for puffing the magic dragon), Tim Anderson – SS Chicago Sox (could bring speed and average), Sean Manaea – SP Oakland (good arm who is close but needs to stay healthy).
These players are all stash candidates if your league has a NA spot. If not, keep an eye on them AND the happenings on the major league level of the organization they are in. As soon as Stephen Strasburg starts whining on the mound, consider grabbing Giolito as you can rest assured that Dusty Baker and Washington are wondering how he would look in a big league uniform!