February 12, 2014
The Lineup Card
Ten Prospects Who Could Make Cases for Call-Ups This Spring
1. Archie Bradley
Archie Bradley is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, second in our rankings. He could be one of those young arms that's ready to go on a short development cycle. And he's entering his age-21 season. Is it his time?
Bradley didn't quite take over the world in Double-A. While his sub-2.00 ERA sure was impressive, he wasn't quite the buzzsaw he was in High-A. If that somehow hinted more time in Double-A or Triple-A is needed, that wasn't a sure thing for Bradley, who has been talked about as a possible member of the 2014 Arizona rotation.
Things changed when the Diamondbacks inked Bronson Arroyo to a sizable contract. Now Bradley has no fewer than five veterans in front of him. Randall Delgado is out of options and will probably find himself in the bullpen, providing Kirk Gibson with an on-roster sixth starter. At this time, Bradley looks like depth and ticketed for the minors. How long can that last?
The Snakes are clearly anxious to contend and finding themselves armed with a potential differenc- making arm in a crowded rotation is a great problem to have. But there's always a chance that Bradley out-pitches the vets or someone has a setback or a delay. Can he force management's hand? Probably not, but he could be a second factor if something else pushes management to look behind the first five or six. —Harry Pavlidis
2. Francisco Lindor: Lindor is Lord
It was a hectic day; mind swirling from the field activity and the sugar content of the available food. My eyes were too focused on the chaos of the baseball geometry to appreciate and accept the tranquility offered by the Benzatropine landscape. What other people were calling mountains I was dismissing as visual monsters, offering perspective but only in the sense of scale and raw-earth solidity. I was without substance. I was at a place where my senses were lost, trapped in my own limitations. Hedonistic. Then it happened. A newborn experience; eyes peeled open for the first time; landscape lushness appreciated for being lush; beauty allowed to be beautiful. Water from mouth-to-mouth. Francisco Lindor taking infield. The day the sky found my eyes: Late-September 2011.
Fast-forward to modern times, and the man that offered the sun and the stars has his spiritual hands on major-league baseballs. His defensive chops so sincere; his arm a protector, a defender of a community; Omar Vizquel with a softer smile and far less geographic Venezuelanism. A switch-hitting myth turned miracle, born from leather and sand, Lindor the Lord is here. Ignore the logistics; the depth chart is a faith-based note from the past, a reminder that figures named Asdrubal once existed and offered comfort to those that look to shortstops for security and strength. Seek no more, for in the spring of 2014, Lindor will step forward into the public light, the son of all shortstops, rejoice and call his name. Lindor is here to save you, Cleveland. He is here to save us all. —Jason Parks
3. Jonathan Gray
The Rockies are in an interesting position headed into 2014. No one expects them to compete, yet their lineup is pretty decent, albeit with some question marks in center/left field and at second base. That being said, if something holds the Rockies back this year, we'd expect it to be their pitching. Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, and Tyler Chatwood comprise a not-totally-terrible middle of the rotation, but unless Brett Anderson remarkably stays healthy, it's a group that lacks upside.
Unless, of course, one of the Rockies' two stud starting prospects—Gray or Eddie Butler—joins the rotation in short order. I find myself particularly interested in Gray, a massive flamethrower with a potential 80-grade fastball who has the stuff and poise to move through the minors quickly. It doesn't take much to be fascinated by a pitcher who can overcome the ludicrous effects of Coors Field, and in Gray the Rockies could have their first legitimate ace since Ubaldo Jimenez's prime several years back. It's highly unlikely, but should Gray be impressive enough to break camp with the Rockies and should Butler also join the rotation by mid-year, Colorado might have the ammo to be a surprise contender for a wild card spot in the National League. —Ben Carsley
4. Stetson Allie
If you don't remember Stetson Allie, you might not be alone. In 2010, he was drafted in the second round by the Pirates because he threw 98 mph in high school. In 2011, he went to short season ball and managed to strike out 28 hitters in 26 innings. The only problem was that he also walked 29 hitters in those 26 innings. It was all gas and no steering wheel. Thankfully, Allie had some hitting chops as well, and the Pirates have tried to make him into a corner infielder -- mostly the cold corner. Allie made it to high-A last year as a 22-year-old, and did better in the South Atlantic League (I still giggle when I hear it called "the Sally") than the Florida State League (the "Flossal"?), but I'd like to make the case that Stetson Allie should have a proper Jolly Roger on top of his head when the Pirates break camp this spring.
Yes, I realize that this makes no sense as a baseball move. But you see, Stetson Allie and I went to the same high school—okay, it was a decade apart—but it was the same building with I'm sure several of the same teachers. And if Allie makes it, he would be the first alumnus to make an MLB roster. (In something only Cleveland residents would understand, that school on W. 30th has had a few, including Miami Marlin Derek Dietrich, and former players Mike Buddie and Matt Kata.) I pride myself on taking a fairly rational approach to baseball, but a little nonsense now and then is treasured by the wisest men. So, Pittsburgh front office, I ask this of you: Please place a guy who still has a lot of work to do on your Opening Day roster, because there's a guy on the internet who is irrationally channeling his inner high school self. I will even buy a shirsey with his name on it. —Russell A. Carleton
5. Allen Webster
Allen Webster is an intriguing kid. Capable of throwing in the high 90s, he was reportedly a pitcher with “plus-plus sinking movement,"—which he actually showed in the majors—but confusingly, he showed a strong four-seam-first approach in four of his six starts. He looked dominant against Detroit in June, when he flashed a changeup that recorded 14 whiffs on 26 pitches. Primarily, though, his brief appearance could be best characterized by persistent struggles with erratic location rather than flashes of brilliance from an electric arm.
Given his strong sinker and changeup, he seems like a poor candidate to be converted to relief—although he could almost certainly succeed in thas role, you would have to wonder whether the Sox were wasting the opportunity to let him develop into something more. If Webster can put it together and harness his potential, he could be a very fun pitcher to watch. —Dan Brooks
6. Javier Baez
In the formative years of the Aztec empire, the Mexica people, as they were then called, were forced out of Chapultepec and wandered the Mexican valley for weeks in search of a final resting place. It was then that Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec deity of war, appeared in the form of an Eagle eating a snake while perched on a cactus. The Mexica leaders took this as a sign; they founded Tenochitlan, and eventually Huitzilopochtli ended up on the Mexican flag—and the rest is history.
All of this loosely relates to the Cubs and Javier Baez in my mind’s eye. The Cubs are a wandering franchise. After a brief stint in the sun of the playoffs they find themselves wandering baseball’s valleys in search of prosperous lands and a long and imposing empire. Most prospect reports of Javier Baez paint a picture of a demigod complete with incredible skill and a noteworthy weakness that could ultimately be his undoing. The talent is obvious and exciting, and if he should somehow make the case that his time is right-the-hell-now it could mark the start of something big.
For the Cubs, he could be their Huitzilopochtli; an important star in the Cubs constellation whose presence could usher in a time of prosperity and the beginnings of a new Cubs empire and through that gain transcendent significance as a symbol of something greater than the player itself.
Is this all incredibly unlikely? Yeah. Even if he did somehow hit .800 while supplying massive power in spring training games he won't travel north with the big-league team. However, if he makes the case that he’s a June call-up rather than a September one? Well, that’s just exciting to think about. —Mauricio Rubio
7. Eduardo Rodriguez
Modest in both repertoire and ceiling, Eduardo Rodriguez displays maturity beyond his 21 years. Despite being one of the younger prospects in the Eastern League last season, Rodriguez' fastball-change combo and developing slider afforded the Venezuelan promising strikeout and ground-ball rates to go with precocious command. This, combined with Baltimore's thin starting rotation going into 2014, makes for a spring training that could see Rodriguez making the trip up north with the team. At worst, he is a ground-ball-generating back-end starter, eating innings and throwing strikes in the process. At best, he continues his remaining ascent to his ceiling as a no. 3 starter with the Orioles, skipping Triple-A altogether. —Stuart Wallace
8. Miguel Sano
The Minnesota Twins have arguably the best collection of young talent in the minors, with super-prospect Byron Buxton grabbing all the headlines, and rightfully so. However, it is the organization's former top prospect, Miguel Sano, whom I'd like to see make a case for a promotion this spring. A potential Sano promotion will be endless fun for all; from the team's marketing department to chicks who dig the long ball. The media and broadcasters will have plenty to write and talk about when it comes to Sano's journey from an amateur player to present; a story most die-hard baseball fans already are aware of. The 20-year-old doesn't lack in confidence or personality, either. "Maybe 55 [home runs], you never know," Sano said when asked what people can expect from him on offense. I don't know if he's saying to expect that kind of production in the minor leagues or major leagues. I'd like to find out, though, and see how that raw power plays at the highest level. As you can tell, I'm hoping there's a Sano Day in Minnesota this spring. It would be a win for everyone that loves baseball. —Ronit Shah
9. Shunsuke Watanabe
37 might be old for a “prospect,” but Shunsuke Watanabe is an odd duck to begin with. The longtime starting pitcher from Japan uses a submarine—almost underhand—delivery, a la Chad Bradford. From the little bit of PITCHf/x data we have on Watanabe, he has a “fastball” in the high 70s and a curveball in the low 60s. Because of his unusual arm angle, his curveball has backspin like a normal pitcher’s fastball. He also has a two-seam fastball that most people would normally use as a sinker, but according to our spin charts at Brooks Baseball, his pitch that sinks the most from spin deflection is his regular four-seam fastball! Basically, throw out everything you know about pitch movement with this guy.
Watanabe, currently signed to the Red Sox but projected to be a minor leaguer in all likelihood, was less successful in Japan than recent big-name purchases from NPB. His ERA the last two seasons (in limited time) was around 4.50, while the league average is under 4.00. Over the last few years, he’s averaged only 3.0 strikeouts per nine innings. Frankly, I was shocked when I heard he was given a shot with the Red Sox even at the Triple-A level. Still, Watanabe will have a chance to throw a few innings in spring training. Perhaps he can find himself some space in the Boston bullpen alongside countrymen Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara. He’d make a great mop-up man, adding some entertainment to “lost” games.
The only other thing he has to do in Fort Myers is avoid David Ortiz, who once hit a 525-foot nuke off of him. —Dan Rozenson
10. Marcus Stroman
I got a chance to see Stroman in the Arizona Fall League and came away extremely impressed. He has nasty stuff: a fastball, cutter, slider, and changeup, all of which have shown plus capability in game action. While the changeup was behind at times during the season, it shone brightly in the AFL. The cutter probably stood out the most in Arizona, but all of his offerings were impressive en route to 13 strikeouts and just three walks in his 11.7 innings of work. While he hasn’t advanced beyond Double-A, there isn't much to be gained in Triple-A anyway, and the back end of Toronto’s rotation isn't exactly rock solid. If he carries his AFL performance over to Buffalo and then storms (or stroms, if you will... but you shouldn't) through the Grapefruit League, I could see him as a surprise addition to break camp with the big club. —Paul Sporer