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May 30, 2012

Future Shock

Blocked Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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As we saw at the end of April, sometimes it takes an injury for a prospect to get his opportunity in the big leagues, even for someone like Bryce Harper. For Mike Trout of the Angels, it took a combination of an injury (Vernon Wells) and a release (Bobby Abreu) to create consistent playing time for him in Anaheim. Sometimes the combinations get even more complicated, which was the case with Will Middlebrooks, who—with Kevin Youkilis returning from the disabled list—has stayed in the big leagues because of the position switch from first base to right field for Adrian Gonzalez. They're hardly the only players faced with this problem, as there are plenty of top prospects in the upper levels of the minors who deserve a shot soon, but figuring out how that happens requires some out-of-the-box thinking.

Travis D'Arnaud, C, Blue Jays (Triple-A Las Vegas)
The Situation: D'Arnaud is the best catching prospect in the game, and after a slow start to the season due to some pressing and a slow recovery from off-season wrist surgery, he's starting to look like it. True, Las Vegas helps anyone's numbers, but with a .340/.392/.713 batting line in 22 May games that includes nine home runs in 94 at-bats, he's looking awfully close to ready.
The Block: Just 26 years old and in his second full season, J.P. Arencibia has some issues in the on-base department, but young catchers who can flirt with .500 slugging percentages don't exactly grow on trees.
The Solution: With Adam Lind sent out and David Cooper showing the Blue Jays the value of a singles hitter at first base, D'Arnaud could move up and get some big league time, with Arencibia getting at-bats at first base, and both filling in at designated hitter if the club decides to deal Edwin Encarnacion at the deadline. Trading Arencibia doesn't make sense until the Blue Jays have confidence in D'Arnaud's big league readiness, but he should fetch a healthy return if they do move him, and the remainder of the season could allow the Blue Jays to better make that decision.

Wil Myers, OF/3B, Royals, (Triple-A Omaha)
The Situation: Myers entered the year with the potential to be one of the brightest young hitters in the game, and he's become just that by hitting for average, drawing walks and having his power exceed most expectations. A promotion to Triple-A two weeks ago hasn't slowed things down a bit, as he entered Tuesday's action with averages of .339/.407/.712 in 47 games, and his 16 home runs already represent a career high.
The Block: Well, what is Myers, anyway? He started the year as a right fielder, but he's played far more center in 2012, and now the Royals are insisting that his recent time at third base is more than just an experiment.
The Solution: While creating some defensive versatility for Myers is laudable, he has no future at the position in Kansas City with the emergence of Mike Moustakas both offensively and with the glove. Further confusing things is that scouts still see Myers work better as a corner outfielder. Lorenzo Cain deserves a chance to nail down the center field job, and Alex Gordon just signed a big contract, so that leaves Jeff Francoeur as the odd man out. Francoeur is athletic, a great defender and a good clubhouse presence with a very reasonable contract. The Royals could easily find a taker in order to crate an opening in right field for Myers.

Jurickson Profar, SS, Rangers, (Double-A Frisco)
The Situation: Seen by some as the best prospect in the game, the Rangers have had a difficult time in challenging the 19-year-old from Curacao. Among the youngest players at the upper levels, he's hitting .294/.364/.510 in 48 games for Frisco, and that doesn't come close to telling the whole story, as he's a plus runner with a remarkably mature game, including outstanding defense.
The Block: It's interesting to note that when the Rangers signed Elvis Andrus in the off-season, it wasn't technically an extension, and they did not buy out his free agency years, they simply took care of his arbitration time. That keeps Andrus as their shortstop through 2014, and his double-play partner, Ian Kinsler, is set to remain in Texas for the next six (and possibly seven) years.
The Solution: Leaving Profar in the minors for the next two and half years would still have him reaching the big leagues at a reasonable age, but it would make little sense for his development. Kinsler has the bat to play left field, which is a logical solution long-term, but if the Rangers really want to get crazy, dealing a very reasonably-priced Andrus next July could fetch the kind of roster additions to put the team over the top; if Profar ends up as good as people think, they won't miss a beat at shortstop.

Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs, (Triple-A Iowa)
The Situation: No prospect has his team's fans clamoring for him to reach the big leagues more than Rizzo. Acquired from San Diego in the offseason for Andrew Cashner as part of a four-player deal, Rizzo has been torching Pacific Coast League pitching to the tune of .354/.415/.713 in 48 games with 19 home runs, including 10 in his last 19 games. A minor wrist injury has delayed the screams for him to come to Chicago, but just temporarily.
The Block: Despite a May slump, Bryan LaHair has been not only the best story on the Cubs this year, but also their best hitter. LaHair has the ability to hold his own in left field, but that position is held down by Alfonso Soriano and his albatross of a contract.
The Solution: With three home runs in his last four games and seven in his last 14, Soriano is hot, with a .611 slugging percentage in May. He's also a daily reminder of everything that went wrong in recent years for the Cubs, and his departure would not only allow them to get a look at LaHair, but also cut a giant cord to their past and let them move forward. At $18 million per year through 2014, the Cubs will need to pick up 80% or more of his deal, but the money is a sunk cost already, so a deal might be worth it solely for public relations purposes while giving fans a preview of the future with Rizzo.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

19 comments have been left for this article.

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