MLB greatest seasons

A look back at some historic seasons in the MLB

Baseball has been around since the late 1800s, yet only a handful of players have put up numbers to qualify for the following lists. As we take a look at some of the top seasons in MLB history, we will also attempt to predict if any of the active players have a shot at making one of these lists in 2018.

.300 batting average, 50 Home runs, 50 doubles

MLB greatest seasons

Albert Belle is the only player to hit 50 home runs with 50 doubles in a season. (Photo from BestSportsPhotos)

Although this may come as a surprise to some, Albert Belle is the only player in MLB history to bat at least .300 with 50 home runs and 50 doubles. In 1995, despite playing just 143 games because of the previous year’s strike, Belle hit .317 with 50 home runs and 52 doubles, while also leading the American League in runs, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and total bases. Despite all that, he finished runner-up to Mo Vaughn for the AL MVP Award. It is assumed he lost this race because of his reputation, and most notably the 1994 bat burglary, in which Belle was caught using a corked bat.

Was anyone close? In 2001, Todd Helton was a home run shy of joining Belle on this exclusive list. In Lou Gehrig’s 1927 AL MVP season, he hit .373 with 47 home runs and 52 doubles. Both Derrek Lee (2005) and Albert Pujols (2004) were four home runs away.

Nolan Arenado has the best shot out of all active players to join this list. Like Helton, Arenado is at an advantage by playing 81 games at Coors Field. Over the last three seasons, Arenado is averaging 40 doubles and 40 home runs. He hit a career-best .309 last year, and is only 26 years old.

30 Home runs, 20 triples

Only three players in MLB history posted a season with at least 30 home runs and 20 triples. The first player to do this was 1928 NL MVP, Jim Bottomley with 31 home runs and 20 triples. 29 years later in 1957, Willie Mays hit 35 home runs and 20 triples. 50 years later in 2007, Jimmy Rollins joined these two, and like Bottomley, was named NL MVP.

Less than 120 players have ever hit 20 triples in a season, so you can see why only three players made this list. In 2007, Curtis Granderson hit 23 triples, but clubbed only 23 long balls. If I was a betting man, I would guess that no active players will ever reach this milestone. It is not because these players are not talented, but because the triple is vanishing. In 1921, with only 16 MLB teams, 1,364 triples were hit. By 1950, that number was down to 793, and just 795 were hit in 2017.

Teams are not utilizing speed like they used to, and more players are swinging for the fences than ever before. In 2017, the Toronto Blue Jays hit just five triples, the fewest by a team in MLB history. Will we ever see a fourth member on this list?

200 hits, 30 Home runs, 30 Stolen bases

This is a far more common list. In the history of the sport, we have seen eight players post a season with at least 200 hits, 30 home runs and 30 steals. Below is the eight players sorted by year.

Hank Aaron, 1963

Ellis Burks, 1996

Larry Walker, 1997

Alex Rodriguez, 1998

Alfonso Soriano, 2002

Vladimir Guerrero, 2002

Jimmy Rollins, 2007

Jacoby Ellsbury, 2011

The best season among these eight men had to be Larry Walker’s in 1997. The NL MVP that year, Walker smacked 49 home runs and batted .366 with his 33 steals. Historically, this was one of the greatest offensive seasons we have ever seen. The only other player to hit at least .365 with 49 home runs, an OBP greater than .450, and a SLG of at least .710 was Babe Ruth. However, Alex Rodriguez, in 1998, became one of four players to ever post a season with 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases, so you could make an argument.

MLB greatest seasons

Will one of these men join this coveted list? (Photo from USA Today)

This list is a good mix of players with speed, power and durability. You cannot miss too many games if you expect to get 200 hits in a season while hitting at least 30 bombs. All of these studs played in at least 153 games.

Last year, Charlie Blackmon had 213 hits, including 37 home runs, but stole just 14 bags. The 2017 AL MVP, Jose Altuve, had 204 hits and stole 32 bags, but needed six more home runs to join this club. With that said, Altuve has a very good shot in 2018.

Mike Trout, arguably the game’s best player, is averaging 33 home runs and 27 steals over his last six seasons. His highest hit total was 190, which came in 2013.

At some point in the near future, Trout or Altuve will be added to this list. A dark horse to put up these numbers is Ronald Acuna. One of the top prospects in the game, Acuna had 181 hits with 21 home runs and 44 steals in 139 games in the minors.

250 Strikeouts, 250 ERA+

Pitching seasons are tough since the game has changed so much, but we had to throw in at least one. In the history of the sport, only two pitchers have posted a season with at least 250 strikeouts and a 250 ERA+. Those two men are Hall of Famers Bob Gibson (1968) and Pedro Martinez (2000).

Walter Johnson was very close in joining this list, and would have been the first to do so. In 1913, Johnson had an ERA+ of 259, but had 243 strikeouts.

In 1999, Pedro Martinez struck out 313 batters, but his ERA+ was 243. Since 2009, only three pitchers, Zack Greinke, Jake Arrieta and Corey Kluber have posted a season with at least 200 strikeouts and a 200 ERA+. Kluber has the best shot to join Gibson and Martinez, but like the 30 home run, 20 triple club, we may never see this again.

 

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MLB early takeaways

Early takeaways from the first weekend of baseball

Although all 30 MLB teams have played no more than five games, now is a perfect time to overreact to the results of the first weekend in the 2018 season. Below, we have seven early takeaways that may, or may not, matter.

1. Houston does not appear to have any World Series hangover

The Astros kept the momentum going into 2018, as they took three out of four from the Texas Rangers to kick off their season. George Springer led off the season with a home run, and Houston’s offense forced the Rangers starters to average 18.1 pitches per inning. In the four games, Houston scored 22 runs.

Carlos Correa is off to a tremendous start, hitting .438 with four runs, a home run and five RBIs. Correa showed his ability to hit both lefties and righties on Saturday, when he roped a double off Matt Moore and later homered off Jesse Chavez.

Correa’s double-play partner and 2017 AL MVP, Jose Altuve, is off to a sizzling start as well. After going hitless on Opening Day, Altuve collected two hits in Game 2, four on Saturday and three more on Easter. The second baseman is batting .563 with five runs scored.

In his Astros Debut, Gerrit Cole did not disappoint. On Sunday, he pitched seven strong innings and allowed just one run on two hits while striking out 11 batters. The 11 punch-outs is the most for Cole since 2014.

2. Washington probably has the best roster in the NL

Albeit against the Cincinnati Reds, the Nationals showed how dominate their arms are, as well as how potent their offense can be. Washington started the season with a 2-0 win, and proceeded to score 19 runs over their next two games, en route to sweeping the Reds. The Nats leads the NL with nine home runs.

MLB early takeaways

Bryce Harper slugged two home runs on Sunday. (Photo from The Washington Post)

Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez had a combined 0.98 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 18.1 innings of work. Keep in mind, these were three of the top four pitchers in terms of WAR in 2017.

A healthy Adam Eaton may be the difference maker in Washington’s lineup. Eaton is batting .615 with seven runs scored, two home runs and five RBIs. On Saturday, Eaton went 5-for-5, and became the fourth player since 2010 to have five hits, two doubles, one home run, four runs, and at least three RBIs.

Last season, in the 23 games with Eaton and Trea Turner hitting ahead of him, Bryce Harper batted .405 with 25 RBIs. On Sunday, Harper clubbed a pair of home runs and ended the series batting .400 with three runs scored and four RBIs. If this Nats team can stay healthy, there is no reason for them not to win around 100 games.

3. Are the Braves ready for a playoff run in 2018?

Most people expected Atlanta to continue to improve in 2018, but I don’t think anyone imagined them scoring 27 runs in three games, including a 15-2 romping of the Phillies on Saturday.

Atlanta’s offense was led by Freddie Freeman, who has already drawn seven walks in three games, which is good for most in the league. Freeman has scored at least one run in each of the first three games. Ryan Flaherty, a career .219 hitter, batted .538 with three doubles and five runs scored, while Nick Markakis drove in five runs and walked four times.

Obviously Flaherty will cool off, but if Atlanta can get some production out of their staff, as well as some magic from Ronald Acuna when he is called up, don’t sleep on a Wild Card berth for the Braves.

4. 2018 could be the year in which Boston’s big three all perform

In 2016, Rick Porcello won the AL Cy Young Award, going 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA. The following season, Porcello lost 17 games and gave up more home runs than anyone, allowed the second most hits and finished fifth in earned runs. After a shaky 2016, David Price was injured almost all of 2017, making just 11 starts. Chris Sale, who was acquired before the start of the 2017 season, was tremendous last season, but had no help.

The lines for Boston’s three starters against Tampa Bay:

Sale – 6 innings, 1 H, 0 ER, 9 SO

Price – 7.0 innings, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BBs, 5 SO

Porcello – 5.1 innings, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO

5. Cain and Yelich look good in Milwaukee

The Brewers, who swept the Padres to start the season, have to be happy about the performance of their two new outfielders, Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Cain collected multiple hits in each of the first three games, including two three-hit performances. He is batting .571 with three steals. On Saturday, Yelich went a perfect 5-for-5 and scored four runs with three RBIs in the series.

With Jimmy Nelson out, the Brewers will rely heavily on Chase Anderson to carry the load. He opened the year with a wonderful start, throwing six shutout innings with six strikeouts. The Brewers bullpen, in 15.2 innings of work, posted a 1.72 ERA with a 10.91 K/9.

6. Will Ohtani and the Angels reach the postseason?

Aside from the one bad pitch to Matt Chapman, which resulted in a three-run home run, Shohei Ohtani’s highly anticipated MLB pitching debut was a success. He earned the win and struck out six batters while walking just one in six innings.

MLB early takeaways

Ohtani earned the win in his pitching debut against Oakland. (Photo from The Mercury News)

The Angels, who won three out four in Oakland, have to be ecstatic about their new infielder Zack Cozart. Cozart, through the first four games, hit .368 with four extra-base hits, three runs scored and three RBIs. Despite going 0-for-6 on Opening Day, Mike Trout finished the series batting .300 with five runs scored, one home run, one steal and four RBIs.

Tyler Skaggs looked great in his 2018 debut, tossing 6.1 shutout innings without issuing a walk. Skaggs has never thrown more than 113 innings in a season, but if he can stay healthy and perform, this team could make some noise in October.

7. The Dodgers started off 2-2 with just two runs allowed

Staying in Los Angeles, the Dodgers pitching was tremendous against the Giants. In their 36 innings, LA’s pitching staff posted a 0.50 ERA with a .192 opposing batting average. Unfortunately, it took them until the third game of the season to cross home plate. Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager went a combined 3-for-24.

 

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national league rookie of the year candidates

Top candidates for 2018 NL Rookie of the Year

2017 saw many stellar rookies in the National League. Cody Bellinger, Paul DeJong and Josh Bell all broke out as some of the promising faces of the future. Rhys Hoskins was another breakout star who didn’t finish as a top ROY candidate due to his late debut. If it wasn’t for Bellinger’s stellar year at the plate, there may have been a closer race for rookie of the year.

There are many top prospects who are likely to make their debuts in 2018, but who will shine above them all? Here is a look at some likely rookie of the year candidates.

Lewis Brinson, OF, Miami Marlins

national league rookie of the year candidates

Brinson is a key piece in the Marlins rebuild. (Photo from MLB)

Brinson was the centerpiece of the Marlins acquisitions in the Christian Yelich trade. While Yelich has a very team-friendly contract, he did not want to take part in the Marlins rebuild. As a result, Milwaukee traded away its best prospect to the Marlins to acquire Yelich.

Brinson will not be a masher by any means, but he is the kind of guy that could possibly compete for the batting title multiple times. He slashed a stunning .331/.400/.562 in Triple-A last year, but did not impress in September last year. That is nothing to worry about though, as his offensive ceiling is sky high right now.

He may be one of the few bright spots the Marlins will see in 2018. Although he won’t be playing in front of very large crowds, expect the young Marlins phenom to have one of the higher batting averages among rookies in 2018.

Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta Braves

The 20-year-old Braves phenom will likely reach the majors in 2018. He is currently ranked as the second-best prospect in the majors by MLB.com as well, ranking only behind Shohei Ohtani. He, much like Brinson, has a very high ceiling for his ability to hit at the plate.

What sets Acuna apart from everybody else though is his incredible speed. One could compare him to Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds. However, Hamilton may have the edge on speed, but Acuna will be able to reach base much more than Hamilton, which makes him immensely more valuable.

Although it is just spring training, Acuna, has hit the ground running in Florida. Although it is an extremely small sample size, his eight hits in 19 at-bats is a sign of things to come for the Braves.

Victor Robles, OF, Washington Nationals

Another young outfielder from the NL East is expected to come onto the scene in 2018. Robles is anticipated to be one of the next great five-tool players in the majors, which will fit nicely next to Bryce Harper. The Nationals will hope to retain Harper after this season so that they could have an outfield that could feature the two young superstars.

Robles is another young player who has a very good future on the base paths, but will be able to reach base enough to make it a large game changer. What has also stood out for Robles is his mature approach to the plate, which is impressive to see in such a young ball player.

The only issue for Robles is his playing time. The Nationals already have a very crowded outfield, meaning he will have to fight his way into the starting lineup.

Nick Senzel, 3B, Cincinnati Reds

national league rookie of the year candidates

Senzel is the brightest name in the Reds’ farm. (Photo from Cincinnati Enquirer)

Finally, an infielder is being thrown into the mix. The 22-year-old may be one of the most MLB-ready prospects hitting the scene this year, and that is what makes him a prime contender for rookie of the year.

The second overall pick in the 2016 draft is another all around hitter that will fit nicely into the Reds’ already solid offense. The question with Senzel though is whether or not he will be able to hit that 30 home run mark in his career. It is certainly possible as he grows as a hitter, but it will be exciting to see how much his power develops.

In terms of going after the rookie of the year, he does not have the same type of raw talent and athleticism as the outfielders in the NL East. However, he may be at a more developed point in his career right now, which gives him a decent shot at competing for the award this year.

 

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2018 MLB preview: Atlanta Braves

2017: 72-90 (third place in NL East)

Last Postseason Appearance: 2013

Last World Series Title: 1995

2017 recap

Remember when the Braves won 11 straight NL East titles spanning from 1995-2005? Boy, that was a long time ago. Fast forward to 2017, and Atlanta is in the middle of a rebuilding process, in hopes of getting back on top.

Not much was expected in 2017 for Atlanta, who finished 21st in runs, 23rd in SLG, 25th in walks, 27th in team WAR, and 28th in home runs. The pitching allowed the fifth most walks in the bigs, finished 24th in ERA, and blew 23 save opportunities. Sounds like a true rebuilding team to me. Still, Atlanta’s attendance was the highest it’s been since 2013, which was the year they won 96 games. Braves fans are on board with the rebuild, and they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Freddie Freeman, who played in just 117 games, hit .307 with 28 home runs. (MyAJC.com)

Atlanta’s season was practically over in May when Freddie Freeman was hit by a pitch from Aaron Loup of the Toronto Blue Jays. An MRI showed that Freeman had a non-displaced wrist fracture in his left hand, and he was out until early July. At the time of the injury, Freeman was leading the league in home runs, and was second in both OBP and SLG. Freeman played in 117 games and hit .307 with 28 home runs, both team highs. He also finished 6th in the MLB in SLG, and 7th in OPS.

Ender Inciarte made his first career All-Star game and finished the year ranking second in singles, and his 201 hits was third-most in the MLB. He set career-highs in home runs (11), RBIs (57), steals (22), and OPS (.759). Inciarte also won his second straight Gold Glove.

Still, this is a team that finished sixth in baseball in hits and batting average. The Atlanta Braves had more hits than the Los Angeles Dodgers. If they can somehow hit for more power, and walk more, Atlanta has a shot to make some noise.

2018: Around the Diamond

Although this may come as a surprise, Atlanta got incredible production out of the catcher position in 2017. Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers, who had the Braves ranked first in WAR for catchers, will continue to platoon behind the plate.

Freeman will be surrounded by a group of young studs in the infield. No more Brandon Phillips means Ozzie Albies will be the everyday second basemen. Albies, 21, dealt with elbow injuries last spring, but is now fully healthy and is ready for a big 2018. As a 20-year-old in 2017, He had a 112 WRC+ in 244 plate appearances. According to USA Today, the only guys to do that in the last 30 years are Rafael Devers, Carlos Correa, Bryce Harper (x2), Mike Trout, Jason Heyward, Giancarlo Stanton, Alex Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey Jr. In his 56 games, Albies hit .286 with 6 home runs and a .354 OBP. The switch-hitting Albies will most likely become a top-10 second basemen in his first full season.

The former number one overall pick in the 2015 draft, Dansby Swanson, looks to grow from his first full season at the major league level. In 2017, Swanson hit just .232 with 6 home runs in 144 games. He had just 12 extra-base hits in the second half. Like Albies, Swanson dealt with injuries last spring, which could have played a factor in his poor play. He is ready to put 2017 behind him, so let’s hope for a solid season for him. Atlanta also has acquired Charlie Culberson in the Matt Kemp trade, so expect Culberson to see some time at the middle-infield positions.

Ronald Acuna is the next big thing in Atlanta. (Sporting News)

As of today, Johan Camargo is in line to start at third base. Camargo, 23, appeared in 82 games last season and hit .299 with four home runs and 21 doubles, which was the sixth most in 82 games or less. If he can turn those doubles to home runs, Camargo could be a nice surprise for Atlanta. This is a Braves team who finished 25th in WAR for third basemen.

Nick Markakis, who led the team in RBIs, will remain in right, with Inciarte patrolling center. The number two overall prospect in the MLB, Ronald Acuna, will start in left field. Acuna has a limitless ceiling, and, between A+/AA/AAA, Acuna hit .325 with 21 home runs, 82 RBIs, and 44 steals. He proceeded to win MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League. Acuna, 20, is an absolute stud and will make an immediate impact at the big-league level. This is a guy who has power, and will steal 40+ bases per year.

For inter-league play, the Braves will roll with Lane Adams, Rio Ruiz, or Preston Tucker at DH. This lineup has crazy potential, but we will have to see how it all pans out.

On the Bump

Braves manager Brian Snitker told reporters that Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, and Brandon McCarthy are the only locks for the starting rotation in 2018. That means the last two spots will come down to Luiz Gohara, Sean Newcomb, Max Fried, Lucas Sims, and Scott Kazmir. In all likelihood, Gohara and Newcomb, two young stars, will take the final two spots.

Gohara, a Brazilian born lefty, started five games for Atlanta and went 1-3 with a 4.91 ERA. In 25 starts between A+/AA/AAA, he went 7-4 with a 2.62 ERA and struck out 147 batters in 123.2 innings. Newcomb, a Massachusetts native, started 19 games in 2017, and went 4-9 with a .432 ERA. Newcomb has pitched well in the minors and is entering his age-25 season.

Nonetheless, if Atlanta hopes to compete, they will need more out of their ace, Julio Teheran. Teheran issued the sixth most walks and allowed the 10th most home runs in the league last season. He will need to get his control back if he hopes for a big 2018.

With Jim Johnson now with the Angels, Arodys Vizcaino will be the primary closer. Vizcaino had 14 saves with a 2.83 ERA in 2017, and led the team in K/9 with 10.0. Jose Ramirez, who had 27 holds last year, will serve as the setup man.

The Future

Nobody in the majors has more Top 100 Prospects than the Atlanta Braves. Joining Acuna on this list is seven other young studs.  Six of them, Kyle Wright (No. 30), Mike Soroka (No. 31), Luiz Gohara (No. 49), Ian Anderson (No. 51), Kolby Allard (No. 58), and Max Fried (No. 83), are pitchers. Even though Atlanta’s starting rotation appears suspect, help is on the way.

Third basemen Austin Rile, the last Braves prospect on the list, checks in at number 97. Rile, who has drawn comparisons to Troy Glaus, hit .275 with 20 home runs between A+/AA.

2018 Prediction: 81-81

This team will drastically improve from 2017. The rebuild is right on schedule, and we will see this offense make massive changes. Freeman is obviously an MVP candidate, and Albies, Swanson, and Acuna all have major potential to turn into stars. While they might miss out on the postseason in 2018, which will be due to the lack of quality pitching, Atlanta is on the rise.

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2018 MLB prospects

2018 MLB prospects spotlight

Spring training 2018 is officially here. Teams have hit the practice fields and are getting their cleats in the dirt once again. With the exhibition games coming this Friday, some teams are making some last-minute moves before play begins.

Notably, pitcher Yu Darvish is starting his Chicago Cubs tenure after signing a six-year, $126 million contract. Also, the Boston Red Sox picked up outfielder J.D. Martinez on a five-year deal worth $110 million. Signing noteworthy veterans can really add some needed experience and help with some lacking elements on a roster. But equally as important is seeing which young prospects can step up and help bring victory to the team.

They surely will come in handy with any roster subtractions, and what they bring to the table can be exactly what a team needs to play in October. For these prospects, spring training will provide plenty of chances to get their names out there.

Prospects on the mound

Pitchers help set the tone for the defense. Whether a starter, reliever or closer, they are counted on to bail the team out a sticky situation. Arguably the biggest prospect is Shohei Ohtani from the Los Angeles Angels.

2018 MLB prospects

Photo from the New York Times

The 23-year-old out of Oshu, Japan, has been taking names on the mound in his five seasons playing in the Japan Pacific League. On the mound, he racked up a pitching record of 42-15 with an overall ERA of 2.52 in 543 innings pitched.

But his talents don’t stop at the mound. At the plate, he belted 48 home runs, 166 RBIs and recorded an overall batting average of .286. In the outfield, he has posted a .976 overall fielding percentage.

Ohtani signed with the Angels on Dec. 8, 2017. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the No. 1 RHP prospect, as well as the No. 4 outfield prospect.

Another pitcher eyeing a spot in the rotation is Brent Honeywell of the Tampa Bay Rays. In the minor leagues, he went 31-19 with an ERA of 2.88. Although the Rays’ pitching staff had a rock-solid outing last season, Honeywell can be another formidable name in the near future.

MLB Pipeline lists Honeywell as the No. 12 overall prospect and the No. 4 RHP prospect.

Prospects on the field

As much as the pitcher gets idolized, as well as scrutinized, the other eight starters on the field have as much to do with a team’s success. By bat and glove, these prospects are looking to make an impact right out of the gates. One such prospect is 20-year-old outfielder, Ronald Acuna.

2018 MLB prospects

Photo by Karl L. Moore

Acuna signed with the Atlanta Braves back in July of 2014. His three seasons in the minor leagues have proven to the Braves that he deserves a shot at the starting lineup. During his tenure, he has racked up a .310 batting average, 29 home runs and 119 RBIs. In addition, his feet and defense speak well for themselves. His scout grade, according to MLB Pipeline, has shown his running, throwing arm and fielding to be above average.

MLB Pipeline lists Acuna as the top outfielder prospect coming into 2018.

Another player eager to make waves in 2018 is third baseman Nick Senzel.

The Cincinnati Reds picked up the former Tennessee Volunteer as the second overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. Much like Acuna, Senzel has plenty to offer on offense and defense. His two seasons in the minor leagues have yielded a .315 batting average, 21 home runs, 105 RBIs and a .956 overall fielding percentage.

MLB Pipeline lists the 22-year-old as the #7 overall prospect and the No. 2 prospect at third base.

Let the games begin

As the countdown ticks away for the exhibition games, many more prospects are eager for a chance to become a starter. Like in any other professional sport, baseball is no stranger to overlooked names becoming big-name stars.

But as the old saying goes, “Rome was not build in one day.” Maturity and a willingness to learn are as vital to a player’s success as a pitcher’s arsenal or a infielder’s position versatility.

For some, these characteristics can be what puts them in the starting lineup over others.

Both seasoned veterans and new faces will take to the field this to showcase their talents against other teams. For fans, it will be a welcoming sight and a preview of what exciting things may come for their favorite teams.

 

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Top MLB prospects 2018

Four prospects to watch for in 2018

With spring training just a few short weeks ahead, it is time to start thinking about this year in prospects.

For this article, we will be looking at four prospects that could make a big league impact in 2018. Not only that, but they could be players to keep an eye out for rookie of the year.

Nick Senzel: Cincinnati Reds

Top MLB prospects 2018

Senzel is the brightest name in the Reds’ farm. (Photo from Cincinnati Enquirer)

Senzel, the second overall pick of the 2016 draft, will likely be making his major league debut in 2018. He is a plus defender at third base and has excellent speed that can turn him into a base-stealing threat.

Senzel also possess an excellent batter’s eye and should be able to draw walks at the big league level. There is no doubt that he is the best prospect in the Reds ranks, so he will be an excellent addition to an already solid Reds offense in 2018.

The Reds, and the rest of the MLB, considered Senzel to be one of the most big-league ready bats in the 2016 draft. This is a big reason why the Reds took him so high, along with the fact he may be the best bat in that class. Expect him to make a large improvement to a Reds offense that could possibly go toe to toe with anyone in the league.

Ronald Acuna: Atlanta Braves

Acuna is one of the younger prospects that could be making a difference in 2018. He is just 20 years old, but may have one of the brightest futures. He has the chance to be one of the next great five-tool players. Although he has power potential, he has yet to show it too much in the minors. He has lots of time to get stronger and develop that potential power down the road.

What Acuna has been able to show in the minors is ability to hit well to all fields. He has hit for a high average and is a great base-stealing threat.

Acuna was named the Arizona Fall League MVP in 2017. In 23 games, he was able to hit for .325/.414/.639 along with seven home runs. The potential is great for the young Braves phenom, and he could force himself to be in contention for Rookie of the Year in 2018.

Alex Reyes: St. Louis Cardinals

Top MLB prospects 2018

Alex Reyes still has some time before he reaches the starting rotation. (Photo from ESPN)

Reyes is one of the top prospects in the Cardinals system and already had major league time in 2016. In 12 games, he was able to post a 1.57 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 46 innings. He would have played in 2017 as well, but he missed the whole year after getting Tommy John surgery.

The 23-year-old out of New Jersey has a stellar fastball that has already been able to blow away major league hitters. His fastball coupled with an 88-90 mph changeup has high strikeout potential. He will be an excellent major league starter given the opportunity.

In the case of 2018, Reyes may not get many extended looks at the starting role. Since Reyes is still very young and is coming off a big surgery, the Cardinals are going to be very careful with him in 2018. They have already stated that he may not get work until late April, and at that point will get a bullpen role.

The Cardinals are in need of a closer at the moment. If they do not trade for one or sign someone like Greg Holland, there are rumors that Reyes could get looks in the closer role. Either way, Reyes is going to be a big name in the big leagues.

Michael Kopech: Chicago White Sox

Kopech is the kind of starter that tops out at 100 mph that can still reach the high 90s late in games. He is ranked as the second best prospect in an absolutely stacked White Sox system.

Kopech has been compared to Noah Syndergaard due to his wide arsenal. That is largely why he was a centerpiece in the Chris Sale trade with the Boston Red Sox.

He still has some work to be done before he is the fine tuned starter that he could be one day. Kopech can strike guys out like no other, but still has some control issues that can be worked on over time. It is nothing that you don’t see with high-velocity young pitchers. Chicago still has time before they are where they want to be on the big league level, but Kopech will get some solid time in 2018 where he can prove his star potential.

 

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Atlanta Braves team profile

Atlanta Braves team profile

The Atlanta Braves finished third in the NL East with a record of 72-90. What makes things difficult for them is the current state of the division. The Miami Marlins have decided not to be a competitor anytime soon, so that has opened things up a bit. However, with the Phillies on the rise and nobody playing close to the same level as the Washington Nationals, the Braves don’t look close to competing for NL East supremacy.

Let’s not forget though, the Braves have some pretty solid talent coming up. They have had a pretty eventful offseason as well.

Scandal in Atlanta

Atlanta Braves team profile

John Coppolella is banned from baseball for life (Photo from SI.com)

The sanctions against the Braves came down from the commissioner’s office this offseason. It had been revealed that the Braves had been dodging some international signing bonus rules over the past few years. The league did not take kindly to the Braves reporting less money than they really paid for some of their players. As a result, they punished the organization accordingly.

The Braves were stripped of 12 prospects, and their former general manager, John Coppolella, was banned from baseball. The ban adds Coppolella to a short list of people who have been banned from baseball for life. The 12 prospects that Atlanta was stripped of will be free to sign elsewhere.

Out of the prospects Atlanta lost, 17-year old Kevin Maitan is the most notable. Maitan signed a $4.25 million contract in 2016. He was considered to be one of the best international prospects at the time. Only time will tell how big of a blow the sanctions will be on Atlanta.

The prospects are here

Atlanta Braves team profile

Ronald Acuna is one of the bright stars of the future (Photo from Baseball Reference)

Atlanta has a ripe young crop of players that are about ready to make a major impact. 23-year-old shortstop, Dansby Swanson, has been considered one of the better prospects in all of baseball. That is why the Braves traded for him and sent away the disappointing Shelby Miller. Swanson has still yet to make a big impact at the major league level in his 182 games played, but he still has lots of time to develop.

Ozzie Albies, the 11th overall prospect according to MLB.com in 2017, did make a good impression in the last three months of the season. His slash line was a solid .286/.354/.456. He is proving to be more than a reliable option at second base for the Braves, especially considering he is only 20 years old.

The duo of Swanson and Albies may be a fixture it Atlanta for years to come. 2018 may be the first time that they both get good playing time in the infield, so it is a moment for them to prove that they are as good as everyone thinks they will be.

Swanson and Albies are not all the Braves’ farm system has to offer though. Ronald Acuna, the sixth best prospect, and Kolby Allard, the 22nd best prospect, are anticipated to make their debuts in 2018.

Acuna is only 20 years old and was named the Arizona Fall League MVP in 2017. There is a chance that he could be the next great five-tool player in the majors. He may not be able to reach a 20-20 mark as he does not possess great power, but he could hit over .300 along with 30 stolen bases. One thing he could work on is his strikeout to walk ratio. However, that comes with the territory with any young prospect. It will improve in time.

2018 Outlook

The NL East is still under the Nationals reign, especially with the demise of the Marlins. The Nationals still have the best chance of winning their division in all of Major League Baseball.

2018 is a key year for the Braves as it is a year for their young prospects to learn from the pros already on the team. Several of their best young players will be joining the club in a more permanent position, so guys like Freddie Freeman will play a key role in making these guys true ball players.

Don’t expect the Braves to be buying or selling at the trade deadline. If you are to follow the team, keep an eye on the young players mentioned earlier. Once they reach their potential, they could be a very solid team in the near future.

 

Featured image by Brett Davis-USA Today

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Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

The Arizona Fall League will name a champion on Nov. 18, and Braves prospect Max Fried could have a key role to play. The southpaw has fully overcome Tommy John surgery to reestablish himself as a top prospect in MLB.

For the Braves, Fried’s rise couldn’t have come at a better time. With many prospects like the much heralded Ronald Acuna ready to make the major league jump, Max Fried has tasted MLB, and is ready to take the ball every fifth day in Atlanta. This is prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook.

The injury

Entering 2014, Fried was one of the hottest left-handed pitching prospects in baseball. Drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2012, the San Diego Padres were sure they had an “ace of the future” waiting in the wings. They might have been right, had Fried not injured that prized left arm of his.

At just 20 years old, in 2014, Fried was the third ranked prospect in San Diego’s farm system as rated by Baseball America. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, until early in the spring months, Fried began feeling soreness in his left forearm.

As a result, the Padres medical staff shut down all throwing activities for the young hurler. He wouldn’t see live action again in 2014 until mid-July. However, he didn’t last long. In his third start after his return, he began to complain of soreness in his arm, this time in his elbow. And this time, it would require surgery to repair. Tommy John surgery and the resulting rehab would cost Fried nearly two years of his career, and he wouldn’t again pitch until 2016.

The comeback

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Max Fried as a fresh-faced draft pick of the San Diego Padres. (Photo courtesy of: AP/Alex Gallardo)

Although Max Fried would lose nearly two years of his development to rehab after undergoing Tommy John, he remained committed to the cause. However, when he resumed pitching he would no longer be doing it for the team that drafted him. During December of 2014, Fried was part of a trade that sent Braves’ outfielder Justin Upton to San Diego in return for a load of top-end prospects. Fried was one of them.

In 2016, Fried would break camp with Low-A Rome in the Braves system. While he started slowly, the surgically repaired elbow stood up to the test of live action. By season’s end, Fried would be firmly entrenched as one of the most dominant pitchers in the Sally League.

In 21 games (20 starts) Fried pitched 103 innings, striking out 112 batters, and posted a 3.93 ERA for the year. Excellent work for a young pitcher coming back from the vaunted Tommy John surgery.

Building off a strong 2016, the Braves decided to challenge Fried by jumping him two levels to Double-A. In 19 starts for Mississippi, Fried pitched to a 5.92 ERA and won two while losing 11. However, the strikeouts were still there. He fanned 85 over 86.2 innings of work. This would suggest that his pitches were taking time to find their bite at an advanced level.

If that were all there was to go on, you might think of Fried as a ho-hum type of prospect, but he buckled down when the Braves moved him to Triple-A Gwinnett. In two starts at Gwinnett, spanning six innings of work, the youngster only surrendered one hit, walking two and striking out six. It was on the back of this performance that Fried earned his first big league call-up. And he didn’t disappoint.

For Atlanta, their eighth ranked prospect, fared well in his first taste of MLB. In nine appearances (four starts), Fried went 1-1 with a 3.81 ERA striking out 22 and walking 12 in 26 innings of work.

For Fried, the road back has been long, but his outlook for 2018 is bright.

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Max Fried fires one to home as a member of the Atlanta Braves.
(Photo courtesy of: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

As it stands now, into the last week of the Arizona Fall League’s schedule, Fried has arguably been the best pitcher in the league. What Fried has done in Arizona, considering his past injury, has been remarkable. His line this fall 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA has shown that this young man is ready for the big-time. Fried has tested himself in Arizona against baseball’s most elite prospects, and has come through in fine style.

The strikeouts are still there as well. In 26 innings of work for the Peoria Javelinas, Fried has struck out 32 batters, while only walking eight. Mitch Keller and Justus Sheffield are the only other starting pitchers in Arizona with a better WHIP than Max Fried. Neither of those two pitchers, however, has posted as many innings of work as Fried has this fall.

Based on the late season call-up to Atlanta, and the success he had there, it would be inconceivable to see Fried start anywhere but Atlanta. It’s a bonus for the Braves’ front office personnel that Fried has dominated in Arizona like he has.

The kid is ready. Give him the ball.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: David Banks/Getty Images)

 

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Arizona Fall League

Arizona Fall League 2017: Youngest Stars

 

The Arizona Fall League is a rite of passage for the very best of the best MLB prospects. Especially for those “kids” down on the farm.

This veritable “proving ground” for major league talent is one of the true gems of the prospect-to-pro pipeline. Every year, each of the 30 teams that make up Major League Baseball send a handful of their brightest up and comers to the desert for closer inspection versus a higher standard of opponent. So without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the youngest stars of the Arizona Fall League. You may not know them now, but you soon will!

 

Glendale Desert Dogs

Feeder Clubs: White Sox, Indians, Dodgers, Phillies, Pirates

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Mitch Keller, Age 21

Parent Club: Pittsburgh Pirates

2017 Finishing Level: Altoona Curve (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Mitch Keller has moved three levels in two seasons in the Pirates organization. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

The No. 6 RHP prospect in baseball, Mitch Keller, will be turning out for Glendale this fall in Arizona. He boasts above average control as well as three projectable major league pitches in his fastball, curveball and changeup. Keller spent most his time this season (15 games) taking the hill for the Bradenton Marauders of the Florida State League. Over 15 starts he struck out over three batters for every one that he walked. His numbers only improved after getting called up to (AA) Altoona for his final six starts. Keller uses a blistering fastball that sits low-to-mid-90s with nasty sinking action, and above average 11-5 curve to make hitters look foolish.

Promoted to (AA) Altoona to finish out the season, this 21-year-old is mature beyond his years. Judging by the caliber of his well-advanced arsenal of three plus-pitches, this kid should continue rising through the Pirates system at break neck speed. Thus far, Keller has done all that’s been asked of him at every level and he will be looking to impress again in Arizona. For 2018, Keller should be start the season with (AA) Altoona, but he may not be there long. Should this young man continue to miss an epic number of bats at (AA) level, I would expect Keller to end 2018 in (AAA). He’s getting close Pirates fans!

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Cornelius Randolph, Age 20

Parent Club: Philadelphia Phillies

2017 Finishing Level: Clearwater Thrashers (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Randolph, age 20, will be looking to develop his fielding skills even further this fall in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Phillies left fielding prospect Cornelius Randolph is not the biggest of players. What Randolph lacks in size however, he makes up with a good eye at the plate working a (.338) OBP in 122 games at (Advanced A) Clearwater. Randolph is a converted infielder who worked tirelessly in 2017 to improve his fielding ability in left field. Because his focus was on improving as a defender, his batting metrics may have taken a hit, yet he still posted a respectable (.250/.338/.402) for the season.

The key to Randolph making the majors is his bat, without question. Many scouts believe his average defensive ability will be overshadowed by a bat that wants to hit, and hit a ton. Touted as the best pure high school hitter in the 2015 MLB Draft, Randolph has done little to disappoint. His 2016 was largely a throwaway season while he battled injuries that kept him from really capitalizing on an inspiring 2015. However, in his latest campaign he mashed his way to a tie for fifth most homers in the Florida State League.

Considering the tender age of the  Phillies’ No. 12 prospect, it is not likely that he will be rushed up the ladder. He could possibly open the season at (AA) Reading depending on how the Phillies see him defensively. He already has a bat good enough for the level.

 

 

Peoria Javelinas

Feeder Clubs: Braves, Red Sox, Padres, Mariners, Blue Jays

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Andres Munoz, Age 18

Parent Club: San Diego Padres

2017 Finishing Level: Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Do not be fooled by the baby-faced Andres Munoz, he wants nothing more than to blow you away with the heater. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Born in 1999, Munoz is easily the youngest player headed to the Arizona Fall League this October. At just 18 years of age, striking out hitters is not the issue for Munoz. No, hitting the strike zone consistently is. Blessed with electric stuff well beyond what is expect from a teenager, he has had a heck of a time reigning in his pitches and throwing consistent strikes. At 18 though, time is smiling on this young hurler.

With a clean easy motion to the plate, Munoz just needs to find his rhythm and learn to repeat his delivery time after time. Munoz has easy gas, with his fastball exploding out of his hand toward the plate with seemingly little effort. If this kid can iron out the kinks in his game, he could become a dominant pitcher in the majors sooner than later. Munoz is the youngest player on any Arizona Fall League roster in 2017 and after watching him throw you can understand why he’s there. Expect Andres to be toeing the rubber for (Low A) Fort Wayne in the Midwest League come spring 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Ronald Acuna, Age 19

Parent Club: Atlanta Braves

2017 Finishing Level: Gwinnett Braves (AAA)

 

Arizona Fall League

If you don’t yet know about Ronald Acuna, you will very soon. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Oh, hot dog! Do I even need to talk about Acuna? I mean, really? Everyone knows this guy by now, right? Look, just the fact he’s on this list should have pitchers everywhere soiling themselves.

Ok, so considering that many of the top ten prospects have mostly graduated to the big leagues (that were ahead of Acuna), this kid should be at the top of the heap come 2018. The No. 5 prospect in all of baseball did everything in his power to make the jump to the majors in 2017. At 19 years of age and with his parent club struggling to win games, the Braves decided to halt his progression at (AAA) Gwinnett. It was a smart move, especially if you regularly attend Gwinnett Braves games. All he did there in 54 games is put up an insane (.344/.393/.548) line, sending baseballs into orbit at a regular pace.

Acuna is just latest Venezuelan to take MLB by storm, well the minors anyway. Acuna’s measurables are out of sight. This is a true 5-tool player by every sense of the word with his blazing speed, howitzer arm, and big bat. Exciting times are afoot in Hot-lanta folks! I mean, this kid did nothing but perform at each level he was at this year. What’s more is that his numbers improved at every stop along the way. Next stop for Acuna in 2018? The Show.

 

 

Scottsdale Scorpions

Feeder Clubs: Reds, Angels, Yankees, Mets, Giants

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Justus Sheffield, Age 21

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Trenton Thunder (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Justus Sheffield is not related to Gary Sheffield. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

The first of two LHP on the list of youngest Arizona Fall League stars, Justus Sheffield is also the No. 6 rated prospect down on the farm. Sheffield is another fireballer on this list that can reach back and grab a 96-mph comet, but will usually sit around the 92-93 mph range. Boasting a curbeball and changeup that are projectable big league pitches, the short in stature Sheffield is certainly long on talent. However, he does have work to do in Arizona. This future Yankee needs to learn to consistently get his above average repertoire over the plate for strikes. If he can master his control, the sky’s the limit for Justus.

Sheffield spent the bulk of 2017 in (AA) with the Trenton Thunder except for two rehab starts in (A) ball. In 17 starts for Trenton, the young hurler went 7-6 with a 3.18 ERA over 93.1 innings of ball. His strike out tally is fantastic at 82, and his walks, while still at 3.1 BB/9, have come down dramatically from seasons past. If Sheffield continues to progress, he should arrive in the majors before the turn of the next decade. For now though, he’ll most likely break camp as a member of the (AAA) rotation in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: CF Estevan Florial, Age 19

Parent Club: New York Yankees

2017 Finishing Level: Tampa Yankees (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Estevan Florial may strike out a ton, but he’ll happily take you yard in return. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Florial is an intriguing 19-year-old signed from the island nation of Haiti in 2015. This kid could be the center fielder of the future for New York, and it might not be much longer before he stakes his claim to a position once held by Mantle and DiMaggio. Now, this isn’t to say Estevan Florial is in the same mold as those two legendary players, but his talent is undeniable.

At the plate Florial seemingly has all the tools to be an excellent major leaguer. He’s fast, he’s got pop, and he’s not afraid to take a walk. In his first season of Class A baseball, Florial posted a (.298/.372/.479) line across both high and lower levels. While his sample size from (Advanced A) is small at only 19 games, he sported an (.855) OPS over 91 games for (Low A) Charleston. He has some holes in his swing and does whiff a lot, but he also walks a lot (once every 8.4 AB) suggesting that, as he develops, the K’s will come down. At any rate, this young slugging center fielder is poised to start 2018 at (AA) Trenton. Only time will tell if he can grasp the strike zone better as he gets a little older.

 

 

Mesa Solar Sox

Feeder Clubs: Cubs, Tigers, Astros, Athletics, Nationals

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Nolan Blackwood, Age 22

Parent Club: Oakland Athletics

2017 Finishing Level: Stockton Ports (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Nolan Blackwood shuts the light off when he leaves. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Nolan Blackwood is a stopper. I mean, this kid can slam a door. Unlike most of the other pitchers on this list, Blackwood is one thing, a harbinger of death to your team’s chances to win. The 2016 14th round draft selection out of Memphis has a scary frame at 6-foot-5 with plenty of room left to fill it out. Oakland always seems to have a top-notch pitcher or two working their way through the farm, and Blackwood is no exception.

Blackwood spent all of 2017 in (Advanced A) ball, shutting down games for the Stockton Ports. Sure, he had a 1-5 record. Sure, he had a 3.00 ERA, but it’s what he did with the game on the line that matters most. In 20 chances to turn out the lights on the opposition, he did so successfully 19 times. As he learns more and puts on more lean muscle, his K/9 should reflect that, although his 7.58 K/9 in 2017 are nothing to sneeze at. Neither is his 1.05 WHIP. Blackwood is slated to begin 2018 at (AA) Midland, in the Texas League.

 

 

 

 

Youngest Position Player: 1B/LF Yordan Alvarez, Age 20

Parent Club: Houston Astros

2017 Finishing Level: Buies Creek Astros (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Yordan Alvarez, monstrous young left-handed hitter with jaw dropping pop. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Yordan Alvarez arrived in the Houston farm system via trade with the Dodgers in 2016. Alvarez is a slugger that translates to either left field or first base. While not exceptional with the leather, Alvarez does possess a very good arm in the field. He has been playing in left for much of 2017, but in the Arizona Fall League, he’s penciled in to man first base. At 6-foot-5 225 lbs. the left-handed slugger seems to be destined to play first in the majors.

Alvarez, Houston’s No. 26 ranked prospect has explosive raw power at the plate as shown by his first 32 games at the (Low A) level. Playing for the Quad Cities River Bandits, he mashed (.360/.468/.658) over 111 AB. With nothing left to prove, Houston promoted him to (Advanced A) Buies Creek where his numbers came back to earth with the step up in pitching. Despite only being 20 years old, Alvarez still managed to hack out a (.277/.329/.393) line. Not bad for a player as young as Yordan. Look for Alvarez to be back in the lineup for the Buies Creek Astros at the start of the 2018 campaign.

 

 

Salt River Rafters

Feeder Clubs: Diamondbacks, Orioles, Rockies, Marlins, Brewers

 

Youngest Pitcher: LHP Keegan Akin, Age 22

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Frederick Keys (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

“If you blink, you will miss it.” Is what the baseball cornfield gods say about Akin’s heater. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Keegan Akin is one half of Baltimore’s contribution to the youngest players in the Arizona Fall League. Ryan Mountcastle is the other, but more on him in just a minute.

Akin is a LHP blessed with a fastball that looks more like a vapor trail than it does a ball. The 22-year-old was a second-round pick by Baltimore in 2016 and is coming off his first full professional season at (Advanced A) Frederick. While his numbers might not jump off the page at you right away, there is still a lot to look at. First and foremost being his beastly 10 K/9 stuff. His electric fastball lit up opposing batters while his slider and changeup are both major league projectable pitches. Known for his ability to get nasty, he peppers the strike zone with ease leaving little doubts that the Orioles see him as a starting pitcher for the future.

Baltimore’s No. 8 ranked prospect is not far off getting the call to the show if he continues to improve his secondary pitches. His inability to fully harness his secondary stuff led to a 4.1 BB/9 rate, but as he learns how to pitch to better hitters his walk totals should begin to come back to earth. Orioles fans should be anxiously awaiting the arrival of this left-handed cannon. What level Akin might start at in 2018 is anyone’s guess, it could depend on how he does in the Arizona Fall League. Frederick or (AA) Bowie are his likely landing spots after camp breaks in March 2018.

 

Youngest Position Player: 2B Ryan Mountcastle, Age 20

Parent Club: Baltimore Orioles

2017 Finishing Level: Bowie Bay Sox (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League

Baltimore’s 2015 first-round pick, Ryan Mountcastle, has had a meteoric rise through the minors so far. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

Mountcastle is currently the No. 3 prospect in Baltimore’s farm system. At the moment, Baltimore is still holding out hope that this young man can overcome his below average arm strength and stick at short stop. While questions remain about Mountcastle in the field, there are little doubts in the scouting community that he will hit for both power and average at the big-league level. Ryan is a tall prospect with room left on his frame for further growth. And that is scary news for American League pitchers.

In 88 games of (Advanced A) baseball he posted an impressive (.314/.343/.542) line, while smashing 15 round trippers along the way. It was precisely this type of production that ultimately won him promotion to (AA) Bowie, finishing the season against much older competition. Though Mountcastle struggled to come to terms with Double-A pitching in his first 39 games for the Bay Sox (.222/.239/.366), he will almost certainly start 2018 there. This kid is truly one for the future. Get out there to the Arizona Fall League games and take a peek.

 

 

 

Surprise Saguaros

Feeder Clubs: Royals, Twins, Cardinals, Rays, Rangers

 

Youngest Pitcher: RHP Jordan Hicks, Age 21

Parent Club: St. Louis Cardinals

2017 Finishing Level: Springfield Cardinals (AA)

 

Arizona Fall League 2017

Hicks has eye popping velocity, and a heavy sinking action on his fastball. (Photo courtesy of: MiLB.com)

At just 21, Jordan Hicks already has a fastball that would likely leave an exit hole the size of Pluto if it hit you.On top of a fastball that sits in the lower 90’s (but can ramp up to 98 mph), this young fireballer also has an above average curveball that has a chance to be a plus pitch for him in the bigs. Jordan started 2017 with the Peoria Chiefs of the Midwest League taking the mound in 14 games and posting a healthy 8-2 record while fanning 63 batters along the way.

He has some control issues to sort out, but upon his promotion to (Advanced A) Palm Beach he saw his BB/9 shrink from (4.5) in Peoria to a respectable (2) in his first 27 innings of Florida State League ball. Though the sample is small, this youngster seems to have found another gear with his step up in competition. The Card’s No. 14 prospect posted 32 strike outs and only 21 hits in eight appearances at the (Advanced A) level. On the back of that performance the Cardinals promoted young Jordan to (AA) Springfield in August, though he didn’t log any innings due to late season injury. Expect Hicks to be a key component to Springfield’s rotation in 2018.

 

Youngest Position Player: 3B Kevin Padlo, Age 21

Parent Club: Tampa Bay Rays

2017 Finishing Level: Charlotte Stone Crabs (Advanced A)

 

Arizona Fall League

Kevin Padlo is rated as Tampa Bay’s No. 28 prospect. (photo courtesty of: MiLB.com)

Kevin was originally a fifth-round selection of the Colorado Rockies in 2014, the organization he played for in his first two minor league seasons. By January 2016 however, he found himself part of the deal that sent LF Corey Dickerson to Tampa in exchange for pitchers Jake McGee and German Marquez. Though Padlo struggled some at the plate this year posting (.215/.321/.380) across two levels of minor league ball, there is a lot to like about this young man.

While his batting average might seem low, his (.321) OBP suggests a keen eye, that with more experience should translate to a solid average and 20-homer power. At only 21 years of age, the Rays’ No. 28 prospect already possesses a defensive tool set at the hot corner you would normally expect to find on a player much older. Where he could start 2018 might depend on what he does in Arizona this fall, but as it stands now all signs point to another season in Charlotte.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(feature photo courtesy of: Colorado Rockies)

 

 

 

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Ronald Acuna

Why has Ronald Acuna not been called up?

Background

Ronald Acuna

Acuna is currently on a 14-game hitting streak, where he is slashing .406/.418/.672. (Photo by Last Words on Baseball)

Ranked eighth by MLB.com on the 2017 prospect watch list, Ronald Acuna has continued to prove himself at every professional level. The Venezuelan international was born on Dec. 18, 1997, and was signed in 2014 by the Atlanta Braves as a 16-year-old for $100,000.

This deal was an enormous steal for Atlanta, as they spent a combined seven million dollars on prospects Kevin Maitan and Abraham Gutierrez, who are both 17-year-olds playing in the Gulf Coast league.

At 17 years old, Acuna spent time in the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues, where in 55 games he batted a combined .269 with four home runs, 18 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. He took a huge leap forward in 2016, batting .312 in 42 games in primarily the South Atlantic League, proving he is one of the Braves top prospects moving forward.

In 2017, Acuna began the year in high-A, although after batting .287 with 19 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 28 games, he was called up to double-A. Acuna continued his tear, batting .326 with nine home runs, 30 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 57 games for the Mississippi Braves.

The 19-year-old was then called-up to triple-A Gwinnett, where he has since batted .358 with eight home runs, 27 RBIs and eight stolen bases in 43 games. Acuna is currently on a 14-game hitting streak, where he is slashing .406/.418/.672 with four home runs, 13 runs scored, 14 RBIs and five stolen bases.

His heroic rise up the minor league ladder has been halted, as he has yet to receive a call to the majors despite his incredible levels of success.

Give this man a chance

Ronald Acuna

According to MLB.com writer Mark Bowman, former Atlanta Brave Superstars Chipper and Andruw Jones had “raved about Acuna” during spring training. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Acuna has continuously decreased his strikeout rate, while increasing his home run to fly ball rate at each succeeding level. He has also shown the ability to hit the ball to all fields, as he is currently hitting 36.8 percent of balls to the opposite field.

His speed is worth noting, as his speed score has ranked anywhere from 5.4 to 9.3 in his career, which is recognized as above average to excellent according to Fangraphs.com. His batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, measures over .400 in 2017, although this seems to be more skill based than luck, as BABIP has not dropped .359 since rookie ball in 2015.

According to MLB.com writer Mark Bowman, former Atlanta Brave superstars Chipper and Andruw Jones had “raved about Acuna” during spring training. The five-tool prospect has been compared to the likes of Starling Marte, who is a two-time Gold Glove winner and one-time All-Star.

With the Braves 19 games back of the Washington Nationals in the National League East, and 11 games back in the wild card race, it seems like a perfect time to bring up the red-hot 19-year-old.

With Ender Inciarte being the everyday center fielder, and veterans Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis in the corners, there is no place for Acuna to play, hence why he has been kept in the minors, as they want him to get as many at-bats as possible.

With no real chance at making the playoffs, the Braves should give Acuna a chance to begin his major league career. He will undoubtedly need to make an abundance of adjustments, so why not allow him to begin progressing, and/or struggling, now when the results do not matter?

The Braves would be stupid to allow veterans like Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis to steal major league at-bats away from their up-and-coming prospects like Acuna, which is why Acuna will likely be called up in September, rather than getting his first shot with the big league club next April.

 

Featured Image by Getty Images

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