I begin the New Year with my annual review of players I believe are “graduating” and are close to making the Major League club. Some have greater impact than others. Of course, I may miss a few.
I am including players with rookie status remaining and those players new to Major League baseball as international free agents.
First, a couple of general thoughts as I begin this series:
I am among those who believe the next Collective Bargaining Agreement between the players and owners will include some drastic changes. First and foremost, I believe the momentum is great enough for the National League to transition to the designated hitter. It is a drastic change, but one that teams like the Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks will welcome with open arms. Players like Kyle Schwarber and Yasmany Tomas are picture perfect for that role.
I believe we will see revenue sharing of some sort to even the playing field between the markets that choose to spend and those that don’t.
I think there will be some support for shortening the season back to 154 games and finding some manner to make up the financial difference for 8 lost games. However, the media money now flowing to most teams has done a good job of adding revenue to the bottom lines for many clubs. How they choose to spend that revenue is an individual team decision.
The Basic Agreement between players and owners will have an impact on how rosters are constructed in the future. With that in mind, the graduation dates and time spent in Minor League development for players may change as well.
For this year, here are players I see ready to graduate to big league rosters at some point in the year. That could mean early, mid-year or late. But they should be there.
Dylan Bundy-RHP-age 23. A cloud hangs over Bundy due to health issues. Is he ready to assume a role in the rotation and realize his potential? I saw him pitch briefly in the Arizona Fall League before he was shut down with forearm stiffness. If healthy, he can earn a spot in the rotation by throwing strikes and commanding his fastball.
Joey Rickard- OF-age 24- A Rule 5 selection from Tampa Bay, Rickard may stick for the year as a 4th outfielder. A right-handed hitter, he hit well at both Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham last season. Not much power at all. Speed though.
Christian Walker-1B-age 24. The right-handed hitter could see some time in mid-season or later. He provides first base depth. He has a bit of power to help out.
Mike Wright-RHSP- age 26. He could help either as a spot starter or in relief. Has a nice repertoire but inconsistency has been an issue.
Francisco Pena-C-age 26- Acquired from Kansas City, Pena may claim a role as a backup catcher for either Matt Weiters or Caleb Joseph.
Mychal Givens- RHRP- age 25- Givens should be in a middle relief role to start the season. He has the upside to work in the later innings as he develops.
Parker Bridwell-RHP-age 24- Bridwell can probably start or relieve and he would be available in the event the club has to dig deeply for mid-season pitching help.
Hyun-soo Kim-OF-age 28-The left-handed hitting Kim is targeted as an outfielder, but he can also play first base if need. Signed from Korea, he could leadoff for the club.
BOSTON RED SOX
Yoan Moncada- IF-age 20- The talented young Cuban infielder may not stick with the big league club until 2017 or even 2018. Much will depend upon how much he develops this season at multiple levels. There is a chance-albeit slight- that the 20-year old switch hitter could be on the big league roster in September.
Devin Marrero-SS/2B-age 25- It will be very difficult, if not impossible for Marrero to nudge either Xander Bogarts or Dustin Pedroia from a full-time gig. However, there is a need for backup middle infielder types, and that’s where Marrero may fit.
Sean Coyle-2B/3B-age 24- A right-handed hitter like Marrero, Coyle’s best shot will be as a utility player. He has shown some inconsistency. A long shot IMO.
Brian Johnson-LHSP-age 25- Johnson has the ability to work as a starter or reliever, but he may fit best in the rotation. He had some elbow nerve issues that set him back a bit, but he provides early reinforcement depth.
Matt Barnes-RHP-age 25- Barnes is among the pitchers that can help if needed. He can work either as a starter or reliever.
Bryce Brentz- OF- age 27- The right-handed hitting outfielder has long been in the Red Sox prospect conversation. He will have to have a sustained opportunity to show he belongs. Outfield ABs will be tough to come-by, as will DH chances.
NEW YORK YANKEES
Gary Sanchez-C- 22- It will be interesting to see if Sanchez sticks after he had a mammoth Arizona Fall League. Strong and powerful, he has improved as a defensive catcher and can become a force at the plate. I like his chances.
Rob Refsnyder-2B-age 24- Welcome to New York, Starlin Castro. And how about the presence of Dustin Ackley? Refsnyder may well find himself waiting for graduation. He can hit, but he has limited defensive versatility and that may hurt his chances to stick.
Nick Rumbelow-RHRP-age 24. He could stick as a middle reliever on a club that isn’t deep with pitching prospects. He has a solid arm and got a taste of the pen in 2015.
Lane Adams-OF-age 26- A speedster type who came from the Royals. He can provide organizational depth from the right-handed batter’s box.
Ben Gamel-OF-age 23- Gamel provides outfield depth from the left side of the plate.
Luis Cessa-RHSP- age 23- Cessa would be a long shot to make the club early in the year. Obtained in a trade with the Tigers, Cessa adds starting depth.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Blake Snell-LHSP-age 23- I’m all in on Snell. I think he will add a great deal to the Rays pitching depth. He will have his work cut out, as the Rays pitching is their greatest strength. But he’s waiting in the wings and I think we’ll see him at some point.
Richie Shaffer-1B-3B-DH-age 24- The right-handed hitting Shaffer is versatile and has some pop. He is blocked at his best positions. But he can offer depth along the way.
Ryan Brett-2B-age 24- Brett is a scrappy type guy, but is fairly limited to playing 2B. He is a switch-hitter, but also faces competition from the likes of Ryan Franklin for utility role playing time.
Daniel Robertson- SS/3B-age 21- I’m not sure his time has come, but Robertson has shown an ability to hit. He came from the Athletics and has hit at every level. He may be at least a year away, but he may be able to help with his bat.
Dayron Varona-OF/2B.3B-age 27- From Cuba, Varona is not yet on the 40-man roster. But he’s the type of player that can play his way to the big league club. He has some pop, is versatile and adds depth.
Mikie Mahtook-OF-age 26- It’s time for Mahtook to step up and show why he was a first round draft pick. If given the chance, I think he will hit. But he needs to play regularly against quality pitching to see if he can make the grade. I think he can.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Joe Biagini-RHP- age 25- A Rule 5 selection from the Giants, the big righty has a chance to stick in the Blue Jays pen or as a spot starter. He has 86 Minor League starts.
A J Jimenez-C-age 25- Jimenez has played eight Minor League seasons and adds depth the the Blue Jays catching corps.
Dwight Smith, Jr.- age 23- Smith, Jr. may get lost in the shuffle with so many good outfielders emerging in the system. Soon players like Anthony Alford, DJ Davis, Dalton Pompey and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. will be knocking on the door as well. But the left-handed Smith may help at some point in the season.
Jiovanni Mier- 2B/SS/3B- age 25- A right-handed hitter, the versatile Miller isn’t on the 40-man yet, but he’s a player that can help if needed.
Next: National League East.
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That’s it. I’m done. For now.