The leap from playing Minor League baseball to graduating to the big leagues is much more difficult than some may realize. The gap between Minor League and Major League baseball is a wide as the Grand Canyon. The basic reason is pitching. Instead of seeing one or two good pitchers a week, hitters face multiple pitchers every day in the big leagues. The pitchers have confidence. And complete repertoires that include wicked breaking balls. And yes, it is still the breaking balls that spell the difference between success and a lack of success for both pitchers and position players.
Today, in my third edition profiling players I think will graduate to the Major Leagues this year, I look at the American League Central. I may miss a few, but that has to be expected. Players with rookie status remaining or international free agents are listed.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Tim Anderson-SS-age 22- He may only be 22, but the right-handed hitting Anderson has the potential to play shortstop at some point this season. Once he emerges, I think he will be around a long time. He still has some ragged edges on defense, but his bat and his speed play very well. Not yet on the 40-man roster, I think Anderson has a chance to play himself on to the club with a big Minor League first half.
Jacob May-OF-age 24- May isn’t on the 40-man yet either, but the fact he is a switch-hitting outfielder with excellent speed who is capable of stealing bases figure in his favor. However, he may need another year of development before he is promoted.
Daniel Fields-OF-age 25- Fields came over from the Dodgers on waivers. The left-handed hitter has a marginal shot to help as an extra outfielder type. He’s already on the 40-man roster.
Will Lamb-LRP-age 25- Lamb was acquired from the Rangers. He can serve as a lefty out of the bullpen at some point in the season. He’ll be a phone call away.
Jason Coats-OF-age 25- Coats is a non-roster Spring Training invitee. He is a right-handed hitter with a bit of pop.
Matt Davidson-3B-age 24- It seems Davidson has been around forever. He was highly touted by the Dbacks but traded to Chicago in 2013. The right-handed hitter still has a chance to make some noise, but the clock is beginning to run a little quicker.
Kevan Smith-C-age 27- He would be a long shot to leap over Rob Brantley as the third catcher waiting in the wings. Brantley is younger and is a left-handed hitter. But?
Chris Beck-RHSP-age 25-Beck offers the club organizational right-handed starting pitching depth.
Zach Phillips-LHRP-age 29- Phillips is an organizational lefty capable of offering bullpen help at some point in the season. He is on the 40-man roster.
Jesus Aguilar-1B-age 25- It’s hard to believe Aguilar has not had extensive opportunity to use his first base power. He still has rookie status and now may be thwarted by the arrival of Mike Napoli. I wonder what he would do with consistent playing time?
Tyler Naquin-OF-age 24- The left-handed hitter may get his chance at some point this season. The team needs outfielders that can drive in runs. I’m not sure that’s him, but he’ll be given the chance. He could arrive late in the season.
Bradley Zimmer-OF-age 23- An injury kept him from playing in the Arizona Fall League and that cost him some development time against quality pitching. However, he has all the tools to help the Tribe in the outfield. A left-handed hitter, once he gets back to complete health and puts numbers on the board we may see him in Cleveland.
James Ramsey-OF-age 26- Ramsey has always intrigued me. Even when he was with the Cardinals. He’s a guy that has to play every day to hone his skills. I’m not sure that’s in the plans for this year, but I like the left-handed hitter’s profile.
Shawn Armstrong-RHRP-age 25- I’m not sure the Indians are as bullish on Armstrong as I am. I love his big arm, his composure and his ability to miss bats. At some point soon I think he will pitch at the back end of the bullpen. I think he has closer potential. I look for him to start the season in the Tribe’s bullpen out of Spring Training.
Ryan Merritt-LHSP-age- Along with T J House, Merritt provides the Indians with left-handed organizational starting pitching depth. He is capable but likely needs more development time. But he is emerging and can’t be neglected.
Steven Moya-OF-age 24- Moya has the ingredients to be an impact hitter in the big leagues. Tall and thin at 6-foot-7, 260 pounds, the left-handed hitter can smoke pitches down in the zone. The problem? He strikes out way too much and has to learn to recognize pitches and be more disciplined. In time, he will improve his contact rate and be able to handle breaking balls. I like his future. Maybe he arrives late in 2016.
Dixon Machado-SS-age 23- We could see Machado late in the year. He is an excellent defender and will really help the Tigers pitchers if his glove is needed at some point.
He has good speed, a good arm and excellent range. His bat is an issue.
Montreal Robertson-RHRP-age 25- An organizational reliever that could be called upon at some point. He pitched well in the Fall League and has five years of experience at the Minor League level.
Dean Green-1B-age 26- Green offers organizational depth as a left-handed hitting first baseman.
Jose Valdez-RHRP-age 25- Valdez is on the 40-man roster and could serve nicely as an insurance policy for the relief corps.
Michael Fulmer-RHSP-age 22- Will we see the man most people feel is the Tigers top prospect at some point this year? I’m not so sure. If the team is in the heat of a pennant chase, a late season graduation may not be in the cards. If the staring pitching holds up, he will benefit much more by another season of development. But Fulmer is part of the future. A big part. I list him here because it is possible that we’ll see him in 2016. But frankly, I doubt it. The wait will be worth it.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Raymond Fuentes-OF-age 25- Fuentes was once considered a high level prospect. I think he will add to the Royals bench as a left-handed hitter with speed and some power. If given a sustained chance, he can really help. But I think he’ll be more of a 4th or 5th outfield type with the big league club.
Scott Alexander-LHRP-age 26- Alexander could win a spot in the Royals pen as a left-handed specialist.
Ramon Torres-2B/3B/SS- the switch-hitting Torres played well in the Arizona Fall League and provides some organizational infield depth. His versatility helps as he will be available if needed to bolster the infield at some point.
Cheslor Cuthbert-1B/3B-age 23- Cuthbert is on the fringe and would need an organizational melt down at the corners to see regular season playing time. He may get a September look, but he doesn’t bring much power.
Brett Eibner-OF-age 27- He had a nice year at the plate at Triple-A this past season and may be ready for a bigger challenge. A right-handed hitter, Eibner hit 18 homers and drove in 81 at Omaha. Those stats are worth taking a good long look this spring.
Bubba Starling-OF-23- I commend Starling for the dramatic positive change I saw in his offense this past fall. He is much more selective at the plate, drives the ball well and is figuring out how to hit pitching. This may not be his time, but he has a future as a big league player. Maybe another year of seasoning will finish his development.
Jose Martinez-OF/1B-age 27- Martinez came to the club from Atlanta. In 2015 at Omaha he hit .384/10/60 in 396 plate appearances. He struck out only 55 times. He played in Mexico this winter and hit .322. Is he for real? If I’m the Royals, I try to find out if the Braves made a mistake and if those numbers mean he’s the real deal.
Miguel Almonte-RHSP-age 22- He has a good arm and has had a taste of pitching in the Royals bullpen. He could be a useful late season call-up.
Kyle Zimmer-RHSP-age 24- If Zimmer is fully recovered from shoulder issues, he can really help the Royals rotation depth. Can he stay healthy? That’s the issue. I like what I’ve seen of him, but he has to prove he can stay on the mound and command pitches.
Brian Flynn-RHP-age 25- Flynn came over in a trade with the Marlins. He can serve as either a starter or reliever if needed during the season.
Christian Binford-RHSP-age 22- This is a guy I’ve seen throw really, really well. I would say he’s probably a year a way from a sustained role, but he’s someone to keep an eye on. He can pitch IMO.
Sam Selman-LHRP-age 25- Selman is on the 40-man roster and could prove in Spring Training that he can be trusted with a situational role in the bullpen.
Balbino Fuenmayor-1B-age 26- No discussion of Royals prospects can be complete without mentioning the jumbo Fuenmayor. He’s out with a torn ACL, but the man has some power, has strength in his forearms and legs and has a great name.
Byron Buxton-OF-age 22- The injury bug has plagued him so far in his career. He still has rookie status remaining. If he can stay healthy, Buxton could put up huge numbers. He is scary fast, has power, plays great defense and will hit for average.
There is so much to like. But he has to prove he can stay on the field.
Byung-ho-Park-1B/DH age 29- Park was a big bopper in Korea and could be a force in the Twins lineup. Look for him to DH with Joe Mauer playing more at first. But if he lives up to his reputation, the Twins lineup will be longer and tougher to handle.
Jose Berrios-RHSP- age 21- With shaky starting pitching, the Twins can certainly use any boost Berrios can offer. He is likely ready for graduation, as he has compiled 440 career Minor League innings over parts of four seasons. He finished 2015 with a good performance at Triple-A Rochester. It really is time for him to get a shot.
Jorge Polanco-SS-age 22- Polanco has a nice bat and should be ready to claim a utility role or serve as an early infield call. He’s had a taste of big league baseball, but he’s ready for more.
Wilfredo Tovar-2B/SS-age 24- He was a free agent signed out of the Mets organization. He has a Spring Training invitation.
Heifer Meneses-2B.3B.SS-age 24- He was a free agent signed out of the Red Sox organization and has been invited to Spring Training.
Max Kepler-OF-age 23- Kepler is a good line-drive hitter. I’ve seen lots of him in the Arizona Fall League. I think his power and plate discipline are emerging. I’d keep an eye on him, because he could surprise at some point. Hustles and plays hard.
Alex Meyer-RHP-age 26- We’ve been waiting for Meyer to catch on and pitch like scouts had projected. He’s huge at 6-foot-9 and 225 pounds. I’m not very bullish on him, but maybe he can thrive in relief if not in the rotation. Command issues have caused me to question his original high ratings.
Taylor Rogers-LHRP-age 25- Could be considered at some point to help out of the bullpen as a left-handed specialist.
Pat Dean-LHRP-age 26- Is in a similar situation as Rogers. He will provide organizational bullpen depth from the left side.
Tomorrow: National League Central
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That’s it. I’m done. For now.