There's a tradition of third base prospects shifting to the outfield to meet an immediate need.
You may remember that's how Austin Riley broke in before settling into his natural spot. Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, too, though they eventually moved on to first base after a brief layover at third.
I bring it up because another notable third base prospect -- one we've already been pining for -- may be positioning himself to do the same. Yes, the Dodgers' Miguel Vargas has seen starts in left field lately, and he doesn't seem out of sorts out there.
"Optionality is a good thing," Dodgers GM Brandon Gomes said of the move. "He's played second. He's played third. And he plays first. We were digging into it and, 'Let's see what it looks like in the outfield.' His sprint speeds are some of the best in our organization. His instincts for the game are good. So let's see what it looks like, and all the reports so far have been positive."
Indeed, it's given Vargas a chance to put his wheels to good use, as you'll see here:
Miguel Vargas looking like a natural in left.— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) June 23, 2022
The @Dodgers' No. 5 prospect is making his first career start in the outfield for the @okc_dodgers. pic.twitter.com/KDA9CBLjLS
You might think the struggles of Justin Turner's and Max Muncy's present a straightforward enough path at third base, but the Dodgers seem reluctant to turn the page on them, for whatever reason. This introduction to the outfield could represent an even clearer indication that Vargas is on the verge of a call-up.
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Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Miguel Vargas, 3B, Dodgers
2021 minors: .319 BA (483 AB), 23 HR, 11 SB, .906 OPS, 45 BB, 89 K
2022 minors: .288 BA (281 AB), 12 HR, 8 SB, .877 OPS, 40 BB, 52 K
The impetus for Vargas' promotion would be Mookie Betts' cracked rib -- or more specifically, the way it has exposed the team's lack of outfield depth. Let's just say Trayce Thompson and Eddy Alvarez aren't exactly championship-caliber players. Between Vargas' appearances at third base, second base, first base and now left field, the Dodgers shouldn't have trouble finding at-bats for him whenever they're willing to take the plunge. Certainly, offense isn't the concern, especially now that he's heating up again with a .385 (15 for 39) batting average, two home runs and six walks compared to five strikeouts during a 10-game hitting streak.
"We feel very strongly about his ability to hit," Gomes said in response to Vargas' big-league readiness. "I think he can roll out of bed and hit."
Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mariners
2022 minors: .295 BA (132 AB), 8 HR, 2 SB, .916 OPS, 8 BB, 39 K
2022 majors: .140 BA (86 AB), 3 HR, 4 SB, .509 OPS, 9 BB, 36 K
Kelenic technically doesn't qualify as a prospect anymore, having already exhausted his rookie eligibility in the majors, but that hasn't stopped me from including Alex Kirilloff and Jo Adell in my Five on the Verge this year. While Kelenic's overall numbers at Triple-A are solid enough, a quick glance at his 27.7 percent strikeout rate would suggest he's suffering from the same shortcomings that upended his time in the majors. I'm going to let this random internet guy explain why that's not accurate, though:
Jarred Kelenic’s K% is only still high because the first week he came back to Tacoma he tried having his hands by his ears again and he struck out 20 times in 40 plate appearances or something like that. It’s been like 20% since then.— Gravel (@Gravel_sense) June 23, 2022
Sure enough, in his past 25 games at Triple-A (of 31 total), Kelenic has only a 21.4 percent strikeout rate. In his past 17 games, it's 18.7 percent. He's trending the right way, and some mechanical changes may be largely to credit. Prospect Insider does a good job of breaking it down, but the gist is a shorter swing and a shorter load, allowing him to stay back on the offspeed stuff that gave him so much trouble in the majors. The Mariners could certainly use more offense, having resorted to retreads like Taylor Trammell, Dylan Moore and Abraham Toro in recent days. Kelenic's all-around skill set still points to exciting potential in Fantasy.
Max Meyer, SP, Marlins
2021 minors: 6-4, 2.27 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 111 IP, 42 BB, 130 K
2022 minors: 2-3, 4.11 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 50 1/3 IP, 15 BB, 57 K
A nerve issue in Meyer's elbow shut him down for a month, and during that time, the Marlins rotation went from lavish to lacking. Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez are fixtures, sure, but Trevor Rogers is in a tailspin and Daniel Castano and Braxton Garrett are simply taking up space. There's an easy path for Meyer, in other words, once the Marlins are confident he's up to speed, and in two starts since returning to Triple-A, he certainly appears to be. The first of those starts on June 22 saw him strike out a rehabbing Wander Franco twice, his slider looking as baffling as ever. Don't let the high ERA scare you away. The damage came mostly in the two starts immediately preceding his IL stint.
Esteury Ruiz, OF, Padres
2021 minors: .249 BA (309 AB), 10 HR, 36 SB, .739 OPS, 28 BB, 73 K
2022 minors: .345 BA (252 AB), 13 HR, 49 SB, 1.079 OPS, 43 BB, 57 K
Trent Grisham recently missed a few games with shoulder soreness, which wasn't enough to invite a changing of the guard in center field, but the 25-year-old continues to perform well below expectations for the second straight year. Ruiz, meanwhile, has put up numbers so good that they're hard to believe, with the stolen base total in particular standing out. He's gotten some prospect love in the past on raw talent alone, but this year's breakthrough goes beyond what anyone could have imagined. And with the Padres fighting to hang with the Dodgers, they may not abide Grisham for much longer.
Brayan Bello, SP, Red Sox
2021 minors: 7-3, 3.87 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 95 1/3 IP, 31 BB, 132 K
2022 minors: 9-4, 2.49 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 79 2/3 IP, 30 BB, 106 K
It's not the best sign that Josh Winckowski and Connor Seabold have each gotten a chance to contribute before Bello, who's already on the 40-man roster, but at some point sooner than later, the Red Sox will have to prioritize winning over development. The amount of progress Bello has made just over the course of this year, introducing a devastating two-seamer that has turned him into a premier ground-ball generator along with everything else, would suggest there may not be much developing left to do. The walk rate remains something of a hurdle, but Bello's stuff is so nasty that the lack of hits should make up for it.
Five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Cole Ragans, SP, Rangers
2021 minors: 4-3, 4.35 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 80 2/3 IP, 34 BB, 87 K
2022 minors: 6-4, 2.50 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 68 1/3 IP, 22 BB, 84 K
Longtime Dynasty leaguers may remember the name Cole Ragans. The left-hander was the 30th pick in the 2016 draft. What's happened to him since then? Two Tommy John surgeries and an additional season lost to the pandemic. It makes his performance this year all the more astounding. Those long-forgotten Cole Hamels comparisons are finally coming to fruition as he plays his changeup off his fastball to perfection. It's only gotten better, too, with his move up to Triple-A, where he has a 1.59 ERA in three starts. He comes with obvious risk, but seeing as he's already knocking on the door to the majors, now is the time to take a chance on him.
David Villar, 3B, Giants
2021 minors: .275 BA (385 AB), 20 HR, .880 OPS, 46 BB, 112 K
2022 minors: .269 BA (212 AB), 20 HR, 1.016 OPS, 40 BB, 73 K
Given that he's hit at every level but has yet to garner much attention at age 25, you may be inclined to dismiss Villar as a Quadruple-A type. And in the long run, that may be all he proves to be. But the strides he's made this year, both offensively and defensively, are notable enough to at least earn him a look in the big leagues at some point. He's been a patient hitter, reaching base at a .398 clip, and his power output speaks for himself. Playing in the Giants organization only lengthens his odds of developing into an impact bat given how much they like to play matchups, but it wouldn't take a major commitment in a Dynasty league to see where this one goes.
Ricky Tiedemann, SP, Blue Jays
2022 minors: 5-1, 1.40 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 58 IP, 19 BB, 90 K
I've been meaning to write about Tiedemann since about the second week of the season, when it first became clear he was poised to be one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in baseball. His production has only improved with a move up to High-A, where he has a 0.96 ERA, though I'm sorry to report he just had his worst start, allowing (gulp) a season-high four hits. Between the two stops, he has a 67 percent strike rate and a 19 percent swinging-strike rate. Improved velocity has made his already excellent changeup all the more devastating. Even as a 19-year-old, he looks near untouchable.
Mason Montgomery, SP, Rays
2021 minors: 1-0, 0.84 ERA, 0.47 WHIP, 10 2/3 IP, 1 BB, 20 K
2022 minors: 2-2, 1.81 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 59 2/3 IP, 25 BB, 105 K
Montgomery's best weapon is a fastball that fits with the latest trends, registering plenty of whiffs at the top of the strike zone. Clearly, hitters at High-A have been powerless to stop it, but a clearer test of legitimacy will come with his next move up the minor-leaguer ladder. He's been especially impressive over his past six starts, generating a 1.35 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 15.9 K/9. His walks are a little on the high side, but with a 67% strike rate, that's less of a concern than the fact his secondary offerings are still a work in progress. Still, at age 22, he could move quickly if things break right.
Matt Mervis, 1B, Cubs
2021 minors: .208 BA (259 AB), 9 HR, 12 2B, .677 OPS, 37 BB, 70 K
2022 minors: .319 BA (238 AB), 18 HR, 20 2B, 1.005 OPS, 18 BB, 61 K
True first basemen have a narrow path to the majors and need to wreak havoc at the plate to have a chance at full-time big-league duty. So far, that hasn't been a problem for Mervis, who's contributing massive power from the left side. He's in the right organization for it, too, with no obvious heir to the spot once occupied with Anthony Rizzo. There's no reason to rush the 24-year-old with the Cubs well out of the playoff picture, but seeing as he's already making an impact at Double-A, the buzz could begin to build next spring, with an early 2023 arrival being on the table.