gunnar-henderson.jpg

Maybe that lat strain for Grayson Rodriguez wasn't such a big deal after all.

Sure, it altered his timetable, preventing him from being called up alongside Adley Rutschman in late May, but the bigger fear was that it would linger, putting him on that frustrating cycle of injury and rehabilitation that has derailed the careers of so many promising pitchers. 

And I guess it could still play out that way for him, but given the reports of the Orioles ramping him up again in late August, I have to believe the injury is no more than an afterthought at this point. If there was a serious risk of reaggravation, surely they'd just shut him down. We're talking about the best pitching prospect in baseball, after all.

BAL Baltimore • Age: 23
2022 Minors
W-L
5-1
ERA
2.09
WHIP
0.84
INN
56
BB
14
K
80

Maybe I give the Orioles too much credit, but Rodriguez at least has a chance to assuage our concerns for next year by showing he's the same pitcher as before the injury.

It may have to be in shorter spurts. At last report, he had thrown only 25 pitches off a mound and has built up only to the point where he's ready to face live hitters again. Still, the Rays didn't call up Shane Baz until Sept. 20 last year, giving him three starts before the season's end. Rodriguez may be on a similar timeline now.

A more cautious approach would have him build up just enough to function as a reliever, and it's still possible he doesn't come up at all if the Orioles fall out of the race. The bottom line is I want to see Rodriguez make some actual rehab starts before I reintroduce him to my Five on the Verge. Right now, it's another Orioles prospect that has all the momentum.

Five on the verge

(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)

Gunnar Henderson, SS, Orioles

2021 minors: .258 BA (399 AB), 17 HR, 16 SB, .826 OPS, 56 BB, 143 K
2022 minors: .298 BA (382 AB), 19 HR, 19 SB, .958 OPS, 74 BB, 106 K

There was talk of Henderson getting the call Tuesday, which marked the first day when he'd no longer be at risk of exhausting his rookie eligibility for 2023, at least going by the days-on-the-active-roster standard. Clearly, that didn't happen, but there's a rational explanation for it. He could also exhaust his rookie eligibility by getting 131 at-bats, and there's still time for him to do that. Obviously, the Orioles wouldn't be calling him up to sit him.

The bottom line is where there's smoke there's fire. Orioles beat writers are having to address Henderson's status on a near-daily basis now, and the longer the Orioles hang in the Wild Card race, the more likely his promotion becomes. They've even had him shift to second and first base in the last week, which is where they need the most help in the majors. Adding fuel to the fire is GM Mike Elias actually saying Henderson's promotion is "definitely on the table."

Everything else being equal, I'd rather stash Corbin Carroll than Henderson, whose strikeout rate has crept back up since his move to Triple-A and who seems like a liability against left-handed pitchers still. But since there seems to be a little more momentum for him getting the call than Carroll right now, I'll begrudgingly move him ahead. Baseball America considers him the top prospect in baseball, after all.

Corbin Carroll, OF, Diamondbacks

2021 minors: .435 BA (23 AB), 2 HR, 3 SB, 1.465 OPS, 6 BB, 7 K
2022 minors: .311 BA (347 AB), 22 HR, 31 SB, 1.035 OPS, 62 BB, 98 K
       

Don't get me wrong. There's smoke for Carroll, too. My own personal top prospect in baseball saw his 2022 stock jump just a few short days ago when GM Mike Hazen suggested he could be up before the season's end. But why promote him if the Diamondbacks are out of the race? Why not hold him back until the end of April next season, thereby securing an extra year of service time as teams have customarily done with prospects of his ilk? The calculation may be changing in that regard.

I was skeptical when the new CBA introduced the idea, but yes, if a top prospect places high enough in awards voting over the first few years of his career, his team will score an extra draft pick because of it. Here's the catch, though: He has to be on the roster for the entirety of his rookie season. So what's the Diamondbacks' rationale, then?

"I want to put him in a position to actually win those awards," Hazen said. "I feel like coming up here and playing well when he does come up here is going to set him up to actually go win those awards next year."

You see? Teams are now incentivized to promote their top prospects the year before they otherwise would, provided it's late enough that they retain their rookie eligibility for the following season. A little exposure makes it less likely they'll stumble out of the gate in what needs to be their first full season.

What I'm saying is September could become a popular time for top prospect call-ups, and it could begin with Henderson and Carroll.

Josh Jung, 3B, Rangers

2021 minors: .326 BA (304 AB), 19 HR, .990, 31 BB, 76 K
2022 minors: .314 BA (70 AB), 8 HR, 1.121 OPS, 7 BB, 15 K
    

If it makes sense for the Diamondbacks to call up Carroll, a 22-year-old with only 137 career games in the minors, then it makes sense for the Rangers to call up Jung, a 24-year-old who had the inside track on the starting third base job before tearing the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder in February. He's come back from the injury doing all the things we expected him to do, batting over .350 at Triple-A with long home runs to all parts of the field. Between that and him hitting .348 with a 1.088 OPS in 35 games at Triple-A last year, he's clearly ready for the next challenge, and again, teams are now incentivized to have their top prospects get their feet wet the year before they're up for good.

Miguel Vargas, 3B, Dodgers

2021 minors: .319 BA (483 AB), 23 HR, 11 SB, .906 OPS, 45 BB, 89 K
2022 minors: .296 BA (425 AB), 15 HR, 15 SB, .884 OPS, 66 BB, 76 K
2022 majors: 2 for 8, 2B, SB, K

Recently, the Dodgers went ahead and re-upped Max Muncy for next year, apparently won over by his big August. Both he and Vargas are versatile enough that it doesn't necessarily block the latter from claiming an opening day job with the big club next year -- Justin Turner's status is still up in the air, after all -- but it does present another obstacle.

I bring it up here, in the context of Vargas' 2022 chances, because it offers some insight into the Dodgers' thinking. They don't necessarily need him to hit the ground running next year and can play it chill with him in September. That said, he's hit safely in all 13 games since being sent back to Triple-A, playing mostly left field, where he'd be of most use to the big club. I suspect he'll be back up when rosters expand in September. Whether he'll play regularly enough to factor in Fantasy is another matter.

Oswald Peraza, SS, Yankees

2021 minors: .297 BA (465 AB), 18 HR, 38 SB, .833 OPS, 37 BB, 111 K
2022 minors: .259 BA (363 AB), 17 HR, 31 SB, .771 OPS, 30 BB, 96 K
    

Ask any Yankees fan, and he'll tell you Oswald Peraza should have replaced Isiah Kiner-Falefa yesterday. Fair enough. Kiner-Falefa's defensive ratings aren't as impressive this year, and he was never much of a hitter. The Yankees have been scuffling in August and could use an infusion of youthful energy. But it's not Yankees fans making that decision. It's Brian Cashman. And he sounds, shall we say, less than sold.

Could just be GM speak. Maybe the Yankees are running the same calculation that the Diamondbacks are with Carroll and want to make sure Peraza doesn't use up his rookie eligibility. It's probably not a question of development. He already grades out well as a defender, and though his year-long numbers are lackluster, he's batting .323 (60 for 186) with 12 homers, 20 steals and .948 OPS since June 11.  My hunch is that the pressure to win will force a change of some kind, and this is the most obvious one. Whether Peraza's upside is enough to justify stashing him in redraft leagues is another question. I would say only in 15-team formats or deeper.

Five on the periphery

(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)

Sal Frelick, OF, Brewers

2021 minors: .329 BA (146 AB), 2 HR, 12 SB, .880 OPS, 21 BB, 25 K
2022 minors: .333 BA (372 AB), 7 HR, 17 SB, .884 OPS, 43 BB, 53 K

The 15th overall pick last year is living up to his profile as a plus hitter with some speed. His lack of power is less of a liability at a time when power numbers are on the decline, but it does put more pressure on him to hit for average, which hasn't been a problem so far. In fact, he's only found another gear since moving up to Triple-A, batting .435 (30 for 69). It's a performance that has him at the precipice of a promotion for a team currently suffering through Tyrone Taylor in center field. The reason I don't include Frelick in my Five on the Verge is that he'll have only a middling impact in Fantasy, offering a ceiling along the lines of a Steven Kwan or Michael Brantley.

Mark Vientos, 3B, Mets

2021 minors: .281 BA (310 AB), 25 HR, .933 OPS, 33 BB, 100 K
2022 minors: .291 BA (327 AB), 23 HR, .922 OPS, 38 BB, 106 K

Vientos just got passed over for Brett Baty even though he's the one who's spent the entire season at Triple-A. Granted, he isn't the same caliber of prospect. He also bats right-handed and may be destined for first base in the long run. Still, the 22-year-old is a power hitter in the truest sense, meaning the changing environment isn't going to change that aspect of him. He's rebounded from a miserable start to hit .320 with 22 homers and a near-1.000 OPS since May 1, and he's particularly hot right now with four homers in six games. His strikeout rate and defensive profile could prevent him from meeting his potential, but what he's already accomplished at age 22 bodes well for his future.

Blaze Jordan, 3B, Red Sox

2021 minors: .324 BA (105 AB), 6 HR, .958 OPS, 8 BB, 21 K
2022 minors: .297 BA (411 AB), 11 HR, .836 OPS, 44 BB, 76 K

Jordan became a YouTube sensation for hitting 500-foot home runs as a 13-year-old, and certainly, the raw power is there for him to develop into an impact bat. It hadn't really shown up in the numbers, though, until recently, with his move up to High-A, where he's homered three times in 11 games. There may be an even more encouraging development, too. His strikeout rate between two levels of A-ball is only 16.4 percent, which is far better than expected for a 19-year-old masher in the fledgling stages of his professional career. If he can sustain that sort of contact rate at the upper levels, then the ceiling is high indeed.

Edgar Quero, C, Angels

2021 minors: .240 BA (121 AB), 5 HR, 10 2B, .868 OPS, 28 BB, 44 K
2022 minors: .316 BA (367 AB), 15 HR, 32 2B, .967 OPS, 60 BB, 80 K

The Angels just acquired this season's biggest breakout catcher prospect, Logan O'Hoppe, in the Noah Syndergaard deal, but they may also have the second-biggest further down the minor-league ladder. Quero's hitting instincts would be impressive for a 19-year-old at any position, but particularly that one. He's a switch-hitter, too, which adds to the level of difficulty. He's only going to add power as he fills out, so if he can keep the walks high and the strikeouts low, he has a chance to develop into an impact player at a position with few.

Dalton Rushing, C, Dodgers

2022 minors: .400 BA (55 AB), 6 HR, 1.314 OPS, 10 BB, 12 K

I wouldn't have guessed Rushing, the 40th pick in the 2022 draft, would be the first of his class to be featured here, but such is the buzz he's generating just 15 games into his professional career. The Dodgers have a talent for finding these hidden gems, which is how they keep their farm system strong even as they're one of the last teams to pick every year. The 21-year-old controls the strike zone, delivers premium exit velocities, hits long home runs (see below), and is even earning high marks as a receiver.

Of course, the Dodgers are already in good shape at catcher with Will Smith and Diego Cartaya, but if Rushing continues to perform, a path will open for him somewhere. The Dodgers have been known to wheel and deal, after all. Just batting left-handed gives him a leg up.