So you think you have what it takes to play in the majors, do you? Well, you can't just put your head down and grind away. You have to make a statement, get your name in the headlines, do something that's going to make the front office sit up and take notice.
Something like hitting seven home runs in seven games.
That's what Nolan Gorman just did, and it's reasonable to think it has him at the precipice of a promotion. He wasn't far out of the Cardinals' line of vision to begin with, having been in the mix for the starting DH job this spring. He was slow to catch on, as has been true for him every step up the minor-league ladder, which prompted a return trip to Triple-A.
Only once before, down at low-A, have we seen Gorman repeat a level. The 21-year-old has been hurried to the next one just as soon as he's settled into the last one, which is a big reason why his numbers haven't measured up to his stature.
They're measuring up now, so where does it place him among the top prospects to stash?
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Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Oneil Cruz, SS, Pirates
2021 minors: .310 BA (271 AB), 17 HR, 19 SB, .969 OPS, 28 BB, 69 K
2022 minors: .75 BA (40 AB), 0 HR, 4 SB, .558 OPS, 6 BB, 13 K
Cruz remains the top choice. He may not be the first prospect to arrive, considering his slow start at Triple-A, but he'll be the most impactful when he does, his top-of-the-scales, Aaron Judge-like exit velocities giving him superlative power potential to go along with some speed. He has played shortstop almost exclusively so far, so talk of him needing work in the outfield may have been an exercise in excuse-making. Poor performance makes for an easy excuse, though, so until Cruz begins taking a wrecking ball to Triple-A, you can trust he'll stay right where he is.
Nolan Gorman, 2B, Cardinals
2021 minors: .279 BA (480 AB), 25 HR, .814 OPS, 38 BB, 115 K
2022 minors: .333 BA (45 AB), 7 HR, 1.200 OPS, 4 BB, 18 K
There's still the question of where Gorman would play if he is promoted. Blocked by Nolan Arenado at third, he's been learning second base, where Tommy Edman is off to a surprisingly powerful start in the majors thanks to a swing adjustment. Edman is versatile enough to get at-bats all over the diamond, though, and the DH spot also remains in play, even with the feel-good return of Albert Pujols.
It ultimately comes down to whether Gorman is ready, and for all his power production, the strikeouts do give reason for pause. Still, we've already seen him conquer that mountain -- at Triple-A just last year, as a matter of fact, where his 19.2 percent rate certainly didn't raise alarm. Part of what he's doing is honing his approach to get the most out of his power potential, which always rated among the best in the minors even if the home run totals were sometimes lacking.
"You've got to be able to really pick your zone and not go out of your way to chase pitches," Gorman recently told MLB.com. "That's a big thing that I've been focusing on, just shrinking the zone and only hitting pitches that I know I can drive."
When Gorman does arrive, Brandon Lowe-like numbers are potentially on the table, but given the growing pains he's endured at every other stop, an adjustment period is likely.
Jose Miranda, 3B, Twins
2021 minors: .344 BA (535 AB), 30 HR, 32 2B, .973 OPS, 42 BB, 74 K
2022 minors: .245 BA (53 AB), 1 HR, 6 2B, .683 OPS, 1 BB, 13 K
You may be losing faith in Miranda based on this slow start, but you have to remember it's a sample of only 12 games. He had a 12-game stretch early last season in which he hit only .231, and he went on to produce arguably the best numbers of any player in the upper minors. It's that sort of production, combined with his third base eligibility, that should keep hope alive. Plus, the Twins are actually trying to win and won't be looking to play the service time game with him. When he's ready and they have an opening, he'll be up.
Max Meyer, SP, Marlins
2021 minors: 6-4, 2.27 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 111 IP, 42 BB, 130 K
2022 minors: 1-0, 1.23 ERA, 0.55 WHIP, 14 2/3 IP, 3 BB, 20 K
Turns out the calf injury that ended Meyer's previous start was just a cramp, and he picked up where he left off with 5 2/3 shutout innings Tuesday. He did give up a double to a rehabbing Ronald Acuna, but it's one of only five hits he's allowed in 19 2/3 innings all year (which don't even account for his four no-hit innings in spring training). The Marlins are known for developing changeups and seem to have worked their magic on the 2020 first-rounder, whose fastball and slider are so good that they may have been enough on their own. An opening will develop sooner than later, and it's possible Meyer leapfrogs Edward Cabrera to fill it.
Grayson Rodriguez, SP, Orioles
2021 minors: 9-1, 2.36 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 103 IP, 27 BB, 161 K
2022 minors: 2-0, 1.26 ERA, 0.49 WHIP, 14 1/3 IP, 2 BB, 23 K
I could go with another Orioles prospect here, Adley Rutschman, and it wouldn't surprise me if he's actually in the majors first. But until the catcher returns from the triceps injury that's sidelined him since the start of spring training, it's impossible to gauge his timeline. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is doing his best to force the issue at Triple-A, making quick work of all three lineups he's faced so far. He's made efficiency his goal this year, recognizing that major-leaguers aren't going to chase pitches the way minor-leaguers do.
"Instead of trying to strike everybody out, being in the zone until we get to two strikes and then trying to punch the hitter away," he said after his latest start.
He's the top pitching prospect in baseball, having yet to be challenged at any level while consistently improving his secondary pitches, velocity and command, and if his time at Triple-A plays out the same way, it's unlikely even the rebuilding Orioles could justify keeping him down all year. The question is whether they can hold out another couple months to prevent him from reaching arbitration a year sooner.
Five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
2021 minors: .435 BA (23 AB), 2 HR, 2 3B, 1 2B, 3 SB, 6 BB, 7 K
2022 minors: .333 BA (36 AB), 2 HR, 1 3B, 1 2B, 5 SB, 10 BB, 11 K
Carroll seemed poised to take the minor leagues by storm when he tore the labrum and posterior capsule in his right shoulder last season, having put together one of the most impressive seven-game stretches you'll ever see. His 10-game stretch to begin this season rivals it, which not only underscores that he's no worse for wear following the injury and layoff but also that he's freaking talented. The Diamondbacks moved him up to Double-A in spite of the lost season, with only 49 minor-league games to his name, and he's continued to flash an all-around skill set highlighted by premium plate discipline, elite speed and emerging power.
Matt McLain, SS, Reds
2021 minors: .283 BA (106 AB), 3 HR, 10 SB, .851 OPS, 17 BB, 24 K
2022 minors: .297 BA (37 AB), 3 HR, 2 3B, 4 2B, 2 SB, 6 BB, 12 K
McLain was drafted 17th overall last year more for his floor than his ceiling, his questionable power profile lowering the likelihood of him being a first-division regular. So far, so good on that front, though. He's already homered three times in 10 games with a whole pile of extra-base hits. He even hit for the cycle Sunday. It's too early to rewrite the scouting report, of course, but his production bears watching. If a high-floor prospect turns out to have a pretty high ceiling as well, he's obviously an attractive dynasty asset.
Jared Shuster, SP, Braves
2021 minors: 2-0, 4.44 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 73 IP, 20 BB, 90 K
2022 minors: 2-0, 0.90 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 10 IP, 2 BB, 17 K
Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder turned out to be big finds for the Braves in the 2020 draft, but the team's first-round pick that year was actually Shuster, an unconventional left-hander with a bonkers changeup. They bought into a velocity spike late in his collegiate career that didn't carry over, but it sounds like it may be climbing again. More significant is that he's elevating the pitch in a way that pairs perfectly with the trapdoor changeup, at least judging by his 21 swinging strikes in his last outing.
Ceddane Rafaela, OF, Red Sox
2021 minors: .251 BA (394 AB), 10 HR, 23 SB, .729 OPS, 25 BB, 79 K
2022 minors: .380 BA (50 AB), 6 HR, 4 SB, 1.255 OPS, 3 BB, 10 K
I can't resist drawing comparisons to Mookie Betts, which is of course unfair to a prospect no one has heard of, but hey, there was a time when Betts himself was that prospect. Rafaela is with the Red Sox. He's 5-feet-8. He's converted from the infield but flashes the leather to play anywhere. He's showing surprising power to go along with existing contact skills. He's not Mookie Betts -- I know that, and I'm sorry. But if everything clicks for him, he could be a fun player with surprising Fantasy appeal. Maybe Shane Victorino is a fairer comparison?
Tanner Gordon, SP, Braves
2021 minors: 6-8, 3.90 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 108 1/3 IP, 21 BB, 109 K
2022 minors: 1-1, 2.70 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 10 IP, 0 BB, 20 K
Another no-name, Gordon has nonetheless delivered maybe the best start of the minor-league season so far, striking out 14 over six two-hit innings Saturday. Like the Marlins with the changeup, the Braves seem to have a knack for developing fastballs -- the high-spin kind best suited for the modern game, particularly when located up in the zone. Gordon doesn't throw the pitch especially hard, but the extension on his 6-foot-5 frame helps it play up. He can't afford many missteps at age 24, but if these gains hold, he could move as quickly as Strider did a year ago.