Edit: The Cardinals will call up Nolan Gorman, one of my Five on the Verge, as well as pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore this weekend. Meanwhile, Max Meyer has been placed on the minor-league IL with a minor elbow injury.
The Dodgers are the highest-scoring team in the majors so far. They're also in first place, as usual, so you might assume their lineup has no room to upgrade.
But you'd be wrong. There is one lineup spot where they've failed to get adequate production and don't have the sort of proven commodity worth waiting out. That position is second base, where Gavin Lux, after seemingly turning the corner early on, has come crashing back to earth. They've taken to mixing in Hanser Alberto from time to time, a move that pretty much speaks for itself.
Well, it just so happens that one of the most productive hitters in the minors so far is a second baseman in the Dodgers system. He's 24 years old, and he just got promoted to Triple-A, homering in his first game there. His name is Michael Busch, and his numbers, well, they too speak for themselves:
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #83 • Age: 25
But I'll speak to them further. Notice the walks? They come out to a .438 on-base percentage, and that's been his M.O. all along, earning him perhaps-too-convenient comparisons to Max Muncy. Truth is Busch has a better hit tool than Muncy. It wasn't so evident last year because a hand injury dragged down his numbers early, but he hit .297 from July 1 on.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #17 • Age: 23
But wait, is Busch the most logical choice to be promoted? Miguel Vargas has been at Triple-A from the get-go and has more than held his own there, hitting safely in 16 of his past 18 games for a .384 (28 for 73) batting average. He has an even better hit tool than Busch and is regarded as the higher-upside prospect even though his on-base percentage isn't quite on par. True, Vargas is a third baseman, but Muncy has been playing mostly third base at the major-league level this year. He could easily shift back to second to accommodate Vargas.
Miguel Vargas and Michael Busch just hit home runs in Oklahoma City 👀 #future pic.twitter.com/5Le9nWngyH— Blake Harris (@BlakeHarrisTBLA) May 18, 2022
The bottom line is the Dodgers have two quality bats ready to go should they decide to make a change. They probably don't feel much urgency at the moment, but you'll want to keep Busch and Vargas in mind for whenever they do.
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles
2021 minors: .285 BA (452 AB), 23 HR, 25 2B, .899 OPS, 79 BB, 90 K
2022 minors: .313 BA (64 AB), 3 HR, 5 2B, .960 OPS, 11 BB, 7 K
If what I predicted last week turned out to be true, Rutschman would already be up right now. Multiple Orioles beat writers had pinpointed Monday for his arrival, but Monday came and went without a call-up. What may have prevented it was him going cold over the weekend, batting just .194 (6 for 31) in his first nine games at Triple-A. But it's a level he already mastered last year, so it doesn't figure to trip him up for long.
In fact, he's now homered in back-to-back games, so we're still at the point where he could be called up any day. No organization wants to set a top prospect up for failure by calling him up when he's slumping, but Rutschman's slump, if that's even what it was, appears to be ending.
Royce Lewis, SS, Twins
2022 minors: .310 BA (87 AB), 3 HR, 8 SB, .993 OPS, 17 BB, 20 K
2022 majors: .308 BA (39 AB), 2 HR, 4 2B, .889 OPS, 1 BB, 5 K
We all can see the absurdity in the Twins sending Lewis back down after he had seemingly established himself as a fixture, even hitting a home run and a double the day before his demotion. But we should also recognize the likelihood of it being a short-term development. He was initially called up as an injury replacement for shortstop Carlos Correa, remember, and has gotten little exposure to other positions in the minors. So while a less premium position -- say, left field -- shouldn't be much of a stretch for a natural shortstop, the Twins want to see how he acclimates to it in the minors first.
"He hasn't really done it at multiple positions," president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. "We still want him to be a shortstop. We still want that skill to continue to be developed. But we also recognize: Let's put him in Triple-A for a period of time to get him some exposure to some other spots, move him around some, so he can be ready to contribute in multiple places this year for us, maybe in the short to the medium term."
How often in the past few years have we seen high-profile call-ups -- higher than Lewis, even -- fail to deliver on their promise right away? If you're going to stash a prospect, wouldn't you rather it be one who's already proven capable at the highest level? I wouldn't be so quick to dump Lewis.
Nolan Gorman, 2B, Cardinals
2021 minors: .279 BA (480 AB), 25 HR, .814 OPS, 38 BB, 115 K
2022 minors: .308 BA (133 AB), 15 HR, 1.044 OPS, 12 BB, 50 K
Gorman accomplished a rare feat (for him) Wednesday: a three-hit game without a homer, making him 8 for 14 in his past three games. Honestly, it was refreshing to see, because his strikeout rate would suggest he's been swinging from his heels all year. It's still at 34 percent (as compared to 19.2 percent last year) and is probably the main reason why he's not in the majors yet. Of course, there's also now a pretty good secondary reason: Brendan Donovan has beaten him to the punch. Between his early success and that of Juan Yepez, another recent call-up, the Cardinals have filled holes as quickly as they've opened, leaving Gorman to simmer at Triple-A.
Jo Adell, OF, Angels
2021 minors: .289 BA (311 AB), 23 HR, 8 SB, .934 OPS, 22 BB, 99 K
2022 minors: .282 BA (39 AB), 5 HR, 1 SB, 1.229 OPS, 8 BB, 14 K
2022 majors: .231 BA (65 AB), 3 HR, 1 SB, 1 BB, 24 K
Adell continues to be too good for Triple-A. In just 10 games there, he's already clobbered five homers and six doubles. Defense remains something of an adventure and may be the primary reason he was sent back down. The Angels can afford to take their time with him because their lineup is full and they're winning without him, but there will come a point when someone gets hurt or they need an offensive jolt and he'll be back, hopefully for good this time.
Someone let us know when this ball comes back from orbit 🚀 pic.twitter.com/oqswlDrIYk— Salt Lake Bees (@SaltLakeBees) May 15, 2022
Lost in all his shuffling between the majors and minors is that he's still only 23. He's only now at an age when prospects of his ilk are beginning to break into the majors, so it's a mistake to hold his past failures against him. Certainly this year, his at-bats in the majors were too sporadic to draw any real conclusions from them.
Grayson Rodriguez, SP, Orioles
2021 minors: 9-1, 2.36 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 103 IP, 27 BB, 161 K
2022 minors: 3-1, 2.65 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 37 1/3 IP, 13 BB, 57 K
It seems like just a week ago Max Meyer was on the verge of a promotion, but he seems to have taken himself out of the running with back-to-back poor outings at Triple-A Jacksonville, his ERA rising from 1.72 to 4.54. GM Kim Ng has also effectively ruled him out as a replacement for the injured Jesus Luzardo.
"It's hard," she said. "This game is hard. These big league pitchers, the competition is very stiff. It's somewhat infrequent that you see young players come up and just hit the ground running consistently. So again, we want to make sure that Max and all of our prospects when they come up are about as well-equipped as they can be provided with that opportunity."
So for now, it's onto Rodriguez, one of the few superior pitching prospects to Meyer and one who's, you know, actually pitching well. He struck out a season-high 11 in his latest start Tuesday, and not just by blowing hitters away with 99 mph heat. Of his 20 swinging strikes, seven came on the changeup and seven on the slider. The Orioles are purposely slow-playing him, not letting him throw even 90 pitches in a start yet, but that should leave more bullets for when he inevitably gets the call.
Five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Corbin Carroll, OF, Diamondbacks
2021 minors: .435 BA (23 AB), 2 HR, 3 SB, 1.465 OPS, 6 BB, 7 K
2022 minors: .328 BA (122 AB), 11 HR, 11 SB, 1.166 OPS, 26 BB, 40 K
With Julio Rodriguez and Bobby Witt having already graduated and Rutschman soon to join them, what we're looking at here is probably the next top prospect in baseball. In fact, Carroll may not get the chance to claim that spot on preseason rank lists next year, because how do the Diamondbacks slow him down? Even with fewer than 100 minor-league games under his belt, he's making a mockery of Double-A. What doesn't he do well? At 5-feet-10, he wasn't thought to be a surefire power source, but he had back-to-back two-homer games just last week. I predict he'll be in my Five on the Verge within the next six weeks, so get ready to hear a lot more about him.
Joey Wiemer, OF, Brewers
2021 minors: .295 BA (396 AB), 27 HR, 30 SB, .959 OPS, 63 BB, 105 K
2022 minors: .292 BA (137 AB), 9 HR, 9 SB, .947 OPS, 15 BB, 49 K
If you haven't heard of Wiemer before, it's because the skeptics worked overtime to stifle his preseason ranking, convinced his goofy swing would trip him up in the upper minors. (And it really is goofy. Wanna see?)
Joey Wiemer ripped off a 6-game extra-base hit streak last week with 5 doubles and a homer, AND threw out two baserunners 🚀💪 pic.twitter.com/YdTisbx3fi— Brewers Player Development (@BrewersPD) May 9, 2022
So far, though, Double-A has proven no more of a challenge for him. The strikeout rate is high, but so is the quality of contact. His freak athleticism should help to smooth out any deficiencies, and it's not like he has no strike-zone judgment, his walk rates coming in consistently high. He's especially hot right now, too, batting .407 (11 for 27) with five homers and five steals over his past eight games.
Andrew Abbott, SP, Reds
2021 minors: 0-0, 4.15 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 13 IP, 4 BB, 22 K
2022 minors: 4-0, 0.55 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 32 2/3 IP, 7 BB, 52 K
Having already been featured in this space once previously, the left-hander has taken his dominance with him to Double-A, striking out 12 in his first start there Saturday. It was his fourth double digit-strikeout effort in only six chances so far. We can all ooh and aah the numbers, but the stuff doesn't so obviously back them up. It's elevated by Abbott's deceptive delivery and his developed understanding of how to set up hitters, playing his curveball off his fastball beautifully. We'll have to see how it plays against more advanced hitters, but immediate success at Double-A is a good sign.
Lenyn Sosa, SS, White Sox
2021 minors: .271 BA (451 AB), 11 HR, 24 2B, .701 OPS, 16 BB, 105 K
2022 minors: .353 BA (136 AB), 8 HR, 5 2B, 1.007 OPS, 13 BB, 22 K
Though he always stood out for his bat-to-ball skills, the 22-year-old's production has taken off even with the move up to Double-A this year thanks to improved selectivity. In short, Sosa is waiting for pitches to drive and then driving them. Sound familiar? It's basically the path Jose Miranda took to minor-leaguer stardom last year, so if you have Miranda envy in a dynasty league, set your sights on Sosa, who could quickly climb the ranks in a weak system. He's currently riding a 13-game hitting streak during which he's batting .431 (23 for 55) with five homers and just six strikeouts.
Bryce Miller, SP, Mariners
2021 minors: 9 1/3 IP, 15 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 15 K
2022 minors: 1-0, 1.08 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 33 1/3 IP, 8 BB, 40 K
For some reason, evaluators got it in their heads that Miller was destined for the bullpen, which is why he didn't register on preseason rank lists. His stuff earned high marks, though, particularly the fastball, which has picked up velocity and is capable of generating whiffs up in the zone, and the slider, which features a hard break. In retrospect, the reliever profile never really made sense given that Miller shows the makings of three, if not four, pitches, sustains his stuff deep into starts, and is hitting the strike zone more consistently, too. He has allowed a combined five baserunners in his past two starts at High-A, striking out 17.