Written by: Adam Ehrenreich (@mel_reich)
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This is the second of my two-part series on minor league prospects and how an individual system or environment can affect their road to the show. As discussed in my first article, in terms of a system, I look at a few specific factors to determine “if the shoe fits” when evaluating individual prospects. The same runs true here in my second article. In this article, I will discuss environment and how it affects prospects in the minors as well as the role environment can have on improvement or diminishment of skills once a prospect reaches the major leagues. Environment can make or break a young player as they transition from the minors to the big leagues. Factors such as a player’s home stadium, the everyday slot in the lineup, the locker room and even a team’s division can have an impact on a young, budding star. I will analyze a few prospects that should strive in their MLB debuts and some that may falter.
I won’t make it a habit to double dip from my first article, but I will briefly retouch on a favorite of mine, Renato Nunez. Nunez is in a great system to thrive, especially as the A’s continue to look towards the youth movement. They just shipped two veteran relievers in Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle to the Nationals for prospects, a move that epitomizes their continued desire to become younger and save money. Billy Beane explicitly came out and said that the organization’s goal is to save money for a new stadium, an idea that can be brought along by dumping large salaries. Nunez currently leads the PCL in homers, a fact that is typically a non-factor as the PCL is known for their home run hitting prowess. Realizing that Nunez would be playing in Oakland, a notorious pitching haven, once he arrives could be viewed as a negative. However, once you take into account what Yonder Alonso, Ryon Healy and Khris Davis have done at the same home park, the concern disappears. Nunez’s power should be on full display in Oakland as early as August.
Ronald Acuna – OF – Atlanta Braves
Acuna was recently promoted to AAA and proceeded to homer in his first game from the leadoff spot, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. He has flown through the Braves minor league system and on the year, across all levels, is batting .311 with 14 HRs and 33 SBs. The Braves are in a situation where they are competing while nurturing a fantastic farm system comprised of Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Kevin Maitan, Kyle Wright, AJ Minter, Mike Soroka, and Kolby Allard to go along with Dansby Swanson, Rio Ruiz, Sean Newcomb and Matt Wisler who have all spent time or are currently on the MLB roster. When Acuna makes it to the show, he will be surrounded by veterans like Matt Kemp, Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman. Having that support system, along with SunTrust Park proving to be a hitters’ haven, will go a long way in allowing Acuna to have immediate success once promoted to the big leagues.
Ryan McMahon – 1B/2B/3B – Colorado Rockies
With third base blocked in Colorado for seemingly the next decade, McMahon (.356, 15 HRs, 66 RBIs this season between AA and AAA) might be more suited for the other side of the diamond. While Mark Reynolds, Gerardo Parra and Ian Desmond have the ability to play first base and have done so admirably, McMahon has the ability to take the Rockies to the next level both offensively and defensively. With Carlos Gonzalez struggling and David Dahl working his way back from injury, the Colorado’s outfield has been occupied by Parra, Desmond and Charlie Blackmon. McMahon seems to be one Mark Reynolds injury away from making his MLB debut. Now, I would never wish for a player to get injured, and I am not doing so here. Reynolds does not have an extensive injury history, and his lack of playing in seasons prior to 2017 has been due to lack of opportunity or poor performance. Therefore, the path for playing time for McMahon may not be so clear today. However, once he gets to Colorado and is surrounded by a stellar lineup, he should quickly find his way into fantasy lineups and will almost certainly make an immediate impact.
Rafael Devers – 3B – Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox need for a third baseman is now. The rumors have begun swirling that Boston may go after Asdrubal Cabrera to man the hot corner, especially now that Todd Frazier is in pinstripes. What I don’t understand is why Devers (.305, 19 HR, 58 RBI), who was recently promoted to AAA, is not an option. Devers has improved his defense since last year and continues to swing a hot bat. The Red Sox have not hesitated to throw their prospects into the fire (see Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts), so why not give Devers a shot in their time of need? While David Ortiz might not be there to help the young stud settle in, the Red Sox are still flooded with veteran presence. Additionally, Devers would hit in the lower half of the lineup, which would eliminate most of the pressure that’s assumed when playing under the bright lights. To me, it’s a no-brainer for the Red Sox to bring him up when all factors are considered, but there’s a reason I’m writing this article instead of occupying my time by being an MLB GM. Time will tell as to when Devers makes his debut, but have your mouse ready to pounce once he does.
Nick Senzel – 3B – Cincinnati Reds
Drafted last June, Senzel seems to be on the fast track to the Majors. An excellent hitter in college, Senzel’s game translates to that of a future stud and cornerstone player at third base for the Reds. While he hasn’t been tearing the cover off the ball as expected, Senzel is batting a cool .305 with 6 HRs, 43 RBI and 10 SBs. Great American Ballpark is a hitters’ haven and while there’s no telling if Senzel will make his debut this year (could be a September call up if all goes well), it looks likely that he will be in Cincinnati soon enough.
Anderson Espinoza – SP – San Diego Padres
A forearm injury has cost Espinoza the entire season to date, and while he is on track to pitch by the end of July, he won’t be seeing Petco Park anytime soon. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be on your dynasty radar. Coming over via a trade from Boston, Espinoza finds himself in a position to be a very good major league pitcher in one of the best pitching parks in baseball. While the division includes Colorado and Arizona, pitching home games in Petco is a major advantage. Look at Jhoulys Chacin and Trevor Cahill: both have been fringe MLB starters their entire careers and are putting together above average years while pitching in the friendly confines of San Diego. Espinoza has elite tools and was once considered to be a top prospect. The delay should not turn you away from his potential to be an elite starter once things begin breaking the right way.
J.P. Crawford – SS – Philadelphia Phillies
How the mighty have fallen. Crawford was supposed to be the starting shortstop for the Phillies this year after stellar 2014 and 2015 campaigns, but here we are nearing August 2017 and he is still mired in AAA sporting terrible numbers overall. However, his bat seems to have awaken from its slumber in July, hitting 6 of his 8 total home runs in the last 18 days. While he will need to continue showing gains over a larger sample size before getting the call, Freddy Galvis is a free agent after this year and it would be beneficial for the Phillies if Crawford can break camp with the club next season. Various scouts have claimed that when the hype began growing around Crawford, he began slacking. In turn, so did his production. If he’s finally gotten over the hump and continues to produce, he should be in the majors by September. The pressure is no longer on Crawford to be the savior of the organization, and hitting in the top half of the lineup in the sandbox that is Citizens Bank Park should lead to many productive years from the slick shortstop.
Amed Rosario – SS – New York Mets
I know, I know, I said I wouldn’t double dip, but this situation is out of hand. Rosario continues to bide his time in the minors as you-know-what continues to hit the fan in New York. The locker room is in shambles and management has gone as far as admitting that part of the reason Rosario hasn’t been promoted is because they don’t want current team morale to be his downfall. Asdrubal Cabrera may get dealt as soon as this week, but while Cabrera may be the one making waves in the locker room, his departure doesn’t make Rosario his definite replacement. He’s been passed over for Matt Reynolds and Gavin Cecchini more than once this season. As time continues to progress, pressure continues to mount to save the Mets from their misery. This is no way to welcome your top prospect and it may be beneficial to all parties to just wait until 2018 before Rosario makes his big league debut.
Jorge Alfaro – C – Philadelphia Phillies
Alfaro has plummeted down prospect lists over the course of the past few seasons. He was universally labeled as “catcher of the future” when Carlos Ruiz was still in town. After a brief cup of coffee in the majors last year, Alfaro has been in the minors all year and the Phillies management recently said that they won’t be calling him up any time soon. Way to give the kid a vote of confidence! You never want to see a player put down by the powers above, and this just doesn’t bode well for his future outlook. While he hasn’t exactly been producing the numbers that warrant a call up, the idea it won’t happen regardless of production is a little discouraging. Hopefully Alfaro can turn the tables and make an impact before too long.
Lucas Giolito / Yoan Moncada / Reynaldo Lopez – White Sox
The White Sox continue to stack their farm, but as they continue to make moves with an eye towards the future, the more pressure mounts on the young studs. The only true veterans remaining with the club are Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera (who will be a UFA in 2018), and the club simply doesn’t have much seasoned presence to support and nurture these prospects. The pitchers will likely be promoted this summer when batted balls fly out of the ballpark formerly known as Comiskey, and Moncada, who has struggled with plate discipline issues, just got called up with nothing to play for. At the end of the day, Rick Renteria has been dealt a doozie of a hand, and while the prospect progression should be fun to watch and will have major fantasy implications, there could be struggles ahead for the South Side
Carson Kelly – C – St. Louis Cardinals
While Yadier Molina is signed through 2020, there have been whispers of retirement for one of the best catchers of his generation. Stepping into those shoes will be extremely hard to fill. Kelly is the supposed heir to the throne and the amount of pressure as Molina’s replacement may lead to early struggles. The Cardinals as an organization don’t have much patience and are willing to move on to the next hot bat at a position sooner than most MLB teams (see Aledmys Garcia & Randal Grichuk). Kelly will eventually get his shot, but let’s hope the pressure of filling a hall of famer’s shoes doesn’t hamper his ability to produce.
** Note, Kelly has been promoted the MLB and will serve as a Yadier Molina’s backup for the time being. This is a great opportunity for Kelly to learn and alleviate the pressure of being the heir to the throne. **
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Featured image courtesy of Purple Row