With the All-Star break just around the corner, it’s a good time to take stock of farm systems around the league. Many teams are being rewarded this season by fantastic performances by young hitters and spry hurlers. Pete Hodges fills us in on the pitchers you need to know in his Futures game hitting preview.
The MLB All-Star Futures Game will feature some of the best prospects that baseball has to offer. Many will have an impact on the game for years to come. However, there are a select few that could have a serious effect on the league this season. Teams desperate to get an extra push for the playoffs, or to get kids a taste of MLB to help their 2017 transition, will call up these future stars sometime over the next two and a half months, and now is your chance to learn about them.
Gary Sanchez – New York Yankees – Catcher
The Yankees’ prized catching prospect has seen his stock rise, fall, and rise again in the past few years. Over the past six years, Baseball America has ranked him 30th, 81st, 57th, 35th, unranked, and then 36th. Pundits have claimed that he would never be a catcher, yet just this spring he was competing for a spot on the 25-man roster as Brian McCann’s backup. But, Sanchez had an abysmal spring training and found himself back in the minors.
This season with the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, Sanchez has slugged nine home runs with a .281/.321/.487 line and has even swiped five bases without being caught. When facing the lefty-heavy rotation of the Chicago White Sox in May, the Yankees called up the right-handed hitting Sanchez to face Chris Sale. The call-up did not go well, as the catcher went 0-for-4 with a strikeout, but it was Chris Sale. Just two weeks later, Sanchez fractured his thumb while catching and many feared the worst. However, two weeks after the injury, Sanchez was seen rehabbing at first base with a first baseman’s mitt. The Yankees needed to find a way to get his bat into their lineup and learning a new position was a way to do that.
2016 Road to The Show: The Yankees recently stated they were serious about not being sellers, and if this is true that means they should be trying to compete. And if that is true, then replacing Mark Teixeira with Gary Sanchez is a start. The 36-year-old, $23.125 million first baseman is at the end of his deal and the Yankees don’t have to worry about his feelings. His glove cannot make up for his .193/.273/.324 line, and even though Sanchez couldn’t get a hit against Chris Sale, he could probably improve on that line. Another possibility would be splitting time between catcher, first base, and designated hitter, which would allow the New York to rest McCann, Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez.
2017 Road to The Show: Though Teixeira is on the way out, slugger Greg Bird will return from his season-long injury. How healthy he is will determine Sanchez’s path to playing time. If Bird comes back fully functional and swinging the bat like he did in 2015 (.261/.343/.529, 11 HR, 178 PA) then the Mark Teixeira argument used above can be used with Alex Rodriguez since he is hitting slightly better than Teixeira now, and is unlikely to hit better next year.
Hunter Renfroe – San Diego Padres – Outfielder
The right fielder has graced top 100 prospect lists for three years running now, and has never spent an entire season at one level. The reason for this is clear: The kid can hit. Though, calling him a kid is misleading as Renfroe is now a 24-year-old man. He has done everything asked of him by the Padres to earn the call and the Futures game seems like the next step in the process. Renfroe has 20 home runs in 350 at-bats this season with a .334/.361/.606 line, which is impressive even in the offensively-fueled PCL.
2016 Road to The Show: There’s not much in Renfroe’s way aside from Matt Kemp, Melvin Upton, and their albatross contracts. Kemp will make $21.75 million a year through 2019 ($3.5M of which is paid by the Dodgers) and Melvin will collect $15.45 million this year and another $16.45M in 2017. The Padres will not be able to get out from under these horrid contracts, and there is no designated hitter in the National League, so one of them will have to eventually sit, or San Diego fans will have to go to El Paso to see Renfroe play for the Chihuahuas.
2017 Road to The Show: The same roadblocks that exist now will exist in 2017, however, it may be easier to work out a trade where San Diego eats some of either player’s contract.
Yoan Moncada – Boston Red Sox – Second Baseman
The highly touted Cuban product became the first player freely allowed to leave the island by the Castro government to play American ball. In his first season stateside, he lived up to the hype as he hit .278/.380/.438 with eight home runs and an eye-popping 49 steals over 363 plate appearances for low-A Greenville. That performance earned him rankings as the third best and seventh best prospect by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, respectively.
In his second tour of the US, Moncada started in High-A Salem and showed the baseball world that he was just getting started. The second baseman slashed .307/.427/.496 with four home runs and stole 36 bases over 284 plate appearances before being promoted to Double-A Portland. Since being promoted, Moncada has played in 14 games and has slashed .293/.339/.569 with three home runs and three steals.
2016 Road to The Show: Boston’s third base situation isn’t entirely clear as the Red Sox just acquired Aaron Hill via trade to platoon with Travis Shaw. If Moncada sees any time there then it may be an indication that Shaw isn’t working out altogether. At this time that seems unlikely. If Boston’s front office feels the need to make a splash, however, Moncada would bring back a haul and he could see playing time that way.
2017 Road to The Show: If Moncada continues on his current development path, then he will force his way into Boston’s lineup one way or another. Moncada has the athleticism to be an excellent outfielder, and could possibly play third base. Second base doesn’t appear to be an option as it is currently occupied.
Manuel Margot – San Diego Padres – Outfielder
When people talk about the Craig Kimbrel trade in 15 years, the San Diego Padres front office is hoping they’ll call it the Manuel Margot trade. Margot’s value comes almost exclusively from his glove and his speed. The rangey center fielder should be a delight to Padres pitchers, who have been dealing with a poor defensive outfield for years as the team hasn’t been sure what they’ve wanted to do. His .298/.349/.422 line with the El Paso Chihuahuas is nothing to write home about in the offense friendly PCL, but with Margot’s defense that’s likely an all-star level performance – assuming he can put up something similar in the big leagues.
2016 Road to The Show: Starting centerfielder Jon Jay broke his right forearm just two weeks ago. This was a blow to the Padres, not because they needed Jay to compete, but rather because many assumed that the Padres were hoping to move Jay at the deadline and then promote Margot. Rookie Travis Jankowski is currently filling in for Jay for now, but, do not be surprised if Margot is quickly called up to start his major-league career after the All-Star break.
2017 Road to The Show: Margot will likely be the starting center fielder for the Padres.
Dilson Herrera – New York Mets – Second Baseman
After receiving a cup of coffee in 2014, Herrera was up and down last May and June because of injuries to Daniel Murphy and David Wright, as Murphy would move to third to cover for Wright when he was injured. However, Herrera dealt with a broken finger of his own, so he never received an extended look. During the offseason, the Mets lost Murphy to the Nationals and rather than rely on Herrera, the team traded Jon Niese to the Pirates for second baseman Neil Walker.
When the Mets were struck with injuries once again this June, they struck a deal to acquire Kelly Johnson rather than call up Herrera. The second baseman is hitting at a decent clip with the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s as he is hitting .278/.324/.482. Though this is down from last year’s .327/.382/.511 line, it could be explained by his drop in BABIP (from .369 to .309). The drop in BABIP could be explained by an increase in infield popups (14.9% from 8.9%), which may indicate he’s getting under some balls, but he’s not getting more fly balls, so it could just be something flukey.
2016 Road to The Show: The Kelly Johnson trade makes it seem unlikely the Mets’ brass wants to give the 22-year-old playing time in 2016. The Mets have holes, however, and Herrera’s 23 home runs over his last 686 Triple-A plate appearances are impressive for a second baseman.
2017 Road to The Show: Daniel Murphy’s contract expires at the end of the 2016 season, clearing a path to playing time should the Mets deem him ready for it.
Ryon Healy – Oakland Athletics – First/Third Baseman
The 24-year-old corner infielder entered 2016 facing his second stint with the Double-A Midland Rockhounds. He spent all of 2015 in Midland, and he posted a .302/.339/.426 line with ten home runs over 543 plate appearances. His 5.5% walk rate showed poor discipline, but his 15.1% strikeout rate displayed an ability to get the bat on the ball when down in the count. This season, Healy put up a .338/.409/.628 line with eight home runs in 164 plate appearance before Oakland promoted him to the Triple-A Nashville Sound. Over that small sample of plate appearances Healy also showed vast improvements over both his walk rate (11.0%) and strikeout rate (21.3%).
Since being promoted to Nashville, the first baseman has continued to show improvement over his pre-2016 numbers with a .320/.364/.519 line and six home runs in 198 plate appearances. However, his walk rate (6.1%) has returned to its previous level, although his strikeout rate (18.7%) remains higher than it was before this season. The increased strikeout rate has also come with a power spike – which may be the explanation – and since he has moved to first base, that may be a necessary adjustment.
2016 Road to The Show: Current A’s third baseman Danny Valencia is in high demand as he is putting up great numbers, and were he to be moved, Oakland may call up Healy. First base seems all jammed up right now as Yonder Alonso and Billy Butler are unlikely to be dealt.
2016 Road to The Show: Unfortunately, both Alonso and Butler are under contract for 2017 and seem just as unlikely to be dealt during the offseason or the season. If Valencia is not traded, then the path to MLB playing time becomes even hazier, although Billy Beane loves his trades, so nothing is ever certain in Oakland.
Hunter Dozier – Kansas City Royals – Third Baseman
The eighth pick in the 2013 draft was beginning to seem like he didn’t deserve such a high draft slot until something seemed to click this season. In the low minors and his first stint in Double-A Northwest Arkansas during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Dozier posted a walk rate of 12.76%, which is pretty good and a strikeout rate of 20.08%, which is decent. In 2015, he spent the entire season in Northwest Arkansas and those rates both went in the wrong direction as his walk rate dropped to 8.6% which is still respectable, but his strikeout rate also bumped up to 28.9%, which is dismal. Dozier’s sacrifice in plate discipline did result in a boost in power as he hit 12 home runs, good for a rate of one every 40 at-bats as opposed to one every 51 in 2013 and 2014. His OBP suffered for it, however, as it was the first time in his professional career, at any level, that it dropped below .300.
Dozier entered 2016 with questions swirling around him, but quickly answered them. In 26 games with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, the third baseman slugged eight home runs (one every 12 at-bats) with a slash line of .305/.400/.642. The power also came with a different approach as Dozier’s walk rate (12.7%) and strikeout rate (20.9%) improved. Now with the Omaha Storm Chasers, Dozier is still hitting against stiffer competition. This is good timing for him as Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas is done for the year, and his current replacement, Cheslor Cuthbert, is not going to cut it if the Royals intend on making it back to the promised land.
2016 Road to The Show: Dozier needs to continue to show his plate discipline and power is real, and the Royals should promote him as their everyday third baseman for the stretch run in hopes they can get a boost for their lineup.
2017 Road to The Show: If given the opportunity to play this season in MLB, then this will be up to Dozier to prove that he is ready for the bright lights. Moustakas is due for a significant pay increase ($8.7 million from $5.6 million) and will be a free agent after the 2017 season, so Kansas City may be looking to move on this offseason, especially with the massive payout to Alex Gordon.
Yandy Diaz – Cleveland Indians – Third Baseman
At first glance, Yandy Diaz is not much to look at as a ballplayer. He doesn’t hit for power, he just started hitting for average (so that might be a fluke), he doesn’t field all that well, he can’t run, and he’s not known for his arm. But when you look closer at his numbers, some things start to stand out – in both 2014 and 2015, he walked more than he struck out – 49:35 and 87:84, respectively. He started this season with the Double-A Akron RubberDucks and, once again, walked more than he struck out (24:16), earning himself a promotion to Triple-A Columbus after just 26 games. While with the Clippers he has struck out more than he has walked (24:37), but he is slashing .305/.381/.444 through 216 plate appearances – the highest slugging percentage he has hit in his career at any stop.
While this is not the profile of a third baseman, and certainly not one of a team competing in the same division as the defending World Series champion, Diaz has added another facet to the game. Since June 7, the third baseman has played 17 games in the outfield, which make sense when Cleveland Indians is relying on a 35-year-old Rajai Davis, a BABIP-fueled Lonnie Chisenhall, and a playing-over-his-head Jose Ramirez splitting time in left and right field.
2016 Road to The Show: If Diaz demonstrates that he is a capable outfielder then the desperate Terry Francona may get the answer to his prayers. Juan Uribe is always movable at the trade deadline as well. If the Indians could get something of future value for him while getting Diaz on the roster, they could kill two birds with one stone.
2017 Road to The Show: If Uribe isn’t dealt, his contract is up, so a spot on the roster will open up. If Diaz keeps hitting and developing new skills then he will force his way to Cleveland.
Alex Bregman – Houston Astros – Shortstop
Selected second overall in the 2015 Rule 4 Draft, Bregman passed the Double-A test that the Astros gave him. In his time with the Corpus Christi Hooks, Bregman batted .297/.415/.559 with 14 homers in 285 plate appearances over 62 games, including ten at third base. The shortstop is well-suited for his position, but there is a giant roadblock at the big-league level in the form of Carlos Correa. Now at Triple-A Fresno with the Grizzlies, Bregman has played exclusively at shortstop to concentrate on hitting and has hit five home runs through eight games.
The power that he has displayed thus far is somewhat of a surprise, even in the PCL, as Bregman was thought to be more of a line-drive, doubles hitter when he was drafted. Before the scouts would even mention his ability to spray line drives all over the park, they would gush about his control of the strike zone. That was on full display in Corpus Christi. Bregman drew 46 walks while only striking out 26 times against AA pitching. Through eight games in AAA, Bregman has put up a line of .389/.421/.889. If he can continue to mash the ball like he is, or post a similar walk-to-strikeout rate, then the Astros will have to be the next challenge for Alex Bregman.
2016 Road to The Show: Luis Valbuena is currently holding down third base quite admirably. However, he can play first base, so there are a few scenarios where Bregman can see playing time in Houston. If A.J. Reed cannot adjust to MLB pitching then they could swap him for Bregman, and move Valbuena to first. Houston could call up Bregman to play third base, and rotate Valbuena between first and third to give the rookies a breather a couple days a week each. As always, an injury to Valbuena or Reed could necessitate Bregman’s promotion.
2017 Road to The Show: Bregman will almost certainly be the starting third baseman for the Houston Astros in 2017.
Jorge Bonifacio – Kansas City Royals – Outfielder
It’s an embarrassment of riches for the defending champions. Bonifacio seemed like a lost cause entering the 2015 season after posting a .230/.302/.309 line and hitting four homers with the Mutuals. The rightfielder had something else in mind, however, as he clubbed his way to a .240/.305/.416 line in 2015. He added to his slugging percentage by adding 10 doubles and 13 home runs over 22 fewer at-bats.
The improvement from 2014 to 2015 led to Bonifacio starting the 2016 season in Omaha. The outfielder is hitting .289/.355/.489 with 13 home runs and he has added six triples for good measure. Interestingly, Bonifacio has 12 of his 13 home runs when playing at home, though he hasn’t had those splits in the past, so it’s likely a fluke.
2016 Road to The Show: The Royals outfield is full at the moment, as Lorenzo Cain is already rehabbing from a strained hamstring that put him on the DL on June 29. Left field is also a no-go as Alex Gordon signed a mega-deal this offseason. Cain’s contract jumps from its current $6.5 million to $11 million next season and he will be a free agent following 2017, so if the Royals fall too far out of the playoff picture he could be a hot commodity at the deadline. A more optimistic view would be – if the Royals are competing and want a bat for the playoff stretch, then Bonifacio could be their man. Calling him up before September 1 would allow them to carry him into the playoffs, should the Royals make it.
2017 Road to The Show: If the Royals enter the season with Cain as their starting right fielder, it’s hard to see Bonifacio on the 25-man roster. The team did defer much of the Gordon contract, which may signal that they are willing to deal with Cain’s pay bumps and put off the arrival of Bonifacio.
Andrew Benintendi – Boston Red Sox – Outfielder
Benintendi quickly signed with the Red Sox after being selected seventh overall last year, and absolutely raked in his first exposure to professional baseball. Playing in 35 games for the short-season Lowell Spinners, Benintendi hit .290/.408/.540 with seven homers and seven steals. He was then promoted to Low-A Greenville where he played 19 games and hit a mere .351/.430/.581 with four homers and three steals.
His 2015 performance led the Red Sox to starting Benintendi with the High-A Salem Red Sox where he hit .341/.413/.563 with only one home run, but eight steals over 34 games. Another promotion, this time to Double-A Portland showed that his power was real. So far, he has hit six home runs to go along with his .284/.342/.503 line and six steals, though he has been caught five times so he has some work to do in that department.
2016 Road to The Show: The path to playing time is clearly in left field as the other two thirds of the Red Sox outfield will also be in San Diego as part of the main event. Don’t expect President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski to sit on his hands if Benintendi continues to crush in Portland. He could see a quick promotion to Pawtucket, and if he adjusts there another bump up the ladder if Boston gets desperate, which seems more likely every day.
2017 Road to The Show: If Benintendi isn’t in Boston yet, then he could start the season in Pawtucket but he shouldn’t be there long.
Carlos Asuaje – San Diego Padres – Second Baseman
Asuaje was another part of the offseason trade that sent Craig Kimbrel to the Boston Red Sox, and he has adjusted quite well to the Pacific Coast. The potential utility man has slashed .319/.383/.458 in his first taste of AAA with the El Paso Chihuahuas, though he doesn’t add much else on offense with only five homers and seven stolen bases against three times caught. However, his ability to play third base and left field could be a fine option, especially for a National League team.
2016 Road to The Show: Opening Day second baseman Cory Spangenberg is nearing his return as he will soon begin a rehab assignment, which means that Yangervis Solarte will move back to third base. Since Ryan Schimpf has filled in admirably at third base, it is unlikely that Asuaje will get the call before September call-ups.
2017 Road to The Show: Backup infielder Adam Rosales will become a free agent at the end of this season, and while Schimpf did a fine job this season, he turns 29 next year. If Asuaje is the future of the organization, he will need to be given a chance as their utility infielder.
Next up, we’ll discuss the pitchers that could impact the 2016 season from the MLB Futures All-Stars Game.
Pete Hodges has written about the call up of a top prospect, an odd tradition, Leo the Lip.
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