MINORS: Possible Early Arrivals

While the 2012 season is not yet a month old, injuries and slow starts are already prompting clubs to consider making roster changes.  Many of the early season call-ups will hardly cause a ripple in your free agent pool, but there are impact prospects who could reach the majors sooner than anticipated.  Our twice-weekly Minor League Watch List highlights the most impending call-ups, but this week we take a look at some scenarios that could land some high profile prospects in the majors.  Admittedly some of these scenarios are long-shots—at least right now—but every year someone like Juan Nicasio, Dee Gordon, Mike Trout, or Jacob Turner gets surprise a call-up with little or no experience above Double-A.

Now that the season has started, the logical thing for the Washington Nationals to do is wait until after the late April deadline passes that will delay Bryce Harper's (OF) free agency for a year. But with the team off to a quick 10-3 start it is conceivable, though not likely, that the Nationals could call Harper to the majors.  Harper is off to a slow start (13 for 56 with 11 K), but when his bat gets hot the temptation will be great.

The defending champion St. Louis Cardinals are also off to a good start, but haven’t gotten much production from 2B Danny Descalso.  With Skip Schumaker on the DL with an oblique injury there is an outside chance that 2011 1st rounder Kolten Wong (2B) could reach the majors earlier than anticipated.  Wong had an excellent debut in 2011 and is currently .366/.447/.634 in 41 AB at Double-A.

Sticking with the Cardinals, the recent injury to starting CF John Jay will likely be handled without making a major roster change, but if for some reason Jay ends up being sidelined for longer than anticipated, the Cardinals could turn to Oscar Taveras (OF).  At 19, Taveras is very young, but he has done nothing but hit as a professional.  After hitting in the MWL in 2011, Taveras was skipped over High-A to start 2012.  Initially the jump of a level has not been a problem and Taveras is hitting .340/.352/.623 in 53 Double-A AB.  Taveras likely needs additional time in the minors, but he could fill in and hold his own offensively for a brief stint.

The Houston Astros are off to another lackluster start, but thanks to some critical trades in 2011, the organization finally has some young talent as they look to make the transition to the American League in 2013.  Most likely long suffering Astros fans will have to wait a bit longer to see some of that young talent, but a trade of 1B Carlos Lee could open the door for Jonathan Singleton (1B).  The 20-year-old Singleton might be the best 1B prospect still in the minors and is 12-for-38 with 6 BB/10 K for Double-A Corpus Christi.

The Arizona Diamondbacks Matt Davidson (3B) doesn’t get as much attention as he should, but that could change soon.  Ryan Roberts showed surprising speed and power in ’11, but hit just .249 and doesn’t have a long track record of success.  Roberts is off to a slow start this spring and could eventually be replaced.  Davidson has worked hard to improve defensively, but his ticket to the majors will be his potent bat.  Last year he hit .277 with 39 doubles and 20 home runs at High-A and is off to a torrid start in ’12, hitting .426/.537/.667 with 7 doubles, 2 home runs, and 12 BB/10 K in 54 Double-A AB.

The New York Mets have been a surprise thanks in large part to solid starting pitching.  Still given the lack of durability of Johan Santana and the inconsistency of Mike Pelfrey, the odds are that the Mets will need help at some point in the season.  Mets prospect Matt Harvey (RHP), who is at Triple-A, will likely get first dibs on any opening in the rotation, but Harvey struggles with command and is off to a very shaky start (7.62 ERA with 8 BB/9 K in 13 IP).  Meanwhile, Zack Wheeler (RHP) has been lights-out for Double-A Binghamton,  In his first three starts, the 21-year-old Wheeler has a 2.40 ERA with 5 BB/21 K.  Wheeler’s control has been much improved since a mechanical adjustment in the middle of 2011 and might actually be a safer play for the Mets.

At this time last year, the Arizona Diamondbacks Trevor Bauer (RHP) was in the midst of a breakout season at UCLA that would lead to his being selected #3 in the draft.  It might be a bit premature to look for Bauer to make his major league debut as bringing him up prior to the Super Two arbitration deadline could be very expensive and the Diamondbacks have other viable options (Pat Corbin at Triple-A or Wade Miley who is currently in the bullpen).  Still, the slow start of Josh Collementer (10 ER in 7 IP) and Bauer’s advanced potential could force the club to roll the dice.  After three professional starts, Bauer is 3-0 with a 0.57 ERA and 12 BB/20 K in 15.2 IP.  If the club opts to keep Bauer in the minors longer, Tyler Skaggs (RHP) and Corbin (LHP) have both been very effective for Double-A Mobile.

The Seattle Mariners have some of the best pitching prospects in baseball and outside of Felix Hernandez their starting rotation is full of questions marks.  The working assumption is that if the big league club needs an arm early in the season that it will be 2011 2nd overall pick Danny Hultzen (LHP), but keep an eye on both Taijuan Walker (RHP) and James Paxton (LHP).  The 19-year-old Walker jumped from Low-A in 2011 to Double-A in 2012, but so far that has not been a problem.  After two starts Walker is 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA, 2 BB/15 K in 11 IP.  The 23-year-old Paxton has been almost as impressive, posting a 1.20 ERA with 9 BB/21 K in 15 IP.

The Kansas City Royals have some of the best young players in the game, but with Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer hitting below the Mendoza line, it would not be shocking to see the club call up OF Wil Myers.  The 21-year-old Myers has limited experience in CF, but has more athleticism and upside than current Royals starter Mitch Maier.  Most likely Myers needs additional seasoning in the minors, but he is gotten off to a quick start, hitting .318/.348/.614 with 3 home runs in 44 AB.

The Los Angeles Angels Mike Trout struggled in his MLB debut and was injured and ill this spring.  With Vernon Wells locked up through 2014 and Torii Hunter and Peter Bourjos holding down the other two OF spots, the assumption is that the Trout is blocked and could spend the bulk of 2012 stuck at Triple-A.  While something certainly has to give before Trout will get another chance, he is off to a very good start (.397/.446/.569 in 58 AB).  That dynamic could change quickly as there's little he can’t do on the baseball field.

If the Milwaukee Brewers are going to contend in the NL Central they will need their starting rotation to carry them.  While the Brewers top three have plenty of star power, the back-end of their rotation drops off dramatically.  Randy Wolf had a solid season in 2011, but the 35-year-old veteran right-hander rarely tops 90 mph and Chris Narveson is now out for the year.  If the Brewers opt to make a change from their minor leagues, it will most likely be their talented righty Wily Peralta but don’t overlook lefty Tyler Thornburg.  Thornburg doesn’t have the same upside, but he does have good stuff from the left-hand side and after three Double-A starts has a 0.98 ERA with 3 BB/24 K in 18.1 IP.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.