ROTISSERIE: The next wave of call-ups

This article appeared in the May 8 issue of Sports Weekly.

With the recent promotion of Blue Jays’ third prodigy Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Reds outfielder Nick Senzel, two well-known consensus Top 10 prospects are now in the major leagues. But as the calendar has turned to May, and early service time manipulation concerns are over, there is another level of potential talent about to surface (and resurface) for MLB clubs. While most new names won’t have the same elite long-term upside as Guerrero, Senzel, or Opening Day starters Eloy Jimenez of the White Sox or Fernando Tatis Jr. of the Padres, getting a jump on the promotions and playing time opportunities can yield fantasy dividends. 

As Washington outfielder Juan Soto showed in 2018—when he successfully jumped to the bigs last May after just 32 at-bats at Class AA—minor league experience isn’t the factor it once was. May is a time when both contenders and rebuilders begin to examine what’s working, what isn’t, and figure out their next moves. And some teams will begin to make changes soon, rather than wait for the Memorial Day turn. The following are some of our favorite promotion speculations, the reasons behind our thinking, and in some cases, names for you to consider adding to your roster now if your rules allow:

HITTERS

Brewers second baseman Keston Hiura was effectively blocked when the team opted to re-sign Mike Moustakas for this season and move him from third base to second base. But despite an over-aggressive plate approach (7/32 BB/K through 105 AB), Hiura is tearing it up in Class AAA, posting a .343/.386/.762 line with 10 home runs and 3 stolen bases, along with 23 of his 36 hits going for extra bases. Meanwhile, Milwaukee third sacker Travis Shaw has hit a paltry .177 through 113 AB and is showing few signs of emerging from his extended funk. As a veteran, Shaw will get plenty of rope. But with Moustakas in tow and his ability to move back to third base, Hiura’s MLB promotion could soon be an easier call than some might think—and his upside is worth a fantasy roster spot.

A similar situation exists in Atlanta, where the thinking that 22-year-old 3B-of-the-future Austin Riley could use more development time in Class AAA prompted the signing of Josh Donaldson to a one-year deal in the offseason. But like Hiura, Riley is torching Triple-A pitching to a 1.014 OPS with 10 HR through his first 108 AB, showing improved plate skills along with his plus-plus power. But Donaldson’s .866 OPS through 108 AB doesn’t hint that a change is imminent. Donaldson’s ability to stay on the field is always in question, so an injury seems like Riley’s only near-term path to playing time.

Easily the AL West’s best club, the Astros also have the division’s best MLB-ready prospects. They may not feel the urgency to act this month, but 1B/LF Yordan Alvarez—12 home runs, 16 walks, 1.395 OPA through 95 AB—isn’t making this easy for them. Still seeking his first 2018 HR through this past weekend, primary DH Tyler White had just 2 RBI through May 5 and his glove is a liability. Houston could wait a month or two to debut Alvarez, who is currently not on the 40-man roster. Or, they could even choose to bring back suddenly red-hot OF Kyle Tucker (6 HR in his most recent 10 games) even sooner.

It’s not just the contenders that will make moves. The rebuilding Baltimore Orioles own one of the AL’s worst records, and none of the current catchers will be on their next winning club. Despite a fine spring at the plate, top catching prospect Chance Sisco was sent to AAA-Norfolk to work on his receiving skills. At the plate, Sisco has rebounded ferociously from a slow start—15-for-his-last-28 with 5 HR and 5 walks through May 5—and now owns a .903 OPS. Offensively, he looks ready for another MLB shot, which should come well before the July All-Star break.  

Likewise, Sisco’s Norfolk teammate Ryan Mountcastle is a bat-first prospect who has shifted from third base to first base due to defensive deficiencies. But whether he ends up at 1B or in LF, Mountcastle’s bat will be ready for an audition shortly, as indicated by his .916 OPS through 119 AB.  Playing in a hitter-friendly park, but among the bottom-feeders in AL scoring, the Orioles will find a spot in their lineup for Mountcastle at some point this season.  

PITCHERS

With left-hander Carlos Rodon going down with an elbow injury and no one in the White Sox’ current rotation with an ERA below 5.00, Chicago’s healthiest pitching prospect Dylan Cease looks primed for a call-up soon. Cease seems well past his Tommy John surgery, logging 124 IP between Class-A Advanced and Class AA for the White Sox while racking up 160 whiffs along with a 2.40 ERA in 2018. And so far so good at AAA-Charlotte, where he’s posted a 30/7 K/BB and a 3.33 ERA through 24 IP in his first five starts. Cease is a work-in-progress control-wise and unlikely to get great support from his club. But his premium velocity will miss bats, making him a nice stash for fantasy owners in need of strikeouts.

At the time he was sidelined with a strained rotator cuff, Jesus Luzardo had allowed just one run while posting a 15/4 K/BB in 10 spring training innings—and was already being called the A’s best starting pitcher. Recent reports indicate that Luzardo’s throwing sessions have gone without a hiccup, and he could be pitching in the minors again this month. As a 20-year-old, Luzardo advanced from Class-A Advanced to Class AAA in 2018, posting a 2.88 ERA and 129 Ks over 109 IP. If healthy, he’ll move fast. Luzardo’s elite upside and Oakland’s rotation woes make him a worthy flyer for pitching-desperate owners.

Some of the most interesting candidates are still under the radar. Miami Marlins control specialist Zac Gallen wasn’t even listed among the club’s top ten prospects at the beginning of spring training. But he’s added a few ticks to his velocity, and Gallen now owns a 48/5 K/BB and a 1.12 WHIP through his first six 2019 starts (40 IP) at Class AAA New Orleans. On an MLB club that has used just five starters over the first month-plus, Gallen is just an injury or a timeout away from an MLB debut that seems likely to come sooner than later.


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