2018 MLB Prospect Report: AL & NL West
Matthew Selz breaks down some of the top prospects in the AL and NL West and analyzes how soon they could be up with their big league clubs
The last two weeks we’ve been taking a tour through the divisions and taking a look at the prospects most likely to break camp with the team. This week brings the AL and NL West divisions. A whole lot of teams in these divisions have loaded rosters but still have room for a rookie or two to head to the bigs right from camp.
Starting things off is the biggest “prospect” this offseason with Shohei Ohtani being in L.A. I won’t break him down because he simply is already guaranteed a roster spot, as was the point of his signing. However there are a few worthwhile guys to breakdown in this division aside from Ohtani.
Willie Calhoun (OF TEX) – A highly touted prospect that came over from the Dodgers in the Darvish deal last season, he has all the tools you want in a corner outfielder or third baseman, as he previously played there as well. His 2017 stat line, at two different Triple-A affiliates, totaled .300/.355/.572 with 31 homers, 93 RBI, 80 runs, and four steals in 486 at bats. The impressive part of the line is the 61 strikeouts he had all year. That’s a low number for a power-hitting young guy. Calhoun has work to do in left field, as Jeff Bannister (the manager) said during Monday’s spring training game, but he’s improving very nicely. Calhoun was sent back to Triple-A Round Rock (just after the writing of this at 2pm ET on 3/13) to start the year and improve his defense before taking the reins in Texas for good. There’s always the service time issue too.
Dustin Fowler (OF OAK)–Fowler may seem like an obvious choice since he’s been thought of as the A’s center fielder heading into this season. However, he is still coming off a serious knee injury suffered in his first ever MLB game while with the Yankees. He hasn’t played in an actual game since June 27 of last year and because of that time missed, he’s rusty. His defense has been solid in spring and he has registered three steals, both good signs from a speedy guy who’s coming off a patellar tendon tear just nine months ago. Fowler himself admits that he is still cheating on fastballs by hastening his hands instead of getting full-swing timing down. So with that said, there is a chance that he starts the season down on the farm to knock the rust off before heading to Oakland. He doesn’t really have anything left to prove down there having hit .293 with 13 homers and 13 steals in 70 games for Scranton/Wilkes Barre last year, so it won’t be a long stay if he goes at all.
Yohander Mendez (LHP TEX) – Mendez got a cup of coffee with the big league club late last year and has been in spring training with them this year. The 23-year-old southpaw features a sinker that sits 90-95 mph and arguably the best changeup in the minors. His change is so good that Texas restricted his use of it last year in order to force the development of the others, sort of like making a kid where an eye patch to help the other eye (it’s a sore subject that I don’t like to talk about but I digress). The two pitches they want him to improve on are an average, at best, slider and curve that he possesses. Mendez made the jump from Double-A Frisco to the majors last year but did show good swing-and-miss stuff (124 Ks in 137.1 IP) with good control as well with around a 3:1 K:BB ratio. The main issue for him is developing the breaking stuff in order to top out as a middle of the rotation starter for a team that is sorely lacking quality arms at the moment. He may get the chance to develop those pitches from the bullpen in Texas, but more than likely he is headed to Triple-A Round Rock to work on the offerings in a starting capacity.
Like the AL West there are several intriguing prospects to talk about in the senior circuit division as well, but guys like Ryan McMahon, Walker Buehler, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Luis Urias won’t be discussed here. McMahon is the known starting first baseman for the Rockies and as of the writing of this, Buehler was sent down to minor league camp, all but ending his hopes of cracking the Opening Day roster. Both Tatis Jr. and Urias suffered the same fates as Buehler, though that was to be expected as they are further away than Buehler is in L.A.
Tyler Beede (RHP SF) – Beede has been considered the top-pitching prospect for the Giants pretty much since they drafted him in the first round in 2014. However it has been a bit of a long road for the former Vanderbilt starter. His 2016 season showed the promise he possesses with a 2.81 ERA in Double-A but then 2017 happened and his stuff didn’t play well in the hitter-friendly PCL in Sacramento where he posted a 4.79 ERA in an injury shortened campaign. The problem for Beede is that his control gives out on him far more than it should for a guy of his upside, a number two starter, and many inside the Giants organization want him to simplify his arsenal to improve it. Right now he throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cutter, curveball, and changeup. San Fran would like to see a four-seam fastball, changeup and combine the cutter and curve into a slider to be his offerings going forward. He started off very well in spring and there are some question marks at the backend of the rotation, so Beede has an outside shot of joining the roster as a potential sixth starter.
Alex Verdugo (OF LAD) – Verdugo is the reason the Dodgers felt comfortable trading away Willie Calhoun last year. The 21-year-old outfielder and former second-round pick has been showing his tools well in the Dodgers minor league system, moving all the way to Triple-A Oklahoma City last year. Verdugo’s two best attributes are his plus-plus arm and his plus-bat skill with average power and speed to go with it. He has yet to really show off either of the two latter with his best output being 13 homers and 14 steals, though not in the same season. He is a career .305/.362/.438 hitter in 421 minor league games and last year, over 117 games at Triple-A, he had more walks than strikeouts (52-50). Verdugo plays a very good defensive center field and has the arm to move to a corner spot if the speed doesn’t play at the major league level, but for right now he’s more in the D.J. LeMahieu mold (except in the outfield) in which he’s a top of the order type hitter with 15 homer potential and 10-15 steal potential that really only helps in batting average, or OBP, and runs. The youngster does have a chance at cracking the Dodgers roster as a backup outfielder, but with the congestion in the outfield right now, that’s not helpful for his development or fantasy value.