The MLB season may have gotten underway last Thursday, but the minor league seasons haven’t started yet, and won’t until at least this Thursday. So with no game performances to evaluate as of yet, we will take a second dive into names to know for this season, mainly because the prospect depth is quite remarkable right now.
Walker Buehler (RHP LAD)
Buehler is my favorite pitching prospect amongst the minors right now, and there’s a lot of depth on the mound. He was drafted in 2015 in the first round out of Vanderbilt but broke on to the scene last season given that he missed all but five innings of the 2016 season recovering from Tommy John that he had performed a month after being drafted. In what amounted to his first full-season in the system, he went from Class A-Advanced all the way to the majors for a four-level campaign. Buehler amassed 88.2 innings between the three minor league levels over 28 games and 19 starts (he was used mainly in the pen at Triple-A Oklahoma City). In that span he had a solid 3.35 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 3-3 record, one save, and 125 strikeouts with just 31 walks and a .208 BAA. Buehler offers a four-pitch mix of a 95-100 mph fastball, a beauty of a curveball, a plus-slider (which can morph into a cutter at times), and a developing changeup. The mix is more than enough to miss bats at the majors and he has all that’s needed to be a frontline starter in the near future, especially if an injury arises in the shaky Dodgers rotation.
Kyle Tucker (OF HOU)
If the name sounds familiar, he is one of the top-15 prospects in baseball, but his older brother, Preston, was also previously with Houston before being traded to Atlanta this offseason. Kyle was the fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft and since then has been working steadily through the Astros’ system. In 2017 he became a 20-20 guy in 120 games across two levels (A-Advanced and Double-A) while also posting a slash line of .274/.346/.528. The .528 slugging mark was a vast improvement from his .408 mark in his first two pro seasons. The speed has consistently been there, though more instinctual than pure speed, with an 18, 32, and now a 21-steal season to his credit, with the 120 games being the most he’s played in a single campaign. His overall profile is more of a corner outfielder than center, where he’s been playing in the minor leagues given his just better than average speed and the circuitous routes he often takes. Tucker is starting the year at Triple-A Fresno in the Pacific Coast League, so his offensive numbers may pop even higher with the PCL known as a hitter-friendly league. If he continues to put up the solid numbers he has in the past, he could very well make an appearance in Houston at just 21 years old, unless the 2018 outfield performs better than the 2017 iteration did for much of the year.
Carson Kelly (C STL)
Kelly’s is a name that has been around for a few years now but he is getting ever closer to taking over the full-time gig in St. Louis with every passing day. He is a converted third baseman and has become the best defensive catcher prospect in the game at this point, but his bat can also produce well too.Kelly only played 68 games in the minors last year, followed by 34 in St. Louis with just 69 at bats, but in the minors he slashed .283/.375/.459 with 10 homers, 41 RBI, and 37 runs. It was his first time reaching the double-digit home run total in his pro career, but it surely won’t be the last. His advanced approach at the plate allows for his high OBP as he walked 33 times in those 68 Triple-A games compared to just 40 strikeouts. At 6’2” and 220 pounds, he has a body that can stick behind the plate long-term, especially given his defensive and game-calling prowess which will give him the chance to keep improving the bat skills, all of which grade out to at least average. I see him as a 17-20 homer guy who will help you with average and OBP, in those formats. The only downside is that he just wont get more than part-time at bats for the next year or so as Molina finishes off his contract.
Corbin Burnes (RHP MIL)
The 23-year-old righty checks in as the Brewers’ second-ranked prospect at the moment behind second base prospect Keston Hiura. That being said there is a better path for the pitcher than the keystone at this point in Milwaukee, especially after his full-season debut in 2017. Picked in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, Burnes has a four-pitch mix consisting of a 92-95 mph fastball with natural cutting action, a curveball with late action, a mid-80s hard biting slider, and a solid changeup that acts like a splitter at upper-80s speed. His command is a plus-trait as demonstrated by the 140:36 K:BB ratio put up across two levels last season in 145.2 innings at A-Advanced and Double-A. The ratios play too with a 1.67 ERA in 2017 and a 0.95 WHIP in 26 starts with an 8-3 record. He will have a slightly tougher go of it this year as he moves to Triple-A Colorado Springs, which is a notoriously hard park to pitch in. The Brewers still need help at the back end of the rotation, especially with the continuing health questions of guys like Jimmy Nelson. If his K/9 and BB/9 rates hold, he could very well find his way to Milwaukee by mid-season.
Jorge Mateo (SS/OF OAK)
I have talked about Mateo previously but he requires bringing back up again, now that he is expected to come up at some point in 2018. He got off to what was considered a slow start in 2017 before getting traded for Sonny Gray mid-season, but his combined year wound up being one of his best so far. In 129 games at three different affiliates he compiled a .267/.322/.459 triple slash with 12 homers, 90 runs, 57 RBI, and an impressive 52 steals as well. He also showed his versatility in the field by playing second, short, and center. Mateo’s 80-grade speed is his calling card for sure, however he is showing more pop and most, including me, believe he will be a 15-homer guy in the majors while bringing a .265-.270 average as well. The major issue for Mateo right now is simply showing consistency above Double-A and having a place to play in the majors. Oakland has Marcus Semien, Jed Lowrie, and Franklin Barreto ahead of him in the middle and they have Boog Powell and Dustin Fowler in place in center ahead of him. His speed however will play and force the issue ultimately, as you simply have to use a guy that’s that fast.
Chance Adams (RHP NYY)
Adams was a swing guy in college at Dallas Baptist only pitching as a starter for one of his three years there, however he has been all starter with the Yankees. The past season was his real breakout year with 27 starts between Double- and Triple-A for a total of 150.1 innings. The righty went 15-5 (11-5 at Triple-A) with a 2.45 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 135 strikeouts, 58 walks, and a .193 BAA. His four-pitch mix plays well with his ability to change speed and mix pitches to keep batters off balance, but the stuff is good too. A 92-94 mph fastball is his base pitch and it’s more of a control offering as a plus-pitch. His slider sits mid-80s and has tight break as a 60-grade pitch and Adams has good feel for his curve and change, both offerings miss bats. Adams has the makings of a number-three starter at this point simply because his K/9 and overall package of pitches aren’t at ace-caliber. The Yankees still have questions in their starting rotation as Masahiro Tanaka still has the threat of an elbow issue, CC Sabathia is aging and has a history of knee issues, and Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery have struggled at times of late. Adams could be up to take a spot if an injury arises or just if Montgomery has to go down for some reason.