It’s officially hot stove season in the Major Leagues and I could not be more excited.
At no other time in the year do you get the delightful cocktail of awful trade ideas from biased fans, Ken Rosenthal dropping unexpected trade bombs on Twitter at 4am and eagle-eyed observers freaking out whenever a player is absent from their team’s line-up or – god forbid – hugging team-mates in the dugout during the game.
It’s also a tough time of the year to be a prospect. Trade proposals frequently throw around real people’s names with reckless abandon whilst the aftermath of a deal sees guys who have yet to take a big league at-bat heaped with pressure as the ‘centerpiece’ of the trade.
With that in mind, we have decided to take a look at five prospects who should be generating some buzz of their own, with a very real chance that they could impact the pennant race for their respective teams down the stretch – assuming they’re not traded first.
Walker Buehler – Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have somehow performed the near-miraculous feat of having one of the most stacked farm systems in baseball whilst simultaneously fielding one of the Majors’ best rosters. Arms like Julio Urias and Yadier Alvarez are the big name stars topping prospect lists, but right-hander Walker Buehler is generating some genuine buzz of his own.
The 22-year old product of Vanderbilt University has dominated at Double-A to the tune of a 2.98 ERA with a 56:12 K:BB ratio in 45.1 innings. His reward for the dominant start to the year has been a promotion to number 17 in Baseball America’s mid-season rankings (number four among all pitchers) and rumours that the Dodgers front office are interested in utilising him in a bullpen role down the stretch.
Keep an eye on Walker Buehler’s usage in the coming weeks. The Dodgers will consider shifting him into relief to help the big-league club.
— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) July 13, 2017
Buehler sits in the mid-90s as a starter but has touched triple-digits out of the bullpen and complements the heat with a plus curveball. There appears to be little doubt that he has the stuff to get Major League hitters out now, but having thrown just five innings in 2016 after returning from Tommy John surgery the Dodgers will likely handle him with kid gloves. If he does get the call however, Buehler could provide the Dodgers with an electric arm that could light up the end of games alongside Kenley Jansen.
Amed Rosario – New York Mets
Through 83 games at AAA Las Vegas, Rosario has lit up the competition to the tune of a .327/.365/.474 triple-slash line with seven home runs and 16 stolen bases. A top-10 prospect before the season began, his performances have vaulted him into consideration for the number one spot in all of baseball. Unsurprisingly, Mets fans (and even Rosario himself) have been clamouring for his promotion.
On the one hand, Rosario clearly has little left to learn in the Minors. A minor bump at High-A in 2015 aside, he has torched the ball at every stop and reviews of his defence remain glowing. In the Majors, the Mets continue to roll with Jose Reyes and his .667 OPS at short and in a season lacking impetus Rosario could be the spark that gets the Queen’s team going.
On the other hand, in a season that has seen dildo-gate, a raft of high-profile injuries, and rumours of clubhouse rifts, these may not be the best circumstances to plunge the Mets number one prospect into. The 21 year old is unlikely to be an antidote to the team’s litany of woes and general manager Sandy Alderson appears keen not to heap too much pressure on the young shortstop. Even with that said and done, a promotion appears inevitable and given his extraordinary talent he may prove to be a silver lining on an awful season to date.
Rhys Hoskins – Philadelphia Phillies
Since 2015, at four minor league stop-offs, Rhys Hoskins has put up WRC+ numbers of 161, 174, 159 and 164. Over three years, all he has done is flat out rake, mashing 38 bombs at AA last year and chipping in with 20 more at AAA this season whilst shaving seven points off his strikeout rate. Despite this, Hoskins has consistently failed to crack the top 50 of prospect lists due to an unathletic body that restricts him to playing a sub-par first base.
With Tommy Joseph currently blocking the 24-year old right-handed slugger in the Majors, Hoskins appears likely to keep plying his trade at AAA until such a time as a spot opens up for him. But with the Phillies several years from contention, Hoskins will get a chance to get his feet wet at some point and has the bat to make the first base position his for the foreseeable future.
Alex Verdugo – Los Angeles Dodgers
Alex Verdugo’s name is likely to be bandied around a considerable amount leading up to the trade deadline as the Dodgers outfield prospect is considered their most valuable piece of trade bait. Hitting .346/.416/.463 with more walks than strikeouts at Triple-A, it’s not particularly hard to see why.
Having just turned 21 in May, Verdugo has shown an approach at the plate that belies his age, and despite below-average running speed, he has displayed an ability to play center field where his bat would make him a star. The Dodgers have a logjam in the outfield as it stands, but Verdugo could represent an immediate upgrade over Chris Taylor and has the flexibility to cover all three spots.
The Dodgers held firm on trade offers this past off-season with Cody Bellinger, and the first baseman has rewarded his team with a historic rookie season. It remains to be seen if they will choose to do the same with Verdugo, who has shown all the hallmarks of a future star.
Dillon Maples – Chicago Cubs
Time for a quirky name. Dillon Maples earned himself a draft bonus of $2.5 million out of high school in 2011, having changed his mind on a reportedly ‘unbreakable’ desire to go to college. An overpowering fastball-curveball combination had him on prospect lists in 2012 and 2013, but injuries and control issues saw his pedigree tumble as he failed to make it to High-A until 2016.
Now at 25 years of age and far removed from his heady days as one of the top prep arms in the 2011 draft class, Maples is showing tentative signs of finally putting health and performance together. In 31.1 innings at High-A, he had a 2.01 ERA and struck out 44 hitters. Since his promotion to Double-A, he has struck out 27 in 12.2 innings to the tune of a 2.84 ERA.
Control issues continue to plague Maples, as he has averaged over a walk every two innings this year, but if his 99mph fastball and filthy breaking ball continue to play up out of the bullpen, he may earn himself a late season cup of coffee in the Major Leagues. In a year that has provided so much disappointment for Cubs fans, Maples story of perseverance and determination is one that is worth looking out for.