At the start of every month this season, I will be writing a column highlighting prospects on the move. These players aren't only moving locations as they progress through the minors, but they are also moving the needles of teams and scouts around the league. While the focus won't always be on top prospects, it will be on what peripheral stats make up the narrative around the players' notable season, and what they need to do improve and accelerate to the Major League level..
Entering June I'm looking at the elite shortstop prospects moving through the lower levels and nearing their debut.
Baseball is currently seeing the next revolution at short, which serves as a throwback to the 1997 class that included Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Derek Jeter. This class, of Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Addison Russell and Xander Bogaerts, have felt the need to be very good, but thankfully not the need to recreate a Sports Illustrated group portrait. This group also gets a cameo appearance from Manny Machado, a shortstop by nature but primarily a third baseman in Baltimore, and a legitimate MVP contender in 2016.
The current big leaguers will not be featured here, but merely set the stage for who will be coming down the pipeline. Seven shortstop prospects help make up MLB.com's top-20 prospect slots, five rating in the the top 10. This piece focuses on those with a target on debuting or returning to their MLB teams in 2016, so also not featured are 19-year-old Brendan Rodgers (No. 10 by mlb.com) and 20-year-old Franklin Barreto (No. 19), or lower-rated top 50 prospects like Tim Anderson (No. 42), who will likely debut this year.
Dansby Swanson, Braves (Double-A)
Swanson headlines this group as much for his play as the route his career took to reach Atlanta. Drafted by the Diamondbacks No. 1 overall in 2015, he was traded to the Braves this off season as the centerpiece of the Shelby Miller trade. With the Braves in a complete rebuild this year, there's no reason to rush the 22-year-old Swanson, but trading Andrelton Simmons for Erick Aybar sends a strong signal Atlanta knows its future shortstop is Swanson, and the future is expected to arrive full time in 2017.
As we've come to expect from elite college hitters, Swanson is beginning to cruise through the Minor league ranks. Swanson breezed through High-A with more walks than strikeouts and a clean triple slash line of .333/.441/.526. That says he's advanced at the plate, makes a ton of contact and draws a nice amount of walks. Through 220 plate appearances in the lower levels, he has 10 steals and is showing improved power with five home runs. In Double-A the results are much the same as High-A. Defensively, Swanson should stick, and if he does, will knock top-30 prospect Ozzie Albies off the position when both arrive for Atlanta's own second coming of success.
J.P. Crawford, Phillies (Triple-A)
Crawford is the highest rated shortstop in baseball at number three overall, according to mlb.com, and should be spotted in Philadelphia later this season. Only 21, he was recently promoted to Triple-A after continuing to rake in his second stint at Double-A. There's some surprising aspects to the Phillies' 2016 campaign, and if it keeps up, Crawford could be enter as a crucial piece to the improbable playoff run they find themselves on.
Like Swanson, Crawford is advanced at the plate. He walked more than he struck out through High-A and Double-A in 2015, hitting a modest six home runs with 12 steals. Power and speed won't be his game. He'll rely on keeping that strikeout-to-walk ratio as close as he can while he progresses, which despite early struggles in Triple-A, Crawford is accomplishing. Defense is probably what jumps to mind when most people think of Crawford, because despite average speed, his range, arm and glove work are top notch. He needs more seasoning in Triple-A, but the signs are there that he's going to be ready when Philadelphia calls on him.
Orlando Arcia, Brewers (Triple-A)
The younger brother of Oswaldo Arcia, Orlando is the most-ready from this list to make his debut. With the Brewers rebuilding, Jonathan Villar's successful campaign and service time considered, Arcia probably goes into July at Colorado Springs before Milwaukee calls him up to the big leagues. What might stand in his way is the fact the Brewers have not promoted him during the season, spending exactly a full season in all levels leading up to his Triple-A debut this year. While there's precedent under former general manager Doug Melvin to suggest he might only be a September call up, new GM David Stearns might operate the system differently, opening him to a late summer debut.
Defense and speed stand out immediately when watching Arcia. He's maybe the best defender on this list and has stolen at least 20 bases for the past three seasons. While he shares some of his brother's avoidance to walks, Orlando's in-play approach at the plate generates a high rate of contact. His career-high strikeout rate is only 13.2 percent for a full season and he's around that mark now in Triple-A. His combination of contact and speed will fit in well atop the Brewers' order.
Trea Turner, Nationals (Triple-A)
Since we last visited Turner about a month ago nothing has changed. He's still crushing Triple-A pitching. While his strikeouts and walks are starting to go back toward career norms, he's still showing significantly better rates through 209 plate appearances. He's also yet to be thrown out on the base paths. As I said a month ago, it might be time to call him up for good and replace Danny Espinosa. He's ready and waiting, and with more of this improved patience is better suited to help Washington out right away.
Alex Bregman, Astros (Double-A)
The number two overall pick in 2015 reached Double-A this season after stints in A and High-A ball in 2015. Bregman, 22, isn't expected to reach Houston until 2017, but he's pushing the envelope to debut in September. Once the former LSU standout reaches the biggest question will be where he plays, and whether it's him or Correa that move from shortstop.
A big difference in Bregman in 2016 is his power. He hit four home runs in more than 200 plate appearances in 2015 and has 12 through 166 in Double-A. He has elite knowledge of the strike zone and makes consistent contact. His flashy numbers in Double-A come with a .293 BABIP. If Correa's defense doesn't improve, Bregman is good enough to fill the role while the superstar moves to third. It will be interesting to watch where his power goes as the season and his career progresses, but a quick look at his spray chart for this year makes him a more interesting prospect when targeting Houston's Crawford Boxes in left field.
**Statistics via FanGraphs
Jerry Burnes is a contributor Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @jerryburnes.