During the winter doldrums, we can easily get caught up in the narrative of free agency timelines, below-market contracts, and potential work-stoppages down the road, but today, I’d like to take a step back, and concentrate on some of the young players who will inevitably make an impact on the field, as soon as this upcoming season.
Today we’ll take a look the American League MiLB stars who are likely to be called upon at some point in 2019. Interestingly enough, several of these players are the progeny of former Major League All Stars.
Topping the list is the son of a Hall of Famer, Vlad Guerrero Jr. Guerrero likely should have been called up by the Blue Jays last season, but it is no secret teams play service-time games when they do not see the cost/benefit of calling upon a player when he is ready, and prefer to keep him in the minors to add an additional year of service time. For this business decision (a horrible baseball and entertainment decision), it is unlikely we’ll see Vlad Jr. in the majors at the start of the season.
Nevertheless, Guerrero is likely to be a force when he eventually joins the major league squad. He has immense power, hits for a high average, has a strong arm, and is a good defensive third basemen. In 61 games in the double-A Eastern League, Junior slashed .402/.449/.671 and mashed 14 home runs in only 266 plate appearances, he did much of the same after a promotion to triple-A. He is both MLB.com’s and Baseball America’s top-ranked prospect, and is likely to be an immediate impact player when Toronto inevitably makes the call-up.
Brandon Drury is currently slated as the Blue Jays Opening Day third baseman, despite being a predominant second baseman / outfielder throughout his first few years in the league. Drury is obviously an early-season stop-gap until the Jays promote Guerrero.
The Blue Jays have another second-gen-player-on-the-rise in Bo Bichette. A left-side-of-the-infield complement to Guerrero, Bichette has improved his defense at shortstop to go with a strong hit-tool, a combination that will likely lead to a 2019 call-up.
Not all the young talent is going north of the border however.
When the Cubs traded for starter Jose Quintana, they gave up outfielder Eloy Jimenez to their crosstown rivals. The White Sox have been linked to both a-list free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, but they also have some talent on the farm that is reason to get excited.
Jimenez is an average and power machine with a strong hit tool and plus-power. He has the potential to be a .300-average / 30 home run hitter, who at 6’4” is probably best-suited at a corner outfield position, though some analysts think he’ll fall on the defensive spectrum to either first base or DH.
Neither the Jays nor the White Sox have contended for a playoff berth in recent years, but they are not the only teams that have some strong farm talent to watch in 2019. The Athletics and Astros, both playoff teams a year ago, have starting pitchers who are worth following.
Forrest Whitley supposedly has five good pitches, but it’s more likely that one or two of those get shelved so he can improve the top three. The right handed pitcher was a the Astros first-round pick in 2016, and has risen rapidly through the Houston farm.
Despite the excellent raw stuff, Whitley had a tumultuous 2018, where he served a 50-game suspension for using a banned substance, only to return and injure his oblique. He threw under 60 innings last year, but came back strong in the Arizona Fall League, where in one outing, he struck out eight of the nine batters he faced.
Whitley is certainly something special and different from a repertoire perspective, as his fastball generally sits in the mid-90s, but can touch 100 MPH with good movement. He best secondary offering is an excellent mid-80s changeup, and also keeps a low-90s cutter, and a high-spin curve AND slider in his back pocket.
If Whitley is healthy, and avoid PED troubles, he could be an intriguing midseason starter or bullpen option for Houston.
The A’s have not been as successful as the Astros, nor have they been as down as the Blue Jays or White Sox. they probably have the most to gain from bringing up a young arm, especially considering the myriad of injuries suffered in the rotation the latter part of 2018.
Enter starting left handed pitcher, Jesus Luzardo. Like many of his contemporaries, Luzardo had to undergo Tommy John Surgery in his young career. He has recovered nicely, and has good feel for multiple pitches in his arsenal. His mid-80s change is supposedly one of the best offspeed pitches in the minors, which is a nice complement to a mid-90s (up to 97ish) fastball. His curveball continues to progress, but it’s the fastball / changeup combo that will likely yield him success in Oakland.
Next week we’ll take a look at some of the National League players to watch going into 2019. After all, we deserve a reprieve from free agent speculation once in a while!