The National League East has proven through the start of the season that it will be one of the most interesting divisions to watch throughout the season. There were four teams within three games of first place entering play on Thursday.Each team should be vying for position throughout the rest
The National League East has proven through the start of the season that it will be one of the most interesting divisions to watch throughout the season. There were four teams within three games of first place entering play on Thursday.
Each team should be vying for position throughout the rest of the season, so perhaps an injection of youth could help put it over the top.
MLB.com took a look at some NL East prospects to watch, each of whom is pushing his arrival to the Majors more quickly than his organization expected. Some of them could be in the Majors by September, some at any point this season, and one has already reached the Majors -- far sooner than anticipated.
Prospect: 3B Austin Riley
MLB Pipeline rankings: Braves' No. 8 prospect, No. 77 overall
Why you should keep an eye on him: When the Braves recently released Jose Bautista and gave Johan Camargo the everyday role at third base, general manager Alex Anthopoulos did not shut the door on the possibility Riley could eventually be given the job this season. The powerful right-handed hitter hasn't spent much time above the Class A level and his strikeout rate remains slightly north of the comfort level, but he has the potential to impact the lineup much the same way Ronald Acuna Jr. can over the rest of the season. An American League scout recently said, "[Riley] might be the best third-base prospect I've seen in more than 20 years."
ETA: Riley likely won't arrive before the All-Star break, but there's no longer reason to assume he'll be limited to September action this year.
Prospect: RHP Sandy Alcantara
MLB Pipeline rankings: Marlins' No. 2 prospect, No. 100 overall
Why you should keep an eye on him: The Marlins' top-ranked pitching prospect is moving closer to his first callup. One of the centerpieces in the Marcell Ozuna trade with the Cardinals in December, Alcantara is a 22-year-old with a 98-to-100-mph fastball. The slender right-hander from the Dominican Republic was a September callup with St. Louis in 2017, but in Miami's building process, the organization is not rushing his development. Alcantara is at Triple-A working on all aspects of his game, including commanding pitches to both sides of the plate, fielding his position and holding runners.
ETA: It's simply a matter of when the organization feels Alcantara is ready. It could be any day or week, or not until sometime in the second half. With Alcantara, the organization is handling with care.
Prospect: 1B Peter Alonso
MLB Pipeline ranking: Mets' No. 4 prospect
Why you should keep an eye on him: When healthy, Alonso has done nothing but produce since the Mets took him in the second round of the 2016 Draft. He has been crushing the ball. Entering Thursday, Alonso was batting .338 with 12 home runs and has spent much of May leading the Eastern League in OPS (a league that also includes Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, among other top prospects). He is putting pressure on the Mets to promote him to Triple-A, where former first-round Draft pick Dominic Smith, who has struggled during brief stints in the big leagues, has begun starting games in right field.
ETA: Let's not get carried away with 50-odd games at Double-A. But if Alonso keeps crushing, it's not unthinkable to imagine him earning a September callup. At the least, he and Smith could compete for the starting first-base job next spring, with Adrian Gonzalez signed for just one year.
Prospect: OF Juan Soto
MLB Pipeline rankings: Nationals' No. 2 prospect, No. 15 overall
Why you should keep an eye on him: The future is now for the fastest-rising prospect in baseball. A month ago, Soto was still in Class A, but the 19-year-old phenom has earned three promotions since then to arrive in Washington way ahead of schedule. And then on the first pitch he saw in his first career start, he swatted a three-run home run. In Soto's second game, he reached base in all four plate appearances. The Nats also have Victor Robles, their top prospect and MLB Pipeline's No. 5 overall, but an elbow injury has derailed his progress, so Soto has taken over as Washington's hottest prospect.
ETA: Soto arrived in Washington this week, and if he keeps hitting like this, he's here to stay.
Prospect and position: RHP Enyel De Los Santos
MLB Pipeline ranking: Phillies' No. 12 prospect
Why you should keep an eye on him: De Los Santos has started knocking on the door of the Majors after a fast start out of Spring Training. In eight starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, he has posted a 1.39 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 45 1/3 innings. Jerad Eickhoff suffered a setback in his rehab on Sunday, so the Phillies might need a starter in the coming weeks and months. They could turn to De Los Santos over Ben Lively and Mark Leiter (both on 40-man roster and with big league experience) or even Triple-A lefty Cole Irvin. De Los Santos is not on the 40-man roster, but the Phils could easily place Eickhoff on the 60-day disabled list to clear space.
ETA: On a lesser team, perhaps De Los Santos would already be in the Majors, but expect him to make his debut in the Majors at some point this season.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.