These 5 are the NL East prospects to watch

May 24th, 2018

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.

BRAVES

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 and gave 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 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.

MARLINS

Prospect: RHP

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 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.

METS

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 , 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 signed for just one year.

NATIONALS

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 , 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.

PHILLIES

Prospect and position: RHP

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. 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 and (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.