Many of baseball's top prospects are set to take the field today, Opening Day of the Minor League season, and with 54 games being played across four full-season levels and 10 different leagues, there should plenty of action to take in at any given time.To help prepare fans for what
Many of baseball's top prospects are set to take the field today, Opening Day of the Minor League season, and with 54 games being played across four full-season levels and 10 different leagues, there should plenty of action to take in at any given time.
To help prepare fans for what should be a jam-packed day, MLB Pipeline has put together a primer highlighting the best prospects, teams and matchups to watch on Opening Day.
Don't have time to watch any games? Then be sure to give MLB Pipeline a follow on Twitter, as we'll keep fans updated on the best prospect performances on Opening Day.
Starting spots for each team's Top 30 prospects
Wondering where each team's prospects are beginning the season? Well, MLB Pipeline has you covered with our projected starting spots for all Top 30 prospects from every organization. In addition to those Opening Day assignments, we also break down each organization's most exciting affiliate, highlight players new to each organization and provide updates on players on the shelf.
Pitchers to watch
The starting pitcher the day's first game, No. 12 overall prospect Walker Buehler (Dodgers' No. 1 prospect) will usher in the 2018 season when he takes the mound for Triple-A Oklahoma City against Iowa at 4:08 p.m. ET in a game that can be seen on MiLB.TV. The 23-year-old right-hander appeared in 12 games for OKC late last season, primarily as a reliever in advance of his September callup. He still struck out 34 batters in 23 1/3 innings there to finish his Minor League campaign with 125 strikeouts in 88 1/3 frames spanning three levels.
Fans interested in seeing few, if any walks will want to tune in to Double-A Akron starter Shane Bieber when he squares off against Altoona at 6 p.m. ET (on MiLB.TV). Pitching at three levels last year in his first full season, the Indians' No. 8 prospect issued just 10 walks in 173 1/3 innings as he led all Minor League hurlers in both walk rate (1.5 percent) and walks-per-nine innings (0.5 BB/9).
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Beau Burrows (Tigers' No. 4) and Double-A Erie will match up against Reading's Ranger Suarez (Phillies' No. 12) at 7:15 p.m. ET (on MiLB.TV) in what could be an Opening Day pitchers' duel. Burrows, MLB Pipeline's No. 78 overall prospect, pitched to mixed results with the SeaWolves last season at age 20 after a dominant first half in the Florida State League. Suarez, 22, will be making his Double-A debut as he looks to build on an impressive full-season debut in which he posted a 2.27 ERA with 128 strikeouts in 122 2/3 innings between the South Atlantic and Florida State Leagues.
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Padres No. 3 prospect Cal Quantrill, the club's first-round Draft pick in 2016, will take the mound for Double-A San Antonio's opener against Arkansas at 8:10 p.m. ET on MiLB.TV. A 2017 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game participant, the No. 40 overall prospect will try to begin his year on a positive note after going 1-5 with a 4.04 ERA last season over eight starts in the Texas League.
Hitters to watch
No Minor League team boasts a more exciting offensive duo this Opening Day than Double-A New Hampshire does in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, MLB Pipeline's Nos. 3 and 13 overall prospects. Guerrero, at age 19, is the best hitter in the Minors, and Bichette, 20, isn't far behind him.
Presumably hitting back-to-back on Thursday for the Fisher Cats, the phenoms will be must-watch TV when they make their Double-A debuts against Hartford, led by No. 14 overall prospect Brendan Rodgers (Rockies' No. 1), at 7:05 p.m. ET (on MiLB.TV).
Staying with the theme of young hitters at advanced levels, Padres top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. (No. 8 overall) appears poised to pick up for Double-A San Antonio where he left last season, when, at age 18, he slashed .278/.379/.498 with 22 home runs and 32 steals across three levels including Double-A.
Giants top prospect Heliot Ramos, No. 63 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100, is another high-ceiling hitter worth watching on Opening Day. The No. 19 overall pick in last year's Draft, Ramos, 18, is set to make his full-season debut for Class A Augusta after a pro debut in which led the Rookie-level Arizona League in slugging (.645), while finishing second in batting (.348) and OPS (1.049). He'll take the field at 7:05 p.m. ET against Columbia on MiLB.TV.
Top Opening Day lineups
Triple-A Durham will take its first step toward defending its Governor's Cup title when it takes on Charlotte at 6:05 p.m. ET (MiLB.TV) in the only International League contest today. The Bulls' offense features three Top 100 prospects in Willy Adames (No. 22), Jake Bauers (No. 64) and Christian Arroyo (No. 82) and a pair of talented left-handed hitters in Justin Williams (Rays' No. 10 prospect) and Joe McCarthy (Rays' No. 13).
With Top 100 prospects Franklin Barreto (No. 66) and Jorge Mateo (No. 73) up the middle and Sheldon Neuse (A's No. 11) manning the hot corner, Triple-A Nashville will boast one of the most offense-oriented Minor League infields on Opening Day. The Sounds also have Dustin Fowler (A's No. 5) patrolling center field, as well as three other players in Oakland's Top 30 Prospects list.
The aforementioned New Hampshire lineup, led by Guerrero and Bichette, will be one to watch at the Double-A level, and the same goes for the Tatis-led Missions. Biloxi, Milwaukee's Double-A affiliate, could have as many as five of its Top 30 prospects in the Opening Day lineup, including three (Lucas Erceg, Corey Ray, Trent Grisham) ranked in the Top 10.
Fans looking to watch a talented lower-level lineup should tune in to the Class A Hagerstown Suns, who open the season on the road against Rome at 7 p.m. ET on MiLB.TV. Three of the Nationals' Top 10 prospects, all hitters, comprise a Class A Hagerstown lineup this year that's teeming with young, high-ceiling talent. Headlined by Top 100 prospect Juan Soto (Nats' No. 2), the Suns also feature teenagers Luis Garcia (No. 6) and Yasel Antuna (No. 8) -- a pair of potential future Top 100 guys -- on the infield alongside Cole Freeman (No. 27), the organization's fourth-round pick from the 2017 Draft.
MLB Pipeline began its lead-up to MiLB Opening Day last week with a look at one potential impact prospect from all 30 teams. While some of those players have since made their club's big league roster and are already contributing, most are starting the year in Triple-A, biding their time until an inevitable big league promotion.
Some of those prospects will begin their season today, a group that includes Top 100 prospects in Round Rock's Willie Calhoun (Rangers' No. 2, No. 53 overall) and Arroyo (Rays' No. 6), as well as Sacramento outfielder Steven Duggar (Giants' No. 3), who nearly cracked San Francisco's Opening Day roster.
It's hard to believe that No. 2 overall prospect Ronald Acuna Jr. (Braves' No. 1) and Tatis Jr. weren't household names at this time last year. Highly-regarded prospects, sure, but not the future stars they are today. That changed quickly over the course of the season thanks to their respective breakout performances, and more prospects should follow their lead this season.
Hoping to lay eyes on each organization's next big name? Be sure to check out MLB Pipeline's predictions for each team's breakout prospect before you settle in for a night full of long-awaited Minor League action.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.