Just kidding, even if we are peeking into the future to see who the next top prospect will be once Franco graduates, and of course, we broke down his arrival ahead of time on this week’s Pipeline Podcast. So I only thought it was fitting that we start out with a Franco-related question to kick off this week’s Pipeline Inbox.
What does Franco’s callup mean in terms of a timeline for Vidal Bruján?
There were those who thought Bruján might get called up before Franco, just because of his ability to also play the outfield. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Rather than have me wander (pun intended) through an answer, I’ve asked our Rays beat reporter Adam Berry, who was all over the Franco debut on Tuesday, to explain in a much more thorough manner:
“Nothing, really. The two aren’t connected. Franco essentially forced the Rays’ hand, showing he had nothing left to prove in Triple-A with the way that he hit, handled himself around the infield and checked all the off-the-field boxes they had set up for the final stage of his development. The Rays cleared the runway for him, too, basically creating playing time at shortstop and third base (and perhaps some second base) despite having a crowded infield with Franco, Joey Wendle and fellow prospect Taylor Walls -- all of whom can play second, third and short -- along with corner infielder Yandy Díaz, second baseman/outfielder Brandon Lowe and first baseman Ji-Man Choi.
Bruján is a very good prospect, but he’s different than Franco. The Rays have made flexibility a focus for him, bouncing him around the infield and outfield in Durham. He still has some room to improve in the outfield, working to improve his jumps and learning the intricacies of each spot. He got off to a tremendous start at the plate, which we covered in a recent Minor League notebook, but he also hit just .140/.254/.220 in a 14-game stretch from May 30-June 18. So it’s important to see how he bounces back from that, if he can prove he’s ready by making adjustments against pitchers who have had a chance to see him a couple times. The Rays’ willingness to call up Franco proves they probably won’t hesitate to do the same with the man he spent his time in Durham batting behind, but in Bruján's case, it’s more a matter of opportunity.
Put simply, who do you see the Rays bumping off their current roster to make room for him or fellow prospect Josh Lowe, an athletic outfielder who’s been tearing it up at the plate for Durham? They’re not likely to make a reactionary decision and give up on an important player who’s performed well in the past, like Brandon Lowe. They won’t move on from proven elite defenders in the outfield like Kevin Kiermaier, Brett Phillips and Manuel Margot either, given their focus on run prevention. So if there’s another position-player prospect promotion coming in the immediate future, whether it’s Bruján or Josh Lowe, it’s more likely to be because an injury or some other circumstance created a need to fill.”
And now on to some non-Wander-related prospect questions:
Who reaches the MLB first, who is better right away and who is the better starter long term? Lodolo or Greene?
Given that Hunter Greene is now up in Triple-A (he'll make his second start for Louisville on Wednesday night -- watch it on MiLB.TV) and Nick Lodolo is at Double-A, the gut instinct/quick answer would be to say that Greene will beat his future rotation mate to the big leagues. Both were dominant in Double-A Chattanooga, and Lodolo should be ready for the challenge to join Greene in Louisville once he’s back from his blister issue, at which point, it could be anyone’s turn to come up to Cincinnati.
Some things to consider when weighing the odds: Greene, while he obviously missed a year because of Tommy John surgery, does have a full year of professional pitching under his belt, and Lodolo does not. Greene’s resume isn’t long, but he does have 117 2/3 innings to date, while Lodolo is at just 48 1/3. He’s also missing time right now with the blister, and the Reds will want to make sure that it’s completely taken care of, as those kinds of things have an annoying tendency to recur. So that puts Greene ahead in all likelihood, even though Lodolo is so advanced and shouldn’t need too much more development time in the Minors.
As far as who will be the better starter long term, I think that’s a tossup, and they should complement each other very well as they do it in very different ways. If forced, I’ll give Lodolo the smallest edge since we do have him higher in the Top 100 (No. 44 vs. No. 55), but we’re really splitting hairs here.
Is there a better front three in MiLB than Double-A Pensacola’s Max Meyer, Edward Cabrera and Jake Eder?
Boy, it sure seems like it, doesn’t it, now that Cabrera is back? Our No. 52 prospect made his 2021 debut on June 6 with Jupiter and just made his first outing with Pensacola last Saturday. Meyer is the headliner as our No. 20 prospect, and the Marlins’ 2020 first-round pick has had no problem jumping to Double-A to start his career, with a 1.42 ERA and .185 BAA. Eder, the lefty, has been the surprise, as the Marlins’ No. 23 prospect leads the Double-A South in ERA (1.08) and BAA (.148) and he's second in strikeouts (62). I’m not sure how long that will last, but perhaps all three will move up to Triple-A Jacksonville together.
Without doing a huge deep dive into all Minor League rotations, the other ones that came to mind are in Greensboro, the Pirates' High-A affiliate, and in Bowie, the Orioles’ Double-A club. Greensboro might have a deeper rotation overall, but the top three of Quinn Priester, Carmen Mlodzinski and Michael Burrows is probably a shade behind Pensacola. (The Hoppers also have Tahnaj Thomas, who hasn’t been effective but has upside, among others.) Bowie typically is led by Grayson Rodriguez and D.L. Hall, and those two alone would put them near the top no matter what, but Hall is currently shut down with left elbow tendinitis, and No. 3 starter Mike Baumann has been inconsistent, giving Pensacola the informal crown.