Pipeline Inbox: Which AFL squad has the best roster?
Jim Callis responds to fans' questions about baseball's future stars
While he was recuperating from Tommy John surgery in 2014, Miguel Sano got overshadowed by Kris Bryant and Joey Gallo in the discussion of the game's best third-base and power prospects. Not any longer. Sano hit his 15th home run in 51 big league games Wednesday night, and he is now hitting .296/.405/.620 with 34 walks and 42 RBIs.
Sano's 1.025 OPS would tie Joey Votto for third in the Majors behind Bryce Harper and Miguel Cabrera if he had enough at-bats to qualify. He and Byron Buxton should bring a lot of joy to Target Field in the next several years.
Which Arizona Fall League roster has the most talent?
-- Glenn M., Edgewood, Ky.
Though the initial AFL rosters don't look as loaded as they were the past two seasons, they still feature plenty of talent. The best group of prospects belongs to the Surprise Saguaros, who are led by Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes, by far the league's best pitcher, and multitooled outfielders Lewis Brinson (Rangers), Dustin Fowler (Yankees), Brett Phillips (Brewers) and Bubba Starling (Royals). Other Sagauros worth watching include third baseman Eric Jagielo, catcher Gary Sanchez and shortstop Tyler Wade (all from the Yanks).
After Surprise, the Glendale Desert Dogs and Mesa Solar Sox have the best collections of talent. Glendale features the league's top two position prospects (Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford, Pirates outfielder Austin Meadows) and the most productive hitter in the Minors in 2015 (Astros first baseman A.J. Reed). Mesa might have the AFL's best 1-2 pitching combo with A's left-hander Sean Manaea and Cubs right-hander Pierce Johnson, as well as a strong contingent of hitters from Chicago (catcher Wilson Contreras, outfielder Mark Zagunis) and the Rays (first baseman Casey Gillaspie, shortstop Daniel Robertson).
What will the Astros' starting lineup look like in two years?
-- Armando D., Houston
First my best guess, then some comments:
1B: A.J. Reed
2B: Jose Altuve
3B: Carlos Correa
SS: Alex Bregman
LF: Derek Fisher
CF: Jake Marisnick
RF: George Springer
DH: Preston Tucker
Rotation: Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., Vincent Velasquez, Mark Appel, Francis Martes
Closer: Michael Feliz
The Astros' 2017 catcher probably isn't in their organization right now, with Jason Castro the most viable in-house option but also likely to be on the downside of his career at age 31. The infield was the easiest part of this exercise, with the only question whether to leave Correa at shortstop and put Bregman at third base. I could see it either way, as Correa is the better defender at shortstop but profiles better than Bregman at the hot corner.
In addition to Bregman, Houston also landed the two best outfielders in the 2015 MLB Draft, but Daz Cameron and Kyle Tucker won't be ready two years from now. Springer could factor into center field, which eventually will be Cameron's position. I suppose Colin Moran could challenge for the designated-hitter spot, but I definitely don't see him cracking the infield.
I don't expect the Astros to commit long-term contracts to midseason trade acquisitions Carlos Gomez and Scott Kazmir when they become free agents, but no-hit hero Mike Fiers will be around to contend for a spot in the 2017 rotation. So will Feliz, but he's also the most likely of Houston's best pitching prospects to become a late-inning reliever.
Who will be the first big leaguer from the 2015 Draft?
-- Mike D., Richmond, Va.
In four of the previous five Drafts, the first player who got to the Majors did so as a reliever: Chris Sale (2010), Paco Rodriguez ('12), Kyle Crockett ('13) and Brandon Finnegan ('14). Trevor Bauer ('11) was the lone exception.
If that trend continues, then Cubs sixth-rounder David Berg might be the first 2015 draftee to get to the big leagues. As I wrote about in the June 26 Pipeline Inbox, he had as distinguished a career as any reliever in college baseball history. A deceptive submariner, Berg already has succeeded in Class A Advanced, and it's not out of the question that he could surface at Wrigley Field at some point in 2016.
If we want to bet on someone with a higher Draft pedigree, White Sox first-rounder Carson Fulmer will likely be the first Draft pick from 2015 to join a big league rotation. The top two picks in the Draft, shortstops Dansby Swanson (D-backs) and Bregman, may not need much more than a full season in the Minors. Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi is on the fast track as well.
Which White Sox pitching prospect has the best chance to be a long-term starter: Spencer Adams, Carson Fulmer or Frankie Montas?
-- Ryan S., St. Louis
Among the three best pitching prospects in the White Sox system, Adams is the safest bet to be a long-term starter. He has better command than either Fulmer or Montas, and he also has superior athleticism, more efficient mechanics and a more desirable build.
That said, Fulmer has the best chance to become a front-line starter. He has a mid-90s fastball and a power breaking ball, and his makeup and track record are off the charts. Fulmer lacks size and may need to tone down his delivery, but he brings quality stuff and performance start after start.