1 prospect each team should call up
Now that the Trade Deadline is over and the dust is settling from the mass quantities of prospects who found new homes, we can all take a minute to catch our breath.
Don’t rest too long, however, because there could be a number of prospects on the move again between now and the end of the season. In this case, though, we mean from the Minors up to the big leagues.
Keep in mind that September roster expansion isn’t what it used to be, with teams able to go only from 26 to 28 for the final month of the year, either for contenders to get a boost or for non-contenders to provide a bit of a tryout for next year. The potential callup for each team below is culled from players who are still considered prospects. They could have been in the big leagues previously but are in the Minors now, waiting for that phone to ring.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Nate Pearson, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 8)
Yes, it’s been another difficult season for the 24-year-old right-hander. Pearson sits on the Triple-A injured list with a sports hernia after previously having dealt with groin injuries earlier in the campaign. The Jays remain optimistic that he can return in a relief role down the stretch, and he could thrive out of the bullpen with his upper-90s fastball and plus slider. With the AL Wild Card still wide open, Toronto will gladly welcome someone of Pearson’s talents to the pitching staff in any role.
Orioles: Jahmai Jones, 2B (No. 16)
Jones missed nearly a month with an oblique injury earlier this year, but has been playing regularly, mostly at second base, since June. The Orioles don’t really have a regular second baseman at present, a big reason why fans have been clamoring to give Jones a long look down the stretch, with his plate discipline and bat speed giving him a chance to be their second baseman moving forward.
Rays: Vidal Bruján, 2B/OF (No. 2/MLB No. 35)
Bruján’s first trip to the Majors didn’t go entirely as planned. The switch-hitter went just 2-for-26 (.077) with eight strikeouts and one stolen base over 10 games before being optioned back to Triple-A Durham on July 22. That doesn’t preclude him from coming back to the big club and aiding its run toward a division title. Bruján’s 70-grade speed would be a boost for any club, and his defensive flexibility will always be useful to Kevin Cash and his staff.
Red Sox: Triston Casas, 1B (No. 1/MLB No. 29)
Casas is starring at the Olympics right now, homering three times in five games as Team USA has advanced to the gold-medal game. The Red Sox traded for Kyle Schwarber to try to address their deficiencies at first base, but he never has played the position while Casas is an accomplished defender there. The 2018 first-rounder from a Florida high school is a slugger with a polished approach, and he has batted .271/.354/.424 with six homers in 46 Double-A games at age 21.
Yankees: Luis Gil, RHP (No. 6)
Gil gave a taste of what he can do on Tuesday, when he blanked the Orioles for six innings while averaging 96 mph with his fastball and 85 mph with his slider. Acquired from the Twins in a 2017 trade for Jake Cave, he has logged a 4.13 ERA, .204 opponent average and 88 strikeouts in 61 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this year.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians: Nolan Jones, 3B/OF (No. 1/MLB No. 25)
Cleveland continues to seek outfield production and has given Jones time in right field in Triple-A. The 2016 second-rounder as a Pennsylvania prepster isn't having a huge season at that level (.218/.341/.410 with nine homers in 77 games), but the big league club could use his combination of left-handed pop and patience.
Royals: Jackson Kowar, RHP (No. 4/MLB No. 90)
Ignore the brief turn in the Majors, if you can. Kowar has been one of Triple-A’s most effective pitchers in 2021 and enters Thursday with a 2.71 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 63 innings for Omaha. His 90 strikeouts and 34.9 percent K rate both lead the Minors’ top level. The 24-year-old right-hander has the plus fastball and plus-plus changeup to serve as a starter for Kansas City long-term, and the Royals should want to give him additional looks in the next two months, especially as they sit outside the playoff picture.
Tigers: Kody Clemens, 2B (No. 14)
Detroit isn’t making the postseason, but it has been interesting to see it lean on a mix of young and old talent to go 44-38 since May 1. These last few weeks should allow the organization to assess where it stands with some of its youth headed into the offseason, and it just so happens that second base has been a point of weakness in 2021. Enter the possibility of Clemens, who is hitting .260/.328/.497 with eight homers in 47 games for Triple-A Toledo this season. The left-handed slugger has a bat-first profile, and at 25 years old, he’s earned a shot to see how that bat plays in The Show.
Twins: Joe Ryan, RHP (No. 8) Ryan has yet to pitch for the Twins since coming over in the Nelson Cruz trade, but that’s because he’s been in Tokyo helping Team USA reach the gold medal game by going 10 1/3 innings over two starts and allowing just two runs. Getting some immediate return on the trade investment by giving Ryan some starts in the big leagues makes a lot of sense.
White Sox: Jake Burger, 3B (No. 11)
After losing three seasons to Achilles tendon and heel injuries and the coronavirus pandemic, Burger has returned this year to show that he has regained the power that made him the 11th overall choice in 2017 out of Missouri State. He's hitting .319/.369/.593 with 11 homers in 46 Triple-A games and posted an .807 OPS with his first big league homer during a 15-game stint with Chicago last month.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Jake Gatewood, UTIL (unranked)
Remember him? Did you know he’s still only 25? The swing-and-miss concerns (32.5 percent K rate) are still there, but who isn’t striking out a lot these days? The power is legit, with 21 homers third in the Triple-A West, and he’s shown versatility, seeing time at six positions defensively.
Astros: Hunter Brown, RHP (No. 3)
A product of NCAA Division II Wayne State (Mich.), Brown has blossomed into the Astros' best pitching prospect since they drafted him in 2019's fifth round. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a pair of power breaking balls, he has surrendered just seven runs in his last seven starts and owns a 3.90 ERA with 83 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.
Athletics: A.J. Puk, LHP (No. 2)
Injuries have kept Puk from graduating and contributing in the big leagues numerous times, most recently a biceps strain that kept him out a month earlier this year. His overall numbers in Triple-A don’t look pretty (6.16 ERA), but it should be noted he had a 1.29 ERA in July with better strike-throwing, he still misses bats (10.8/9 this year) and could provide a good left-handed arm out of the pen for the rest of the year.
Mariners: Aaron Fletcher, LHP (No. 15)
The Mariners have called upon their farm system often this year to help out, from bigger names like Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert to bullpen contributors like Wyatt Mills and Fletcher, who has two stints with Seattle already this year. He’s been really good of late in Triple-A, allowing just one run over his last nine outings (9 2/3 IP) and he’s been really tough against lefties all year (.158 BAA).
Rangers: Josh Jung, 3B (No. 1/MLB No. 46)
If Jung hadn't sustained a stress fracture in his left foot during Spring Training, he might be playing third base for the Rangers already. Since returning, the sweet-swinging No. 8 overall pick out of Texas Tech in 2019 has batted .303/.366/.542 with nine homers in 39 Double-A games. He'd give Texas a huge upgrade over Charlie Culberson and Brock Holt at the hot corner.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Cristian Pache, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 9)
It’s been a rough year for Pache, who stumbled offensively during his big league debut and has struggled to find a rhythm in Triple-A. Perhaps a 4-for-13 start to August is a good sign and even if he doesn’t hit, his plus plus defense in the outfield and his speed could be assets off the bench for the Braves in that very tight NL East race.
Marlins: Edward Cabrera, RHP (No. 4/MLB No. 50)
Cabrera's big league debut has been delayed by shoulder soreness last year and biceps inflammation early in 2021, but it's coming soon. Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $100,000 in 2015, he throws a mid-90s fastball that reaches triple digits, as well as a hard slider and solid changeup. He has recorded a 2.58 ERA, .211 opponent average and 63/16 K/BB ratio in 45 1/3 innings between Low-A, Double-A and Triple-A since coming back in June.
Mets: Khalil Lee, OF (No. 6)
Francisco Álvarez and Brett Baty are not walking through that door. (At least not yet.) Lee already has, having appeared in 11 games for New York back in May. It’s been notable that the organization looked elsewhere for outfield help in the months since, but Lee still remains the Top 30 prospect most likely to help the big club in 2021. The left-handed hitter owns a .261/.443/.433 line, and his 145 wRC+ is 10th-best among Triple-A players with at least 200 plate appearances. He still strikes out and puts the ball on the ground too much, but Lee’s ability to take a walk and help out defensively with a plus arm could be of use to the Mets.
Nationals: Keibert Ruiz, C (No. 1/MLB No. 40)
It’s a slight shock that Ruiz didn’t head to the Majors immediately after coming over from the Dodgers at the Trade Deadline. Instead, he sits at Triple-A Rochester while fellow prospects Tres Barrera and Riley Adams occupy the Major League catching spots. Nonetheless, the switch-hitting backstop has been a productive Triple-A hitter all season long with a .310/.379/.638 line and 17 homers through 53 games. Defense remains the priority with him, but he could move into the Washington lineup today and make it better with his ability to hit for both average and power.
Phillies: Rafael Marchan, C (No. 5)
He’s been up four times this year (including just getting sent down on Wednesday), and one could argue that with All-Star J.T. Realmuto as the starter, a catcher’s impact will be minimal. But Marchan is a plus defender and he’s been swinging the bat a bit better of late and a third catcher could provide Joe Girardi with some flexibility.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Aaron Ashby, LHP (No. 7)
Ashby has been used in a number of roles at Triple-A Nashville -- first as a starter, then a reliever, now more as a starter who only sees the lineup a little more than once through. No matter the circumstance, he has picked up K’s in bunches, having struck out 87 in 56 1/3 innings. Issues with command -- exhibited by three walks and four hits allowed in just 2/3 of an inning in his MLB debut on June 30 -- will keep him from being a traditional starter, but the NL Central leaders should find a way to incorporate his above-average fastball, plus-plus slider and the whiffs that come with them.
Cardinals: Matthew Liberatore, LHP (No. 1/MLB No. 26)
The 21-year-old left-hander represented Team USA at Olympic qualifiers earlier in the summer but did not join the roster for the actual Games in Tokyo because the Cardinals wanted him close by in case of a Major League promotion. By the numbers (5.15 ERA, 70 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings), Liberatore may not be knocking on the door, but he deserves credit for taking on Triple-A at such a young age. With three above-average pitches and good control, the 6-foot-4 southpaw has a significant ceiling, and the Cards may want to get his feet wet with a Major League cameo in late 2021 before he joins the rotation full-time next summer.
Cubs: Greg Deichmann, OF (No. 20)
With two of their everyday outfielders hitting less than .200, the Cubs should give a look to Deichmann, whom they acquired last week as part of the Andrew Chafin trade with the Athletics. Known more for his power before 2021 -- he topped the Arizona Fall League with nine homers in 23 games two offseasons ago -- he has adopted a more selective approach in Triple-A and is batting .291/.425/.439 with four homers in 67 contests.
UPDATE: Deichmann was called up and made his Cubs debut vs. the White Sox
Pirates: Tucupita Marcano, SS/2B (No. 7)
The Pirates should give the key prospect they got in the Adam Frazier deal a nice long look to see how he fits into their plans in 2022. And they can move him around to get his on-base skills into the lineup, as he’s already seen time at second, third and right field since joining the organization.
Reds: Jose Barrero, SS (No. 4/MLB No. 84)
Yes, we’d all like to see Hunter Greene or Nick Lodolo in the big leagues, but we’re trying to be a bit more realistic here. We all saw how Barrero can defend at the big league level last year and his bat is catching up now that he’s had a year in the Minors as he’s hit .319/.410/.586 since being bumped from Double-A to Triple-A at the end of June.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Seth Beer, 1B (No. 13)
What to make of Arizona? At 34-75 entering Thursday, the club should be giving plenty of playing time to its youth in the coming weeks to measure who can be part of its long-term plans. Beer is one such young player. The former Astros prospect is hitting .285/.399/.506 with 11 homers through 74 games for Triple-A Reno -- numbers that work out to a 124 wRC+ and line up with his bat-first profile. With Christian Walker crashing to earth, there shouldn’t be much blocking Beer’s path to Arizona.
Dodgers: Ryan Pepiot, RHP (No. 5)
The Dodgers' seemingly endless pipeline of pitching prospects has another talented arm on the verge of the Majors in Pepiot, the highest pick in Butler history (third round, 2019) and owner of one of the best changeups in the Minors. He also has a mid-90s fastball and decent breaking stuff, and he owns a 2.92 ERA, .147 opponent average and 88 strikeouts in 64 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.
Giants: Joey Bart, C (No. 2/MLB No. 16)
Buster Posey is enjoying his best season since he won National League MVP honors in 2012, but Bart could give the surprising Giants another dangerous bat and capable catcher off the bench. The No. 2 overall pick out of Georgia Tech in 2018, he's hitting .311/.376/.532 with 10 homers in 49 Triple-A games.
Padres: Luis Campusano, C (No. 3/MLB No. 30)
The backstop came up on the trade rumor mill when San Diego was looking at big targets, but the Padres held onto him in the end. Like others on this list, Campusano struggled in Major League looks early in 2021, going 3-for-34 (.088) with no extra-base hits and 11 strikeouts. But it’s worth pointing out that he’s still only 22 (i.e. young even for Triple-A) and has been performing well for El Paso, where he has a .278/.345/.494 line and nine homers in 66 games. Should anything happen to Austin Nola or Victor Caratini, the Padres shouldn’t hesitate from turning to Campusano again in the coming weeks.
Rockies: Ryan Vilade, OF (No. 4)
The power hasn’t come as much as some anticipated, but Vilade has hit well in 2021, especially of late, with a .317/.364/.455 slash line since the beginning of July. He can play both outfield corners and has seen some time at first and the Rockies will have to add him to the 40-man roster this offseason anyway, so might as well see what he can do, right?