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Inbox: Hiura's ETA? Trade Whitley? Vlad Jr. in the bigs?

March 23, 2018

Spring Training is winding down and the start of the 2018 season is just around the corner, at least on the big league side. Minor League Opening Day comes the week after, and then we'll be off and running full-throttle.I've had the chance to run all over Arizona, and now

Spring Training is winding down and the start of the 2018 season is just around the corner, at least on the big league side. Minor League Opening Day comes the week after, and then we'll be off and running full-throttle.
I've had the chance to run all over Arizona, and now Florida, stopping along the way to talk to numerous farm directors about their systems and to prospects about what lies ahead. For instance, I was recently at JetBlue Park and talked to Ben Crockett about the Red Sox and did a Q&A with 2016 second-round pick C.J. Chatham. You can peruse all of our Spring Training reports and our Pipeline Q&As from there, too.
Since we still have Cactus and Grapefruit League play on our minds for a couple more days, this week's Inbox is very much Spring Training related.

Keston Hiura, the Brewers' first-round pick in 2017, certainly acquitted himself well in big league camp, with a robust .419/.438/.548 line in 31 at-bats. But it doesn't really do anything to his timetable for two reasons. The first is the one that's used as the caveat for any/all Spring Training performances, good or bad. You simply can't read too much into numbers at this time of year. It's such a small sample size, and it's done against such a wide variety of pitching talent, that buying too much into any performance is usually a mistake.
The other reason is that Hiura was already on a pretty fast track because of his advanced hitting skills. The No. 9 overall pick from last June made it to full-season ball in his first summer and hit a combined .371 in 42 games during his debut. As long as Hiura continues to show second base won't be a problem (he didn't play the field last summer, or during his junior year, because of an elbow injury), then he's going to move extremely quickly. I'd love to see him start the year in Double-A, and seeing him in Milwaukee at the start of next season doesn't seem unreasonable.

I got a few questions about Kyle Tucker, who was the talk of the Grapefruit League until he got reassigned thanks to his .410/.429/.795 line with four homers in 39 at-bats. Again, I'll point you to the caveat above about Spring Training sample size. Don't get me wrong, I'm all in on Tucker and think he will be a very, very good everyday corner outfielder. But I wouldn't take his 39 at-bat performance as a sign that it's OK to trade your No. 1 prospect, Forrest Whitley.
Would J.T. Realmuto be a good addition? Sure. Would I trade Whitley for him? I'd say no, even though he'll start the season suspended. And I certainly wouldn't make that determination because Tucker had a good spring. The team managed to win the World Series with that "weakness" at catcher, and by all accounts has every chance to get back there again. Whitley has the chance to be a front-line starter in short order. I'd hesitate to trade him, period.

As luck would have it, we recently ran a story about prospects vying for Opening Day roster spots. David Fletcher of the Angels is in the "contenders" section, while the Giants' Steven Duggar is considered a "long shot."
Both are having very good springs. Fletcher is competing for a utility role with Los Angeles and has hit (.333/.388/.444 in 45 ABs) while showing he can play short and second base. Duggar has forced his way into competition for the job in center field in San Francisco by hitting four homers and playing outstanding defense, but it's more likely he'll start the year in Triple-A and wait for the first callup. Both are likely to make contributions in 2018, even if they don't break camp with their respective parent clubs.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. isn't on the 40-man roster and wasn't even officially listed as a non-roster invitee. But Minor Leaguers are often asked to slide over and play games on the big league side, especially early on as the vets get themselves stretched out and ready to go a full nine. Guerrero has seen limited Grapefruit League action, but he has hit well. That should shock no one who has seen him hit; he comes by that 80 hit grade honestly.

Our No. 3 overall prospect absolutely raked across two levels of A ball, hitting for average and power while walking more than he struck out. Yes, Guerrero is just 19, but I see no reason not to start him in Double-A to begin the 2018 season (though I don't get to make that call). If he does, or if he gets there in short order, I could very much see a scenario where his bat gets him to Toronto before the year is over. Some of that will depend on need or opportunity, but a September callup based on how Guerrero has hit to date doesn't seem far-fetched.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.