Is it time?
Oneil Cruz was the prospect getting the most buzz in spring training. When he was sent down, it seemed to be for service time-manipulation reasons, especially given that he was up for two games at the end of last year. But he didn’t do much to hasten his return, batting .175 with two homers and a .591 OPS in his first 21 games. Even now, his year-to-date numbers at Triple-A Indianapolis are less than stellar.
But the turnaround has started — he’s nearly a month into it, in fact — and with the end of June approaching, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. It’s why I’m moving him back to the top of my …
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Oneil Cruz, SS, Pirates
2021 minors: .310 BA (271 AB), 17 HR, 19 SB, .969 OPS, 28 BB, 69 K
2022 minors: .231 BA (195 AB), 9 HR, 11 SB, .769 OPS, 28 BB, 54 K
OK, so the timing could have been more perfect. He made a mockery of Triple-A pitching for the first two weeks, forcing the Pirates to call him up before the end of April. But the next big service-time milestone is approaching, the one related to Super Two. If the Pirates hold out long enough, they can prevent Cruz from entering arbitration a year early. The exact cutoff date won’t be known for a couple years, but it’s generally late June. The Pirates have delayed Cruz’s arrival this long, so why not go all the way with it?
Actually, it’s not fair to blame it all on the Pirates. Cruz didn’t hold up his end of the bargain — not until his last 21 games, anyway, during which he’s hit .309 (25 for 81) with seven home runs and a respectable 18.9 percent strikeout rate. Even that’s not superhuman production, so the Pirates could plausibly argue that he hasn’t fully mastered Triple-A yet. But that’s not what I expect to happen. I expect Cruz to arrive within the next two weeks, to put his Aaron Judge-like exit velocities to good use and to establish himself as a must-start shortstop on power and speed alone, strikeout rate be darned.
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Alex Kirilloff, OF, Twins
2022 majors: 5 for 29 (.172), 1 BB, 12 K
2022 minors: .368 BA (125 AB), 10 HR, 1.130 OPS, 20 BB, 24 K
Kirilloff sent another one out Tuesday to complete a 3-for-4 day. It was his fourth home run in three games and his eighth in 10. He’s batting .475 (19 for 40) during that stretch.
“This is the Alex Kirilloff that we know,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told the Star Tribune Monday. “One of the best hitters in the game.”
So, uh, what’s the holdup? Not his troublesome wrist, which clearly isn’t impeding his power the way it was much of last season and early last season. A cortisone shot administered in mid-April seems to have done the trick.
“He’s physically in a good place,” Baldelli said. “He had to get out there and see pitching. Re-remember how to get to certain pitches in the zone, because it’s been a challenging road to get to this point for him, on the physical end.”
Apparently, the delay is mostly because the Twins have no opening for him, not with Luis Arraez, Max Kepler, Trevor Larnach and Jose Miranda holding down the positions Kirilloff plays. That could change quickly, though, particularly for Larnach, who’s batting .114 (5 for 44) in June.
“There’s no particular thing at this point that we’re looking for,” Baldelli said. “If AK’s feeling like this and swinging the bat like this, it’s probably just a matter of time before he gets his opportunity again.”
Riley Greene, OF, Tigers
2021 minors: .301 BA (485 AB), 24 HR, 16 SB, .921 OPS, 63 BB, 153 K
2022 minors: .276 BA (58 AB), 1 HR, 3 SB, .716 OPS, 7 BB, 11 K
Might as well get Greene over the Super Two hump, too, right? If you’re the Tigers, that’s what you have to be thinking. He’s only a couple weeks into his return from a fractured foot, and it’s not like a playoff spot hangs in the balance. What’s another week? No doubt, though, the 21-year-old is on the verge of a promotion. The Tigers already revealed their hand by naming him to the opening day roster before the foot upended those plans, and he’s looked no less than competent during his brief stay at Triple-A. He may well endure the same growing pains Spencer Torkelson has — no one can say for sure — but with outfield being such a position of need, a player with his potential gets every benefit of the doubt.
Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B, Royals
2021 minors: .300 BA (437 AB), 24 HR, 37 2B, .957 OPS, 64 BB, 64 K
2022 minors: .284 BA (208 AB), 17 HR, 15 2B, .997 OPS, 31 BB, 33 K
Service-time games aren’t the Royals’ MO, but how else would you explain why Pasquantino isn’t in the majors yet?
It’s true that Carlos Santana has picked it up a bit in June, and maybe the Royals still hope they can redeem something for him in a trade. It’s a long shot given how his production has tanked the past three seasons, but even so, I suspect Pasquantino would be up already if he could play anywhere other than first base. Designated hitter isn’t an option with catchers Salvador Perez and MJ Melendez trading off there, so as long as the Royals still think there’s something to see from Santana, Pasquantino will have to wait. Chances are, though, Santana peters out sooner than later.
Miguel Vargas, 3B, Dodgers
2021 minors: .319 BA (483 AB), 23 HR, 11 SB, .906 OPS, 45 BB, 89 K
2022 minors: .279 BA (233 AB), 10 HR, 6 SB, .854 OPS, 33 BB, 46 K
Max Muncy’s first game back from an IL stint to rest his balky elbow Thursday was clearly his best of the season. He homered, doubled and drove in five runs. But neither of those extra-base hits was hit especially hard or especially far, and he also struck out three times in the contest. He has exactly one hit since then. He was terrible on his rehab assignment, terrible in May, in April, even back in spring training. You have to wonder how long of a leash the Dodgers will give him, given the UCL damage in his elbow.
Vargas isn’t at his hottest right now, but it’s also unclear what he has left to prove at Triple-A. I remain skeptical that the Dodgers, with their championship ambitions, will be able to justify keeping him in the minors all year.
Five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Dustin Harris, 1B, Rangers
2021 minors: .327 BA (404 AB), 20 HR, 25 SB, .943 OPS, 47 BB, 73 K
2022 minors: .265 BA (189 AB), 11 HR, 13 SB, .837 OPS, 22 BB, 50 K
Harris had only one home run on June 24 last year and ended up with one of the most impressive stat lines in all the minors. He’s gotten the ball rolling a little earlier this year, homering nine times in his past 21 games. He also has five stolen bases during that stretch, so basically everything we were hoping to see from the 22-year-old is coming to fruition. Learning to elevate the ball last year was a key to his breakthrough, and he’s gone even further with it this year. Traditional rank lists still don’t show him much love, possibly because of a limited defensive profile, but he’s spent most of his time in left field this year after manning first and third base previously.
Ken Waldichuk, SP, Yankees
2021 minors: 6-3, 3.03 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 110 IP, 51 BB, 163 K
2022 minors: 5-1, 1.44 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 50 IP, 18 BB, 78 K
The hype on Waldichuk died down pretty early last year after a bumpy transition to Double-A. But his return trip this year raised eyebrows all over again, and his move up to Triple-A in late May so far hasn’t slowed him down. In fact, he turned in arguably his best start of the season last time out, allowing one run and striking out 11 over six innings.
His success is more a matter of deception than pure stuff, though his slider features plenty of sweeping action. It’s a profile that’s sure to invite skepticism, with some scouts questioning whether he locates well enough in the zone to succeed against big-league hitters, but at some point, the numbers speak for themselves. The left-hander should get a chance to prove it at the big-league level later this year.
Kahlil Watson, SS, Marlins
2021 minors: .394 BA (33 AB), 2 3B, 3 2B, 4 SB, 1.130 OPS, 8 BB, 7 K
2022 minors: .223 BA (188 AB), 7 HR, 9 SB, .647 OPS, 9 BB, 84 K
I’ve been delaying my reaction to this debacle, hoping I’d eventually have something better to report, but alas, things don’t seem to be getting any better for the 16th pick in last year’s draft. Of the four first-round shortstops most coveted in Dynasty leagues, Jordan Lawlar and Marcelo Mayer have excelled while Brady House has at least held his own. Watson, though, has been a complete flop, striking out more than 40 percent of the time at Low-A. His plate discipline was thought to be a point in his favor, too. The tools are still promising enough to hold the line in Dynasty, but it’s clear there’s work to be done.
Ceddanne Rafaela, OF, Red Sox
2021 minors: .251 BA (394 AB), 10 HR, 23 SB, .729 OPS, 25 BB, 79 K
2022 minors: .327 BA (226 AB), 11 HR, 14 SB, .966 OPS, 12 BB, 55 K
Already the unlikeliest of breakthroughs, Rafaela simply refuses to cool off, his first week at Double-A going about like his time in High-A went. In seven games, he’s batting .310 (9 for 29) with two home runs and just four strikeouts. Double-A is the level where the pretenders are most often exposed, so the 21-year-old finding immediate success there only bolsters his breakthrough claim. A sensational outfielder and competent infielder, he already seemed destined for utility role but now has a path as a full-timer if the power gains hold. Those gains are especially surprising for a player who stands 5-feet-8.
Joe Boyle, SP, Reds
2021 minors: 0-0, 2.29 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 19 2/3 IP, 14 BB, 41 K
2022 minors: 3-0, 0.84 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 42 2/3 IP, 31 BB, 65 K
The overall stat line looks great, but I want to direct your attention to one number in particular. Boyle has allowed all of 10 hits this year. He’s made nine starts. He’s allowed 10 hits. Four times he’s gone at least four innings without allowing a single hit. His season high for hits is three. Clearly, he’s doing something right, but at the same time, that unhittable quality may be the only reason he’s survived a walk rate of 6.5 per nine innings. It’s a tricky profile that will obviously be tested once he moves beyond A-ball, but imagine what he could be if everything breaks right.