In honor of Minor League Baseball’s Opening Day last week, I had a dozen staff members of Six Man Rotation (and one non-staff member) each give me one hitting and one pitching prospect they expect to breakout in 2018. For the sake of the exercise, “breakout” was defined differently by all. Some players, such as Brian Anderson, are already at the Major League level and breakout would mean they far exceeded all expectations. Others, such as Christian Pache, are already top 100 prospects and a breakout here would require a catapulting into a top prospect in baseball. Finally, some players, such as Jean Carlos Encarnacion, are lesser known or infrequently talked about. A breakout here would simply require a move into top 100-150 prospect conversation. The guidelines were relatively loose. Here are all 26 of the players whose names were mentioned in this exercise:
Hitters (in alphabetical order):
Brian Anderson, 3B, MIA
What he needs: Already roughly a top 100-150 prospect (ranked #82 on Fangraphs), Anderson would need to not only anchor 3B for the Marlins all year, but play relatively well there while showing some power, something he hadn’t done much of during his time in the Minors. Anything north of 3 WAR would suffice.
Christian Pache, OF, ATL
What he needs: Pache is already somewhat inarguably the best defensive outfielder in the Minor Leagues. However, what he has yet to do is show much game power, despite his frame suggesting it may be in there. Pache will start the year at High-A Florida with a slightly reworked swing with more loft. The power needs to reveal itself while continuing to keep the average high at a more challenging level.
Danny Jansen, C, TOR
What he needs: Jansen already had somewhat of a breakout in 2017 after getting eye glasses pre-season allowing him to, well, see the ball. A bat-first catcher, nothing about Jansen’s defense really sticks out, nor does his power due to a relatively flat bat plane. For Jansen to jump, he would need to make notable defensive strides and/or add some loft to his swing.
Daz Cameron, OF, DET
What he needs: Health and consistency. It’s been somewhat of a roller coaster beginning to Cameron’s career, but he showed both health and ability again in 2017 before a trade to the Tigers. Back-to-back years of sustained health, power, and speed would put Cameron firmly within baseball’s top 100.
DJ Stewart, OF, BAL
What he needs: Stewart has long been a very good hitter, with power and patience from the left side. At 6’0”, 230 lbs, Stewart is most likely relegated to LF because of his arm and doesn’t project to be anything better than fringe average there. Therefore, Stewart will need to continue to show 55-60 hit and power at the upper minors this season, giving him a profile similar to that of Willie Calhoun.
Edwin Rios, 3B, LAD
What he needs: Realistically, a change of scenery. Not because he isn’t hitting; all Rios has done in the Minors since being drafted is hit. The power is there, as is the all fields approach, and Keith Law noted his great exit velocities. Offensively, there’s not much more that he can do. Defensively, however, he’s most likely a first baseman and he’s blocked by the former NL Rookie of the Year in LA. Rios has already hit at AAA, but if continues to do so to start the year, there’s a chance he could slot into LA’s lineup for the injured Justin Turner at 3B or perhaps in LF, where he played 9 games last season.
George Valera, OF, CLE
What he needs: Already labeled one of the best offensive profiles from the 2017 J2 class, Valera will simply need to prove it this year stateside for people to take notice. Valera should start the year in rookie ball and hopefully move to short season Mahoning Valley post draft. Frequently compared to Nationals top prospect Juan Soto, Valera will need similar success at those levels as Soto had in his age-17 season.
Jean Carlos Encarnacion, 3B, ATL
What he needs: Encarnacion has never played a professional game above rookie ball, so there’s a few things he could do to break out. One would be to show glimpses of a plus glove at 3B, as he’s actually a pretty good SS, but figures to outgrow the position. The other would be to show glimpses of something more than average hit or average power. Still mostly projection, these sort of things are totally possible, but one of more of them will need to happen for him to begin catching some eyes.
Josh Lowe, 3B, TB
What he needs: A third baseman when drafted, Lowe has already moved to the outfield and already plays a very good defensive CF with plus speed and a plus arm. He’ll need to show more power this season in High-A, something he hasn’t done since high school, since swing and miss will always be part of his game. If the power can shine through, his stock will soar.
Justin Williams, OF, TB
What he needs: An injury sidelined Williams through May last season, but Williams hit the ground running once healthy, hitting .300/.374/.484 the rest of the season with a career high 14 HR. Adding a bit more leverage would help his power output even more, but some believe he’s finally tapping into the raw power that scouts see regardless. Iif Williams can continue to improve his power, he’ll be in the top 100 conversation.
MJ Melendez, C, KC
What he needs: He needs to hit, plain and simple. He’s a glove first catcher (as of now) with good movement, arm, and pop times. He’s athletic, and there’s a lot to like about the swing from a pure athleticism standpoint, but it can get a bit reckless and funky. If he hits and cuts back on the swing-and-miss, he could be universally a top 5 catching prospect by next year (if he isn’t already).
Sean Murphy, C, OAK
What he needs: Same as Melendez; he needs to hit. Murphy is a phenomenal defensive catcher, arguably the best in the minors. If his arm isn’t a 80 grade, it’s a comfortable 70. The bat lags behind a bit. He doesn’t possess as much swing and miss as Melendez, striking out a reasonable 15% last year, but the hit tool may be capped at average. His power took a very good step in the right direction last season and will need to again this year. A potential Gold Glove catcher with pop is a sexy profile.
Will Benson, OF, CLE
What he needs: Hit tool improvement, especially v LHP. With every other aspect of his game, Benson brings a lot to like. He’s a big boy with lots of raw power, a plus arm, and he could develop into a very good RF or even potentially CF with some refinements in his routes. But with all that comes some long levers that have left holes in his swing, especially against LHP last season when he OPS’d just .668 (vs. a .871 OPS vs RHP). Benson has no issue taking a walk, so if the hit tool progresses, he ceiling could be quite high.
Pitchers (in alphabetical order):
Aaron Civale, RHP, CLE
What he needs: Continued success. Usually, I’d say a guy like Civale (60+ command with an average FB and above average to plus breaking ball) would need his stuff to jump to begin catching some eyes, but at 6’2”, 215 lbs, and almost 23 years old, I’m not sure how plausible that is. Instead, Civale needs to just continue to prove that his profile can’t be taken advantage of by more advanced hitters.
Albert Abreu, RHP, NYY
What he needs: Show some control. Abreu’s stuff hasn’t been questioned for some time. He works with a FB at 96-99 with movement and a nasty slider to boot. Some are even decently high on his changeup as well. However, Abreu has had trouble repeating his delivery, potentially due to his sheer arm speed, and it has created some control issues (4.2 BB/9 in pro ball). If Abreu can tone it down just a bit, we could be looking at a top pitching prospect next year.
Austin Franklin, RHP, TB
What he needs: Either changeup development or durability in-game. Franklin had a healthy season last year, but in some starts in short season ball, his velocity would drop throughout his start and that can’t happen if he wants to start. His changeup would also be huge, as he’s currently just a 2 pitch guy now. The sinker/curveball was more than enough to tear up the NYPL, but not upper levels. If one or both of those things happens, he becomes very interesting.
Bryan Mata, RHP, BOS
What he needs: Already advanced for his age, Mata could use further development of either secondary. He has a good fastball which he’s been throwing harder this spring and great command of his pitches. Both secondaries, however, seem to be capped at future average or above average. If one or both can flash plus here or there and become a true swing-and-miss pitch for him, oh baby.
Chris Rodriguez, RHP, LAA
What he needs: Proof of durability. Rodriguez is already working with a plus FB, 1-2 plus breakers and a changeup that still needs work, but may pass by just being fringe-average because of the distinctly different but equally impressive breakers. The delivery alone, however, has some pegging him for a high-leverage bullpen role, not only from a durability standpoint, but because it hinders his ability to throw the strikes he needs. Still, CRod’s stuff is electric, if he shows another full season pitching deep into games, he could shoot up top 100 lists.
Deivi Garcia, RHP, NYY
What he needs: To impress in short-season ball. Garcia is a very interesting arm for the Yankees. Garcia has already flashed a plus FB, a nasty curve which has registered 3000+ RPM on Trackman, and has shown he can throw some strikes. The changeup is firm, but Garcia has a very quick arm, which may bode well for the development of the pitch. He is, however, extremely small, listed at just 5’10”, but the sink on his FB may make up for the lack of plane. If Garcia throws up the same numbers in short season as he did in 2017, expect people to take notice.
Francisco Morales, RHP, PHI
What he needs: Changeup and/or command development. As is typical with young J2 acquisitions, Morales is living with a potential plus FB/SL combo that may be already average at just 18 years old, but the changeup and command lag way behind. It’s your typical “relief risk” profile, but Morales is so young that there’s a lot he can do to boost his stock.
Genesis Cabrera, LHP, TB
What he needs: Already a guy who can throw 95+ with a wicked slider from the left side, Cabrera needs some drastic improvement on his command (which is delivery rooted) or one of his other two pitches, the curveball or the changeup. The changeup is far behind, but if he wants to be anything other than a RP, he needs to add to his usable arsenal or be able to better control his FB/SL combo.
Hunter Harvey, RHP, BAL
What he needs: Health. Harvey has been highly regarded for some time, but has pitched very little since 2014 (plasma injection in ‘15, Tommy John Surgery recovery ‘16-’17). His stuff is all the way back since recovering, including the FB/CB. Only thing stopping him from top 100 lists next year is a full season of health.
Jose Soriano, RHP, LAA
What he needs: I like Soriano a lot. He was actually going to be my pick until someone else picked him. Realistically, all Soriano needs to do is to continue to stay healthy and progress. Still a teen, Soriano continues to grow and fill out his frame, and he’s already been throwing harder this spring. The curveball has always looked good, and many believe he can get a changeup to average. The whole arsenal and strike throwing could take a step forward this season, he just needs to stay healthy and on track.
Luis Escobar, RHP, PIT
What he needs: To show some control, plain and simple. Outside of delivery/control concerns, Escobar’s profile is very sexy. There’s a plus FB that can get as high as 98 in short stints, plus a changeup and curve that are probably already average and have plus ceilings. If you wanna dream a bit, there could be 3 plus pitches. But the delivery is violent and it leads to control issues (walked 4.1 per 9 as a 21 year old in Low-A). Changing the delivery is not an option, as it is the source of the fastball and probably the change, but Escobar absolutely needs to throw more strikes. Limit the walks and Escobar becomes more of an intriguing, wild SP profile and less of a back-end RP profile.
Matt Tabor, RHP, ARI
What he needs: Slider consistency. Tabor is a big, cold-weather arm out of Massachusetts, who throws 91-94 t95 with a surprisingly pretty good changeup. His primary breaker in high school was a curve, but it has since been changed to a slider since becoming a pro. It will flash plus every now and then, but it is incredibly inconsistent and will come out firm more often than not. With more consistency on the breaker, the profile looks much, much better. There are also delivery concerns, but the breaker is the big one in my opinion. There’s a decent ceiling here.
TJ Zeuch, RHP, TOR
What he needs: A 3rd pitch he can rely on. Zeuch is very interesting; he’s a massive guy (6’7”) who repeats his delivery extremely well for someone with as many moving parts as he has. The size and arm slot allow his low to mid 90s FB to play up further and a curve that shows promise. The slider could be better depending on where you look but the curve looks better in the 2 outings I saw. The changeup is behind. The improvement of 1-2 of these pitches would give him not only a deep but usable arsenal and mid-rotation upside.
At the end of the 2018 MiLB season, the writers of each of these picks will be revealed along with a small write up of each of these players explaining why they did or did not break out. Until then, Six Man Rotation wishes health and success to all Minor Leaguers as their season gets underway.
Photo Credit: MiLB.com