This article is part of our Minor League Barometer series.
The 2018 season is not even a month old, but already there have been call-ups for some prized phenoms. Gleyber Torres made his much anticipated debut for the Bronx Bombers this past Sunday at second base. Though Torres went 0-for-4, do not expect the neophyte to ride the pine for the Yankees. He would not have been called up unless the Yanks expected to pencil him into the lineup on a daily basis. Dodgers flamethrower Walker Buehler will make the first start of his MLB career Monday. While Buehler may not throw more than four or five innings, expect plenty of strikeouts and ground balls. He is most effective when staying down in the strike zone.
Meanwhile, two slightly lesser hyped prospects in the National League have also been promoted to the big leagues. Mac Williamson could see ample at-bats for the Giants with Hunter Pence once again on the Disabled List. Williamson hit a staggering .487 with six home runs and 16 RBI in just 11 games before being called up, and he's already cracked his first home run of the season for the big club. Another power prospect in Tyler O'Neill also received a promotion for the Cardinals, though his path to playing time is less certain. Nevertheless, O'Neill impressed in12 games at Triple-A before the call-up, batting .388 with six home runs and 18 RBI.
Let's take a look at some other prospects making noise early on in the 2018 campaign...
Jesus Luzardo, P, OAK – The Athletics appeared to be aggressive with Luzardo, skipping him right over Low-A and placing him at High-A Stockton to begin the season. He also is a recent recipient of Tommy John surgery. Clearly, though, the brass for the A's knew Luzardo would be up to the task, as he has made mincemeat of the opposition through three starts. The 20-year-old southpaw had a 1.23 ERA and 25:5 K:BB in14.2 innings for the Ports. In fact, the A's were so impressed by Luzardo that he has already received a promotion to Double-A Midland. Luzardo has three potential plus pitches and throws strikes; he walked just five batters in 43.1 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery in 2017. A jump from Rookie Ball and the New York-Penn League to Double-A the very next season is quite a jump. As a side note, former Stockton teammate Parker Dunshee has been equally impressive in the rotation, though he does not have the same physical pedigree as Luzardo, and is more than two-and-a-half years older.
Juan Soto, OF, WAS – Victor Robles gets the prospect pub in the Washington organization, but Soto is an elite phenom in his own right. The teenager battled injuries last season and played just 32 games, but flipped the script with a torrid start to begin the 2018 season. Soto hit an absurd .373/.486/.814 with five home runs and 24 RBI through just 16 games for Low-A Hagerstown. He also swiped two bases, and was rewarded by a quick promotion to High-A Potomac. The continued development of Soto's power stroke is an extremely welcome sign, as Soto plays right field, the current position occupied by a certain free agent-to-be named Bryce Harper. We're not saying Soto will become Harper, but if the Nats are unable to afford Bryce's hefty price tag, they won't be completely left out in the cold with both Soto and Robles coming into the fold sooner rather than later.
Josh Naylor, 1B, SD – The Padres have been aggressive with Naylor since he came over from the Marlins in 2016. While he has performed adequately since being acquired, the 20-year-old could be on the verge of a breakout season. Naylor hit just 10 home runs all of last season between High-A and Double-A, but he already has six dingers through 16 games at Double-A to start the 2018 season. The sweet-swinging lefty is batting .365 with more walks (10) than strikeouts (7) during the early portion of the year. 19-year-old teammate Fernando Tatis, Jr. is going to generate most of the headlines, but Naylor is proving to be more than capable in his own right. The only downside for Naylor is the presence of Eric Hosmer, who signed a lengthy, lucrative deal in the offseason, which essentially blocks Naylor's path to the big leagues.
Brendan McKay, 1B/P, TB – Does the early season success of Shohei Ohtani make it more likely that the Rays continue to let McKay play both roles as well? McKay can certainly handle the bat. He has an advanced approach at the dish, hitting .345 with an insane .558 On-Base Percentage through 10 games for Low-A Bowling Green. He has 14 walks as compared to just four strikeouts thus far in 2018. Meanwhile, McKay has also allowed just four hits in nine innings while posting a 15:1 K:BB as a hurler. It remains to be seen if being a two-way player is sustainable over the long haul, but with Ohtani taking the Majors by storm, the Rays certainly may be encouraged to stick with the experiment with McKay.
Yordan Alvarez, 1B/OF, HOU – The 20-year-old Alvarez is a big-bodied slugger without the red flags in terms of strikeouts. In other words, Alvarez is polished at the plate and makes contact. He is batting .291/.394/.527 with three home runs and 17 RBI through 14 games for Double-A Corpus Christi. He is advanced beyond his years at the dish, and has played in the outfield this season after being restricted to solely first base in the past. Houston realizes his hitting talent, and though Kyle Tucker ranks ahead of him on the organizational depth chart, both players figure prominently in the future plans for the Astros with Marwin Gonzalez playing out of position and Josh Reddick being on the wrong side of 30.
Khalil Lee, OF, KC – Lee's batting average left much to be desired during his first action in full-season ball in 2017, but he still bashed 17 home runs and swiped 20 bags for Low-A Lexington. Lee actually led the South Atlantic League in home runs while finishing second in thefts. Lee is off to a better start with the bat in 2018, hitting .291 with a .444 On-Base Percentage through 16 games with High-A Wilmington. He has two home runs over that span, and has stolen five bases. Notably, he has not been caught stealing after posting an ugly 52.6% success rate in 2017. Arguably the top prospect for the Royals, Lee remains a work in progress, though his stock does appear to be trending upward.
Justin Dunn, P, NYM – The Mets finally got their highly touted Fab 5 rotation healthy, only to see Matt Harvey struggle and find himself in the bullpen. Harvey could be pitching in a different uniform next season, and both Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler have failed to stay healthy. You can never have too much pitching, and Dunn is trying to pitch himself back into New York's future plans with his early start in 2018. The local product from Freeport has a 1.26 ERA and 19:6 K:BB in 14.1 innings for High-A Port St. Lucie. Dunn is still allowing a few too many base runners, though, and he battled control problems in 2017. Though it is nice to see his strikeout rate up from a season ago, he is repeating the same level, and it remains to be seen if he can harness his command for an entire year. He looks the part of a frontline starter, but his production from 2017 says otherwise. He may be best served with a move to the bullpen, but for now, he will stay in the rotation.
Mike Baumann, P, BAL – Baumann is another starter who may end up in the bullpen. Control issues could hamper any notion of him staying as a starter, but his start to the 2018 campaign has been impressive. The 22-year-old righty has a 1.69 ERA and 24:7 K:BB in 16 innings. Baumann misses plenty of bats, but the prevailing wisdom seems to suggest that his delivery is hard to repeat, and even he does not know where the ball is going at times. It is difficult to argue with the results thus far at Low-A, but the sample size is small, and the additional runners may come back to haunt him at the higher levels.
Eloy Jimenez, OF, CHW – A temporary downgrade for one of the best prospects in baseball, as Jimenez spent some time in extended Spring Training due to an issue with one of his pectoral muscles. He recently was assigned to Double-A Birmingham, where he has just one hit in his first 10 at-bats for the Barons. Jimenez seemed to get stronger as the year progressed in 2017, so perhaps that trend will continue in 2018 as well. Across two organizations and three different teams, Jimenez slashed .312/.379/.568 with 19 home runs and 65 RBI in 89 games. If you took a look at the current outfield for the White Sox, you would see why Jimenez will be welcomed with open arms once he gets to the big club, which could happen as early as the second half of this season. Do not expect a true impact until 2019, though.
Jhailyn Ortiz, OF, PHI – There is no question Ortiz is a project, but he has begun the year in a funk at Low-A. The 19-year-old has had trouble adjusting to the jump to full-season ball, hitting a putrid .164 with 25 strikeouts in just 15 games. Ortiz has just three extra-base hits in 55 at-bats. Ortiz hit over .300 in the Short-Season New York-Penn League, but power will end up being his greatest asset. Nevertheless, he still must hit for some sort of average, and also draw a few more walks. Ortiz has just four free passes as well to begin the 2018 campaign. Ortiz was far off from the big leagues no matter how this season started, but a slow start still is disappointing.
Francisco Mejia, C/OF, CLE – In an effort to get his bat in the MLB lineup, Mejia has been spending some time in the outfield. His hitting is more advanced than his fielding at this juncture, and the Tribe is content with Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez splitting time behind the dish. As a result, the Indians have been experimenting with Mejia at other positions. After a trial run at third base did not go well, Mejia has spent a couple of games as a corner outfielder for Triple-A Columbus. Perhaps the game of musical chairs in terms of fielding is affecting Mejia in the batter's box, because he is off to a slow start at the dish. He is hitting just .213/.250/.361 with 15 strikeouts in 14 games. Mejia had not been known in the past to struggle with strikeouts. Regardless, the combination of the lack of a place to play in the field, and early struggles at the plate, means Mejia will continue to bide his time in the minors.
Monte Harrison, OF, MIA – One of the pieces in the Marlins' trade of Christian Yelich to the Milwaukee Brewers, Harrison received some hype in the offseason since he'd suddenly become one of the chief parts of the rebuild in Miami. The toolsy outfielder had 21 home runs and 27 steals across two levels in 2017, and he even hit a respectable .272 in A-ball. However, he did strike out 139 times in 123 games, and he has battled strikeout woes to begin the 2018 campaign as well. In fact, Harrison has fanned a staggering 27 times in just 16 games in his first taste of Double-A, en route to an anemic batting average of .179. Harrison does have three stolen bases, but has been shut out of the home run category thus far, and is clearly having problems with contact. As a result, it is looking less likely by the day that Harrison sees the big leagues this season.