Top Prospect Promotions Rumors

Cubs To Promote Kris Bryant

The Cubs will promote top prospect Kris Bryant to the Major Leagues for tomorrow’s game against the Padres, reports Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago (on Twitter).

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The 23-year-old Bryant was the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft out of the University of San Diego and entered the season ranked as MLB’s No. 1 prospect according to both Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law. MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus ranked the third baseman second and fifth overall, respectively.

The timing of Bryant’s promotion isn’t exactly a surprise. Chicago generated some controversy by beginning Bryant in the Minor Leagues this season, but the move made sense for the team in the long term. By keeping Bryant in the Minors for the season’s first 12 days, he’ll fall one day shy of accumulating a full year of Major League service this season. While that means he will assuredly qualify as a Super Two player and be eligible for arbitration four times instead of the standard three, it also buys the team an additional year of club control. At the end of the 2020 season, Bryant will have five years, 171 days of Major League service time — assuming he is not optioned back to Triple-A at any point — leaving him a day shy of being eligible for free agency. In simpler terms, the Cubs opted to delay Bryant’s promotion by 12 days in order to extend their control over the phenom for an additional season.

Of course, the Cubs won’t acknowledge that as the reason for Bryant opening the year in Triple-A, nor should they. While the motives behind the decision are widely known, coming out and saying it would provide concrete fuel for a grievance from Bryant and agent Scott Boras. As MLBR’s Tim Dierkes noted earlier today, some teams have taken the plunge and allowed top prospects to break camp with the club, but it’s rarely, if ever, worth it for the team from a baseball standpoint. And there are plenty of other prospects who not-so-curiously open the year in Triple-A only to be promoted once enough time has passed to extend the team’s control by a year or to potentially prevent a player from reaching Super Two designation and entering arbitration an extra time.

While in some cases, the whole situation is mitigated by agreeing to a long-term contract that extends into a player’s free agent seasons, that was a highly unlikely outcome with the Boras-represented Bryant. Boras typically encourages his players to go year-to-year through the arbitration process and test free agency as early as possible. While there are a few notable exceptions, including Jered Weaver, Carlos Gonzalez and Carlos Gomez, the Cubs likely knew that their odds of controlling Bryant beyond the 2020 season without ponying up on a sizable free agent contract were slim. Boras outspokenly challenged the Cubs on their spring decision with Bryant, noting that it makes little sense for the team to claim it is trying to win while leaving a young player who could very well be one of the best on the team. In fact, in Boras’ mind, the question was not one of why Bryant may have to begin the season in the Minor Leagues, but rather one of why Bryant wasn’t promoted last September when rosters expanded.

From a statistical standpoint, it’s hard to say that Boras doesn’t have a case. Bryant annihilated Minor League pitching in 2014, hitting a ridiculous .325/.438/.661 with 43 home runs in 138 games between Double-A and Triple-A. This spring, he batted .425/.477/1.175 with nine home runs in 40 at-bats. And to begin the year in Triple-A, Bryant hit .333/.379/.625 with a pair of homers in 29 plate appearances — and that was before going deep with a three-run homer tonight. The Cubs cited a need to work on his defense, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein accurately noted that he’s never had a prospect break camp out of Spring Training if it meant making his Major League debut on Opening Day. That reasoning appeared questionable at the time and looks transparent when juxtaposed with the convenient timing of his promotion, though the Cubs can point to the fact that both Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella are on the disabled list, creating a need at third base.

Bryant figures to step into an everyday role at third base or, potentially, in a corner outfield spot with the Cubs, hitting in the heart of their order. Few doubt that he’s ready to hit Major League pitching right now, and he adds to the Cubs’ growing young core. The Cubs are hoping that Bryant, along with the likes of Jorge Soler, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Addison Russell, among others, will lead the team back to prominence and break a World Series Championship drought — the Billy Goat curse — that spans more than 100 years. The team spent aggressively this offseason to add Jon Lester to the top of a rapidly improving rotation that also features breakout star Jake Arrieta, and expectations are high already in 2015. Many are expecting the Cubs to make the playoffs this season, and Bryant would be a vital component of a playoff berth. In the unlikely event that the Cubs miss the playoffs by a single game, there will unquestionably be some second-guessing about the decision to hold Bryant in Triple-A to begin the year.

Whether or not one agrees with the Cubs’ tactics, they are not the first, nor will they be the last team to employ this method with a highly regarded prospect. There are clear long-term benefits from a baseball operations standpoint, and it’d be hard to justify having brought Bryant north with the team, in retrospect, at the end of the 2020 season if he were eligible for free agency entering his age-29 campaign.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Diamondbacks Promote Yasmany Tomas

The Diamondbacks have called up recent Cuban signee Yasmany Tomas from Triple-A, the club announced. Tomas had opened the season in the upper minors despite inking a six-year, $68.5MM contract to join Arizona over the offseason.

Yasmany Tomas

Of course, Tomas is just 24 years of age and never really settled on a defensive position over the spring, making his early-season demotion more than understandable. While he did not do much with the 23 plate appearances he saw at the Triple-A level, Tomas also got over 70 plate appearances in the spring to prepare him for the season.

Tomas has shown largely the skillset that was expected: he has immense power, but may not reach base at a productive clip. He seems to be capable of hitting big league pitching, though precisely how well remains to be seen. Baseball America listed him as the game’s 57th overall prospect based largely on his bat, noting the possibility that he’ll strike out a lot, though BA is also fairly bullish on his ability to be an average player in other respects.

The real question, it would seem, is defense. An experimental effort to play him at third did not look very promising over the spring, and fellow youngster Jake Lamb has hit his way into playing time there. First base is a non-starter with Paul Goldschmidt installed. The likeliest scenario, then, is that Tomas will play in the corner outfield, though it remains to be seen how much time he’ll get there with Mark Trumbo, David Peralta, and Ender Inciarte all in the mix.

With the move, Tomas’s service clock will start in time for him to compile a full year of MLB service in 2015. Of course, that likely will not mean much to him. Tomas is under contract through at least 2018 and possibly through 2020, as his contract contains an opt-out clause after four seasons. It’s theoretically possible, then, that Tomas could end up in an arbitration scenario, though it does seem rather unlikely.

Regardless, the timing of the move seems odd, as the D-Backs have said that they would prefer Tomas see regular playing time in the upper minors before ascending. Though it is possible that he will see consistent action in the big leagues, that will send someone else to the bench — presumably Peralta or Inciarte.

For the Diamondbacks, the allure of a lineup including the right-handed power of Tomas, Trumbo and Goldschmidt is easy to understand, but that lineup would likely lead to a defensive alignment featuring Trumbo and Tomas manning the outfield corners. A.J. Pollock‘s defensive wizardry in center field notwithstanding, that outfield defense would likely serve as a significant hindrance to an already questionable pitching staff.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Top Prospect Promotions: Pompey, Franco, Norris

The September roster expansions mean that some of baseball’s most notable prospects will be called up to the big leagues for the first time.  Here are some of the familiar names from various prospect rankings (from MLB.com, Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law) who will soon debut in the Show…

  • Blue Jays outfield prospect Dalton Pompey will also get a September call-up, the youngster himself tweeted (hat tip to John Lott, via Twitter). Pompey cracked the top fifty midseason prospect list of Baseball America, while checking in at 91st on MLB.com’s latest listing. The 21-year-old has seen only limited action at the Triple-A level, and started out this season at High A, but has compiled a strong .313/.388/.462 line across 494 plate appearances at three levels on the year. Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca tweets the full, and lengthy, list of Toronto’s expanded roster additions.
  • The Phillies will promote third baseman Maikel Franco, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.  Franco, who just turned 22 last week, has a modest .257/.298/.427 slash line and 16 homers over 553 PA at Triple-A this season, though he has hit much better over the last two months.  Franco was ranked 50th and 57th, respectively, on Baseball America and MLB.com’s midseason prospect lists and ranked 63rd on Law’s preseason top 100 list.
  • The Blue Jays will promote left-hander Daniel Norris, Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi reports.  Norris, 21, was a second-round pick in the 2011 draft who began this season at high-A ball but pitched well enough to earn promotions to both Double-A and Triple-A.  The southpaw has a 2.53 ERA, 11.8 K/9 and 3.79 K/BB rate over a combined 124 2/3 IP at all three farm levels in 2014.  Norris, who was ranked 25th by Baseball America and 28th by MLB.com, is expected to begin his Major League career pitching out of the Jays’ bullpen.


Dodgers Promote Joc Pederson

The Dodgers have promoted top prospect Joc Pederson, Ryan Walton of Valley Bay News tweets. Pederson still needs to be added to their 40-man roster.

USATSI_7782593_154513410_lowresPederson is in the midst of an offensive season that’s brilliant even in the desert air of Triple-A Albuquerque, hitting .303/.435/.582 in 553 plate appearances. MLB.com currently ranks Pederson the No. 18 prospect in baseball, praising his power (he has 33 home runs so far this season) and plate discipline, but noting that he needs to work on hitting left-handers. Before the season, Baseball America ranked Pederson at No. 34, and ESPN’s Keith Law had him at No. 41.

BA’s Prospect Handbook 2014 ranked Pederson the No. 1 prospect in the Dodgers system, noting that he receives comparisons to players like Curtis Granderson and Jim Edmonds. The Granderson comparison might be apt — Pederson is a lefty hitter who draws plenty of walks and also strikes out a lot, with 149 whiffs so far this year at Triple-A. Whether Pederson will be able to overcome those minor league strikeouts as smoothly as Granderson did remains to be seen, but he’s still an exciting talent with strong tools across the board. He can play all three outfield positions, and he mostly played center with Albuquerque.

Where Pederson will fit with the Dodgers right now is unclear, however. The Dodgers have a number of outfielders who are either performing well (Yasiel Puig, Scott Van Slyke) or very expensive (Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier), and they’ll need to sort through them in order to find playing time for Pederson.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Cubs To Promote Jorge Soler

Cubs top prospect Jorge Soler will be promoted to the Major Leagues and join the team for tomorrow’s game against Cincinnati, according to David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com (Twitter link).

Jorge  Soler

The 22-year-old Soler entered the season ranked as a consensus Top 50 prospect in all of baseball, and while a pair of hamstring injuries has limited him to 61 games, he still ranked 28th on the midseason edition of Keith Law’s Top 50 prospects list over at ESPN.com. Soler has obliterated Rookie-level, Double-A and Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .338/.432/.687 batting line, belting 14 homers, 23 doubles and two triples in just 234 plate appearances.

Law called Soler a “monster if he can just stay on the field,” praising his “electric” bat speed and plus-plus raw power in his midseason scouting report. He also noted that Soler had the offensive ability to profile as a top-10 prospect, but his troubles staying on the field prevented him from being ranked any higher than 28th overall. Additionally, he points out that Soler has the arm and athleticism to profile as an average or better defensive right fielder.

Soler becomes the next elite Cubs prospect to make the jump to the Major Leagues, joining shortstop/second baseman Javier Baez and second baseman/center fielder Arismendy Alcantara. Baez has played second base since his recall (a spot vacated by the trade of Darwin Barney), while Alcantara has shifted to center field. Presumably, Soler will be playing right field at the Major League level, as he has throughout his minor league career.

Soler has already made plenty of headlines in his career, as the Cuban phenom inked a nine-year, $30MM contract with the Cubs back in 2012 just days before the collective bargaining agreement’s new rules on international signings kicked in. Had Soler signed after those rules, as a 20-year-old from Cuba, he would have been limited to a $2.9MM signing bonus.

Soler is guaranteed $2MM in 2014 after earning $1MM in 2012 and 2013. He will earn $2MM in 2015 before his salary rises to $3MM in 2016 and 2017. Soler is technically slated to earn $4MM annually from 2018-20, but his contract allows him to opt into arbitration once he is eligible. The contract, of course, seems light when compared to the contracts signed by Jose Abreu and Rusney Castillo, but keep in mind that Cespedes was 26 when he signed his deal and Abreu was 27.

Because of Soler’s guaranteed contract, the Cubs needn’t worry about service time considerations or Super Two status like they would need to with top prospects such as Kris Bryant and Addison Russell. Additionally, his Major League deal meant that he was already on the 40-man roster, so the Cubs don’t need to concern themselves with clearing a 40-man spot.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


NL Notes: Taylor, Cuddyer, Hanley, Alvarez

The Nationals will promote top prospect Michael Taylor today, a source tells MLB.com’s Bill Ladson. The 23-year-old, previously known more for his bat than his glove, has risen quickly through Double-A and Triple-A this season, hitting .315/.401/.547 with 22 homers and 35 stolen bases along the way. Outfielder Steven Souza was placed on the disabled list with a left shoulder contusion to make room for Taylor. MLB.com ranked Taylor 72nd on the midseason edition of its Top 200 prospects list. Washington will have control of him through at least the 2019 season if he is in the Majors to stay.

Here are some more Sunday morning links from around the senior circuit…

  • Michael Cuddyer is focused on getting healthy rather than proving himself to potential free agent suitors or to the Rockies in the season’s final weeks, writes Nick Groke of the Denver Post. The 35-year-old, who is finishing up a three-year, $31.5MM contract, has been out since April with a broken bone in his left shoulder. Cuddyer elected to rehab at the lower levels of the minor leagues to strengthen his legs and to once again experience the camaraderie of that environment, he explains. His decision has not been taken for granted by the young players he’s encountered thus far, as Rockies 2014 first-rounder Forrest Wall has already picked Cuddyer’s brain about preparation for games and his approach at the plate. The Rockies would like to retain Cuddyer, though they aren’t sure at what price they’d be comfortable, Groke notes.
  • The Dodgers seem resigned to the fact that Hanley Ramirez will be placed on the disabled list with an oblique injury, writes MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick. Ramirez has been determined to stay off the DL in his contract year, says Gurnick, but he’s still missed 25 starts with various injuries to this point. Ramirez ranked third on the most recent edition of MLBTR’s Free Agent Power Rankings, with his lack of durability being a primary reason for his fall from the top spot. A stint on the DL — which would be his fifth since the onset of the 2011 season — certainly won’t help his free agent stock.
  • Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review spoke to Pedro Alvarez and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle about the possibility of Alvarez moving across the diamond to first base. Alvarez, whom Hurdle recently said had lost his starting job at third base, is open to the idea and called it a “no-brainer” rather than offer any negative comments about the move. It’d present the Bucs with an interesting logjam at first, however, as Alvarez ($4.25MM), Ike Davis ($3.5MM) and Gaby Sanchez ($2.3MM) are all due raises on their 2014 salaries via arbitration this winter. Price notes that Sanchez has begun working out over at third base.

Cubs To Promote Javier Baez

The Cubs will promote star prospect Javier Baez in time for tomorrow’s game against the Rockies at Coors Field, Bruce Levine of 670TheScore.com reports (Twitter link).  Corresponding moves still need to be made to make room for the Puerto Rico native on both the Cubs’ 25- and 40-man rosters.  Baez is a client of the Wasserman Media Group, as he just hired his new representation last week.

javier_baezBaez is a consensus top-10 prospect in the game, as detailed in recent midseason minor league rankings by Baseball Prospectus (which puts him at #5), MLB.com (#6), Baseball America (#7) and ESPN’s Keith Law (#8).  The 21-year-old impressed many with a big Spring Training performance but then got off to a slow start in his first couple of months at Triple-A.  After 434 plate appearances for Iowa, however, Baez is hitting .260/.323/.510 with 23 home runs, so it seems his power swing is ready for the big league spotlight.

Originally selected ninth overall in the 2011 draft, Baez has a .278/.336/.545 slash line in 1350 minor league PA, cranking 76 homers and stealing 62 bases (out of 79 attempts) over his four minor league seasons.  The 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook says that Baez could stand to slow down some of the natural aggressiveness in his game, yet raved about his “special bat speed” and baseball instincts.  The Handbook gave Baez’s power a 75 scouting grade (out of 80) and said “he profiles as an all-star-caliber, 30-homer infielder wherever he lands.”

It seems likely that Baez will land at second base for his Major League debut, with Starlin Castro entrenched at shortstop at Arismendy Alcantara (another well-regarded prospect) capable of shifting to center field.  Baez is a natural shortstop but has seen playing time at the keystone at Triple-A in preparation for both playing alongside Castro and because there is some concern that he might be better suited for second or third base over the long term.  With Castro locked into a relatively expensive contract through at least 2019 and a wealth of strong infield prospects (Baez, Alcantara, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell) in Chicago’s system, it will be interesting to see how the Cubs juggle all these young talents in the coming years.

Photo courtesy of Rick Scuteri/USA Today Sports Images


Top Prospect Promotions: Foltynewicz, Ranaudo

Two well-regarded young arms both got the call for their respective teams. At this point, even if both players stay on the MLB roster the rest of the way, they will of course not be able to accrue enough service time to set them up for eventual Super Two qualification. On the other hand, they’ll bank plenty of service days now and begin moving towards arbitration eligibility. Let’s take a look:

  • Righty Mike Foltynewicz will get his call-up for a relief role with the Astros, reports Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). The 22-year-old with a big fastball currently ranks 65th on MLB.com’s list of the game’s top 100 prospects, with Baseball America ranking him 59th coming into the year. With Foltynewicz, the big question is whether he can develop his secondary offerings to the point that he will stick in a rotation, but Houston will plan to use him in relief this season and give him a chance at earning a starting role in the spring (according to a tweet from MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart).
  • Meanwhile, Anthony Ranaudo will take the bump today for the Red Sox after previously scheduled starter John Lackey was dealt away, as Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal tweets. Ranking 82nd among the game’s prospects per MLB.com, the 24-year-old righty has put up excellent results in each of the last two seasons as he climbed through the minor league ranks. This year, he owns a 2.41 ERA through 119 1/3 innings at Triple-A, with 7.5 K/9 against 3.7 BB/9. MLB.com praises his sinker and sharp curve, though says he still was work to do refining his change.

Blue Jays To Promote Aaron Sanchez

The Blue Jays will promote top prospect Aaron Sanchez to join their bullpen today, sources tell Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. The right-handed starter had been moved to the bullpen at Triple-A recently to prepare him for the role in the Majors, though he made just two relief appearances before this promotion.

Aaron  Sanchez

Sanchez, 22, ranked as the game’s No. 32 prospect on Baseball America’s pre-season Top 100. He ranked 31st on Baseball Prospectus’ version of the same list and 23rd on MLB.com’s Top 100. Sanchez has had a bit of a down season, causing him to fall off of the midseason edition of BA’s Top 50 prospects. However, BP wasn’t as swayed by his regression and upped his ranking to No. 29 on their midseason list (though as they note, given the number of prospects that have been promoted ahead of him, the ranking is actually a bit of a step back).

In 100 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this season, Sanchez has a 3.95 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 5.1 BB/9. As BP’s Chris Mellen notes in his write-up of Sanchez on BP’s midseason list (subscription required and recommended), he consistently teases the Blue Jays by showing front-of-the-rotation stuff but with heavily inconsistent fastball command. As a result, the “clear-headed line of sight” points to a mid-rotation role for Sanchez, Mellen writes. Prior to the season BA praised his ability to induce grounders with his fastball as well as the tilt and depth of his potentially plus curveball. They did note, however, that when pitching from the stretch in 2013, he walked more hitters than he struck out. Sanchez’s changeup has potential to be a third average-or-better offering as well, per MLB.com’s scouting report.

If Sanchez is at the Major League level to stay, he would accumulate 70 days of service time through season’s end, which would leave him well shy of attaining Super Two status. Recent reports have indicated that the Blue Jays are looking for bullpen help, but if Sanchez can solidify a relief role, he could be an alternative to making a trade.

Sanchez has also seen his name mentioned in trade rumors pertaining to starting pitching additions, but GM Alex Anthopoulos has shown a strong resistance to moving Sanchez’s lofty ceiling. Sanchez’s name was frequently brought up in possible Jeff Samardzija trades — alongside lefty Daniel Norris and center fielder Dalton Pompey — before “Shark” was ultimately dealt to Oakland.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Red Sox To Promote Mookie Betts

4:00pm: The Red Sox have officially announced the move. To clear space on their active roster, they’ve optioned pitcher Rubby De La Rosa to Triple-A Pawtucket.

9:13am: The Red Sox are set to promote top prospect Mookie Betts, John Tomase of the Boston Herald tweets. There’s no word yet on a corresponding roster move.

The Red Sox drafted Betts in the fifth round in 2011, and beginning in 2013, he quickly cut his way through the minors, hitting well at each level. The 21-year-old second baseman and outfielder hit .345/.437/.520 in 359 plate appearances in 2014 split between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.

Betts is ranked the No. 51 prospect in the game by MLB.com, No. 61 by ESPN’s Keith Law and No. 75 by Baseball America. BA’s Prospect Handbook 2014 ranked Betts the Red Sox’ seventh-best prospect, praising his speed, athleticism and ability to control the strike zone. With Dustin Pedroia at second base, the Red Sox will likely find playing time for Betts in the outfield, where the team has struggled this season.