This week’s installment of “Knocking Down The Door” includes five homegrown players—two first-round picks, two second-round picks and one sixth-round pick—who are close to reaching the majors with the team that drafted and signed them to professional contracts.
Josh Bell, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates (Triple-A Indianapolis): Chad Kuhl’s solid MLB debut on Sunday should ease the calls for top pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow (13 IP, 0 R, 0 H over last two starts) to join the big league rotation, at least for this week. I’m not sure John Jaso’s doing enough (.619 OPS since May 29th) to hold off Bell much longer, though.
The 23-year-old first baseman has been a hitting machine during his ascent through the minors, and 2016 has been no different. Well, there has been one difference. He’s finally starting to show off some in-game home run power (11 HR in 74 games in 2016; 30 HR in 373 games from 2012-15) to go along with the high average (.321) and on-base percentage (.405), which should get the attention of a Pirates front office that isn’t known for quickly moving prospects up the ladder.
With a .356/.422/.644 slash line in June, the switch-hitting Bell has done more than enough to earn a spot with the Pirates and push Jaso into a bench role.
Jose Berrios, SP, Minnesota Twins (Triple-A Rochester): It wasn’t a big surprise that Berrios earned an early promotion to the Majors in 2016. He dominated in Triple-A last season (2.85 ERA, 1.7 BB/9, 9. K/9 in 12 starts) and is considered to be one of the best pitching prospects in the game. It also shouldn’t have been a surprise, however, that a 21-year-old struggled in the big leagues and was sent to Triple-A after four starts.
Now a 22-year-old with two more months of Triple-A experience under his belt, Berrios is making a strong case to rejoin the Twins’ rotation after tossing three-hit ball over eight shutout innings in his last start. It was the eighth time in 10 starts that he’s allowed two earned runs or less and seventh time he’s allowed three hits or less.
Left-hander Tommy Milone did not fare well in his return to the rotation last week, and Tyler Duffey was on the brink of a demotion before dominating the Yankees in his last start. I’m guessing we’ll see Berrios if either Milone or Duffey has a bad start this week.
Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres (Triple-A El Paso): It doesn’t matter if Hedges homers in 10 straight games — he’s actually halfway there right now — there isn’t a spot for him on the Major League roster until the Padres can trade Derek Norris, who has an .828 OPS in June and is under team control through 2018. Those numbers are attractive on the trade market.
Norris also has value to the Padres, but Hedges’ recent power surge (seven homers in nine games) is a reminder that they have a big league ready catcher down in Triple-A who many think can be an elite defender and is healthy after surgery in late April to repair a fractured hamate bone.
The Austin Hedges era should begin in San Diego very soon — no, last year’s big league stint when he sat on the bench and watched Norris play almost every day doesn’t count. It just won’t happen until the Derek Norris era ends.
Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees (Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre): If a hitter’s walk-to-strikeout ratio is an indicator of his readiness for the majors, then maybe Judge is getting very close.
After walking 16 times and striking out 56 times in April and May, the 24-year-old Judge must be unrecognizable at the plate with his June performance—he’s walked 17 times and struck out only 21 times. While some hitters sacrifice power with a more patient approach, Judge’s power has also increased (8 homers in June; 7 homers in April/May).
Right fielder Carlos Beltran has been the Yankees’ most productive hitter in June, but he’s also 39 years old and needs to start getting off his feet and into the designated hitter spot more often. That designated hitter spot is currently being occupied by 40-year-old Alex Rodriguez, who is not having a productive season. Add those two things up and Judge has a chance to be patrolling the Bronx outfield in the near future.
Brock Stewart, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Triple-A Oklahoma City): The Dodgers currently have an opening in their rotation and there is a chance that they go with a guy who started the season in High-A and hadn’t been considered much of a prospect.
Crazy, right? Not as crazy at how deserving the guy is. (Note: Apparently the Dodgers agree, as Stewart tweets that he has been called up.)
A 6th Round draft pick in 2014, Stewart had the misfortune of spending most of his first full pro season in the very hitter-friendly California League, where he posted a 5.43 ERA. He returned there to start 2016 and was rewarded/saved with a promotion after two good starts. The 24-year-old has not stopped dominating hitters since.
After cruising through Double-A with 1.12 ERA, 1.6 BB/9 and 9.9 K/9 in nine starts, the right-hander has been brilliant in three Triple-A starts (2.89 ERA, 18.2 IP, 2 BB 27 K), including back-to-back 10-strikeout games. His next start could come in the majors on Wednesday.
“Knocking Down the Door” is a weekly feature that identifies minor leaguers who are making a case for a big league promotion.