This is the debut of my weekly “Knocking Down the Door” series here at MLBTR. The purpose is to identify players in Triple-A or Double-A who are doing everything in their power to earn a big league call-up in the very near future.
For the most part, I’ll try to include players who could make a significant impact soon after arriving to the majors, if not right away. So unless it’s a really slow week for potential impact prospects, I will not be telling you about the pending arrival of the next great middle reliever, spot starter or fourth outfielder.
Here are five players to keep an eye on …
Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros (Double-A Corpus Christi): The Houston Astros might be the most disappointing team in baseball. And while the next Carlos Correa probably isn’t waiting in the wings—check back in another decade or so—it’s possible that Alex Bregman can give them a much-needed spark before their season goes completely down the drain.
Correa did make a quick stop in Triple-A before he was called up to the majors last season, but the fading Astros might not be able to wait much longer on the 22-year-old Bregman if they think he can help them out.
The 2nd overall pick in the 2015 draft, Bregman has been a man among boys in Double-A with a 1.007 OPS to go along with 13 homers and more walks (27) than strikeouts (20), which is a good sign that he can handle himself against big league pitching. He’s only played seven games at third base, although a move from shortstop shouldn’t be a difficult transition.
Ryon Healy, 1B, Oakland Athletics (Triple-A Nashville): The A’s have plenty of incentive to continue giving at-bats to Yonder Alonso, who was acquired in the offseason for All-Star candidate Drew Pomeranz, and Billy Butler, who is in year two of a three-year, $30MM deal.
But at some point very soon, they’ll need to move on from at least one of the two—Alonso does have 13 hits in his last eight games to boost his OPS to .642; Butler is coming off of a three-hit game that increased his OPS to .683—and reward first base prospect Ryon Healy for the damage he’s done to Double-A and Triple-A pitching this season.
The 24-year-old Healy has nine hits, including three homers, in his last 22-at-bats to give him an overall slash line of .343/.404/.615 in 60 games between the two levels.
Jose De Leon, SP/RP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Triple-A Oklahoma City): After a breakout season in 2015, Jose De Leon has fallen a bit off the radar due to multiple injuries that have limited him to only three Triple-A starts this season.
While this makes it unlikely that he’ll be able to make an impact in the Dodgers’ rotation anytime soon—he’s made a pair of three-inning starts since returning from the disabled list earlier this month—the 23-year-old right-hander is an intriguing option for a bullpen that does not have a reliable power arm to bridge the gap to closer Kenley Jansen.
In 11 innings, De Leon has allowed three earned runs on four hits with three walks while striking out 21 batters. Sounds like a power arm to me.
Hunter Renfroe, RF/LF, San Diego Padres (Triple-A El Paso): Top outfield prospect Hunter Renfroe is doing his part to earn a big league promotion with a robust .598 slugging percentage after recently belting his 13th and 14th homers of the season. Now he just needs general manager A.J. Preller to do his part and create a spot for him.
Preller has his work cut out for him as he works the phones and tries to find takers for outfielders Matt Kemp and Melvin Upton Jr. and at least some of the remaining salary due on their contracts. Trading free agent-to-be Jon Jay, who is having a nice bounce back season, shouldn’t be difficult. It should only take one trade, though, for the 24-year-old Renfroe to get the call, where the big league coaching staff will hopefully introduce him to something called “plate discipline.”
Renfroe’s Kemp-esque 7-to-45 walk-to-strikeout ratio is a concern. However, in what should be a rebuilding season, it would be great if a key part of the team’s future can get regular at-bats against big league pitching.
Ben Lively, SP, Philadelphia Phillies (Triple-A Lehigh Valley): It’s Zach Eflin who is getting the call tomorrow to replace the injured Vince Velasquez, but it could’ve easily been Ben Lively or Jake Thompson. All three are pitching well. In fact, it was pretty much a coin toss between Lively and Thompson for this highly-coveted spot on the “Knocking Down the Door” list. With the 24-year-old Lively being nearly two years Thompson’s elder, I’m giving him the nod.
Acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd two offseasons ago, Lively has really stepped up his game after not making much of an impression in his debut season with the Phillies. After posting a 4.13 ERA in 25 Double-A starts in 2015, the 6’4″ right-hander has put himself on the prospect map with a 1.94 ERA, 2.6 BB/9 and 7.9 K/9 in 13 starts between Triple-A and Double-A. He’s also 10-0, which is probably meaningless, but impressive, nonetheless. Maybe he’s one of those guys who “just knows how to win.”