“Knocking Down the Door” is a weekly feature that identifies minor leaguers who are making a case for a big league promotion.
Corbin Burnes, SP, Milwaukee Brewers (Double-A Biloxi)
The Brewers’ starting rotation has been much better than expected and, arguably, the biggest reason why they’re sitting atop the NL Central with a 41-37 record. But while their five starters are healthy and performing well at the moment, the team’s rotation depth has taken a hit as of late. Top prospect Josh Hader was moved to a relief role in order to balance out a right-handed heavy bullpen, and Brandon Woodruff landed on the disabled list when he suffered a strained hamstring just before his MLB debut. All of a sudden, Burnes is not only rocketing up the prospect lists with his impressive performance in 2017, he could actually help a playoff-contending Brewers team at some point.
A fourth-round pick in last year’s draft, Burnes posted a 1.05 ERA in 10 High-A starts before a June promotion to Double-A. The 22-year-old right-hander hasn’t slowed down one bit, allowing two earned runs and 10 hits over 23 2/3innings in his four Southern League starts. He threw close to 140 innings in 2016 between the NCAA and the Minor Leagues, so it’s realistic that he can exceed 150 innings this year—he’s currently at 83 2/3—and that some of those innings might actually be thrown at the Major League level.
Zack Granite, OF, Minnesota Twins (Triple-A Rochester)
The Twins’ patience with Byron Buxton paid off as he was productive over a 146 plate appearance stretch (.746 OPS from April 21-June 14) after a slow start. But he’s gone ice cold again—he’s 5 for his last 38 with no extra bases and 13 strikeouts—while the Twins have been one of the worst offenses in baseball this month. If they’re looking for a spark, and a player who can at least spell Buxton occasionally in center field, it’s becoming clear that Granite could be a solution.
After his third consecutive two-hit game on Monday, the 24-year-old has a Triple-A slash line of .365/.419/513 in 48 games. His 17 walk-to-22 strikeout ratio might be his most enticing stat considering that Buxton and left fielder Eddie Rosario have combined for 34 walks and 127 strikeouts.
Tyler Mahle, SP, Cincinnati Reds (Triple-A Louisville)
Mahle is the first player to earn “Knocking Down The Door” honors for a second time in 2017, although he was dominating at the Double-A level when I pegged him as a potential call-up in early May. This time around, he’s coming off of an impressive Triple-A debut in which he pitched four-hit ball over six innings with no earned runs allowed and nine strikeouts.
A struggling Reds’ rotation was hoping for a shot in the arm with Homer Bailey and Brandon Finnegan both back from the disabled list. But Bailey’s 2017 debut was disastrous (1 2/3 IP, 8 ER) and Finnegan is headed back to the DL with a shoulder injury. The Reds have already used an NL-leading 12 starting pitchers and are certain to dip into their farm for reinforcements again at some point. Will the 22-year-old Mahle be the 13th?
Gabriel Moya, RP, Arizona Diamondbacks (Double-A Jackson)
Fernando Rodney and Archie Bradley have been the keys to solidifying what appeared to be a very suspect Diamondbacks bullpen heading into the season. But, will it hold up down the stretch as they try to lock down their first playoff berth since 2011? It would be a surprise if general manager Mike Hazen didn’t acquire some late-inning help prior to July 31st, but they could also take a look at some potential in-house options prior to the deadline. Moya, a 22-year-old who has been close to unhittable as the Double-A closer, should be considered.
The left-hander out of Venezuela has allowed a run in only two of his 26 appearances while holding opponents to a .139 batting average and walking only 12 hitters with 52 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings. Right-handed hitters have a .107 batting average against him, which is at least an indication that he could be more than a situational reliever.
Caleb Smith, SP, New York Yankees (Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre)
With Chance Adams still waiting for a much-deserved and much-anticipated MLB call-up, Smith’s work in Triple-A has gone relatively unnoticed. The 25-year-old lefty has made 14 starts in 2017 and has allowed two earned runs or less twelve times, including back-to-back gems (13 IP, 0 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 13 K) to lower his ERA to 2.84 with impressive peripherals across the board (6.5 H/9, 2.3 BB/9, 8.5 K/9).