Every now and again, a young player arrives in the majors relatively late in the season and immediately functions as a key cog for a contender. Think Corey Seager in 2015. It takes a combination of talent, readiness, and opportunity all coming together. We’ll be focused in no small part on that last prong here; it’s always possible that injuries will create new openings, but our attention will fall on already foreseeable chances at playing time.
Here are a few top prospects who have yet to make their MLB debuts but could be positioned to make a splash for possible contenders in the second half:
Jo Adell, OF, Angels: If the Halos are to make a charge — into the Wild Card picture, if not that of the division — they’ll need everything they can get. While Brian Goodwin has been a nice surprise, he’s best suited to functioning as a fourth outfielder. Overcoming adversity for a surprise run may require a bold bet on Adell’s talent; after a late start to the year, he has shattered Double-A pitching.
MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Padres: Ditto the Friars, who have shown zero hesitation to promote top young hurlers but still haven’t settled on a sustainable rotation mix. There isn’t much reason for the San Diego org to go wild with rental additions at the deadline, but it could remain in the Wild Card hunt and would have less to lose by rolling the dice on its own prospect assets. Gore is the most talented of all the team’s pre-MLB hurlers. He only just earned a promotion to the Double-A level after mowing down High-A batters, so bringing the 20-year-old to the show would be rather aggressive, but it could be intriguing to consider the possibility depending upon how things shake out (for both Gore and the team) over the next month or so.
Ian Anderson, RHP, Braves: The Atlanta organization has likewise cycled through a whole host of young arms of late, with the sort of mixed results you’d expect. Anderson has yet to get the call but has made a compelling case. He’s now through 86 2/3 innings of 2.91 ERA ball at Double-A — the same level he finished the ’18 season — with 11.7 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9. Having reached 119 1/3 total frames last year, Anderson ought to have some availability left in the tank. The Braves could conceivably call upon him as a rotation piece, late-inning reliever, or multi-inning flex hurler.
Alec Bohm, 3B, Phillies: It’s a parade of former third overall picks! Bohm, who followed Gore (’17) and Anderson (’16) in that draft slot, only recently made it to the Double-A level. But he was selected as an accomplished collegiate player and is nearly 23 years of age. Bohm has exhibited exceptional plate discipline and good power this year. Meanwhile, the Phils have sunk in the standings as third bagger Maikel Franco has faded at the plate.
A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics: We’ve long known of this possibility. Puk, a long-hyped southpaw, is coming back from Tommy John surgery just in time to give another boost to the streaking A’s. Unfortunately, he has been walk-prone in his rehab work and may need some more polishing before making his MLB debut. But the upside here is too tantalizing to ignore, even if it could come initially in relief work. We’re not forgetting about two other high-end A’s prospects — Jesus Luzardo and Sean Murphy — but both are still working through injury issues.
Nico Hoerner, 2B, Cubs: As with Bohm, Hoerner is a quick-moving 2018 first-rounder. While he was ahead of his classmate to begin the year, opening at the penultimate level of the minors, Hoerner was sidelined by a wrist injury that he returned from only recently. But it’s not hard to imagine him jumping onto the MLB radar in the relatively near future. Through 95 plate appearances this season at Double-A, Hoerner carries a .305/.371/.486 slash line. Meanwhile, at the major-league level, the Cubs have featured an underperforming carousel of players at Hoerner’s position.
Dustin May, RHP, Dodgers: While Gavin Lux seems ready for an impact, there just isn’t much immediate opportunity in a loaded Los Angeles infield mix. Instead, we’re featuring May, a 21-year-old hurler who could make an impact in any number of ways on the Dodgers pitching staff. Having already twice topped 130 innings in prior seasons, May could be asked to work as a starter. It’s more likely, perhaps, that the L.A. club would consider him as yet another flex piece. May was just bumped up to Triple-A after throwing 79 1/3 innings of 3.74 ERA ball, with 9.8 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9, for Double-A Tulsa.