Usually, in the first edition of Prospects Report, the top five to stash (otherwise known as Five on the Verge) are fairly obvious because they never should have been sent down in the first place.
But a funny thing happened this spring. The prospects who deserved to make the opening day roster by and large did.
Perhaps it was a direct consequence of the new CBA, which introduced draft pick incentives for promoting rookies on opening day and keeping them around all year (it's tied to awards voting, but still). Perhaps it was just a coincidence. But in any case, we can't expect to see the usual spate of high-profile promotions as April draws to a close -- not when players like Julio Rodriguez, Spencer Torkelson and Hunter Greene have already arrived.
Injuries could be one reason promotions do happen, particularly for teams with something to play for. Enter MacKenzie Gore, who's in line to start Friday's game with Blake Snell succumbing to a groin strain. The lefty with the big leg kick was also "on the verge" just a year ago, when he was regarded as the game's top pitching prospect, but it turns out his mechanics were all out of whack. He spent most of the year on the backfields working to regain them and showed so little progress by season's end that he dropped off some top 100 lists altogether.
But as quickly as he lost it, he apparently got it back. He came into camp able to hit his spots again, his fastball peaking at 98 mph.
"We saw it in the first sim game he threw and saw it some early in spring," manager Bob Melvin said. "He came in ready to pitch. His mechanics were sound. He was throwing strikes with all his pitches."
Just as telling were the results. Gore struck out 16 while walking just three in 12 spring innings. Then he went to Triple-A and completely overmatched the Rangers' affiliate:
This, you may recall, is the same guy who had a 1.69 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 12.0 K/9 in 2019, the third overall pick in the 2017 draft and as projectable of a pitching prospect as you could find prior to last year's struggles. There was a case for him being the most stashable prospect even before reports of him debuting Friday, but now it's so obvious that I don't care to include him among my Five on the Verge.
His debut coming a year later than expected also means you might catch people napping on his potential. Gore's upside is worth pursuing at the expense of low-ceiling types like Sonny Gray and Aaron Civale, provided they're the worst you have.
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Oneil Cruz, SS, Pirates
2021 minors: .310 BA (271 AB), 17 HR, 19 SB, .969 OPS, 28 BB, 69 K
2022 minors: .250 BA (24 AB), 1 3B, 2 2B, 3 SB, .774 OPS, 4 BB, 7 K
At least in CBS Sports leagues, Cruz is actually rostered in more leagues than Gore already, having been the early talk of spring training thanks to a couple home runs of the how-did-he-do that variety. He was about the only high-profile prospect who made the case for a job and didn't get it. The reason was ostensibly to get him some exposure to the outfield, but seeing as he has started only one game there so far, it would be hard to say his return is imminent.
That is, unless the Pirates' actual reason for sending him down was good old fashioned service-time manipulation, in which case he could be up within a couple weeks. He learned to leverage his 6-foot-7 frame for premium exit velocities last year, performing at a 37-homer, 41-steal pace if prorated over 150 games.
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Jose Miranda, 3B, Twins
2021 minors: .344 BA (535 AB), 30 HR, 32 2B, .973 OPS, 42 BB, 74 K
2022 minors: .219 BA (32 AB), 1 HR, 2 2B, .610 OPS, 0 BB, 9 K
There was a time when we might have hoped for Miranda to win a job in spring training as well, but that time passed after the Twins signed Carlos Correa, ensuring Gio Urshela would stay at third base and Jorge Polanco at second. The cousin of Lin-Manuel Miranda (no lie!) didn't exactly force the issue either, though he struck out just once in 16 spring plate appearances. He's been surprisingly strikeout-prone so far at Triple-A, but making contact has never been his problem. The power came last year when he learned he didn't need to make contact with everything and could instead wait for his pitch.
It's possible Alex Kirilloff's wrist injury will hasten Miranda's arrival to the majors, especially since DH might be his best position in the long run, but he'll need to get hot first.
Max Meyer, SP, Marlins
2021 minors: 6-4, 2.27 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 111 IP, 42 BB, 130 K
2022 minors: 9 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 13 K
Here's one who hasn't gotten much stash talk yet, being rostered in just 21 percent of CBS Sports leagues, but the third pick in the 2020 draft looks like he's going to force the pick sooner than later. His first two minor-league outings have been near flawless. His one spring outing actually was flawless (four perfect innings with five strikeouts). His fastball/slider pairing was already the envy of many, giving him an easy path as a late-inning reliever if the starting thing didn't pan out, but now he's making strides with his changeup, a pitch the Marlins organization is most known for developing.
It's worth noting Meyer did leave Monday's start with a calf cramp, but it sounds like it may not even cost him a turn.
Nolan Gorman, 2B, Cardinals
2021 minors: .279 BA (480 AB), 25 HR, .814 OPS, 38 BB, 115 K
2022 minors: .385 BA (26 AB), 3 HR, 1.179 OPS, 3 BB, 11 K
Before signing Albert Pujols, the Cardinals were open to having Gorman be their DH, but it always seemed like a long shot that the 21-year-old would be ready for that leap. He has needed time to adjust to every level, and yet the Cardinals have been quick to move him up, making it so the numbers don't quite measure up to the talent. He got off to a slow start in his return trip to Triple-A, but with a two-homer game Sunday and a five-hit game Wednesday, he's rolling now.
He has considerable power potential, the sort rarely found at the keystone, and the Cardinals have hinted they aren't opposed to shifting Tommy Edman to a utility role once Gorman proves ready.
MJ Melendez, C, Royals
2021 minors: .288 BA (448 AB), 41 HR, 1.011 OPS, 75 BB, 115 K
2022 minors: .148 BA (27 AB), 2 HR, 1 2B, .640 OPS, 3 BB, 6 K
Last year's minor-league home run leader is of course blocked by last year's major-league home run leader, and by now, I had hoped to see Melendez get a start at one of the infield corners. But even if the Royals don't pursue versatility with him, he and Salvador Perez could still split time between DH and catcher. Melendez hit his second home run Tuesday, an opposite-field shot off rehabbing major-leaguer Lucas Sims, and really has nothing more to prove at Triple-A after batting .293 with a 1.033 OPS in 45 games there last year. Obviously, few at his position offer that sort of upside.
Five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Nick Pratto, 1B, Royals
2021 minors: .265 BA (445 AB), 36 HR, 12 SB, .987 OPS, 83 BB, 157 K
2022 minors: .152 BA (33 AB), 3 HR, .600 OPS, 1 BB, 15 K
I wanted to mention Pratto here because he was another candidate for Five on the Verge -- in a practical tie with Melendez, basically -- but what has me concerned in the early going are the strikeouts. They buried him at the start of his minor-league career, remember, with improved plate discipline being partly to credit for last year's breakthrough. Pratto's spring performance didn't raise any alarm, but he also struck out nine times in 22 plate appearances then. I doubt he's suddenly "lost it," and even if he has, last year showed that he's capable of finding it again. He'll obviously need to right the ship before he's promoted.
2022 minors: 4 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
Despite a stellar collegiate career, Madden slipped to the supplemental round of the 2021 draft, where the Tigers scooped him up, and they've apparently set out to correct the delivery issue that compelled so many teams to steer clear. When he finally made his pro debut Sunday, as Baseball America notes, Madden's arm slot was lower -- more three-quarters than over the top -- which is more suitable for the modern strategy of locating fastballs up in the zone. And he has a nice fastball, one that peaks at 99 mph. This start was a positive first step toward maxing out his projection.
Ryne Nelson, SP, Diamondbacks
2021 minors: 7-4, 3.17 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 116 1/3 IP, 40 BB, 163 K
2022 minors: 8 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 13 K
It's tempting to treat the Diamondbacks' mishmash of arms -- a group that also includes Blake Walston, Drey Jameson and Brandon Pfaadt -- like a monolith, assessing them only in relation to one another, and for now, I'll succumb to that temptation. Of them, my favorite is Nelson, who's also one of the few minor-league pitchers to have taken two turns already. His bat-missing potential was on display for both, his high-spin fastball coaxing plenty of whiffs up in the zone. Already 24, he's unlikely to stay at Triple-A all year.
Hudson Haskin, OF, Orioles
2021 minors: .276 BA (308 AB), 5 HR, 22 SB, .787 OPS, 32 BB, 78 K
2022 minors: .563 BA (16 AB), 3 HR, 0 SB, 0 BB, 5 K
Though he wasn't much of a name in the Orioles system coming into the year, Haskin could be poised to make a Joey Wiemer-like leap if his three-homer game Sunday is to be believed. Of those three shots, one was to straightaway center and the other two to the opposite field (in Haskins' case, right). It's notable because power has been the missing ingredient for an athletic player with a center field projection and speed to spare. While no one's rewriting the scouting report yet, it's worth watching to see if that one big game is the start of the trend for a player only two levels removed from the majors.
Yusniel Diaz, OF, Orioles
2021 minors: .161 BA (230 AB), 5 HR, 7 2B, .498 OPS, 18 BB, 82 K
2022 minors: .368 BA (19 AB), 2 HR, 2 2B, 1.269 OPS, 5 BB, 2 K
Remember this guy? Diaz was the most high-profile prospect acquired from the Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade a couple years ago. He's known only hard times since then, his numbers collapsing amid a series of injuries last year. Unfortunately, he's sidelined again with a hamstring injury, but not before starting the year off right, first in spring training and then at Triple-A. Most encouraging is the return of his contact skills, which are essential for a player with a questionable power profile. We'll see how long this latest injury keeps him out, but at 25, he's likely up at some point this year.