Dustin Ackley (2B), Seattle Mariners
The Mariners GM admitted last week that Ackley’s promotion would be “sooner rather than later,” following a stretch in which the ‘09 #2 pick had 13 hits in 6 games. The big question facing Jack Zduriencik is whether Ackley will replace current Seattle second-baseman, Adam Kennedy, whose .746 OPS is, sadly, the second-highest on the Mariners roster, or the floundering Chone Figgins (.212/.251/.291), who has three years and $26 Million left on his contract. However it plays out, I expect Ackley slides immediately into the middle of the putrid Seattle lineup, somewhere in the vicinity of their only other glimmer of hope, Justin Smoak.
Anthony Rizzo (1B), San Diego Padres
Another player who could potentially be the best hitter on his team from the moment he joins the major-league roster, Rizzo was the 21-year-old centerpiece in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. His current line is straight out of the arcade: .378/.447/.731, 13 HR, & 54 RBI in 39 games. Hard to imagine he’ll be able to duplicate that at Petco Park, sandwiched between such luminaries as Chris Denorfia and Nick Hundley (yes, those are the two best hitters on the Padres right now), but Rizzo represents a brighter future for San Diego’s fans, who, in less than a year, went from having the best record in the NL, to being arguably the worst team in all of baseball.
Brandon Belt (1B/OF), San Francisco Giants
Brian Sabean clearly realized that he narrowly avoided disaster on 2010, as the Giants slipped into the playoff on the last day of the regular season. Had he been slightly less fortunate, not only would he be without the first World Series trophy in San Francisco history, he would’ve been roundly blasted for delaying Posey’s arrival for purely fiscal reasons, possibly costing the team a win or two which could’ve separated them from the Padres. We can say this much for Sabean: He learned from his mistake. He put Belt, a prospect, who, like Posey, decimated every minor-league level, on the Opening Day roster in 2011. Unfortunately, this rookie scuffled out of the gate (.192/.300/.269) and was demoted when postseason hero, Cody Ross, came off the D.L. Since then, however, Giants fans have discovered that the Cody Ross of October 2010 (1.076 OPS) is considerably different from the real Cody Ross (786 OPS in five-plus major-league seasons). The Giants have gotten painfully little from their corner-outfield corps, while Belt has, well, belted minor-league pitching (.356/.491/.575). His second chance is coming soon.
Zach McAllister (SP), Cleveland Indians
This could get frustrating for Yankees fans. McAllister pitched exceptionally well across three levels in ‘08 and ‘09, posting an ERA under 2.20 and a K/BB ratio near 4/1. He scuffled when he reached AAA in 2010 (at 22-years-old) and the Yanks sent him to Cleveland as the Player To Be Named Later in the Austin Kearns deal. Kearns, you may recall, posted a .668 OPS in the Bronx and was left off the postseason roster. He’s now back with Cleveland as a fourth outfielder. McAllister, in the interim, has gotten his career back on track. He’s 7-0 with a 2.42 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 42/10 K/BB at AAA Columbus. So, while Yanks fans fret about the long-term viability of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, the league-leading Indians are preparing to slide McAllister seemlessly into the backend of their rotation.
Brett Lawrie (3B), Toronto Blue Jays
Lawrie was the fruit of the Shaun Marcum trade for Toronto. They moved him from second to third and probably anticipated his arrival around this time in 2012. However, a combination of factors has expedited that timetable. Edwin Encarnacion, the Jays Opening Day third baseman, made seven errors in his first fifteen starts and balanced his defensive deficiencies with a .606 OPS and 0 HR as “protection” for Jose Bautista. The Jays have recently moved E5 to DH, forcing them to give at-bats to defensive whiz-kid, John McDonald, whose career OPS is .603. Lawrie, meanwhile, though he’s still adjusting to his new position, has hit better than anybody expected (1.001 OPS), making substantial improvements in power, plate discipline, and stolen base efficiency. Despite mediocre production from everybody except Bautista, Ricky Romero, and Adam Lind, Toronto is still sitting at .500, only 2.5 games back in the AL East. The temptation to add Lawrie’s bat will grow greater every time Alex Anthopoulos is forced to endure a McDonald 0-for-4.
Brad Meyers (SP), Washington Nationals
Meyers primary problem has been staying on the field. Last year he managed only six starts at AA and has never pitched more than 136 innings in a season. However, when he toes the mound, he’s always been good, and this season, as the age of 25, he’s been great. Meyers has one lonely walk in 54 innings of work in the early stages of 2011. You read that correctly: one walk. He also has 54 strikeouts, making his K/BB ratio? You got it: 54/1. Eat your heart out, Cliff Lee. Obviously, that’s pretty insane, but Meyers has consistently posted good strikeout rates and low walk rates. The Nats rotation has been surprisingly good so far, but it does prominently feature Jason Marquis, Livan Hernandez, and Tom Gorzelanny. Meyers is likely to get a look in the near future.
This is what passes for good news on the other side of town. Fernando Martinez, a prospect who’s been overrated for so long he’s now underrated, looked pretty good playing right field in the Subway Series this past weekend. Martinez has been bouncing around the Mets system for several years now, probably to the detriment of his development. Perhaps they are finally ready to give him a long look at the big-league level. Mejia was similarly pinballed from bullpen to rotation and back again in 2010. He’s had a decent early showing at AAA (2.86 ERA in 5 starts) in 2011. The Mets rotation is a nightmare which could make Wes Craven pinch himself raw. Mejia could be their #1 starter right now.
Update: Of course, Mejia just had Tommy John surgery, so he won’t be coming up this year.
The long forecasted ascension of KC began afresh this month with the arrivals of Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy, to much ado (and probably to Super Two, which inspires that age-old question: WHAT IS DAYTON MOORE DOING!?!). Moustakas and Cain likley represent the next wave, as Chris Getz (.475 OPS in May) and Alex Gordon (.539) have cooled considerably following hot starts. Meanwhile, Moustakas (.988 OPS in May at AAA) and Cain (.873) have progressed in the other direction. Joining Hosmer, Billy Butler, and Mike Aviles, they could form the best Royals offense since the outfield featured Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, and Jermaine Dye. Of course, like that trio, they’ll likely be more productive in other uniforms.
Lonnie Chisenhall (3B), Cleveland Indians
When the season began, it was tempting to refer to Jack Hannahan as “Lonnie Chisenhall’s placeholder.” Then Hannahan posted an .829 OPS in April and the Indians got off to the best start of any team in baseball. Hannahan has since cooled at the plate, but remains an exceptional defender (career 14.0 UZR/150), and the Indians brass might be reluctant to change anything so long as their team continues to roll. Chisenhall has been good, but not great, at AAA. He’ll still probably joins the Indians lineup sometime before the second-half, but may no longer be a front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year, as many believed during the spring.
The D-Backs GM, Kevin Towers, has something of a quandary on his hands. This is supposed to be a rebuilding year. But his team, under the management of Kirk Gibson, has won eight of their last nine and are within striking distance of the NL West leaders, none of which have looked particularly indomitable. Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson have developed very quickly into a legitimate 1-2 punch at the front of the rotation, and the Arizona lineup, filled with “upside” players, hasn’t even really started clicking yet. Towers parted ways with Russell Branyan (.629 OPS) last week. Melvin Mora (.587) and Xavier Nady (.706) are veterans on similarly short leashes. Both Allen and Goldschmidt possess big-time power and great discipline, but because of their defensive limitations, it may be difficult to get them both into the lineup on an everyday basis, especially if Juan Miranda also continues to produce.
Jesus Montero (C), New York Yankees
We’ve been over this a few times, but it probably bears repeating. All accounts are that Montero continues to struggle defensively. He has thrown out only 17% of basestealers. And he isn’t exactly scorching at the plate (.795 OPS), especially in the power department (.439 SLG). He’s very young, especially for a catcher, and he is most valuable to the Yankees if he learns to play his position (or any position, for that matter), a pursuit which could be stymied by a promotion primarily to replace Posada as the DH. It’s not like 21-year-olds are entitled to major-league at-bats, especially if they aren’t forcing the issue with their play, so, short of injuries, I don’t see why Montero would join the Yankees before August or September.