Spring Training 2018: Predictions for MLB's Top 25 Prospects

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2018

Spring Training 2018: Predictions for MLB's Top 25 Prospects

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Spring training stats and on-field performance don't mean much in the grand scheme of things, as it's more about shaking off the rust for the upcoming season and deciding on a few fringe roster spots.

    However, the performance of top prospects against MLB-level competition always carries added intrigue.

    Even if these up-and-comers don't have a realistic chance of breaking camp with an Opening Day roster spot, it's a chance for fans to see the young players they've perhaps only read about in action.

    Ahead, we've taken a closer look at the league's top 25 prospects, via Baseball America, and made a prediction for each player this spring.

Sanchez, Lewis, Gohara, Rodgers, Hays

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    Luiz Gohara
    Luiz GoharaTami Chappell/Associated Press

    25. RHP Sixto Sanchez, Philadelphia Phillies

    Prediction: Continues on the fast track, is sent to Double-A to start the season.

    One of the breakout prospects of 2017, Sanchez was promoted to High-A Clearwater shortly after his 19th birthday.

    He finished the season with a 3.03 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and an 84-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 95 innings. With advanced pitchability plus command and three solid pitches, the Phillies could decide to push him aggressively by sending him to Double-A to begin the year.

         

    24. SS Royce Lewis, Minnesota Twins

    Prediction: Hits a home run in his lone plate appearance in big league camp.

    Lewis was the No. 1 pick in last year's draft, and while it's unlikely he'll be among the Twins' non-roster invitees, he could still play some on the taxi squad.

    There's already plenty of hype surrounding the tooled-up infielder, and anything he does against MLB-level pitching will only fan those flames. We'll say he delivers on the hype and goes deep in his one and only plate appearance on the main field.

         

    23. LHP Luiz Gohara, Atlanta Braves

    Prediction: Wins spot in the Opening Day rotation.

    Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz are locks for spots in the Atlanta rotation, and veteran Brandon McCarthy also looks like a safe bet as long as he's healthy.

    That leaves Gohara, Sean Newcomb, Max Fried, Lucas Sims and a potentially healthy Scott Kazmir as the leading candidates for the final two spots on the staff.

    Gohara posted a 2.75 FIP in five starts with the big club last season, and he's the top pitching prospect in a Braves system that is loaded with high-ceiling arms. He's a candidate to round out the staff, and he'll get every chance with a strong spring.

         

    22. SS Brendan Rodgers, Colorado Rockies

    Prediction: Makes a case for the Rockies to move on from DJ LeMahieu.

    Rodgers went 1-for-2 with a double in his limited action in big league camp last season, and all signs point to him getting a longer look this spring after he reached Double-A in 2017.

    The 21-year-old has a .301/.353/.505 line in parts of three minor league seasons, and he's slugged 57 doubles and 37 home runs over the past two years. With incumbent second baseman LeMahieu entering his final year of team control, a strong spring by Rodgers could have the team looking to the future sooner than later.

    Rodgers has played much more shortstop than second base during his time in the minors, and he could also supplant Trevor Story. Story is under team control through 2021, however, so second base appears to be the more likely landing spot.

         

    21. RF Austin Hays, Baltimore Orioles

    Prediction: Struggles in spring training, still breaks camp with a starting job.

    A third-round pick in 2016, Hays rocketed through the Baltimore system to reach the majors in September.

    After posting a .958 OPS with 32 doubles and 32 home runs in 563 plate appearances in High-A and Double-A in 2017, he looks poised to take over as the team's everyday right fielder in 2018.

    A 5.0 percent walk rate in the minors, however, leads to questions about whether he'll be exposed as big league pitchers learn how to attack him. But a lack of other options makes him a virtual lock to break camp with a starting job—even if he scuffles in spring training.

Mejia, Adames, Brinson, Reyes, Crawford

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    J.P. Crawford
    J.P. CrawfordChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    20. C Francisco Mejia, Cleveland Indians

    Prediction: Earns praise from the staff aces.

    There's no question Mejia has the bat to be an impact player in the majors.

    He backed up a breakout season in 2016 by hitting .297/.346/.490 with 21 doubles and 14 home runs in Double-A.

    However, he's a 45-grade defender behind the plate and spent the entire Arizona Fall League season playing third base in an effort to add some versatility. He'll still be given every chance to be the catcher of the future. Positive feedback on his receiving skills from Corey Kluber and/or Carlos Carrasco would carry tremendous weight.

        

    19. SS Willy Adames, Tampa Bay Rays

    Prediction: A strong spring wins him the starting second base job...eventually.

    Still just 22, Adames spent all of last season in Triple-A where he recovered from a slow start to hit .303/.389/.455 from June 1 through the end of the season.

    With Brad Miller slated to slide back to first base, the second base position is wide open, and a strong spring should be enough for Adames to beat out Joey Wendle, Micah Johnson and Ryan Schimpf.

    The cost-conscious Rays will almost certainly start him in the minors to secure another year of team control, but he could win the second base job and an immediate promotion with a big spring. 

         

    18. CF Lewis Brinson, Miami Marlins

    Prediction: Is out-played by Magneuris Sierra, starts the season in Triple-A.

    After trading away their entire starting outfield, the Marlins will have some interesting decisions to make this spring.

    It looks like Martin Prado will man left field with Brian Anderson taking over at third base, but the other two outfield spots are up for grabs.

    Brinson and Sierra were both acquired in offseason trades, and both players got a taste of the big leagues last season. With a higher ceiling, Brinson and will be the starting center fielder before the 2018 season is over. But as the team rebuilds, there's no reason to rush either player. 

         

    17. RHP Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals

    Prediction: Wins a spot in the bullpen.

    The Cardinals will no doubt treat Reyes with kid gloves as he gets set to return after missing the 2017 season because of Tommy John surgery.

    There are also questions about their relief corps.

    Using Reyes exclusively as a reliever this season could be a good way to kill two birds with one stone, and Reyes has already enjoyed some success as a big league reliever (seven relief appearances and one earned run allowed in 2016).

         

    16. SS J.P. Crawford, Philadelphia Phillies

    Prediction: Breaks camp as one of the NL Rookie of the Year front-runners.

    The smart money is probably on Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna to win NL Rookie of the Year honors after he was given a clear path to a starting job following the trade of Matt Kemp.

    Don't sleep on Crawford, though.

    After catching fire at the plate in the second half of his minor league season, he held his own in a 23-game audition in Philadelphia. The Phillies saw enough to trade Freddy Galvis and clear a starting path for him as well. A big spring performance could at least make him a co-favorite for the award.

Tucker, Honeywell, Buehler, Keller, Kopech

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    Michael Kopech
    Michael KopechRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    15. OF Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros

    Prediction: His surprising raw power will be the talk of camp.

    Tucker was viewed as arguably the best pure hitter in the 2015 draft when he went No. 5 overall out of H.B. Plant High School.

    While he still has the tools to be a .300 hitter at the highest level, his 60-grade power is now his standout offensive tool after he upped his home run total from nine to 25 while reaching Double-A last season.

    The lanky 6'4", 190-pound center fielder could take more than a few guys by surprise in the batting cage this spring as a non-roster invitee.

         

    14. RHP Brent Honeywell, Tampa Bay Rays

    Prediction: He'll be among the last roster cuts and look like the most MLB-ready pitching prospect.

    MLB.com wrote: "Throwing strikes has never been a problem for Honeywell. His natural athleticism, smooth mechanics and repeatable delivery all work in harmony to allow him to pound the zone consistently, and club officials note that his command has improved as he's climbed the Minor League ladder. Honeywell is also a fearless competitor on the mound, and he receives raves for his ability to mix pitches, set up hitters and execute a game plan."

    That sounds like a guy who's ready to make the jump after a stellar showing in Triple-A (24 GS, 12-8, 3.64 ERA, 152 K, 123.2 IP). There's not much left for him to prove in the minors.

    Service time considerations will keep him from breaking camp with the team, but he'll be up by May.

        

    13. RHP Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Prediction: The urge to use him out of the bullpen will win out over his development as a starter.

    Midway through the 2017 season, the Dodgers moved Buehler to the bullpen to get him ready for a second-half call-up.

    The 23-year-old ended up debuting on Sept. 7, and while he posted a 7.71 ERA in eight appearances over the final month, his electric stuff was impossible to ignore.

    His future is still alongside Clayton Kershaw at the front of the rotation, but he could be a significant weapon out of the bullpen in 2018. With a wide-open window of contention, the Dodgers could deploy Buehler as a swingman until a rotation spot opens up.

         

    12. RHP Mitch Keller, Pittsburgh Pirates

    Prediction: An improved changeup will be the cause of even higher expectations.

    Already armed with a mid-90s fastball that can touch 98 and a terrific sweeping curveball, Keller has been working to develop his changeup into a third plus offering since going in the second round of the 2014 draft.

    MLB.com wrote: "His changeup has long been his third pitch, but it's improved, and he showed a solid one while working on it during his AFL stint."

    Working closely with pitching guru Ray Searage this spring, he'll have a chance to further develop that pitch and his all-around game, and glowing reports will send his stock soaring.

         

    11. RHP Michael Kopech, Chicago White Sox

    Prediction: At least one leading prospect analyst will call him the best prospect in the system.

    Eloy Jimenez enters 2018 as the consensus top prospect in the White Sox system and one of the most dynamic offensive prospects in baseball.

    That's left flame-throwing starter Michael Kopech somewhat overshadowed in his own system, despite his standing as one of the game's elite pitching prospects.

    After striking out 172 batters in 134.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year, he'll get a long look this spring, and a dominant showing will lead at least one notable prospect writer to declare him the new top dog in the White Sox system.

Whitley, Tatis Jr., Bichette, Senzel, Torres

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    Gleyber Torres
    Gleyber TorresMatt Rourke/Associated Press

    10. RHP Forrest Whitley, Houston Astros

    Prediction: Becomes fast friends with Justin Verlander.

    If Whitely is smart, he'll take every opportunity he can to bend the ear of Verlander this spring. Each counts an upper-90s fastball as his best pitch and keeps hitters off balance with a good mix of off-speed pitches, all from a tall, strong, right-handed frame.

    As much as he'll mean to the success of the team on the field, Verlander can be equally valuable as a mentor to some of the team's young pitchers this spring, and Whitley is the headliner of that group.

        

    9. SS Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres

    Prediction: Entire articles will be dedicated to teammates offering up superlatives on his performance and future potential.

    At this time a year ago, Tatis was an intriguing 18-year-old prospect with 12 games above rookie ball to his credit.

    Now, he's one of the top prospects in baseball after posting an .877 OPS with 27 doubles, 22 home runs and 32 stolen bases while reaching Double-A before his 19th birthday.

    For many of his Padres teammates, this spring will be their first chance to see him in action, and if last year was any indication, they're going to like what they see. He's one of the biggest storylines surrounding the franchise right now, so teammates will have plenty of opportunities to sing his praises to the media.

         

    8. SS Bo Bichette, Toronto Blue Jays

    Prediction: Will play all over the diamond as the coaching staff tries to decide his future position.

    If the 2017 season is any indication, Bichette is going to arrive in Toronto sooner than expected.

    The 19-year-old hit a ridiculous .362/.423/.565 between Single-A and High-A with 41 doubles and 14 home runs to emerge as one of the top prospects in baseball.

    While his natural position is shortstop and that's where he's seen the bulk of his work as a pro, MLB.com wrote, "Some believe he's best suited for second or third base, or perhaps even left field, but so far he's passed every test at his natural position."

    Expect to see the Blue Jays moving him around this spring to try to get a better idea where he fits going forward.

         

    7. 3B Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds

    Prediction: Will force Eugenio Suarez into a utility role starting this spring.

    After hitting .321/.391/.514 between High-A and Double-A last year, Senzel figures to make his MLB debut at some point during the 2018 season.

    That will likely force Suareza 3.7 WAR player last season who posted a 115 OPS+ with 26 home runs and 82 RBI while playing solid defense (5 DRS, 6.7 UZR/150) at third base—off the hot corner.

    Suarez is under team control through 2020 and still has a chance to be a long-term piece, so giving him a look at second base, shortstop and in the outfield would allow him to get his feet wet in anticipation of an eventual shift.

         

    6. SS Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees

    Prediction: Will win the starting second base job.

    If not for season-ending Tommy John surgery in June, Torres would have almost certainly made his MLB debut last season. Now he's back to full health and ready to compete for a roster spot.

    "I’m super-excited," Torres told reporters earlier this week. "Right now, I feel really good, 100 percent, and I’m working hard. My arm and everything feels all right."

    Trading Starlin Castro in the Giancarlo Stanton deal has left the second base position wide open, as non-roster invitees Danny Espinosa, Jace Peterson and utility infielder Ronald Torreyes are among the other options for the starting job.

    As long as there are no setbacks with his arm, Torres is unlikely to take a backseat to any of those guys for a Yankees team with title aspirations.

Robles, Jimenez, Guerrero Jr., Ohtani, Acuna

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    Ronald Acuna
    Ronald AcunaLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    5. CF Victor Robles, Washington Nationals

    Prediction: Will start the season in Triple-A, despite out-performing Michael Taylor.

    With Jayson Werth departing in free agency and Adam Eaton back healthy, the Nationals outfield will have a different look this season.

    Taylor is the presumptive starter in center field after posting a 105 OPS+ with 19 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 432 plate appearances last season. While he was a stellar defender in center field (8 DRS, 16.9 UZR/150), lack of plate discipline and regression from a .363 BABIP could put him in a position to have his job usurped.

    A strong spring from Robles will put Taylor on the hot seat and the switch will be made before the All-Star break, but the Nationals will send their top prospect to Triple-A to start the year.

                  

    4. RF Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox

    Prediction: Will hit the longest home run in Camelback Ranch history.

    The White Sox and Dodgers both call Camelback Ranch home during spring training.

    It's not immediately clear what the longest home run in the history of that ballpark is after a brief Google search. This blast from Yasiel Puig in 2015 looks like a strong candidate.

    At any rate, expect that to become a point of interest this spring as Jimenez uses his 70-grade power to launch some tape measure blasts.

    The 21-year-old went 9-for-28 with two home runs in his first extended spring action last season while playing for the Cubs.

                   

    3. 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

    Prediction: Has more spring hits than Josh Donaldson.

    Last spring, Donaldson suffered a calf injury during spring training that ended up limiting him to just 13 games over the first two months of the regular season.

    As he gets set to enter a contract year, the star third baseman should take it easy this spring, which could open up more opportunities for the precocious Guerrero at the hot corner.

    It's completely arbitrary, but I'm betting that the teenager finishes spring play with more hits than the former AL MVP.

                  

    2. RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

    Prediction: Struggles on the mound, impresses at the plate.

    The Angels are going to do everything in their power to put Ohtani in a position to succeed this spring, as he looks to build some level of comfort heading into the regular season.

    After working just 25.1 innings last season while dealing with a strained hamstring, Ohtani will have some rust to shake off, so the early returns might not be pretty—at least from a statistical standpoint.

    Meanwhile, being used later in games as a hitter could give him a better chance for some early success as he'd be facing pitchers on the roster fringe as opposed to established big leaguers.

    With all of that in mind, we'll say he hits a handful of home runs, but finishes the spring with an ERA north of 5.00.

                   

    1. OF Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves

    Prediction: Cements his place as the starting right fielder...eventually.

    Acuna hit .325/.374/.522 with 31 doubles and 21 home runs over three minor league levels last season to win Minor League Player of the Year.

    He then hit .325/.414/.639 with five doubles and seven home runs in 23 games in the Arizona Fall League to claim MVP honors.

    Do you want to bet against him having a big spring?

    The Braves have every reason to send him down to the minors and ensure an extra year of club control, but that will be a formality, as an everyday corner outfield spot will be waiting for him as soon as a fourth year of arbitration is guaranteed.

                     

    All stats courtesy of Baseball ReferenceFanGraphs and MLB.com, unless otherwise noted.