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It’s true what they say about prospects, you know. They will break your heart.
But since anxiously awaiting their arrival is a fact of life anyway, we might as well take a whack at predicting when Major League Baseball’s best prospects will be in The Show for good.
The list ahead addresses 10 prospects who can be found at the top of prospect rankings everywhere, and who don’t have any red flags (e.g. suspensions or injuries) next to their names. We’ll be predicting their major league ETAs based on their MLB-readiness and when their parent clubs might have an opening for them.
Because these ETAs are meant to get at when prospects might arrive in MLB and stay in MLB, players who have already made their major league debuts are allowed under one condition: They’ve since been sent back to the minors to continue their development.
We’ll go in order from latest projected arrival to earliest.
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At his peak in 1999, Fernando Tatis Sr. provided the St. Louis Cardinals with power (34 home runs) and speed (21 stolen bases) while holding it down at third base.
His son has the goods to handle production like that annually, and at shortstop to boot.
Although he’s only 19 years old, Fernando Tatis Jr. has already advanced as far as Double-A and is now entering 2018 ranked as a consensus top-10 prospect. Driving both his advancement and his hype are an above average bat and at least an average glove.
However, he does have an Achilles’ heel.
He struck out in 17 of his 57 Double-A plate appearances (30 percent) last year, and then in 12 of 35 plate appearances (34 percent) with the San Diego Padres this spring. This is a problem that undercuts the otherwise solid numbers that he’s put up in his journey to the majors.
Getting this problem under control could take time. And as far as the Padres must be concerned, Tatis can take all the time he needs. Their contention window isn’t open yet, and they have Freddy Galvis to hold down shortstop in the meantime.
Because the Padres also have Tatis’ service time to consider, it’ll be a surprise if he debuts in the majors either later this year or even early next year.
ETA: Mid 2019
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Speaking of talented sons of former major league stars, also progressing toward MLB is Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
If you weren’t aware of him before, you will be now in the wake of his walk-off homer at his father’s old stomping grounds in a late-March exhibition. It was a taste of past glory for fans of the Montreal Expos, and of what the Toronto Blue Jays hope will be their future glory.
The Blue Jays’ hopes aren’t misplaced. Guerrero is a 19-year-old who’s coming off a .910 OPS in the low minors in 2017. His next objective is to conquer Double-A, and he has just the talent for the task: a legitimate 80-grade hit tool that’s produced more walks (109) than strikeouts (97) in the minors.
However, Guerrero does have barriers in the way of his big break.
Assuming Josh Donaldson can bring his dead arm back to life, the former MVP will play third base for the duration of his walk year. Because that’s the only position that Guerrero has played, his next-best hope might be to break in as a designated hitter. Alas, that’s where Kendrys Morales is stationed.
So, don’t expect to see Guerrero in the majors until 2019. The Blue Jays will likely take the Kris Bryant route and hold him back to gain an extra year of club control, but he’ll then be free to inherit the hot corner from Donaldson.
ETA: Early 2019
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Remember that scene in The Natural in which Robert Redford’s Roy Hobbs hits a home run high and far enough to smash a light tower?
Well, Eloy Jimenez did that in real life last year.
Accompanying that show of strength was a .947 OPS in 89 games at High-A and Double-A. The 21-year-old then compiled a 1.120 OPS in the Dominican Winter League before mashing a couple of taters in his first spring with the Chicago White Sox.
Not to be overlooked is Jimenez’s hitting approach. It was shaky in his first three pro seasons, but he tightened it up enough in 2017 to balance 35 walks against 72 punchouts in 369 plate appearances.
Before he can build on all this, however, Jimenez must first recover from a pectoral strain. He must then avoid additional trouble with the injury bug, which has been easier said than done throughout his career.
If Jimenez can stay healthy this season, he’ll be a candidate to break in with the White Sox in either left field or right field. But since they’re likely to be in no hurry to bolster a contention run, they can afford to make sure the improvements he made with his approach in 2017 were the real deal.
That will involve giving him a further chance at Triple-A after he’s passed his Double-A test. Once that’s done, there may only be time for Jimenez to grab a cup of coffee with the White Sox in September.
ETA: Late 2018
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Matt York/Associated Press
Of all the super prospects advancing toward major league stardom, none