Here at Pitcher List, we track the prospect promotions that occur every week during the regular season. This series will outline prospects who have the potential to get the call to the bigs early in the MLB season, or to maybe even be on the Opening Day roster. Please note this is not an all-inclusive list, just some names I believe we could see up earlier than not.
American League Central
Micker Adolfo, OF, CHW – Adolfo enjoyed a breakout campaign at Low-A in 2017 and was backing that up with a nice season at High-A in 2018 before requiring Tommy John surgery after 79 games. Between recovering from surgery and the lost minor league season, Adolfo has become somewhat lost in the shuffle even though he belted 25 home runs across Double-A and Triple-A in 2021. The 25-year-old has big power, but it also comes with a high strikeout rate. Unfortunately for Adolfo, he is a right-handed bat and the White Sox already have plenty of those, but given that Chicago hasn’t added a free agent right fielder this offseason, there’s a good chance a right-handed bat will be used to platoon with Gavin Sheets, and Adolfo fits that mold. The recent injury to Andrew Vaughn could also open additional opportunities.
Jake Burger, 2B/3B, CHW – There aren’t many players who have been as injured as Burger. Despite being drafted in 2017, Burger played a career-high 97 games in 2021. Fifteen of those came in the big leagues, where he posted a 120 wRC+, though it came with a strikeout rate north of 35%. The White Sox signed Josh Harrison to fill their gap at second base, but Burger could be in line to see some playing time if the opportunity calls for it. He will likely begin the year in Triple-A.
Steven Kwan, OF, CLE – Kwan has been one of the best hitters in the minors, though the power has been limited with just 15 career home runs. That said, 12 of those came in 77 games in 2021 between Double-A and Triple-A, so maybe there is more pop here than meets the eye. While the Guardians have some outfield options with major-league experience already, they don’t have many with a permanent hold on starting gig, so Kwan might force his way onto the Opening Day roster. If not, it shouldn’t be too long before we see him at the MLB level.
Tobias Myers, P, CLE – Myers was acquired by the Guardians from the Rays in November. The righty had a breakout season in 2021, posting a 30% K-BB rate in 59.2 Double-A innings before earning a promotion to Triple-A. He wasn’t quite as dominant there, but still very effective with a 4.16 xFIP and a strikeout rate near 27%. Myers has spent most of his minor league career as a starter but has also made a handful of appearances as a reliever, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him either make a spot start or be used as bullpen depth sometime early on for Cleveland.
Spencer Torkelson, 1B/3B, DET – The Tigers organization had previously said it wouldn’t play service time games with its top prospects, but manager A.J. Hinch recently indicated that Torkelson still has to prove himself in the final few days of Spring Training. Still, it seems more likely than not that we see Torkelson on the Opening Day roster. Ever since being drafted, he’s been considered one of the top bats in the minors. He hasn’t disappointed on the field either, posting a career .935 OPS in the minors. His batting average dipped a bit once he earned a promotion to Triple-A last season, but Torkelson’s ability to draw walks should help mitigate any potential risk at the big league level.
Riley Greene, OF, DET – Greene is in the same boat as Torkelson in terms of making the Opening Day roster. The hard-hitting outfielder had one of the best seasons among all minor leaguers in 2021, recording a 145 wRC+ in 84 Double-A games and a 153 wRC+ in 40 Triple-A contests, all at the age of 20. If you’re looking to nitpick his profile, Greene’s strikeout rate has been in the mid-to-upper 20s throughout his career, but he’s been so productive while being so young at each level that it’s difficult to imagine him struggling too much, even if there is an adjustment period.
Joey Wentz, P, DET – I liked Wentz’s potential to make an early-season impact much more prior to Detroit signing Michael Piñeda, though now it seems like Piñeda may not be available for Opening Day. If that is the case, it’s probably Tyler Anderson who gets a shot at the rotation, but Wentz should be the first arm in the minors that gets the call to make a spot start if needed. Wentz was once considered one of the better prospect arms in the game, but injuries and control issues have plagued him in the past few seasons.
Bobby Witt Jr., SS/3B, KCR – This one is maybe the most obvious in all of baseball. The hype surrounding Witt Jr. has been taken to even higher heights this spring, and it’s reached the point where it would be severely disappointing if he isn’t in the Opening Day lineup. In his age-21 season, Witt Jr. dominated the upper minors, compiling 33 home runs and 29 stolen bases in 123 games between Double and Triple-A. From a fantasy baseball perspective, he’s perhaps the game’s most exciting prospect given his power/speed combination and potential positional versatility. Let’s all sit back and enjoy his rookie campaign.
Kyle Isbel, OF, KCR – Isbel got two separate tastes of the big leagues in 2021, and it was a tale of two different players. You may remember that Isbel earned quite a bit of hype heading into last season, and he even made the Opening Day roster despite not having any prior big-league experience. In his first 11 games, he struck out more than 40% of the time. He didn’t see MLB action again until mid-September, but he closed the year looking like a different player, posting a 138 wRC+ in 16 games. He looks to be MLB-ready now and the Royals have enough opportunities in their lineup that Isbel should see action soon.
MJ Melendez, C, KCR – This one is more hopeful than realistic. Melendez absolutely raked in 2021, posting a wRC+ above 155 at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels, all while being just 22 years old. His position presents an issue though, with backstop being occupied by the team’s franchise cornerstone. The organization has been vocal about trying out Melendez at other positions to get his bat to the bigs, but he’s already been optioned to Triple-A. I imagine it may take an injury to get Melendez up right away.
Joe Ryan, P, MIN – Ryan appears to be a lock for the starting rotation. The 25-year-old tossed 26.2 innings of MLB action in 2021, recording a 25% K-BB rate to go with a 4.05 ERA. His rates were even better across all levels in the minor leagues, and it won’t be long before the righty exceeds his prospect eligibility.
Jose Miranda, INF, MIN – Miranda was one of the best hitters in all of minor league baseball a season ago. Across Double and Triple-A, Miranda clubbed 30 home runs while hitting better than .300. It looked like he had an inside track to make the Opening Day roster and maybe even grab a starting role prior to the Twins signing star shortstop Carlos Correa, but now his path to playing time is not as clear. Still, Miranda appears to be in the running for a roster spot as we approach Opening Day.
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Michael Packard (@artbyMikeP on Twitter and Instagram)
It’s pretty much now or never for Adolfo with the White Sox, since he’s out of options.
Yup. We’ll see what happens. With Vaughn missing some time I think he at least gets a shot.
Vincent, no quibble with the names, just a quick note about one of the writeups – Joe Ryan is not a flame thrower. While he does generate a lot of Ks with his fastball, it only averaged 91.3 mph in the majors last season according to Fangraphs’ pitcher velocity chart.
This was an error on my part – thanks for the catch! Redacted in the publication.