MLB Prospects: five that should be here by now

Mar 5, 2015; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs catcher Kyle Schwarber (74) rounds third base after hitting a grand slam home run in the second inning against the San Francisco Giants during a spring training baseball game at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

As someone who has covered Minor League baseball for quite some time, let me speak for the Minor League baseball community as a whole, projecting MLB prospects success isn’t easy. Some make us look like morons who have never seen a baseball game in our lives, others hit the nail on the head and either thrive or fail as we have foreseen. 

This year has been no different, but it certainly has been intensified. It is a year like no other, one in which many of the top 20 prospects have made their Major League debuts, and quite a few earlier than anyone expected. And then there are those still in the Minors.

Whether it be by their own digressions or questionable moves by their big league team, come July, there are always question marks surrounding why certain prospects are still in the Minors. Some make their Triple-A debuts and take a huge step backwards, while others have done everything worthwhile of earning a promotion but still sit in the Minors.

For every Kris Bryant who made there highly expected and anticipated debut, there is an A.J. Cole who got the call a bit earlier than most thought. For every Jace Peterson who has performed better than expected, there is a Jose Peraza waiting their turn in the Minor Leagues. Here is a list of five players that should have been in the Majors by now and a look at whether it is themselves or their big league cub holding them back.

Mar 19, 2015; Dunedin, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Henry Owens (76) pitches in the third inning of the spring training game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

HENRY OWENS

Matt Barnes. Blake Swihart. Jackie Bradley. Henry Owens. That was the 2011 first round for the Boston Red Sox. Three of the four have had at least a cup of coffee in the bigs, but Henry Owens has not. 

Owens was a consensus Top 20 prospect across the board coming into 2015 and this was supposed to be the year he cracked the Red Sox rotation, partly because of his 2014 season in Portland and partly because the Red Sox rotation in Boston looked like it had some holes that he could jump into.

Instead, Owens has had a nightmare of a season in Pawtucket. Coming off of a 2014 in which he was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year in Portland (14-4, 2.60 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 126 strikeouts in 121 innings), he was supposed to build off of his brief 2014 Triple-A debut. A horrendous start has seen him watch both Brian Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez head to the big leagues before him.

Owens normally solid control has eluded him this season. He walked four or more batters in four of his first six starts this season, a span in which he walked 25 batters (thats 4.2 walks per outing, and that is frightening). He has simmered down in the walk department of late, but is also at a career low in strikeouts per nine at 7.3. The 22-year old lefty has never struck out less than a batter per inning in his short, but strong professional career.

Owens has shown improvement, but with Clay Buchholtz going down, and Brian Johnson getting the call, the Red Sox surely have to be disappointed with his development in a year he could have made huge strides at the Major League level.

Mar 27, 2015; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola (10) throws a warm up pitch during the second inning against the New York Yankees at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

AARON NOLA

Unlike Henry Owens who isn’t in the big leagues because he has taken a step backwards, there is absolutely no excuse why Nola isn’t in Philadelphia yet. Well, the whole service time rule that, if you have followed me all season, you know I think is the biggest joke in baseball. The 22-year old righty is having a sensational 2015. 

Drafted by the Phillies in the first round last season, the LSU alum impressed enough in his half season debut to land in the preseason Grading on the Curve Top 50 prospects, and has propelled himself into top ten consideration with his performance thus far in 2015.

Coming off a rookie year in which he made it to Double-A by season’s end, Nola finished 2014 with a combined 4-3 record, posting a 2.93 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. He was better when he earned his promotion to Double-A, and that usually hints to a Major League ready arsenal.

This year is the same. After posting a 7-3 record with a 1.88 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP, Nola has had no issues with his promotion to Triple-A. He has gone 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. Nola’s only downside is that he has a tendency to allow the long ball, but that isn’t going to work itself out in the Minor Leagues.

Cole Hamels. Chad Billingsley. Adam Morgan. David Buchanan. That is the Phillies current rotation. Hamels is sure to be gone in the coming weeks, Billingsley has never really been a game changing pitcher and the others, including names like Severino Gonzalez are still very much works in progress. Not only would Nola improve this rotation, but he could easily slide into the second slot.

The Phillies are a sinking ship. Let Nola take his bumps and bruises on the big league level, it’s not like a few more losses are going to change anything. Service time aside, Nola needs to be in the rotation.

 

HECTOR OLIVERA

Earlier in June, I wrote an article discussing what I called the Hector Olivera dilemma. At the time he was hitting .387 with one home run in Triple-A and seemed ready to be on the big league roster. The Dodgers hesitated, and Olivera went to the DL. 

Olivera is not your normal prospect. He is already 30-years old, and he was the latest in the big names to defect from Cuba. This isn’t some draftee with questionable skills who is making a small salary. This is a seasoned vet, that the Dodgers shelled out a nice chunk of change for at the start of the season.

He is also injury prone. He missed a season with a blood clot a few years back, had issues with his UCL this offseason, and then strained his hammy leading to a 7-day DL stint. Olivera should be in the big leagues as soon as possible for no other reason than the Dodgers see some return on their investment.

Olivera has been rehabbing in the Arizona League and is coming of a three hit performance. The time is now to make a move on Olivera. Jimmy Rollins isn’t getting any younger and the Cubs and Yankees have both hinted that they will be making a hard push for Howie Kendrick this offseason. With Corey Seager waiting in the wings, the Dodgers need to know what Olivera can do. Now is the time to find out.

Mar 1, 2015; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Colorado Rockies pitcher Jon Gray poses for a portrait during photo day at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

JON GRAY

I see Gray like Aaron Nola. The Colorado Rockies aren’t going anywhere in 2015. Gray’s struggles this season have been noted, but maybe it’s time to take his licks on the big league level and see what he has. 

The 23-year old righty was selected third overall in the 2013 draft behind Mark Appel and Kris Bryant. He came into professional baseball known for his blazing fastball. Last year he saw a dip in velocity that concerned the Rockies. This year, that electric fastball is back, and over the past month and a half, so has been Gray.

Gray’s numbers aren’t pretty in the Minor Leagues this year, but here’s some food for thought. Gonzalez German is currently taking the hill for the Rockies. Let’s recount German’s offseason shall we? He was signed by the Yankees when the Mets put him on waivers. He was signed by the Rangers when the Yankees put him on waivers. He was picked up by the Cubs when the Rangers put him on waivers. He finally landed in Colorado… when the Cubs put him on waivers.

I don’t care if Gray is struggling with his control. There are two ways of thinking when it comes to prospects and lost seasons. One is to keep them in the Minors so they can work out the kinks for when the team is a contender and can really use their services. The other is to throw the kid into the fire and see what he can do. That is my view, always has been, always will. Especially when the Rockies have given German and Eddie Butler chances this season.

Mar 3, 2015; Clearwater, FL, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Luis Severino (91) throws a pitch during the third inning against the Philadelphia Phillies during a spring training baseball game at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

LUIS SEVERINO

The only thing holding the Yankees back from calling up their top prospect in my eyes is their own ego. While CC Sabathia could be moved to the bullpen to make some room for one of the most exciting pitching prospects in the Minor Leagues, the Yankees have never been a team to make a move like that.

Severino came out of nowhere last season, rising from outside the Yankees top 20 prospects to the best in the system. This year, he looked a little bit different than last year when he started in Double-A, but since his promotion to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he has been phenomenal. The Yankees haven’t had a more Major League ready pitching prospect in some time.

This is where the Yankees have made errors in the past: the handling of young pitchers. Joba rules anyone? They need to unload Severino at the big league level. He could be the link that gets them back to October after a two year absence.

The 21-year old righty has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his eight starts since being promoted to Triple-A. He sits at 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP. He has walked a bit more than he has in his past and his strikeout rate is down, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a negative. He could simply be working on his out pitches. The key is that he is finding ways to get out of trouble.

Severino is ready. Are the Yankees ready to make Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Severino a frightening top three in the rotation?