Nine Prospects Primed To Help Contenders in 2018

Image credit: Justus Sheffield (Photo by Cliff Welch)

Every year, big name prospects receive their first call-ups in August or September to help their teams in a pennant race.

Two years ago, Aaron JudgeAndrew BenintendiAlex ReyesYoan MoncadaMitch HanigerJoe MusgroveLuke Weaver and Yuli Gurriel were all called up for the first time by teams within five games of a playoff spot. Last year, it was Walker BuehlerVictor RoblesJack FlahertyAlex VerdugoFrancisco MejiaRyan McMahon and Brandon Woodruff who made their MLB debuts in August or September for contending teams.

This year figures to be no different, with 15 different teams still harboring legitimate playoff hopes. Here is a look at nine prospects who have positioned themselves for their first call-up and fit nicely with the needs of a contending team, defined as within six games of a playoff spot entering Thursday.

1. Justus Sheffield, LHP, Yankees

Lance Lynn (1-0, 0.54) and J.A. Happ (3-0, 1.89) have been excellent since coming over at the trade deadline, but the Yankees still need more rotation help. Sonny Gray remains banished to the bullpen, C.C. Sabathia just joined Jonathan Loaisiga on the disabled list with discomfort in his surgically-repaired right knee, and Luis Severino (7.50 ERA in his last seven starts) remains in a month-long funk. The Yankees already brought up Chance Adams for his first major league start, and there’s no reason for Sheffield—who has a 2.25 ERA in five starts since his promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre—to be far behind.

2. Yordan Alvarez, OF, Astros

Left field has been a season-long problem for the Astros, and none of their previous solutions are working. Marwin Gonzalez has crashed back to earth and is batting .241 with a .707 OPS. Prized prospect Kyle Tucker is 8-for-51 (.157) at the plate and defensive metrics grade his performance below-average in the otufield. Derek Fisher is hitting .165, and Tony Kemp has had to spend more time in center field with Jake Marisnick and George Springer both on the disabled list. The hulking Alvarez has shaken off a slow start after his promotion to Triple-A and has four home runs and an .864 OPS in his last 16 games. Even though Alvarez’s defense is questionable, his potential offensive contributions are greater than anything the Astros are getting from their other options at the moment.

3. Jesus Luzardo, LHP, Athletics

On the one hand, Luzardo is a 20-year-old in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery. On the other, he’s a lefty throwing 96 mph with two nasty secondaries and missing bats in Triple-A. The A’s have pitched well with a 2.90 ERA during their current 17-6 run, but adding an arm of Luzardo’s caliber for the stretch run certainly couldn’t hurt. Ryan Buchter is currently the only lefty in the A’s bullpen, and Luzardo’s success against lefthanded batters this season (.227/.301/.333) gives him an avenue to break in as a second lefty reliever.

4. Austin Riley, 3B, Braves

Johan Camargo has hit .282/.346/.477 since taking over as the Braves’ starting third baseman on May 19, so it’s not like there is an immediate need for Riley at the hot corner in Atlanta. At the same time, it never hurts to add another power bat, and Riley is adjusting to Triple-A with a .271/.327/.485 slash line in August after a middling first taste of the level in July. Last night’s home run aside, if Dansby Swanson struggles to hit (.155 in his last 20 games; .238/.295/.389 on the year), the Braves also have the option of moving Camargo to shortstop and calling up Riley to play third.

5. Kevin Kramer, 2B, Pirates

The Pirates made some of the biggest moves of the trade deadline to fortify their pitching staff, but their offense has holes that need to be fixed in order for their playoff dreams to become a reality. Pirates second basemen—primarily Josh Harrison and Adam Frazier—have combined to hit .238/.307/.371 this year, ranking in the bottom third of MLB in all three slash line categories. The Pirates have an internal solution in 2015 second-round pick Kramer, who has steadily added power and is batting .299 with 29 doubles, 12 home runs and an .831 OPS at Triple-A Indianapolis this season, along with 11 stolen bases. Kramer has been particularly hot recently, batting .362 over his last 13 games, and the time is nearing for his first call-up.

6. Mike Shawaryn, RHP, Red Sox

Brian Johnson and deadline acquisition Nathan Eovaldi have admirably filled the back of the rotation for baseball’s best team, but it certainly never hurts to have more starting pitching depth. Shawaryn, the Red Sox’s fifth-round pick in 2016, has handled the jump to Triple-A with a 2.95 ERA in his first three starts, with 19 strikeouts and six walks in 18.1 innings. With Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright out until the end of the month and Drew Pomeranz demoted to the bullpen, Shawaryn has put himself in position for a call-up should another injury hit.

7. Trevor Clifton, RHP, Cubs

Even with trade acquisitions of Cole Hamels (2-0, 1.00 ERA in three starts) and Jesse Chavez (1.84 ERA in 10 appearances) aiding the rotation and bullpen, respectively, the Cubs are still struggling to pitch as a whole. They are 9-8 with a 4.59 ERA since July 27—the day they acquired Hamels—and are allowing more than one hit per inning. The physical Clifton touches 95 mph as a starter, and he’s handled himself well in Triple-A with a 3.69 ERA in 11 appearances (nine starts). While Clifton won’t be the sole solution, he certainly has the stuff and performance track record to help the Cubs in some capacity.

8. Stetson Allie, RHP, Dodgers

The Dodgers’ bullpen has blown a lead in seven—yes, seven—consecutive games. Kenley Jansen is out with an irregular heartbeat. One proposed solution—moving Ross Stripling and Kenta Maeda to the bullpen—was short-circuited when Stripling went on the DL with back inflammation. The Dodgers’ bullpen right now is a mix of lefties (Scott AlexanderCaleb FergusonZac Rosscup), 92-93 mph righthanders (Dylan FloroErik Goeddel) and horrendously unreliable late-game options (Pedro Baez, J.T. Chargois).

Allie is wild, but he provides both big power and ferocity—two traits the Dodgers’ bullpen is sorely lacking. The pitcher-turned-outfielder-turned-pitcher again is sitting 98-99 mph and touching 101 mph, while mixing in a swing-and-miss slider and keeping batters on their toes by changing up his delivery. He doesn’t always know where his fastball is going—it has a tendency to run up and in towards batter’s heads and knock them down—but that gives him an extra intimidation factor the Dodgers noticeably lack at the end of games right now and desperately need.

9. Kevin Newman, SS, Pirates

The Pirates’ shortstop situation isn’t currently as dire as their second base situation, but it certainly could use some help with Jordy Mercer batting .262/.329/.397 and currently battling calf discomfort. Newman has held his own in Triple-A all year, batting .302/.350/.407 with 28 stolen bases while playing a steady, reliable shortstop. He’s also played an increased amount of second base this season and shown the ability to make the turn just fine. Whether it’s in a starting role or an oft-used utility role, Newman’s ability to make contact, run and play solid defense in the middle infield have him in position for his first call-up.

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