It is Thursday, Aug. 31. That only means one thing in the world of MLB:
We are one day away from September call-ups.
It’s one of the more exciting times of the year for a minor league baseball junkie. Those top prospects you read and heard so much about finally adorn the big-league uniform with the chance to show what they got.
Here’s a look at five of the more intriguing options we may see.
Alex Verdugo, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
While many felt that getting Yu Darvish was the biggest move by the Dodgers at the trade deadline, being able to keep Verdugo may be the bigger reward. Though he isn’t on the 40-man roster, there may not be a safer outfield prospect in the game.
There are certainly more exciting outfield prospects, with ceilings through the rough. Verdugo, after all, is no Ronald Acuna or Victor Robles.
But here’s what we know about Verdugo: He’s going to hit the ball. A lot. And he isn’t going to strike out. At all.
Verdugo is slashing .315/.391/.437 in his Pacific Coast League debut season. The lefty’s power is mostly pull, but he consistently makes solid contact all over the field. He has surprisingly experienced a decrease in power numbers in the home run-happy PCL, but still has 26 doubles. He works counts and has one of the most advanced eyes in the minors. He’s struck out 49 times this season, and walked 52.
He also has 2½ times as many assists as he does errors in his career. In 401 career games in the outfield, he has 50 assists and just 21 errors. He isn’t the speediest outfielder, but understands how to use his speed with his above-average instincts. His arm is one of the best in the upper minors as well.
Verdugo isn’t on the 40-man roster, but the more the Dodgers run away with the National League, the more tempted they may be to rest their big guns. Verdugo may be the guy to give them a breather.
Scott Kingery, 2B, and J.P. Crawford, SS, Philadelphia Phillies
Carlos Hernandez and Freddy Galvis are nice players. But it’s time for the Phillies to move forward with their plans. They already began the transition in the outfield, handing the reins to Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams.
Based on the success of Hoskins and Williams, the Phillies should hand over the infield to their future double-play combo.
Crawford has gotten a bad rap. Once one of the top prospects in all of baseball, he has struggled a bit at the plate the past two seasons. Sure it’s worrisome, but he’s also been a victim of some of the lowest BABIP in baseball, not eclipsing .300 since A-ball two years ago.
The 22-year-old left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing shortstop has been more himself in the second half, slashing .279/.380/.500 with eight home runs. Someone with his plate discipline and ability to make contact will seemingly always work the kinks out. Crawford pairs an 18 percent strikeout rate with a 14 percent walk rate. He also has moved around the infield this season for the first time in his career, so perhaps the Phillies are grooming him as a utility player. His arm and instincts play anywhere, as he is one of the premier defensive prospects in the game.
Kingery was always a nice hitter, but the Reading home-field power advantage helped him boom onto the scene. Literally. Kingery has more home runs this season than he did in his entire career up to this point, college included.
It wasn’t just Reading’s home turf that made Kingery a power hitter. He’s continued to hit since his promotion to Triple-A. He’s slashing .306/.358/.542 on the season with 26 home runs and 29 doubles. Kingery went through a slight sputter when first promoted, but picked it right up. There’s little reason to think that Kingery isn’t for real. And even if he’s not, what do the Phillies have to lose?
Nick Senzel, 3B, Cincinnati Reds
Senzel was one of the safest bets in the 2016 MLB draft. He parlayed a stellar career at Tennessee into the second overall pick. That career featured Senzel hitting the ball with a lot of frequency in Tennessee.
He hasn’t stopped as a pro.
This may be a long shot for two reasons. Senzel hasn’t seen a Triple-A pitch yet in his career, but then again neither did Dansby Swanson last year. Secondly, out of all the Reds’ problems, current third baseman Eugenio Suarez isn’t one of them.
That said, Senzel can hit, and his control of the strike zone and quick, pretty left-handed swing leave little doubt that he will continue to hit at every level. He’s played his best ball since being promoted to Double-A 57 games ago. Senzel is slashing .340/.413/.560 with 10 home runs in just 235 plate appearances. The power was always a question mark, and with Pensacola’s home turf a bit on the homer-friendly side, it could be playing a role.
No matter, Senzel will still hit. It’s just what he does.
Senzel always had the arm strength to succeed at third, but some questioned his prowess at the hot corner. He seems to have improved there as well. Solid fielder, great bat and a good eye at the plate. Aside from the service clock ticking, there isn’t much more in which to wait.
Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta Braves
The question isn’t: Why should the Braves call up Acuna? The question is rather: Why not?
Acuna is the wunderkind, 19-year-old outfield prospect who has taken the minors by storm. Literally, the entire minors. He started the season in the Florida State League, made a stop in Double-A and has settled in with the Gwinnett Braves at Triple-A.
He’s without question been the best prospect in the league at each stop.
All Acuna did from April to August is jump up to top prospect status. Not just in the Braves’ highly vaunted system, but in all of baseball. The most amazing part is what he did — or actually didn’t do — as an 18-year-old last season. His debut in Rome was hampered by a nearly three-month stint on the disabled list. Entering this season, Acuna had about 50 games of full-season ball under his belt.
Fifty games. That’s it.
Acuna is slashing .340/.390/.552 at Gwinnett. He’s put together hit streaks (14 is the longest) and home run streaks (recently homering in three straight). Combined at all three levels, he’s hit 20 home runs and stolen 42 bases. And if you ask anyone that has seen him, he is just tapping into his power.
It is absurd to think that a 19-year-old with less than 1,000 career at-bats in the minors is anywhere near being ready for the big leagues. But what Acuna has achieved on his rise through the minors this season is already bordering on the absurd.
He isn’t on the 40-man roster, but if there is a team in baseball that has plenty of options for the old DFA, it’s the Atlanta Braves. The only thing left for Acuna is his big-league debut. And it may not be far away.