The end of August is upon us. In the past, we’d be busy analyzing waiver trade deadline deals, but, for better or worse, we’ve just got the one deadline now. The end of August does mean that rosters are expanding to 40 for one final year, before they’re limited to 28 players starting next season. So, get ready for some call-ups. That latter fact is particularly important in light of the fact that there will no be Justins Verlander moving in the next couple of days and these are the biggest non-injury-related roster changes that we’re going to see down the stretch.
While it’s pretty tough (read: impossible) to predict the instant major league success of a prospect, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. These are the four players that I believe have a combination of a reasonable chance to get called up and the possibility of making an impact in their teams’ ability to make the postseason or go deep into it and, frankly am just excited to see in the majors sooner rather than later. Please note that all prospect rankings are coming from MLB’s Prospect Watch this time around.
Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros
Houston took Tucker three picks after a player who’s already made quite the name for himself, a certain Alex Bregman, but that doesn’t mean we should forget about the 22-year-old outfielder who ranks first in Houston’s farm system. Tucker got a go-around last season, and seriously struggled, hitting just .141/.236/.203 in 72 PAs over 28 games in three separate call-ups. But the caveat was that his BABIP was a ridiculously low .176. In AAA this season, he’s carrying a much more reasonable .280 BABIP and hitting .266/.355/.558 with 34 home runs and 30 stolen bases. While there’s probably room for mentioning the fact that he plays in the PCL, which is absolutely bonkers this season thanks to the introduction of MLB (read: juiced) baseballs, those are still numbers you can’t deny are more likely than not going to translate into major league success.
You might remember that we just covered the phenomenal, for-the-ages rookie season that Yordan Álvarez is having, which begs the question as to where the Astros might play Tucker. The Astros have been working him at first base as of late, where he might be able to spell the right-handed Yuli Gurriel. While Gurriel been good against LHPs this year (112 wRC+), he’s been great against RHPs (146 wRC+), and Tucker has had the opposite problem. Even when he faltered last year, he hit .364/.533/.455 against LHPs and .094/.158/.151 against RHPs. Disallowing for the fact that Tucker is likely to run into some better batted-ball luck against left-handed pitchers in the future (which, again, he probably will), he’s still a pretty impressive left-handed hitter to add to a roster that arguably already has the best offense in baseball.
Gavin Lux, SS/2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Lux is the top prospect in the Dodgers’ system and the 10th overall in MLB. The 21-year-old, left-handed hitting infielder is absolutely raking in AAA-ball this year, .390/.478/.723. Like Tucker, Lux is putting up those numbers in the PCL, but they still look more likely than not like they’re a good bet to translate into major league success. He was reportedly off-limits during trade negotiations this year, and it’s easy to understand why that was the case, even with the Dodgers clearly in the category of baseball teams for whom nothing less than a World Series victory will suffice.
As with Tucker, the question is where the Dodgers can find a place for him to play. Lux has been playing shortstop this year and Corey Seager’s second half struggles aren’t so bad that the Dodgers are going to just forget about him. A hit-by-a-pitch this week to Max Muncy might give Lux a chance to prove himself, though. With Muncy listed as day-to-day, he could split time with the right-handed hitter Kike Hernández at second for now. If he doesn’t struggle, the Dodgers could simply slide Muncy over to first, put Cody Bellinger in the outfield and sit back and wait for the World Series.
Ian Anderson, RHP, Atlanta Braves
The Braves have a bit more work to do to win their division than the Dodgers (+19.0) and Astros (+9.0). The Nationals went 17-7 in August and, while the Braves still have a 5.5-game lead, those teams play each other seven times in the final month. It’s more likely than not that Washington will have to settle for at least one play-in game, but that doesn’t mean that Atlanta couldn’t use some help in locking down the division, something Anderson could provide.
The right-handed 21-year-old is the top pitching prospect in a system with an abundance of them and he just took home Atlanta’s Minor League Player of the Year Award. In AA this year, he notched a 2.68 ERA with almost 12 K/9. While Atlanta’s long term goal is clearly to put Anderson in the rotation, it wouldn’t be at all surprising for the Braves to give him his first cup of coffee out of the bullpen this year. While the Braves’ bullpen has improved as of late, it’s still one of the worst in baseball on the season (with -0.3 fWAR, only ahead of the Orioles and Marlins).
While Anderson might not even be the best prospect in the Braves system, as outfielders Cristian Pache and Drew Waters rank ahead of him, Atlanta doesn’t have a lot of room to fool around with it’s 40-man roster. It’s more likely that they’ll reach for a pitcher rather than lengthen an already deep bench at this point, although whether or not Anderson gets to play may ultimately depend on whether they need him for a spot start due to injury.
Jake Cronenworth, SS/RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Just in case you haven’t heard of Cronenworth (and you glossed over his position in the header just now), he’s the most singularly interesting player on this list. Before the 2019 season, he bulked up a bit and adopted a more aggressive stance at the plate and he’s reaped the rewards, hitting .340/.433/.532 in AAA this year. Given that the Rays’ current shortstop, Willy Adames, has hit .249/.311/.407 (92 wRC+) this year (albeit while playing excellent defense), that alone might warrant giving Cronenworth a shot. After all, Tampa Bay is a game out of a Wild Card Spot and could use all the help they can get if they’re going to get a crack at the postseason.
But that’s not the only thing Cronenworth brings to the table, as the Rays also let him pitch for the first time in four years, and he’s done pretty well, all things considered. In typical Rays’ fashion, they deployed him in an opener role and he’s flashed a mid-90s fastball along with a plus-cutter and wipeout curve. He’s struck out nine in seven innings and, while he still needs to work on his walks, he’s the best two-way prospect that MLB has to offer right now.
One way to avoid roster crunches is to have a player fill two spots for the price of one. Then you have to factor in that Cronenworth will need to be added to the 40-man this offseason anyway to avoid the Rule 5 Draft. Whether the Rays actually add him before the end of the season will probably end up having a lot to do with when all their injured pitchers become available, given that Charlie Morton and Ryan Yarbrough are basically the only “real” starters currently active. There are a lot players expected to make their returns soon, but if things don’t proceed as planned, then Cronenworth is likely to get a chance. While it’s still a relative longshot that we’ll see him pitching this year, he’s still clearly the most intriguing player on this list, so I’ll just cross my fingers and hope the Rays give him a shot.