So where oh where does that leave Christian Encarnacion-Strand? He's the one who we thought would be up first, after all. For a time, it looked like he might make the team out of spring training, even. If not for Joey Votto's fakeout return from offseason surgery (which turned out to be premature) combined with Encarnacion-Strand's own injury (a herniated disc in his back), I still think it would have happened.
But Encarnacion-Strand has been healthy for six weeks now while Votto still isn't. Meanwhile, his performance at Triple-A Louisville only validates the hype he received this spring. You could argue his numbers there are even better than De La Cruz's were.
Really, what gives?
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Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Christian Encarnacion-Strand, 1B, Reds
2022 minors: .304 BA (484 AB), 32 HR, 114 RBI, .955 OPS, 40 BB, 137 K
2023 minors: .349 BA (166 AB), 15 HR, 41 RBI, 1.119 OPS, 15 BB, 41 K
It has to happen soon, right? Granted, I've been saying that for weeks now -- since his three-homer game on May 4, basically -- and it still hasn't happened. But the Reds are clearly in a promoting sort of mood, and there's no one else left for them to call up instead. One reason why they may be more open to bringing up Encarnacion-Strand now is that he's made the same sort of strides that preceded Elly De La Cruz's promotion vis a vis plate discipline. After walking just three times in his first 28 games, the 23-year-old has now walked 12 times in his past 11 games, meanwhile batting .357 (15 for 42) with four home runs. So hey, maybe that's exactly what the Reds were waiting to see.
On the other hand, they've now called up so many players who require at-bats that it's not clear they have any left to give to Encarnacion-Strand. He's basically limited to first base and DH, maybe a little third base (though they obviously have better options there). Those are unfortunately what's left for Spencer Steer as well, and he of course deserves to be in the lineup. They did try Steer in left field for the first time Tuesday, De La Cruz's first day in the bigs, but there's no telling if that's a long-term solution. Meanwhile, Joey Votto is on a rehab assignment and risks complicating the situation further. If the Reds are committed to bringing up Encarnacion-Strand, they can make it work, but the lineup is no longer wide open for him.
Colton Cowser, OF, Orioles
2022 minors: .278 BA (510 AB), 19 HR, 18 SB, .874 OPS, 94 BB, 174 K
2023 minors: .347 BA (144 AB), 8 HR, 5 SB, 1.074 OPS, 37 BB, 41 K
Cedric Mullins made it back from his groin injury and that the Orioles may have an opening for him once he got his legs back under him. GM Mike Elias expressed more or less the same idea., I pointed out that Cowser would almost certainly make it back from his quadriceps injury before
"We need to get him out and healthy. We need to make sure he's back in the flow of gameplay at Triple-A," Elias said at the time. "Certainly, he was building a case towards promotion consideration prior to his injury and prior to Cedric's injury."
Well, since returning, Cowser is 4 for 5 with two doubles, picking up right where he left off, which to me suggests he's "back in the flow of gameplay." Meanwhile, there have been no updates to Mullins' status with the Orioles playing about .500 ball over the past couple weeks. Never has their need for their top outfield prospect been more clear, and because Cowser excels in every facet, really, he's one to stash away ahead of time.
Jordan Westburg, SS, Orioles
2022 minors: .265 BA (544 AB), 27 HR, 12 SB, .851 OPS, 70 BB, 147 K
2023 minors: .308 BA (208 AB), 15 HR, 5 SB, .988 OPS, 24 BB, 50 K
The Orioles could use an infusion of offense in their infield as well as their outfield, what with Jorge Mateo showing his true colors, Ramon Urias providing nothing of value, and Gunnar Henderson continuing to sputter through his rookie season. Westburg would be the obvious solution. The shortstop, who has gotten plenty of exposure to second and third base this year, has been a consistent source of power at Triple-A Norfolk and is still grinding away, batting .342 (13 for 38) with three homers, six doubles and a steal over his past 10 games. His skills aren't as well-rounded as Cowser's -- and I do wonder how well his power will translate to the new Camden Yards -- but if shortstop is a need for you, Westburg's day is nigh.
Gavin Williams, SP, Guardians
2022 minors: 5-4, 1.96 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 115 IP, 40 BB, 149 K
2023 minors: 4-1, 1.93 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 51 1/3 IP, 20 BB, 71 K
The Guardians may not be particularly motivated to call up their top pitching prospect at this point in time, having just gotten Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale back from injury. But those two were basically taking the place of Cal Quantrill and Peyton Battenfield, who are both out with shoulder issues, which leaves the Guardians with only Hunter Gaddis to fall back on. If someone were to go down tomorrow, in other words, they very well might turn to Williams, who may also be the best pitching prospect left in all the minors (excluding Grayson Rodriguez, who was recently sent down). The walks have been a bit high this year, particularly the four he issued in five innings last time out, but the 23-year-old's performance has been near flawless otherwise.
Edouard Julien, 2B, Twins
2023 majors: .210 BA (62 AB), 4 HR, 2 2B, .731 OPS, 7 BB, 25 K
2023 minors: .297 BA (128 AB), 5 HR, 12 2B, .946 OPS, 30 BB, 40 K
I've removed Ronny Mauricio from this list because he's dealing with an ankle injury that may require a trip to the IL, but I'd just as soon stash Julien anyway. We know he's high in the Twins' pecking order, having served two stints in the majors already this season, and we know manager Rocco Baldelli is keen on him when he's up, particularly against right-handed pitchers. We also know he's a capable performer at the big-league level, judging by his work so far, and it may well be that his next time up is when he's here for good. In deeper Rotisserie leagues where startable hitters are scarce, I'd be hesitant to drop Julien if I already made an investment in him.
Five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
Cade Horton, SP, Cubs
2023 minors: 1-2, 3.18 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 34 IP, 9 BB, 55 K
The seventh overall pick in last year's draft has so far had just one bad start in this, his first professional season. It came right after Horton was promoted to High-A on May 10, but it's clear now that he's acclimated to that level. Over his past three starts, he has a 1.38 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 18.7 K/9. He set new highs with five innings and 10 strikeouts in his latest start Wednesday.
The 21-year-old was recruited by Oklahoma as a quarterback before turning to baseball full time, and his athleticism is part of what sets him apart from other pitching prospects. He's mostly fastball/slider right now, but both show plus-plus potential.
Carson Whisenhunt, SP, Giants
2022 minors: 7 2/3 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 14 K
2023 minors: 1-0, 1.84 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 44 IP, 14 BB, 63 K
At the rate Whisenhunt is moving up the minor-league ladder, he'll be in the majors by August. He made quick work of Low-A in April, moving up on the last day of the month to High-A, where he had a 1.42 ERA, 0.67 WHIP and 12.8 K/9 in six starts. He begins the month of June at Double-A, where he threw five shutout innings Tuesday, giving up two hits with two walks and seven strikeouts. The left-hander has been piling up whiffs mostly on the strength of his changeup, a plus-plus offering that drops out of sight at the point of contact. Paired with a low-90s fastball that features the requisite "rising" action for today's game, the 22-year-old has a 20 percent swinging-strike rate between three levels so far.
Spencer Arrighetti, SP, Astros
2022 minors: 7-6, 4.73 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 106 2/3 IP, 55 BB, 152 K
2023 minors: 6-2, 3.86 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 46 2/3 IP, 17 BB, 57 K
Arrighetti was serving up meatballs earlier this season, which explains why his ERA is a bit on the high side, but he's brought the cheese lately with a 0.56 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and 12.4 K/9 over his past six starts. The 22-year-old has an advanced arsenal featuring four pitches, but the most important of them is the fastball, which arrives at the perfect angle to generate swings and misses. It's bolstered by a deceptive delivery and long reach, which together helped him to a 12-strikeout effort two turns ago. The 22-year-old remains a relative unknown in prospect circles, but he's quickly moving up the pecking order for the Astros.
Moises Gomez, OF, Cardinals
2022 minors: .294 BA (442 AB), 39 HR, .995 OPS, 52 BB, 174 K
2023 minors: .252 BA (222 AB), 15 HR, .828 OPS, 14 BB, 68 K
Gomez's 39 homers between Double- and Triple-A was one of the most overlooked accomplishments last year. It at least earned him a spot on the Cardinals' 40-man roster, which puts him just a phone call away should a need arise. It wasn't much of a temptation with the way his time at Triple-A Memphis this year started out, but the 24-year-old has now homered nine times in his past 13 games, showing the sort of power that put him on the map last year. He bats from the right side and offers little of value defensively, which is why he's buried on prospect rank lists, but sometimes this profile pans out.
Yonathan Perlaza, OF, Cubs
2022 minors: .255 BA (470 AB), 23 HR, 15 SB, .849 OPS, 72 BB, 127 K
2023 minors: .308 BA (143 AB), 5 HR, 7 SB, .966 OPS, 24 BB, 39 K
Perlaza doesn't even crack the top 30 for the Cubs, according to most prospect publications, but seeing as he's a 24-year-old reaching base at a .414 clip at Triple-A, he may not be far from getting a look in the big-league outfield. He's had some trouble lifting the ball this year, which has impacted his home run output, but he showed he's capable last year and the slugging percentage remains high (.552) regardless. Like Moises Gomez, Perlaza is the sort of quasi-prospect who could turn into something if he capitalizes on the right opportunity, and that opportunity could present itself at some point this year.