Minor League Barometer: Risers & Fallers

Minor League Barometer: Risers & Fallers

This article is part of our Minor League Barometer series.

For a while, it looked like we might have an April without baseball. Thankfully, that is now but a distant memory.

This article will operate as it has in the past; each week we will analyze several phenoms helping or hurting their causes. It will be skewed more toward prospects closer to the big leagues, but that doesn't mean we won't highlight some neophytes at the lower levels who are making waves either. This is not a ranking of prospects. Each week's article is not supposed to be exhaustive in any fashion. Fantasy impact will also be weighed more heavily than real-life impact.

For the first Minor League Barometer of the season, let's focus on some players who will either make the Opening Day rosters for their respective squads, or certainly make their way to the majors later this season.

UPGRADE

Bobby Witt, SS/3B, KC – The Royals toyed with the emotions of fantasy managers last season, as Witt tormented pitchers in spring training in 2021 but ultimately started the season at Double-A and never made it to the big leagues. That's not to say he wasn't impressive; Witt combined to hit .290 with 33 home runs, 97 RBIs and 29 stolen bases in 123 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Witt is white-hot this spring again, batting .438 with two home runs, five RBIs and one steal thus far. He likely will shift to third base due to his power, but with another year under his belt it  looks

For a while, it looked like we might have an April without baseball. Thankfully, that is now but a distant memory.

This article will operate as it has in the past; each week we will analyze several phenoms helping or hurting their causes. It will be skewed more toward prospects closer to the big leagues, but that doesn't mean we won't highlight some neophytes at the lower levels who are making waves either. This is not a ranking of prospects. Each week's article is not supposed to be exhaustive in any fashion. Fantasy impact will also be weighed more heavily than real-life impact.

For the first Minor League Barometer of the season, let's focus on some players who will either make the Opening Day rosters for their respective squads, or certainly make their way to the majors later this season.

UPGRADE

Bobby Witt, SS/3B, KC – The Royals toyed with the emotions of fantasy managers last season, as Witt tormented pitchers in spring training in 2021 but ultimately started the season at Double-A and never made it to the big leagues. That's not to say he wasn't impressive; Witt combined to hit .290 with 33 home runs, 97 RBIs and 29 stolen bases in 123 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Witt is white-hot this spring again, batting .438 with two home runs, five RBIs and one steal thus far. He likely will shift to third base due to his power, but with another year under his belt it  looks more likely by the day that Witt opens the season on the starting roster for the Royals.

Riley Greene, OF, DET – Greene is another 21-year-old trying to secure a starting spot on Opening Day. The sweet-swinging lefty is about as pure a hitter as they come, but he also swatted 24 home runs in 2021 and even swiped 16 bags between Double-A and Triple-A. The added power and speed elements to an already elite hit tool have made Greene one of the top prospects in baseball, and his debut along with that of Spencer Torkelson at first base should finally give the Tigers some excitement and pop in their lineup.

Jeremy Pena, SS, HOU – As expected, Carlos Correa bolted for greener pastures, leaving the Astros with a hole at shortstop. Enter Pena, the 24-year-old shortstop who has vaulted up the prospect charts in recent years. Although he missed the beginning of the 2021 campaign due to a wrist injury, he eventually found his way to Triple-A. Pena hit .287/.346/.598 with 10 home runs, 19 RBIs and five steals in 30 games at that level. He could be the frontrunner for the starting shortstop job and, if so, could have an incredible opportunity hitting in such a potent lineup.

Hunter Greene, P, CIN – The Reds traded Sonny Gray in the offseason and flirted with trading Luis Castillo, who is likely to begin the season on the injured list. The same goes for Mike Minor, so Greene and a cast of prospects and no-names will slot behind Tyler Mahle to begin 2022. Greene's fastball was overpowering last season coming off Tommy John surgery, but his slider is also a plus-pitch, and his changeup is satisfactory as his third offering. Greene fanned 139 batters while walking 39 in 106.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2021. Greene is just 22, but the Reds have massive holes in their current rotation, and Greene is viewed as their future rotation anchor. Along with Nick Lodolo, Brandon Williamson and Reiver Sanmartin, the future could be now in Cincinnati.

CHECK STATUS

Cristian Pache, OF, OAK – The A's are either rebuilding, tanking or both. Oakland jettisoned two cornerstones of their squad in the form of Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, with the latter bringing back Pache amongst a haul of prospects. Pache's prospect profile has been consistent throughout his brief time as a professional. Glove first, ask questions about offense later. He's a tremendous athlete with speed to burn, but that has not translated to offensive production, either in the batter's box or on the base paths. Still, he should get all the at-bats he can handle to begin the season, especially with Ramon Laureano suspended 27 games. Whereas Pache did not have many opportunities for a contending team and the eventual World Series champions, the script has been flipped for 2022.

Seth Beer, DH, AZ – The designated hitter being added to the National League should be music to Beer's ears, as his glove either at first base or in the outfield was deemed highly questionable. His only starts in the majors last year came as a DH, so that appears to be how he'll be used in 2022. Interestingly, the left-handed swinging Beer actually hit better versus righties than lefties at Triple-A in 2021, so he could end up being more than a platoon player. Beer has never hit below .287 in any year and has average to above-average power.  As we know with prospects, gaining opportunity is half the battle. So if Beer gets the plate appearances, he could be worth watching.

Oneil Cruz, SS/OF PIT – A late surge in 2021 combined with a hot spring could have the perpetually rebuilding Pirates rethinking their stance on Cruz. Originally, the front office felt Cruz needed more seasoning, particularly in the field, as Pittsburgh is still unsure whether his ultimate stop is at shortstop or in the outfield. However, Cruz is 6-foot-7 and has displayed mammoth power along with terrific athleticism. Cruz is 5-for-15 with two home runs and three RBIs this spring. Cruz's long frame will always result in some strikeouts, but he's made surprisingly consistent contact this spring and his power remains tantalizing. Add the lack of a real option at shortstop otherwise, and Cruz could end up with the majority of at-bats at the position in 2022.

DOWNGRADE

Shane Baz, P, TB – Baz recently underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies from his right elbow. Prior to the injury, he had been penciled in with a spot in the starting rotation. Now, it is unlikely Baz sees the mound for the Rays before May. Baz was simply electric in 2021, as he made one of the biggest leaps of any prospect last year. He even shined during his cup of coffee in September, fanning 18 batters in 13.1 innings, allowing just six hitters and walking only three batters. He has not thrown more than 94.1 innings in a season since entering the pros, though, so the Rays are likely to exercise extra caution with him. As a result, it is unlikely he pitches more than 120 innings this season even if all goes according to plan following this procedure. Unfortunately, while that does not dim the future outlook overall, 2022 will ultimately be affected.

Jose Miranda, 3B, MIN – Something seems amiss because Miranda had a sensational 2021 campaign between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting a combined .344 with 30 home runs and 94 RBIs. He fanned just 74 times in 127 games and will turn 24 in June. Miranda's fielding is reportedly subpar at best, and so even with Josh Donaldson traded to the Yankees, his spot was not guaranteed. In fact, now the Twins have Gio Urshela's sure hands at third and Luis Arraez to mix in as well. Add Miguel Sano and Gary Sanchez clogging up the DH hole, and it appears Miranda will once again start the season at Triple-A with his path to the majors thoroughly blocked.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jesse Siegel
Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
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