(Special to Digital Sports Desk – Wire Service Report) – Two of the top prospects in baseball experienced totally opposite introductions to the major leagues this year. On Sept. 2, third baseman Yoan Moncada joined a Boston Red Sox team in the midst of a division race, and he struggled during his rare appearances down the stretch.
Two weeks earlier, shortstop Dansby Swanson arrived in Atlanta. He immediately became a regular for the woebegone Braves, and he thrived. Moncada, a 21-year-old Cuban, received a $31.5 million signing bonus from Boston in February. Swanson, a 22-year-old Vanderbilt product, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft by the Diamondbacks. He was dealt to Atlanta in the December 2015 trade that sent right-hander Shelby Miller to Arizona. Led by Moncada and Swanson, here is a look of each team’s top prospect, as chosen by a national network of baseball writers.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
OF Socrates Brito already has played parts of two seasons for the Diamondbacks, yet he retains his rookie status. He hit well at Triple-A Reno this season — .294/.322/.439 with six homers and 39 RBIs in 73 games. However, he was ineffective in 40 games with Arizona, batting .179/.196/.358 with four homers and 12 RBIs. He was slowed by a broken toe on his right foot this year, but he will get another long look in the spring.
RHP German Marquez, 21, spent most of the season at Double-A Hartford and was named the Eastern League pitcher of the year after going 9-6 with a 2.85 ERA. He also went 2-0 with a 4.35 ERA in five starts for Triple-A Albuquerque. Called up in September, Marquez became the second-youngest pitcher in franchise history to record his first career win. He went 1-1 with a 5.23 ERA overall for Colorado. With a loose, easy arm action, Marquez can sit at 95 mph with his fastball. He has an above-average curveball, an improving changeup and a poised presence.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
RHP Jose De Leon showed promise during four major league starts late in the season, compiling a 2-0 record with a 6.35 ERA in 17 innings. However, De Leon, who had a 7-1 mark and 2.61 ERA in 16 starts at Triple-A Oklahoma City, gave up five home runs in his short stint in the big leagues. De Leon, 24, should benefit with seasoning and could be a strong candidate as the team’s No. 4 starter heading into spring training.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
OF Hunter Renfroe has the potential to be “an incredibly dynamic player” if he learns to stay away from pitches outside the strike zone, Padres manager Andy Green said. Renfroe, 24, was selected the Pacific Coast League MVP after hitting .306/.336/.557 with 30 homers and 105 RBIs in 133 Triple-A games this season. In 11 late-season games for the Padres, he batted .371/.389/.800 with four homers and 14 RBIs. He became the first player to homer onto the roof of the Western Metal Supply Co. building beyond left field at Petco Park.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
LHP Ty Blach introduced himself to the nation with his performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers on the final Saturday of the regular season in his just second career start. Eight innings, no runs in the heat of the playoff race? Are you kidding? In 26 starts for Triple-A Sacramento, he went 14-7 with a 3.43 ERA. Blach, 25, then finished 1-0 with a 1.06 ERA in four games (two starts) for San Francisco. The only reason this guy isn’t the Giants’ No. 5 starter next season is if they slot him higher.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
OF Albert Almora Jr. had a 47-game internship with the big league club in 2016 and was under consideration for a spot on the Cubs’ postseason roster. Almora, 22, has very good defensive and baserunning skills and could be considered a serious candidate for a permanent spot in 2017. He batted .277 with three home runs, 14 RBIs and a .455 slugging percentage with the Cubs. In 80 games at Triple-A Iowa, he hit .317.
RHP Robert Stephenson didn’t shine in a September call-up, but he remains firmly in the Reds’ plans. In eight major league starts this year, he went 2-3 with a 6.08 ERA. However, both victories came in an April cameo. He spent the bulk of the season at Triple-A Louisville, where he finished 8-9 with a 4.41 ERA in 24 starts. Stephenson, 23, struck out 120 but walked 71 in 136 2/3 minor league innings.
OF Lewis Brinson, acquired at the trade deadline in the deal that sent C Jonathan Lucroy and RHP Jeremy Jeffress to the Texas Rangers, he could be on a fast track to Milwaukee next season. Brinson, 22, batted .382 with four home runs and 20 RBIs in 23 games for Triple-A Colorado Springs after the trade. In 104 minor league games overall this year, he hit 15 homers and stole 17 bases, and his power and speed are only projected to improve.
The door is wide open for RHP Tyler Glasnow, 23, to insinuate himself firmly in the rotation in 2017. The 6-foot-8 pitcher is still looking for his first major league win, but the victories could come in bunches if things play out the way the Pirates anticipate. Glasnow started the season with Triple-A Indianapolis before getting his first promotion. He went 0-2 with a 4.24 ERA in seven games, including four starts, for Pittsburgh. He spent time in the bullpen after coming back from a shoulder injury.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
RHP Alex Reyes dazzled after being called up on Aug. 9 due to a plethora of injuries to the pitching staff. Given a role as a piggyback reliever at first, Reyes eventually joined the rotation down the stretch and was the team’s second-best starter behind RHP Carlos Martinez at the end, posting three wins over the Cubs and another at San Francisco with seven scoreless innings. Reyes, 22, went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 12 outings (five starts), and he should be a candidate for the rotation next year.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Dansby Swanson was called up on Aug. 17 and established himself as the everyday shortstop. Swanson, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft, was acquired by the Braves (along with CF Ender Inciarte and RHP Aaron Blair) from Arizona for RHP Shelby Miller and LHP Gabe Speier. Swanson spent most of the season with Double-A Mississippi but never staggered after being recalled. He had 39 hits in his 38 starts, batted .302 and was outstanding in the field. Swanson, 22, is expected to join Freeman as cornerstones of the infield for the foreseeable future.
RHP Luis Castillo, 23, went 8-6 with a 2.26 ERA over 26 games (24 starts) in high Class A and Double-A this year. Beyond his excellent numbers, Castillo excites Marlins scouts because of a fastball that can reach 100 mph. RHP Tayron Guerrero, a 25-year-old who was acquired this year from the Padres, throws just about as hard as Castillo, while 23-year-old LHP Jarlin Garcia is more of a pitcher than a guy with an overpowering fastball. If everything breaks exactly right, those three pitchers could head Miami’s 2018 rotation.
NEW YORK METS
RHP Robert Gsellman was not even among the organization’s top 20 prospects in the spring, but the 23-year-old might have saved the season by going 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA in eight games (seven starts) following his promotion to the majors on Aug. 23. He does not have the ceiling of SS Amed Rosario, but Gsellman’s mid-90s sinker and fearlessness make him a legitimate mid-rotation candidate next season for a team with four starters coming back from injury.
SS J.P. Crawford didn’t hit much, batting a combined .250/.349/.339 with seven home runs and 43 RBIs with Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He defense is highly regarded, though, and when he does reach the majors, many think he will be there for a long time with the Phillies. GM Matt Klentak said, “He’s still 21 years old. He still needs to get stronger. He still has some things he needs to work on.”
OF Victor Robles, 19, worked his way through three levels to end the year at high Class A Potomac. Robles played in five games in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, then hit .305/.405/.459 in 64 games with five homers and 30 RBIs for low Class A Hagerstown. In 41 games with Potomac, he batted .262/.354/.387 with three homers and 11 RBIs. The Dominican Republic native was 37-for-51 in steal attempts at the three levels combined in just his second season of play in the United States.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
OF Kyle Tucker, the younger brother of Astros OF Preston Tucker, is working his way toward giving Houston a pair of siblings in the outfield. Kyle Tucker, 19, was a first-round draft pick in 2015, and he shined this year in his first full minor league season. In a combined 117 games for low Class A Quad Cities and high Class A Lancaster, he hit .285/.360/.438 with nine homers, 69 RBIs and 32 stolen bases. Kyle Tucker posted a .339 average in 16 games with Lancaster.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
LHP Nate Smith, 25, could earn a place in the Angels’ rotation next year. Though he went 8-9 with a 4.61 ERA at Triple-A Salt Lake, Smith shared third place in the Pacific Coast League with 122 strikeouts while walking only 44 batters in 150 1/3 innings. Scouts thought so little of Smith when he pitched for Furman that he signed for just $12,000 as an eighth-round draft pick in 2013. However, he throws four pitches for strikes, including a solid changeup, and demonstrates superior poise. Scouts view Smith as a fourth or fifth starter.
3B Matt Chapman, a first-round draft pick in 2014, showed off his powerful stroke at Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville this season. He hit 29 home runs and drove in 83 in 117 games with Midland, then hit seven home runs and drove in 13 in 18 games for Nashville. Chapman, 23, is a skilled defensive third baseman with a strong arm. When he gets to Oakland, the A’s could move Ryon Healy from third base to first, his natural position, giving them two young, power hitters on the corners.
OF Tyler O’Neill is probably the best of a pretty thin bunch of Seattle prospects. He hit .293/.374/.508 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs in 130 games for Double-A Jackson this year after slugging 32 homers in 106 games for high Class A Bakersfield in 2015. O’Neill, 21 was a third-round draft pick in 2013 out of Garibaldi Secondary School in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. He might be at least a year away from challenging for a roster spot.
LHP Yohander Mendez could be the homegrown starter the Rangers need for their future rotation. His stint with Texas was limited to two relief appearances and an 18.00 ERA in two outings, but he blazed through three organizations to get the call to the big leagues. Mendez, 21, combined to go 12-3 with a 2.19 ERA in 24 appearances in the minors. He started in high Class A and capped his run through the minors with a 4-1 record and an 0.57 ERA in 31 1/3 innings for Triple-A Round Rock.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
RHP Carson Fulmer might have been rushed to the big leagues before he was ready. Don’t be fooled, though. The 2015 first-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt has a bright future as a possible front-line starter for the White Sox. Fulmer, 22, went 6-10 with a 4.63 ERA in 21 starts between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. He struck out 104 batters in 103 innings. After the White Sox promoted Fulmer in July, he went 0-2 with an 8.49 ERA in eight relief appearances. He will compete for a major league job in spring training.
CF Bradley Zimmer, the Indians’ top draft pick (21st overall) in the 2014 draft, moved another step closer to Cleveland in 2016. The 6-foot-4 left-handed hitter split the season between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. In a combined 468 at-bats, he hit .250/.364/.425 with 25 doubles, 15 home runs, 62 RBIs and 38 stolen bases. Zimmer likely will begin the 2017 season at Columbus, but with the Indians’ outfield in a period of transition, he could play his way into the big leagues at some point during the season.
RHP Matt Manning, a first-round draft pick this year, is a 6-foot-6 son of former NBA player Rich Manning who turned down a college basketball scholarship from Loyola Marymount to sign with the Tigers. Manning, 18, has top-of-the-rotation stuff — fastball, power curve and good feel for a developing changeup. Detroit debuted him in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and limited him to three innings or fewer over his 10 starts. He was 0-2 with a 3.99 ERA and struck out 46 batters in 29 1/3 innings, allowing 27 hits and walking seven.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
RHP Josh Staumont, a 2015 second-round pick, was promoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas at midseason. He went 2-1 with a 3.04 ERA in 11 starts with the Naturals, striking out 73 and walking 37 in 50 1/3 innings. While his fastball routinely hits 100-plus mph, control is a factor, and he walked 104 while striking out 167 in 123 1/3 innings overall. Staumont, a 22-year-old who will pitch in the Arizona Fall League, could be in the majors before the 2017 season ends. While he was primarily a starter last season, he also could become a closer.
LHP Tyler Jay, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 draft out of the University of Illinois, made his way to Double-A Chattanooga in his first full professional season. A college reliever, Jay has been developed as a starter. At high Class A Fort Myers, Jay, 22, had a 2.84 ERA in 13 starts, and he struck out 68 in 69 2/3 innings. In Double-A, he started two of his five games and struggled a bit, posting a 5.79 ERA and nine strikeouts in 14 innings.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
DH/1B Trey Mancini could very well be in the Opening Day lineup next year. He was called up in late September and promptly belted three homers and knocked in five runs in five games. The 24-year-old hit 20 homers and drove in 68 runs combined at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. In 142 minor league games, he batted .282/.357/.458. A former Big East batting champ at Notre Dame, Mancini was an eighth-round draft pick in 2013.
BOSTON RED SOX
INF Yoan Moncada, ranked No. 1 by Baseball America in its midseason prospect evaluations, debuted with a bit of a bang but then turned to mush and didn’t play down the stretch. Moncada, 21, hit a combined .294/.407/.511 with 15 homers, 62 RBIs and 45 stolen bases over 106 games in high Class A and Double-A. With Boston, he batted .211 (4-for-19) with one RBI in eight games. The Red Sox are sending him to the prospect-filled Arizona Fall League for more action.
NEW YORK YANKEES
LF Clint Frazier was the centerpiece of the Andrew Miller trade. The former first-round pick by Cleveland in 2013 was among four players obtained for the left-handed reliever. While RHP Ben Heller was the first of the quartet to make the majors, Frazier is the most highly regarded. Frazier, 22, had his first taste of Triple-A and batted .228 in 25 games. He is expected to begin next season there but could reach the majors at some point.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
SS Willy Adames, 21, moved up to Double-A Montgomery this year and maintained his status as a highly rated prospect. In 132 games, Adames batted .274/.372/.430 with 11 homers, 57 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. The Rays acquired him in the July 2014 deal that sent LHP David Price to the Detroit Tigers, and he missed a portion the 2015 season due to an elbow injury. Adames made the Southern League midseason and postseason All-Star teams this year.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
SS Richard Urena, 20, batted .295/.335/.434 with eight homers and 59 RBIs in 127 games between high Class A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire in 2016. It was his second season as a switch hitter. He is an excellent athlete, and his defense continued to make significant improvement. His errors dropped to 23 in 2016 after he made 40 in 2015. He has the potential to be a regular shortstop in the majors with a strong arm and 15- to 20-homer potential. He is likely to start 2017 at Double-A.