With opening day now just two weeks away, MLB teams are starting to make some notable cuts from their major-league camp.
Among the names catching our eye right now are many of the game’s top prospects. Players like Eloy Jimenez, for example. The exciting Chicago White Sox outfield prospect was deemed not quite ready for the big leagues on Wednesday. He was officially demoted to Chicago’s minor league camp, but his time will certainly come sooner than later.
Jimenez’s demotion answered one big question, but it naturally leads to many more surrounding some of baseball’s other top prospects. Right now, we’ll zero in on five prospects who entered camp with plenty of buzz and legitimate chances to break camp with their big league teams, and examine if that remains true with opening day fast approaching.
Shohei Ohtani — Los Angeles Angels
Ranking: No. 1 (according to MLB Pipeline)
Yeah, we’re putting Ohtani in the discussion. Not because there’s any question about his status in Angels’ camp, but because his performance has raised plenty of doubt elsewhere.
Ohtani’s every move this spring has been covered and analyzed to the nth degree, so there’s plenty of information to digest. Unfortunately, the reports haven’t been as encouraging as fans had hoped. Ohtani has struggled at the plate, hitting .100/.217/.100 through eight games. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan recently noted that some scouts are so underwhelmed by Ohtani’s plate appearances, they believe he’ll need to further develop his offensive game in the minor leagues.
On the pitching side, Ohtani has flashed brilliance but has struggled with consistency. His velocity was down in a “B” game against the Tijuana Toros last week and he was roughed up, allowing six runs in three innings. The Angels obviously aren’t panicking on either front, but it’s enough to make some people wonder if he’s truly ready.
Verdict: He’ll make it. The Angels didn’t sign Ohtani to develop him. They signed Ohtani to make an instant impact. Despite the apparent need for development, the team will give him every chance to figure it out in MLB.
Ronald Acuna — Atlanta Braves
Ranking: No. 2
The 20-year-old outfielder has drawn comparisons to everyone from Mike Trout to Jason Heyward. He backed that up last season by being the best player in minor league baseball. He’s continued backing it up this spring, entering Wednesday slashing .412/.512/.618 while mashing a pair of home runs and stealing four bases. Every day he looks more like a can’t miss prospect with superstar potential.
Verdict: Despite the glowing positives, he’ll have to wait. While there’s no doubt Acuna’s ready to feast on major-league pitching right now, or that he would instantly make the Braves a better team, they’ll want to delay starting his service time clock so they’ll have him under control for an extra year. It’s too bad, but we should see Acuna in the Braves outfield no later than July.
Victor Robles — Washington Nationals
Ranking: No. 6
Like Trea Turner did two seasons ago, Robles should add another dimension to Washington’s lineup when given the opportunity. He possesses a mix of power, speed and defense that would elevate any team he’s on. Even one as talented as Washington. In fact, they liked him enough to include him on the postseason roster last fall. Unfortunately, he’s not having the strongest spring, and the Nationals don’t have a real reason to force him on the roster just yet.
Verdict: He’ll start the season in the minors, but could be an early callup if Washington faces some injuries. The outfield is set right now with Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor and Brian Goodwin, but we know that’s not the most durable group around.
Michael Kopech — Chicago White Sox
Ranking: No. 10
Kopech’s stuff is as electric as anyone we’ve seen from any 21-year-old pitcher, and the truth is he’s probably ready for the opportunity to show his stuff on the big stage. The White Sox are in no hurry to unleash him though. With Dave Duncan coming in as an instructor, we’re guessing he’ll be spending a lot of time with Kopech refining what’s working and tweaking what isn’t so that he’ll be the best possible pitcher when called upon.
Verdict: Back to the minors… for now. His minor league outings have become must-see events over the last two seasons, and that will continue for at least a few more weeks.
J.P. Crawford — Philadelphia Phillies
Ranking: No. 37
The Jake Arrieta signing seemingly confirmed what we already knew about Philadelphia. The future is now after the organization has spent the past few seasons undergoing a complete rebuild. A big part of the future is Crawford, who was select 16th overall out of high school in the 2013 MLB Draft. Crawford got some MLB experience last season, hitting .214/.356/.300 over 70 at-bats. He hasn’t blown anyone away this spring either, hitting .240/.269/.320, but that shouldn’t impact the Phillies plans.
Verdict: He’ll be in the opening day lineup and barring some immense and prolonged struggles should remain there for several years to come.
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