It’s back to the drawing board for Christopher Crawford.
It seems every time my Rotoworld colleague anoints a new top prospect in his weekly rankings (here’s this week’s edition if you missed it), inevitably, that player is immediately summoned to the big leagues. The Sports Illustrated curse has met its polar opposite. Everything our resident prospect guru touches turns to gold.
Needless to say, baseball’s prospect throne has seen plenty of turnover in the past month. In that span, we’ve seen the torch passed from beefy Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to Reds standout Nick Senzel all the way to its current holder, former third overall pick Brendan Rodgers. But now the time has come for Rodgers to yield his crown to the next rising star in baseball’s seemingly endless well of young talent. The 22-year-old’s imminent promotion is well-deserved. The stud shortstop has obliterated the Pacific Coast League this season, compiling a phenomenal .356/.421/.644 batting line with nine jacks and 21 RBI for Colorado’s Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque. Colorado’s rebranding has been in the works for a while with homegrown products David Dahl, Trevor Story and Ryan McMahon already emerging as big-league staples, but now the crown jewel of the Rockies’ youth movement has finally arrived.
Friday represents an exciting day in Rockies baseball, though Rodgers’ much-anticipated unveiling could be an indicator that Story’s bruised knee isn’t up to snuff. The 26-year-old's outfield collision with Raimel Tapia spelled an early end to his night Wednesday versus Boston and while the one-time All-Star has so far dismissed his injury as a minor inconvenience, the arrival of the organization’s top shortstop prospect a mere 48 hours after his tumble would suggest otherwise. But if Story is correct in his own injury assessment, perhaps the Rockies are counting on Rodgers to man second base, a position that has been a revolving door for Colorado since DJ LeMahieu defected to the Yankees in free agency. Rodgers is a shortstop by nature but he’s no stranger to the pivot—the Florida native has made 83 appearances at second in the minors including 25 this year.
If Rodgers’ position change takes hold, it would further a fascinating movement that has been bubbling under the surface for quite some time. As analytics have grown more prevalent, baseball has evolved steadily over the last decade with virtually all teams employing infield shifts and many of the league’s 30 clubs now experimenting with openers. Making an appearance on Thursday’s edition of MLB Now, veteran Rays beat writer Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times presented a novel concept, suggesting a position-less future for the sport with interchangeable hybrid players spread all across the diamond.
It’s not as farfetched as it seems. In an effort to fast-track up-and-comers, we’ve seen teams become increasingly creative in their methods, often employing players at positions completely separate from the ones they grew up playing. Mookie Betts got his start as a second baseman. Josh Donaldson arrived in the big leagues as a catcher. Nick Senzel, an infielder throughout his minor-league tenure, has settled in as the Reds’ everyday center-fielder.
Obviously, exceptions apply—good luck slotting Vlad Jr. in at center field. But in principle, positional flexibility can be an extremely valuable trait. Instead of being boxed out by incumbents, players can reach the big leagues sooner by filling positions of need. It’s the best of both worlds—the Rockies will reap the rewards of Rodgers’ potent bat while also plugging up a DJ LeMahieu-sized hole at second base. And best of all, they won’t have to choose between Story and Rodgers. Finally, the Rockies can have their cake and eat it too.
The prospect train has certainly left the station with Rodgers joining the likes of Vlad Jr., Senzel, Michael Chavis, Keston Hiura and Austin Riley among the next wave of young talent to reach the show. Chavis has been a revelation for Boston, filling in admirably at second base (a position he scarcely played in the minors) for absentee veteran Dustin Pedroia. The 23-year-old trumped the Rockies with a walk-off single in his last appearance Wednesday night, perhaps inspiring Colorado to explore the depths of their own ample farm system to promote Rodgers. Without Chavis’ heroics, the surging Sox might be even further back in the AL East, especially after laying a supreme egg in April.
Rodgers should be a hot commodity on the fantasy circuit—his ownership stake has already skyrocketed to 32 percent in Yahoo leagues—but if you’re looking for an immediate boost, there’s never been a better time to invest in Austin Riley. Called up to fill the void left by hobbled outfielder Ender Inciarte in Atlanta, the 22-year-old has done nothing but rake since debuting this week, supplying four hits in seven trips to the dish including a whale of a home run in Wednesday’s win over St. Louis (Statcast measured that bomb at a towering 438 feet).
Riley nearly did the deed again Thursday night, but didn’t quite have the height. Instead he settled for a double, marking the first of his three hits Thursday as the Braves steamrolled the visiting Cardinals by a decisive 10-2 margin. Before the sample size police chime in, note that Riley was leading the International League in both home runs (15) and RBI (39) at the time of his call-up. Riley won’t hit .571 (his average through two major league appearances) forever, but his power is as real as it gets.
Not long ago, teams would intentionally bury players in the minors to manipulate their service time and while that mode of thinking probably still exists on some level, it’s been refreshing to see Chris’ prospect ranks blown to bits each week with new stars like Riley and Rodgers arriving in the majors. Prospect-palooza is here and all of us have front-row seats.
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AL Quick Hits: Mallex Smith rejoined the Mariners Thursday following a brief minor-league demotion. The speedy outfielder had an eventful return, belting his second home run of the year while also committing an error in center field (his third) in Seattle’s loss to the AL-leading Twins. Dee Gordon also returned to the starting lineup Thursday after missing the previous week with a wrist injury he suffered on a hit-by-pitch (which he was none too thrilled about). On the other side of the diamond, Minnesota’s Miguel Sano went 1-for-4 with a double in his season debut. It took the third baseman about four months to recover from a heel injury he suffered while playing Winter Ball in the Dominican Republic. … The slumping Jays shook things up Thursday by optioning outfielder Teoscar Hernandez to Triple-A Buffalo. The Toronto outfielder swung a hot bat in Florida this spring (.314, 2 HR, 9 RBI over 51 Grapefruit League at-bats) but wasn’t able to keep it up in the regular season, faltering to a .189 average with 42 strikeouts in 127 at-bats before his demotion. … Oft-injured Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia will resume his minor-league rehab Friday with Triple-A Pawtucket. Knee woes have limited the former MVP to just nine games over the past two seasons. … If baseball were presented in a Venn diagram, you’d find the Orioles at the intersection of whimsy and complete ineptitude. Enjoy this masterpiece of incompetence from Thursday’s lopsided loss to Cleveland.
NL Quick Hits: Christian Yelich continued his early onslaught with a pair of home runs Thursday as the Brewers laid waste to the Phillies in an 11-3 rout. Zach Davies pitched a gem in that one, keeping his MLB-leading ERA at a stingy 1.54. … Stephen A. Smith wasn’t the only one having a bad day. Not only did the Mets fall to the Nationals Thursday, but two of their most productive hitters, Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil exited with injuries. McNeil bowed out with abdominal tightness while Conforto was diagnosed with a concussion after colliding with teammate Robinson Cano in the fifth inning. Carlos Gomez was pulled from Thursday’s game at Triple-A Syracuse, a sign he could be heading to the big leagues to replace Conforto. … From the glass-half-full department, Steven Matz will return to the Mets’ rotation Saturday against Miami. Radial nerve discomfort kept the left-hander out for about two weeks. … Zack Greinke will undergo an MRI Friday after exiting Wednesday’s start with abdominal tightness. The former Cy Young winner is tied for the National League lead with six wins this season. … Anibal Sanchez was placed on the injured list after straining his left hamstring Thursday against the Mets. Erick Fedde, who logged 2 2/3 innings after Sanchez exited, could be in line to take the right-hander’s spot in the starting rotation. … Trea Turner is nearing a return and could be activated from the injured list as early as Friday. A broken right index finger has sidelined the shortstop since early April. … Kenta Maeda will reportedly head to the injured list, a surprising development after he starred with 12 strikeouts over 6 2/3 shutout innings in Wednesday’s victory over the Padres. Supposedly Maeda was injured after fouling a ball off his thigh in that game, though it’s equally plausible the Dodgers invented a “phantom” injury to afford the right-hander an extended rest. … Trevor Williams lasted just 3 2/3 innings before right side discomfort brought an early end to his evening Thursday against the Padres. Despite a low strikeout rate, the 27-year-old has remained a useful fantasy presence by virtue of his elite 3.33 ERA. … Anthony Rizzo took batting practice prior to Thursday night’s contest and is on track to return this weekend after missing the past four games due to back stiffness. The Cubs first baseman has clubbed 10 homers to go with a team-leading 29 RBI this season. … Carlos Martinez (shoulder) got the all clear from doctors Thursday and is slated to return Saturday versus Texas. The Cardinals right-hander delivered a tidy 1.35 ERA over five rehab appearances for Low-A Peoria, Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis. He’ll work out of the pen, at least initially.