Just when we think we have seen the best prospects MLB has to offer, I remind myself there are additional talented players on the way. The pipeline of great athletes seems to keep on coming.
This year Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, who are two of the finest power hitters to come along since well, since buddies Kris Bryant and Joey Gallo arrived on the scene have thrilled us.
But Bellinger and Judge just set the table for Rafael Devers, a terrific left-handed hitter capable of taking the ball out of any park against the highest quality pitching. Devers may still be learning how to play major-league quality defense, but there is no question about his bat. The ball makes that “special sound” coming off his bat.
The White Sox have cleared their big-league decks and have started to play some of their younger prospects. Among the new crop of everyday White Sox players is Yoan Moncada, a line-drive machine capable of busting open a game with one swing of his lightning quick bat. Like Devers, Moncada is an “offense first” type player. But the offense both Devers and Moncada bring can help carry a team for years to come.
From an offensive standpoint, we probably haven’t seen everything the prospect queue has lined up for us. Just wait. I really think the Arizona Fall League may be loaded with even more top prospects that continue to put teams on their backs and help carry them to the next level.
Some guys are still too young to be considered for the Fall League. Or, perhaps their team wants to put them on the fast-track and move them along quickly. Some of the guys still in minor league development really excite me.
Here are just a few-three guys that really make me sit up in my seat.
VLADIMIR GUERRERO JR.-BLUE JAYS (18 years old)
Some of you may remember nine-time All-Star Vladimir Guerrero, one of the greatest “bad ball” hitters I’ve had the privilege of watching play. Guerrero could thrive on driving a pitch over his head to the wall in left center or right center field. His hands were so quick through the ball that he could generate backspin with relative ease. Guerrero didn’t strike out that much, and his contact rate meant something was going to happen every time he had a bat in his hands. Guerrero finished his 16-year career with a .318 lifetime batting average. He hit 449 homers in 9059 plate appearances. He struck out only 985 times, his highest season being his age 23 year when he struck out 98 times playing for the Montreal Expos.
Now, along comes Vladimir Junior. Physically he is not a carbon copy of his talented father. Senior is 6-foot-3, 235 pounds. Junior is 6-foot-1, 200 pounds.
Vlad Guerrero Jr. plays third base. Vlad Guerrero Sr. was a right fielder with an absolute cannon for an arm.
The greatest difference I have seen between father and son is in plate discipline and aggressiveness at the plate. Father would swing at any pitch anywhere in the zone at any count. Son is more patient, selecting pitches he can drive and looking to extend his arms over the plate from the right-handed batter’s box.
The similarities between father and son come with the barrel of the bat damage they do. Both hitters can drive the ball with incredibly quick hands and powerful arms. Both are capable of using the entire field. Recognizing pitches quickly, both Guerrero’s make extremely strong contact and punish the baseball. They have similar eye-hand coordination and tremendous bat control.
Defensively, it is likely that the younger Guerrero will not have the agility and first-step quickness of his father. He started as an outfielder but he has moved to third base in the Blue Jays system.
Still maturing physically and emotionally, once his development is complete Guerrero Jr. may be one of the most exciting players in baseball. When I saw him at the 2017 Futures Game in Miami he looked like a potential star in the making. Everything about his offensive game looked advanced.
It may be very tempting for the Blue Jays to push him quickly through their organizational development program. That could be understandable due to his baseball acumen, his family background and his advanced tools.
For me, the sky is the limit for Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. He may become a consistent All-Star, being on the roster at the All-Star Game year in and year out like his future Hall of Fame father.
NICK SENZEL-CINCINNATI REDS (age 22)
I can’t help but wonder what right-handed hitting Nick Senzel will be able to accomplish in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. It just seems that long fly balls have a way of landing over the park’s fences. Given the right pitch, most major-league hitters are capable of reaching the seats at Great American. Some get there with little effort. Eventually, Senzel could become a household name associated with very high annual home run numbers.
Senzel isn’t huge by today’s baseball player standards. He’s “only” 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. But man, is he strong. His upper body generates tremendous raw power.
A former 1st round 2016 pick out of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville Senzel is only in his second year as a professional. But this season he has already played at Class-A Advanced Daytona and Double-A Pensacola. He’s moving nicely in the Reds system.
Senzel’s value as a future All-Star is enhanced because of his capability as an improving third baseman with a very strong arm. He is far from a liability on defense.
Last year as a rookie, Senzel hit .305 in his 290 plate appearances. He hit 24 doubles, three triples and seven home runs. This year he is continuing his good batting average and his power output has increased.
The offensive side of the Cincinnati Reds will get a huge power jolt once Senzel is deemed ready for “prime time.” He’s going to be great fun to watch.
KYLE TUCKER-HOUSTON ASTROS (age 20)
Very long and very lean, left-handed hitting Kyle Tucker has tremendous wrist and forearm generated power. He doesn’t look like a big, hulking power hitter in the mold of an Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton. He’s built much more along the lines of Cody Bellinger. Bellinger is three inches taller than Senzel. Like Bellinger, Tucker appears to be a pull-hitting machine with power to clear the wall or fence in any park.
Both Bellinger and Tucker have uppercut swings that generate loft. Both have hit towering home runs as well as line drives that leave the park in a flash.
As of this writing Tucker has hit 20 home runs for Class-A Advanced Buies Creek and Double-A Corpus Christi in the Astros system. He has 73 RBIs. Of special interest to me are his 20 stolen bases in 29 attempts.
Tucker is not only a powerful left-handed hitter, he is a powerful left-handed hitter with speed. And his batting average hovers around the .300 mark.
The Astros have had a tremendous season. They were getting used to winning as the trade deadline approached. Analysts like myself questioned the lack of action by the Astros at the trade deadline. Didn’t they want to increase the depth of their starting pitching staff? Were the injuries they faced with Lance McCullers Jr., Charlie Morton, Collin McHugh and especially club ace Dallas Keuchel not enough of a warning sign for them to make a significant move to acquire a pitcher like Jose Quintana, Sonny Gray or Yu Darvish? Wouldn’t any of those three help cement their position going into the playoffs? Doesn’t it take three solid pitchers to defeat playoff bound teams in the postseason?
The Astros management staff led by general manager Jeff Luhnow decided to stand pat. No trades. Perhaps they didn’t like the cost in players to get the additional pitcher they needed then and still need now. What does that say about top prospects Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker?
Fisher is now playing with the parent team. Tucker awaits his most important phone call or discussion with his manager telling him to pack his bags for the major leagues.
For this analyst, Luhnow’s lack of action at the trade deadline was all I needed to know to stabilize my own position on Fisher and Tucker. They are among the building blocks of the future.
To date, the Astros have decided to play with the roster they currently have in place. There may be a tweak or two in the coming weeks, but it is likely Fisher and Tucker remain firmly in line as part of the Astros present/and or future.
Tucker is an exciting player to watch. His effortless approach makes playing baseball look easy. Fans are going to love watching his majestic home runs juice the scores at Minute Maid Park.
A friend told me that visiting Cuba was one of the most important things he had done in his life. Like me, he told me that our 2017 trip to Cuba was an amazing life-enriching week in our lives.
Another friend told me he is going on this year’s trip to Cuba because he wants to do “something for himself.” That isn’t being selfish, because my friend is first and foremost a “person for others.” He realistically realized the opportunity to experience Cuba on our January 19-26 2018 tour was a first-class way to see the fantastic island at a reasonable and fair price.
I urge you to give yourself or someone you care about a great holiday gift. Come to Cuba and hang out with some great people.
If you want information about our educational trip, contact me via my email at BPleskoff@aol.com.
Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff