We are excited to present our second Hot Prospect list for the 2018 season. While we were tempted to put Shohei Ohtani (ok, we’ll forget about his start this week against the Red Sox), we kept to our roots and only put “true” prospects on the list. Then again, at the time of publication, Tyler O’Neill has just gotten the call, but given his torrid start, we felt compelled to include him.
As we did last week, we included links to our partner Amazon.com to allow you to quickly explore additional information on each player. Just click the baseball card to explore.
Tyler O’Neill (STL, OF) – I thought for sure that we would see Tyler O’Neill in major leagues last season but first the Mariners and then the Cardinals thought differently. After a huge start to the season in Triple-A, he got the call on Wednesday but the game was rained out. He’s got double-plus raw power but contact could be a problem.
Josh Naylor (SD, 1B) – I’ve never been the biggest fan of Josh Naylor, but to say he’s gotten off to a strong start in Double-AA this season is an understatement. He’s up to six home runs while getting on base at nearly a 50% clip. He’s a big boy but has never shown a lot of in-game power. So far this year, that has changed. Also, despite his size, he moves well on the basepaths so there could be a handful of stolen bases as well. He’s totally blocked in San Diego at first, so the Padres have had him play left field to give him more opportunities to break into the big leagues.
Oscar Mercado (STL, OF) – Oscar Mercado is a player that continues to fly under the radar. He has plus speed and can really hit. He’s aggressive at the plate but his ability to make contact should help diffuse some of that aggressiveness. He’s off to a very hot start to begin the 2018 season, hitting over .400 with five stolen bases.
Juan Soto (WAS, OF) – Juan Soto makes a return appearance to this list as he continues to rake. While he’s only 19, the Nationals might want to consider a promotion to High-A sooner rather than later. He’s up to four home runs with over a 50% OBP.
Corey Ray (MIL, OF) – I saw Corey Ray last fall in the Arizona Fall League and left less than impressed. He was late on everything. You could see the athleticism and why Milwaukee drafted him as the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft. After hitting .241 last year in High-A with a .685 OPS, he’s played much better in his promotion to Double-A. He’s hitting over .350 for the season with five stolen bases. The strikeouts though are still a problem. If he learns to control the strike zone, he could be a star. If he doesn’t, he’s likely a fourth outfielder.
Alex Verdugo (LAD, OF) – Alex Verdugo has shown flashes of an elite hit-tool but many were concerned if the power we had talked about would ever develop. While it’s only been nine games, the three bombs he’s hit to-date along with a .622 SLG should give you a glimpse of what is possible. I don’t believe he will develop into a true power hitter, but I still believe he has 20 home run potential. The Dodgers are struggling and if Verdugo can help, I don’t think they will hesitate to promote him.
Yordan Alvarez (HOU, OF) – Sometimes players make this list for more subtle reasons. While Yordan Alvarez is having a good start to the season, his .286 batting average in the early going is not eye-popping. However, the Astros have moved him to the outfield and he’s also stealing bases while continuing to show a great approach at the plate. He might be the best prospect that nobody is talking about.
Jesus Luzardo (OAK, LHP) – One of my favorite pitchers to break out this year was 20-year-old lefty Jesus Luzardo. In the difficult California League, he has dominated in three starts. In 14.2 innings, he has struck out 25 while walking five. It’s a combination of solid stuff and excellent control. While he’s likely to have some bumps in the road once he pitches in the southern part of the Cali League, he should finish the second half in Double-A with a chance to see Oakland in 2019.
Luis Ortiz (MIL, RHP) – Drafted in the first round back in 2014 by the Texas Rangers, right-hander Luis Ortiz has put together a terrific start to the 2018 season. With a fastball that touches the mid-90’s and a plus slider, he has the basis for a solid number three starter or as a high-leverage reliever in the big leagues.
Shane Bieber (CLE, RHP) – I’m not sure what is more impressive in Shane Bieber’s start to the 2018 season. The fact that he has yet to give up an earned run in three starts or whether he has yet to walk anyone. Given he’s only walked 12 batters in his 217.1 innings in the minor leagues – yes, that’s a 1 followed by a 2, let’s go with him not yet yielding a run as the most impressive. He doesn’t have elite stuff, but I’m not sure we’ve seen this level of control in a long-time, so the package just might work.