I didn’t want to do it, but I just had to. Vlad Guerrero Jr. makes our list. It’s been just ridiculous for the 19-year-old. Let me repeat…he’s 19. He walks more than he’s striking out, he’s hitting everything in sight and with power. How long will it be? Well, nobody knows, but my colleague Tim McLeod decided not to partake in the Juan Soto sweepstakes last week and put a small bet instead on Vlad Jr. I thought it was a brilliant move that could very well pay dividends this year. Hint…it’s time to invest.
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Vlad Guerrero Jr. (TOR, 3B) – Vlad Guerrero is slashing .425/.479/.694 as a 19-year-old in Double-A. He’s only struck out 18 times in 41 games while walking 17 times. He’s the best player in the minor leagues and if it weren’t for my lack of creative ways to write about him, would likely appear on this list each and every week. When does he arrive in the major leagues? I’m not sure, but the Super-2 date passes in about a month and that feels like the right time.
Jo Adell (LAA, OF) – Jo Adell lasted all of 24 games in Low-A, but after posting a .979 OPS the Angels had seen enough and promoted him two days ago to Inland Empire of the California League. He’s only 19 and a young 19 at that, he still needs some work on developing a solid approach at the plate. However, his combination of speed and power is very intriguing with a potential impact player profile at the highest level.
Daulton Varsho (ARI, C) – When a catcher steals 11 bases in the first six weeks of the year, it gets your attention. Arizona catcher Daulton Varsho has done just that. He can hit with a little bit of pop and obviously good speed, particularly for a catcher. The problem is he might not be a catcher long-term as he has an average arm at best. However, he is athletic enough to move to the outfield or even second base.
Kevin Smith (TOR, SS) – The Blue Jays drafted Kevin Smith last year in the fourth round and he’s had little trouble with Low-A. In 41 games, he’s posted a 1.081 OPS with seven home runs and 10 stolen bases. As a highly drafted college player, it’s reasonable to expect him to move through the level quickly. However, he came in with an average at best hit tool showing poor contact and an aggressive approach. So far, he seems to have corrected that. If it’s sustainable, the Jays might have found a gem.
Oscar Mercado (STL, OF) – Oscar Mercado makes a repeat appearance on our Hot Prospect list by going 15 for 24 over the past week. For the year, he’s hitting .329 with a .491 SLG, six home runs and 10 stolen bases. If that line feels a little like Tommy Pham, you’re thinking what I am. The problem of course is he’s blocked by a plethora of outfielders in St. Louis. However, if he continues to hit, he’ll get the chance to play.
Jeter Downs (CIN, SS) – The Reds drafted Jeter Downs last year in the first round and at 19-years-old, he has more than held his own over the first six weeks of the season. He’s shown plenty of speed, stealing 14 of 17 bases while belting six home runs; three over the past week. If it all comes together, he could be a dynamic top-of-the-lineup bat in three to four years.
MJ Melendez (KC, C) – MJ Melendez, the Kansas City young catcher, had a terrific week going 10 for 27 with three homes in Low-A. He’s already a fairly advanced backstop who has good power but currently needs to work on controlling the strike zone. In 138 plate appearances, he has a 31% strikeout rate while only walking 10 times.
Michael Kopech (CHW, RHP) – Since we included Vlad Jr. in the list, I decided to remind everyone that Michael Kopech, one of the best pitchers left in the minor leagues is also having a terrific season. His stuff was on display last week when he pitched seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts and two walks against Columbus. He followed that up with a solid outing against Norfolk yesterday. He still walks too many but has elite stuff with an upper nineties fastball and a slider that is his primary swing and miss pitch. The change-up is still not there and with below-average control, he still could profile as a reliever. But, he’s an exciting arm that should see Chicago sometime in the second half.
Jonathan Loaisiga (NYY, RHP) – Everywhere you turn, the Yankees seem to have a hard-throwing pitcher that is moving through their system quickly. Jonathan Loaisiga is the latest. He started the year off in High-A and after dominating in four starts (26K/1BB), he was promoted to Double-A where he’s had little trouble. In three starts, he has pitched to a 2.08 ERA with 14 strikeouts and three walks. He has a nice three pitch mix with a fastball that can touch the upper nineties and a nice curveball that looks like he has finally harnessed this year. He is 23 already with TJ surgery on the books, but he is a kid that bears attention.
Jonathan Hernandez (Tex, RHP) – Jonathan Hernandez has been quietly having a terrific start to the 2018 season. In seven starts, he’s struck out 51 while walking 15. In his last two starts, he did not give up a hit; striking out 10 in his start on the 23rd in only six innings. He’s shown better control than he has in the past, but given his violent delivery, he’ll likely never have plus control. However, he has really good stuff with a nice fastball/slider combination.