Welcome to another Minor Leauge Roundup. The biggest minor league story of the past week was the promotion of Juan Soto to the Washington Nationals straight from Double-A. This caused many heads to turn due to the unexpectedness of this move.
All About Juan Soto
Juan Soto is currently 19, the youngest player in Major League Baseball, and was signed at age 16 as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic. He was handed a $1.5 million signing bonus, a team record for a Latin player. Soto started playing in the minor league system only two years ago, beginning his career in the Gulf Coast League. In 45 games, triple-slashed .361/.410/.550 with 5 home runs and 25 strikeouts. These stats earned him the Gulf Coast MVP award and a promotion to short season-A for the last few games of the season. He hit .429/.500/.571 in only 6 games. However, the Nationals were confident in his abilities and promoted Soto to Single-A to start the 2017 season.
In Single-A, Soto hit .360 with more walks than strikeouts. He was then struck with injuries: an ankle injury, a broken bone in his hand, and a hamstring injury. After two months on the shelf, he was sent back to rookie ball and hit .370 in just nine games. The Nationals still felt confident in him promoting him to Single-A to start the 2018 season.
In 16 games with Hagerstown, Soto batted .373/.486/.814 with 5 home runs and more walks than strikeouts (sound familiar?). He was quickly promoted to High-A Potomac and continued dominating. Playing against competition more than three and half years older, he slashed .371/.466/.790 with seven home runs and three more walks than strikeouts. Shockingly, he was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg after only 15 games.
In eight games at Double-A, Soto batted .323/.400/.581 with two long balls. Even though he had little experience against top competition, the Nationals gave him the call to the big leagues this past week due to the injuries of many of their major leaguers (they currently have the most players on the DL of any MLB team).
In the majors, Soto has started three games and pinch hit once. His first appearance was a pinch-hit strikeout, discouraging to most Nationals fans. However, the next day, in his first career start, Soto smashed a three-run home run on the first pitch he saw. He has continued to start, getting three runs in three starts games with three walks and three strikeouts. Soto has at least until the end of June to prove his worth as that is when currently-injured Adam Eaton is expected to return.
With the promotion of Juan Soto, the Nationals minor league system is looking much thinner than a few years ago. With only two other prospects in the MLB Pipeline Top 100, the Nats do not have a lot of talent on the horizon. Their top prospect is Victor Robles. Robles was only able to make a small contribution to the Nationals last season, batting .250 in 13 games during a September call-up. He has been limited this season, playing in just four games due to an elbow injury. There is no news on his expected return but he still should be able to contribute to the Nationals at some point this season.
Other than Soto, who is currently # 15 overall according to MLB.com, Carter Kieboom is the Nats only prospect in the top 100. Kieboom is currently playing for High-A Potomac where he is batting .291/.389/.448 with six home runs. He was in a major slump to start the season but over the past month, he is batting .405/.495/.557 with more walks than strikeouts. Kieboom is unlikely to make a contribution at the major league level this season. He could be part of September call-ups next season, but he won’t make a major league appearance for a while.
One other Nationals prospect to watch is Erick Fedde. He is not currently in the Top 100 but has been in years past. Fedde is currently with Triple-A where he has struggled this season with a 4.35 ERA. He was called up for a spot start for the Nationals two days ago where he struggled some more with a 4.76 ERA. Fedde, however, has shown promise, striking out more than a batter an inning both in his MLB start this and his eight games in Triple-A. Fedde will be back up with the big league club sometime this year either for a spot start or for a much longer time if he can finally put everything together.
With top prospects being called up left and right, it is only a matter of time before the Blue Jays promote Vlad Jr. Over the past week, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit .529 with two home runs, showing that Double-A pitching is just not good enough to handle him. With the promotion of Juan Soto straight from Double-A, Vlad Jr. may not be that far behind. The Blue Jays are in a different situation than the Nats; the Nats are a potential playoff team while the Blue Jays have quite a bit of work to do to get back in the race. The other barrier to a potential Guerrero call-up is his defense. Vlad Jr. would be an amazing DH, but the Blue Jays are trying to develop his skills so they do not have a career designated hitter. He may not make the Blue Jays this season, but he will almost certainly be called up to Triple-A by the end of the season.
The next prospect to watch is Eloy Jimenez, who batted .474 with a home run in the last week. This brings his season average to .323 with 8 home runs. Like Vlad, he is destroying Double-A. Jimenez, also like Vlad, will be at least in Triple-A by the end of the season.
At the beginning of the season, Fernando Tatis Jr. was struggling with a season average of .258, but over the last 28 days, he is hitting .320. He is playing in Double-A but due to the fact that the Padres are not contending, he is unlikely to make an impact at the big league level this season.
Francisco Mejia, the top catching prospect in all of baseball, is really struggling; he has just 3 home runs and a terrible .178 average on the season. He is striking out roughly once per game with only 9 walks in 39 games.
Like last week, many of the top pitching prospects are still hurt or struggling. One player who is currently rehabbing is Alex Reyes. He had Tommy John surgery 15 months ago and is about to be a major part of the Cardinals team. In his four rehab starts, he has been flat-out dominant. In his first rehab start, he pitched 3.1 innings allowing 4 hits and striking out 6 batters. He allowed no runs and was then he was moved to Single-A for his next start. There, he pitched 5 innings, earning the win and striking out 12 batters. He only allowed three baserunners with two walks and one hit allowed. After this dominant start, he was promoted to Double-A and pitched 7.2 innings. In his Double-A start, he struck out 13 batters and only allowed four baserunners (three walks and one hit). He pitched once again earlier this week, this time in Triple-A, and threw seven more scoreless innings. He struck out 13 and allowed two base runners. He also had a stretch of nine consecutive strikeouts. Reyes is expected to make his next start on Tuesday in the Majors. It’s unrealistic to expect him to rack up double-digit strikeouts but look for a solid outing.
Promos of the Week
This week’s promotions of the week feature three Game Of Thrones bobbleheads, two other bobbleheads, and a custom jersey. This week must have been Game of Thrones week as three different teams had Game of Thrones bobbleheads. First, the Lansing Lugnuts had a Noah Syndergaard GOT bobblehead. The Erie Seawolves featured a Christin Stewart GOT bobblehead and the Jackson Generals had a Kevin Cron GOT bobblehead. These three bobbleheads are strange, but even stranger was the Potomac Nationals Trea Turner Road Runner bobblehead.
Editor’s note: All stats are up-to-date as of the afternoon 5/25.