Plenty of teams are looking throughout their organization for a spark to their lineups. Plenty of prospects are showing great production with a month gone in the minor league season. Other prospects have high ceilings and have hit a rough patch such as Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Oneil Cruz. Other prospects might be blocked at the higher levels but still deserve a chance because their parent organization is struggling such as Alek Thomas and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Below we will go over who deserves a shot in the major leagues during the month of May, their production, and a path forward towards the major leagues.
Oneil Cruz – Pittsburgh Pirates – Shortstop
Oneil Cruz is a monster at six foot seven inches while playing shortstop. In fact, it is basically unheard of. Since 2019, Cruz has regularly been ranked as a Top 100 prospect amongst all major prospect ranking organizations. This year, Baseball America ranked Cruz as the number 14 prospect in all of baseball due in part to a stellar 2021 in which Cruz saw three different levels of professional baseball (AA, AAA, and a small taste of the majors). In 301 plate appearances between Double and Triple-A Cruz slashed an impressive .310/.375/.970 in leagues where most players are two years older than him and five years older than him, respectively. Cruz has elite raw power as showcased by his 17 homeruns, 16 doubles, and five triples in 2022. Again, that is 17 homeruns in 300 plate appearances. If Cruz were to play in most games in a full season, his 17 homeruns would equate to 30+ homerun power.
Cruz is not blocked at the major league level with Kevin Newman currently on the injured list. Cole Tucker, filling in for Newman, is just a bench player. The only thing blocking Cruz from getting back to the major leagues is himself. Over 99 plate appearances this year, Cruz has been unimpressive at the plate. A pedestrian .163/.273/.552 slash line is concerning not only for Cruz’s production but for this young man’s mental health. It is a great test of his mental resolve to see if he can get through this rough patch and allow his talent to shine through.
Part of the issue at the plate for Cruz is that the balls are just not falling where they used to. His 2022 BAPIP of .241 is way below his previous career averages, which, at the lowest, was .323 in 2017. Another concern is his 30 strikeouts and 12 walks thus far. This shows Cruz is having trouble recognizing and deciding on action on pitches. He might be confused or in his head too much at the plate.
Despite this, Cruz could easily break out of his slump and show the elite raw power he has continually shown over the last six seasons.
Tristan Casas – Boston Red Sox – First Base
With the Red Sox struggling offensively, a spark is all they need to turn their season around. That spark could be Tristan Casas. Casas, drafted in the first round in 2018 by the Red Sox, has the bat to play in the majors. The 22-year-old first basemen is known for his above average power. However, his value comes from his eye and plate discipline. Through 117 plate appearances in 2022, Casas has tallied 17 walks compared to 27 strikeouts; a solid rate for a power hitting first basemen. He has seven doubles to go with five homeruns on the year. Like Cruz, Casas is playing against opponents almost four years his senior. Unlike Cruz, Casas is obviously holding his own at the plate and Boston could be in his future.
Franchy Cordero is currently getting the lions share of starts at first base with Bobby Dalbec backing him up when needed. Cordero, however, still has one option left, if the Red Sox brass need to utilize it. Dalbec also has options left and has struggled mightily at the plate to the tune of .143/.230/.451. If the Red Sox brass are frustrated, then optioning Dalbec to Triple-A in a swap for top prospect Tristan Casas is the answer.
Alek Thomas – Arizona Diamondbacks – Outfield
Former second round pick Alek Thomas is primed to get his first taste of the majors in 2022. Drafted out of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, Illinois, Thomas has impressed since day one. In four professional seasons, Thomas holds a slash line of .309/.386/.881 across all levels including and up to Triple-A. In 2021, he showed an increase in power after only hitting eight homeruns in all of 2020. Thomas increased his home run production to 18 across two different levels adding 12 triples and 29 doubles.
Thomas is young and in Triple-A he is almost five years younger than his opponents which makes his production more impressive. Throughout his career, he has mostly played centerfield (230 games) with some left (36 games) and right (30 games) mixed in.
At the major league level, Thomas is blocked by Pavin Smith (.274/.372/.452), Daulton Varsho (.245/.330/.809), and David Peralta. We know Peralta probably is not going anywhere so the question becomes; is Thomas an upgrade over Varsho and/or Smith? With the Diamondbacks playing .500 ball, it could be time for a spark in the lineup like the other teams mentioned above. Daulton Varsho has proven who he is over the past three seasons with the Diamondbacks. Varsho will max out as a .240/.300/.700 hitter while adding some power for the Diamondbacks (11 homeruns in 315 plate appearances in 2021).
It is worth it to give Thomas two months at the major league level, in center field, to see what he can do with the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks are in last place in the NL West and in a big hole considering their divisional opponents. It is the perfect opportunity for the organization to see if their investment in Alek Thomas will pan out.
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