Taylor Trammell was given an early heads up he had made the Seattle Mariners Opening Day roster, but for a trio of top prospects they had to wait until the last few days before hand to learn their first big league experience would come on Opening Day.
For the Cincinnati Reds, they roll out an Opening Day lineup of three third basemen, with stud prospect Jonathan India hitting seventh and playing second base, a position he has all of five games of pro ball under his belt playing. The Florida Gator prospect has plenty of athleticism though and should be able to hold down the position just fine despite having significantly more arm strength than needed at the keystone position. He is a bat first guy with plenty of pop that will likely move up in an underrated lineup. He could be a guy that flirts with the ROY this season.
Also batting seventh in his MLB debut is Kyle Isbel in the regular season battle of Surprise Stadium, the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers spring complex. Isbel is debuting in right field despite having an average arm at best, but there is a shot he settles in as the center fielder given he has plus wheels and quality instincts that should be enough to stick up the middle. He was a third round pick in 2018 out of UNLV that saw the Royals add Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and Daniel Lynch in the first round, but a scout with the Royals at the time told me there were people in the organization who felt it was Isbel who would turn out to be their best selection in that draft.
The Chicago White Sox get the late start on Opening Day, but the most anticipated debut will come in that game as Andrew Vaughn has made the roster and is expected to get the start at first base (although it could be DH with Jose Abreu at first). Vaughn was arguably the best player in the country in 2019 despite Adley Rutschman going first overall and Bobby Witt Jr. going second, but the White Sox were thrilled to get Vaughn with the third pick. There was no argument as to who was the best pure hitter that year, as Vaughn was far and away the top of that list, and he has incredible power to go with it. He is not the typical slugger of this generation that will be massive power and massive strikeouts, instead he is a guy that can hit over .300 and put the ball in play most his trips to the plate. Defensively he is not going to wow anyone, but the bat will more than make up for any defensive issues that arise.
Luis Robert signed a six-year, $50M contract this offseason, locking him into the Opening Day roster. He creates an outfield of the future for the Chicago White Sox of Eloy Jimenez, Robert, and recently acquired Nomar Mazara (who opens the season on the IL).
Robert brings a rare combination of speed and power that saw him top 30 doubles, home runs, and steals a season ago, something MLB.com points out hasn’t happened in the minors since 1961. He was nearly a consensus top five prospect in all of baseball, and he will get the opportunity to show why when he bats seventh in the White Sox opener.
He has plus speed and very good defensive instincts that will allow him to stick in center, but a cannon of an arm that would be more than enough to hold down right. At the plate he hit a career .314 when still in Cuba and a teenager, and has hit nearly as well, .312, in his minor league career. He has an OPS of .932 in the minors, including over 1 over three levels a season ago.
Robert has all the makings of a future star and multi-time All-Star, but there is still plenty of refinement needed. While the ball absolutely flies off his bat, he has struck out nearly four times to every walk, and nearly six times a season ago, so there is plenty of room for improvement in his plate discipline. 11 of his career 18 caught stealing came a season ago, again pointing to the fact there is refinement to be made in the baserunning department.
He will certainly have an impact with the White Sox this season and is the favorite to be named Rookie of the Year, but it is the seasons to come that should have Sox fans truly excited.
There are plenty of big signing going down at the Winter Meetings in San Diego, but plenty of quality trades taking place as well. The latest, Nomar Mazara headed to the South Side to play for the Chicago White Sox in exchange for outfield prospect Steele Walker.
In the 2018 draft Oklahoma had two highly touted outfield prospects and there was some debate on who would be the better pro. I was on the Steele Walker side of the argument as I felt he was a more polished baseball player, and there was a guarantee he would stick with baseball. That other outfielder no longer plays baseball because he is busy on Sunday’s quarterbacking the Arizona Cardinals, Kyler Murray.
The best tool for Walker is one that is tough to teach, and that is pitch recognition. He demonstrates a plus aye at the plate that has allowed for an OBP better than 70 points higher than his batting average. He has a low stride that allows him to keep his balance well and adjust to off-speed. The hands are quick allowing the bat speed to translate to at least average power.
He is a quality athlete but is no burner, however he has quality instincts that allow him to play a serviceable center field, although left is a better fit. Don’t give up on the idea of him staying in center though, as plenty within the organization are confident he will be able to stick there long term.
In the end, I see him as a fringe-average everyday outfielder or a high-quality number four that can hold his own at all three spots, although the arm is really his lone below average tool. He has the upside of a .275 hitter with 15-20 home run power that provides quality ABs near the bottom of a lineup.
Before I even got this posted Alex Reyes exhausted his rookie eligibility (needed a single out to do so and pitched an inning on Friday) so I updated my top 150 before it went live. Reyes was at 22 but is now removed making room for Ryan Weathers, giving the Padres two more than any other team with 12 players making the top 150. 15 players on the list open the season in the big leagues, with 14 of those in the top 80 and the Padres and Mariners both starting with two players in the big leagues.