We're barely a week into the season, and already, we've seen Grayson Rodriguez get the call. Now, it sounds like another consensus top-10 prospect is on his way:
Omar Narváez will go on the injured list with a mid/high-grade strain of his left calf, Mets say.— Will Sammon (@WillSammon) April 6, 2023
A typical return to play for this type of injury is 8-9 weeks, per the club.
If Francisco Alvarez is indeed called up to replace Omar Narvaez as expected, it wouldn't be his big-league debut. He got 12 at-bats down the stretch last year, appearing mostly as a DH. It's his defense that kept him out of the running for a job this spring, and of course, he hasn't gotten much time to work on it at Triple-A this year.
So kind of role would he play if he does get the call? Is it just an emergency play with him being the only other catcher on the 40-man roster, or is there a chance he never looks back? More to the point, where does his impending arrival place him in my ...
Five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Francisco Alvarez, C, Mets
2022 minors: .260 BA (411 AB), 27 HR, .885 OPS, 70 BB, 123 K
2023 minors: .250 BA (16 AB), 2 HR, 1 2B, 1 SB, 3 BB, 8 K
I initially had Alvarez third on this list, but now that we know Narvaez's injury will cost him 8-9 weeks, Alvarez leaps to the top spot. It's true he's not actually catcher-eligible on all platforms because of how the Mets used him last year, and if they hold to their preseason claim of him not being MLB-ready behind the plate, it's possible he's only a backup there while getting most of his at-bats at DH. The case for Alvarez is a little easier in CBS Sports leagues, where he's already catcher-eligible. Certainly, if he's up for the next 8-9 weeks, the Mets won't let him just waste away on the bench, and it doesn't matter where he's actually getting his at-bats if you can slot him in at catcher.
The demand for a catcher who can actually hit isn't nearly as high as in years past. The position looked strong coming in and has only gotten stronger with Travis d'Arnaud and Logan O'Hoppe. But Alvarez's power potential at the position might beat everyone other than Salvador Perez. I'm slotting him 13th to start out, which puts him in play for one-catcher leagues and makes him a must for two-catcher leagues.
Sal Frelick, OF, Brewers
2022 minors: .331 BA (492 AB), 11 HR, 24 SB, .883 OPS, 52 BB, 63 K
2023 minors: .188 BA (16 AB), 1 3B, 2 SB, 3 BB, 2 K
I had Frelick No. 1 in my Joey Wiemer ahead of him in the pecking order, just as they did Garrett Mitchell last year, and as much as I'm in on Wiemer and Mitchell, both of those choices surprised me. Between his plus-plus contact bat and easy base-stealing ability, Frelick seems about as safe as prospects get. It's true his modest power limits his upside, but I don't think anyone would pass up the chance at a superior Steven Kwan. Particularly in deeper five-outfielder leagues, where you're more likely to stash a prospect anyway, Frelick will meet a crucial need when he indeed gets the call.a couple weeks ago, and he's still more or less there. It's clear now the Brewers had
Brett Baty, 3B, Mets
2022 minors: .315 BA (362 AB), 19 HR, .943 OPS, 49 BB, 104 K
2023 minors: .400 BA (15 AB), 2 HR, 1 2B, 2 SB, 2 BB, 4 K
Baty's spring performance could have earned him a spot on the Opening Day roster -- and right until the end, some on the Mets beat were predicting that it would -- but ultimately, the team decided there was more to see from Eduardo Escobar, who ended 2022 on a particularly high note. Escobar's 2-for-20 start, though, probably has the Mets feeling some buyer's remorse, particularly as they see what Baty is doing at Triple-A. The one mitigating factor is that Baty left Tuesday's game with inflammation in the same thumb that he had surgically repaired last season. It's a day-to-day injury, but it means Baty isn't coming up tomorrow, which buys Escobar more time to get right. Sooner than later, though, this changing of the guard is happening.
2022 minors: 11-7, 3.83 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 167 IP, 33 BB, 218 K
2023 minors: 3.2 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 0 BB, 7 K
Though he outpitched Ryne Nelson and Drey Jameson this spring, Pfaadt was the one of the three Diamondbacks pitching prospects to be sent down at the start of the year, which figures. He outpitched those same two by so much at Triple-A Reno last year that he's almost a different class of prospect now. At the same hitter-friendly affiliate where Nelson had a 5.43 ERA and Jameson a 6.95 ERA, Pfaadt had a 2.64 ERA. His dominance relative to those he was pitching alongside was reminiscent of Zac Gallen in 2019.
Unfortunately, Pfaadt's first start back at Reno this year looked more along the lines of what Nelson or Jameson would have done, getting burned by four home runs. Presumably, he'd still be the next arm up, but it's more of a question now.
Edouard Julien, 2B, Twins
2022 minors: .300 BA (400 AB), 17 HR, 19 SB, .931 OPS, 98 BB, 125 K
2023 minors: 1 for 12, 1 HR, 1 BB, 6 K
This might seem like an oddball pick to round out my Five on the Verge, but the Twins are already down a man at second base, with no return in sight for Jorge Polanco. Nick Gordon has been filling in, and not particularly well. Behind him are a bunch of light-hitting journeymen. Meanwhile, Julien has already proven his on-base bona fides in the minors, reaching at about a .440 clip the past two years. He more than held his own against heightened competition in March, batting .417 (15 for 36) with five home runs between spring training and the World Baseball Classic. There are some defensive concerns, but probably ones that the Twins would be willing to absorb if the bat is as good as advertised.
Five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
2022 minors: .267 BA (505 AB), 29 HR, .825 OPS, 40 BB, 145 K
2023 minors: .353 BA (17 AB), 1 HR, 4 2B, 2 BB, 1 K
Though he played primarily first base last season, the Athletics haven't quit on Soderstrom as a catcher, giving him three of his first four starts there this year. But the way he's going at the plate, he may not have much time to develop behind it. His 26.1 percent strikeout rate last year made his first full pro season something of a disappointment, but he's struck out one time in 19 plate appearances so far this year after striking out just 13.5 percent of the time in spring training. If his strike-zone judgment improves that much to go along with his already premium exit velocities, then it won't matter whether he's at catcher or first base. You'll covet him just for his bat.
2022 majors: 2-2, 5.97 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 34 2/3 IP, 18 BB, 28 K
2023 minors: 5 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K
Liberatore was an out-and-out disaster in the few starts he made for the Cardinals last year, but perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to bury him. He was regarded as a top pitching prospect from the time he was 19. He's only 23 now. Kyle Wright breaking through at 26 last year serves as a reminder that development isn't linear. There were reports of Liberatore's velocity being up this spring, sitting in the mid-90s rather than the low 90s, and his final start of the exhibition season, in which he allowed one run on three hits in five innings, striking out six, seemed to get the attention of his manager.
"That's the best I've ever seen him," Oliver Marmol said. "Not even close."
Liberatore's 2023 debut for Triple-A Memphis, where he had a 5.17 ERA last year, earned similar praise from those who witnessed it. The Cardinals rotation has gotten knocked around pretty good so far, and an improved Liberatore could be the salve it needs.
Parker Meadows, OF, Tigers
2022 minors: .270 BA (486 AB), 20 HR, 17 SB, .819 OPS, 56 BB, 108 K
2023 minors: .300 BA (20 AB), 1 HR, 2 2B, 3 BB, 4 K
Austin's brother came on strong over the final two-thirds of last season, batting .305 with a .902 OPS from June 4 on. Shortening his swing not only helped to cut down his strikeouts but also to bring out his power. In a purely merit-based arrangement, he would have been the Meadows breaking camp with the Tigers on account of his five spring home runs, and he's already connected on one to kick off the minor-league season. Normally, when a big producer is buried in the ranks, it's because of major defensive concerns, but that's not at all the case here. Meadows' stock has nowhere to go but up.
Addison Barger, SS, Blue Jays
2022 minors: .308 BA (467 AB), 26 HR, .933 OPS, 48 BB, 131 K
2023 minors: 4 for 12, 1 HR, 2 BB, 3 K
Coming off one of the quieter breakthrough campaigns in all the minors last year, Barger stuck around for a while this spring, batting .294 (10 for 34) in 15 games. It suggests he's on the short list of players the Blue Jays would turn to should an infield need arise. Most encouraging was that the exaggerated leg kick often credited for his power breakthrough last year didn't make him a sitting duck against more advanced competition. He struck out just five times in his 37 plate appearances this spring. Seems like the Blue Jays are transitioning him to third base at Triple-A Buffalo, but he's just as blocked there as at shortstop. In the case of Barger, a clearer barbinger -- I mean, harbinger -- would be a move to second base.
Nolan Jones, OF, Rockies
2022 majors: .244 BA (86 AB), 2 HR, 5 2B, .681 OPS, 8 BB, 31 K
2023 minors: .286 BA (21 AB), 3 HR, 1 2B, 1 BB, 5 K
Jones was thought to be in the running for the open third base job that ultimately went to Elehuris Montero, but he didn't put up much of a fight this spring. So far, so good at Triple-A Albuquerque, though. It may just be that the former Guardians farmhand runs a bit hot and cold, a trait that would likely be toned down in the thin air of Coors Field. There's a feeling that he's running out of chances now with his second organization, but he's still only 24. With a keen batting eye and a penchant for hard contact, he could still factor should there be an opening in the outfield (or at either infield corner, for that matter).