With their parent clubs mounting playoff runs, a trio of top prospects in Daniel Norris, Taijuan Walker, and Joc Pederson had huge performances last week, mounting their best pitches to leave Triple-A come September 1 and help them in the stretch run.
Last night, Norris, a 21 year old left-hander in the Blue Jays organization, matched his incredible Sunday Buffalo debut with another stellar performance. The game’s 25th overall prospect, per Baseball America, threw 5.2 innings of one run ball, fanning a career high 13 Ironpigs to earn the victory.
Yesterday, we discussed the chances of Norris getting a call up as well his merits for receiving one; this gem only adds to his case, especially considering it came on the same night the Blue Jays got blasted 11-5 by the White Sox and suddenly found themselves 7.5 games behind the Orioles in the AL East, four back of the Mariners for the second wild card. In two Triple-A starts, Norris is now 2-0, with an 0.77 ERA, and 23 strikeouts in 11.2 innings, and for the season, is 11-1 with a 2.22 ERA across three levels.
HTaijuan Walker keeps climbing cliffs this season, only to lose his footing and fall, just as he appeared to reach the top. After last night’s performance, the Mariners are hoping the young right-hander has finally finished his jagged ascent.
Walker, who turned 22 on Thursday, struck out nine Zephyrs over six innings of one run ball to give Tacoma a Friday night victory. The strong start comes on the heels of a near flawless outing against Fresno last sunday. That afternoon he allowed a pair of hits and a run in the top of the first, but steamrolled through the next six innings without allowing a hit, punching out 13 (a career high) and at one point setting down 17 consecutive batters.
Though they are currently locked in a tight race for the second wild card spot, the Mariners may be hesitant to call up their top prospect.
Walker entered the season as the #11 prospect in the game, per Baseball America, and was expected to compete for a rotation spot in spring training. He ran into shoulder trouble in spring training, though, and has struggled to find a rhythm since returning at the end of May. Strong, if inconsistent, play earned brief big league call ups in June and July, but he lost both with erratic pitching – 13 walks in 15 major league innings this season. And in the start he made immediately before shutting down Fresno, he couldn’t make it out of the third inning and allowed eight runs in a loss to Albuquerque.
Meanwhile, the Mariners have a full rotation and the best bullpen in the American League. With their first playoff appearance since 2001 in sight, they can’t afford to have a pitcher blow up like Walker did against Albuquerque. Still, his potential is virtually unmatched and the difference between the dominance he might bring, the dominance he showed last night and Sunday, and the proven mediocrity of a fifth starter like Roenis Elias (9-9, 4.16 ER) could be the difference between sitting on a couch and standing on a diamond come October.
Albuquerque’s matchup with Memphis got rained out Friday. No matter, Joc Pederson, 22, showed all he needed to on Thursday. The Dodgers centerfield prospect, ranked 18th in the game by baseball america, homered, stole a base, and drove in three to lead the Isotopes offensive charge. It was Pederson’s third consecutive game with a home run, and his fifth long ball in his last five game. The 21 year old is now hitting .301/.424/.577 with 29 home runs and 27 stolen bases over 474 Pacific Coast League plate appearances.
Now the PCL offers one of the most extreme hitter-friendly environments in professional baseball, but Pederson’s numbers are strong even by the circuit’s lofty standards. He ranks second in the league with a 1.002 OPS, and is the only player in the top nine under the age of 25. His 82 walks lead the league, as does his home run total, and his on base percentage comes up second.
And as Pederson launches balls out in Triple-A, the Dodgers have been trotting Carl Crawford out as their every-day left fielder. The 33 year old veteran has hit .300 in the month of August, but that’s about all he’s done. Crawford has just one walk over his last 56 plate appearances, and just one extra base hit – a double – since May 27th, though he did miss all of June with an ankle injury.
In addition to the potential offensive upside, Pederson would also offer a near-guaranteed defensive upgrade over the veteran. Pederson is a fast and natural center-fielder and should be above average in a corner, while age has stolen the legs that once made Crawford a gold glover with the Rays. According to baseball reference, Crawford has cost his teams a combined 1.6 wins since 2011.
Of course a lot can change between now and September 1st, when rosters expand these prospects are most likely to earn promotions. The Blue Jays could supplement their rotation with waiver pick-ups, the Dodgers could do the same for their outfield. Walker could become wild and hittable again.
There are also logistical problems as of these three prospects, only Taijuan Walker is a member of his team’s 40 man roster. Service time is a consideration as well, especially if the parent club runs away with a playoff spot (Dodgers) or falls out of the contention (Blue Jays).
But right now the Dodgers, Blue Jays, and Mariners are knocking on the door to October, and their top prospects are knocking on the door to the big leagues.