Toolshed: Getting aggressive on the farm

Angels, Braves, Yanks pushing prospects quickly to begin 2018

Jo Adell moved up to Class A Advanced Inland Empire after only 25 games with Class A Burlington. (Travis Berg/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | May 23, 2018 12:21 PM

Tuesday was Moving Day in the Minor Leagues.

Three of MLB.com's top 100 prospects took another step up the ladder, while it's still rather early in the 2018 season. Willy Adames was moved to the Majors for the first time, although it's likely a short trip. Nick Gordon now calls Triple-A Rochester home after a blistering 42 games with Double-A Chattanooga. Perhaps most surprisingly, Jo Adell jumped to Class A Advanced Inland Empire less than a year after he was taken 10th overall as a prep outfielder in the 2017 Draft.

There are obviously a number of reasons a player can be pushed in May. A player dominating a level and needing a new challenge is usually the biggest. There could also be roster factors that necessitate a move, as was the case with Adames when Joey Wendle went on paternity leave. 

But there can also be policies and philosophies within particular organizations. Indeed, certain systems are appearing far more willing to get aggressive with promotions early on in 2018. Below are the five most aggressive farm systems so far and the ranked prospects they've moved up the chain through Wednesday. (Note: for a prospect to be included, they must be ranked among MLB.com's top 30 in the system, must have been promoted during the season, must have been promoted to a level for the first time in their career and must still be at that level as of Wednesday.)

Los Angeles Angels: Jo Adell, Brandon Marsh, Griffin Canning, Matt Thaiss, Michael Hermosillo, Jose Suarez, Taylor Ward, Jake Jewell -- This group served as the inspiration for this column. The Halos were thought of as one of the Minors' lowliest farm systems not long ago but have quickly improved with solid drafts and some breakout performances. Now they seem to be pushing their talent as quickly as possible. Again, Adell's promotion is perhaps the most shocking here. He's the first high schooler from the first round of the 2017 Draft to see Class A Advanced. The Astros' Forrest Whitley was the only high schooler of the 2016 Draft to see this level in his first full season, and he ended the year at Double-A. As good as Adell was at Burlington (1.009 OPS in 25 games), his quick ascension would be more of a head-scratcher if it wasn't in line with all the other moves. Suarez, who leads the Minors with 69 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings, appears set to move to his third level at Triple-A Salt Lake, despite entering the season with only 12 full-season starts on his resume. Canning, a second-rounder last year, made two starts with Inland Empire before Los Angeles wanted to get him out of the California League. Thaiss and Ward, two first-rounders, are at the Minors' highest level after impressing with the bat at Double-A Mobile. (Ward will take some to get there after he reportedly cut his finger while packing up.) Everyone in the organization was excited for Marsh, now a top-100 prospect, to see Burlington, but after he hit .295/.390/.470 there, they figured he'd seen enough. The Angels finally have a system worth boasting about -- and that's even after the graduation of Shohei Ohtani -- and they seem to trust this group enough to really test its talents early in 2018.

Video: Adell homers to left for Burlington

Atlanta Braves: Ronald Acuña Jr., Mike Soroka, Austin Riley, Kyle Muller, Bryse Wilson, Thomas Burrows -- As good as the Angels system is, this is where it becomes evident that in order to be aggressive, an organization really has to have the goods. There was no doubt Acuña was going to be on this list at some point, and that point was April 25 when he ascended to Atlanta. Riley was similar, albeit lower down the ladder. After posting a .961 OPS over 75 Double-A games dating back to last season, he got the bump to Triple-A Gwinnett. Soroka was another story -- the 20-year-old right-hander was already facing an aggressive assignment to Gwinnett, but after putting up a 1.99 ERA and 0.97 WHIP over four Triple-A starts, he made his Major League debut on May 1 and will likely remain a part of the rotation when he returns from a shoulder injury. The Braves would love to see Muller and Wilson -- the No. 12 and 13 prospects in the system -- join the likes of Soroka, Kolby Allard and Max Fried as promising arms at the upper levels and are pushing them in that direction, but with differing results. With the way the young and veteran talent is mixing so well in the Majors, it's tough to blame the no-longer-just-rebuilding Braves for seeing how far they can ride their prospects.

New York Yankees: Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, Jonathan Loaisiga, Nick Nelson, Trevor Lane, Garrett Whitlock -- The promotions of Torres and Sheffield didn't come as much of a surprise. The 21-year-old infielder was a candidate to open in the Majors for most of the spring before he was sent down to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, while the 22-year-old left-hander began his season at Double-A Trenton, where he made 17 starts in 2017. Loaisiga, however, might be the most interesting of the bunch. New York's No. 13 prospect had Tommy John surgery in 2016 and threw only 32 2/3 innings last year, all in short-season ball. However, the Yankees liked his stuff enough (plus fastball, good curve, impressive control) to add him to the 40-man roster and have given him starts at Class A Advanced Tampa and Trenton. The promotions of Nelson, Lane and Whitlock have come as a result of pitching crunch at Class A Charleston and Tampa with the Yanks scrambling to make sure their talented low-level arms get the appropriate amount of playing time needed to develop.

St. Louis Cardinals: Tyler O'Neill, Andrew Knizner, Yairo Munoz, Dylan Carlson, Evan Mendoza -- It could just be a matter of timing that slots the Cards here with five top-30 prospect promotions. O'Neill and Munoz are both in the Majors, but both are in a fight to stay there. (O'Neill, in particular, is doing his part with three homers and seven RBIs in 11 games.) Knizner, coming off a breakout 2017, continued to look like an offensive force with a .333 average and .878 OPS at Double-A Springfield and has moved up to Triple-A Memphis for the first time with Carson Kelly in the Majors (and injured). Mendoza may be the most interesting of the bunch -- the 2017 11th-rounder out of NC State hit .349 in 37 games with Class A Advanced Palm Beach and is already with Double-A Springfield as a result. With player-development success stories Carlos Martinez, Tommy Pham, Jack Flaherty and Jordan Hicks helping the big club in the NL Central chase, it's not hard to imagine the Cards aggressively pushing more of their ranked prospects in the coming weeks.

MiLB include

Minnesota Twins: Fernando Romero, Nick Gordon, Zack Littell, Jake Cave -- Among these four, Romero was the only one who opened the season at a new level (Triple-A Rochester) before being pushed all the way to Minnesota. Gordon had played 164 career games at Double-A Chattanooga before moving up Tuesday. Littell had made 19 career Double-A starts before his Triple-A debut on May 5. Cave first played Triple-A games all the way back in 2015 and was even a Rule 5 pick ahead of the 2016 season. But he became a Major Leaguer for the first time last weekend. No one would claim the Twins have been aggressive with these particular prospects early on. Now, if they want to move up 2017 first overall pick Royce Lewis to Class A Advanced Fort Myers, that'd be another story.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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