Toolshed: Moving season continues

Top-100 prospects Gore, Robert, Lux could see new levels soon

MacKenzie Gore ranks second in the California League with 92 strikeouts over 65 2/3 innings. (Jerry Espinoza/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | June 26, 2019 10:35 AM

It's about that time.

Every season around the All-Star breaks of the various Minor Leagues, prospects are promoted to take on new challenges. The thinking goes that half a season is a good sample size to determine how well players have handled their opening levels. It also allows those players to get recognized for all their hard work and production with a trip to their league All-Star Games, a cherry on top of the results that got them there. With that honor secured, it may be time for some new surroundings. We've already seen that in recent weeks with Top-100 prospects like Wander Franco, Nolan Gorman, Alec Bohm and Nick Madrigal moving up their respective ladders shortly after being named All-Stars. Who's next? This edition of Toolshed has a few guesses. 

Padres LHP MacKenzie Gore, Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore: Yes, Gore is still only 20 in his second full season. Yes, he's already thrown five more innings than he did last season. These are just a few of the reasons why the Padres don't necessarily need to push their top prospect. But here's a the big reason they should: he just isn't being challenged anymore. The southpaw has allowed either one earned run or none in 12 of his 13 outings with the Storm this season. In the one other one, he allowed two. His 1.23 ERA is about a run lower than that of his closest California League competition in the category (Visalia's Josh Green, 2.21) and ranks third among third among full-season Minor Leaguers. His 38.7 percent strikeout rate is also third. His 0.70 WHIP is second. This matches up with the scouting that says Gore has two plus pitches in his fastball and curve and two more above-average offerings in his slider and change, along with good control. He's scheduled to pitch for Lake Elsinore on Wednesday, and if all goes like almost every other 2019 outing he's had, it will be high time he tested that arsenal against Double-A bats in Amarillo.

Video: Storm's Gore fans Scott

White Sox OF Luis Robert, Double-A Birmingham: This might seem a little hasty considering Robert got a promotion from Class A Advanced Winston-Salem to Birmingham on April 30, but in the two months since at the Minors' second highest level, the top White Sox prospect has only continued to dominate. Robert is hitting .312/.360/.529 with seven homers and 14 stolen bases over 47 games with the Barons, earning Southern League All-Star honors despite the slightly limited look. All five of his tools have been on display, including the hit tool that was his biggest question mark entering 2019 (along with his health). A move to Triple-A Charlotte, at least after the Futures Game (which could be Robert's coming-out party on the national stage), would make a lot of sense if Southern League pitchers still can't figure out the right-handed slugger in the coming weeks.

Video: Birmingham's Robert with a lead-off homer

Braves OF Cristian Pache, Double-A Mississippi: Pache has 98 games of Double-A experience on his resume dating back to last season and has shown a much-improved bat this time around, hitting .295/.353/.515 with a career-best 10 homers through 69 contests in 2019. He has been especially hot of late, with a .969 OPS and six of those 10 homers coming in the month of June. Add that bat to Pache's already elite speed and defensive ability -- he's long been considered among the best center fielders in the Minors -- and it's not hard to see how he's jumped from No. 64 to 14 in MLB.com's overall prospect ranks. Perhaps another kind of jump, one to Triple-A Gwinnett. isn't far in the distance. That would clear up a bit of a logjam in Mississippi, where the Braves have both Pache and No. 44 Drew Waters. The latter has been special with the bat himself but lacks the experience Pache's amassed in the Southern League. Allowing both to become full-time center fielders could give both an even better chance to flourish in the second half.

Video: Braves' Pache homers in seventh to tie game

Dodgers C Keibert Ruiz, Double-A Tulsa: On offensive numbers alone, Ruiz's performance might not cry out for a move to Oklahoma City. The 20-year-old, switch-hitting backstop has a .242/.322/.327 line with four homers in 58 games. However, he does have more walks (23) than strikeouts (15), and his 1.53 B/KK ratio is the best among all Double-A qualifiers. He has also played 159 games in the Texas League over the last two seasons. Beyond the ability to make tons of contact, Ruiz also draws raves for his catching ability and above-average arm, so there's more to carry him beyond just the bat. With Will Smith in the Majors, Oklahoma City doesn't have a catching prospect to block Ruiz for playing time right now, and it's possible Ruiz could at least see the PCL soon after he participated in his second straight Texas League All-Star Game on Tuesday.

Video: Drillers' Ruiz goes deep

Dodgers SS Gavin Lux, Double-A Tulsa: Sticking with the Drillers, Lux also fits the bill of a prospect who played the level in 2018 and has taken off back there in 2019. The 21-year-old shortstop has a .315/.384/.514 line with 17 homers and nine doubles in 92 career games with Tulsa dating back to last season. He hasn't hit below .300 or produced an OPS below .800 in any single month with the club, showing off impressive consistency while hitting from the left side. This season alone, he entered the All-Star break tied for second with 14 homers and by himself in second with an .896 OPS. The only player above him in the latter category was Jake Fraley, who was promoted from Double-A Arkansas to Triple-A Tacoma last Thursday. Fraley is three years older than Lux, but no one else was more productive. The potential of seeing Lux hitting the Triple-A ball should have Dodgers fans salivating.

Video: Drillers' Lux homers on first pitch

Tigers RHP Matt Manning, Double-A Erie: This might take a little longer to come to fruition, with the Eastern League All-Star Game not coming until July 10. But even Tigers general manager Al Avila said earlier this month that Manning can likely expect to see Triple-A Toledo by season's end. The 21-year-old right-hander, who made two starts with Erie in 2018, has certainly earned at least the discussion with the way he's returned to the Minors' second highest level. His 30.3 percent strikeout rate is third highest among Eastern League qualifiers, and he has paired that with a 2.53 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and .184 average-against over 81 2/3 innings, thanks to a plus fastball and plus curveball. His biggest bugaboo has been finding consistency in his control. Manning shined in that department earlier in the season but has walked four batters in two of his last four outings and has issued 12 free passes over 21 2/3 innings in that span. If he can find the zone with more regularity even for a small stretch, he should get the bump to Toledo in July or early August; his stuff will certainly play there.

Video: SeaWolves' Manning strikes out 10th

Indians 3B Nolan Jones, Class A Advanced Lynchburg: When the Indians' No. 2 prospect hit .298/.438/.471 line with 26 walks in 30 games with the Hillcats last season, it looked like he wouldn't be long for the Carolina League if he could carry something similar over an extended period in 2019. Well, Jones sits second among Class A Advanced hitters with a .449 OBP and fifth with an .881 OPS through 68 games, showing off once again the trademark plate discipline. What's more, he's only strengthening his case for a move to Double-A Akron with back-to-back three-hit games on Sunday and Monday as part of a seven-game hitting streak. (That came to an end Tuesday, though he did walk twice in five plate appearances.) The 21-year-old third baseman moved up to Lynchburg on Aug. 1 last year. The bet here is that his next promotion comes a little earlier on the calendar.

Video: Jones laces triple

Twins OF Trevor Larnach, Class A Advanced Fort Myers: Last year's 20th overall pick out of Oregon State is looking ready for a move in his first full season. He leads the Florida State League with 126 total bases and 25 doubles, ranks third with a .382 OBP and second with an .856 OPS. All of that comes after he struggled some with a .619 OPS in April. Since that time, the left-handed-hitting slugger is hitting .352/.425/.551 over 47 games. His .976 OPS is third-best in Class A Advanced over that span, and the only two above him play at the launching pad in Lancaster. The Twins weren't afraid to push 2017 top pick Royce Lewis midseason during his first full summer, and they should use the same tactic here with Larnach.

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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