Toolshed: Prospects prepping for moves

Big names that could climb next step of ladder early in 2018

Nick Gordon ranks fifth in the Southern League with 30 hits over 24 games during his second trip to the circuit. (Brian McLeod/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | May 3, 2018 10:00 AM

Saturday will be exactly one month into the 2018 Minor League season, and some of the game's most talented prospects are already in different Minor League locales than they were on Opening Day.

No. 46 overall prospect Justus Sheffield was just the latest one to go on the move. The news came Thursday that he's been promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after five solid starts at Double-A Trenton. Other Top 100 Prospects, like Juan Soto (Potomac), Jesus Luzardo (Midland), Dane Dunning (Birmingham) and Stephen Gonsalves (Rochester), have all moved up their respective ladders just weeks after Opening Day. That flies somewhat in the face of the typical schedule of promoting players after or around their league All-Star breaks, when they can be properly and visibly honored for their dominance.

However, with the exception of Luzardo, there is a bit of a pattern at work here. The other four players all were repeating a level, had a good amount of previous experience at that level and got off to impressive starts in their returns. With that in mind, here are some other Top 100 Prospects who fit that criterion and could be promoted within the Minors (i.e. not including Major League debuts) early on in 2018. 

Braves 3B Austin Riley, Double-A Mississippi: MLB.com's No. 93 overall prospect took off following a midseason promotion to the Southern League in 2017, hitting .315 with eight homers and a .900 OPS in 48 games with the M-Braves. He's showed no signs of slowing down back at Double-A, especially in the power department. Riley is hitting .315/.364/.630 with five homers, three triples and eight doubles in his first 25 games of this season. His .630 slugging percentage ranks fourth in the league while his .994 OPS places fifth. He's one of only six players to hit five or more homers in the circuit. His 73 games at Double-A, during which he owns a .933 OPS, are only eight fewer than he played at Class A Advanced Florida before moving up. Atlanta's timeline for contention has been pushed up by their Major League success of late, and that could translate to another move for their third baseman of the future. The biggest roadblock right now is the Minor League signing of Jose Bautista, who is relearning the hot corner with Triple-A Gwinnett right now. If Bautista were to head back to The Show or abandon the third-base experiment, Riley might not be far behind to fill his spot with the Stripers.

Video: Mississippi's Riley clubs two-run dinger

Twins SS Nick Gordon, Double-A Chattanooga: The No. 79 overall prospect has been a constant feature in the "Who helped their promotion case" section of the Prospect Roundup, and for good reason. He spent all of 2017 with Chattanooga, hitting .270/.341/.408 and setting career highs with nine homers and a .749 OPS, only to return to the Southern League for another go in 2018. He's certainly started hot, posting a .340/.363/.521 line with 10 extra-base hits in 25 games while cutting down his strikeout rate from 23.2 percent to 15.7 percent. With 147 games played, Gordon, who has an above-average glove at short but has gotten time at second as well, has more than a full-season's worth of experience with the Lookouts at this point. The Twins used a similarly passive strategy with Gonsalves and moved him to Triple-A Rochester last Friday. Gordon shouldn't be too far behind. 

Video: Chattanooga's Gordon rips two-run double

Pirates RHP Mitch Keller, Double-A Altoona: The Pirates may have preferred to see Keller get even more time with Altoona last season, but both sides had to settle for six starts in August and September after MLB.com's No. 15 overall prospect missed a month with a back issue while with Class A Advanced Bradenton. Back with the Curve, the 22-year-old right-hander has returned to being his usual hard-to-hit self. He's posted a 2.73 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 29 strikeouts and a .192 average-against in five starts (29 2/3 innings) through the season's first month. The one thing that has gotten away from him has been his usually stellar control. Keller has issued 14 free passes -- five of which came in a four-inning start on April 28 alone -- and his 11.8-percent walk rate is ninth-highest among the 49 qualified pitchers in the Eastern League. The good news: Sheffield had similar control issues (12.5-percent walk rate) and still moved up. The bad news: Sheffield also had thrown 61 more Double-A innings than Keller at the time of his promotion. There might be a little more the righty has to prove with Altoona. But if he could right the ship as far as his control is concerned while staying the course in every other department through the end of May, Triple-A Indianapolis could beckon.

Video: Mitch Keller end his outing with his eighth strikeout

White Sox OF Eloy Jimenez, Double-A Birmingham: The thought of arguably the game's most powerful prospect moving to Triple-A Charlotte's BB&T Ballpark -- the International League's most hitter-friendly stadium -- is incredibly enticing. A move to the Knights, however, might have been delayed by a strained left pectoral that kept Jimenez from making his season debut until April 19. No matter, MLB.com's No. 4 overall prospect has picked up where he left off from a slugging standpoint, hitting four homers in his first 13 games with the Barons -- one more than he hit in five fewer contests with the same club in 2017. He's showing serious signs of heating up as well. Including Thursday's 2-for-5 game at Tennessee, Jimenez has hits in seven straight games and is 11-for-33 (.333) with two homers, three doubles and nine RBIs in that span. He's got a .544 slugging percentage and .892 OPS in 32 career games at Double-A, and both are certainly trending up with the more experience he gets at the level. Jimenez played only 71 games at Class A Advanced before moving up last season, and the White Sox could make his Double-A timeline even shorter if he continues to mash like this.

Video: White Sox's Jimenez hits HR in 2nd consecutive game

Padres RHP Cal Quantrill, Double-A San Antonio: The Padres have gotten aggressive with No. 9 prospect Joey Lucchesi and No. 12 Eric Lauer, pushing both to the Majors after they split 2017 between Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore and San Antonio. They have not taken the same track with their No. 4 prospect, who might have the highest ceiling of the bunch. Quantrill is back with the Missions after posting a 4.04 ERA and 1.61 WHIP with 34 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings for them last season. Those aren't exactly promotion-worthy numbers, but the 23-year-old right-hander is certainly building on them in his second go at the Texas League. Quantrill owns a 3.03 ERA and 1.26 WHIP with 30 strikeouts and 12 walks over 32 2/3 innings so far. His start at Frisco on Wednesday was his longest of the year and perhaps his best -- he struck out a season-high eight and allowed two runs on six hits and two walks in seven innings. A push all the way to the Majors would require much more sparkling stats, but with a plus fastball and a special changeup, Quantrill is capable of pushing to Triple-A El Paso with just a few more quality starts.

Twins SS Royce Lewis, Class A Cedar Rapids: This is the least likely early promotion, but Lewis still ticks all of the boxes. The Twins gave the 2017 first overall pick 18 games of experience with Cedar Rapids last year and returned him to the Kernels for his first full season. The results have certainly been positive through his first 15 games back, as Lewis has hit .354/.400/.415 with six steals in 16 games, showcasing the plus hit tool and plus-plus run tool that have made him MLB.com's No. 20 overall prospect. However, the Twins were aggressive with Lewis last season with the bump to Class A, and they'd have to be even more so to move him so quickly. Lewis still doesn't turn 19 until June 5. That said, No. 100 prospect and fellow shortstop Wander Javier will need a place to play when he's recovered from the shoulder issue that's kept him out of action so far, so it's a possibility Lewis gets moved up the chain to Class A Advanced Fort Myers when that time comes. Either way, it's a good problem for Minnesota to have.

Video: Lewis hits first homer of season

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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