It’s around that time of year in the MLB season when teams start realizing if they’re contenders or pretenders for the season.  The Super Two cutoff date has passed. Teams have been calling up their prospects to give their respective big clubs a midseason boost, to showcase value in a potential trade down the line, or a little bit of both. We’ve seen prospects such as Oneil Cruz, Nolan Gorman, and Michael Harris II receive recent call-ups from their MLB teams for a variety of reasons. If you’re in a keeper league, these next few weeks can determine whether it’s time to keep playing for this year or to look ahead to 2023 and beyond. If you’re an owner of an NL MVP contender such as Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, and Manny Machado, it’s been a painful week or two.

Let’s dive into some analysis of some recent standout callups and look ahead to some under-the-radar middle infielders that can give your team a boost or put on your watch list as we are about a month away from the All-Star break:

Oneil CruzPirates:

The Pirates have decided Cruz is ready for MLB action. Cruz has come up with a bang, already setting Statcast records for fastest throw by an infielder this year, hardest hit ball this year for the Pirates, and sprint speed (Cruz was clocked at 31.5 feet per second, faster than some elite NFL Wide Receivers). The power is there, and a player of his stature (6’7”) will inevitably draw comparisons to Aaron JudgeOneil Cruz seems to be a player that has a good feel for the game and has the awareness to make adjustments as the game/season progresses. We may see some strikeouts at a Jo-Adell-esque pace this season and next, especially since a batter of his size has a bigger strike zone and presumably more holes in his swing. Ride the wave this season and before long we’ll see Cruz as a top-50 fantasy asset as he cuts his K’s down.

 

Nolan GormanCardinals

Gorman has about 110 MLB at-bats and so far has performed as advertised (big power, middling batting average). Gorman is squaring up the ball well, as he owns a 14% barrel rate. If he keeps the 14% barrel rate over the course of the season, he’s a prime-years Jonathan Schoop, and likely what many fantasy baseballers were expecting from Brandon Lowe this year. Gorman’s another player that if he cuts his K’s down (say from 30% to 25%) he would have tremendous fantasy value, especially from a power-starved second base position.

 

Isaac ParedesRays

Who is this guy? Isaac Paredes came over to the Rays in the Austin Meadows trade earlier this season (yet another trade the Rays look to be winners on). Paredes has been among the league’s hottest hitters, owning 6/5/8/.471/.500 slash line entering play Sunday. He’s on the shortlist for a “random” PEDs test next week. In all seriousness though, Paredes has received some extra playing time with the Rays due to injuries and is showing he deserves a longer look when Wander Franco and Brandon Lowe return but is unlikely to see extended playing time unless the Rays unload some pieces at the Trade Deadline.

 

Orlando ArciaBraves

Orlando Arcia has been the main beneficiary of Ozzie Albies injury and has not missed a beat. To the naked eye, it seems as if Arcia has shortened up his stroke from his Milwaukee Brewers days, batting 8/3/13/.302/.361 in 86 at-bats thus far. While Arcia is likely not suddenly a .300 hitter, as he won’t sustain his .400+ BABIP (although his xBA is .313 entering play Sunday). The Braves will be plenty happy if he can hit .260+ while he and Michael Harris II keep turning the bottom of the lineup over to the Braves top four.

 

Minors:

 

Esteury Ruiz – El Paso Chihuahuas (AAA)

Esteury Ruiz is probably the prospect I get asked about the most. Ruiz has 13 homers and 47 stolen bases in the Minors. While the Minor Leagues have been experimenting with some funky rule changes such as limited pickoff throws, Ruiz’s speed is for real. I’m intrigued that Ruiz has consistently improved his K% rate over the past four years while his hard contact numbers have drastically increased over the past couple of years (from 18% to 30%. Upon Ruiz’s callup, I’m skeptical he hits for power and average right away, but a prorated 10/20 season certainly is possible.

 

Ji-Hwan Bae – Indianapolis Indians (AAA)

Ji-Hwan Bae is another power/speed threat that is being slow-cooked in the Pirates minor league system. Bae is slashing a 49/7/36//.311/.377/17 while exhibiting immense versatility in the field. If I were the Pirates GM/manager, I’d certainly like to see what Bae can do at the major league level at the expense of journeymen players such as Ben Gamel, Kevin Newman, and Josh VanMeter. If the Pirates took their time with Oneil Cruz, it’s likely Bae only sees a September cup of coffee, but keep Bae on your watch list.

Have a great week!

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