You don’t usually see a lot of promotions in the first two months of the season. So far this year we’ve seen a few relief pitchers promoted up a level, but none of the top prospects moving up through the system. In the past, a lot of the promotions start in June, not long after the short-season leagues begin. Looking over the rosters, here is one player from each team who should be a candidate for a promotion to the next level by the end of June, assuming they continue their recent success.
Rudy Owens, LHP, Indianapolis Indians - When it comes to Triple-A, promotions aren’t solely based on performance. You also need an open spot in the majors. The Pirates have seen great pitching this year, which is holding back guys like Owens and Jeff Locke from moving up, and is keeping Brad Lincoln in the bullpen. Owens has a 2.30 ERA in 66.2 innings on the season, with a 49:7 K/BB ratio. He’s gone six or more innings in nine straight starts, and has only given up more than two runs in one of those starts (giving up three on May 18th). Kevin Correia currently has a 4.19 ERA, but his advanced metrics suggest that he should be closer to a 5.00 ERA than 4.00. Somehow Correia keeps dodging rain drops, with a .223 BABIP and a 74.5% strand rate. Those ratios will eventually regress, at which point the Pirates should give Owens a shot.
Tony Sanchez, C, Altoona Curve - (UPDATE: Two hours after writing this, Sanchez was promoted to Indianapolis) Sanchez put up disappointing numbers in April, with a .258 average and a .718 OPS. He struggled through the middle of May, but got on a hot streak at the end of the month. In his last ten games he’s hit for a .355/.444/.516 line with five doubles. Sanchez hasn’t hit for much power this year, with zero homers, although his 13 doubles is a pace for 38 in a 400 at-bat season. He’s a college player repeating Double-A, so any hitting he does will come with an asterisk, and we won’t get a good idea of his progression until he moves up to Triple-A. He’s almost going on the Jordy Mercer path. He struggled at the plate in his first year in Double-A, struggled in the first month of the second year, and then turned it on in mid-May. Mercer dominated in June, and was promoted on June 27th last year. Sanchez could do the same by carrying his recent ten game hot streak in to June.
Gerrit Cole, RHP, Bradenton Marauders - After today’s start, Cole has a 2.53 ERA in 57 innings pitched. He’s got a 56:19 K/BB ratio on the season. The last time he gave up more than two earned runs in a start was on April 20th, which was eight starts ago. Cole was selected to the FSL All-Star game, which takes place on June 16th. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him stick around to participate in that game, then get the call to Double-A. That would give him two and a half months in Altoona, and about two more appearances in Bradenton.
Alen Hanson, SS, West Virginia Power - Baseball America recently described Hanson as “the biggest breakout prospect of the year so far”. He dominated in April, with a .410/.441/.695 line in 105 at-bats. Hanson struggled in early May, but rebounded late, ending up with a .277/.368/.495 line. On the season he’s hitting for a .346/.403/.611 line in 211 at-bats. Heading in to Sunday’s games, he leads the system in hits (73), average (.346), OBP (.403), slugging (.611), and is tied for the system lead in doubles (18), triples (7), home runs (8), and stolen bases (14). The Pirates already rushed Hanson once this year, skipping him over short season ball, and sending him to full season A-ball at the age of 19. He’ll probably finish the season in high-A, and knowing that, there’s no harm in giving him a few more weeks in low-A. It looked like the league adjusted to Hanson in May, and so far he’s adjusting back. They need to give him a bit more time to prove that he’s fully adjusted before making that jump. If he’s still hitting throughout June, it would make no sense to keep him in low-A.
Jeff Clement Driving the Ball Thanks to Healthy Knee
Jeff Clement has been on fire lately in Indianapolis. He hit for a cycle on Saturday night, while extending his modest hitting streak to eight games in the process. In those eight games he has homered five times. On the season, Clement has a .307/.391/.536 line with six homers in 153 at-bats.
The success from Clement comes with the disclaimer that he’s currently in his seventh season at the Triple-A level. It’s hard to tell whether this is legit, or whether he’s actually improving. However, he has been hitting more balls to the opposite field lately, which has helped his hot streak. Clement attributes this to finally being healthy, as opposed to the last two years when he dealt with a knee injury.
“I just feel like I’m able to sit back and stay back on my back leg more than what I have been during the past two years with the microfracture surgery,” Clement said. “The knee continues to get better and I’m starting to drive the ball more now, so everything is starting to click now.”
Earlier this week I wrote that the Pirates should consider bringing up Clement and cutting ties with Casey McGehee. Clement is a year younger than McGehee, and while his major league numbers to date have been disappointing, they’re no worse than what McGehee is putting up right now. With Matt Hague getting regular time at first base, there’s little need for McGehee on the roster. Josh Harrison can fill in at third, if needed, and Garrett Jones can back up first. Promoting Clement would give the Pirates a chance to see if his recent success is legit, and it could also provide some power off the bench.
“I’ve got no control over that,” Clement said of the promotion talk. “I’ve just got to show up and play hard every day. I’m thankful for the blessings to be able to play this game on a daily basis and if I keep playing hard, good things are going to happen.”