Every year we see a new crop of sluggers and power arms emerge from the minors and help rejuvenate a team down the stretch run in the dog days of summer, or in September. We all remember the impact guys like David Price out of the bullpen had with the Rays back in 2008, or K-Rod back in 02′ as the Angels went on to win the World Series on the strength of that bullpen. So the question is, who will those players be making those massive contributions down the stretch this season?
Using the 2018 MLB Playoff Predictor from FiveThirtyEight, I’m going to go ahead and assume that any team with a less than 25% chance of making the playoffs is not producing a player on this list. That leaves us with prospects from all of the teams above to choose from.
Kyle Tucker, OF, HOU
Tucker figures to be a major part of the Astros’ long term future (#8 prospect in all of baseball) but he should be a key cog this season as the Stros look to defend their title. While he’s off to a sluggish start (31 wRC+), Astros fans definitely should not give up on him just yet. With only Tony Kemp blocking him in left field, Tucker will be an important piece for the Astros down the stretch as they try to get through the Indians, Yankees and Red Sox. His left-handed combination of power and speed will give the Astros another dimension against all of the right handed aces on the AL superpowers (Kluber, Bauer, Carrasco, Severino). Throughout his minor league career, Tucker posted wRC+ of at or above 130, coupled with speed that projects him as a twenty steals guy in the MLB. In addition it looks like some of his early struggles can be attributed to his .207 BABIP which shouldn’t persist for a hitter with speed of his caliber.
Justus Sheffield, LHP, NYY
We already saw the Yankees make a move for Zach Britton to give them one left handed weapon out of their already league best bullpen, but don’t expect them to stop there. Tbe Yanks will most likely add another starting pitcher before the deadline, and probably will add Sheffield to the mix within the next month or so. Based on his makeup and arsenal, it’s easy to see Sheffield comparing to 08′ David Price out of the Rays pen. He’s a starter by trade, but in short relief stints can run the fastball up around 95-97 with a plus plus slider that should produce above average strikeout rates (12.54 K/9 at AA in 2017). Although his K/9 has ticked down to around 8.6 this season, as a reliever the additional velocity should help him to miss bats.
Josh James, RHP, HOU
Unfortunately for the rest of the league, the Astros have another high impact player coming through the pipeline in these next few months. It has been well reported that the Astros are looking for bullpen help, as they were in the mix for Britton, and have lost their former closer Ken Giles to temper tantrum issues. James may not be the left hander that the Astros were looking for, but his numbers in AAA this season are going to make it impossible to keep him there much longer. He is 4-4 with a 3.18ERA with a FIP of exactly 3.18 as well, which on it’s own doesn’t seem overwhelming. What is however overwhelming is the 101K in just 65IP in 2018, and the almost 16K/9 James posted last year. They can’t get a hit if they can’t put it in play. The scouting report on him, is big right hander, 95-98 with a plus slider, seems to be a pretty good mold for dominant relievers these days. Also, wouldn’t surprise anyone if those spin rates ticked up even higher in that Houston clubhouse.