In some nameless town in the heart of Illinois, a crowd has assembled beneath a majestic canopy, one of the many set up all over the country for folks to gather and discuss all anyone cares to discuss: LeBron James' next destination.
(Which is complete fiction, of course, but would you find it the least bit surprising? Neither would I.)
A bespectacled man in his early 40s strides to the podium at the front of the assembly.
"We interrupt this pivotal moment in American history with an almost equally important announcement," he says. He's visibly nervous, doing his best to steady his hands. "With Darwin Barney going on paternity leave for the next few days, the Cubs have turned to one of their top prospects as a replacement. He's an infielder by trade, but there's been some talk recently of him moving to the outfield. And if you listed all major-leaguers alphabetically, he'd rank near the very top."
The crowd murmurs in anticipation, speculating about the announcement still to come.
|1.||Taijuan Walker, SP, SEA||85|
|2.||Javier Baez, SS, CHC||47|
|3.||Kevin Gausman, SP, BAL||43|
|4.||Andrew Heaney, SP, MIA||40|
|5.||Archie Bradley, SP, ARI||39|
|6.||Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC||38|
|7.||Byron Buxton, OF, MIN||33|
|8.||Noah Syndergaard, SP, NYM||33|
|9.||Danny Salazar, SP, CLE||31|
|10.||Dylan Bundy, SP, BAL||31|
"Out with it!" cries one man in the crowd.
"Yeah, come on! Let's hear something worthwhile today!" shouts another.
"OK," he says, clapping his hands together as he takes a deep breath. "It's Arismendy Alcantara!" He lets it out with a triumphant laugh, assuming he's just made everyone's afternoon.
The silence is only momentary and quickly replaced by a deafening roar as objects are hurled in the podium's direction -- bottles, folding chairs, anything within arm's reach, really. The bespectacled man ducks behind his podium, caught off guard by the commotion he's created. A bearded man with a pronounced gut climbs to the highest point of the canopy and jumps, arms spread wide, disappearing into the sea of protesters. A siren can be heard in the distance. As the crowd swarms, the whole canopy sways to and fro, teetering on the edge of collapse.
The Kris Bryant Riots have begun.
In the Oval Office, an aging man in a well-tailored suit stares blankly at the TV. His features are unremarkable and his face nondescript, but the setting suggests he's the President of the United States in some alternate reality where virtually everything else is the same. OK, so the Gateway Arch is made of marshmallows, but that won't come up again. Why would it?
"Mmm," he says, reaching down to pour himself a cup of coffee. "Couldn't they have just called up Bryant?"
"You know, this Alcantara guy is pretty good," the man to his left says, clearly an advisor of some sort, perhaps the White House Chief of Staff.
"Good? What's good?"
"Well," the Chief of Staff offers, looking down at a printout, "he had a .307 batting average, 25 doubles, 11 triples and 10 home runs for an .890 OPS at Triple-A Iowa. He also stole 21 bases."
The president takes a sip. "OK, but Triple-A Iowa is in the Pacific Coast League. Everyone hits there."
"Yeah, but some people say the breakout actually came last year at Double-A Tennessee, where he hit .271 with 15 home runs, an .804 OPS and 31 steals. With numbers like that, we could be looking at another Jimmy Rollins!"
"Yeah, but ..." The president doesn't let his Chief of Staff finish, snatching the printout from his clutches and crumpling it in his hand.
"Get me Theo!"
Back in Illinois, a black Escalade rolls up to the edge of the canopy. The rear, passenger-side door opens, and out of it hops not Theo Epstein, but Jed Hoyer, the actual general manager of the Cubs. He strides to the center of the canopy, where the bespectacled man, gagged and tied to a spit, is being positioned over a makeshift fire pit.
"Friends, please!" Hoyer interjects, raising his hand to the crowd. "We can resolve this peacefully!"
"We don't know you!" one man shouts.
"We want Bryant!" cries a higher-pitched voice of indistinct gender.
"I'm the one responsible for calling up Alcantara instead of Bryant!"
The crowd goes silent.
"Bryant is great, but it's not his time," Hoyer says before perking up, "and this Alcantara guy is pretty good."
"Junior Lake was pretty good!" submits one particularly vocal rioter, his hair disheveled and shirt tattered.
"We want Bryant!" comes the high-pitched voice again.
"Yeah, but even if we called up Bryant, you couldn't play him at shortstop," Hoyer says. "Alcantara won't be playing there either, but he's at least eligible to. It's where he played most often in the minors last year!"
"Eligible?" asks one man.
"Last year?" wonders another.
"I need a shortstop!" cries one woman, her arm shooting up in the air as if someone had asked for a volunteer.
"Sure! Right! We all do!" Hoyer agrees. "And stolen bases. These are good things. Alcantara has good things to offer. He may even be another Jimmy Rollins someday!"
The crowd begins to murmur again.
"Didn't Jimmy Rollins win an MVP one year?" one voice suggests.
"I'm getting some use out of him even now," offers another.
"Oh, yes! Yes!" the bespectacled man struggles to say from underneath the gag, sensing that the tide is turning in his favor but not entirely understanding why. "And he might even be sent back down in a couple days!"
The silence is again momentary before the crowd erupts even louder than before. The bearded man from earlier lights a match and holds in front of the bespectacled man's now horrified face, the flame reflected in his lenses as a single bead of sweat drips down his forehead.
Alcantara, newly arrived in Cincinnati, steps on the field for pregame workouts. Teammate and impending double-play partner Starlin Castro greets him.
"What's up, Mendy? Glad you could finally make it."
"I almost didn't. Boarded the wrong flight. I thought we were playing the Cardinals and was looking forward to sipping some of that famous hot chocolate."
"Which seems like an odd thing to say in the dead of summer but makes perfect sense is this alternate reality we live in."
"It sure does," 'Mendy' agrees, unzipping his bag and rummaging for his equipment.
"Hey, what's with all the gloves? That one's for the outfield. I knew you're versatile, but I thought you were just replacing Barney for a couple days."
"I don't know, man. The folks at Iowa told me a couple weeks back I was on speed dial, which is still a popular colloquialism even though technological advancements have made it antiquated one."
"So I figured I'd bring them all just in case."
"Wow ... shortstop, too? Don't go thinking of taking my place now," Castro says, poking him in the ribs.
"Come on. You know Addison Russell is going to do that."
"I get what you mean, though. It's not like we're overloaded with All-Stars. One bad slump for the starter at any of the positions you play could be enough to keep you around."
Chris Coghlan walks by, bat in hand. Castro offers his encouragement.
"Hey, great job in July so far. Let's see more of that .481 batting average."
"Yeah, but I'm ... me," Coghlan says before walking away dejectedly. Justin Ruggiano steps in behind him and grabs a bat.
"Justin, man, I've been waiting for that .444 batting average and those two home runs you've had in your last 12 games," Castro says. "Let's keep it up!"
"Yeah, but ... I'm me," Ruggiano responds with a shrug.
"And I'm me," says 'Mendy.'
"Heh heh ... suckers," the president laughs to himself back in the Oval Office. The White House Chief of Staff sits at his computer, happy to conduct his bidding. "With the whole world focused on Alcantara, I'm free to add all those other shortstops emerging on the waiver wire."
"You sure you want Eugenio Suarez more than him?"
"Oh yeah. Suarez has already demonstrated his power at the big-league level with a .447 slugging percentage, and we know he's sticking around."
"And Jed Lowrie?"
"He was a top-seven shortstop last year and seems to be back on track with a .326 batting average in his last 11 games. Too much of track record there."
"Yeah, but it's a Roto league," the Chief of Staff pleads. "What if you need steals?"
"OK, maybe then I could extend myself for Alcantara. But I don't, so the point is moot."
"I'd still like you to have him, if only as a middle infielder. Can't you drop Mookie Betts for him?"
What about Kolten Wong?
"No," the president responds sharply.
"But I've heard he could be another Jimmy Rollins --"
"Maybe someday. Or maybe he'll turn out to be more like Asdrubal Cabrera. Our imaginations tend to run wild with a player just beginning his career. But he's a long way from achieving any best-case scenarios at age 22, and again, we don't even know that he's sticking around."
The Chief of Staff suddenly reaches for his earpiece as if he can't comprehend the sound coming through it. The president continues.
"Have you looked at the strikeout-to-walk ratio for Alcantara? Really ghastly stuff. He might strike out 150 times at Iowa if the Cubs send him back there. Until he shows he can handle major-league pitching, I'm not counting on him for much more than stolen bases.
"Mr. President, the governor of Missouri has declared a state of emergency!"
The Chief of Staff looks back at him wide-eyed, "No, worse."
"It's raining in St. Louis!"
There was once a time when Gary Brown was the toast of the Giants' minor-league system. Following a breakout performance in 2011, the 2010 first-round pick (24th overall) shot up prospect boards everywhere and was being billed as the future in center field for the Giants. It seems like yesterday we were talking about Brown moving quickly through the minors and projecting when he might start making an impact for Fantasy owners.
How could you not get amped up after seeing what Brown did in the California League in 2011? He had a .336/.407/.519/.925 slash line in 131 games, while totaling 13 triples, 14 home runs, 34 doubles, 80 RBI, 115 runs and 53 stolen bases. If he had those numbers at the major-league level, he would be on the level of Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera in Fantasy Baseball.
Sadly, we haven't talked much about Brown lately because his career has stalled in the minors. And the player Giants general manager Brian Sabean once refused to trade to the Mets in the summer of 2011 for Carlos Beltran (per Baseball America) might not have a major-league future at the rate he's going.
Once Brown moved up to Double-A in 2012, his weaknesses started to get exposed by advanced pitching. The most notable was right-handed pitchers being able to throw inside because of Brown's unorthodox swing, which includes choking up on the bat and pinning his hands close to his chest. Also, Brown's above-average speed wasn't playing as big above Class A, and his success rate stealing bases begin to decline.
Following his monster season in 2011, Brown hit just .279 with seven home runs and 33 stolen bases in 134 games at Double-A. It didn't get much better for Brown in 2013 when he joined the roster at Triple-A Fresno. Although he hit 13 home runs in 137 games, he hit just .231, totaled 17 stolen bases and struck out a career-high 135 times. He had never had more than 87 strikeouts in a season before last year.
As you probably can tell by the tone, Brown hasn't exactly rebounded in 2014. He is batting .270 in 88 games for Fresno, but he has just seven home runs, 38 RBI and has been caught stealing (13) nearly as many times as he's swiped a base (16).
As bad as Brown has been, he is still on the 40-man roster, so his hopes of a major-league career aren't completely dashed. But Brown's continued struggles did get me thinking about other once-upon-a-time elite prospects ...
Mike Montgomery, SP, Rays
Affiliate: Triple-A Durham
2014 stats: 8-1, 3.30 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 77 strikeouts, 27 walks and four home runs allowed in 16 starts (90 innings)
It's been seven years since Montgomery was taken in the first round by the Royals (36th overall in 2008). He was once billed as the future ace of the Royals' pitching staff and was considered a top 100 prospect by Baseball America three years running from 2010-12, reaching as high as No. 19. Unfortunately, Montgomery's career began to spiral downward once his control problems were being exposed as he moved up the ladder in the minors. After going 5-11 with a 5.32 ERA and 1.50 WHIP at Triple-A in 2011, the left-handed hurler split the 2012 season between Double-A and Triple-A, going 5-12 with a 6.07 ERA and 1.62 WHIP. Montgomery's once-promising career became a distant memory. The Royals gave Montgomery a fresh start when they shipped him to Tampa Bay in December 2012 along with Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi. It looked like a good move for Montgomery since the Rays have had plenty of success developing pitchers. However, it's taken some time for Montgomery's turnaround. He posted a 4.83 ERA and 1.46 WHIP last season, while still exhibiting control problems. This year, however, he's cut down on the walks and starting to look like the pitcher he was early in his career, putting him back on the prospect radar.
Josh Bell, OF, Pirates
Affiliate: Class A Bradenton
2014 stats: .330/.375/.500/.875, three triples, nine home runs, 20 doubles, 50 RBI, 40 runs, five stolen bases, 22 walks and 42 strikeouts in 79 games
Maybe it's not fair to put Bell on this list because he's still very early in his career, and he came into the season as a top 100 prospect by MLB.com and BaseballProspectus.com. However, he hasn't appeared on Baseball America's top 100 list since 2012, and I do think Bell has become a forgotten player because it looks like the Pirates outfield is set for years to come with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. Nonetheless, Bell is displaying major-league talent and could be an option for Fantasy owners down the road. Bell was a first-round talent, but he went in the second round in 2011 because he was adamant about going to college. Pittsburgh changed his mind with a $5 million signing bonus. Unfortunately, his first pro season was cut short in 2012 due to a knee injury, which required surgery. Bell didn't exactly have a monster season in 2013, but he hit .279 with 13 home runs, 37 doubles and 76 RBI in 119 games. He is doing much better in 2014, as he's slugging .500 in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. The scouts project Bell to hit for average and power from both sides of the plate, making him an option to stash in long-term keeper leagues.
Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Rays
Affiliate: Triple-A Charlotte
2014 stats: .211/.285/.272/.557, two home runs, seven doubles, 11 RBI, 25 runs, 22 walks, 50 strikeouts and 10 stolen bases in 59 games
This is the second time this year Lee has made an appearance in this space. I was hoping by this time he would already be in the majors or we would be talking about the 23-year-old shortstop on the verge of a major-league promotion. Alas, Lee hasn't progressed much since the last time we wrote about him. His career has been in disarray since suffering a knee injury that limited him to 15 games last season. It's not like Lee was posting monster numbers in the minors prior to getting hurt in 2013, but he was much better than he has performed this season. About the only thing Lee didn't do was hit for power, but he showed good plate discipline, had good contact numbers, got on base, scored runs and stole bases. His strength was his defense, which was a big reason he was considered a top 100 prospect by Baseball America from 2011-13. Had Lee not gotten hurt last season, he could have very well been a regular in the majors by now. Hopefully, the more he distances himself from the knee injury, he will regain his form and re-emerge as a potential future Fantasy option.
Mason Williams, OF, Yankees
Affiliate: Double-A Trenton
2014 stats: .213/.290/.285/.575, one triple, three home runs, 12 doubles, 47 runs, 34 walks, 43 strikeouts and 18 stolen bases in 79 games
Much like Gary Brown was for the Giants, Williams was once the crown jewel of the Yankees' farm system. Sadly, he has struggled since he dislocated his shoulder during the 2012 season. It's a real shame too, since Williams was putting together another strong season before getting hurt that year. He came back in 2013 to hit .245 with a .337 slugging percentage and .641 OPS in 117 games between high Class A and Double-A. Clearly by looking at his 2014 numbers, it's gotten a lot worse for the former top prospect, who made it as high as No. 32 on Baseball America's top 100 list in 2013. Williams continues to be lauded for his strong defense, but his offense has suffered. Once projected to be a 20-homer player, Williams has turned into a slap hitter with diminished speed. Williams was once touted as the heir apparent to Curtis Granderson in center field for the Yankees. Now it's looking like he might just be a reserve outfielder at the major-league level unless he can iron out his swing.
Jed Bradley, SP, Brewers
Affiliate: Double-A Huntsville
2014 stats (Class A, Double-A): 6-6, 3.71 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 88 strikeouts, 28 walks and seven home runs allowed in 17 starts (97 innings)
Going into the 2012 season, according to Baseball America, the top four players in the Brewers' farm system were all pitchers -- Wily Peralta, Taylor Jungmann, Bradley and Tyler Thornburg. Since then, only two players -- Peralta and Thornburg -- have gotten a taste of the majors, and only one player -- Peralta -- has become a relevant Fantasy option. Bradley was projected to move quickly through the minors after Milwaukee selected him with the 15th pick in the 2011 draft out of Georgia Tech. Sadly, Bradley's career has been marred by injuries and struggles with his pitching mechanics. It seems, however, Bradley is finally beginning to show some of his first-round promise. He went 5-2 with a 2.98 ERA in 10 starts for high Class A Brevard County prior to his promotion to Huntsville. He has taken a bit of a step back at Double-A, going 1-4 with a 4.91 ERA in seven starts. He is having some control problems, walking 18 batters in 36 2/3 innings, but hopefully it's not because he's having more problems repeating his mechanics. It would be a shame if Bradley starts to regress after all the progress he made at Brevard County. When he's hitting on all cylinders, the lefty has a low-90s fastball with good movement that sets up a mid-80s slider and a low-80s changeup. At best, he's a stashee in deep long-term keeper formats.