With 25-man rosters set, each team goes into the season looking to compete immediately with the pickups they made in the offseason. But as we saw around the MLB in the 2015, the midseason callups can have as big of an impact as the players obtained in free agency. This series will detail the 5 prospects in the NL looking to make the biggest impact on their respective teams this season.
For the purposes of this series, we will set a few baseline criteria:
- The prospect cannot have any previous Major League experience.
- The prospect must already be reasonably close to the MLB.
- The prospect must play a position of need for his big-league squad, and this need cannot be due to injury.
Be sure to check out the impact cases for the prospects previously covered:
2. Aaron Blair, ATL, RHP
Unlike some of the others on this list, one could easily argue that Braves prospect Aaron Blair is ready to make an impact in the majors now. Acquired from the Diamondbacks in the offseason trade that sent Shelby Miller to Arizona, Blair draws praise for his ability to pound the zone with 3 above-average pitches. While he has never been one to rack up huge strikeout numbers, Blair is able to repeatedly induce groundball outs with few walks. His polished approach and tendency to go after hitters has allowed him to soak up innings in the minors, topping 150 IP each of the past two years.
Blair gained notable attention in 2015 by posting a stellar 3.16 ERA over 77 IP at the Diamondbacks AAA affiliate in Reno. This is remarkable because it came in the very hitter friendly Pacific Coast League (PCL), and in conjunction with a .233 opponent batting average it indicates that Blair displayed the ability to get batters out despite the conditions. While his FIP was an unexceptional 4.08, this is likely due to his low numbers of strikeouts. Because Blair has shown repeated ability to produce groundballs and weak contact (BABIP consistently below .275), this metric likely matters less and does not portend poor results going forward.
Blair coaxes these groundballs out of hitters with his fastball, which averages in the low to mid 90s, and has sinking movement to it. Pairing this pitch with an above-average changeup and a quickly developing curve, Blair has built himself a very stable repertoire to attack hitters. These three major league quality pitches and above average control helped him advance through the minors quickly relative to the rest of his 2013 draft classmates. Blair is a major league ready pitcher now, and when he gets his chance to prove himself in the bigs, his refined approach should allow him to get off to a quick start.
In a good news/bad news situation for Braves fans, part of the reason that Blair has such a great chance to make an impact in the majors this year is because the team’s rotation does not look very promising. Consisting of Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Bud Norris, Jhoulys Chacin, and Williams Perez, this group (outside of Teheran) is marked by their low strike out rates and unaggressive approach.
Wisler and Perez were rookies in 2015, with Wisler giving up a lot of hard contact and not generating many groundballs. Perez on the other hand, generated more than 50% groundballs, but struggled with control and walked nearly 10% of batters. They each had FIPs near 5.00 and higher than their ERA, suggesting that they probably should have created even worse results. While their 2015 stats are not inspiring, they are both young (23 and 24, respectively) and may be able to improve over the course of a full year.
Chacin and Norris are older pitchers that have essentially become journeyman at this point in their careers, bouncing back and forth between teams and the minors. Norris actually had a very solid 2014 with the Orioles as a starter, posting a 4.22 FIP and 1.5 fWAR, but worked predominantly out of the bullpen in 2015 to less exciting results. Similarly, Chacin is a few years removed from a successful 2013 in Colorado. He has operated mostly as a depth option for both the Indians and Diamondbacks in 2015, making 4 major league starts. Chacin generates a lot of groundballs but does not throw very hard, averaging 89 mph on his fastball. He is a candidate to have a bounceback-type of season, but unless he shows marked improvement of his control and a bump in velocity, it is unlikely.
Teheran, a young 25, is a very bright spot in the rotation. He has been an innings-eater for the Braves the past three years, and has posted solid strikeout rates (~21%). While his walk rate increased from 5.8% in 2014 to 8.7% in 2015, if he is able to improve on his control as he matures into a pitcher. The Braves have him locked up at a very reasonable rate through 2019 (with an option in 2020), and he certainly figures to be a key figure in the Braves rotation going forward.
Walk-Off Hit: Aaron Blair 2016 Impact Outlook
While Teheran’s early success is encouraging, the rest of the Braves rotation leaves something to be desired. For this reason, it is highly probable that Aaron Blair will make an appearance with the team in late May to early June and have an immediate impact. His consistent approach and ability to attack hitters will be a big improvement over the Braves current, less aggressive options. Blair figures to pair with Teheran and younger Braves prospects in the not too distant future to form the basis of the Atlanta rotation, something Braves fans have to anxiously await.
What do you think? Will Aaron Blair form a strong 1-2 punch alongside Julio Teheran? Is MLB.com’s #54 overall prospect ready for the majors now? What other prospects do you think belong on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @SaberBallBlog. Don’t forget to subscribe to SaberBallBlog by clicking the green “Follow” button in the menu, and follow on Twitter for all of the latest updates on the MLB!