The changing of the MLB guard is a marathon that is not yet complete. While on the backstretch, it still has a few miles to go.
What began with farewells to icons like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Chipper Jones and Ivan Rodriguez between 2012 and 2014 has culminated in the meteoric rise of fresh faces that have reinvigorated a game that trudged along after the steroid era.
Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt…Yoenis Cespedes, David Price, Josh Donaldson, J.D. Martinez, and three budding stars named Chris (Sale, Davis, and Archer) now augment stars that have either arrived at or are in the twilight of their primes.
For fans and collectors who feel I left their favorite young gun off the list, I apologize. For you do not have to say as Shoeless Joe Jackson did in the Field of Dreams: “there are others you know.”
But see this is the awesomeness of it all. We are in the midst of a game where we are kids strolling through a candy store lined with spectacular baseball (and spectacular baseball cards).
For example, and not to get too far off track, but here we are in 2015. And according to Back to the Future Part II, this is the year the Cubs win the World Series. Lo and behold, if the postseason launched today, Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arietta and the Cubs (74-55, 5.5 games atop the San Francisco Giants for the second NL wild card) would be on their way to the postseason.
This alone is worth watching.
Just do not let Steve Bartman sit anywhere near the foul line (poor guy).
Marching on (subtly throwing a plug out for my personal favorite young stars—Jose Iglesias, Brock Holt, and Jose Altuve), we have arrived at 01 September 2015. And many fans having already witnessed the debuts of yet another wave of future stars that include Joc Pederson, Kris Bryant, Steven Matz, Carlos Correa, Miguel Sano, and Aaron Nola it might easy to think baseball has all but reached the point of superstar saturation.
But five not so much talked about prospects I am about to reveal—prospects that deserve a September call up—might blow this out of the H2O. It should be noted that this list does not include probable September shoe-ins Steven Moya, Blake Snell, J.P. Crawford, Joey Gallo, and/or Jose Berrios).
Perhaps a late bloomer, this 6’4” 235 slugger has broken out this year for the Triple-A Reno Aces. In 122 ball games, O’Brien has batted .283 (129 for 456) with 24 home runs and 94 RBI to accompany 30 doubles, seven triples, and a respectable .869 OPS. A second round pick of the New York Yankees in 2012, this converted catcher is 25 years old, and needs some work on his patience at the plate (115 strikeouts to just 29 walks). However, the former University of Miami standout has impressed this year, and continues to evolve into a solid player.
Trey Mancini, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
In an organization that features highly touted prospect Christian Walker as well as Mike Yastrzemski, grandson of Hall of Fame Boston Red Sox icon Carl Yastrzemski, Mancini has emerged from almost nowhere to possibly earn a September call up.
In just his second year of professional baseball, this former 8th round draft pick out of Notre Dame has raked this year. Monday night, Mancini became the first Orioles prospect to reach 20 homers this season. In 128 games, he’s also hit .334 (170 for 509) with 85 RBI to go with 40 doubles and six triples. His OBP/SLG/OPS is .370/.554/.924. Mancini is consistent offensively and with a .995 fielding percent is also a sound defender. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him in Baltimore very soon.
Best yet, for collectors looking for a player to grab before the cat jumps out of the bag, Mancini is it. So far, his only cards are of the minor league variety.
Michael Fulmer, SP, Detroit Tigers
Originally drafted by the New York Mets in 2011, promising right-handed hurler Michael Fulmer was traded to Detroit before the 2015 trade deadline as part of an exchange that saw Yoenis Cespedes go to the Mets.
While some Tigers fans lamented the move, Detroit received a 6’3” 200 lb. advanced prospect who might very well be a solid mainstay in this team’s rotation for years to come.
By all indications, Fulmer may be ready for prime time very soon.
In early August, Fulmer earned Eastern League Pitcher of the Year. Rightly so, the 22-year-old Oklahoma native was 10-3 with 121 strikeouts and a 2.16 ERA in 21 starts at Double-A this season. Fulmer walked just 29, and had a WHIP of 1.07.
Fulmer’s Prospect Cards: 2011 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects, 2011 Bowman Chrome Autograph, 2011 Bowman Sterling Prospect Auto, 2011 Donruss elite Extra Edition Prospects Signature Aspirations, 2013 Bowman Chrome Cream of the Crop Mini Refractors.
Max Kepler, CF, Minnesota Twins
Perhaps overlooked by highly touted Twins prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, 22-year-old Berlin, Germany native Max Kepler could be a dark horse that baseball fans and collectors might not have seen coming.
At 6’4” 205 lbs., Kepler is a long, lanky outfielder with a steady pop, decent power, and solid speed. This season, Kepler has batted .322 (133 for 413) with nine home runs and 67 RBI in 112 games between A advanced and Double-A. Kepler has also tallied 34 doubles, 12 triples, and has stolen 17 bases. Kepler’s OBP/SLG/OPS is a terrific .407/.528/.935. He’s shown excellent plate patience, striking out just 63 times while earning 60 walks.
Interestingly, Kepler has been in pro baseball since 2010, and has slowly climbed through the Twins minor league ladder. Having proved his worth, the Twins may promote Kepler to join Mauer and Co. Yet again, the Twins may keep this secret weapon hiding in their system a little big longer to marinate before breaking out their new toy next spring. Either way, Kepler is one to keep an eye on.
A.J. Reed, 1B, Houston Astros
Last but not least is a guy you most likely won’t see in September. Just before the roster expansion, the Astros decided Reed would go to the Arizona Fall League instead as the club tries to protect itself from losing players to the Rule 5 Draft.
Of all the prospects in my five picks, though, Reed is the most worthy of being summoned to The Show. From a collector’s standpoint, this guy making headlines nearly every night the past month has rendered him no longer a secret.
Just 22, Reed has batted an eye popping .346 with 171 hits to go with a minor league leading 33 home runs and 120 RBI in 128 games. The 6’4” 240 lb. lefty slugger from Terre Haute, Indiana also has 27 doubles, five triples, and an OBP/SLG/OPS of .438/.621/1.059. Reed has also worked hard on his plate discipline, striking out 115 times while earning 82 walks.
In his two professional seasons, Reed has hit .327 with 45 home runs and 174 RBI in 743 AB to go with a .418/.588/1.006 line.
The bottom line is Reed is a beast with stardom written all over him. With a reduced class of prospects for 2016 (not for lack of talent, more many have arrived in the major leagues), he will most certainly be a hugely hyped player come spring next year. Thus, it might be a smart idea to purchase a few of Reed’s earliest cards before his stock skyrockets.