“Knocking Down The Door” is a weekly column highlighting minor leaguers who are making a case for a major league promotion. Listed below are the names of this week’s picks and the player’s team, age, level(s), prospect ranking, and last 1-2 weeks of statistics.
In many cases, my “Knocking Down The Door” picks have been on my radar for weeks and I’m just waiting for them to have a better-than-average week or two to feature them here and discuss their path to the big league roster. In the case of Cruz, that’s not quite the case. He’s a guy who I believe should already be in the big leagues regardless of whether he has a hot streak or not. He is a rare talent who does amazing things on a baseball field often enough to offset his flaws.
While the Pirates would not have been able to make the argument that Cruz wasn’t their best option at shortstop to begin the 2022 season, they did want him to learn to play outfield. And considering that many experts believe Liover Peguero, another fast-rising terrific prospect, is their “shortstop of the near future”, getting Cruz acclimated to a new position wasn’t the worst idea. But he’s barely played in the outfield, starting eight games in left field compared to 36 at shortstop. And it hasn’t been pretty.
So, what’s the plan? He’s still their best option at shortstop at the big league level, at least for this season. The Pirates are better than expected and are a fun and exciting team to watch. They’d been even better and a lot more fun and exciting if they added Cruz, who is slashing .309/.420/.632 over his last 81 plate appearances.
— FanGraphs Prospects (@FG_Prospects) June 1, 2022
“How on earth did he do that?!”
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) June 10, 2022
My memory is a bit cloudy, but it was eleven seasons ago that I was either very proud of myself for including a Double-A first baseman in my “Knocking Down The Door” column or I was really disappointed that I didn’t include this player after seriously considering it. It really could’ve gone either way and my old mlbdepthcharts website no longer exists so there is no way to know for sure. But Paul Goldschmidt’s quick rise from little-known prospect to perennial All-Star certainly made me aware that certain players can be deemed ready for the big leagues regardless of level.
I had considered including Michael Harris II here a few weeks back. I didn’t include him. And then he got the call directly from Double-A to Atlanta. I’m not going to make the same mistake with Carroll, the Diamondbacks’ top prospect and one of the best prospects in baseball.
The Diamondbacks already have another terrific young outfielder, Alek Thomas, playing regularly and a handful of competent big leaguers (David Peralta, Pavin Smith, Jordan Luplow) at the corner outfield spots. There’s also Daulton Varsho, who will get most of his at-bats in the outfield once starting catcher Carson Kelly returns from the Injured List. But the guy that the Diamondbacks expect to build around in future years is Carroll, their 16th overall pick in the 2019 draft. Why not start now?
After missing most of 2021 recovering from shoulder surgery, the 21-year-old is finally playing his first full big league season. In 47 games with Double-A Amarillo, he’s slashing .311/.433/.639 with 28 extra-base hits, 34 walks, and 19 stolen bases in 224 plate appearances. That’s good for a 166 wRC+, not quite where Goldschmidt was prior to his call-up (178 wRC+, 30 HR in 457 plate appearances), but he’s still making the same point. He’s too good for this level and probably the next one, too.
Home run No. 14 goes 4️⃣8️⃣1️⃣ feet 😱
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) June 10, 2022
The Astros have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, which is a big reason why they are 15 games over .500 and have opened up a nine-game lead in the AL West. Yet, they aren’t without their flaws. José Urquidy has an ERA over 5.00. The bullpen, as good as their overall numbers are, has the potential to become a weak link unless they add another impact arm. That could be Cristian Javier, who has been mostly good as a starting pitcher.
In any case, they have an elite pitching prospect in Triple-A by the name of Hunter Brown. Maybe he can take Urquidy’s spot in the rotation. Maybe he can be used as a multi-inning reliever. Maybe the Astros should find out soon if he can be that impact arm that they could otherwise be looking to acquire prior to the trade deadline.
The 23-year-old currently has the same number of Triple-A appearances (11) and starts (8) as he did in 2021, allowing us to get a good look at his improvement from one season to the next. Aside from his walk rate, which has slightly increased, he has been much better across the board.
•2021: 3.88 ERA, 51 IP, 47 H, 21 BB, 55 K, 6 HR
•2022: 2.39 ERA, 49 IP, 34 H, 22 BB, 69 K, 3 HR
Next stop should be Houston.
Sounds like your timeline needed a dose of Hunter Brown blowing 97 mph cheddar by Max Muncy. We’re here to help! pic.twitter.com/7Ep0Zr3sMD
— Sugar Land Space Cowboys (@SLSpaceCowboys) June 8, 2022
In less than a year’s time, Brash went from being a relatively unknown prospect, to becoming one of the better pitching prospects in baseball, to making the Mariners’ Opening Day starting rotation, to being sent back to the minors to work out of the Triple-A bullpen. He moves quickly, which is why it’s no surprise that he’s transitioning into his new role at a pace that should get him back to the big leagues very soon.
Brash began with four consecutive two-inning outings, allowing only two earned runs and striking out 15. He did walk six batters over that span, which was concerning after he had walked 17 in his 19 big league innings. He followed with a disastrous outing on May 22, allowing five earned runs in one inning while walking three batters and throwing a pair of wild pitches. This experiment was not going well. But things began to click immediately afterward.
Over his last seven appearances, Brash has pitched seven scoreless innings while striking out 12 batters and walking only two. The 24-year-old seems to be getting the hang of this reliever thing. If he continues at this pace, he should be working in a setup role with the Mariners in the near future.
Matt Brash strikes out the side in the 9th. pic.twitter.com/l1K4HAcuxE
— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) June 9, 2022