Prospect Watch: Prepare for De La Rosa's revival, Polanco's arrival
Sometimes the Prospect Watch checks in on a guy who was once a prospect but is no more. The post-hype sleeper is a common occurrence in baseball, and we just might have one on our hands in Boston's Rubby De La Rosa.
The Red Sox promoted De La Rosa from Triple-A Pawtucket over the weekend to take the rotation spot vacated by Clay Buchholz. He did not disappoint in his first start, tossing seven shutout innings against the Rays while allowing four hits, no walks and striking out eight.
From watching the highlights linked above, you can see why De La Rosa was ranked as the No. 90 prospect by Baseball America before the 2011 season when he was still a member of the Dodgers' organization. He fans David DeJesus and Matt Joyce in the first inning, both with 88 mph changeups. He gets Evan Longoria swinging with the same pitch to lead off the second. De La Rosa's seventh strikeout of the night, which comes at the 53-second mark in the video, was on a nasty slider to Sean Rodriguez. He didn't get many strike threes with his four-seam fastball or sinker, but they lit up the radar gun at 96.6 mph and 95.3 mph, respectively, on average. There's little doubt that he has top-notch stuff.
De La Rosa comes with a bit of a track record. In that 2011 season, he earned a promotion to the majors, working 60 2/3 innings for the Dodgers. He put up a 3.71 ERA, 3.87 FIP and 60 strikeouts. A 12.2-percent walk rate helped lead to a 1.40 WHIP, but it was clear that De La Rosa could pitch at the major league level. Unfortunately, he tore a ligament in his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery, which cost him essentially the entire 2012 season. He was then dealt to the Red Sox in the blockbuster trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett out west to Los Angeles.
De La Rosa had a decent year with Pawtucket in 2013, posting a 4.26 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings. However, he walked batters with even more regularity than he did in 2011, a problem he would have to rectify before he could realize his major league potential. He did that to a certain degree this year, cutting his walks per nine innings by nearly two full free passes. He remained just as impossible to hit, amassing a 3.04 ERA, 2.73 FIP and 52 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings before getting the call back to the majors.
Few waiver wire or free agent pickups bring the ceiling that De La Rosa offers fantasy owners. He's widely available no matter where your league is hosted and should be owned in all mixed leagues.
One NL Central outfield prospect is already making good on his potential: After the Cardinals promoted Oscar Taveras last week, the 21-year-old promptly hit a homer in his first game. Now, another long-awaited young outfielder with an NL Central team may soon be getting the call, as Pittsburgh prospect Gregory Polanco is reportedly less than a week away from making his big-league debut.
The Pirates could clearly use a boost in right field, as they've gotten just a .321 OBP and .379 slugging percentage from the position, manned largely by Travis Snider and Jose Tabata this year. Both those numbers rank somewhere in the middle of the pack in the majors, but Polanco, who is expected to hit leadoff when he gets to Pittsburgh, could prove to be much better than just middle of the pack for the Pirates. He has been one of the best hitters in the minors all season and is now slashing .353/.412/.552 with six homers, 16 doubles, 46 RBI and 14 steals in 245 plate appearances for Triple-A Indianapolis. The Pirates are 27-30 and rank 20th in the majors in runs with 222. With Polanco at the top of the order in front of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, their run scoring could get a much-needed jolt. Fantasy owners could soon, as well.
While plenty of attention has been showered on Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, the Cubs' Arismendy Alcantara has gone largely unnoticed by the fantasy community. However, it is Alcantara that might get the first crack at the majors. In 214 plate appearances with Triple-A Iowa, the second baseman is hitting .268/.303/.515 with seven homers, 14 doubles, seven triples and 10 steals. He has a solid power-speed combination, as he hit 15 bombs and swiped 31 bags with Double-A Tennessee last year.
With Emilio Bonifacio plummeting back to earth and Darwin Barney remaining a replacement-level hitter at best, the Cubs have an obvious need at second base. Alcantara can fill that void, and the Cubs have been exploring other ways to hasten his ascension to the majors. He made his first professional start in the outfield with Iowa last week in an effort to get him comfortable with a position he might have to play once he's with the big league club. If and when he gets the call, his speed will be an asset to the Cubs and fantasy owners alike. The Cubs aren't going anywhere this season and don't have any reason to promote a player unless he's going to get regular playing time. Once the 22-year-old Alcantara is in the majors, expect to see him on the field most days.