MLB ’19: Jimenez, Guerrero among rookies to watch this year
CHICAGO (AP) — Family ties, big bats and powerful arms are once again all over this year’s group of prospects on the brink of major league stardom.
A closer look at baseball’s next wave of young talent:
—OF Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox: While Chicago lost out in its pursuit of Manny Machado in free agency, the sweet-swinging Jimenez could make his major league debut in April. The 22-year-old Jimenez hit .317 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs with Double-A Birmingham last year before he was promoted to Triple-A Charlotte. He was even better with the Knights, batting .355 with 12 homers and 33 RBIs in 55 games. He struggled in spring training and was sent down, but should be in the bigs soon enough.
—INF Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays: Widely regarded as baseball’s top prospect, Guerrero will miss the start of the season after he strained his right oblique in spring training. The son of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero might head straight to the majors when he gets healthy. He hit .381 with 20 home runs and 78 RBIs over four minor league stops last year.
—OF Victor Robles, Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper’s big free agent deal with Philadelphia created an opening in Washington’s outfield that just might be filled by the talented Robles, who hit .288 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 21 games with the Nationals last season.
—INF/OF Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds: The 23-year-old Senzel got a long look in center field this spring after the Reds let Billy Hamilton go over the winter. He played mostly second and third in the minors, but the former University of Tennessee star is known mostly for his bat. He hit .310 with 25 RBIs in 44 games with Triple-A Louisville in 2018.
—RHP Forrest Whitley and OF Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros: The 6-foot-7 Whitley dazzled in the Arizona Fall League, compiling a 2.42 ERA in six starts and striking out 36 in 26 innings. The 22-year-old Tucker struggled in his first major league action last year, batting .141 in 28 games, but he hit .332 for Triple-A Fresno.
Whitley and Tucker will begin the year in the minors, but they could impact the AL West race this summer. Whitley was the No. 17 pick in the 2016 draft, a year after Tucker went No. 5 overall to the Astros.
—INF Brendan Rodgers, Colorado Rockies: The versatile Rodgers started at second, third and shortstop this spring, and it looks as if he could make his big league debut very soon. He batted .268 with 17 homers and 67 RBIs for Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque last year.
—OF Alex Verdugo, Los Angeles Dodgers: The 22-year-old Verdugo played for Los Angeles in each of the past two years, but is still trying to earn regular time with the talented Dodgers. This could be the year after he hit .329 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs in 91 games for Triple-A Oklahoma City last season.
—INF Keston Hiura, Milwaukee Brewers: Hiura worked on his defensive skills this spring. His bat might be major league ready right now. The ninth overall pick in the 2017 draft was the MVP of the Arizona Fall League, hitting .323 with five homers and 33 RBIs in 23 games.
—LHP Yusei Kikuchi, Seattle Mariners: Following in the footsteps of Ichiro Suzuki, one of his childhood favorites, Kikuchi finalized a four-year contract with Seattle in January that guarantees $56 million and incudes club options that would be make it worth $109 million over seven seasons. The 27-year-old lefty went 14-4 with a 3.08 ERA for the Pacific League’s Seibu Lions last year.
—SS Fernando Tatis, Jr., San Diego Padres: The 20-year-old Tatis is so highly regarded Manny Machado agreed to play third for San Diego to make room for the shortstop’s arrival in the big leagues. Tatis, who was acquired in a 2016 trade that sent James Shields to the White Sox, batted .286 with 16 homers and 43 RBIs for Double-A San Antonio last season.
—LHP Jesus Luzardo, Oakland Athletics: The hard-throwing Luzardo made a strong bid for a spot in Oakland’s rotation this spring. He went 10-5 with a 2.88 ERA over three minor league stops last year, finishing with 129 strikeouts in 109 1/3 innings.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap