Not everyone is focusing on the playoffs obviously, though one of this week's Pipeline Inbox questions does involve a team still playing baseball. The first two are about a club just bounced via the Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser, then we finish things off with two teams that started looking toward 2016 at the end of the regular season.
Do you think Greg Bird will stay in the bigs next year?
-- Steven B., Massapequa, N.Y.
I don't think there's any question he's shown he deserves that chance. The big question is, however, whether an opportunity will present itself.
Bird began the 2015 season in Double-A, got bumped up to Triple-A after 49 games, then came up to the big leagues to make his debut in mid-August. The season-ending injury to Mark Teixeira forced Bird into every-day action and he more than treaded water. The 22-year-old has plenty of room for improvement, but still managed to homer 11 times and slug .529 in 157 at-bats. His strikeout rate did go up during his debut, not a huge surprise, but in general Bird has a very advanced approach at the plate, giving hope he'll make adjustments over time.
But where could he play in New York in 2016? Bird is a first baseman only. Teixeira, presumably, will be back, and is signed through the 2016 season. Designated hitter Alex Rodriguez is under contract through 2017. You never know when injuries might occur, especially with a 40-year-old DH and a first baseman who will be 36 for the 2016 season. But barring that or an unforeseen personnel move, Bird might have to bide his time until first base opens up full time in 2017.
Does Aaron Judge have the tools/makeup to have success in the Majors?
-- Adam E., Toronto, ON
Without question, yes. The Yankees No. 1 prospect (and No. 17 overall) has everything a team would want from a regular corner outfielder.
Don't draw any conclusions from his struggles at the end of the 2015 season or the fact he didn't get a September callup. Keep in mind the Yankees don't need to add him to the 40-man roster, so there was no real impetus to bring him up, nor was there a need or role for him to fill. Judge is a big man, and at 6-foot-7, there are lots of moving parts to his swing. Despite that, he's shown a very good hit tool overall, and it's fair to expect him to make adjustments based on what he learned while scuffling late in the year. He has a ton of raw power, reaching the 20-home run plateau for the first time, with plenty more to come. He runs well and has the kind of strong arm you want to see from your right fielder.
Give him some time to right himself in Triple-A and look for him to contribute in 2016 at some point, though the outfield scene is a bit crowded in New York for the time being.
Other than Steven Matz, who would you say is the next best Mets' pitching prospect?
-- Chris. H , Worcester, Mass.
What? You want more? Having a quartet of young arms -- Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matz -- isn't enough? Fine.
The Mets' system is a bit hitter-heavy at the top of the Top 30, but there are some intriguing arms. The one with the highest ceiling is probably Marcos Molina, currently No. 6 on that Top 30, with a very intriguing combination of improving stuff and command. He may have come up in prospect conversations more this year if it hadn't been for an elbow issue that sidelined him for much of the year (go figure, a Mets pitcher with an elbow problem). He did return in August for a spell and is still only 20.
Is Trea Turner going to be the starting shortstop in Washington, D.C., next year?
-- Al P., Sanger, Calif.
If it were up to me? Yes. Turner, our No. 11 overall prospect, had a tremendous overall year between the Padres and Nationals' systems and made his big-league debut this September. He played sparingly at first, but has shown enough in the Minors (.322/.384/.454 with 52 steals in 185 career games) to warrant a shot at a full-time gig in 2016. He's a future leadoff type catalyst and has the defensive chops to stay at shortstop, though he also saw time at second base during his big league debut.
There also appears to be an opportunity. Long-time Nats shortstop Ian Desmond is a free agent, one coming off of a .233/.290/.384 season. Danny Espinosa has played short over the years, but has evolved into more of a super-utility type. I look for Turner to get every opportunity to win that job next Spring Training, and for him to break camp in the Opening Day lineup.
What are the early returns on Milwaukee's system, with the success of the Biloxi Shuckers and the prospects from Houston?
-- Lee K., Stevens Point, Wis.
Obviously, you can't really evaluate certain things until players get up to the big leagues, especially the return from a big trade. But early indications are that the Brewers system is definitely on the upswing.
Starting with that Double-A Biloxi team is a very good idea. The Shuckers finished with the best overall record in the Southern League and played for (though lost) the championship. That team was led by one of the more exciting shortstop prospects in baseball, Orlando Arcia, a homegrown product. Four of the Brewers' top eight prospects were on that club, with Arcia and No. 8 prospect Jorge Lopez earning MLBPipeline.com Brewers hitting and pitching prospect of the year honors. What makes that group exciting is that the main contributors were largely age-appropriate and legitimate prospects.
The trade with the Astros certainly helped add to the coffers. Brett Phillips (No. 32 on our Top 100) gives the Brewers another impact bat, with Domingo Santana showing enough in the big leagues to warrant a longer look in 2016. Josh Hader threw well for Biloxi and he's a lefty that's always intrigued me. Adrian Houser threw well for Biloxi as well and made his big-league debut, not bad for the fourth-best prospect in the deal.
All this means things are looking up. Imagine what might happen if all the high-ceilinged talent accrued in the last two Drafts -- Monte Harrison, Jacob Gatewood, Trent Clark, Demi Orimiloye, to name a few -- all figure it out?