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Some names more than others have more at stake during this season as the success defines their major league careers right around the corner. These are names that need the results to get a serious spring training look, bring validity to an early call up during the summer, or to showcase that they aren't as far behind as their minor league numbers suggested.
Austin Voth - SP – Washington NationalsAustin Voth has always been a prospect that succeeds without dazzling. He specializes at mixing up his pitches without an arsenal that screams front line pitcher. Voth's has a fastball that sits at 88-92 mph, a decent changeup and breaking balls that keep the batters honest. He is very reliable at pitch location and uses that to generate outs.
Voth is more than capable to succeed at the big league level, and he has put up results all across the minors. The biggest question mark for Voth is how does he succeed against hitters who see better stuff on a regular basis? The AFL helps promote his cause. In the AFL he will see a lot of stiff competition in what is the closest he may find to an MLB game.
Success in the AFL will help him promote his cause to stick at the big league level. That opportunity should come soon as he has nothing left to prove in the minors. On the year Voth posted a 3.15 ERA over 157 innings with an 8.6 K/9 and 2.33 K/BB ratios in Triple-A. He currently settles in as the 137th top prospect.
Willie Calhoun - 2B – Los Angeles DodgersWillie Calhoun is an athlete with all the required tools to be an all-star at the next level. The only issue is those tools are very, very raw and need a lot of refinement. He inconsistently uses his lead foot and often drops his hips to adjust to breaking pitches which will end in him losing momentum. He also often chases pitches he knows are out of the zone but could result in a home run.
Calhoun makes up for it with lightning bat speed with a great bat path. He has the type of swing, which when cleaned up, will bolster his contact scores tremendously.
At the age of 21 he has hit 27 home runs in Double-A and only struck out 18 more times than he walked. Willie Calhoun currently sits as my 29th overall prospect.
Harrison Bader – OF – St. Louis CardinalsHarrison Bader is five-star prospect with the potential to mimic the success of Florida teammate Stephen Piscotty. However, Bader took significant steps back in 2016 hitting only .231 with three home runs in 147 at-bats in the PCL. Earlier in the year Bader cranked in 14 home runs while hitting .294 in Double-A
He has the speed, range, and glove to stay in a center but likely will be pushed to a corner spot if he ever reaches the bigs. Knowing that transition is coming, it bolsters his defensive grade long term. A strong AFL can bring him back to the star power I saw at him come the all-star break. I was bold to rank him so high, but he has the potential to stick as my 49th overall minor league prospect. More than anyone else on this list Bader can either improve on that ranking or fall considerably over the course of his AFL season.
Ryan McMahon – 3B – Colorado RockiesComing into the year, Ryan McMahon was an advanced hitter with a good power stroke and range at his position. McMahon had the talent to be a coveted MLB asset but struggled to adjust to Double-A. He finished the year hitting below .250 and didn't honestly find his power stroke until the second half of the year.
The 2016 season pushed the stock of McMahon to a potential threat to players in a Rockies uniform to someone who may never see the big leagues. Even with a shaky AFL he still has a high enough floor to be worth considering in the long run but at the moment the future looks questionable. Maybe a change of scenery is all he needs. Even with the crummy 2016 showing he still is slotted as the 34th best prospect in baseball.
Brett Phillips – OF – Milwaukee BrewersSimilar to Ryan McMahon, Brett Phillips came into 2016 as one of the top prospects in baseball. Phillips is a true five-tool prospect with a monster arm to his name. With all the talent at his disposal, he still saw his average drop below .230 at the end of the season. Though the power never left as he still smashed sixteen homers with fewer contact rates and stole twelve bags with less time on base.
An excellent AFL stint will help re-establish the hype surrounding Phillips. Just creating more contact will skyrocket the perception around his long term view as what he does when he gets on base and drives the ball is electric. He is 45th overall prospect in baseball.
Joshua Schwager is an analyst for Baseball Ranks. BaseballRanks.com analysis, reports, and ranks players from rookie league to major league baseball. They currently offer daily content and monthly Top 250 minor league prospect rankings. You can follow him on Twitter @BaseballRanks