Blake Swihart, C/1B/2B/3B/OF, Boston Red Sox
Once the future backstop in Boston, Swihart gave way to Christian Vazquez, who in turn relinquished the starting gig to late-blooming veteran Sandy Leon.
Swihart, a childhood friend of 2017 World Series champ Alex Bregman, was on the prodigious path prior to 2016. He impressed in his 2015 MLB debut, hitting .274 in 84 games at catcher, .303 in the second half of the season.
In 2016, he played 13 games in left field, the Sox trying to get their young bat in the lineup. He would play only 19 total big league games for the year, falling to season-ending ankle surgery in August after colliding into the wall at his new position.
2017 was even worse for the 2011 26th overall pick. He started the year hurt after colliding with Pawtucket teammate Sam Travis. Then a slump preceded a finger injury that preceded another ankle injury.
2018 has seen the former top prospect find a contributing role. He’s played catcher, first base, second, third, left and right field. In fact, 14 appearances in right trails only his 28 games at his customary catching position.
Swihart hasn’t had a hot stick this year, but he did hit .412 in July and offers both extreme defensive versatility as well as above average speed.
Jake Marisnick, OF, Houston Astros
Also considered IF/OF Tony Kemp, but wrote him up earlier this year.
Just before the Astros fateful postseason run last season, outfielder Jake Marisnick fractured his right thumb. This year, he will be a part of the team’s attempt to repeat as world champs.
As a Marlins fan, I envisioned Marisnick playing fourth outfielder in Miami to Stanton, Yelich and Ozuna. Instead, he’s fulfilled that role in Houston to George Springer, Josh Reddick and Marwin Gonzalez.
Originally a third-rounder by Toronto, he was dealt to Miami in 2012 and then to Houston in 2014, a deal involving another player upcoming on this list.
Projected as a potential five tool starter, Marisnick has never hit for average but has power, speed and is an outstanding defender. He hasn’t been healthy much in his career, playing over 120 games just once.
He’s been on and off the DL again this year, but is healthy now and will be itching to make an impact this postseason after sitting out the festivities a year ago.
Yandy Diaz, IF/OF, Cleveland Indians
Like the boss, I’ve always been a fan of Indians utility man Yandy Diaz.
A Cuban import signed by Cleveland in 2013, Diaz has hit .283 in 88 big league games, including a .312 clip in 109 2018 at-bats.
He came up as a third baseman, but that position, like many depth chart slots for the Tribe, is blocked. In fact, Diaz’s spot on the roster, despite his impressive résumé, is only possible by injuries to...deep breath...Leonys Martin, Lonnie Chisenhall, Tyler Naquin, Bradley Zimmer and Brandon Guyer.
The Indians are deep. But injuries have run rampant in MLB this year, Cleveland no exception.
Diaz can play all four corners —first, third, left and right field— and brings a contact approach to the plate along with a disciplined eye. His MLB OBP is .361 (2018: .375) and his on-base approach could be put to valuable use this October.
Corbin Burnes, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers have bats. Before they added two more big ones at the trade deadline in Moustakas and Schoop, they had bats. The question for them this year would be arms.
Their bullpen has taken the scenic route back to dominance (see: Corey Knebel’s brief demotion), having gotten a big boost from one of their top starting pitcher prospects.
Corbin Burnes entered 2018 as a consensus Top 100 prospect (63rd by John) but struggled in 13 starts for Triple-A Colorado Springs. His move to the bullpen went okay, with four scoreless outings and two disastrous ones.
He was called up in July to give the team a fresh arm out of a depleted bullpen. He wouldn’t be going back.
The former starter was put right to the test, working two innings in his first three MLB appearances, striking out four in the middle outing and earning a save in his very first career game.
He didn’t allow a run in his first six outings, with a 13:2 K:BB ratio in 8.2 innings. He had a 2.61 and a 7-0 record in 30 games this season. Originally plotted as an extra arm, he’s carved out a pivotal role in Milwaukee’s bullpen.
Enrique “Kiké” Hernandez, IF/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
The career path of Kiké Hernandez has been quite interesting. A 2009 sixth-rounder by Houston, he was dealt to Miami along with Jarred Cosart for the aforementioned Marisnick, Colin Moran and Francis Martes.
Months later, he was part of the Dee Gordon-Andrew Heaney deal and went to the Dodgers. Pretty much a utility projection since day one, the only question there would be if he could also play outfield.
He hit .284 in his first 24 MLB games with the Astros, then hit .307 in 76 games with the Dodgers in 2015. He set a personal bar for average that came as a surprise. Projected for some pop, he was never pegged to be a .300 hitter, much less against right-handed pitching.
2016 was a wash for the Puerto Rican, and he was decent in 2017. 2018 was make or break for him and he’s answered the call.
He’s gone from a strict platoon option to an everyday option for the extremely deep Dodgers, going as far to push trade deadline acquisition and former All-Star Brian Dozier from the lineup.
He had 16 dingers prior to the All-Star break, and though power cooled off considerably in the second half, he’s been a .294 hitter since mid-July. For what it’s worth, he hits .287 at Dodger Stadium and .227 on the road.
Johan Camargo, IF & Max Fried, LHP, Atlanta Braves
Double-dipping for the last, but not least (although technically least by record), Atlanta Braves.
Johan Camargo has become the everyday third-baseman in Atlanta, but the team was hesitant to hand the reigns to the sophomore player.
Camargo made his MLB debut last season and hit a single point shy of .300 in 82 games. He started 2018 on the DL and, in his absence, veteran Ryan Flaherty somehow got hot.
In the meantime, Atlanta signed Jose Bautista to a minor league deal and promoted him in May. That experiment lasted all of two weeks and Camargo was given the keys to the corner.
The 24-year old has been one of the countless impressive young players for the Braves this year. He joined the power revolution and knocked 19 homers while hitting .272 with a .349 OBP and 3.7 WAR.
Another Brave I want to highlight hasn’t been their most impressive young pitcher this season. To be fair, Atlanta is stockpiling more arms than the average American citizen.
Max Fried was the seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Padres and dealt to the Braves at the 2014 Winter Meetings in the Justin Upton package.
Fried has never managed to stay healthy, topping 100 innings just twice in 2013 and 2016, missing pretty much all of the two years in-between with Tommy John surgery.
When healthy, he lives up to his prospect name. Durability may limit him to bullpen usage long-term, but his great strikeout potential makes him a viable fit there.
For now, that’s where he is and he has delivered in that role since switching to it full-time in September. He allowed a lone run in five innings in the month with eight strikeouts.
Bullpens have never been more important in baseball (as evidenced by Oakland going that route in the Wild Card game Wednesday), and Fried could be a weapon for the young Braves this postseason.