Predicting surprise: Young players who could shine for Marlins, Royals in 2018

It’s possible that the now-depleted Marlins might slightly redeem themselves after their sell-off, thanks to the Marcell Ozuna trade that yielded them a young pitcher filled with potential. And it’s possible that the Royals have an outfielder who could be a steady presence in their lineup for years to come like he showed it 2017. But there’s also reason to believe that he can do even more.

Predicting surprise: Young players who could shine for Marlins, Royals in 2018

Predicting surprise: Young players who could shine for Marlins, Royals in 2018

Here’s a closer look at both:


Marlins: Sandy Alcantara, RP


2017 stats: 8.1 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 10 K, 4.32 ERA

In shipping Ozuna to the Cardinals, Miami might have picked up a couple of young players with serious talent, raw as it might be. Magneuris Sierra could make an impact in their outfield one day, and in Sandy Alcantara, the Marlins might have their closer of the future; that is, if he isn’t holding down a mid-rotation spot.

Alcantara got the call to St. Louis in September and made only a handful of appearances, and while he gave up too many hits and allowed more runs than you’d like to see, he gave a glimpse of what he’s capable of — an upper-90s heater that even touches 100 and that, if he can harness it, sets up a strong change-up rather nicely.

Why he could break out: The biggest reason might be simply because he was traded. On a much deeper Cardinals roster, Alcantara probably spends a bulk of 2018 in Triple-A. Having only pitched as high as Double-A before St. Louis traded him, it’s logical that the team would have chosen to further his development there rather than with the big-league club.

If the Marlins keep him on their major league roster for a significant portion of 2018, it’s likely that Alcantara will experience some growing pains, but he will also have the opportunity to dazzle. The key to doing that is figuring out his high-speed offerings. His four-seamer averaged almost 99 mph while with the Cardinals, but hitters tagged it at a .333 clip. His sinker averaged 98, but hitters still managed .267 against that pitch.

These pitches are so important because of what they can mean for his change-up and breaking pitches. He got a whiff rate of just over 38 percent with the 90 mph change, and hitters managed just .222 against his slider. Alcantara needs to sharpen this third pitch as well as master his heat because he has already shown that he can elicit a lot of swings and misses with his offspeed pitch.

Again, there will be growing pains if most of his innings next season come in Miami. In just 8.1 innings in September, he gave up two home runs, and Alcantara has never been one for a low ERA, so even as a starter he projects for the middle of the rotation at best. But if he shifts to the bullpen — St. Louis used him only in relief despite that he had almost exclusively started in the minors — his stuff might be enough for him to one day close games.

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Royals: Jorge Bonifacio, OF


2017 stats: .255/.320/.432, 384 AB, 17 HR, 15 2B, 118 K, 35 BB

After the Royals recalled Bonifacio on April 21, he hit his first career home run in just his second game, one of 17 homers that he hit on the way to injecting some life into the Royals’ lineup. Along with being a spark plug on offense, Bonifacio can play all three outfield positions, though the Royals used him predominantly in right field in 2017. His defense could use a little polish, but right now Bonifacio’s flexibility is a healthy asset for the Royals.

Kansas City front office members were first introduced to Bonifacio in fall 2009, when he was just 16, and they were impressed enough that they signed him to a six-figure bonus that December. Given his youth, Bonifacio has taken a measured pace through the Royals’ farm system, but given his performance in his first season in Kansas City, his time in the minors is likely done.

Why he could break out: Bonifacio has the family pedigree — older brother Emilio has been in the majors since 2007 — and he has the potential to surpass his sibling. The younger Bonifacio appeared in the Arizona Fall League All-Star game in 2013 and was on minor league All-Star teams in 2012, 2014 and 2015 before appearing on the Futures Game roster in 2016.

Bonifacio is a career .268 hitter in the minors so, like he showed in 2017, he can be a steady presence in the lineup. And though he struck out 28 percent of the time last season, this is 5 to 6 percent higher than he has in the minors, so it is reasonable to expect that this will come down some.

But even if it doesn’t, Bonifacio hit the ball well in 2017, spreading his hits to all fields and making medium or hard contact nearly 80 percent of the time. Bonifacio also slightly edged the MLB averages in exit velocity, home run distance and launch angle, so it’s safe to say that he makes quality contact consistently. That bodes well for a young hitter with a sturdy rookie season already under his belt.

Next week: A look at who has the best shot to break out for the Cardinals and Rays.

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