Knocking Down The Door: July 22, 2021

“Knocking Down The Door” is a weekly column highlighting minor leaguers who are making a case for a major league promotion. Listed below are the names of this week’s picks and the player’s team, age, level(s), prospect ranking, and last 2-3 weeks of statistics.

The analysis can be viewed in the embedded video of the previous day’s episode of The RosterResource Show, a weekly live stream focused on all things related to rosters, transactions, and RosterResource content at FanGraphs.

Alan Trejo (25), INF, Triple-A Albuquerque | Colorado Rockies | Prospect Rank: n/a | July 4-July 20: 18-for-51, 4 HR, 7 2B, 3B, 19 RBI, 2 BB, 8 K, SB

A much-anticipated trade of Trevor Story prior to the July 30 deadline would open up a starting spot in the Rockies’ infield, which could be filled by simply moving Brendan Rodgers over to shortstop and giving Joshua Fuentes (third base) and Garrett Hampson (second base) more at-bats. But Trejo has, at the least, put himself in the mix with his recent performance. The 25-year-old has 18 hits in his last 51 at-bats, including a three-hit game on Tuesday to give him an impressive .291/.345/.559 slash line in his first Triple-A season. It was his 10th multi-hit game since June 15.

While Trejo made starts at second base, third base, and shortstop during his time in the majors earlier in the season, it would be interesting to see whether he or Rodgers would play shortstop if they were both in the lineup together. Here’s Trejo doing some good things as a big league shortstop …


Bryan De La Cruz (24), OF, Triple-A Sugar Land | Houston Astros | Prospect Rank: n/a | July 3-July 20: 22-for-62, 5 HR, 4 2B, 17 RBI, 2 BB, 7 K

The path to the Astros’ outfield might not be clear, but that doesn’t mean De La Cruz won’t find himself in the majors before season’s end. His breakout 2021 for Triple-A Sugar Land could have his trade value on the rise as the Astros look to add to their roster prior to the trade deadline. While he has cooled off some since picking up 12 hits over a four-game span earlier this month, the 24-year-old has two doubles and two homers over his last five games and is slashing .324/.365/.528 with 12 homers in 271 plate appearances on the season.

Justin Steele (26), SP, Triple-A Iowa | Chicago Cubs | Prospect Rank: 25 (organizational) | July 3-July 17: 11 1/3 IP, ER, 3 H, 8 BB, 12 K

After already proving that he can be a reliable relief pitcher in the big leagues — Steele has a 2.03 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings out of the Cubs’ bullpen in 2021 — the 26-year-old lefty is now preparing for a potential stint in the MLB rotation later in the season. Over his last two starts for Triple-A Iowa, Steele has allowed just one hit over 6 2/3 scoreless innings with four walks and ten strikeouts.

Even if the Cubs stand pat and hold on to all of their starting pitchers at the trade deadline, it’s still likely that Steele will get an early audition for the 2022 starting rotation at some point.

Bowden Francis (25), SP, Triple-A Buffalo | Toronto Blue Jays | Prospect Rank: 25 (organizational — Milwaukee Brewers) | July 4-July 20: 18 IP, 3 ER, 8 H, 7 BB, 15 K

Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers along with Trevor Richards in exchange for Rowdy Tellez on July 6, Francis is quickly proving that he was more than just a throw-in to the deal. After a solid debut for Triple-A Buffalo, allowing one earned run over five innings on July 14, Francis was even better in his second start. The 25-year-old threw six no-hit innings before allowing a solo homer to Albert Almora Jr. to start the seventh. He retired the next three batters in order, including a strikeout of Chance Sisco to end the inning.

Francis has allowed two earned runs or less in 11 of his 13 starts in 2021. Here’s some video of him throwing while he was still with the Brewers …

 

Jharel Cotton (29), RP, Triple-A Round Rock | Texas Rangers | Prospect Rank: n/a | July 4-July 20: 10 IP, 0 R, 3 H, BB, 19 K

Traded to the A’s in the deal that sent Josh Reddick and Rich Hill to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August 2016, Cotton made five impressive starts to begin his big league career (2.16 ERA). The A’s had high hopes following his debut, but Cotton struggled in his first full season (5.58 ERA in 24 starts) and then missed all of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Years later, he’s just another journeyman pitching out of the bullpen for Triple-A Round Rock after signing a MiLB deal with the Texas Rangers over the offseason. But that could change very soon.

Since allowing 13 earned runs in 20 innings over his first 10 appearances, the 29-year-old has pitched 18 consecutive scoreless innings. He’s allowed only seven hits over that span with six walks and 26 strikeouts. Over his last three outings, he’s struck out 13 of 20 batters faced. While he probably shouldn’t have to wait for a spot to open up in the Rangers’ bullpen, he might have to wait for Ian Kennedy to be traded before he gets his next shot in the majors. David Laurila of FanGraphs interviewed Cotton last month, just before his scoreless streak began.

A.J. Puk (26), RP, Triple-A Round Rock | Oakland Athletics | Prospect Rank: 107 (overall), 2 (organizational) | July 6-July 20: 9 IP, ER, 10 H, BB, 10 K

The A’s were hoping to use Puk as a multi-inning reliever early in the season, but that plan was put on hold after one outing (3 1/3 innings, 0 R) when he was placed on the Injured List with a strained biceps. Expectations had to be lowered for the oft-injured lefty, who had shoulder surgery last September after missing all of 2018 and most of 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Puk returned to action in mid-May and has been pitching out of the bullpen for Triple-A Las Vegas since. Things were ugly for a while as he allowed 23 earned runs, including nine homers, in 18 innings over his first 13 appearances. But he appears to have turned things around. Aside from one ugly outing in which he allowed five unearned runs, Puk has been terrific with only one earned run allowed, one walk, and 14 strikeouts in 12 innings. Eric Longenhagen wrote about Puk a few weeks back and mentioned that his velocity had appeared to have returned to normal range (96-99 MPH) after it was down in Spring Training.

His continued progress could play an important factor in just how aggressive the A’s will be in adding bullpen help prior to the trade deadline. And it’s not out of the question that Puk could be the trade chip that lands them an impact player.

 





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Brian547TheBabbodl80casey jMikeInNJ Recent comment authors
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john
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john

To piggy back on the A.J. Puk section….what about Daulton Jefferies ? Is it just lack of present need that’s keeping him in AAA ? Or is he in “showcase” status as possible trade bait ?

dl80
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dl80

He has a 5.00 ERA and a 4.79 xFIP, so…

TheBabbo
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TheBabbo

At the risk of cherry-picking, that’s largely the result of three bad starts (out of 11) between June 14 and July 3, when he gave up 19 of his 30 ER on the season (6 each in two starts, 7 in the other). He’s hopefully getting back on track with his last three outings: 19 IP, 6 ER, 2 BB, 19 K. And his K-BB for the season as a whole still is a solid 18 (22-4). But there aren’t really any opportunities for him with the A’s these days.