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This week on Hot Prospects to Watch, we're going to focus on three players currently in Triple-A who are on the verge of getting the call up to the show.

One of these prospects will for sure be up in the majors this week, and that's Cleveland Indians pitching prospect Shane Bieber who will be getting the start on Thursday at Minnesota. It appears that he will only be in line for one start before he is returned to Triple-A, but his debut will be a good indicator of just what lies in store for him in the future. With Braves prospect Austin Riley and Angels prospect Matt Thaiss, it seems like it's only a matter of time before they get called up — they could even be just one injured player away from breaking into the big leagues.

It's just a matter of time for when these three get the call, so let's not waste any more time and take a look at what they have to offer.

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Thaiss, Thaiss, Baby

3B Austin Riley - Gwinnett Stripers (Triple-A: Atlanta Braves)

Upcoming games: at Indianapolis 5/29-31, at Louisville 6/1-3

With the success the Braves have had with prospects contributing at the major league level this season, Riley seems poised to be the next one to make the jump to Atlanta. Riley started off the year at Double-A, where he hit .333 with six home runs and a 1.071 OPS over 27 games before getting promoted to Triple-A. Since joining the Stripers, Riley has continued to put up big numbers by hitting .312 with three home runs and an .819 OPS over 20 games. The one thing owners should be aware of however is Riley is currently boasting a career-high .421 BABIP — more than 100 points higher than his career average. But even with his average eventually coming down from where it's currently at, Riley still has the potential to hit 20 to 25 home runs with a .270 or better average.

With the Braves locked in a tight race atop the NL East, it would not be surprising to see Riley in the majors within the next month based on how he's hitting and the Braves current third basemen aren't. Since rejoining the Braves, Johan Camargo has struggled at the plate, with his .213 average and .363 slugging percentage both down more than 80 points from 2017. Meanwhile Ryan Flaherty, who started off the season by hitting .300 with a .798 OPS and a 12.9 percent walk rate in the month of April, is now hitting .207 with a .592 OPS and a 9.4 percent walk rate in May. With the Phillies and Nationals within one game of the Braves and the Mets within four, Atlanta might look to promote Riley sooner than later to give their offense a boost.

 

SP Shane Bieber - Columbus Clippers (Triple-A: Cleveland Indians)

Projected starts: at Minnesota (MLB) 5/31

On Monday the news broke that Bieber would be getting called up for a spot start on Thursday in order to give the Indians rotation an extra day of rest. Bieber caught attention from many fantasy owners last season after he posted 162 strikeouts and just 10 walks over 173 1/3 innings. What was also notable about his 2017 campaign was the 185 hits he allowed in that span, which averaged out to a ridiculous 9.6 H/9. This season however, he has managed to cut back on the hits (5.6 H/9) while maintaining a similar walk rate (o.4 BB/9) and strikeout rate (8.4 K/9) and posting a minuscule 1.11 ERA.

Since we know that Bieber will be up this week, should owners grab him for the start against Minnesota? Over 10 starts this season, there has been only one game where Bieber did not earn a quality start and only two where he did not strike out at least five batters. Since being promoted to Triple-A, Bieber has thrown six or more innings in each of his five starts, while compiling a 26.5 percent strikeout rate and a 1.05 ERA. While the Twins have fewer team strikeouts (418) than the league average (447), they also have the eighth-lowest team average (.236). It wouldn't be the best possible matchup for Bieber, but it should be a good enough start for owners to consider streaming in 12-team mixed or AL-only leagues.

 

1B Matt Thaiss - Salt Lake Bees (Triple-A: Los Angeles Angels)

Upcoming games: vs Reno 5/29, at Tacoma 5/30-6/3

The Angels' first round pick in the 2016 Draft, Thaiss has continued to improve in each season in the minors, and he has now reached the point where a call-up seems imminent for the 23-year-old. Thaiss has seen a surge in power early in the 2018 season, having already matched last season's home run total of nine in 400 fewer plate appearances. While his 14.5 percent HR/FB rate suggests that he will see a drop in power at some point, his power output could be at least somewhat legitimate as he is hitting fly balls at a higher rate than in his last two seasons. With a .298 average, .365 OBP and .543 SLG, there's just one small thing standing in the way of Thaiss joining the Angels: future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols.

As much as Angels fans and fantasy owners alike would be thrilled to see Pujols relegated to the bench, the reality of the matter is that money and legacy are going to keep Pujols out at first pretty much until his legs fall off. Unlike some first base prospects, the Angels have not experimented yet with moving Thaiss to a corner outfield spot, which limits the chances of Thaiss getting promoted. The best shot Thaiss has at getting regular playing time in the majors at this point is if Pujols goes down with an injury. The problem is that for as atrocious as his offense can be, Pujols has proven to be extremely durable, with 2017 marking just the second time since joining the Angels in 2012 that he played in fewer than 150 games. He missed the 150 game mark by just one appearance last year. Thaiss is probably one of the top first base prospects to invest in right now, and it's very likely he will make an appearance at some point this year, even if it's just to come off the bench.

 

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