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Bigs Break

Minor leaguers, but these five will be major contributors soon

Last week Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said that Bryce Harper, who was the top pick in last year's draft and is tearing up the Class A South Atlantic League, would not play in the majors this season. While the arrival of the 18-year-old (.349 batting average with 23 extra-base hits in his first 149 at bats) is at least a year away, a number of potential stars will reach the big leagues in the next month.

Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays The bounty in the swap that sent righthander Shaun Marcum to the Brewers during the winter, Lawrie, 21, is batting .346 and slugging .633, and he has nine stolen bases in the Pacific Coast League. Deflate those numbers a bit for his playing in Las Vegas and the rest of the PCL's hitter-friendly parks, and you still have a guy who appears ready for the majors. Lawrie's glove is the issue; converted from catcher to second base by the Brewers, he's been moved to third by the Blue Jays with mixed results: nine errors in 42 games—but just three in his last 32.

Dustin Ackley, Mariners Ackley's mature approach at the plate—more walks than strikeouts in two pro seasons—has him ready to break through for an M's team desperate for offense. His OBP skills and gap power make him a good fit for a home park, Safeco Field, that has punished power hitters. Ackley, 23, is still working on his defense at second base (notably lateral range and the pivot) after a collegiate career spent in the outfield and at first base, but the Mariners can afford to trade defense for offense.

Neil Ramirez, Rangers The 22-year-old righty would have been nowhere near this list but for injuries at the club's major league level. In eight starts for Triple A Round Rock, Ramirez has 45 strikeouts against 15 walks, with just one home run allowed. The Rangers have one of the deepest farm systems in the game, and Ramirez is their most advanced pitching prospect, set to bolster the back end of their rotation or possibly a weak bullpen in the season's second half.

Desmond Jennings, Rays Jennings, 24, had a brief stint in the majors last season, and that may be why he has been kept down so long this year. (The team may be trying to ensure that he can't become a free agent until after 2018, rather than in 2017.) When he gets called up, Jennings will give the Rays the OBP and speed that they've lacked in the leadoff spot, while adding another excellent defender to an outfield loaded with them and making a young and exciting team that much more of both.

Jordan Lyles, Astros Sometimes it's about selling tickets. The Astros, who have the game's third-largest one-team market, are just 10th in the NL in attendance after last year's fire sale, and they have the league's worst record. Lyles, their No. 1 prospect, reached Triple A at age 19 last year, and he has a 3.57 ERA in nine starts there in 2011. Houston's fifth starters are 0--5 with a 6.95 ERA. The team can improve and create some buzz in a lost season by promoting Lyles.

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Pitch Perfect

The Giants won the World Series by getting better starting pitching than everyone else and just enough run support. They're at it again. Despite being last in the NL in runs scored, with 163, a lights-out rotation with a 3.12 ERA has the Giants in first place in the NL West, 3½ games ahead of the Rockies. San Francisco is allowing fewer than three runs per game in an 12--3 stretch that includes four shutouts. Leading the charge is Tim Lincecum, the almost-forgotten two-time Cy Young Award winner. He hasn't allowed an earned run in three of his four May starts and had no walks in a three-hit shutout of the A's last Saturday. Not one of the team's five starters has an ERA above 3.71, and that includes Ryan Vogelsong, 33, back in the majors for the first time since 2006 (1.93 ERA).



A CHILD SHALL LEAD Jennings has a golden glove and the OBP skills to be a top-of-the-order force.