Despite their long-shot (bordering on nonexistent) playoff hopes, the Marlins are on the verge of the most aggressive prospect promotion yet in a year chock-full of them. Word is they're calling up 20-year-old Eury Perez to start Friday's game.

He hasn't thrown a single inning at Triple-A and hasn't thrown more than 78 in a minor-league season. He's not quite a teenager, but he's less than a month removed from being one. It's not a move that demanded to be made, clearly, and nobody would have blamed the Marlins for taking their time with Perez's development. But let's not treat them like they don't know what they're doing, because they probably do. And the fact is players who get called up this early tend to be really, really good.

MIA Miami • #39 • Age: 20
2023 Minors

Certainly by the ways we normally gauge prospects, Perez fits the bill. He has a huge fastball that projects to be a bat-misser in its own right, which is the surest sign of a high ceiling. He has a full allotment of secondary pitches and remarkable control for someone who stands 6-feet-8. His swinging-strike rate at Double-A this year was a Jacob deGrom-like 21 percent, and he struck out a combined 20 in 11 innings over his last two starts. With Grayson Rodriguez up and Andrew Painter ailing, it's hard to make the case for anyone else as the top pitching prospect in baseball.

But Rodriguez was that before Perez became it, and how has that gone? How have things gone for Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Walker, two of the top four prospects (pitcher or hitter) coming into the year? Being the best a prospect can be doesn't guarantee anything in today's game. It was always true but has become increasingly so in recent years. And as I've already pointed out, the Marlins didn't exactly take their time with Perez.

So the new guidelines I laid out for prospect call-ups last week still apply. The learning curve for incoming minor-leaguers is especially steep right now, and growing pains are the expectation. Best, then, to think of Perez as a lottery ticket. Is there a chance of a Bryce Miller or even, thinking back to last year, Spencer Strider-like impact? Sure is, and that's why you don't hesitate to add Perez wherever he's available. But his future value is likely still greater than his present value.

Five on the verge

(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)

Taj Bradley, SP, Rays

2023 majors: 3-0, 3.52 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 15 1/3 IP, 2 BB, 23 K
2023 minors: 1-2, 11.37 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 12 2/3 IP, 8 BB, 11 K

After an impressive string of big-league starts that gave the impression he was here to stay, Bradley has delivered two clunkers since his return to Triple-A, allowing 13 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings. Maybe he's just frustrated for the same reason we all are, but I find it interesting that his starts so far have remained six days apart. The reason for sending him down was ostensibly to get him used to a five-day schedule. So how close is he, really, to coming back? Presumably, an injury would be enough to make it happen, and we're never far away from the next one of those. But the longer he stays down at Triple-A, the more he figures to slide down this list.

Jordan Walker, OF, Cardinals

2023 majors: .274 BA (73 AB), 2 HR, 2 SB, .718 OPS, 3 BB, 20 K
2023 minors: .175 BA (40 AB), 1 HR, 2 SB, .588 OPS, 6 BB, 11 K

It's now been two weeks since the Cardinals made the surprising choice to send Walker down to Triple-A, and well, he doesn't seem any closer to returning, his batting average sitting below .200. Even worse, the Cardinals' decision to move Willson Contreras out from the plate and install him at DH really complicates Walker's path back to the majors. Now, Brendan Donovan is part of the already crowded outfield mix, and there are only three spots to play them all rather than four. We've already learned Walker isn't an injury away from returning because Tyler O'Neill has been injured for the past week. It all adds up to me downgrading Walker from the first spot to the second spot here, and suffice it to say he could slide even more if the situation doesn't improve.

Christian Encarnacion-Strand, 1B, Reds

2022 minors: .304 BA (484 AB), 32 HR, 114 RBI, .955 OPS, 40 BB, 137 K
2023 minors: .364 BA (66 AB), 7 HR, 16 RBI, 1.103 OPS, 1 BB, 17 K

Encarnacion-Strand has cooled off after homering seven times in his first 10 games for Triple-A Louisville, and meanwhile, Wil Myers has come off the COVID-19 IL, giving the Reds another option at first base. It still seems like the news could come down any day, though. We know the 23-year-old got the Reds thinking with the laser show he put on this spring, and it stands to reason nothing he's done at Triple-A has slowed that momentum. I am keeping an eye on that strikeout-to-walk ratio, though. While it's never been a strength of his, it can't get much worse than it is right now.

Jordan Westburg, SS, Orioles

2022 minors: .265 BA (544 AB), 27 HR, 12 SB, .851 OPS, 70 BB, 147 K
2023 minors: .316 BA (117 AB), 9 HR, 4 SB, .961 OPS, 11 BB, 32 K

If you thought Westburg, with his massive production at Triple-A Norfolk so far, was just an injury away from joining the Orioles lineup, well, you've been proven wrong. Ramon Urias, who had been splitting third base with Gunnar Henderson, just went down with a hamstring injury and will miss "a good bit of time," in the words of GM Mike Elias. Turns out journeyman Ryan O'Hearn, who can't even handle all the positions Urias can, was the one to get the call ... for now. But Urias' injury may still turn out to be Westburg's ticket to the big leagues.

"He's somebody that we're still monitoring and discussing and paying very close attention to on a nightly basis," Elias said. "I think, right now, with the opponents we've got here coming up, we're going with this group. But we're keeping an eye on all those guys, him included."

With the opponents they've got coming up? Hmm. Could it be they wanted another lefty bat with six straight righties on the schedule? That's how I read it, and sooner than later, they're going to need the versatility Westburg provides. He's not a surefire stud or anything, but he's a power bat at a position (shortstop) where you're unlikely to find one on the waiver wire.

Colton Cowser, OF, Orioles

2022 minors: .278 BA (510 AB), 19 HR, 18 SB, .875 OPS, 94 BB, 174 K
2023 minors: .300 BA (120 AB), 5 HR, 4 SB, .942 OPS, 29 BB, 35 K

Cowser's batting average is down about 25 points from a week ago, and he went 0 for 5 with four strikeouts Wednesday. So while there's certainly a case for the Orioles to call him up, you can understand them erring on the side of development, even as they're trying to catch up to the Rays in the AL East. The need is less urgent, too, with Anthony Santander turning it on in the past few days. Here's how GM Mike Elias summed up the situation:

"Everything that he's doing is really encouraging," Elias said. "If he keeps this up, he's going to put himself in a position to help this team. But I don't think we're at that moment in time yet, where we can say that he's graduated Triple-A."

OK, fair enough. Still, the overall stat line is still strong, particularly if you take into account the .442 on-base percentage, and it's likely strikeouts will always be part of Cowser's profile, for as good as his hit tool is. I choose to focus on the first half of Elias' comment, that Cowser is putting himself in a position to help the team, but I now suspect Jordan Westburg's opportunity will come first.

Five on the periphery

(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)

Matt McLain, SS, Reds

2022 majors: .232 BA (371 AB), 17 HR, 27 SB, .816 OPS, 70 BB, 127 K
2023 minors: .336 BA (125 AB), 11 HR, 9 SB, 1.143 OPS, 23 BB, 31 K

If it wasn't already clear McLain was having a breakout season, the past week has left no room for doubt. It began with him hitting for the cycle -- the second time he has done so, actually, since being drafted 17th overall in 2021 -- and continued with three home runs in his next five games, bringing him to 11 overall. Not bad for a 5-foot-8 player "without a lot of functional strength," in the words of Baseball America. Factor in McLain's superlative plate discipline, and it's easy to imagine an Alex Bregman-like outcome, especially since he'll get a similar boost from his home park.

It just so happens that shortstop is the position the Reds have struggled to fill all season, so if you want to consider McLain the unofficial sixth pick for my Five on the Verge, feel free. The real question is whether someone else in the Reds organization jumps in and claims the job first ...

Elly De La Cruz, SS, Reds

2022 minors: .304 BA (471 AB), 28 HR, 47 SB, .945 OPS, 40 BB, 158 K
2023 minors: .273 BA (77 AB), 5 HR, 2 SB, .901 OPS, 4 BB, 26 K

De La Cruz is two years younger than McLain (21 vs. 23), but of the two, he's the one already on the 40-man roster. And of the two, he's the one with the sort of awe-inspiring talent that might compel a team to say heck with it and throw all caution to the wind. Case in point: in Tuesday's game, De La Cruz hit three balls more than 116 mph, two home runs (one from each side of the plate) and a double. Here's what the hardest-hit of those balls looked like: 

Pretty crazy, right? Well, here's the craziest part. No team has had three balls hit more than 116 mph in a game. Notice I said team, not player. We used to say Oneil Cruz was in a class of his own for quality of contact, but it's possible De La Cruz has surpassed him. Strikeouts are a major issue that could make for a rocky transition to the majors, which is why a non-contender like the Reds might prefer to take its time, but the upside here is off the charts.

Henry Davis, C, Pirates

2022 minors: .264 BA (212 AB), 10 HR, 9 SB, .852 OPS, 21 BB, 51 K
2023 minors: .316 BA (76 AB), 8 HR, 5 SB, 1.175 OPS, 16 BB, 20 K

After making quick work of the lower minors, Davis stumbled once he reached Double-A last year. A wrist injury was partly to blame, but it was telling that Endy Rodriguez, another catcher in the Pirates organization, overtook him on some rank lists. You'd think being the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft would earn Davis some benefit of the doubt. Well, now Rodriguez is scuffling at Triple-A, having missed some time with a forearm strain, while Davis is straight-up murdering Double-A, batting .441 (15 or 34) with six home runs in his past nine games. At this point, his offensive game is above reproach, but it may be that Rodriguez is the better choice behind the plate. No matter, though. Davis' long-term prospects would actually improve if he moves off the position.

Ben Brown, SP, Cubs

2022 minors: 6-5, 3.38 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 104 IP, 36 BB, 149 K
2023 minors: 3-0, 0.59 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 30 2/3 IP, 11 BB, 47 K

You may remember Brown was also featured in last week's Prospects Report, which noted that his good work had earned him a move up to Triple-A. Well, he's now made two starts at Triple-A, and ... the good work has continued. There, he's allowed five hits in 10 2/3 innings, actually improving his already ridiculous batting average against to .135. His last outing saw him strike out 10 over five shutout innings. Here's what that looked like:

Brown's fastball sneaks up on hitters because of his 6-foot-6 frame, but it's his two distinctive breaking balls that really set him apart. He's not a priority stash yet, but he's already on the 40-man roster. That's true for only one other (healthy) starting pitcher in the Cubs minor-league system, Caleb Kilian. And you don't need me to tell you pitching injuries happen all the time.

Hunter Goodman, C, Rockies

2022 minors: .294 BA (523 AB), 36 HR, 33 2B, .926 OPS, 40 BB, 151 K
2023 minors: .278 BA (108 AB), 9 HR, 12 2B, .989 OPS, 11 BB, 30 K

Goodman hit 36 home runs as a 22-year-old in A-ball last year, which made for an interesting footnote but didn't elevate him to the level of "prospect" for a variety of reasons (not the least of which being he was a 22-year-old in A-ball). But in Double-A, he's doing much the same thing, with his exit velocities backing up the idea he's a genuine masher. His catching skills probably aren't up to modern major-league standards, but the Rockies have been experimenting with him at first base and even in left field. Could an Evan Gattis-like future await him? It's beginning to seem realistic.