Mike Rosenbaum's End-of-Spring Top 100 MLB Prospects
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Javier Baez (No. 5 prospect)
So far this offseason, Prospect Pipeline has broken down each team's top 10 prospects and ranked all the farm systems, and we even looked at baseball's top 100 prospects entering spring training.
But with the spring winding down and Opening Day less than a week away, it's time to re-evaluate the early season rankings of Major League Baseball's top prospects.
For the most part, the placement of the top 25 players is unchanged after spring training. However, there are several prospects, such as Aaron Sanchez, Julio Urias and Stephen Piscotty, who improved their respective rankings thanks to strong performances in major league camp.
As is the case with all my rankings, any player who’s accrued 130 at-bats or 50 innings in the major leagues no longer qualifies as a prospect. Additionally, I don’t treat international free agents as true prospects, because there’s no benefit in comparing a 26-year-old Cuban player to an 18-year-old draft pick until they log significant stateside experience.
We hope everyone enjoys Prospect Pipeline's end-of-spring top 100 prospects for 2014.
Daniel Norris made big developmental strides during the second half of the 2013 season, adjusting the length of his stride so as to achieve a more consistent release point and better stay in line with his target.
The left-hander’s fastball works in the 92-94 mph range, and he can reach back for a few additional ticks as needed. His best secondary offering is his slider, which is a swing-and-miss pitch with plus potential, thrown with depth and late bite.
Norris also has the makings of an above-average changeup, but his command of the pitch will require significant refinement in future seasons. Meanwhile, the southpaw’s curveball lacks projection but should serve as a serviceable, change-of-pace offering at maturity.
Assuming he repeats his mechanics like he did late last year, Norris should be able to better develop his secondary arsenal next season and take a huge step toward the major leagues.
A second-round draft pick out of high school in 2012, Nick Williams opened eyes with his pure hitting ability last season while playing for an absolutely loaded Hickory team.
At 6’3”, 195 pounds, Williams is a premium athlete with a collection of loud and potentially impact tools. The left-handed hitter flat-out rakes, demonstrating an innate ability to barrel and drive the ball courtesy of superb hand-eye coordination.
Williams has the potential for legitimate plus hit and power tools at maturity, as his impact, plus bat speed allows him to turn around high-end velocity with ease. Even though he shows decent recognition of secondary pitches, he still is an overaggressive hitter who attacks the ball and doesn’t attempt to coax walks.
Williams is a 70-grade runner with long strides that cater to his overall range in center field, though he played left field for most of the 2013 season in deference to Lewis Brinson. He should continue to see time at both positions moving forward. In general, his arm is below average and is really his only down tool, while his inconsistent reads and routes reflect his overall rawness and highlight areas for improvement.
Given the amount of swing-and-miss in his game, Williams would benefit from a return to Hickory next season. However, there's no question he has the tools and athleticism to hold his own at a higher level. The only question is whether he's developed the capacity to make the swift adjustments necessary for such an aggressive assignment.
Lauded for having the most advanced prep bat in the 2013 draft class, Dominic Smith is a mature hitter for his age who projects to hit for both average and power at the highest level.
The left-handed batter has a smooth but powerful swing as well as an impressive feel for hitting, thanks to good hand-eye coordination and solid approach. He already recognizes spin better than most of his peers, while his knack for working counts should result in favorable on-base rates.
Smith’s ability to drive the ball from line to line suggests potential for a hit tool that’s above average or better, and his plus raw power should play in games with great frequency moving forward. The one major knock against him is that he can get too pull-happy when his hips trickle forward, which, in turn, prevents him from staying inside the ball. However, that’s an issue with a majority of hitters his age.
While Smith is more athletic than his stocky frame suggests, concern about his soft-ish body type and how it will mature physically makes him a no-doubt first-base-only prospect. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though; he’s an instinctual defender who moves well around the bag and can flash plus with the glove.
Selected by the Brewers in the second round of the 2012 draft, Tyrone Taylor showed his potential in 2013 during his impressive but under-the-radar full-season debut at Low-A Wisconsin.
Taylor has an athletic build with broad shoulders and a projectable body. Though he has a fluid swing, the right-handed hitter has too much pre-pitch movement with his hands but gets quieter before initiating swing.
He has slightly above-average power potential and is still learning how to use it in games. And while his swing lacks the leverage to consistently drive the ball over the fence, he has present gap pop and a feel for using the entire field.
Taylor is an aggressive defender in center field, with excellent closing speed and the ability to flat-out go get the ball. He has an instinctual first step and takes direct routes, and he’s especially adept at going back and tracking the ball. He has slightly above-average arm strength that plays up, thanks to a quick release, and his throws are accurate with good carry.
Taylor is one of my top breakout prospects for the 2014 season, as he’s set to open the year in High-A as a 20-year-old. If he takes a step forward in the power department, then we’re talking about an under-the-radar 20-20 candidate.
The Blue Jays managed Alberto Tirado’s workload carefully last season—as they do with all their teenage arms—but that didn’t stop the right-hander from making an indelible impression in the rookie-level Appalachian League.
At a wiry 6’1”, 177 pounds, Tirado uses his long, lanky arms to create a consistent downhill plane toward the plate. However, because he’s still growing into his loose arm and slender build, his delivery is still inconsistent and raw. His fastball sits in the low 90s, and his frame suggests more velocity will come with physical maturation.
His best secondary offering is currently his 81-84 mph changeup, which is naturally effective due to his quick arm, and it projects as a plus pitch at maturity. Tirado also throws a slider in the same velocity range that represents a third plus offering when he fully develops, though it’s presently a raw pitch that lacks consistent shape and will require considerable development.
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2B Jon Schoop (Baltimore Orioles)
Alex Reyes is one of the more intriguing pitching prospects yet to reach a full-season level, and he already possesses arguably the highest ceiling among pitchers in the Cardinals system.
The right-hander works comfortably in the 92-95 mph range with his fastball and was gunned as high as 96-97 mph last summer. Reyes’ long arms allow him to create a devastating downhill plane and achieve serious extension toward the plate, which in turn makes him difficult for opposing hitters to lift.
His curveball is filthy and only going to get better, as he throws it with power from the same release point, creating tight spin and devastating two-plane break. It’s a legit swing-and-miss offering with outstanding pace that he can also throw for a strike early in the count.
Reyes’ changeup lags behind his fastball-curveball, as expected, though his feel for the pitch steadily improved over the course of the 2013 season. In general, it has the potential to be an above-average pitch at maturity, possibly even more.
Jon Schoop suffered a back injury last season that cut into his development at Triple-A Norfolk, but he still managed to reach the major leagues as a September call-up and, for good measure, homered in his first start.
Schoop is a good athlete with present strength, but he isn’t a strong runner or particularly physical ballplayer. That being said, he’s still a versatile defender capable of playing multiple infield positions thanks to an above-average glove and plus arm strength.
A right-handed batter, Schoop shows above-average bat speed and moderate power potential to all fields. He attacks the ball with his hands, relying on advanced barrel control to square the ball with consistency.
He still has a tendency to bar his front arm and wrap the bat, which could make him vulnerable to same-side velocity on the hands, but the overall offensive package suggests a future as an everyday second baseman.
Schoop entered spring training as a long shot to make Baltimore's Opening Day roster, but due to his strong performance and Manny Machado opening the year on the disabled list, the 22-year-old is still in the mix with a week remaining until Opening Day.
Josh Bell is a physically strong and projectable switch-hitter with the potential for above-average-or-better hit and power tools. He employs a short line-drive stroke from the right side of the plate and a more leveraged and power-oriented swing from the left.
In general, Bell demonstrates a present feel for the strike zone and understands his strengths as a hitter. He hit nearly three times as many doubles as home runs last season, and as he continues to add strength and gain experience against quality pitching, it’s easy to envision him becoming a middle-of-the-order threat capable of hitting 20-25 home runs at maturity.
Defensively, Bell possesses enough athleticism and range for either corner-outfield position, though his above-average arm strength is better suited for a career in right field. Regardless of his defensive home, his value will always be tied to his average and power potential.
Jesse Biddle put up impressive strikeout totals in 2013 at Double-A Reading, but his control and overall effectiveness regressed steadily during a full season against advanced hitters.
The left-hander has a projectable build with broad shoulders, and his minimum effort and balanced delivery suggests he can be an innings eater at maturity. Biddle’s fastball sits at 90-93 mph, and he works it to both sides of the plate, though his control/command of the pitch noticeably deteriorated during the second half of season.
His curveball is still his best weapon, thrown with tight spin and late, downer bite, and he’s comfortable throwing it for a strike and spotting it out of the zone to induce whiffs. While Biddle’s improved his changeup over the last two years, it still has a way to go toward becoming an effective offering at the highest level.
Biddle has the potential for three average-to-plus pitches at maturity, but his secondary arsenal will need further refinement before he gets a crack at The Show.
After his selection by the Reds in the first round of the 2013 draft, Phillip Ervin wasted no time making an impact in the professional ranks, as the toolsy outfielder posted impressive numbers across the board while reaching a full-season level.
A right-handed hitter, Ervin has a quick, compact swing with plus bat speed and a strong top hand that allows him to consistently stay inside the ball. Thanks to his feel for the strike zone and ability to work deep counts, he may hit for a higher average than expected—at least until he reaches more advanced minor league levels.
And even though he’s an above-average-to-plus runner with decent base-stealing skills, the outfielder’s stocky frame and thick lower half could cost him a step as he matures physically.
With plenty of physical strength to his frame, Ervin back-legs the ball as well as anyone from the 2013 draft class, using his strong lower half and rotational swing to effortlessly to turn on inner-half offerings.
Though he has plenty of thump to the pull side, Ervin should develop more opposite-field gap pop through evolution of his approach. He should continue to be developed as a center fielder due to his athleticism and wheels, but the bat and arm strength could also profile at a corner spot if necessary.
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RHP Rafael Montero (New York Mets)
Enny Romero has a projectable frame with plenty of room to add strength, and he already possesses the best arm strength in Tampa Bay’s system. However, in spite of reaching the major leagues late last season, the left-hander is still more of a thrower than a pitcher, and he struggles to repeat a consistent release point.
Romero’s plus fastball is explosive and ranges anywhere from 92 to 97 mph, though his control of the pitch is best described as effectively wild. His power curveball flashes plus potential due to its velocity and downer break, and his changeup is raw but shows at least above-average potential.
Romero has the stuff to pitch in a major league rotation, but his below-average control resulted in an assignment to Triple-A Durham early in the spring. He has a few other prospects (Jake Odorizzi, Nate Karns) blocking his path to the major leagues, but the southpaw should be up at some point this season.
A surprise selection (No. 8 overall) last June by the Royals, Hunter Dozier proved last summer with an outstanding professional debut that he was more than simply a cost-saving pick.
Dozier’s bat is a carrying tool, as he shows solid bat speed and average power potential. In general, he is quick to the ball and possesses a mature feel for hitting. That being said, some elements of his swing, such as a load that limits in-game power, and his struggles to get extended against inner-half velocity, will need refinement moving forward. However, both those aspects should improve (to an extent) as he gains experience against quality pitching.
Though he was technically drafted as a shortstop, Dozier’s 6’4”, 220-pound build and below-average speed gives him little chance to stick at the position long term. Yet his solid lateral range and footwork, above-average arm strength and smooth glove should translate favorably at third base, where his bat should also serve as a clean fit with a boost in the power department.
After finishing his pro debut in the Class-A South Atlantic League, Dozier will likely return to the level for 2014, or possibly even move up to High-A. Either way, the 22-year-old should spend a decent chunk of the upcoming season in Double-A.
Making his stateside debut last season, Raimel Tapia burst onto the prospect scene by posting obscene numbers in the rookie-level Pioneer League.
Tapia is a plus athlete with potential for five impact tools at maturity. The left-handed batter’s swing mechanics are somewhat unusual but don’t hinder his feel for hitting. Meanwhile, his hit tool could ultimately be plus or better, thanks to his plus bat speed, preternatural bat-to-ball ability and outstanding barrel control.
Tapia already generates big extension after contact, and more power should come as he adds strength to his lean frame. His plus speed translates to similar range in right field, where he shows a plus arm that’s ideal for position.
Tapia is still a very raw and inexperienced prospect who is still several years away from reaching the major leagues, but his ceiling is arguably as high as any position prospect yet to debut at the full-season level.
Selected in the first round of the 2013 draft based on the merit of his loud tools, Tim Anderson surprisingly held his own following an aggressive assignment to Low-A Kannapolis for his professional debut.
Anderson’s best tool is plus speed that plays on all sides of the ball, though his overall game will require serious refinement moving forward. The right-handed hitter’s stick will ultimately determine his level of success; he has bat speed but struggles to drive velocity, and he’s yet to face quality breaking stuff.
And while his power potential is fringy, Anderson has above-average raw pop that should gradually emerge as he gains experience.
Though his defense is still very raw and too aggressive, Anderson has the tools to be the starting shortstop on a playoff team. Even though his speed allows him to make plays in the hole, his arm strength is merely a tick above average and could lead to a position change (second base, third base, center field) down the line.
Because he’s not a flamethrower like Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero has flown under the radar during his quick ascension in the Mets system.
While the undersized right-hander boasts impressive arm strength and a mature arsenal, his plus-command profile is easily his strongest attribute. Montero’s fastball comes in at a deceptive 90-93 mph and generates a surprising amount of swing-and-misses, and he commands the pitch to both sides of the plate and changes hitters’ eye levels aggressively.
Montero’s curveball and changeup are both serviceable offerings, though both play up, thanks to his feel for sequencing. In order to achieve long-term success in the major leagues, he'll need to make one of his secondary offerings an out pitch.
Montero doesn’t have a high ceiling like the Mets’ other young right-handers, but his plus command and overall feel for his craft make him a safe bet to emerge as a quality back-end starter in the coming year.
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RHP Zach Lee (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Rosell Herrera hopped back on the prospect radar last season after a disappointing 2012 campaign, as the projectable switch-hitter led the Low-A South Atlantic League in batting average and ranked third in OPS.
While Herrera offers more projection from the left side of the plate, his swing involves too much wasted movement with his current leg kick and pre-pitch load.
While he showed above-average power last season, it’s worth nothing that his home park (Asheville) was one of the more hitter-friendly ballparks in the minor leagues. Still, there’s reason to believe he could be a double-digit home-run guy by adding strength to his lanky frame.
Herrera split time between shortstop and third base between two levels in 2012 before spending the entire 2013 season at shortstop. His ability to stick at the position will ultimately depend on how much he develops physically; his speed is slightly above average but will likely decline as he grows into his frame.
After a shaky 2012 campaign in which he was rushed to Double-A, Zach Lee improved on all fronts last season while repeating the level.
While the right-hander hasn’t showcased the mid-90s fastball that was present in the months following the 2010 draft, he still sits comfortably in the 88-93 mph range, and he uses it to attack both right- and left-handed hitters on the inner half.
Lee also mixes in both a two-seamer with arm-side run and a cutter with late slice to the glove side. His deep arsenal also consists of both a curveball and slider, with the latter representing the better offering. His changeup has nice fading action in the low-80s and projects to be an above-average-to-plus secondary offering.
Lee will likely begin the 2014 season at Triple-A Albuquerque, though the Dodgers, who have a history of promoting their top arms ahead of schedule, probably won’t want him to get overexposed in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Therefore, as long as he doesn’t struggle out of the gate and stays healthy, don’t be surprised if the organization looks his way early in the year if the need for a starter arises.
Brian Goodwin continued to flash loud tools last year during a full season at the Double-A level, though his overall inconsistency on all sides of the ball was exposed by advanced competition.
As a plus athlete, Goodwin’s carrying tool is his speed, which shows through his range and closing speed in center field. Still, his reads/routes are still inconsistent and hurt his future projection at the position. With all that being said, Goodwin should become a better-than-average defender and could conceivably see time at all three outfield positions in the major leagues.
Goodwin, a left-handed batter, still has timing issues pertaining to his pre-pitch load that fuel his overall inconsistency at the dish. He possesses quick hands and an explosive swing that yields slightly above-average power—mostly to his pull side—but also falls into funks where he commits to pitches too early and tries to pull everything.
And even though Goodwin’s approach can be exploited by advanced sequencing, his strong pitch recognition and capacity to work deep counts should help him post solid on-base rates at the highest level.
Pierce Johnson is the safest bet to enjoy success in the major leagues among all Cubs pitching prospects, as he possesses a very projectable frame and present feel for a deep arsenal.
The right-hander’s low-90s fastball represents his only plus offering—he can reach back for a few extra ticks as needed—as he throws the pitch on a solid downward plane with some late life and sinking action to the arm side, and he’ll even add some cutting action at times.
Johnson’s curveball is his best secondary offering, thrown with velocity in the low 80s without sacrificing shape or bite. He also mixes in a changeup, though it’s currently his least-advanced offering in need of considerable refinement moving forward.
After his success at both A-ball levels last season, Johnson’s pure stuff and pitchability should help him start to move quickly in 2014.
Acquired by the Red Sox in the 2012 blockbuster deal that sent half of the team’s starting lineup to the Dodgers, Allen Webster was outstanding over the first two months of the season at Triple-A.
As a result of his success, the right-hander was called up to start the back end of a double dip on April 21. After that, he bounced between the minors and the majors three more times but struggled in each of his opportunities with the Red Sox.
Webster works from a three-quarter arm slot and repeats his delivery well with excellent drive from his back side and good balance throughout. However, he does pull off on his front side and jerks his head at times.
The right-hander’s fastball is most effective in the 91-96 mph range with some sink and arm-side life, and he’ll occasionally scrape 97-98 mph in shorter bursts. The pitch has heavy sinking action when located down in the zone and yields a high number of ground-ball outs.
Webster also features a mid- to upper 80s slider that flashes plus potential with tight spin and late break, and it’s a highly effective offering when he can drop it off the table. The right-hander’s changeup improved significantly last season, as he throws it with deceptive arm speed in the low 80s with a heavy fade.
When he’s on, Webster is still flat-out nasty, with three pitches capable of missing bats at the highest level. However, the fringe command that he showcased this last season with the Red Sox didn’t help his chances of cracking the rotation in 2014. If Boston chooses to deploy him in the major league bullpen, he has the potential to be a force in the seventh or eighth inning.
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3B Matt Davidson (Chicago White Sox)
With an ideal pitcher’s frame at 6’5”, 220 pounds, Kingham works from a consistently high-three-quarter arm slot, employing a delivery that involves minimal effort and is easy to repeat. The right-hander's fastball is presently his biggest offering, with plus velocity in the 93-96 mph range that he holds deep into starts.
Though he demonstrates a feel for pounding the outside corner against both right- and left-handed hitters with the pitch, Kingham tends to get hit around when the pitch lingers up in the zone.
His changeup is presently a fringe-average offering, though the pitch flashes big potential with decent depth and late sinking action. However, the velocity of the pitch is inconsistent, as it typically works in the mid 80s but is sometimes thrown too firmly in the upper 80s.
Kingham’s curveball serves as another fringe-average offering with plenty of room to improve. He throws it consistently with tight spin and late downer bite, and the pitch flashes above-average overall potential. However, his command of the pitch is fringy (at best) and will need considerable refinement next season.
If Kingham makes strides with his overall control and command during the first half of the 2014 season, then there’s a realistic chance he’ll finish the year in the major leagues alongside Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.
After a forgettable 2012 season with the Oakland A’s, A.J. Cole turned in a breakthrough campaign last year at Double-A after rejoining the Nationals through another offseason trade.
The right-hander’s fastball sits at 93-97 mph with natural sink and decent arm-side run, and he demonstrates good command of the pitch, especially when challenging right-handed batters on the inner portion of the plate.
Cole’s curveball is thrown with power but is largely inconsistent, as he possesses the arm speed to throw a hammer but struggles with his release point. Lastly, his changeup noticeably improved last season and represents an average offering, especially when thrown off a well-located fastball.
The development and consistency of Cole’s secondary arsenal will determine whether he comes close to reaching his ceiling as a starting pitcher. However, given his big-time arm strength and lack of a clear path to the major leagues, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nationals gave him a look out of the bullpen during spring training.
Colin Moran owned arguably the most advanced bat and plate discipline of all 2013 draftees, but he didn’t make the immediate impact that many expected during his time in the South Atlantic and Arizona Fall Leagues.
A physically strong left-handed hitter, Moran features a smooth but not visually pleasing swing, creating excellent plane with the bat head through the zone, which, in turn, allows him to see the ball deep and use the entire field.
However, Moran’s deep load with his hands could make him susceptible to velocity in the big leagues. That being said, he rarely expands the zone or chases pitchers’ pitches, and his advanced pitch recognition should always result in lots of walks and a solid on-base percentage.
Moran lacks the raw power and power frequency typically associated with a corner infielder of his size and draft status; he employs an upper-body and handsy swing that limits his lower-half use and impedes his ability to hit for consistent power.
As a below-average runner, Moran is in danger of having to move from the position if he loses a step. He shows moderate first-step quickness and fringy range at the hot corner, but he can make a play on anything within reach. His arm represents his strongest defensive tool and helps compensate for lack of range, as his clean-and-quick arm stroke yields plus velocity across the infield.
Moran has the potential to move quickly through the Marlins system, but don’t expect him to be rushed to the major leagues if the power isn’t there.
Eddie Rosario has posted a high batting average at every level since the Minnesota Twins selected him out of high school in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. However, he’ll begin the 2014 season on the Twins bench, serving a 50-game suspension after a second positive test for a drug of abuse during the offseason.
Rosario’s biggest draw is his projectable hit tool that stands out due to his impressive bat-to-ball ability and flat path through the zone. Though he generally has a plan at the plate and shows the ability to make adjustments, Rosario swings like a power hitter by dropping his hands and trying to lift the ball after contact.
He still makes consistent hard contact because he knows how to get the barrel to the ball and also works counts and fouls off lots of pitches. He has above-average speed but is an unrefined base stealer who runs into too many outs.
Prior to the 2012 season, Rosario moved from the outfield to second base, where he has athleticism and arm strength suitable for the position. Though his footwork has steadily improved, I’m not a fan of his hands or actions at the keystone—they play well but lack fluidity, and he tends to field the ball too far back relative to his setup.
I did unexpectedly catch him in left field for an Arizona Fall League game and was reminded of how well he moves and closes on the baseball. In that game, Rosario made one of the better catches I saw this year, sprinting toward the left-center-field gap and making a ridiculous over-the-head grab at the warning track.
He’ll have to deal with the self-inflicted setback to begin the season, but the potential still exists for Rosario to reach the major leagues later in the summer.
The Chicago White Sox landed a potential everyday third baseman this offseason when they acquired Matt Davidson from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for closer Addison Reed. Davidson had a solid showing last year in the major leagues over the final two months of the regular season.
His power continues to serve as his carrying tool, as the right-handed batter features plus raw pop to all fields—especially to the pull side—that’s resulted in 20-plus home runs in each of the last three seasons.
And while Davidson will always post high strikeout totals—at least until he learns to hit quality velocity and secondaries—he has has trimmed his whiff rate over the last two years without sacrificing power. Meanwhile, Davidson’s patient approach should lead to respectable on-base rates and allow him to hit 18-25 homers in a given season (especially at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field).
Though his defense has improved over the last year, Davidson still projects as fringe average at the hot corner due to his lack of side-to-side quickness and his limited range. The White Sox want Davidson to remain at the position given the presence of recently signed Jose Abreu at first base, and he’ll be given every chance to do so moving forward.
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2B Mookie Betts (Boston Red Sox)
James Paxton had yet another interesting season, as he struggled with his control and command at Triple-A for a majority of the year but showed lights-out stuff with the Mariners as a September call-up.
Paxton possesses big-time fastball velocity, usually working in the 94-96 mph range with some movement but also flashing a seven or eight on occasion. The left-hander creates enormous deception through his long-arm action on the backside, though it does impede his ability to throw strikes.
Paxton’s curveball is still as nasty as ever, with a big shape and hard biting action that causes both right- and left-handed batters to buckle at the knees. His changeup is essentially a show-me pitch that lacks feel and control, though it could emerge as a weapon if he can learn a consistent release point.
As has been the case for the last several years, Paxton’s command issues make him extremely difficult (and frustrating) to project. Although he doesn't throw quality strikes consistently and usually works deep counts, the southpaw has an undeniable ability to rack up strikeouts thanks to a combination of stuff and deception.
Paxton could be an innings eater with swing-and-miss stuff as a starter if he can learn to command his fastball and get ahead in the count. If not, then he still has upside as a dominant late-inning reliever.
There were only two other prospects who outperformed Betts’ .923 OPS and 38 stolen bases last season: Byron Buxton (.944 OPS, 55 SB) and George Springer (1.010 OPS, 45 SB).
Although he’s undersized at 5’9”, 156 pounds, Betts has surprising strength for his size, with a feel for applying it in games.
The right-handed hitter has plus bat speed with loose, quick hands, while his compact swing and excellent barrel control allow him to drive the ball across the entire field. And while he offered gap power exclusively in 2012, Betts added significant strength last offseason and in turn showed more over-the-fence pop during the minor league regular season (15 HR).
Meanwhile, his plate discipline and approach are among the best in the minors and should aid the development of his hit tool in future seasons.
Betts’ athleticism makes him a solid defender at second base; he’s not particularly flashy but makes all the plays, thanks to quick feet and an instinctual first step. And while his footwork around the bag can be rushed and choppy at times, his admirable work ethic should make him at least a league-average defender by the time he reaches the major leagues.
However, with a slew of infielders ahead of Betts on Boston’s depth chart, it’s difficult to see where exactly he fits in the organization’s long-term plans.
Eduardo Rodriguez normally works in the low-90s with his fastball, but he sat in the 92-95 mph range more frequently last season. His slider has improved considerably since the beginning of the 2013 season, as it’s now more of a power offering in the mid-80s with tight spin and swing-and-miss bite.
The left-hander’s changeup is a potentially above-average pitch, registering in the low 80s with good sinking action. And while overall control and command both have considerable room for improvement, Rodriguez is still young and has plenty of time to make adjustments.
Rodriguez will likely head back to Double-A to open the 2014 season, but he could see an audition in August or September.
Erik Johnson is a durable right-hander with an advanced four-pitch mix and good feel for the strike zone. He’ll work comfortably in the low to mid 90s with his fastball and complement it with a legit plus slider thrown in the high 80s with good tilt.
He also works in a curveball and changeup, with the latter projecting to be above average at maturity. With clean, repeatable mechanics and good control, Johnson should be able to handle a heavy workload (200-plus innings) annually at the highest level.
Following the offseason trade of Hector Santiago, the stage is set for Johnson to open the 2014 season as the White Sox’s No. 4 or No. 5 starter, and he could emerge as one of the better under-the-radar rookies in the major leagues.
Miguel Almonte has an aggressive approach and attacks the zone with a projectable four-pitch mix, demonstrating a rare blend of pure stuff and feel for a player of his age.
The right-hander’s fastball is a plus offering that works consistently in the 91-95 mph range with above-average life, and it’s conceivable that he’ll add velocity as he adds strength. The changeup is a present plus with plus-plus potential and, in general, is highly advanced for his age; he shows confidence in the pitch against both right- and left-handed hitters, and it already serves as a swing-and-miss offering.
In spite of his age, Almonte has an impressive overall feel for changing speeds and keeping hitters off balance, throwing a curveball that features a nice shape and average potential, as well as a slider that’s inconsistent but definitely usable.
Though Almonte may hit some road bumps between the High- and Double-A levels and will be forced to develop a more consistent (and effective) breaking ball, the young right-hander has all the makings of a high-end mid-rotation starter in the major leagues.
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C Gary Sanchez (New York Yankees)
Acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza trade last summer, C.J. Edwards is a rail-thin right-hander with present athleticism, a lightning-quick arm and a feel for repeating his delivery.
Edwards enjoyed an uptick in fastball velocity last season, working in the low to mid 90s with some natural cutting action and late life. In general, the pitch is difficult for opposing hitters to lift, and the right-hander does an admirable job keeping the ball in the park.
Edwards’ go-to secondary offering is a curveball, which flashes plus potential with tight spin and depth in the mid-70s. And while his changeup is fringy, his overall feel for the pitch improved last season, and he’ll turn it over to create a nice fading action.
The Cubs—as well as most evaluators—still aren’t sure what they have in Edwards; he lacks physical projection, but his numbers last season across both A-ball levels (1.86 ERA, 12.0 K/9) speak to his undeniable impact potential.
Gary Sanchez showcases above-average power potential from a well-balanced swing, with plus bat speed and a feel for striking the ball. However, he has an overaggressive approach and tends to give away too many at-bats. While his ability to control the strike zone has improved over the last year, the right-handed batter’s approach and plate discipline is still inconsistent and raw.
Sanchez has made strides defensively over the last two years, but he still has a long way to go in becoming an everyday backstop. While he currently possesses decent athleticism and agility, there’s reasonable concern that he’ll get too bulky and slow down with natural physical development.
Though blocking and receiving skills are still inconsistent and leave something to be desired, Sanchez’s arm strength is his greatest weapon and helps negate some of his other defensive shortcomings.
However, Sanchez’s chances of becoming the Yankees catcher were crushed when the team signed free agent Brian McCann during the offseason.
Coming off a monster full-season debut in 2012 (.309/.381/.528), Alen Hanson’s prospect stock took a slight hit last year in spite of another strong campaign between High- and Double-A (.274/.329/.427).
As a switch-hitter, Hanson has the potential for an above-average hit tool, with a quick bat from both sides of the plate and an approach that enables the use of the whole field. He’s an extra-base machine with average power potential, showcasing more consistent over-the-fence pop from the left side.
He has a handsy swing at times but still barrels the ball, though his tendency to drift with his hips made him susceptible to good sequencing and led to too many swing-and-misses.
Even though Hanson is a plus runner, he’s a raw base stealer who relies on his straight-line speed rather than instincts. Defensively, Hanson exhibits smooth actions at shortstop with a sound glove and smooth transfer, though his range and average arm strength are likely better suited for second base.
The Pirates will continue to develop Hanson as a shortstop given the organization’s need at the highest level, but it’s difficult to see him sticking at the position long term.
Jonathan Singleton was already on the fast track to the major leagues headed into the 2013 season, but a 50-game suspension (for a second positive test for a drug of abuse) followed by a poor showing at Double- and Triple-A ultimately hurt his prospect stock.
The left-handed batter’s hit tool projects above average at maturity; he demonstrates a legitimate feel for the strike zone, works deep counts and coaxes walks, but he also whiffs his fair share.
In general, he has plus bat speed, thanks to quick-twitch wrists and forearms and has shown a natural up-the-middle approach in previous seasons. However, if there’s one knock on the 22-year-old, it’s his ongoing struggles against same-side pitching.
Singleton is a physically strong player with plus raw power and sufficient pop to put up multiple seasons with 20-plus home runs, but his power frequency will depend on the improvements he makes to his approach and overall plate discipline.
As a first-base-only prospect, Singleton’s bat will have to carry him to the major leagues. Luckily, he has a good one, not to mention one that should have him hitting in the middle of the Astros’ order by mid-2014.
Regarded as the most advanced college hitter in the 2013 draft class, D.J. Peterson has the potential to move quickly through Seattle’s system thanks to his combination of preternatural bat-to-ball skills and an advanced approach.
Although there’s uncertainty regarding his long-term defensive home—he’s currently a third baseman—his lack of range and athleticism means he’ll likely shift to first base down the line—Peterson’s potential for plus hit and power tools at maturity should be a clean fit at either infield corner.
The Mariners were aggressive with the development of 2012 first-rounder Mike Zunino, and they are likely to do something similar with Peterson next season. There’s a realistic chance that the 22-year-old begins the upcoming season at Double-A Jackson, and if that’s ultimately the case, then Peterson, like Zunino, should reach the major leagues ahead of schedule.
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C Blake Swihart (Boston Red Sox)
Arismendy Alcantara possesses an exciting combination of strength and fluid athleticism, using quick-twitch muscles in his wrists and forearms to aggressively attack the ball.
The switch-hitter makes consistent hard contact from both sides of the plate. He shows a more leveraged swing from the left side, with above-average raw power that’s still emerging, and a less consistent stroke from the right side but a solid overall approach.
And even though he currently has some swing-and-miss to his game, Alcantara drew more walks last season against advanced pitching and generally made strides in his plate discipline.
Alcantara is an easy plus runner and smart base stealer, as evidenced by his impressive track record in the minor leagues (91-for-114). Defensively, he’s a quick, aggressive shortstop with plus range, and he has the tools and athleticism for either middle-infield position.
Due to his plus arm strength, Alcantara has a tendency to wait back on balls and then let it rip, a la Shawon Dunston. His high number of errors is relatively normal for a young shortstop at an advanced level; it should start to come down with more experience at higher minor league levels.
As a switch-hitter with excellent bat-to-ball skills and similar swings from both sides of the plate, Blake Swihart demonstrates the potential for an above-average hit tool at maturity. While he has raw power and beats up the gaps, his lack of lift in his swing impedes his over-the-fence pop. In addition to his standout athleticism, he’s also an average runner whose speed plays up relative to the position.
Swihart is an agile defender behind the plate with a quietly strong frame and room to add considerable strength as he develops without getting bulky.
In general, his receiving skills improved significantly last season; he’s an average blocker who will continue to improve quickly given the work ethic, and he shows good, consistent footwork, advanced catch-and-throw skills with a quick release and plus arm strength with accuracy.
Sean Manaea was regarded as a potential top-10 pick in the 2013 draft, but ultimately fell to the Royals in the second round due to injuries and a drop in velocity. However, if he can regain the stuff he showed in the Cape Cod League in 2012, then the left-hander has one of the highest ceilings of any pitching prospect.
Prior to his poor spring, Manaea’s fastball worked comfortably in the mid 90s and registered as high as 98 mph. The southpaw’s slider is a plus pitch with sharp tilt and late bite capable of inducing whiffs at the highest level, and his changeup has flashed above-average potential in the past.
However, Manaea’s command profile is fringy due to his high-effort delivery and the fact that he slings the ball from a three-quarter angle rather than staying on top.
Without a game of professional experience to his name, Manaea is the definition of a wild-card prospect. However, if everything comes together, as the Royals believe it will, the left-hander has the potential to be a legitimate front-of-the-rotation force.
Following his selection by the Phillies in the first round of the 2013 draft, J.P. Crawford, who was viewed as the best true shortstop in last year’s class, wasted no time making a strong impression, reaching a full-season level in his professional debut.
A left-handed batter, Crawford has the potential for a slightly above-average hit tool thanks to his loose wrists, quick-twitch forearm muscles and above-average bat speed. He currently shows a contact-oriented approach and solid bat-to-ball skills, though his swing can get long at times and the barrel will drag.
While Crawford doesn’t project for more than average over-the-fence pop at maturity, he should at least be a consistent source of doubles and the occasional triple. However, he will need to make significant adjustments to his weight transfer and bat path in order to jump the yard with greater frequency.
Crawford is a good athlete with a lean build and average speed who plays better in game settings than straight-line running. His greatest asset at shortstop is his plus arm strength; he shows an effortless, fast arm stroke that results in accurate throws across the infield with carry.
Crawford also does a nice job of generating momentum toward his target with athletic footwork, which aids the overall accuracy of his throws.
The Orioles’ first-round pick in 2013, Hunter Harvey has a projectable 6’3” frame with room to add considerable strength as he matures physically. The right-hander works from a high-three-quarter arm slot to create good plane toward the plate, though parts of his mechanics will need to be cleaned up in future seasons.
Harvey’s fastball sits at 90-94 mph, and he’ll reach back for a few extra ticks, but more importantly, the right-hander demonstrates an advanced feel for pounding sides of the plate. His velocity stands to increase once he adds strength and gets slight mechanical issues ironed out.
His curveball is currently his best offering, as it’s a potential plus-plus out pitch with tight rotation and late bite. Harvey can get on the side of it at times and give it more lateral break, though the variation has proven to be equally effective. He does have a changeup, albeit rarely used, which will be vital toward his development at more advanced levels.
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OF Jake Marisnick (Miami Marlins)
Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez has a present feel for his arsenal; he’s a consistent strike thrower with good movement on everything, and he’ll continue to get better with confidence and the ability to pitch off the fastball.
The right-hander’s plus fastball registers in the 91-93 mph range; he’ll touch the mid 90s, but the pitch tends to flatten out when he does. Gonzalez is adept at cutting it to create above-average slice to the glove side and, in general, rarely throws the pitch straight. He employs aggressive approach, attacking both sides of the plate while consistently working down in the zone.
Gonzalez’s slider represents the best pitch in his arsenal, as he throws it with velocity at 84-87 mph and generates good tilt and late break. It’s his future plus offering and his likely out pitch at the highest level, as he already understands when to use it in the zone and when to chase whiffs.
Gonzalez is still developing feel and confidence for his changeup, which is a potential above-average offering and should help keep opposing hitters off the fastball-slider combo. Further development of the pitch could push his projection to that of a No. 2 starter, not to mention get him to the major leagues earlier than expected next season.
Though Stephen Piscotty is a mature hitter with a consistent approach and a knack for pounding the gaps, there is still doubt as to whether he’ll provide enough power to be an everyday corner outfielder.
However, it started to emerge last season at a pair of challenging levels (15 HR, 23 2B), and he certainly has the physical strength at 6'3", 210 pounds to be a 15- to 20-home run guy in his prime.
Piscotty's above-average hit tool should get him to the major leagues at some point during the 2014 season, though it's important to remember that he's behind the almighty Oscar Taveras on the organizational depth chart.
The Cardinals offered the 23-year-old extensive playing time this spring, and he responded by making the most of each opportunity on all sides of the ball. Expect Piscotty to reach the major leagues sooner rather than later this season.
Jake Marisnick was rushed from Double-A to the major leagues last season and unsurprisingly struggled to control the speed of the game at the highest level.
He’s a ridiculous athlete with a highly projectable frame and present strength, and he obviously passes the eye test with flying colors.
While Marisnick’s raw ability suggests the potential for above-average hit and power tools, he’s a streaky hitter with too much movement during his swing, and he can fall into the bad habit of employing the same swing and bat path regardless of pitch type, location and count. His plus speed and base-stealing aptitude give him legitimate 20-20 potential at maturity
Though it doesn’t always look pretty, Marisnick has the speed and actions to remain in center field long term. He shows plus range in all directions, gliding to cover large distances, and his plus arm can play at all three outfield positions.
Marisnick has been rushed up the ladder throughout his professional career, and although there’s still a large gap between his present ability and future potential, his athleticism and raw tools will give the baseball skills time to catch up.
Austin Meadows stands out with his smooth, balanced left-handed swing and potential above-average-to-plus hit tool. Though he has some stiffness to his swing and doesn’t explode through the ball at contract, Meadows possesses a consistent approach with mature plate discipline and pitch recognition for his age.
His bat still requires the most projection of all his tools, as Meadows will need to add strength to his athletic frame. Additionally, the toolsy outfielder should hit for more power by adding leverage to his relatively flat bat path, and his power frequency stands to improve as he learns to pull more balls.
Meadows is presently an above-average runner but could conceivably lose a step if he adds significant strength to his lower half. Provided he doesn’t outgrow the position, Meadows has all the makings of a major league center fielder at maturity. His arm strength represents his only down tool, but it’s still strong enough to hold the up-the-middle position.
With a slew of talented outfielders ahead of him on the depth chart, there’s absolutely no need for the Pirates to rush Meadows next season. However, that doesn’t mean the organization will be afraid to challenge him.
The Cardinals expected Kolten Wong to make quick work of the minor leagues when they popped him in the first round of the 2011 draft. That turned out to be the case, as Wong was called up in mid-August, but he failed to capitalize on the opportunity and ultimately struggled at the plate.
He’s an ideal top-of-the-order presence with solid on-base skills, slightly above-average speed and a left-handed bat capable of hitting for average. In addition to his feel for the strike zone and knack for using the entire field, Wong’s high baseball IQ allows him to make in-game adjustments. He won’t offer much over-the-fence power but should amass plenty of doubles and triples.
Wong’s defense at the keystone is big league-ready and, in the wake of the David Freese deal this offseason, he's been given every opportunity in spring training to prove he’s ready for an everyday gig in the major leagues.
After a slow start this spring reminiscent of his late-season struggles in 2013, Wong has caught fire and seems to be the no-doubt choice to break camp as the Cardinals second baseman.
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Alex Brandon/Associated Press
RHP Mike Foltynewicz (Houston Astros)
Garin Cecchini possesses above-average bat speed and superb bat-to-ball ability that drive his potential for an above-average-to-plus hit tool at maturity. The left-handed hitter features a compact swing that yields consistent, hard contact to all fields, and he shows present gap power that could evolve into more usable in-game power in the big leagues.
Meanwhile, Cecchini’s plate discipline and pitch recognition are both highly advanced and polished and should translate favorably at the highest level.
With the background of a middle infielder in high school, Cecchini shifted to third base upon turning pro and has continued to make adjustments at the new position. Though he has giving hands and solid defensive actions, Cecchini’s lack of a quick first step limits his range.
However, he makes up for some of the shortcomings with solid body control and a strong, accurate arm that could potentially play well at a corner-outfield position if the Red Sox want his bat in the lineup.
Even though Cecchini boasts one of the best combinations of hit-tool projection and plate discipline among all minor leaguers, it’s difficult to envision him getting the nod over one of Boston’s talented infielders anytime soon. Plus, he lacks the power commonly associated with a big league third baseman.
A first-round selection in the 2013 draft, Shipley is an athletic and projectable right-hander with a power arsenal and advanced feel for pitching. Working from a high-three-quarter arm angle, Shipley throws his fastball in the mid-90s and creates good finish on the pitch with his extension toward the plate.
His changeup already ranks as one of the best in the minor leagues, as it’s a plus-plus offering with huge tumbling action and good speed differential. The right-hander also throws a hard curveball that projects as another plus offering at maturity, and its development could help him move through the minor leagues at an accelerated pace.
Shipley may endure a few growing pains next season at High-A, but his outstanding athleticism and electric three-pitch mix should have him in Double-A by the end of the year.
Jackie Bradley’s weaknesses as a hitter were exposed last season in the major leagues (.189/.280/.337 in 16 games). He demonstrated a tendency to stride early, open up with his front side and try to pull pitches on the outer third of the plate. In the past, he’d been successful using the entire field, serving line drives from line to line.
Yet Bradley’s approach and plate discipline will give him a chance to hit at the highest level, as he’s a patient hitter who has a plan each time he steps to the dish. Furthermore, he’s a smart hitter who understands how to make adjustments against advanced pitching. For all those reasons, he has the makings of a .280-plus hitter in the major leagues with a top-of-the-order-worthy on-base potential.
While he stands out for his plate discipline and on-base skills, Bradley’s greatest strength is his defense in center field. The 23-year-old makes it look easy out there with above-average speed and tremendous instincts that result in plus range. He gets excellent jumps and consistently takes a direct route to the ball while showcasing closing speed in all directions.
With Jacoby Ellsbury now sporting pinstripes, center field has been Bradley’s position to lose this spring. Even though his performance has been somewhat disappointing (at least compared to his showing last spring), and he's facing increased pressure to perform due to the resurgence of Grady Sizemore, Bradley should break camp as Boston's center fielder.
Mike Foltynewicz boasts elite fastball velocity, consistently working in the upper-90s and eclipsing triple digits every time he takes the mound. The right-hander throws the pitch on a downhill plane to induce weak ground-ball outs and, in general, uses it to overpower hitters throughout the strike zone.
His breaking ball was more of a weapon last season but is still inconsistent overall. Regardless, it’s a devastating swing-and-miss offering that flashes plus potential.
Meanwhile, his changeup is currently below-average and lags behind the other two pitches, as he struggles to replicate fastball arm speed and tends to push it toward the plate. Suffice it to say, the offering will be crucial in his development as a starter.
Foltynewicz is probably headed to Triple-A to start the upcoming season, but his head-turning performance in spring training could help expedite his arrival in the major leagues.
At 6’3”, 195 pounds, Kohl Stewart is an excellent athlete with present physicality and room to add strength.
The right-hander possesses the most natural arm strength among 2013 prep draftees, with a plus fastball that consistently registers in the 91-95 mph range on a downhill plane that has touched 97 mph. Once he fills out physically and cleans up his delivery, there's a realistic chance Stewart could sit in the mid 90s at maturity.
His slider is a present plus offering, thrown with velocity in the low to mid 80s with good depth and tilt. It’s a swing-and-miss offering that will serve as a legitimate out pitch at the next level, thanks to its late diving action out of the zone. His changeup flashes slightly above-average potential in the low 80s, though it’s an undeveloped offering due to lack of necessity at the high school level.
Stewart’s ability to command his three-pitch mix throughout the strike zone is tied to the repetition of his delivery and release point. Because he showcases a feel for putting away hitters when ahead in the count and tends to work according to his strengths, he has the potential to move up the ladder faster than his fellow prep draftees.
After scratching the surface of his potential during a promising professional debut in 2012, Henry Owens took a huge step forward last season and finished his sophomore campaign with an impressive showing at Double-A Portland (1.78 ERA, 13.6 K/9).
The tall left-hander does a good job repeating his mechanics, working from a consistent high-three-quarter arm slot and on a downhill plane.
Owens’ fastball sits in the 88-92 mph range with sink, and his changeup is a future plus offering thrown in the upper-70s with late sink and fade to the arm side. His curveball flashes average potential when he’s around the plate, though it’s his least consistent offering.
He’ll need to show better control and command of his three-pitch mix before the Red Sox offer him a crack at The Show. However, if that were to take place during the 2014 season, then there’s reason to believe the southpaw will be in the major leagues by September.
Kyle Crick has the potential to be the Giants’ next great homegrown starter, with a strong, durable build and the arsenal to pitch at the front of the rotation. The right-hander has effortless fastball velocity at 93-96 mph and will reach back for 97-98 mph, but his control and command of the pitch remain inconsistent and will require further refinement.
Crick’s changeup is a second plus pitch, thrown with excellent arm speed and considerable fade. He throws a pair of breaking balls: an inconsistent curveball with plus potential and a late-biting slider that should serve as a viable fourth pitch at maturity.
Although the right-hander has a sizable gap between his present ability and future potential, a strong showing at Double-A and better feel for his arsenal could have him in the major leagues by the end of the season.
An athletic right-hander with a live arm and little mileage, Lucas Sims made developmental strides in 2013 after moving into the Low-A starting rotation for the second half of the season, showcasing an impressive and underrated combination of stuff and polish.
Sims has the makings of an advanced four-pitch mix, with a low to mid 90s fastball, swing-and-miss breaking ball that has a big shape and heavy downer action, a serviceable slider and changeup that flashes average.
Sims already knows how to pitch at a young age, and he could start to move quickly in 2014 with a strong start at High-A.
Matt Wisler continued his quiet surge through the minor leagues in 2013, showcasing an intriguing blend of stuff and poise while excelling as a 20-year-old in the Double-A starting rotation.
An athletic and projectable right-hander, Wisler pounds both sides of the plate with a plus fastball in the low to mid 90s and will run it as high as 95-96 mph with lots of late life. His slider is another plus offering and utterly devastating against same-side hitters, thrown with excellent depth and a two-plane break in the 82-87 mph range, and he’ll also mix in a firm changeup and serviceable curveball.
Wisler’s feel for pitching and command of a deep arsenal has him on the fast track to the major leagues, and he conceivably could debut by midseason with a hot start in Triple-A.
Max Fried has one of the highest ceilings of all left-handers in the minor leagues, with a durable build, repeatable mechanics and potential front-of-the-rotation arsenal.
He’ll work in the low 90s with his fastball and touch 95, but his projectable frame suggests there’s more velocity to come. Fried shows two curveball variations, both unique and impressive in their own right, and the overall pitch could grade as a plus-plus offering at maturity. His changeup is his least advanced offering, but he already demonstrates a feel for turning it over to create late fade.
Fried will require a few more seasons in the minors to clean up his mechanics and polish his arsenal, but the potential is there to be an impact No. 2 or 3 starter.
However, the Padres are likely to take it easy with Fried after he was shut down in February with elbow inflammation. So don't be surprised if he spends considerable time in extended spring training, as the team will need to ensure he's healthy before a deployment back to a full-season level.
A left-handed batter, Dahl has the potential for a true plus hit tool thanks to tremendous hand-eye coordination, preternatural barrel-to-ball ability and plus bat speed. He shows advanced barrel control and feel for the strike zone, using a balanced setup and a swing that allows him to use the entire field.
Prior to the injury, Dahl exhibited a refined approach relative to age, which could lead to better-than-expected power in his prime. Regardless, his above-average speed should make him a consistent source of doubles and triples.
Dahl’s wheels translate better in center field than on the basepaths; he plays the position with confidence, showing smooth actions with good reads and more than enough arm strength for the position.
Though the team-imposed suspension and subsequent hamstring injury cost Dahl roughly 500 at-bats last season, and means he’s likely be headed back to Low-A to begin the 2014 season, his advanced bat and overall offensive potential make him a candidate to move quickly.
Coming off a breakout 2012 campaign in the hitter-friendly California League, Joc Pederson proved he was for real last season with an even more impressive showing at Double-A (.278/.381/.497).
Pederson is an impressive athlete with quiet strength, showcasing five average-or-better tools and good secondary skills. He projects to be a slightly above-average hitter at the highest level, with a mature approach and line-drive-oriented swing, and he already demonstrates a feel for working counts and getting on base.
While the Dodgers outfield is stacked with talent, Pederson’s ability to play all three positions should get him to the major leagues at some point during the 2014 season. And if his game power translates against big-league pitching, he could carve out a role as an everyday player in the big leagues.
After a solid showing this spring in major league camp, Pederson will likely open the season at Triple-A, but he could be up earlier than expected given the ongoing health issues with the team's other outfielders.
Chris Owings had a 2013 campaign to remember, as he was named the Rookie of the Year and MVP of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and turned in an impressive 20-game showing with the Diamondbacks in September (.291/.361/.382).
Although he lacks a plus attribute, Owings has the potential for five average-or-better tools at maturity. At 5’10”, 190 pounds, the right-handed hitter has a direct bat path and knack for barreling the ball.
The power potential may be the most surprising aspect of his game; he generates impressive extension after contact that enables him to generate considerable backspin carry. However, his approach is still too aggressive, and it has the potential to be exploited against advanced pitching.
Owings and incumbent shortstop Didi Gregorius have been locked in a battle this spring at the position, with neither player appearing to have an inside track. Even though both players traveled and played in the recent Australian series against the Dodgers, the organization is expected to keep only one of them on the active roster, with the loser returning to Triple-A Reno.
Yet given the recent trade rumors involving Gregorius, per Fox Sports' Jon Morosi, there's a realistic chance Owings has the position to himself on Opening Day.
Jorge Soler suffered a season-ending injury in late June when he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left tibia after fouling a pitch off his leg. Then he looked rough later in the year during his time in the Arizona Fall League. Otherwise he’d probably rank higher on the list.
A physically imposing right-handed hitter, Soler generates plus bat speed and big-time raw power to all fields. However, his swing features a slight hitch at the top that affects his overall timing and limits his in-game power. He has the ideal profile of a big-league right fielder with average range and plus arm strength.
Even though Soler lacks stateside experience and suffered an unfortunate setback this season, he has the natural ability and loud tools to get to the major leagues in a hurry.
Tyler Glasnow opened eyes with his full-season debut in 2013, as the tall, projectable right-hander dominated hitters in the South Atlantic League and missed bats with ease (13.3 K/9).
While he struggles to keep his lanky frame and long limbs in sync during his delivery, Glasnow showcases tantalizing stuff when he’s at his best, with an explosive fastball in the mid to upper-90s, swing-and-miss curveball that flashes plus potential and a nascent changeup for which he’s steadily developing a feel.
The Pirates have no need to rush his development, so expect the young right-hander to spend several years in the minors so as to refine his arsenal and delivery
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Clint Frazier’s wrists and forearms are loaded with strong, quick-twitch muscles that help generate off-the-chart bat speed and one of the more explosive swings in the minor leagues.
Although the right-handed hitter’s pitch recognition is raw and leads to some swing-and-miss, he has the potential for an above-average or better hit tool and plus in-game power.
Frazier’s offensive ceiling is especially valuable should he remain in center field long term; however, his projection as a .275-plus hitter with 25-plus home runs at maturity will more than suffice at a corner spot.
Billy Hamilton’s off-the-chart speed is the most dynamic tool among all major-league players, and he finally showcased it to a national audience last season as a September call-up.
A switch-hitter, Hamilton has quick wrists from both sides of the plate and generates above-average bat speed. However, his overall inconsistency is concerning, as he struggles to keep his weight back and will lunge at too many offerings within the strike zone.
Slated to open the 2014 season as the Reds’ center fielder and leadoff hitter, Hamilton has passed all tests this spring, as he's made more consistent contact (and therefore eliminating strikeouts) and showed better plate discipline. If he comes remotely close to reaching his sky-high ceiling, Hamilton could become a frequent All-Star, not to mention one of baseball’s premier up-the-middle players.
After serving a 50-game PED suspension to begin the 2013 season, Marcus Stroman surpassed expectations with a strong showing in the Double-A rotation.
The athletic right-hander possesses tons of arm strength, despite his diminutive build, with an explosive fastball in the mid 90s and a cutter that has above-average potential. Stroman’s best secondary offering is a near-plus-plus slider that’s thrown with serious velocity (courtesy of his lightning-quick arm) in the upper 80s and helps him pile up the strikeouts.
And though his changeup is technically his lesser offering, his arm speed and consistent release point should make it a weapon.
With questions about his durability and ability to log 150-plus innings in a season, Stroman’s long-term future as a starter will be up for debate until he proves otherwise—which he will in 2014. The right-hander’s slight build offers an unusual look for opposing hitters and, when combined with his electric stuff, could help him reach his ceiling of a No. 2 or No. 3 starter in relatively short order.
Maikel Franco’s prospect stock exploded in 2013, as his improved contact rate and in-game power translated in a big way at a pair of advanced levels.
A physically strong right-handed hitter, Franco’s strong wrists and plus bat speed fuel his plus-plus power projection, which could manifest in the form of 30-plus home runs at maturity. While he continued to feast on fastballs last year, his improved secondary recognition helped him control the strike zone and strike out less often.
Even though Franco is a below-average runner, he has decent lateral range at the hot corner to go along with good hands and above-average arm strength. Expected to open the 2014 season at Triple-A, Franco’s potent bat could have him hitting in the middle of the order for Philadelphia sometime after the All-Star break.
Acquired from the Nationals prior to the 2013 season, Alex Meyer impressed with his electric stuff last season at Double-A despite missing two months with a minor shoulder injury.
One of the tallest pitching prospects (6’9”) in the minor leagues, the right-hander has a massive frame with long limbs but demonstrates a better feel for his mechanics than most pitchers of that size. Working on a steep downhill plane toward the plate, Meyer’s fastball registers between 93-97 mph and flirts with triple digits in shorter bursts.
He features a filthy plus slider in the 84-87 mph range with sharp, wipeout break, and he also improved his changeup last season to the point where it projects as another above-average or better offering.
The right-hander’s impact arm strength and ability to miss bats will get him to the major leagues in 2014, where the Twins will give him every opportunity to stick in the starting rotation. Even if his mechanics and command don’t translate at the MLB level, Meyer still has enormous upside as a top-tier closer.
Acquired by the Mets in the R.A. Dickey deal last offseason, Travis d’Arnaud finally made his highly anticipated major league debut in 2013, though it occurred later than expected due to yet another significant injury. As a result of the missed time, he struggled to establish timing at the plate and was overmatched by sequencing.
The right-handed hitter has plus bat speed and a short path to the ball, creating impressive extension after contact so as to generate backspin carry and power to all fields. d’Arnaud uses his agility behind the plate to offer the umpire a good look at the pitch, with an ability to frame fastballs at the bottom of the strike zone that draws rave reviews from pitchers.
After enduring so many significant injuries before even reaching the major leagues, health will always be a serious concern for the duration of d’Arnaud’s career. However, despite the checkered medical history, he still has the all-around ability and potential to be a solid major league regular.
At 6’2”, Andrew Heaney’s frame is both wiry and athletic with room to add strength. As for his stuff, the left-hander features an above-average-to-plus fastball that works in the low to mid 90s with late life.
His go-to secondary pitch is a good slider that should induce whiffs at the highest level. Heaney made significant progress developing his changeup last season, and it should at least be a solid-to-average offering at maturity.
The only thing really holding Heaney back from the major leagues is lack of experience. When all is said and done, he should emerge as a solid No. 3 starter, possibly even a No. 2 if everything comes together perfectly. After his eye-opening performance during spring training, a hot start back at Double-A Jacksonville could have Heaney in the major leagues this season ahead of schedule.
Jorge Alfaro has always shown tremendous athleticism and the potential for five impact tools, but it was the emergence of his baseball skills in 2013 that has his stock soaring.
Alfaro has as much upside as any catcher in the minor leagues, as he’s incredibly agile and aggressive behind the plate with legitimate 80-grade arm strength. However, his blocking and receiving are inconsistent and even sloppy at times.
At the plate, the right-handed hitter has the bat speed to turn around velocity but struggles to recognize spin and keep weight on his backside. Alfaro’s above-average speed is a major weapon and makes him a rare dual-threat catching prospect, with the potential for 20-plus home runs and double-digit stolen bases in his prime.
While his long-term projection as an All-Star-caliber backstop still involves considerable risk, Alfaro should continue to make significant developmental strides next year and could conceivably reach Double-A by season’s end.
Coming off a breakout campaign in 2012, Aaron Sanchez failed to take the huge step forward last season that many expected, as he spent over a month on the disabled list with shoulder soreness and failed to progress beyond he High-A level.
However, he is still one of the more projectable right-handers in the minor leagues, with a ridiculously athletic frame and effortless, drool-worthy arm action. Sanchez’s fastball is a plus offering in the mid-90s that seemingly jumps on opposing hitters with exceptional late life.
Although the command of his secondary arsenal is still fringy, the right-hander made noticeable strides with both his changeup and curveball this year in the Arizona Fall League.
The Blue Jays have no need to rush Sanchez to the major leagues, but even the slightest improvement to his control and command could result in a late-season call-up.
Rougned Odor enjoyed the breakout campaign in 2013 that many expected, thriving as a teenager against considerably older competition and finishing the season on a tear at Double-A.
An undersized left-handed hitter, Odor stands out for his high-end combination of plus hit-tool potential and present plus speed. He has above-average power relative to the position and shows it in games, and he’s generally an extra-base machine that drives the ball with authority to all fields.
Odor’s above-average range at second base, soft hands and strong arm all are a clean fit at the position, and he’s an intense, hard-nosed ballplayer with excellent instincts on both sides of the ball.
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30. Raul (Adalberto) Mondesi, SS, Kansas City Royals
The son of the former big leaguer of the same name, Mondesi was the youngest everyday player at a full-season level in 2013.
The switch-hitter has a clean swing from both sides of the plate, as well as an advanced approach that could result in an above-average-to-plus hit tool at maturity. While it’s hard to get a read on his power potential at the moment, Mondesi has the present bat speed and in-game gap power to be a consistent extra-base threat at the highest level.
Defensively, Mondesi is raw at shortstop but has the athleticism, loud tools and instincts to develop into an impact player at the position. The youngster will need a few more years in the minors to refine his skills on both sides of the ball, but his ceiling of an All-Star shortstop should make it worth the wait.
In what would have been his sophomore year of high school, Julio Urias became the youngest player to see time at a full-season level in 2013.
The left-hander emerged as a can’t-miss prospect, showcasing a truly special combination of stuff and pitchability. Utilizing a repeatable delivery and smooth arm action, the southpaw’s fastball already sits in the low 90s and bumps 94-95 mph.
Urias’ secondary arsenal is equally promising, with a potential plus curveball that he’ll throw in any count and a fading changeup that steadily improved during the 2013 season.
Given his age and highly advanced developmental state, Urias has legitimate front-of-the-rotation upside, and there’s a realistic chance he’ll be pitching in the major leagues as a teenager.
Eddie Butler quickly jumped on the major league radar in 2013 with a stellar full-season debut across three levels. The right-hander has three pitches that grade as plus or better, as well as a vastly underrated feel for pitching.
Butler’s fastball sits in the mid-to-upper 90s with exceptional sink and run to the arm side, and he complements it with a swing-and-miss, wipeout slider in the upper 80s. Lastly, Butler possesses a filthy changeup in the same velocity range that dives off the table and evades barrels.
While his strenuous arm action and low release point will always provoke questions about his durability as a starter, Butler has passed every test so far and may not be long for the minors in 2014.
Selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft after Bryce Harper, Jameson Taillon is a true power pitcher with a tall, durable frame and live arm. The right-hander’s fastball sits in the mid-to-upper 90s with late movement to the arm side, and his velocity tends to play up due to the extension generated by his long arms.
His curveball is a potential plus-plus pitch with tight spin and sharp, two-plane break, and he also throws an average changeup with decent fading action out of the zone.
Some people soured on Taillon last season after he failed to take a step forward developmentally in the high minors. However, the reality is, he actually improved both his strikeout and ground-ball rates against advanced competition. Expect him to join Gerrit Cole, the team’s former top prospect, in the major leagues by the end of the 2014 season.
After improving his plate discipline and showing more consistent power at Triple-A, Nick Castellanos reached the major leagues as a September call-up and received several starts in left field.
Castellanos is a natural hitter with advanced bat-to-ball skills and an inside-out swing that suggest a .300-plus hitter in the major leagues. While he’s always been a consistent source of extra-base hits during his career, the right-handed hitter’s line drive-oriented swing limits his home run power.
However, as he continues to develop physically and learns to turn on the ball, he should be able to develop more over-the-fence pop.
Drafted and developed as a third baseman until mid-2012, Castellanos was moved to the outfield as a way to potentially get his bat to the major leagues ahead of schedule. However, following the trade for Fielder in the offseason, Castellanos will open the year as the team’s everyday third baseman. And given his outstanding performance this spring in major league camp, the Tigers have to be excited about where he’s at headed into the season.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Mark Appel has been tabbed as a future ace since the beginning of the 2012 season and shouldn’t require much time in the minor leagues.
As a tall and durable right-hander, Appel’s fastball sits consistently in the 93-97 mph range with some sink and arm-side run. His slider registers around 84-88 mph with a consistent pace, though he can get around the pitch at times and generate slurve-like spin. His changeup has come a long way over the last year and shows plus potential in the 83-85 mph range with fastball-like arm speed and late fade.
While his arsenal ranks as one of the more advanced and polished among pitching prospects, Appel’s approach and feel for sequencing may need to be adjusted as he climbs the ladder. The Astros won’t need him at the major league level in 2014, but at the same time, they won’t be afraid to challenge him if it makes sense.
The younger brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, Corey has a physical, big league frame with room to tack on additional strength. A left-handed hitter, Seager has the potential for above-average or better hit and power tools at maturity, as he already exhibits all-around good habits at the plate rarely seen in most young hitters.
He has an easy, direct swing that allows him to sting the ball from line to line with impressive power to the opposite field. However, at times he can over-stride and drift with his hips, which, in turn, prevents him from keeping weight on the backside and makes him vulnerable to quality secondary pitches.
As a shortstop, Seager’s range is only average, but good enough to remain at the position short term, and he’ll likely physically outgrow the position and shift to third base before reaching the major leagues. Regardless, it’s Seager’s left-handed bat that drives his future projection as a first-division regular.
Yordano Ventura took a huge step forward last season in terms of both his consistency and command, and it paid dividends in the form of a September call-up in the heat of a playoff race.
Ventura has always possessed a lightning-quick arm and fastball in the mid to upper 90s, but it’s the strength he’s added to his slender frame over the last year that’s led to him effortlessly touching triple digits deep in starts.
Meanwhile, his curveball has the makings of a second plus pitch with consistent downer break action, and he’s become increasingly comfortable throwing it in any count. And though his changeup is currently an average offering, his natural arm speed should make it another weapon as his feel for the pitch improves.
Ventura’s undersized, wiry frame will always raise questions about his long-term durability, though his transformation from a thrower to a pitcher last season helped ease some of the doubt. Thanks to his lights-out performance this spring, he officially won a spot in the Royals’ Opening Day rotation.
Robert Stephenson was put on the fast track to the major leagues in 2013, seeing time at three different levels and finishing the season at Double-A.
A durable right-hander with a projectable frame and huge arm strength, Stephenson boasts a plus-plus fastball in the 94-98 mph range and occasionally bumps triple digits.
His secondary arsenal is headlined by a potential plus-plus curveball that serves as an out-pitch with true 12-to-6 break. He’ll also work in a changeup in the high 80s that’s on the firm side, though his improved last-year feel suggests it may improve a grade.
Though Stephenson could be ready for the major leagues at some point next season, he’s unlikely to receive an audition unless there’s an injury. However, expect the right-hander to assume a spot in the Reds’ starting rotation in 2015.
Kyle Zimmer has the potential to be a monster with four impressive offerings and above-average command, as well as knowledge on how to attack hitters and exploit weaknesses. The only thing that could seemingly prevent him from excelling in the major leagues is an injury—something that has already been an issue early in his career.
Employing a clean and repeatable delivery, Zimmer’s fastball works comfortably in the mid-90s with late life, and he has the ability to reach back for something in the 96-98 mph range as needed.
His curveball is a second plus pitch with excellent pace and a sharp downer break, which will work nicely as an out-pitch in the major leagues. He’ll also mix in an average slider with tight spin and decent depth, as well as a changeup with late fading action out of the zone.
Zimmer will open the 2014 season back at Double-A and, provided he remains healthy, should reach the major leagues sometime after the All-Star break.
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Jonathan Gray is what a front-of-the-rotation starter should look like, with a large, durable build, electric arsenal and aggressive approach. Owner of the best pure stuff in the 2013 draft class, the right-hander boasts a near-elite fastball that registers in the 94-98 mph range and touches triple digits early in starts. (He topped out at 102 mph this spring.)
He also features a plus slider that sits consistently between 85-88 mph with late, wipeout break, sharp tilt and excellent pace. His straight changeup represents his weakest offering and will need refinement, as it’s currently an average pitch with decent fading action to the arm side.
Gray could probably handle the major leagues right now, though the Rockies obviously have no need to rush his development. But as long as he can stay healthy, it may be difficult for the organization to keep him in the minors next season for more than a few months.
After climbing from Low-A to the major leagues in 2012, Dylan Bundy was expected to spend a majority of the 2013 season in the Orioles starting rotation. However, the right-hander battled elbow soreness in spring training before eventually requiring Tommy John surgery in late June.
When healthy, Bundy boasts an advanced four-pitch mix that’s highlighted by a mid 90s two-seam fastball with exceptional run and a four-seamer that reaches the upper 90s. The right-hander’s changeup represents his most consistent secondary offering, though he also throws a curveball with above-average potential and a slider that doesn’t lag too far behind.
With a combination of physical strength, stuff and pitchability, Bundy is the definition of a future ace. However, expectations should be tempered next season following his return, as it could take some time for him to regain a feel for his craft after a year-and-a-half absence.
In 2013, George Springer became the first prospect to have a 30-30 season in the minor leagues since Grant Desme in 2009, and he ultimately fell three home runs shy of joining the 40-40 club.
Few players in the minors are as naturally gifted as Springer, who showcases four plus tools (power, speed, glove, arm) on a given night. For that reason, there are even fewer players with as high of a ceiling as the Astros’ future outfielder. Springer’s game-changing power-speed potential should make him an impact player in the major leagues.
However, the ongoing development of his hit tool and plate discipline will ultimately determine whether he’s an All-Star-caliber player or a major league regular. Either way, expect the toolsy outfielder to see significant time in The Show in 2014.
The No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 draft, Kris Bryant has the potential to move quickly through the Cubs system thanks to an advanced approach and robust 80-grade power. A better hitter than given credit for, Bryant’s line-to-line approach and pitch recognition could make him a .270-plus batter at the highest level.
While there’s some uncertainty as to whether he’ll remain at third base or move to a corner outfield spot, Bryant’s bat could have him in the major leagues (in some capacity) by the end of the 2014 season. He should serve as a force in the middle of the Cubs lineup for years to come, with the potential to hit 35-plus home runs in his prime.
Gregory Polanco followed his breakthrough full-season debut with an even better showing in 2013, as the toolsy outfielder excelled at three levels and finished the year in Triple-A.
A left-handed hitter, Polanco has a mature approach and gets excellent plate coverage thanks to his lanky build and long arms. His swing will get lengthy on occasion and impede his ability to handle velocity both on the hands and up in the zone, but that’s really only a minor gripe. Overall, Polanco projects as an above-average hitter in the major leagues with enough raw power to hit 15-plus home runs.
His tools and feel for the game are both impressive for a player of his age and experience, though he’s still rough around the edges with room to improve in all facets of the game. However, the potential is there for a first-division standout at maturity, and it might not be long until he joins Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte to form the most exciting outfield in baseball.
Lucas Giolito received consideration for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft before an elbow injury cost him the entire high school season. The right-hander then reinjured his elbow during his first professional start later that summer and subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery.
However, Giolito made up for the lost time after returning to action last July and loudly announced his presence as one of the best pitching prospects in the game. With an ideal power pitcher’s frame, the right-hander’s fastball will range anywhere from 94-99 mph, and he sustains the velocity deep into starts.
His curveball is another potential plus-plus offering that buckles right-handed hitters and draws endless whiffs. Meanwhile, Giolito’s changeup was a borderline plus pitch before the injury and should be excellent as he regains a feel for it.
With three monster offerings, Giolito has the ceiling of one of baseball’s best pitchers. However, expect the Nationals to proceed cautiously given his recent elbow surgery.
Albert Almora’s full-season debut was bookended by a pair of injuries, but it didn’t stop him from emerging as one of the top hitters in the low minors. A premium athlete with a frame that leaves room for projection, Almora showcases five average-or-better tools and extremely advanced baseball skills for a player his age.
The right-handed hitter has a quiet and efficient swing with preternatural barrel control and a knack for consistently staying inside the ball. His power should develop as he matures and has the potential to be above average by the time he reaches the major leagues.
Defensively, he has slightly above-average speed and demonstrates excellent instincts in center field through his reads, jumps and positioning. Almora is an incredibly well-rounded player for his age with sneaky All-Star potential, and he could start moving quickly next season so long as he stays healthy.
Austin Hedges is the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues, with elite, game-changing chops that would play in the major leagues right now. The quickness and efficiency of his footwork are unparalleled among his peers, and his top-end catch-and-throw skills, insanely quick transfer and plus arm strength allow him to essentially shut down the running game.
Meanwhile, Hedges’ knowledge of and ability to handle a pitching staff give an unquantifiable value to the organization and its crop of talented pitching prospects.
Yet, the right-handed hitter’s bat will ultimately determine whether he becomes the superstar people expect. His approach has translated favorably at advanced levels, suggesting that he’ll hit for average with further experience and development. Power has never been Hedges’ calling card—and probably never will be—though he does have the consistent gap pop to be a doubles machine.
If he continues to make strides at the plate next season, presumably back at Double-A, it’s not crazy to envision the Padres offering him a late-season cup of coffee. However, with Yasmani Grandal and Nick Hundley ahead of him on the organization’s depth chart, a debut during the 2015 season is probably more realistic.
Miguel Sano’s prospect stock exploded in 2013, thanks to significant improvements made on both sides of the ball at a pair of advanced levels.
No prospect in the minor leagues has as much usable in-game power as Sano. A physically strong right-handed hitter with a linebacker build, Sano showcases effortless elite power to all fields, easily lofting the ball out of the park with big-time backspin carry.
With legitimate 80-grade power, he has the potential to be one of baseball’s best sluggers upon arriving in the major leagues and is more than capable of hitting 35-plus home runs in his prime.
Unfortunately, Sano suffered an elbow injury during winter ball that carried over into spring training, and last week, the 20-year-old was forced to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery.
It was a busy 2013 season for Kevin Gausman, as he was rushed to the major leagues as a starter in May before finally finding success as a reliever in September.
The athletic right-hander has easy velocity at 94-99 mph with his four-seam fastball, and his two-seamer registers a few ticks slower but features more arm-side run. Gausman’s changeup is a legitimate plus-plus pitch in the low-to-mid-80s with devastating, splitter-like drop, and he’s made noticeable strides improving his slider over the last year.
His development of the breaking ball will be crucial to his success moving forward, as a viable third pitch to complement his fastball-changeup combo could make him a front-of-the-rotation force for years to come.
In general, Gausman’s electric arsenal and plus command profile give him an insanely high ceiling, and with a more consistent and effective breaking ball, he could realize that potential in a hurry.
Acquired by the Mets in the R.A. Dickey deal, Noah Syndergaard dominated in his first season with the organization, showcasing command of a powerful arsenal and reaching Double-A.
The 6'6" right-hander has a physical presence on the mound, throwing everything on a steep downhill plane and pounding the lower portion of the strike zone. Syndergaard’s plus-plus heater sits in the mid-to-upper 90s with late, arm-side life, and he frequently flirts with triple digits.
His curveball also has plus-plus potential, and his command of the pitch improved last season after adding a slider to his already impressive arsenal. He throws his changeup with good arm speed and confidence, and it could serve as a third plus-or-better offering at maturity.
Syndergaard has one of the highest ceilings among all pitching prospects, with the pure stuff and command to pitch at the front of a rotation. Assuming he opens the 2014 season at Triple-A, the right-hander could be ready to debut around midseason just as Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler did in previous seasons.
Taijuan Walker went through a learning year in 2012, struggling as a teenager at Double-A. However, his ability to make adjustments and work through mechanical issues paid huge dividends last season, which concluded with an impressive showing in the major leagues.
Walker is a top-notch athlete with a highly projectable frame, and he’s shown the ability to handle a sizable workload throughout his young career. The right-hander’s fastball explodes out of his hand and consistently registers between 93-96 mph, and he’ll dial it up to 97-98 on occasion.
The Mariners introduced a cutter into his arsenal in 2012, and he’s quickly adopted a feel for the pitch, throwing it in the low 90s with excellent slicing action to his glove side. His curveball is still inconsistent and leaves something to be desired, though it has good shape and downward bite when he’s on.
Finally, his changeup has come a long way over the past year and could surpass initial projections with further development, though it’s still a fringe-average offering at the present.
Walker was considered an early favorite to win a spot in the Mariners’ Opening Day rotation before getting shut down temporarily in late February with shoulder inflammation. Since then, the 21-year-old has returned to the mound, even starting in a minor league game Saturday, but it’s doubtful the Mariners rush him back for the start of the season.
After an outstanding professional debut in 2012, Addison Russell continued to develop quickly last season despite an aggressive assignment to High-A.
Russell has the makings of an All-Star shortstop, with four above-average-or-better tools that will only improve with experience. The right-handed hitter’s combination of plus bat speed and a deep point of contact should produce above-average power at the highest level, if not more, and given his ability to use the entire field, Russell should always tally a high number of doubles and triples.
His game features some swing-and-miss at the present, though that can at least be partially attributed to facing advanced pitching as a teenager.
Russell is an above-average runner with the athleticism, range and arm strength to stick at shortstop, as well as the instincts to swipe 20 bags annually. Assuming he opens the 2014 season in Double-A, it's very likely Russell will debut as the A's' big league shortstop before his 21st birthday.
After flashing enormous potential during his full-season debut in 2012, Archie Bradley dominated older hitters at Double-A last season and nearly reached the major leagues as a September call-up.
An excellent athlete with a durable and projectable frame, the right-hander repeated his delivery with greater consistency last season, which in turn improved both his control and command. Bradley arguably boasts the deadliest two-pitch combination among minor league pitchers with a heavy fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s and a power curveball with 12-to-6 shape and sharp downer bite.
Even though both offerings already grade as plus pitches suitable for the major leagues, they each have the potential to improve a grade with further refinement. His feel for a changeup noticeably lags behind that of his two other offerings, but it flashes above-average potential and should serve as a third weapon in time.
Bradley is currently locked in a battle with Randall Delgado for the final spot in Arizona’s Opening Day rotation, a spot made available by Patrick Corbin’s recent elbow injury. Though it’s likely he’ll open the season at Triple-A, the 21-year-old will have one last chance to force the organization to add him to the roster, as he’s expected to start once more before the team’s “real” season opener on March 31.
Either way, the Diamondbacks’ recent history of promoting top pitching prospects ahead of schedule suggests that Bradley will spend most of the 2014 season in the major leagues.
Francisco Lindor’s rapid ascension through the minor leagues continued in 2013, as the then-teenager finished the season with a strong showing at the Double-A level.
Regarded as the best defensive shortstop in the minor leagues, Lindor is an absolute wizard with the glove and has the potential to be an elite defensive shortstop in the major leagues. Even if the switch-hitter’s bat doesn’t develop as expected, he has the potential to enjoy a long, successful career in the major leagues based on his defensive prowess, superb instincts and ability to control the speed of the game.
However, he shows all of the signs of becoming an average-or-better hitter with an advanced approach and smooth stroke from both sides of the plate. Lindor has a realistic ceiling of the top defensive shortstop in the game and could conceivably blossom into a frequent All-Star.
Coming off another impressive spring, Lindor will likely begin the season back at Double-A and continue to make developmental strides on all sides of the ball, especially at the dish. He's more than ready to step up should something happen to Asdrubal Cabrera, and he'll be up for good this season earlier than expected.
There may not be a more exciting offensive prospect than Javier Baez, who led all minor league hitters in both extra-base hits and RBI last season, and tied for second in home runs.
A right-handed hitter, Baez generates obscene raw power with his extremely strong wrists, elite bat speed—the best in the minor leagues—and violent swing. He still struggles with pitch recognition and flails at too many breaking balls out of the zone, though it doesn’t detract from his overall production.
Baez is an impressive athlete with smooth, natural defensive actions and a plus arm that’s ideal for the left side of the infield. However, he struggles to control his body and slow down the game at shortstop, which helps explain the high error totals in the early stages of his career.
While he may always be a little rough around the edges, Baez has the upside of the game’s most productive hitter during his prime, with the potential to put up 30-plus home runs annually. However, with fellow prospects Kris Bryant and Arismendy Alcantara also competing for a spot on the Cubs’ future infield, it’ll be interesting to see where the team fits Baez’s bat in the lineup.
Baez once again enjoyed a monster spring, as he opened eyes with a handful of prodigious blasts while playing both middle infield positions. Though he’ll open the season at Triple-A Iowa, Baez made it clear that it won’t be long until he's dropping tape-measure bombs in the major leagues.
The top-ranked outfield prospect headed into the 2013 season, Oscar Taveras was limited to only 46 games at Triple-A after suffering an ankle sprain in May that ultimately required season-ending surgery.
A physically strong left-handed hitter, Taveras has all the makings of a future batting champion, with a controlled but violent, torque-oriented swing that results in consistently loud contact to all fields.
His extension through the ball generates backspin carry and should always amass a significant number of extra-base hits in a given season. Though Taveras has plenty of strength, his in-game power is more so a product of him being a pure hitter.
A majority of his playing time in the minor leagues has come in center field, but he’s better suited to play a corner position in the major leagues. Provided that he’s healthy next season, Taveras is a safe bet to rake upon reaching the major leagues and could potentially run away with the National League Rookie of the Year award.
Carlos Correa, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 draft, proved to be more advanced than expected last year as one of the younger everyday players at a full-season level, showcasing impact potential on all sides of the ball as well as an overall mature feel for the game.
The right-handed hitter has a simple, direct swing in which he attacks the ball and utilizes the entire field. However, it’s the advanced plate discipline and pitch recognition that already make him a special hitter. Correa possesses plenty of raw power but doesn’t swing for the fences, employing an approach geared toward consistent hard contact and getting on base instead.
Despite his large frame, the teenager is an excellent athlete with average speed and the tools to stick at shortstop, including soft hands, good range and a legitimate plus-plus arm. Correa is a physically blessed player with the potential for five above-average-or-better tools at maturity.
Amazingly, he may not require much more time to refine his game in the minor leagues, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll be anything short of a top-tier shortstop with legitimate MVP potential in his prime.
While Xander Bogaerts has always projected to be a plus hitter in the major leagues, he raised the bar last year by adding strength and sharpening his approach. With lightning-quick bat speed and preternatural bat-to-ball skills, the 21-year-old could easily sell out for power if desired, but he instead stays short and quick to the ball and utilizes his tremendous plate coverage.
However, as he matures, both physically and as a hitter, he should be capable of hitting 20-25 home runs in a given season.
Bogaerts is an outstanding athlete with slightly above-average speed and similar range at shortstop, and he improved his long-term projection at the position last season with better body control and more accurate throws across the infield. Scouts still remain divided about his chances of remaining there, but there’s no question that he has the glove and arm strength for the left side of the infield.
Bogaerts has the ceiling of one of baseball’s top players, with the potential to offer star-level production at a premium position. Even if he’s forced to slide over to the hot corner, the bat will make him a perennial All-Star.
Though Bogaerts is having a slow spring, everyone knows he’s a stud and bound to do studly things. Personally, I’m very, very excited to see what he’ll do over a full season in the major leagues.
Byron Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, emerged as baseball’s top prospect in his first full professional season, posting monster numbers between both Class-A levels as a teenager. He is a supremely gifted athlete with 80-grade speed and the potential to be an elite defender in center field.
At the plate, the right-handed hitter’s combination of explosive bat speed and hand-eye coordination will help him reach the major leagues quickly, while his mature approach and pitch recognition could make him one of the game’s top hitters. And while he’s already an extra-base machine, thanks to his wheels, Buxton also has the raw power to produce 20-plus home runs.
Buxton has the ceiling of an MVP-caliber player in his prime, with five potentially plus tools and a feel for making in-game adjustments. Assuming he opens the 2014 season at Double-A, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him finish the year in the major leagues.