In ranking every team’s top 10 prospects over the last six weeks, I’ve been forced to make the same difficult decision of whether to rank a young, unproven prospect over a high-floor, sure-fire big leaguer.
As the series has unfolded, I feel as though I haven’t favored one prospect type over the other. At the same time, I admit that some of my aggressive rankings of younger players—those who aren’t expected to arrive in the major leagues until at least 2015—are driven by my gut instinct.
Because I only analyze 10 prospects per team, there have been countless players who were last-minute cuts and subsequently omitted from the final list. Therefore, I thought that I’d highlight 10 under-the-radar prospects—more specifically, those stashed at a rookie/short-season level or Class-A affiliate—who deserve the recognition.
Kyle Smith, RHP, Kansas City Royals (20)
A fourth-round draft pick out of a Florida high school in 2011, Smith turned in a dominant professional debut this past season, spending most of the year in the Midwest League (Low-A).
After fanning 11 batters over nine innings in his first professional start, the right-hander was promoted to Low-A Kane County where he registered a 2.94 ERA and 11.63 K/9 in 67.1 innings. He’s undersized at 6'0'', 170 pounds, but he has excellent body control, a fast arm and advanced three-pitch mix.
Kennys Vargas, 1B, Minnesota Twins (22)
A 6’5”, switch-hitting first baseman, Vargas had hit for average at each level, but he showed more consistent power last season at Low-A Beloit.
The 22-year-old’s approach was more consistent, as he registered a 41/28 strikeout-to-walk rate in 41 games. He has a long way to go as a first base-only prospect, but his potential with the bat is intriguing.
Kevin Pillar, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (24)
A 32nd-round draft pick out of Cal State-Dominguez Hills in 2011, Pillar has emerged as one of the more polished players in the Blue Jays system.
After batting .347/.377/.534 in the Appalachian League after signing, the 6'0'', 200-pound outfielder batted .323/.374/.439 with 38 extra-base hits, 91 RBI, 51 stolen bases and 70/40 K/BB last season in 128 games between Low-A Lansing and High-A Dunedin.
Pillar’s only down tool is his power, though he does shoot the gaps with regularity. He may only have the ceiling as a fourth outfielder, but there’s something to be said for his overall approach and consistency.
Corey Embree, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (20)
I had the chance to see Embree a few years ago while living in the St. Louis area and was very impressed with his size and athleticism. I was surprised when he was a 47th-round pick in 2011 (Giants) and then a 38th-round selection in 2012 (Dodgers).
The 6’3”, 218-pound outfielder had a solid pro debut this past season, batting .320/.409/.493 with nine extra-base hits and 15/10 K/BB in 24 games for the organization’s rookie-level affiliate in the Arizona League.
He has solid-average speed for his size with right-handed raw power and an accurate, plus arm.
Kevin Brady, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies (22)
Selected by the Phillies in the 10th round of the 2012 draft, Brady always showcased above-average stuff while at Clemson but could never stay healthy. Therefore, the 6’3” right-hander was drafted as a 21-year-old redshirt junior.
He has a plus fastball which reaches the mid-90s and has the potential for two solid-average secondary offerings (curveball, changeup).
Kyle Hendricks, RHP, Chicago Cubs (23)
An eighth-round draft pick of the Rangers out of Dartmouth in 2011, Hendricks dominated at short-season Spokane in his professional debut and even made a start for Double-A Frisco.
The 6’3”, 190-pound right-hander was excellent in his full-season debut for High-A Myrtle Beach this past season, as he registered a 2.82 ERA with 112/15 K/BB in 130.2 innings. However, Hendricks was dealt just before the July 31 trade deadline to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Ryan Dempster.
With an intelligent approach, impressive four-pitch mix—highlighted by a plus changeup—and knack for inducing ground outs, Hendricks has the potential to move quickly given the Cubs’ lack of pitching prospects.
Nate Karns, RHP, Washington Nationals (25)
A 6’5”, 230-pound right-hander, Karns required shoulder surgery for a torn labrum after signing as a 12th-rounder in 2009. He didn’t return until 2011, but he moved quickly upon doing so and finished the season at short-season Auburn.
The 25-year-old opened this past season at Low-A Hagerstown, where he registered a 2.03 ERA and 12.38 K/9 in 44.1 innings. He followed that with a 2.26 ERA, 10.93 K/9 and reduced walk rate after a promotion to High-A Potomac.
He’s obviously behind the curve age wise, but his power frame and swing-and-miss arsenal has legitimate potential. In fact, I kind of regret not including him in the back end of my Nats’ top 10 prospects.
Jose Ramirez, 2B, Cleveland Indians (20)
Ramirez made an impressive full-season debut in 2012 at Low-A Lake County, ultimately batting .354/.403/.462 with 15 stolen bases and 26/24 K/BB in 67 games.
He may be diminutive in stature (5’8”, 165 pounds), but he can flat-out rake. He doesn't have a lot of power, just exceptional bat-to-ball ability and a feel for the strike zone. The switch-hitter will never show much power, but his hit tool is very real.
Cody Martin, RHP, Atlanta Braves (23)
A seventh-round pick out of Gonzaga in 2011, Martin, a dominant closer while at Gonzaga, showed a lot of promise in a similar role during his professional debut later that year.
However, due to his ability to command four average-to-plus offerings, he was moved to the starting rotation early in the 2012 season and went on to register a 2.93 ERA with 123/34 K/BB in 107.1 innings.
Kolby Copeland, OF, Miami Marlins (18)
One of the few 2012 draft picks on this list, Copeland slid to the supplemental third round due to his two-sport background in high school (and the fact that he missed half of his senior season after receiving an underage DUI).
A left-handed hitter, the 18-year-old has excellent hand-eye coordination and a line-drive-oriented swing that yields hard contact to all fields. He has above-average raw power despite the fact that he failed to go yard in 62 games during his pro debut.