While small sample sizes from the first month of any season can be misleading, they do at least offer some insight as to where a certain player is at developmentally. In the prospect realm, this involves gauging a player’s improvement and overall progress relative to their minor-league track record.
Now that most everyday position prospects have played in roughly 20-25 games, and most pitchers have made a handful of starts, a lot of the once eye-popping numbers posted in April should regress to the norm. However, before that inevitably takes place, it’s time to look back at the month’s top performers.
Here’s a breakdown of baseball’s all-prospect team for the month of April.
C: Kevin Plawecki, New York Mets
2013 Stats: .391/.455/.667, 12 2B, 4 HR, 20 RBI, 11/7 K/BB (23 G)
A first-round selection out of Purdue last June, Plawecki was regarded as a line-drive hitter with a swing geared for contact. That’s not to say the 6’2”, 205-pound backstop lacked physical strength, though. He simply was a product of the college environment and lacked a feel for consistently driving the ball.
However, Plawecki, 22, has come into his own at the plate since signing with the Mets last summer, and is currently destroying South Atlantic League pitching with a league-leading 1.112 OPS—as any remotely good college hitter should. Plus, the right-handed hitter has been driving the ball from line-to-line with power, as evidenced by his 16 extra-base hits through 23 games.
Plawecki’s defense will never be more than average, but he’s a well-rounded catcher with a feel for calling and controlling the pace of the game. Still, he’s made noticeable adjustments behind the dish over the last year, which offers reason to believe he’ll continue to improve.
Honorable Mention: Tom Murphy (Colorado Rockies)
1B: Rock Shoulders, Chicago Cubs
2013 Stats: .370/.457/.642, 19 R, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 21/13 K/BB (22 G)
A 25th-round selection in 2011 out of State College of Florida, the Cubs inked Shoulders to a massive, over-slot signing bonus of $294,000 shortly before the mid-August deadline. At 6’2”, 225 pounds, the left-handed hitter has one tool: power—and lots of it.
Even though Shoulders belted 10 home runs in 63 games last season for Short-Season Boise, he batted only .250 and struck out 29.1 percent of the time. Granted it’s a small sample, but the 21-year-old’s approach has been more consistent this season while cutting down on some of the whiffs. He still tends to drift out over his front hip en route to contact—partially a product of not recognizing spin—but has done a better job of keeping his hands back and staying inside the baseball.
Unfortunately, he’s in a similar position (literally) as Low-A teammate Dan Vogelbach, as Shoulders is already a bad-body first baseman who involves little-to-know projection. He’s either going to hit his way up the organization ladder or struggle to reach Double-A.
Honorable Mention: Chun Chen (Cleveland Indians)
2B: Nick Franklin, Seattle Mariners
2013 Stats: .410/.538/.623, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 4 SB, 8/16 K/BB (17 G)
The 27th overall pick in the 2009 draft, Franklin rebounded nicely from an injury-plagued 2011 campaign to post an .800 OPS with 52 extra-base hits and 12 stolen bases last season while splitting time between the Mariners’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. Although he showcased more of the power that made him a can’t-miss prospect after the 2010 season, Franklin’s shaky plate discipline was exploited by the more advanced pitching and resulted in 106 strikeouts in 121 games.
Through the first month of the 2013 season, however, the 22-year-old has been firing on all cylinders at the plate in the Pacific Coast League. Firstly, Franklin’s approach and plate discipline is suddenly amazing: the switch-hitter posted an 8/16 K/BB in 17 games last month. He’s also been incredibly consistent from his natural right side this season (5-for-8, 4 BB), which, as a career .226 right-handed hitter, is a positive sign.
Honorable Mention: Sean Coyle (Boston Red Sox)
SS: Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
2013 Stats: 2013 Stats: .341/.406/.505, 10 XBH, 7 SB, 13/10 K/BB (24 G)
Although he was drafted eighth overall by the Tribe in 2011, a strong case can be made that Lindor was worthy of the first pick overall. Seriously, he has the potential to be that good, and soon. One of the youngest players in his draft class, Lindor spent the entire 2012 season as an 18-year-old in Low-A. While he wore down over the second half of the season, he still batted a respectable .257/.352/.355 with 83 runs, 27 stolen bases and 78/61 K/BB in 122 games.
Already a plus-plus defender with instincts and creativity that draw comparisons to some of baseball’s greatest shortstops, Lindor’s bat is the only thing keeping him from the major leagues—well, that and Asdrubal Cabrera, at least temporarily. The switch-hitter batted .341/.406/.505 with 10 extra-base hits, seven stolen bases and 13/10 K/BB last month, and, in general, has showcased improved power from the left side. He’s struggling from the right side (3-for-21), so it’ll be interesting to follow the adjustments he makes over the course of the season.
Honorable Mention: Chris Owings (Arizona Diamondbacks)
3B: Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins
2013 Stats: 2013 Stats: .368/.435/.747, 21 R, 9 HR, 24 RBI, 28/11 K/BB (25 G)
After posting an .893 OPS with 28 home runs in his full-season debut at Low-A Beloit in 2012, there was no doubt that Sano was headed for the pitcher-friendly Florida State League this season. But considering that he also struck out 144 times in 129 games, there was reason to be leery about his adaptation to the quality of pitching at the higher level.
In possession of the best raw power in the minors, the 20-year-old makes it look easy by blasting tape-measure home runs from line-to-line. Given his projection as a middle-of-the-order slugger, Sano will probably always strikeout more than desired. Therefore, since the power will always be present, the development of his hit tool will seemingly determine both his success and longevity in the major leagues.
While it’s only been a month, Sano’s .368/.435/.747 triple-slash line probably has the Twins’ front office discussing and evaluating the risk involved with a mid-season promotion to Double-A.
Honorable Mention: Garin Cecchini (Boston Red Sox)
OF: Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
2013 Stats: .392/.510/.684, 26 R, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 9 SB, 17/19 K/BB (22 G)
Selected with the second overall pick last June, Buxton has athleticism, instincts, tools and makeup to be one of the best players in baseball during his prime. I seldom use the term “five-tool player”, but if any prospect is worthy of the tag, it’s Buxton.
The 6’2”, 189-pound outfielder showcased plenty of natural talent in his professional debut last season, though his lack of experience and raw, undeveloped baseball skills were obvious. Still, Buxton made adjustments across two rookie levels and finished with a .792 OPS in 48 games.
Moved up to Low-A this year for his full-season debut, the 19-year-old posted video game-like numbers over the first month of the season with a .392/.510/.684 triple-slash line and more walks (19) than strikeouts (17) in 22 games.
Don't worry; it's okay to be excited.
Honorable Mention: Gregory Polanco (Pittsburgh Pirates)
OF: Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers
2013 Stats: 2013 Stats: .304/.381/.620, 22 R, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 7 SB, 16/12 K/BB (24 G)
An 11th-round pick in 2010, Pederson made the jump directly to High-A in 2012 after spending nearly all of the 2011 season at the rookie level. However, the 6’1”, 185-pound outfielder continued to improve in the face of advanced competition, as he posted a .913 OPS with 18 home runs and 26 stolen bases and was named the organization’s minor league player of the year.
As one of the youngest everyday players at the Double-A level, the 21-year-old paced the Southern League with a 1.001 OPS through the first month of the season. More importantly, he’s quieting the skeptics who have viewed him as a “tweener”—not enough power to play a corner spot; not enough defense to stick in center field—by showcasing improved power frequency without sacrificing his approach or ability to reach base.
Honorable Mention: Andrew Toles (Tampa Bay Rays)
OF: George Springer, Houston Astros
2013 Stats: .297/.307/.648, 19 R, 16 XBH (8 HR), 20 RBI, 32/15 K/BB (25 G)
Springer is a polarizing prospect. When he’s at his best, the 2011 first-rounder (11th overall) is, without a doubt, the most impressive player on the field. And when he’s at his worst, well, let’s just say he looks really, really bad.
Even though Springer batted .302/.383/.526 with 24 home runs and 32 stolen bases in 128 games last season, 106 of those games were played in the California League. Plus, the fact that he also struck out 156 times raised major questions about his adjustment process and overall offensive ceiling.
In what will be a telling season for the 23-year-old outfielder, Springer has continued to showcase his usual robust raw power, as his eight home runs and 1.056 OPS rank atop the Texas League leaderboard. Expect to see him in Houston later this season.
Honorable Mention: Yasiel Puig (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Staring Pitcher: Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks
2013 Stats: 28.2 IP, 1.26 ERA, .218 BAA, 43/10 K/BB (5 GS)
Coming off a highly impressive full-season debut at Low-A South Bend, the consensus was that Bradley could emerge as one of the game’s top pitching prospects if he learned how to repeat his delivery consistently and improve his command. Well, folks, it’s happening.
Over the first month of the 2013 season, the 20-year-old was the best pitcher in the minor leagues with a 1.26 ERA, .218 BAA and 43/10 K/BB in 28.2 innings spanning five starts. The Diamondbacks also liked what they saw out of the 2011 first-rounder, and acknowledged it by promoting him to Double-A Mobile on Wednesday night.
At 6’4”, 225 pounds, Bradley’s power frame is an amalgamation of physical strength and athleticism that allows him to work deep into games. The right-hander’s heavy fastball sits comfortably in the mid-90s, as he throws it on a steep, downhill plane and rarely misses up in the zone or over the plate. Meanwhile, his curveball is an absolute hammer with tight rotation and sharp, down bite, that, at maturity, could grade as a plus-plus offering. Bradley also has a changeup that flashes at least average potential with some arm-side fade, though it’s the least developed weapon in his promising arsenal.
Honorable Mentions: Jesse Biddle (Philadelphia Phillies), Rafael Montero (New York Mets), Roberto Osuna (Toronto Blue Jays), Alex Wood (Atlanta Braves)
Closer: Jake Barrett, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
2013 Stats: 9 IP, 7 SV, 0.00 ERA, .129 BAA, 14/2 K/BB (9 G)
Selected in the third round of the 2012 draft after a strong season as Arizona State’s closer, the Diamondbacks targeted Barrett for his power arm and potential to reach the major leagues quickly.
At 6’3”, 230 pounds, the 21-year-old right-hander is a bulldog on the mound with two pitches that are nearly big-league ready. Barrett throws his fastball on a consistent downhill plane in the mid-to-upper-90s with some late sink. His slider is equally impressive and downright filthy with tight spin and a late, wipeout break.
Barrett was assigned to Low-A South Bend after signing last summer and struggled with a 5.84 ERA and 25/13 K/BB in 25 games. However, it’s important to keep in mind that he was coming off a grueling college season. So, it’s not surprising that he’s dominating in the early going, and in the hitter-friendly California League nonetheless.
At this rate, his stay at High-A Visalia will be short-lived, and there’s a decent chance Barrett reaches Arizona by the end of the season.
Honorable Mentions: Mark Montgomery (New York Yankees), Kevin Quackenbush (San Diego Padres)