With the first five weeks of the minor league season now complete, it’s time to reflect on the early-season returns of baseball’s top 10 prospects.
The big story thus far has been Taijuan Walker, who is dominating in his second tour of Double-A. Over his last five starts, the right-hander has allowed only two earned runs on 13 hits in 30 innings. Meanwhile, Zack Wheeler has finally adjusted to the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League and fired back-to-back gems for Triple-A Las Vegas.
In terms of hitters, Xander Bogaerts has officially busted out of his early-season funk at the dish with a 1.060 OPS over his last 10 games. The right-handed hitter has finally found his power stroke too, as he’s now homered in consecutive games entering Monday.
Here’s a look at how the rest of Prospect Pipeline’s top 10 prospects have fared so far this season.
1. Jurickson Profar, SS/2B, Texas Rangers
2013 Stats: .232/.348/.379, 16 R, 8 XBH (2 HR), 4 SB, 18/17 K/BB (25 G)
After dealing with a few nagging injuries that delayed the start of his season, Profar is yet to bust out at the plate. But that’s OK, because the 20-year-old switch-hitter is still working deep counts and putting together impressive at-bats. And with an 18/17 K/BB ratio through his first 25 games at Triple-A Round Rock, we shouldn’t read too far into his .232 batting average.
Plus, Profar is currently riding a nine-game hitting streak, during which he’s amassed eight runs scored, four extra-base hits and six walks.
2. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
2013 Stats: N/A
Nothing encouraging to report on the Bundy front, as the game's top pitching prospect won't throw for at least the next six weeks after a trip to see Dr. James Andrews resulted in a platelet-rich injection in his right elbow/forearm.
3. Oscar Taveras, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
2013 Stats: .281/.333/.427, 7 XBH (3 HR), 12/6 K/BB (24 G)
Taveras isn’t raking like he should in the Pacific Coast League—at least by his standards—but by no means is the 20-year-old playing poorly. After a slow start to the 2013 season, the best pure hitter in the minors is coming around with a .903 OPS and two home runs over his last 10 games. And considering that we’re talking about a one-month sample, expect that his numbers will be where they should whenever he’s promoted to the major leagues.
The only glaring difference in his game this season has been his struggles against same-side pitching. After batting .307 against southpaws in 2012, Taveras is just 7-for-36 (.194) through the first month of the season. But with a .310 batting average against southpaws since the start of the 2011 season, the slump should be only temporary.
4. Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
2013 Stats: .276/.376/.429, 16 R, 9 XBH (3 HR), 17 RBI, 37/16 K/BB (27 G)
After getting off to a relatively hot start at Triple-A Durham, Myers has fallen into his first major rut of the 2013 season—which is something that tends to happen with hitters anxiously awaiting a promotion to the major leagues. With a .195/.283/.390 triple-slash line and two home runs over his last 10 games, the 22-year-old’s struggles stem from his overaggressive approach and inability to control the strike zone.
While there will always be some swing-and-miss to his game—as is the case with any young power hitter—I fear Myers’ weaknesses will be easily exploited in the major leagues. There’s no question that he can hit the crap out of a quality fastball or poorly located breaking ball; however, the right-handed hitter has shown a propensity for chasing hard sliders off the outside corner and frequently falling behind in the count.
5. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
2013 Stats: 35 IP, 1.54 ERA, .150 BAA, 39/20 K/BB (6 GS)
Opening the season back at Double-A Jackson, Walker is noticeably a more mature pitcher than he was at the level as a 19-year-old in 2012. While he flashed brilliance throughout the season, the right-hander endured his share of struggles as part of a “learning year,” and he was forced to make adjustments against considerably more advanced hitters.
This season, however, Walker has taken a step forward in terms of his overall development and solidified his status as one of the top pitching prospects in the game. Since allowing four earned runs over five innings in his first start of the year, the 20-year-old has surrendered only two earned runs over his last 30 innings. His walk rate leaves something to be desired, though it should improve as he establishes a more consistent feel for his electric arsenal.
6. Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
2013 Stats: 29.1 IP, 2.45 ERA, .206 BAA, 21/17 K/BB (6 GS)
Cole continues to climb my list of the game’s most frustrating pitching prospects with each uninspiring outing at Triple-A Indianapolis. Sure, his numbers look great on the surface with a 2.45 ERA and .206 BAA in roughly 30 innings, but as a former 1-1 draft pick with an ace-caliber arsenal, the right-hander should be dominating minor league hitters.
Having walked (17) almost as many as he’s fanned (21), Cole has struggled to get ahead in the count and execute his pitches. Even though his pure stuff will always be difficult for opposing hitters to barrel at any level, the 22-year-old’s shaky command will only be amplified in the major leagues. There’s no reason that Triple-A hitters should be fouling off so many pitches when behind in the count—a trend that has also prevented Cole from working deep into starts.
7. Zack Wheeler, RHP, New York Mets
2013 Stats: 36 IP, 4.00 ERA, .246 BAA, 40/17 K/BB (7 GS)
Wheeler got off to a rough start at Triple-A Las Vegas, as he battled a blister situation in the early going and found the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League environments unforgiving. Through his first five starts, the right-hander allowed 15 earned runs on 26 hits with 28/15 K/BB over 19 innings.
Since then, however, things have seemingly clicked for the 22-year-old. Over his last two outings, Wheeler has allowed one earned run over 12.2 innings while posting a stellar 12/2 K/BB. I’m not sure what more he’ll need to do to warrant a big league promotion, as it makes little sense to unnecessarily extended his stay in the PCL.
8. Jose Fernandez, RHP, Miami Marlins
2013 Stats: 31 IP, 3.48 ERA, .189 BAA, 32/12 K/BB (6 GS)
After dazzling in his first two big-league starts (11 IP, 0.82 ERA, .132 BAA, 13/3 K/BB), Fernandez began an inevitable adjustment period as opposing hitters entered games with a better idea of what to expect from the right-hander. As a result, the 20-year-old was essentially challenged for the first time as a professional and allowed 11 earned runs in 13 innings with 10/8 K/BB over his next three outings. While his stuff was still excellent, Fernandez was unable to expand the zone and induce swings early in the count as he did to begin the season.
However, in his start on Saturday against the Phillies, the youngster was outstanding. Not only was his stuff off-the-charts good, but the right-hander looked more like a pitcher than a thrower—which makes his two baserunners allowed (one hit, one walk) and nine strikeouts over seven scoreless innings all the more impressive. And between his two starts against the Phillies this season, Fernandez has been absolutely dominant: 12 IP, 4 H, ER, 17/2 K/BB.
9. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
2013 Stats: .303/.373/.465, 17 R, 9 XBH (2 HR), 29/11 K/BB (23 G)
After a sluggish start to the season back at Double-A Portland, Bogaerts, 20, has settled in at the plate and is finally driving the ball with consistency. As expected due to his aggressive approach and lack of experience against advanced pitching, the right-handed hitter is amassing his share of strikeouts with 29 through 23 games.
However, Bogaerts has been on a tear over his last 10 contests with a 1.060 OPS. During that period, he recorded a triple in three consecutive games (April 22-24) and has now homered in back-to-back games.
10. Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins
2013 Stats: .281/.339/.491, 10 R, 8 XBH (HR), 18/5 K/BB (13 G)
After opening the season on the disabled list due to a heel injury sustained toward the end of spring training, Yelich is making up for lost time with a strong start at Double-A Jacksonville. Yes, he’s been striking out more than one would like to see from such a polished hitter, but that’s mostly a product of having to establish his rhythm and timing while adjusting to a more advanced level.
That said, the sweet-swinging left-handed hitter has finally found his groove with a .966 OPS, nine runs scored, eight extra-base hits and 11 RBI during his current 10-game hitting streak. It’s only a matter of time until the 21-year-old joins fellow outfielder Marcell Ozuna in Miami’s big league outfield.