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Progress Reports for the Top 20 MLB Prospects in Winter Ball

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2013

Progress Reports for the Top 20 MLB Prospects in Winter Ball

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    There is no offseason in Major League Baseball, especially for prospects making their way through the minors. 

    Even though most fans stopped paying attention to baseball after the Boston Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, there have been games happening on a near-daily basis for the last two months in winter leagues. 

    Things started with the Arizona Fall League in October and only recently concluded with various leagues in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico and Puerto Rico. 

    With some of the top prospects in baseball participating in these winter leagues, it feels like an appropriate time to discuss the work they did over the last two months. 

    Our reports will focus on players who were listed on the main rosters for the teams, though not all of them played enough to qualify for batting or pitching titles because MLB clubs don't want to risk injuries. 

     

    Note: All stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted. 

20. Chris Reed, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Venezuelan Winter League Stats: 4 G, 1-0, 14.0 IP, 5.79 ERA, 15 H, 6 BB, 13 K, .273 BAA

    Even though his Venezuelan Winter League stats don't show it, Chris Reed is a ground-ball specialist. He had an astounding 2.19 ground ball-fly ball ratio in 2013. 

    Reed, Los Angeles' first-round pick in 2011, isn't an overpowering pitcher. He can run his fastball up to 94-95 mph but is at his best in the 89-91 range where the ball will get a lot more sink in the zone. 

    Command and control have not been Reed's strong suit at any level of the minors, a trait that has continued in Venezuela. The lefty came out of Stanford as a reliever and seems best suited for that role in the future. 

    He has enough pitches to look like a starter, but the changeup lacks consistency, and the slider is a cement mixer waiting to be hit. The Dodgers should bite the bullet and put Reed in the bullpen to get him into the big leagues in 2014. 

    Note: Scouting video via Christopher Blessing, Bullpen Banter

19. Christian Arroyo, SS, San Francisco Giants

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    Puerto Rican Winter League Stats: N/A

    Christian Arroyo, a surprise first-round pick by the Giants in 2013, is listed on the Cangrejeros de Santurce roster even though he hasn't played a game for the club. The 18-year-old is getting instruction with a chance to enter a full-season league at the start of next season. 

    Raw is the appropriate word to describe Arroyo. He lacks the kind of impact projection you expect to see from a first-round pick, which is why so many people were surprised to see the Giants take him. 

    Arroyo does have bat speed and gets his hands through the zone quickly. He doesn't have any sort of approach and has just average raw power. The speed is below average, which makes him a long shot to stick at shortstop. 

    Unless the bat takes several steps forward in the coming years, Arroyo will never project to be more than a below-average MLB player (if that) because the defense isn't going to be special. 

    Note: Scouting video via Christopher Chafin, Perfect Game Baseball

18. Jeurys Familia, RHP, New York Mets

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Dominican Winter League Stats: 6 G, 6.2 IP, 2.70 ERA, 8 H, 3 BB, 12 K, .276 BAA

    Jeurys Familia is 24 years old and has been on the radar for New York Mets fans since 2010. The book on him has been written so many times that there really is nothing new I can add here. 

    The best thing to say about Familia's appearance in the Dominican Winter League is he's got a 12-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 6.2 innings. He's going up against failed big leaguers or players younger than him, so it's not enough to get excited about a potential turnaround. 

    But Familia has never thrown strikes consistently in the minors, so any hope for progress is a reason to at least feign optimism. 

17. Rymer Liriano, OF, San Diego Padres

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    Rich Pilling/Getty Images

    Dominican Winter League Stats: 4 G, .111/.111/.444, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 0 BB, 2 K

    Rymer Liriano got sporadic playing time in the Dominican Winter League as the Padres try to get the 22-year-old outfielder up to speed for spring training in February. He missed the entire 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery

    I will admit some bias with Liriano, because I had the fortune to see him at his absolute best multiple times during his breakout 2011 season in the Midwest League. He's a player whose tools have (almost) always looked better than his in-game ability. 

    At his peak, Liriano boasts five above-average or better tools. He doesn't have the best approach at the plate, which could knock his hit and power tools down, but he is a unique talent who still boasts more than enough potential to be a quality right fielder in the big leagues. 

16. Jorge Polanco, 2B, Minnesota Twins

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    Dominican Winter League Stats: 49 G, .294/.361/.383, 9 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 21 BB, 29 K, 4 SB

    Jorge Polanco has the misfortune of playing in a loaded Minnesota system, which means he doesn't command a lot of attention. It also doesn't help when you play on the same team as Byron Buxton.

    The 20-year-old came on strong in 2013, hitting .308/.362/.452 with 32 doubles in Low-A, and continues to impress with the bat. He's not big, listed at 5'11" and 165 pounds, but has such quick hands through the zone to drive the ball into gaps. 

    Polanco is a solid defender at second base with average arm strength and good footwork. He lacks an impact tool, but he does so many things well, he could carve out a solid career as a fringe-average regular. 

    Note: Scouting video via Christopher Blessing, Bullpen Banter

15. Luis Sardinas, SS, Texas Rangers

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    Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

    Venezuelan Winter League Stats: 31 G, .354/.418/.441, 9 2B, 1 3B, 16 RBI, 13 BB, 18 K, 6 SB

    There are few prospects who will drive you nuts more than Luis Sardinas. He has all the gifts needed to be an impact MLB shortstop but lacks the kind of in-game consistency to be an elite prospect. 

    Sardinas has one of the best arms in the minors, able to make all the throws from deep in the hole and boasting slick footwork.

    He's got top-of-the-charts speed and will need it to create extra-base hits. The 20-year-old has a slight frame, listed at just 150 pounds, and doesn't drive the ball. He's still learning to read pitchers on the bases, having been caught on six of 12 stolen base attempts this winter. 

    If Sardinas can figure out the mental side of the game, he projects as a star shortstop for a long time because the defense is that good. He's no slouch with the bat but lacks consistency. 

14. Jose Berrios, RHP, Minnesota Twins

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    Puerto Rican Winter League Stats: N/A

    Cedar Rapids, Minnesota's Low-A affiliate, was one of the most exciting teams to watch in 2013. Byron Buxton was the star attraction, but on the mound, Jose Berrios surprised with a strong performance and better stuff than expected. 

    The biggest knock against Berrios is lack of height (6'0") and physical projection, which could push him to the bullpen in the future. For now, though, the 19-year-old looks the part of a very good mid-rotation starter. 

    He's got very simple mechanics and generates a lot of heat with great arm speed. His fastball-curveball combination are already advanced given his age and could get even better with more experience. 

    Berrios' changeup and command are his two biggest obstacles, but at 19 years old, that's hardly a significant problem to worry about right now. 

    Note: Scouting video via Under Armour Baseball.

13. Arismendy Alcantara, 2B, Chicago Cubs

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Dominican Winter League Stats: 17 G, .200/.231/.280, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 13 K, 2 SB

    Don't worry about Arismendy Alcantara's stat line, as he's played 133 games in the regular season and also endured six weeks of spring training. Players get tired and numbers flatline as the years moves on. 

    Actually, Alcantara had his best season from a development perspective in 2013. He did strike out at a high rate (125 times in 494 at-bats) but also showed more patience and a better approach than ever before. 

    Combine that with his very simple swing mechanics and above-average power profile, Alcantara suddenly has the makings of an everyday second baseman in the big leagues. The 22-year-old made the switch to second base in 2013, where his actions and arm strength played much better than they ever did at shortstop. 

    Don't be shocked to see Alcantara step on the grass at Wrigley Field before the 2014 season is over. 

12. Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Dominican Winter League Stats: 47 G, .226/.275/.348, 8 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 11 BB, 34 K, 3 SB

    There are certain prospects who fascinate you, for one reason or another. Maikel Franco falls into that category because he's unlike a lot of players with a high-ceiling projection. 

    Franco has the offensive profile to be an impact third baseman. He has big-time raw power and generates very good bat speed with a strong upper body. There is a hitch in his swing, with a late arm bar and long load that keeps him from getting into the zone early. 

    He's listed at 6'1", 180 pounds but doesn't carry it well. The 21-year-old is about as slow as a runner can be whose last name isn't "Molina." He projects as a fringy defender at third base with plus arm strength and decent lateral movement. 

    But as long as the bat comes together, the Phillies will have an impact bat in the middle of their lineup. I'm not as sold on Franco as others might be, which is why he just missed out on the top 10. 

    Note: Scouting video via Baseball Instinct.

11. Alen Hanson, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Dominican Winter League Stats: 6 G, .235/.278/.235, 4 H, 1 BB, 5 K, 2 SB

    No prospect is going to get hurt more based on just one look in the winter leagues than Alen Hanson. Pittsburgh's young shortstop looked exhausted when I saw him in the Arizona Fall League and did nothing in his brief Dominican Winter League run. 

    The 21-year-old didn't take some of the steps forward many had hoped for after his breakout 2012 campaign. He still struggles to drive average velocity and quality off-speed stuff. 

    Power isn't going to be a huge part of Hanson's game thanks to a slight 5'11", 170-pound frame, but he's not without pop. He can drive the ball into gaps and uses above-average speed to create problems on the bases. 

    Despite playing shortstop, Hanson lacks the arm strength to handle the position in the big leagues. He's got range and tremendous athleticism but will be a better fit at second base for the Pirates. 

10. George Springer, OF, Houston Astros

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Puerto Rican Winter League Stats: N/A

    George Springer was one of the most talked-about prospects in baseball last year. He followed an excellent 2012 season with a dominating 2013 that saw him hit .303/.411/.600 with 37 home runs in 135 games across Double-A and Triple-A. 

    The 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft, Springer is a rare commodity in the sport. He's a true center fielder with four plus tools. He can hit for power, steal bases and play great defense at one of the most important positions on the field. 

    So why is Springer only ranked 10th on this list?

    The hit tool. Springer strikes out a ton (161 times in 492 at-bats last year) and has a habit of dipping his back shoulder to sell out for power. MLB pitchers can zero in on that and exploit it to prevent him from using that power. 

    He does work deep counts and will take walks, so at worst he should turn into a solid-average regular. But if the swing doesn't become a problem at the next level, Springer is a superstar. 

9. Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros

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    Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

    Puerto Rican Winter League Stats: 35 G, .268/.396/.537, 6 2B, 9 HR, 17 RBI, 26 BB, 37 K

    Even though he played 90 games, 2013 was essentially a lost season for Jonathan Singleton after he was suspended for the first 50 games of the year due to a positive marijuana test. 

    His bat never got going, and his stock took a hit in the process. The good news is Singleton appears to be feeling good in the Puerto Rican Winter League, clubbing 15 extra-base hits in 123 at-bats.

    I still rate Singleton slightly ahead of George Springer in Houston's system because his hit tool is more likely to play at the next level. Singleton, 22, does struggle against inside velocity and doesn't have the best body, but when he's on, the profile is a .280/.380/.500 slash line. 

    Houston is going to at least be interesting next season, with Singleton and Springer ready to make the jump among position players. The Astros will likely also have some intriguing arms debuting, like Mike Foltynewicz and Mark Appel. 

8. Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Venezuelan Winter League Stats: 34 G, .255/.439/.473, 7 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 36 BB, 42 K, 2 SB

    There are some prospects you can follow through the minors leagues and see the adjustments in their game from month to month and year to year.

    Joc Pederson is one of those players. He wasn't a highly regarded player coming out of high school, being an 11th-round selection, and didn't project as anything special for a long time. 

    Then you look up to see Pederson hit .313/.396/.516 in High-A two years ago and .278/.381/.497 last year. He just keeps evolving and getting better the further up the ladder he climbs. 

    A 21-year-old left-handed hitter with a gorgeous swing, Pederson is simple and easy in the box. He doesn't chase a lot of pitches out of the zone and will use the whole field. He's a smart and instinctual runner on the bases. 

    He's always had a heavy platoon split, boasting a .664 OPS against left-handed pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League, that is a cause for some concern. But there are so many things he does well, and he's made so many adjustments thus far, I wouldn't be surprised to see him turn that around soon. 

7. Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Puerto Rican Winter League Stats: 17 G, .227/.284/.293, 3 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 6 BB, 12 K, 11 SB

    There wasn't a prospect on this list whose ranking I agonized over more than Billy Hamilton. He's such a rare talent that it's difficult to figure out what his future holds. 

    It's possible Hamilton's blazing speed makes him a throwback player who gets on base with a barrage of infield hits, then steals 80-plus bases and plays quality defense in center field. 

    But he could also flame out because the bat doesn't play against MLB pitching, limiting him to pinch-running duties. There's such a gulf between what Hamilton could be and what could go wrong that no one knows what to expect. 

    One thing that we know for sure: If Hamilton is going to hit, it will come because he's hitting the ball on the ground and beating out infield throws. He doesn't have enough pop and rolls over too many pitches to be a power threat. 

    But that speed is game-changing. 

6. Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees

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    The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

    Dominican Winter League Stats: 12 G, .179/.258/.214, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 9 K, 1 SB

    No player epitomizes the current volatile state of the New York Yankees' farm system than top prospect Gary Sanchez. He has an electrifying offensive profile, boasting plus raw power and a strong hit tool that makes loud contact. 

    However, as was the case with former Yankee catching prospect Jesus Montero, Sanchez's defensive profile lacks sparkle. He has athleticism, far more than Montero ever did, but isn't a natural receiver behind the plate and struggles blocking balls in the dirt. Arm strength isn't a question, as the 21-year-old threw out 44 percent of base stealers in 2013. 

    Sanchez has also had attitude problems in the past, including one incident in 2011 when the Yankees told him to leave the Low-A club in Charleston. He had no such issues, at least reported, in 2013, so perhaps he's taken a step forward. 

    If the defensive profile improves enough to where he's adequate behind the plate, Sanchez will be a star because the bat is so good. 

5. Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Dominican Winter League Stats: 44 G, .331/.428/.494, 10 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 28 RBI, 28 BB, 34 K, 7 SB

    The ascension of Gregory Polanco continued with a dominant showing in the Dominican Winter League. He is the best center field prospect in baseball, showing true five-tool potential, and will soon make his presence felt in Pittsburgh. 

    Of course, with 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen already patrolling the middle of the outfield, Polanco will likely end up in right field. 

    Polanco always had raw power, but at the time of his signing in 2009, his slight 170-pound frame meant it would take time to play in games. He's filled out nicely and is turning more doubles into homers, though there is still plenty of pop left in there. 

    His hit tool isn't perfect, as it gets too long and recognition of off-speed stuff is still coming along, but that doesn't diminish the overall quality of Polanco. He's got star written all over him and will be showing it in the big leagues very soon. 

    Note: Scouting video via Baseball Instinct. 

4. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Puerto Rican Winter League Stats: N/A

    Carlos Correa returned to his roots for winter league instruction, excluding game action, after putting together one of the most impressive debut seasons by an 18-year-old in the Midwest League. 

    Now 19, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft showed why scouts were raving about his hit tool. He hit .320/.405/.467 with 45 extra-base hits in 117 games, no easy feat considering the Midwest League is notorious for making great hitters look pedestrian. 

    He's got an approach at the plate far beyond his years. One of my favorite scouting moments of last year came during the 2013 Midwest League All-Star Game, when Correa took a quality breaking ball on the outer half of the plate, waited back on it and shot it to right field for a single. 

    That's the kind of swing you don't see from a normal teenager, which is why Correa is a top-10 prospect in baseball after just one year.

    I still believe he ends up at third base, especially since he's already built like Manny Machado and will fill out in the coming years, but the offensive profile will continue to grow as the over-the-fence pop is going to get better. 

3. Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Dominican Winter League Stats: 2 G, 6.1 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 9 K, .130 BAA

    The Cardinals, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, plan on using Carlos Martinez as a starter in 2014. (At least that's the plan heading into spring training.)

    The 22-year-old became a focal point of St. Louis' bullpen during the run to the World Series, but a brief stint in the Dominican Winter League has been used to stretch his arm out in anticipation of starting. He went two innings in his first start on December 14 and 4.1 innings in a second start on December 20. 

    Martinez certainly has the stuff and mentality to start. His fastball may not break 99 mph in the rotation, but sitting 93-95 with movement and a tight slider gives him two plus weapons already. 

    Finding a changeup will determine if Martinez ends up being a No. 1 starter, but in a worst-case scenario, the right-hander should end up as a quality mid-rotation arm. Hopefully the Cardinals give him a long, serious look in the rotation, because he can be special. 

2. Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    Puerto Rican Winter League Stats: N/A

    It's not a surprise that Javier Baez hasn't played for Leones de Ponce in the Puerto Rican Winter League, despite being listed on the roster. He was also scheduled to play in the Arizona Fall League but pulled out because of exhaustion after 130 regular-season games. 

    Regardless of whether or not Baez is playing right now, he's going to enter spring training as the player to watch in Cubs camp. He hit 37 home runs between High-A and Double-A, including 20 in 54 games at Tennessee. 

    Some fans want to see him make the MLB club right away, though I still caution against that. He's gotten better at laying off pitches but is still way too aggressive and lacks an approach against off-speed stuff to succeed at the highest level. 

    Baez also has work to do as a defender, committing 44 errors last season. He's got the arm strength and athleticism for shortstop but lacks consistency and discipline right now. I think he's a third baseman long term, though the 21-year-old could stay at his natural position for a few years with some adjustments. 

1. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Puerto Rican Winter League Stats: N/A

    When you hear a term like "safe" to describe a prospect, it usually means they aren't going to be stars but have the potential to be solid big leaguers for a long time. 

    Using it to describe an elite-level prospect is rare because you want to see elite tools across the board, but the last two years have seen a slight shift. Jurickson Profar was as safe as a player can get last year and was the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball. 

    Francisco Lindor won't be the No. 1 prospect in baseball, but he's going to be in that Nos. 5-10 range on everyone's list because you don't often see 20-year-old shortstops with the kind of advanced all-around game he has. 

    Some might ding Lindor because the power isn't going to be better than fringe-average, but a plus defensive shortstop who hits for average and gets on base at a .360-.370 clip is an All-Star. 

    Javier Baez has more upside than Lindor because of the potential to hit 30-plus homers, but he also has more significant flaws in his game than Cleveland's top prospect and is less likely to reach his ceiling. 

     

    If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter. 

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