Ranking Baseball's 10 Most Underrated Prospects
It's that magical time of year where websites and prospect writers have gathered all their information to provide readers with the list of top 100 minor leaguers who will impact Major League Baseball in the near future.
With these lists comes a lot of praise—especially for the work that goes into it—but also a lot of backlash. Fans want to see their favorite prospects appearing on a top 100 list because it provides hope and optimism.
Everyone has their own opinions and methods for determining why a player does or doesn't make a top 100 list.
In analyzing some of these lists, which combine scouting reports from various sources and the writer's opinion, there are a lot of things to agree with. Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton as the No. 1 player, according to MLB.com, is a no-brainer.
Not everything will be agreed upon, which is the point of this particular list. While staying respectful to the process and lists put forth by various writers, there are players who would have made my hypothetical top 100 list who aren't appearing as high, or were left off, other rankings.
So here are the 10 prospects I believe deserve more love than they are currently getting from certain major outlets.
I feel it prudent to list what I look for when evaluating a prospect in order to properly illustrate why I think he may be underrated.
This is the list that I, along with fellow B/R prospect writer Mike Rosenbaum, use when putting together prospect rankings.
—Age vs. level: How well a player fared at a certain level relative to his age and that of the competition
—Tools: number of impact tools a player possesses in relation to his position, age and competition
—Hit tool: In the evolution of the prospect landscape, the hit tool is the most important but also the hardest to project
—Approach; strike-zone management; pitch recognition
—Mechanics: delivery; arm action; release point
—Age vs. level
—Injury history (durability)
—Arsenal: Quality vs. depth
—Control/Command: Does he effectively command his stuff? How much development/refinement is needed?
—Pitchability: The number of above-average pitches in a pitcher's arsenal
—Projection: Does he have what it takes to remain a starter? Is a bullpen role in his future?
No. 10 Mike Olt, 3B, Chicago Cubs
2013 Stats: 107 G, .201/.303/.381, 20 2B, 1 3B, 15 HR, 42 RBI, 55 BB, 132 K
MLB.com Top 100 Position: Unranked
Why Olt is unranked
Mike Olt's disastrous 2013 stat line has dropped his stock precipitously. There is an explanation for the big third baseman's fall from grace, as he experienced vision problems after getting hit in the head during winter league play in 2012.
His 2013 season never got started, despite playing in 107 games, and the Rangers were finally willing to trade Olt. He was shipped to Chicago as a secondary piece in the Matt Garza trade, which should tell you just how far his stock fell.
Even though I still think highly of Olt, his absence from top 100 lists this year is completely warranted.
Why Olt should be in the 85-90 range
I will admit to sticking with prospects longer than I should, but when you see them at their peak, it's hard to completely give up on them. Since Olt was able to pinpoint one source of his problems last year, it makes me think that 2014 could be a big year for the former first-round pick.
Olt is a little old (25) to be making an appearance on a top 100 list, though there are two things he has that make him a tremendous asset: right-handed power and on-base skills.
Despite some length to his swing, Olt can hit the ball as hard as anyone when he squares it up. He also posted on-base percentages of at least .390 in three minor league seasons from 2010-12, thanks to a keen eye and working deep counts.
He's not likely to hit for a high average because of high strikeout totals, but a third baseman with a good glove who hits 25 homers with a .350 OBP is a 10-year starter in the big leagues.
No. 9 Jorge Bonifacio, OF, Kansas City Royals
2013 Stats: 88 G, .298/.372/.429, 21 2B, 5 3B, 4 HR, 54 RBI, 38 BB, 69 K, 3 SB
Baseball Prospectus Top 100 Ranking (Subscription Required): No. 99
Why Bonifacio is ranked No. 99
The gap between the present and future is still wide for the 20-year-old Bonifacio. The Royals challenged him last year by starting him out in High-A and letting him finish the season in Double-A.
Bonifacio responded to the challenge by hitting an impressive .301/.371/.441 in 25 games with Northwest Arkansas. He's still growing into his body, and the power has to take a huge step forward to profile as an above-average right fielder.
The good news is Bonifacio will display that future power during batting practice sessions, so this could be a huge season for the Royals outfielder.
Why Bonifacio should be in the 75-80 range
Turning tools into performance is going to be critical for Bonifacio. He's a lanky 6'1", 195-pound right fielder with elite arm strength, a developing approach at the plate and above-average raw power.
With so many question marks about his performance, Bonifacio shouldn't rank in the top half of prospects in baseball. But very few young outfielders boast his upside, which would fit perfectly in the back-half of a top 100 list.
No. 8 Matt Davidson, 3B, Chicago White Sox
2013 Stats: 115 G, .280/.350/.481, 32 2B, 3 3B, 17 HR, 74 RBI, 46 BB, 134 K
MLB.com Top 100 Ranking: No. 80
Baseball Prospectus Top 100 Ranking (Subscription Required): No. 93
Why Davidson is ranked low
Don't be fooled by the impressive stat line Matt Davidson put up in 2013, as he played all those games in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He's got notable flaws that limit his upside, like a long swing with a lot of swing and miss.
He does have a good eye and approach at the plate, making it easier to project him as a solid on-base percentage guy. But you have to make enough contact to keep your average respectable.
Davidson is also a fringe-average defensive third baseman, which is actually a vast improvement from where he was two years ago. He's not going to make difficult plays but moves well enough to not embarrass himself.
Why Davidson should rank in 70-75 range
It's not a huge move to push Davidson into the 70-75 range, but his plus raw power has won me over. The length in the swing will likely limit his ability to hit 25-30 homers, though playing home games in U.S. Cellular Field should be enough to hit at least 20.
Assuming Davidson is able to remain passable at third base, posting solid OBP totals with roughly 20 homers per season makes him an average regular. Since he's already proven himself at the highest minor league levels, the risk isn't that substantial.
No. 7 Austin Meadows, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
2013 Stats: 48 G, .316/.424/.554, 11 2B, 5 3B, 7 HR, 22 RBI, 29 BB, 46 K, 3 SB
Baseball Prospectus Top 100 Ranking (Subscription Required): No. 89
Why Meadows is ranked low
Austin Meadows is the kind of player you either love or feel an overwhelming indifference towards, which explains why some prospect lists are going to have him very low on the top 100.
He's still all raw tools, including the potential for four above-average or better tools. The only below-average tool is arm strength, which won't hurt Meadows' stock that much as a center fielder with plus speed and range.
Meadows tends to play a low-key style, which can be misinterpreted as low energy. He's still learning to become a baseball player instead of an athlete who plays baseball.
Why Meadows should rank in the 65-70 range
Meadows was my favorite high school player in last year's draft precisely because of his raw athleticism and potential for four above-average or better tools. Getting him in a full-season league this season should help accelerate his path to the big leagues.
He's got a smooth left-handed swing and barrels a lot of balls. The power played better than expected after being drafted, which makes it easier to project big things in 2014. Meadows is still a long way from taking The Leap, but keep a close eye on how he adjusts as the season moves on.
No. 6 Brian Goodwin, OF, Washington Nationals
2013 Stats: 122 G, .252/.355/.407, 19 2B, 11 3B, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 66 BB, 121 K, 19 SB
MLB.com Top 100 Ranking: Unranked
Why Goodwin is unranked
It's one thing to be a toolsy athlete coming out of high school, when time and age are on your side. Brian Goodwin entered Washington's system almost three years ago as a 20-year-old from Miami Dade College.
With two full seasons of professional experience under his belt, Goodwin has failed to develop his tools. He still flashes all five tools at various times, but putting them all together is the problem.
Why Goodwin should be in the 90-95 range
Athletes like Goodwin are rare to find and incredibly hard to give up on. He did have at least 10 doubles, triples and home runs last season in Double-A, so there is some hope that a turnaround can happen.
I wouldn't bet on Goodwin putting everything together, but if you are lucky enough to watch him play multiple games, you will understand why he gets so much love. Center fielders with plus range, arm strength, above-average raw power and on-base skills are rare to find.
No. 5 J.P. Crawford, SS, Philadelphia Phillies
2013 Stats: 53 G, .308/.405/.400, 9 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 21 RBI, 32 BB, 35 K, 14 SB
MLB.com Top 100 Ranking: Unranked
Why Crawford is unranked
The Phillies aggressively pushed their 2013 first-round pick, J.P. Crawford, to Low-A Lakewood at the end of last season. He didn't hit well in 14 games at that level but never looked overmatched in the box. A long swing does hinder his ability to hit velocity.
Crawford's approach and discipline on both sides of the ball are advanced for a 19-year-old. He's still turning raw tools into performance, which is why you will find some conservative rankings of the young shortstop
Why Crawford should be in the 80-85 range
While his all-around game isn't as advanced as Francisco Lindor's at the same age, Crawford has all the tools to become that kind of prospect in the next year or two.
Crawford is the rare high school shortstop prospect who projects to stay at the position in the big leagues. He's got plus arm strength, displays sharp instincts in the field and has a high baseball IQ.
Video via Rotolo3
No. 4 Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2013 Stats: 20 GS, 9-5, 111.2 IP, 3.30 ERA, 99 H, 13 HR, 27 BB, 129 K, .234 BAA
MLB.com Top 100 Ranking: No. 55
Why Stroman is ranked low
It's a hard thing being short in a tall man's world. If Marcus Stroman was 6'2" instead of 5'9", he would be in the conversation with Arizona's Archie Bradley as the best pitching prospect in baseball.
Unfortunately, given the lack of a track record for short starters, Stroman has to overcome the stigma attached to being a pitcher under 6-feet tall. The only notable flaw is that he struggles to get plane on the fastball, which could relegate the Duke product to a relief role.
Why Stroman should be in the 30-35 range
Even with the height "issues," Stroman has yet to give anyone a reason why he can't be a starter in the big leagues. Things will get more difficult as he climbs the ladder, but a 129-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in Double-A is nothing to scoff at.
Stroman has three plus pitches (fastball, cutter, slider) and a changeup that will flash above-average. He hasn't been homer prone in the minors and executes pitches as well as anyone. A true bulldog, Toronto's No. 1 prospect is going to be special in whatever role he occupies.
No. 3 Christian Bethancourt, C, Atlanta Braves
2013 Stats: 90 G, .277/.305/.436, 21 2B, 12 HR, 45 RBI, 16 BB, 57 K, 11 SB
MLB.com Top 100 Ranking: No. 82
Why Bethancourt is ranked low
The easiest way to add value on a baseball field is with the bat. There's an old adage that if you can hit, teams will find a spot for you.
Christian Bethancourt would be a superstar and one of the 10 best prospects in baseball if his bat profiled at all. He's got some upside, thanks to above-average raw power that did show up at times in Double-A last season.
Unfortunately, his approach is still poor and he doesn't square up enough pitches to project well with the bat. If Bethancourt could hit an empty .250-.260, he would be one of the best catchers in baseball, thanks to stellar defense behind the plate.
Why Bethancourt should be in the 55-60 range
Even though I, like many, am skittish on Bethancourt's ability to hit, I was impressed by the adjustments he made repeating Double-A. His OPS jumped 175 points from 2012, and his slugging climbed up 145 points.
He's one of the two best defensive catchers in the minors, with San Diego's Austin Hedges so close that there really is no gap between the two. Bethancourt has one of the best arms you will ever see and tremendous accuracy, throwing out 37 percent of runners in his minor league career.
It's not going to take much offense for Bethancourt to be worth two wins of value per season. That's a rare asset to have and worthy of a spot near the top half of a top 100 list.
No. 2 Nick Kingham, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
2013 Stats: 25 GS, 9-6, 143.1 IP, 2.89 ERA, 125 H, 7 HR, 44 BB, 144 K
MLB.com Top 100 Ranking: Unranked
Why Kingham is unranked
Nick Kingham was one of two Pirates pitching prospects who took huge steps forward in 2013—Tyler Glasnow being the other. He's not as polished as his fellow right-hander, but he has a higher ceiling.
Kingham, at 6'5" and 220 pounds, also lacks the physical projection Glasnow does. That's really his biggest drawback—he's essentially a finished physical product with a lower ceiling than other arms in Pittsburgh's system.
Why Kingham should be ranked in the 70-75 range
Being a polished right-hander with power stuff (including a low- to mid-90s fastball and plus curveball) and having an excellent understanding of how to pitch should be enough on its own to make him a top 100 prospect.
When you combine that scouting report with results that have produced more than one strikeout per inning and a minuscule seven homers in 143.1 innings pitched, Kingham should be a feature on prospect lists.
Video via Baseball Instinct
No. 1 David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies
2013 Stats: 10 G, .275/.310/.425, 4 2B, 1 3B, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 8 K, 2 SB
Baseball Prospectus Top 100 Ranking (Subscription Required): No. 100
Why Dahl is ranked No. 100
Last year was supposed to be a breakout season for David Dahl. He was earning rave reviews coming into 2013, coming in at No. 50 on Mike Rosenbaum's initial Top 100 list.
Unfortunately that's as good as things would get for Dahl, the 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft, as a torn hamstring limited him to 10 games. That came after he was demoted in April for what the Rockies called "disciplinary reasons" after he missed a team flight.
It's hard to imagine a worse full-season debut for a prospect, especially one with the kind of helium Dahl had.
Why Dahl should be in the 55-60 range
I completely understand why everyone is being cautious with Dahl entering the season. A season-ending injury does lower the likelihood he will fulfill his potential.
Of course, given that there are no reasons to believe Dahl is a bad or lazy kid, I still believe his ceiling is off the charts. He's got all five tools in his arsenal and just needs the stage to show them off.
When we look back at Dahl's career, 2013 will look like a blip on the radar. You can write it down.
Video via Charlie Drysdale.
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