All 30 MLB Teams' Top 5-Tool Prospect in Spring Training Camp
But with spring training games now underway, it’s time to look at some of the other notable prospects in camp this year. Specifically, today we’ll break down each team’s top five-tool talent participating in major league spring training.
This article has nothing to do with who is the better prospect or who is most likely to make an impact at the highest level; rather, this is strictly an evaluation of each player’s five tools (hit, power, run, throw and field). Instead of rewriting each prospect’s scouting report, I decided to use the same scouting notes that appeared in the ranking of his organization’s top-10 prospects so as to highlight the player’s specific tools.
So, with that being said, here’s a look at each team’s top five-tool prospect in spring training.
Christian Bethancourt, C, Atlanta Braves
Christian Bethancourt finally made strides at the dish last year in his second straight season at Double-A, making more consistent contact and striking out less. Overall, the 22-year-old batted .277/.305/.436 with 33 extra-base hits (12 home runs), 11 stolen bases and a 57-16 strikeout-to-walk rate in 388 plate appearances.
Following the conclusion of the minor league season, Bethancourt was among the Atlanta Braves’ September call-ups, though he appeared in one game and struck out in his only at-bat.
Christian Bethancourt’s bat is easily his weakest tool; right-handed hitter employs an overaggressive approach and tends to swing at anything around the zone; solid bat-to-ball skills aid ability to make consistent contact; frequently gets himself out by either pulling off the ball or putting a weak swing on something away; tightened his zone a bit this season and drove the ball more consistently; still difficult to envision him as anything more than a fringe-average hitter at the highest level.
With a physically strong, 6’2”, 215-pound frame, Bethancourt looks like he should hit for power; showcases consistent over-the-fence pop during batting practice; only manifests during games on inner-half offerings when he clears his hips and turns on the ball.
Bethancourt is an impressive athlete; regarded as one of the premier defensive backstops in the minor leagues; combination of elite, 80-grade arm strength, sound footwork and a quick release generates consistent pop times around 1.8 seconds; both his blocking and framing noticeably improved this season; still occasionally stabs at balls in the dirt; ability to control the game is still understandably raw and leaves something to be desired; potential game-changing defender behind the plate.
Jake Marisnick, OF, Miami Marlins
Jake Marisnick was acquired by the Miami Marlins prior to the 2013 season in the trade that sent Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to the Toronto Blue Jays. A hand injury suffered during spring training caused a delayed start to his season, but Marisnick made up for the lost time with a strong showing at Double-A Jacksonville upon his return, batting .294/.358/.502 with 12 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 298 plate appearances.
The 22-year-old was rushed then from Double-A to the major leagues in late July along with teammate Christian Yelich—who was not rushed—and unsurprisingly struggled to control the speed of the game at the highest level. Marisnick ultimately appeared in 40 games with the Marlins, but he struggled to the tune of .183/.231/.248 with 27 strikeouts in 118 plate appearances.
Right-handed hitter possesses a highly projectable frame with present strength at 6’3”, 225 pounds; ridiculous athlete; passes the eye test with flying colors; raw ability suggests potential for above-average hit and power tool; streaky hitter; lanky frame and upright setup create too much movement during swing; can fall into bad habit of employing the same swing and bat path regardless of pitch type, location and count; less weak contact and whiffs this season; bat path can be long; collapses backside in an effort to meet the ball and force contact; pitch recognition and plate discipline steadily improving; plus speed and base-stealing aptitude give him legitimate 20-20 potential.
Has the speed and actions to remain in center field; plus range in all directions aided by natural instincts; glides to cover large distances; graceful actions; plus arm can play at all three outfield positions, more than enough for center; position will ultimately be tied to his offensive production; has been aggressively ushered up the ladder with both organizations; athleticism and tools give him a high ceiling despite previous struggles.
Cesar Puello, OF, New York Mets
Cesar Puello enjoyed a long-overdue breakout campaign last season, his sixth in the New York Mets system, at Double-A Binghamton, batting .326/.403/.547 with 39 extra-base hits (16 home runs), 73 RBI and 24 stolen bases in 377 plate appearances. However, Puello’s season ended in early August when he accepted a 50-game suspension for PED use as part of his involvement in the Biogenesis investigation.
Scouting Report (Unranked)
Puello boasts an impressive collection of tools; plus athlete with physical strength at 6’2”, 195 pounds; right-handed batter made strides at the plate in 2013 but still struggles to show a consistent approach; gets pull-happy and tends to overswing; swing-and-miss tendencies; excellent bat speed generates plus raw power; base stealing has steadily improved every year.
Athleticism translates in the outfield, where he exhibits above-average speed and similar range; combination of strong build and above-average arm strength profile cleanly in right field.
Aaron Altherr, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
A ninth-round draft pick in 2009 out of an Arizona high school, Aaron Altherr has been eased up the organizational ladder by the Philadelphia Phillies, spending the last three seasons between both Class-A levels. However, the 23-year-old’s 2013 campaign was a step in the right direction, as he batted .275/.337/.455 with 36 doubles, 12 home runs and 23 stolen bases at High-A Clearwater, but he also struck out 140 times in 527 plate appearances.
Altherr has one of the more athletic frames in the minor leagues at 6’5”, 190 pounds; has been slow to develop but made huge strides in all facets of the game in 2013; currently a center fielder where his above-average speed and long strides result in slightly above-average range; physical development may force him to a corner spot; struggles to make consistent contact with long swing; lots of swing-and-miss to his game; quick wrists and hands; above-average future power projection stands to improve with better contact rates.
Michael Taylor, OF, Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals have been patient with Michael Taylor’s development in the low minors, allowing extra time for the outfielder’s baseball skills to catch up to his tremendous natural ability. In his second consecutive season at High-A Potomac in 2013, Taylor, 22, finally took a step forward, batting .263/.340/.426 with 57 extra-base hits (41 doubles), 87 RBI, 51 stolen bases (in 58 attempts) and a 131-55 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 133 games.
Taylor is a physical specimen with an athletic 6’4”, 205-pound frame that's loaded with quick-twitch muscles; speed and defense are carrying tools; plus runner with an effortless gait on the base paths and in the outfield; speed translates to plus-plus range in center field; goes back on the ball better than many big league center fielders; gets terrific reads and routes; plus arm strength is an underrated weapon at the position.
Right-handed hitter’s bat has been slow to develop; swing lacks fluidity; inconsistent mechanics; tendency to over-stride causes bat to drag through zone; timing of swing and bat path is geared toward hitting fastballs; fringy secondary pitch recognition; flails at breaking balls in fastball counts; started to tap into above-average raw power in 2013; development and progress of hit tool will determine power ceiling; needs to eliminate some of the swing-and-miss in his game, which won’t be easy next season at Double-A; hit tool may be, at best, fringe average.
Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
Javier Baez struggled out of the gate at High-A Daytona but eventually caught fire, batting .274/.338/.535 with 17 home runs in 337 plate appearances. Following a well-deserved promotion to Double-A Tennessee in late June, the 21-year-old was one of the most productive hitters in the minor leagues, batting .294/.346/.638 with 20 home runs in 240 plate appearances.
Between both levels, Baez batted .282/.341/.578 with 98 runs scored and 20 stolen bases while leading all minor league hitters with 75 extra-base hits and 111 RBI and ranking second with 37 home runs. He also posted a 147-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 577 plate appearances.
Right-handed hitter with potential for above-average-to-plus hit tool; raw power is an easy plus attribute; elite, plus-plus bat speed yields loud contact to all fields; 20-20 potential; will jump on velocity with extremely strong wrists and top hand.
Max-effort swing every time; lacks a feel for the strike zone and will chase too many pitches; needs to show some restraint; will need to improve pitch recognition; chases too many breaking balls; can be beaten by quality sequencing; needs to work more counts; aggressive base stealer; secondary skills steadily improving.
The 6’0”, 190-pounder is a shortstop at the moment; addition of too much strength may prompt a move to third base; impressive athlete with smooth, natural defensive actions; speed may lose a grade as he develops physically; should always be at least solid defensively; high error totals should come down with more experience; plus arm ideal for left side of the infield; high-intensity player who still needs to slow game down defensively.
Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Coming off a breakout 2012 campaign in which he posted an .852 OPS and stole 155 bases, Billy Hamilton’s production regressed across the board last season at Triple-A Louisville. The bat-to-ball and on-base skills that made him so effective the previous year didn’t translate at the more advanced level, and the 23-year-old ultimately posted a disappointing .256/.308/.343 batting line with a 102-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 547 plate appearances.
However, Hamilton still managed to swipe 75 stolen bases (in 90 attempts) in 123 games and was called up to join the Cincinnati Reds in September. The speedster promptly took the major leagues by storm, going 4-of-4 in stolen-base attempts and scoring three runs as a pinch runner before logging his first career at-bat.
The Reds gave Hamilton three starts over the final month of the season to see what he could do, and he responded in a big way by batting .500 (7-for-14) with four runs scored, two doubles and six stolen bases in those games.
Legitimate questions as to whether he’ll ever develop the hit tool needed to hold an everyday job in the major leagues; switch-hitter has quick wrists from both sides of the plate; generates above-average bat speed and stays short to the ball; struggles to keep his weight back; lunges at too many hittable offerings; controls the zone relatively well; makes far too much weak contact for someone who projects as a dynamic leadoff hitter.
Hamilton’s wiry, 6’0”, 160-pound frame lacks physical projection; difficult to envision adding significant strength; actually does a decent job creating backspin carry by driving through the baseball, especially from the left side of the plate, where he showcases a more leveraged swing.
Fastest player I’ve ever seen on a baseball field; best home-to-first time I’ve ever recorded or heard of; everyone in the park knows Hamilton is running and he still swipes bags with ease; potential top-of-the-order monster; secondary skills are raw and will have to develop at the highest level.
Hamilton was developed as a shortstop until fall 2012; elite speed gives him tons of range and closing speed in the outfield; arm stroke that was awkward at shortstop plays well in center field given his length on the back side; speed allows him to compensate for bad reads; he’ll get to even more balls as his jumps and instincts improve.
Mitch Haniger, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
After a knee injury shortened his professional debut in 2012, Mitch Haniger was assigned to Low-A Wisconsin to begin the 2013 season and posted a .909 OPS with 19 extra-base hits and more walks (25) than strikeouts (24) in 178 plate appearances.
As a result of his success at the level, the outfielder was promoted to High-A Brevard County and held his own with a .250/.323/.396 batting line with 33 extra-base hits (24 doubles) in 365 plate appearances in the challenging Florida State League.
Between both levels, Haniger, 23, batted .264/.348/.431 with 52 extra-base hits—but only 11 home runs—68 RBI and a 92-57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 129 games.
Possessing intriguing blend of athleticism and strength at 6’2”, 213 pounds; mature right-handed hitter with consistent approach; solid pitch recognition; strikeout totals should come down as he gains experience; doubles machine who pounds the gaps; plus raw power to the pull side; above-average bat speed, but he’ll struggle at times with good velocity; corner outfield defensive profile; fringe-average speed plays up due to strong instincts; strong, accurate arm is a clean fit in right field if his power develops.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Gregory Polanco followed his stellar 2012 full-season debut with an even better performance in 2013, as the toolsy outfielder excelled at three levels and finished the year in Triple-A. Overall, Polanco batted .285/.356/.434 with 44 extra-base hits (12 home runs), 38 stolen bases in 49 attempts and an impressive 73-52 strikeout-to-walk rate in 536 plate appearances.
Top-flight athlete; projectable 6’4”, 170-pound frame; plenty of room to add strength; has outstanding tools and surprisingly mature secondary skills; left-handed hitter has the potential for an above-average or better hit tool at the highest level; showcases excellent bat speed and bat-to-ball ability; already comfortable driving the ball to all fields; swings to drive the ball but doesn’t sell out for power; bat enters zone at steep angle to generate backspin carry; can overload at times and get long; may be susceptible to premium velocity.
Plus athleticism, excellent speed and range profile favorably in center field; long strides; rangy; gets good jumps; routes are still improving; may lose a step or two as he fills out; should hit enough even if he’s forced to a corner spot.
Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
After a monster 2012 campaign at Double-A, Oscar Taveras entered the 2013 season as the top-ranked outfielder prospect and was expected to make an impact at the major league level. However, after opening the year at Triple-A Memphis, the 21-year-old suffered a high ankle sprain in late May, resulting in two separate stints on the disabled list and eventually season-ending surgery.
Overall, Taveras batted .306/.341/.462 with 17 extra-base hits and 32 RBI at Memphis but was limited to only 46 games.
Left-handed hitter who employs a powerful yet balanced swing; keeps bat head in the zone for an extended period of time; strong hands, forearms; always gets head through the zone to achieve favorable point of contact; outstanding plate coverage; successful even when forced to muscle the ball; has 25-plus-home run potential; lift to swing generates carry to all fields.
Hits same-side pitching; makes loud contact to all fields; comfortable hitting any pitch in any count; doesn’t walk a ton and strikeouts will always be minimal given his pitch recognition and excellent hand-eye coordination; base-running can be overaggressive and even reckless;
Capable of playing all three outfield positions; has seen a majority of time in center field but will likely assume a corner spot in the major leagues; solid actions; slightly above-average range; tracks ball well; was an average runner before ankle injury this past season; routes in the outfield have improved over last two years, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
Chris Owings, SS/2B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Chris Owings posted video-game numbers last season at Triple-A Reno, batting .330/.359/.482 with 180 hits, 51 extra-base hits (12 home runs), 81 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 125 games. As a result of his success, the 22-year-old was named both the Rookie of the Year and MVP of the Pacific Coast League before joining the Arizona Diamondbacks as a September call-up.
Appearing in 20 games over the final month of the regular season—most of his playing time came once Arizona was eliminated from the playoff race—Owings held his own with a .742 OPS, five doubles and 10-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 plate appearances.
Owings is only 5’10”, 180 pounds, but his tools play much louder; right-handed hitter employs a compact swing thanks to strong hands and above-average bat speed; understands how to maximize power; can turn around good velocity; improved pitch recognition; needs to work deeper counts and coax more walks to be a top-of-the-order hitter; improved on-base skills should lead to more stolen bases; bat has some serious juice and could yield 15-20 home runs in the major leagues; key to his development will be consistency.
One of the better defensive shortstops in the minor leagues; instinctual defender with quick feet; showcases excellent body control in all directions; smooth actions; plays through the baseball; plus arm strength more than enough for the position; could start to get looks at second base in event of an Aaron Hill injury.
Rosell Herrera, SS, Colorado Rockies
Rosell Herrera hopped back on the prospect radar last season after a disappointing 2012 campaign, as the projectable switch-hitter led the Low-A South Atlantic League in batting average (.343) and ranked third in OPS (.933). Overall, the 21-year-old batted .343/.419/.515 with 49 extra-base hits, 21 stolen bases and a 96-61 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 546 plate appearances.
Hopped back on prospect radar after disappointing 2012 campaign; wiry 6’3”, 180-pounder has a projectable frame with room to fill out; switch-hitter offers more projection from the left side; in general, swing involves too much wasted movement; needs to simplify leg kick and pre-pitch load; present gap power but not much else; could be a double-digit home run guy if he adds strength to his lanky frame.
Split time between shortstop and third base between two levels in 2012 before spending entire 2013 season at short; ability to stick at position will ultimately depend how much he develops physically; speed is slightly above-average; raw base stealer who made strides this past season; big gap between present and future potential, but he’s showing the ability to close it faster than anticipated.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Coming off an impressive full-season debut at the High-A level in 2012, Joc Pederson improved his stock as much as any position prospect last year by batting .278/.381/.497 with 22 home runs, 31 stolen bases and a 114-70 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 519 plate appearances as a 21-year-old in the Double-A Southern League.
The 21-year-old possesses quiet strength at 6’1”, 185 pounds; showcases an all-around impressive set of tools and athleticism; speed is only average, but his hard-nosed, aggressive mentality makes it play up a grade.
Has been developed as a center fielder over the past three seasons and may be able to stick there; both his reads and routes have an element of rawness; present athleticism and tremendous work ethic suggest they will continue to improve; above-average arm strength is more than enough for the position and will translate if he moves to a corner spot.
Continued to hit for power this season outside the California League; average or better power potential; demonstrates mature approach and works hard to put together at-bats; tracks the ball well and fires hands at the last minute; still has room to improve against same-side pitching; bat enters the zone on a nice downward angle, which results in backspin carry to all fields; potential for slightly above-average hit tool thanks to mature plate discipline and line-drive-oriented swing.
Rymer Liriano, OF, San Diego Padres
After batting .280/.350/.417 with 42 extra-base hits and 32 stolen bases in 2012 between High-A Inland Empire and Double-A San Antonio, there was a popular belief that Rymer Liriano would make an impact in the major leagues during the 2013 season. However, Liriano’s season was over before it even began, as the 22-year-old suffered an elbow injury in the spring that resulted in season-ending Tommy John surgery.
A physically mature player at 6’0”, 225 pounds with tons of raw strength; boasts at least average tools across the board; hit tool will never develop into anything beyond average; toolsy outfielder’s plus bat speed and raw power suggest plenty of untapped potential; keeps his hands inside the ball; extensive plate coverage can work against him by generating too many weakly hit outs.
Due to his plus speed and strong, accurate arm, Liriano has a future in right field; will need to feature more power and power frequency for a favorable long-term projection; routes and jumps are average; covers more ground in the outfield than one would expect; demonstrates good closing speed; raw talent loaded with upside; breakout candidate in 2014.
Mac Williamson, OF, San Francisco Giants
A third-round draft pick in 2012 out of Wake Forest, Mac Williamson was bumped directly to High-A San Jose last year for his full-season debut. As expected, the 6’5” slugger posted huge power numbers against younger pitching in the hitter-friendly California League, batting .292/.375/.504 with 31 doubles, 25 home runs, 10 stolen bases and a 132-51 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 599 plate appearances.
Physical specimen at 6’5”, 240 pounds; doesn’t involve much projection; surprisingly good athlete for his size; average speed plays better in the outfield than on the base paths; plus arm strength ideal for right field.
Right-handed hitter with plus-plus raw power; lacks elite bat speed and his hands can be somewhat dead with a slow trigger; long-ish swing may be exploited in Double-A; relies on sheer strength rather than explosiveness; doesn’t consistently pick up the spin on breaking balls; susceptible to quality sequencing; will need to consistently improve in all facets of the game to reach his ceiling.
Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles
Jonathan Schoop’s age-21 season was hampered by a stress fracture in his back that resulted in roughly two months on the disabled list, but it still turned out to be a memorable year for the young second baseman. In spite of batting .256/.301/.396 in 289 plate appearances at Triple-A, Schoop’s place on the Baltimore Orioles’ 40-man roster ultimately earned him a call-up in September.
The 22-year-old appeared in five games once the club was eliminated from playoff race, going 4-for-14 with five runs scored in his limited playing time, including a home run in his first big league start.
Schoop is a good athlete with a physically strong, 6’2”, 210-pound build but isn’t a physical player; versatile defender capable of playing multiple infield positions; above-average glove with plus arm strength; footwork can be choppy and stiff but doesn’t detract from overall defensive package.
Right-handed hitter with above-average bat speed and moderate power potential; aggressive approach; attacks the ball with his hands; advanced barrel control allows him to square the ball with consistency; generated more backspin carry last season; tendency to bar his front arm and wrap the bat; vulnerable to same-side velocity on his hands; overall package suggests future as an everyday regular.
Xander Bogaerts, SS/3B, Boston Red Sox
Xander Bogaerts continued his ascent toward greatness in 2013, reaching the major leagues in late August after an outstanding minor league season between Double- and Triple-A. While the 21-year-old’s playing time was limited with the Boston Red Sox, he still impressed, batting .250/.320/.364 in 50 plate appearances while playing both shortstop and third base.
Bogaerts’ impact potential landed him a spot on Boston’s postseason roster, and the youngster didn’t disappoint, batting .296/.412/.481 with nine runs scored, four extra-base hits and six walks in 12 playoff games, a majority of which he started at third base.
At 6’3”, 185 pounds, Bogaerts is a right-handed hitter with one hell of a bat; employs an upright stance; has eliminated some of the height to his leg lift during load; still gets all of his weight to backside and then through the ball; aggressive swing results in loud contact to all fields, but doesn’t sell out for power; possesses plus bat speed with plus raw power to every field; backspin carry; lift to stroke and flight of ball; extension after contact; can turn around good velocity.
Hit tool has developed quickly with adjustment to approach and improved pitch recognition; legitimate plus, maybe plus-plus, potential; cut down on strikeouts this year and is using the entire field consistently; still prone to chase good breaking balls off the plate; approach will continue to improve against advanced pitching.
Will continue to play shortstop until he’s forced to move from position; obviously already more than qualified to handle third base in the major leagues; solid hands; plus arm strength; accuracy has improved over last year; demonstrates excellent overall athleticism despite large frame; slightly above-average speed with similar range; could lose a step as he matures.
Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees
In 2012, Gary Sanchez enjoyed a breakout campaign between both Class-A levels, posting an .829 OPS with 18 home runs, 85 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 474 plate appearances. Suffice it to say there were high expectations for the young slugger headed into his age-20 season.
Opening the year back at Tampa, Sanchez struggled to progress offensively, batting .254/.313/.420 with 21 doubles and 13 home runs in 94 games. However, the New York Yankees still moved him up to Double-A for the final month of the season, and he held his own with a .744 OPS in 23 games. Overall, Sanchez batted .253/.324/.412 with 42 extra-base hits (15 home runs) and an 87-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 509 plate appearances.
Has improved plate discipline and contact rate last season; above-average power potential from a well-balanced swing; plus bat speed; feel for striking the ball; has some serious thump in bat; overaggressive approach; ability to control strike zone is better but still has plenty of room to improve; impressive young hitter; bat will play, regardless of future position.
Defense and work ethic has significantly improved since start of 2012; possesses underrated athleticism and agility; blocking and receiving skills leave room for improvement; arm strength is biggest asset; game-calling and leadership improving with experience; not a guarantee to remain behind the plate.
Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
In spite of a disappointing 2012 campaign, Hak-Ju Lee still would have likely reached the major leagues last year if not for an early-season knee injury. Playing in his 15th game of the year for Triple-A Durham, Lee suffered torn ligaments in his knee that required season-ending surgery. It’s a shame too, because the 23-year-old was off to a red-hot start with a .422/.536/.600 batting line through 57 plate appearances.
Missed most of 2013 after tearing knee ligaments in 15th game of the season; above-average defensive shortstop whose glove is nearly big league ready; plus speed lends to his outstanding range up the middle; has solid instincts and plays the position creatively; outstanding hand-eye coordination gives him soft hands and slick glove; gets rid of the ball quickly with more than enough arm strength to stick at the position.
A 6’2”, left-handed hitter, Lee has yet figure out how to be a consistent top-of-the-order hitter; needs to work counts in his favor; bat speed can vary depending on his timing, though it’s a naturally quick stroke; speed is his biggest asset at the plate, so it’s vital that he improves his plate discipline and on-base skills; he’ll never hit for much power but should amass his share of doubles and triples; streaky hitter with defensive chops to stick at shortstop.
A.J. Jimenez, C, Toronto Blue Jays
A.J. Jimenez returned from Tommy John surgery last season and showed that the injury didn’t impact his developmental course, as the 23-year-old continued to makes strides at the plate across three levels while stifling the running game, per usual.
Overall, Jimenez batted .287/.332/.406 with 19 doubles and a 42-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 283 plate appearances. He enters 2014 on the cusp of the major leagues after finishing the 2013 season at Triple-A.
Elbow injury cut his 2012 campaign at Double-A New Hampshire short and required Tommy John surgery in May; picked up where he left off following midseason return in 2013; glove-first catcher whose bat has slowly been catching up over the last few seasons; blocking and receiving skills are highly advanced; excellent catch-and-throw skills and plus arm strength (despite TJ surgery); neutralizes running game.
Right-handed hitter drives the ball to all fields; doesn’t draw a lot of walks, but his pitch recognition had steadily improved; clean, consistent swing; solid gap power but limited over-the-fence pop in games; hit tool could be average and especially valuable given his defensive ceiling.
Trayce Thompson, OF, Chicago White Sox
In spite of finishing the previous season at Triple-A Charlotte, Trayce Thompson was assigned back to Double-A Birmingham to begin the 2013 season. Though the 22-year-old rebounded after a sluggish first half, he still struggled to the overall tune of a .229/.321/.383 batting line with 15 home runs, 25 stolen bases and 139 strikeouts in 590 plate appearances.
Tremendous athlete; big, powerful hitter with average speed; good baseball instincts help tools play up; plus raw power; doesn't play in games as much as it should; huge holes in swing with ton of strikeouts.
Works deep counts; will draw plenty of walks; has to shorten stroke with two strikes; appears to plan for pitches instead of reacting; excellent tools that won't play at high level due to offensive holes; defense is fringe-average; baseball instincts are below-average.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Francisco Lindor’s rapid ascension through the minor leagues continued in 2013, as the then-teenager batted .306/.373/.410 with 26 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases at High-A Carolina before finishing the season with a strong showing (.801 OPS in 91 plate appearances) at the Double-A level.
Between both levels, the young defensive wizard batted .303/.380/.407 with 22 doubles, seven triples, 25 stolen bases and a 46-49 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 464 plate appearances.
Few teenagers come into professional baseball with the kind of maturity and advanced in-game skills that Lindor had after being taken with the No. 8 pick in the 2011 draft.
He has yet to experience failure in the minors, showing incredible poise and discipline on both sides of the ball.
Offensive skills have improved every season; has ability to read pitchers and stay within his zone; won't expand to chase pitches; tremendous hitting eye and aptitude; won't be big power hitter, but has enough strength and bat speed to hit 10-12 homers at peak; line-drive machine with great baseball acumen will translate to a lot of singles into doubles, and doubles into triples; should steal 15-20 bases at peak.
Wizard at shortstop; not the most rangy player, but has tremendous instincts and always puts himself in position to make plays; arm was made for position; going to be a star at the position for years.
Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF, Detroit Tigers
Nick Castellanos made significant adjustments at the plate last season at Triple-A Toledo, demonstrating a more advanced approach that produced the best strikeout and walk rates of his career. And while he had shown plenty of gap power in the past, the 21-year-old also exhibited more consistent in-game power last season.
After batting .276/.343/.450 with 37 doubles, 18 home runs and a 100-54 strikeout-to-walk rate in 595 plate appearances at Toledo, Castellanos received a September call-up by the Detroit Tigers and went on to appear in 11 games over the final month of the season, collecting five singles in 18 at-bats.
Pure hitter with highly advanced bat-to-ball skills; ability to consistently barrel the ball; natural inside-out swing with most power to right center field; quick hands and bat speed; loose wrists and a fluid swing; lots of extension after contact but not a lofty swing; not physically strong for his size but possesses plenty of wiry strength.
Power should continue to develop as he gains more experience at higher levels; swing makes him susceptible to inner-half velocity; will chase sliders low and off the plate; has barrel control to be a better-than-average hitter in the major leagues; noticeably improved approach and pitch recognition last season at Triple-A.
Drafted and developed as a third baseman until mid-2012 but moved to the outfield as a way to potentially expedite his arrival in the big leagues; shifting back to third base following the Prince Fielder trade; not a strong defender at either position; average defensive profile; strong arm is carrying tool on the infield.
Jorge Bonifacio, OF, Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals assigned Jorge Bonifacio to High-A Wilmington last year after his impressive full-season debut in 2012 as a teenager. Though his season was interrupted by an injury, the 20-year-old still turned in a strong follow-up performance and spent the season’s final month at Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
On the year, Bonifacio batted .298/.372/.472 with 30 extra-base hits and a 69-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 374 plate appearances.
Young, athletic, projectable outfielder hitting stride in advanced levels; still growing into power; wide base, little load allows quick path to ball; line-drive stroke; approach and patience continue to improve.
Plus bat speed; quick wrists and great extension through the zone; projects to hit for average and power; arm strength is plus tool; accuracy continues to improve; fringe-average running speed; limited range in right field; reads and routes improving; arm profiles well in right field; will add more pop as frame fills out.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
Byron Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, emerged as baseball’s top prospect in his first full professional season last year, posting a .944 OPS with 49 extra-base hits (12 home runs), 55 stolen bases and an impressive 105-76 strikeout-to-walk rate in 574 plate appearances between both Class-A levels—as a teenager no less.
Best package of tools and performance in minors; potential you rarely see; true five-tool superstar and MVP projection; could step into big leagues today and put up league-average numbers.
Hit tool was more advanced than expected; showed mature, patient approach at two levels; simple, compact swing always generates loud contact; plus raw power that will develop as frame fills out; plus-plus arm strength and running speed; elite defensive profile in center field; will try to do too much at times; must slow down and let game come to him.
Already on fast track to big leagues; possible 2014 debut, though 2015 is more realistic; incredible ceiling, near Andrew McCutchen level; going to be one of the best players in baseball for the next decade.
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
George Springer continued his assault on minor league pitching in 2013, as the now-24-year-old put up numbers that made his 2012 stats look like a warm-up act. Splitting the season between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City, Springer batted .303/.411/.600 with 37 home runs (68 total extra-base hits), 106 runs and 108 RBI in 590 plate appearances. And just for good measure, he also stole 45 bases in 53 attempts.
The outfielder’s 30-30 performance was the first in the minor leagues since Grant Desme accomplished the feat in 2009, and he ultimately fell three home runs shy of joining the 40-40 club.
Tremendous upside in all areas; performance in minors continues to get better; four above-average or better tools; plus defensive center fielder; above-average arm strength and accuracy; covers ton of ground with plus-plus speed; smart, instinctual player who reads ball well; great baserunner.
Offensive upside is questionable; plus raw power has played in minors; huge swing and inability to cut down with two strikes leads to high strikeout totals; not likely to make enough contact to hit for average; power may not play up to potential; works deep counts and takes walks; could be star if hit tool plays average.
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Los Angeles Angels
Kaleb Cowart entered 2013 as the Los Angeles Angels’ top prospect after his eye-opening full-season debut the previous year (.810 OPS, 16 HR, 103 RBI, 14 SB) between both Class-A levels.
Due to his success and the organization’s lack of impact prospects, the 21-year-old third baseman was challenged with an Opening Day assignment to Double-A Arkansas. However, Cowart’s offensive weaknesses were exposed as one of the youngest everyday players at the level, and he regressed across the board with a .221/.279/.301 batting line, 27 extra-base hits (six home runs) and an ugly 124-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 546 plate appearances.
High-ceiling third baseman was overmatched in Double-A; very young for level, so don't get too discouraged; best projection in system; better swing from right side, with more power from left; drives well to the ball; huge load limits contact and average projection; pitch recognition still a work in progress.
Plus defensive profile; plus arm strength, will make throws across diamond look easy; improved footwork and lateral quickness; excellent agility and above-average speed; could steal 15 bases at peak; best projection in system.
Addison Russell, SS, Oakland Athletics
As a result of his impressive pro debut in 2012, Addison Russell received an aggressive assignment to High-A Stockton to open the 2013 season. As one of the youngest everyday players at the level, the then-19-year-old batted .275/.377/.508 with 85 runs scored, 56 extra-base hits (17 home runs) and 21 stolen bases in 517 plate appearances.
Russell also received a late-season promotion to Triple-A Sacramento, though his performance was forgettable, with one hit and nine strikeouts in 13 at-bats.
Superstar shortstop prospect destroyed High-A in first full season; boasts incredible offensive potential; plus bat speed; innate ability to barrel the ball; all contact is loud and hard; power is more to pull side but will evolve as frame fills out; swing will get long at times; gets through zone so quickly that average won't suffer due to strikeout totals; mature approach and pitch recognition; going to draw a ton of walks and post high on-base percentages.
Still adjusting to shortstop in pro ball; shows incredible range to both sides; plus arm strength will make throws from anywhere; doesn't always set himself properly, so balls will sail; athleticism and experience will lead to plus defensive profile; one of the highest ceilings in baseball.
Julio Morban, OF, Seattle Mariners
While Julio Morban has always shown abundance of raw talent, a series of annual injuries prevented his career from taking off until 2012, when he batted .313/.361/.550 with 17 home runs in 330 plate appearances at High-A High Desert in his age-20 season.
The toolsy outfielder’s power dropped off in 2013 at Double-A Jackson—though it was expected after spending 2012 in the hitter-friendly California League—but he still held his own with a .295/.362/.468 batting line with 32 extra-base hits (seven home runs) in 326 plate appearances.
Scouting Report (Unranked)
Left-handed hitter employs a compact, line drive-oriented swing; present feel for using entire field; knows how to barrel the ball and generally makes hard contact; above-average bat speed backed by good strength; untapped power should emerge as he gains experience and matures as a hitter.
Morban is a good athlete at 6’1”, 205 pounds with room to add more strength; hamstring injuries have robbed him of some speed, but he’s still an average runner; capable of playing all three outfield positions; plus arm is a clean fit in right; lacks speed and range to handle center in the major leagues.
Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers assigned Rougned Odor to High-A Myrtle Beach to begin the 2013 season, and the then-19-year-old responded to the challenge by batting .305/.369/.454 with 42 extra-base hits and 27 stolen bases in 425 plate appearances before a late-season promotion to Double-A Frisco.
The left-handed-hitting second baseman continued to thrive at the more advanced level, posting a .306/.354/.530 batting line with 30 runs scored, eight doubles and six home runs in 144 plate appearances. Overall, Odor posted an .839 OPS with 41 doubles, 11 home runs, 32 stolen bases and a 91-35 strikeout-to-walk rate in 569 plate appearances.
The 19-year-old possesses much more physical strength than his 5’11”, 170-pound frame suggests; has continually thrived as a younger player in advanced leagues; hugely underrated combination of hit tool potential and plus speed; left-handed hitter has above-average power for his size and position; impressive power frequency; extra-base machine; drives the ball with authority to all fields; knack for hard contact; compact stroke; demonstrates excellent hand-eye coordination and advanced pitch recognition.
Above-average range at second base; soft hands and strong arm are a clean fit at the position; has athleticism and tools to handle shortstop in a pinch; hard-nosed ballplayer who does everything with max intensity; excellent instincts; makes things happen on both sides of the ball.