Every MLB Team's Prospect off to the Hottest Start in 2014
The 2014 Minor League Baseball season is only a week old, yet there are already stellar performances being put forth by key prospects at every level.
Due to the uncertain, volatile nature of prospects—especially when they start a new level—there is always a concern that they will be overwhelmed by the quality of the competition they are set to face. There's a gradual progression, both in pitching and hitting, that must be dealt with at each rung of the ladder.
Sometimes, though, there is just something to be said for natural talent playing up. Every MLB team wants to build a farm system that can churn out talent year after year, but some are better at adding and acquiring it than others.
Whatever the overall look of a farm system is, we have found a player from each team who has shined bright in the very early going of the 2014 season. Some of these are names that fans are familiar with, and others are names you should know, but all warrant inclusion on this list.
Player: Brandon Drury, 3B (High-A Visalia)
Stats: 6 G, .320/.320/.760, 2 2B, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 19 TB
Brandon Drury was one of the players Arizona acquired from Atlanta in the Justin Upton trade, and he could end up being the best big leaguer of the bunch. He had an .862 OPS with South Bend in the Midwest League last year, showing excellent bat control and a keen eye at the plate.
So far in 2014, Drury has put to rest questions about his power tool. The 21-year-old blasted two doubles and three homers with 19 total bases in his first six games. He's still more likely to hit for average than power, but with average defense at third base, that's enough to give him a future as an MLB regular.
Player: Tommy La Stella, 2B (Triple-A Gwinnett)
Stats: 4 G, .333/.429/.417, 2B, RBI, 5 TB
It sounds insulting when you call a player "pesky," but sometimes the term is so appropriate that there's no other way to describe him.
Tommy La Stella certainly fits that mold for the Atlanta Braves. When you look at him—a 5'11", 185-pound baseball player—and watch him play, there's nothing that really stands out. He's not a great athlete, doesn't run well and has little power.
But when La Stella gets a bat in his hands, he knows how to use it. He's never going to hit more than a handful of homers in a season, yet he has a fantastic hitter's eye and always makes such solid contact (88 strikeouts in 846 at-bats from 2011-13) that hitting for average with a good on-base percentage shouldn't be a problem.
Player: Hunter Harvey, RHP (Low-A Delmarva)
Stats: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 5 K
No player taken in the 2013 draft had more helium after being selected than Hunter Harvey. The Baltimore right-hander moved up to No. 4 on the team's preseason top-20 prospects list, according to MLB.com, and draws rave reviews for a plus fastball that may gain velocity as his frame fills out.
The Orioles don't have the deepest system in baseball, but with Harvey joining fellow pitchers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, they could have one of the best rotations in a few years.
Boston Red Sox
Player: Henry Owens, LHP (Double-A Portland)
Stats: 6.0 IP, 0 H, 2 BB, 9 K
Last year, after recording 169 strikeouts in 135.0 innings, Henry Owens shot up Boston's prospect list. There were, and still are, concerns about his fastball command (68 walks in 2013) as well as his upside thanks to an average breaking ball.
But when Owens is on, he's a sight to behold. A 6'6" left-hander with deception and long limbs is a nightmare for opposing hitters, because his above-average fastball velocity jumps at you, helping the pitch play better in game situations.
The 21-year-old's first start in 2014 was pretty good—a six-inning, rain-shortened no-hitter with nine strikeouts and two walks.
Chicago White Sox
Player: Courtney Hawkins, OF (High-A Winston-Salem)
Stats: 5 G, .421/.429/1.053, 3 2B, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 20 TB, SB
Even if there were better White Sox hitters right now, Courtney Hawkins was a player I purposefully included on this list in order to illustrate the adjustments young star prospects have to make.
The White Sox did their 2012 first-round pick no favors by staring him at High-A last year, and it showed, as Hawkins posted a .178/.249/.384 line that lowered his stock substantially.
Now, at the age of 20, Hawkins looks more comfortable at the plate and has been allowing that big raw power to play in games. Don't be shocked if he ends the year as Chicago's No. 1 prospect.
Player: Kris Bryant, 3B (Double-A Tennessee)
Stats: 4 G, .231/.375/.692, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 9 TB, SB
A lot of players on this list can be included in an "on the rise" category of prospects, but someone like Kris Bryant has done exactly what was expected of him.
The Cubs drafted Bryant with the second overall pick last June because of his ability to hit balls really far. He started off this season with a homer in his first two games, and he could end the year with 30-35 homers, because he's that strong.
His strikeouts are going to pile up, as Bryant's got some holes in his swing and can be beaten on the inner half with velocity, but it's a weakness that is offset by his tremendous power.
Player: Robert Stephenson, RHP (Double-A Pensacola)
Stats: 5.0 IP, H, BB, 11 K
It would be hard for any pitcher in the minors to have a better debut than Robert Stephenson did. Making his first 2014 start in Double-A after just four at the level last year, Cincinnati's right-hander dominated with 11 strikeouts, one hit and one walk in five innings.
The Reds are building an interesting stable of pitching. They re-signed Homer Bailey, have Mat Latos through 2015 and may have something special with Tony Cingrani. So if you add Stephenson into that mix later this season—or even in 2015 as a replacement for free-agent-to-be Johnny Cueto—suddenly the Reds look a lot better in a short playoff series.
Player: Trevor Bauer, RHP (Triple-A Columbus)
Stats: 6.0 IP, 2 H, ER, 2 BB, 9 K (excludes Wednesday's start for the Indians)
Like Courtney Hawkins, Trevor Bauer is a player who warranted inclusion on this list due to the improvements and adjustments he made during the offseason.
In fact, the Indians thought so highly of his debut that the right-hander was tapped to start the second game of a doubleheader against San Diego on Wednesday. Even though the Indians lost that game, Bauer looked strong over six innings, allowing four hits and one earned while striking out eight.
There were reports that Bauer's fastball was back in the 94-97 mph range this spring, a vast improvement from the 92.8 mph it averaged last year. Command is never going to be a strength for him, but as long as he's throwing enough strikes, the right-hander can turn into a No. 3 starter.
Hopefully for the Indians, Bauer's first start in 2014 is the beginning of a renaissance instead of a mirage.
Player: David Dahl, OF (Low-A Asheville)
Stats: 6 G, .217/.250/.435, 3B, HR, 2 RBI, 10 TB
David Dahl fell off a cliff last year after being demoted by the team for disciplinary reasons, which he claimed was a missed flight, then was limited to just 10 games overall because of a hamstring injury.
With a new year brings a new start, and Dahl has taken full advantage of his opportunity. Forget the average, the 2012 first-round pick has shown the hitting ability so far this year that made him such a favorite of prospect fiends entering 2013, as he has a triple and a homer through six games.
The Rockies boast one of the most interesting farm systems in baseball, with extreme high-end talent like Dahl, Jonathan Gray, Eddie Butler, Rosell Herrera and Raimel Tapia. Don't be surprised if Dahl is the one getting all the attention by the end of 2014.
Player: Eugenio Suarez, SS (Double-A Erie)
Stats: 4 G, .267/.267/.667, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 10 TB
It's a shame that Nick Castellanos can't be included on Detroit's prospect lists anymore, because this was a thin system even with the star third baseman.
Eugenio Suarez can take the mantle as the new "best position player prospect" for the Tigers, though there is nothing special to his game. He's just "good" at a lot of things instead of "great" at one or two things.
Despite boasting below-average raw power, Suarez has hit two home runs so far in 2014, which is one-fifth of his total in 136 games last year. He's also got a good eye at the plate with 125 walks over the last two years and a .362 career on-base percentage in the minors.
Player: Carlos Correa, SS (High-A Lancaster)
Stats: 6 G, .381/.462/.571, 2B, HR, 8 RBI, 12 TB
Someday in the not-too-distant future, we are going to be talking about Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton the way we do Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. While Trout is miles ahead in his race, the gap between Correa and Buxton will be very close.
Buxton has louder tools across the board and plays an outstanding center field, but Correa's preternatural ability to hit is going to make him one of the best players in baseball very soon.
The Astros are being conservative with their top prospect, which isn't surprising since Correa's just 19 years old. However, it won't take long for him to move through the system and be a staple in the middle of Houston's lineup.
Kansas City Royals
Player: Hunter Dozier, 3B (High-A Wilmington)
Stats: 6 G, .240/.296/.360, 3 2B, 3 RBI, 9 TB
There was a lot of eyebrow raising when the Royals took Hunter Dozier with the eighth pick in last year's draft, though it could end up looking like a brilliant strategy if Sean Manaea looks as good this season as he did in spring training.
Lost in the shuffle of Dozier being overdrafted is the fact that he's got skills with the bat. He would have more value as a shortstop, but it's not likely he stays there, and the Royals have already moved him to third base.
Regardless, Dozier did show glimpses of the hitter he can be before a recent 1-for-9 stretch lowered his average after opening the year with five hits and two doubles in his first three games.
The 22-year-old has plenty of raw power that will start showing through as the temperatures warm up. For now, though, he's just hitting for average, getting on base and spraying doubles all over the place.
Los Angeles Angels
Player: Michael Clevinger, RHP (Low-A Burlington)
Stats: 4.2 IP, 2 H, ER, BB, 6 K
Trying to pick a standout performer in the Angels system who might amount to something other than a mediocre big leaguer is a difficult task. Michael Clevinger is one of the more promising arms in a weak group, though he's got plenty of questions to answer after having Tommy John surgery in 2012.
Still working his way back from the elbow reconstruction, Clevinger had a brilliant 2014 debut, with three perfect innings before allowing his first hit in the fourth against Minnesota's Low-A Beloit team.
The right-hander has a deep arsenal—fastball, curveball, changeup and slider—but his lack of a plus pitch makes him more of a No. 3/4 starter type. That's better than most Angels pitching prospects, however, so this could be a big year for him to move up the rankings.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Player: Joc Pederson, OF (Triple-A Albuquerque)
Stats: 5 G, .471/.571/1.059, 2B, 3 HR, 3 RBI, 18 TB, 2 SB
You'd never know it by looking at this slash line, but Joc Pederson actually needed a couple of games to start hitting. He went 1-for-6 in a doubleheader on April 4 before exploding with seven hits in 11 at-bats, including one double and two homers, from April 6-8.
The Dodgers sent Pederson down near the end of spring training in order to get him experience at Triple-A and also due to the fact that there was already a logjam of outfielders in Los Angeles. If the 21-year-old keeps hitting like this, though, there's going to be one more player in the mix very soon.
Of course, the Dodgers could always use Pederson as trade bait in order to supplement their MLB roster if they don't want to create more controversy in their outfield.
Player: Jarlin Garcia, LHP (Low-A Greensboro)
Stats: 5.0 IP, 3 H, BB, 7 K
No, Jarlin Garcia doesn't moonlight as Billy the Marlin. The 21-year-old just hasn't pitched enough in games to have a video readily available.
That should change by the end of 2014, as Garcia has great size, a projectable 170-pound frame and a solid-yet-undeveloped arsenal. He's very similar to Andrew Heaney, Miami's top prospect, in terms of fastball velocity and command of his heater.
Heaney has also developed his slider and changeup, which is still on Garcia's to-do list. However, Garcia certainly has the mechanics and athleticism to have that kind of upside.
Player: Tyrone Taylor, OF (High-A Brevard County)
Stats: 5 G, .300/.391/.550, 5 2B, 3 RBI, 11 TB
There's not much to be excited about with Milwaukee's system, but Tyrone Taylor is a tooled-up player who has a very legitimate chance to end the year as a top-100 prospect. He's fulfilling that promise early this season, collecting five doubles in his four games.
Despite the small sample size, Taylor's start isn't an accident. He's a tremendous athlete with speed, defense, arm strength and above-average raw power. There are going to be rough spots along the way, but this 20-year-old could end up being the Brewers' best homegrown player since Ryan Braun.
Player: Trevor May, RHP (Triple-A Rochester)
Stats: 5.0 IP, 3 H, ER, 8 K
The top of Minnesota's system hasn't provided the kind of news teams want to see coming out of spring training. Miguel Sano is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, while Byron Buxton started the season on the disabled list.
It's not all bleak for the Twins, though. Trevor May, acquired from Philadelphia in the Ben Revere deal, got off to a promising start in Triple-A. The big right-hander has struggled throwing strikes over the last two years (145 walks in 301.1 innings), so a no-walk performance in his first start of 2014 is something to be excited about.
New York Mets
Player: Brandon Nimmo, OF (High-A St. Lucie)
Stats: 5 G, .313/.450/.438, 2 2B, RBI, 7 TB
Brandon Nimmo was practically all tools and no refinement when the New York Mets drafted him 13th overall in the 2011 draft, which is something you would expect from a teenager from Wyoming whose high school didn't have a baseball team.
It's taken time for Nimmo to adjust against professional pitching, but he's finally starting to show some of the offensive promise that made him a high pick in one of the deepest drafts ever. The 21-year-old hit .273/.397/.359 last year in Low-A.
Power isn't a huge part of Nimmo's game right now, though he does have a good line-drive swing and could turn into a doubles machine with 12-15 homers. A keen eye at the plate and a good approach gives the young outfielder a real strong case to be a solid MLB starter.
New York Yankees
Player: Gary Sanchez, C (Double-A Trenton)
Stats: 5 G, .333/.455/.667, 3 2B, HR, 8 RBI, 12 TB
Gary Sanchez is an infuriating player to watch. He's loaded with tools, particularly on offense, and will show them on occasion, but consistency has never been his friend.
The 21-year-old wasn't on my original list to talk about, but showing how quickly things can change, back-to-back games with extra-base hits (one double, one homer) and a combined four walks changed my mind.
There's not a lot of impact talent in New York's system, which was likely a contributing factor for all of the team's spending in free agency this offseason, but Sanchez is one player with a chance to be special.
Hopefully, this strong start is just the beginning of a full-season turnaround.
Player: Addison Russell, SS (Double-A Midland)
Stats: 2 G, .714/.714/1.286, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, 9 TB, SB
Even with Cubs prospect Javier Baez launching balls out of parks seemingly at will, Addison Russell might be the best power-hitting shortstop prospect in the league. Russell is a better overall hitter and is more likely to hit for average along with 25-30 homers at his peak.
Russell gave the A's a scare on Opening Day after being taken out of Midland's game with a right hamstring cramp. It was seen as a precaution at the time since the star prospect missed time in spring training with a problem in the same leg. However, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that Russell will miss at least a month with a torn hamstring.
Jed Lowrie is blocking Russell's path to Oakland right now, making a 2015 debut more likely, but the 20-year-old is almost ready for a close up under the bright lights.
Player: J.P. Crawford, SS (Low-A Lakewood)
Stats: 4 G, .368/.429/.632, 2 2B, HR, RBI, 12 TB, SB
It's easy to make fun of Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, but the player development staff in Philadelphia is among the best in baseball. J.P. Crawford is the latest example of how good the scouts have been at adding impact talent without high draft picks.
Crawford, the No. 16 selection in last year's draft, has done nothing but dazzle with his stellar defense at a premium position and surprising offensive pop for a 19-year-old who is still filling out his 180-pound frame.
There's a crowded shortstop group in the minors right now, with players like Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez and Addison Russell all being consensus top-10 prospects, but Crawford's performance and tools could vault him into the second-tier by the end of 2014.
Player: Josh Bell, OF (High-A Bradenton)
Stats: 4 G, .412/.412/.824, 2 2B, 3B, HR, 3 RBI, 14 TB
Lost in the rise of Pittsburgh's farm system, ranked No. 1 by Baseball America entering 2014, is the performance of Josh Bell.
Best known for receiving a draft record $5 million deal as a second-round pick in 2011—the same draft that produced Gerrit Cole as the No. 1 overall pick—Bell got healthy in 2013 and showed some of that promise with the bat, as he posted an .806 OPS in 119 games at Low-A after playing just 15 games in 2012.
A rare switch-hitter who is equally adept from both sides of the plate, Bell figures to take a huge leap forward this year by tapping into that tremendous raw power and continuing to advance an already-mature approach at the plate.
San Diego Padres
Player: Matt Wisler, RHP (Double-A San Antonio)
Stats: 8.0 IP, 10 H, 3 ER, BB, 11 K
On the surface, there doesn't appear to be much happening that sets Matt Wisler apart from anyone else in San Diego's system. Even with the caveat that we're just one week into the season, this is what the Padres' top pitching prospect needs to be doing.
There's no doubt whatsoever that Wisler can pitch. He's got good athleticism on the mound, which helps him repeat his mechanics, and he also features a deep arsenal. He's also 21 years old and knows how to throw strikes, which is rare for a pitcher his age.
Wisler has shown a mature approach on the mound and could end the season in San Diego, barring any injury setbacks.
San Francisco Giants
Player: Andrew Susac, C (Triple-A Fresno)
Stats: 5 G, .476/.522/.619, HR, 5 RBI, 13 TB
The progression of Andrew Susac has been fun to watch, as he actually gives the Giants a position player in the upper levels of the minors who they can use at some point in the future. He's gone from posting a .731 OPS in 2012 to an .820 OPS in 2013 to the 1.141 mark that he is posting through April 8 this year.
That will obviously go down as the year moves on, but Susac is not without ability, as he slugged over .450 with 12 homers last year. He's not an elite defender behind the plate, but he moves well enough to be average.
Susac's path to the big leagues is blocked by Buster Posey, though there could come a time when the Giants try to move the former MVP to a different position and let Susac be the everyday catcher.
It's also plausible that Susac could end up being part of a trade if the Giants need help at another position.
Player: Gabriel Guerrero, OF (High-A High Desert)
Stats: 6 G, .478/.500/.826, 2 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 19 TB, SB
Gabriel Guerrero, nephew of Vladimir, has been one of those prospects just waiting to have a breakout season for a couple of years now. He's just 20 years old, so it's not like there's a sense of urgency.
If his early performance in 2014 is any indication, Guerrero will shoot up the Mariners prospect list. He's always had huge raw power, but growing into a 190-pound frame made it difficult for him to show in games.
That's not the case right now, as the young Dominican is blasting the ball like his uncle used to. He's not a patient hitter and will chase pitches anywhere near the plate. But as long as the power remains intact and breaking balls don't cause him too much trouble, Guerrero is poised for a monster year.
St. Louis Cardinals
Player: James Ramsey, OF (Double-A Springfield)
Stats: 6 G, .476/.542/.762, 3 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 16 TB
A surprise first-round pick in 2012, James Ramsey's limited ceiling doesn't make him a household name for prospect junkies, but all the 24-year-old does is hit. He had an .814 OPS last season and has gotten off to an electric start in 2014.
The Cardinals are loaded with outfield depth right now, both in the big leagues and in the upper levels of the minors (Oscar Taveras, Stephen Piscotty), so Ramsey isn't high on the totem pole.
Yet there's something to be said for a versatile player who can do a little bit of everything without standing out in one specific area.
Tampa Bay Rays
Player: Jake Hager, SS (Double-A Montgomery)
Stats: 4 G, .308/.357/.615, 2 2B, 3B, 2 RBI, 8 TB
One of Tampa Bay's 312 first-round selections in the 2011 draft (that may be a slight exaggeration), Jake Hager has never lived up to that promise over the last two years with a .698 OPS.
Now a grizzled 21-year-old in Double-A, Hager may have finally tapped into something that will allow his solid all-around tool set play up against advanced pitching. He's not going to hit many home runs, if any, but he does control the strike zone and makes solid contact.
The Rays really need someone in this system to step up, because the well has run dry, especially in terms of position players, in recent years. Hager doesn't have star potential, but he can be a versatile middle infielder down the line.
Player: Luis Marte, SS (Low-A Hickory)
Stats: 6 G, .381/.381/.429, 2B, 3 RBI, 9 TB, 2 SB
Hey, the Texas Rangers have a shortstop prospect. It's shocking, I know.
Luis Marte is low on that particular totem pole, though, especially after posting a .522 OPS at Low-A last year. But he's not without tools.
Marte signed with Texas in 2010 as a 16-year-old. The Dominican Prospect League, via Scout.com, wrote at the time that he had "everything you want in a SS and does it easy." That hasn't translated into results on the field thus far, though his 2014 campaign is starting off well.
Since Marte is repeating Low-A, at 21, he will hopefully hit well enough to warrant a promotion later this year in order to see if the adjustments are real or just a product of facing similar competition for a second time.
Toronto Blue Jays
Player: D.J. Davis, OF (Low-A Lansing)
Stats: 5 G, .294/.381/.529, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 9 TB, 2 SB
If you're looking for a player who epitomizes Toronto's farm system, D.J. Davis is the man for you. He's a 19-year-old athlete with true five-tool potential who is still trying to put together a solid performance.
This is a crucial development year for Davis, who played just 58 games in the Appalachian League last season. He's looked more comfortable at the plate already, showing better discipline and driving the ball to all fields.
Davis has a long way to go, and he should stay at the Midwest League all year. But with elite athleticism, plus speed, plus-plus range and above-average raw power, the Jays could have a special player on their hands.
Player: Rafael Bautista, OF (Low-A Hagerstown)
Stats: 5 G, .500/.556/.625, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 10 TB, SB
Rafael Bautista is a player who is going to start moving up Washington's prospect list very soon. He's older than a typical Dominican player debuting in a full-season league (21), but he hardly has to worry about being too old and more physically developed than the pitching he's facing.
Last year was an excellent appetizer for Bautista. He hit .322/.400/.391 in 52 Gulf Coast League games, which is about the kind of slash line you can expect to see from him.
There's not a lot of power in Bautista's 165-pound frame, which is virtually filled out, but he's got a great line-drive swing, excellent bat control for a player his age and good plate discipline. Combine that with plus-plus running speed and solid defensive tools, and Bautista has all the ingredients to be an above-average big leaguer in two years.
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