MLB Prospects Update: Hottest, Coldest Hitters at Every Minor League Level
The minor league season is now in full swing and countless prospects are making strong impressions, for one reason or another, at each of the four full-season levels.
With most teams having played roughly 15-plus games since Opening Day (April 4), it’s important to acknowledge the role of small sample sizes when evaluating a player's success using statistics. However, it's impossible to ignore there’s still a large contingent of young hitters that have either opened the season on a tear or struggled to get things going at the dish.
Here are at the hottest and coldest hitters at every minor league level three weeks into the 2014 season.
*All stats courtesy of MiLB.com and reflect games through Monday, April 21.
Ryan McMahon, 3B, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats: .333/431/.778, 3 2B, 7 HR, 13 RBI, 10 BB, 17 K (16 G)
Nobody has been hotter than McMahon to begin the season, as the 19-year-old third baseman has clubbed seven home runs (10 extra-base hits total) through his first 17 games. The kid is a future big leaguer. In his last 10 games, McMahon owns an absurd batting line of .351/.429/.829 with two doubles, six home runs and 11 RBI.
Wendell Rijo, 2B, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats: .333/.472/.571, 4 2B, 2 HR, 10 BB, 11 K (13 G)
Rijo, 18, was signed out of the Dominican Republic for $575,000 in July 2012 and impressed last season in his professional debut, batting .277/.367/.375 with 16 doubles, 15 stolen bases and a 32-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 184 at-bats between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and short-season Lowell. He has a ways to go before reaching the major leagues, but, as you might have already inferred from his hot start, Rijo is definitely one of the more intriguing lower-level prospects to keep an eye on this season.
Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees
2014 Stats: .321/.457/.429, 2B, 3B, HR, 8 RBI, 14 BB, 15 K (16 G)
The 6’7”, 230-pound Judge failed to collect an extra-base hit through his first games for Low-A Charleston. However, the 21-year-old certainly has made up for the slow start; he’s batting .429 with nine runs, three extra-base hits (including his first professional home run) and eight RBI in his last eight contests.
Mitch Nay, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
2014 Stats: .333/.369/.417, 5 2B, 11 RBI, 4 BB, 8 K (16 G)
I tabbed Nay as one of my preseason breakout prospects for 2014, and so far he hasn’t let me down three weeks into his full-season debut at Low-A Lansing. The 20-year-old is currently riding an 11-game hitting streak in which he’s batting .366 with four doubles and nine RBI.
Mitch Garver, C, Minnesota Twins
2014 Stats: .259/.379/.648, 4 2B, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 9 BB, 9 K (17 G)
One of the more underrated catchers in the 2013 draft class, Garver, a ninth-round pick, turned in an underwhelming professional debut last summer in the Appalachian League, posting a .679 OPS with two home runs in 56 games. Well, the 23-year-old has already surpassed those power numbers this season at Low-A Cedar Rapids, as he enters Tuesday boasting a 1.027 OPS with five home runs in just 17 games.
Dominic Smith, 1B, New York Mets
2014 Stats: .182/.224/.182, 3 BB, 8 K (15 G)
Smith is regarded as one of the best first-base prospects in the minor leagues, but he’s yet to collect an extra-base hit or RBI through Low-A Savannah’s first 15 games (58 plate appearances). Mike Newman of ROTOscouting.com recently published an excellent report on the 18-year-old Smith in which he detailed several concerns about his bat and body type.
Christian Arroyo, 2B, San Francisco Giants
2014 Stats: .213/.258/.279, 2 2B, 3B, 7 RBI, 4 BB, 9 K (16 G)
The No. 25 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Arroyo quickly surpassed expectations last summer in his professional debut, batting .326/.388/.511 with 25 extra-base hits in 45 games for the Giants’ affiliate in the Rookie-level Arizona League. After totaling just two hits in his first six contests this season at Low-A Augusta, the 18-year-old middle infielder has settled in and is now batting .289 with six RBI in the last 10 games.
Gosuke Katoh, 2B, New York Yankees
2014 Stats: .140/.333/.209, 2B, 3B, 5 SB, 11 BB, 24 K (14 G)
Katoh, the Yankees’ second-round draft pick last June, turned in a surprisingly good professional debut last summer, batting .310/.402/.522 with 22 extra-base hits in 50 Gulf Coast League games. Making his full-season debut this year at Low-A Charleston, the 19-year-old second baseman has shown a good eye at the plate but struggled to make consistent contact, highlighted by his .140 batting average and 24 strikeouts in 14 games.
Franchy Cordero, SS, San Diego Padres
2014 Stats: .167/.242/.185, 2B, 6 RBI, 3 SB, 4 BB, 25 K (13 G)
Cordero emerged as one of the more exciting Rookie-level prospects last season in the Arizona League, posting an .891 OPS with 13 extra-base hits in 35 games. The Padres were so impressed with his performance that they assigned him to Low-A Fort Wayne to begin 2014, but the 19-year-old’s flaws have been exposed in the early going, evidenced by his .427 OPS and 25/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 13 games.
*Video courtesy of MiLB.com.
Brandon Nimmo, OF, New York Mets
2014 Stats: .388/.488/.507, 3 2B, 3B, HR, 11 RBI, 13 BB, 15 K (17 G)
Nimmo, 21, has been impressive this season at High-A St. Lucie, batting .388 with five-extra base hits and a 15-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17 games. The outfielder has been on fire in his last 10 games, with a .947 OPS (.409 batting average), 18 hits and eight RBI.
Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Stats: .293/.341/.480, 6 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 4 SB, 5 BB, 21 K (18 G)
Seager struggled at High-A Rancho Cucamonga during the final month of the 2013 regular season, as he batted just .160 and struck out 31 times in 27 games. The 19-year-old’s batting average has fluctuated around .300 through his first 18 games, and he finally tapped into his power over the weekend with a pair of home runs.
Mac Williamson, OF, San Francisco Giants
2014 Stats: .266/.390/.438, 5 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 5 SB, 11 BB, 11 K (18 G)
Williamson, 23, spent all of 2013 at San Jose and put up big numbers (albeit as an older player in the hitter-friendly California League), batting .292/.375/.504 with 31 doubles, 25 home runs, 10 stolen bases and 132/51 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 136 games. After collecting five hits in his first eight games to open the season, Williamson has found his groove at the plate and is batting .316/.409/.579 with six extra-base hits and three steals in his last 10 games.
Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas Rangers
2014 Stats: .333/.421/.750, 3 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 12 BB, 21 K (18 G)
Gallo led all minor league hitters last season with 40 home runs (38 of which came while playing for Low-A Hickory) but was kept in the park for the first six games of the season. However, in his last 10 contests, Gallo is batting .344 with seven extra-base hits (three home runs), 10 RBI and an 11/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Chicago Cubs
2014 Stats: .148/.246/.213, 2B, HR, 8 RBI, 8 BB, 9 K (17 G)
Vogelbach has silenced his skeptics at each minor-league stop over the past three seasons; last year, he posted an .824 OPS with 23 doubles, 19 home runs and an 89/73 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 131 games between both Class-A levels. He’s batting .148 with only one home run through 17 games this season back at High-A Daytona, but his solid 9/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio suggests that the hits should start falling.
Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals
2014 Stats: .133/.284/.250, 4 2B, HR, 6 RBI, 9 BB, 24 K (17 G)
Starling posted a .727 OPS with 38 extra-base hits and 22 stolen bases last season in his full-season debut, but he also struck out 128 times in 498 plate appearances. So far this season it’s been more of the same, as the 21-year-old has five extra-base hits and 24 strikeouts in 74 plate appearances.
Rosell Herrera, SS, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats: .275/.296/.290, 2B, 8 RBI, 2 SB, 2 BB, 12 K (17 G)
Herrera was named as both the South Atlantic League MVP and Rockies Minor League Player of the Year last season after posting a .933 OPS with 33 doubles, 16 home runs and 21 steals at Low-A Asheville. He’s struggled in the early going this year in the hitter-friendly California League but shown signs of life as of late, as he’s now hit safely in five straight games.
Mookie Betts, 2B, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats: .448/.484/.707, 18 R, 7 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 5 SB, 5 BB, 7 K (14 G)
After a breakout full-season debut last year across both Class-A levels, Betts entered 2014 as one of the better second-base prospects in the minor leagues. The 21-year-old has been very impressive through the first three weeks of the season, highlighted by his 1.191 OPS, 10 extra-base hits and five stolen bases in 14 games. Betts also is in the midst of a nine-game hitting streak in which he’s batting .436 with 14 runs and six extra-base hits.
Jorge Bonifacio, OF, Kansas City Royals
2014 Stats: .239/.338/.358, 3 2B, 3B, HR, 12 RBI, 8 BB, 16 K (17 G)
Bonifacio got off to a brutal start back at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, going 3-for-25 through his first seven games. Since then, however, the 20-year-old outfielder has started to heat up at the dish, evidenced by his .310/.370/.429 batting line and four-extra base hits in his last 10 contests.
Cam Perkins, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats: .421/.459/.719, 9 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 2 SB, 4 BB, 7 K (15 G)
Perkins, the Phillies’ sixth-round draft pick in 2012, had an under-the-radar good full-season debut last year, batting .295/.346/.444 with 41 extra-base hits in 103 games and High-A Clearwater. The 23-year-old has been one of the Eastern League’s best hitters this season, as he enters Tuesday with a 1.178 OPS and 12 extra-base hits (of 24 total hits). Perkins is currently enjoying a nine-game hitting streak in which he’s batting .417 five doubles, a home run and 12 RBI.
Ketel Marte, MIF, Seattle Mariners
2014 Stats: .380/.436/.465, 6 2B, 3 SB, 7 BB, 8 K (18 G)
Marte was assigned to Double-A Jackson after playing only 19 games at High-A High Desert in 2013—a testament to his all-around ability and outstanding makeup. The 20-year-old has been one of the hottest hitters in the Southern League to begin the season, amassing 27 hits through 18 games. The switch hitter enters Tuesday riding a six-game hitting streak.
Ryan Rua, 3B, Texas Rangers
2014 Stats: .354/.456/.583, 5 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 8 BB, 8 K (15 G)
Ryu enjoyed a power surge in 2013, as the 24-year-old third baseman slugged .525 with 26 home runs and 32 home runs in 525 plate appearances. Rua is back at Double-A Frisco after playing there the final month of the regular season, and he’s handled the level well in the early going, with a 1.039 OPS and seven extra-base hits through 15 games.
Yorman Rodriguez, OF, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats: .317/.353/.429, 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 3 SB, 4 BB, 16 K (16 G)
Rodriguez turned in a long-overdue breakout campaign in 2013, posting a .751 OPS with 35 doubles, 13 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 129 games between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola. The 21-year-old—who is on the Reds’ 40-man roster—got off to a slow start back this season back at Pensacola but has been red-hot during his current six-game hitting streak, batting .520 with five runs and 13 hits (two extra-base hits).
Steve Moya, OF, Detroit Tigers
2014 Stats: .167/.222/.313, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 2 SB, 4 BB, 15 K (14 G)
Moya’s raw power is among the best in the minor leagues, but he’s struggled to stay healthy throughout his professional career and been slow to move up the organizational ladder. The 22-year-old posted a 106/18 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season at High-A Lakeland, so it’s not surprising Moya is batting just .167 through 14 games.
Miles Head, 3B, Oakland Athletics
2014 Stats: .188/.255/.250, HR, 5 RBI, 4 BB, 12 K (13 G)
Head was one of the top breakout prospects in 2012, when he batted .333/.391/.577 with 31 doubles and 23 home runs between High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland. However, he posted a .527 OPS last season in 40 games at Midland and spent most of the year on the disabled list. The 22-year-old has started slowly this season back at Double-A, with a .505 OPS and 12 strikeouts in his first 12 games.
Keenyn Walker, OF, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats: .149/.184/.191, 3B, 4 SB, 2 BB, 22 K (13 G)
The No. 47 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Walker spent all of 2012 at Double-A Birmingham and struggled mightily, batting .201/.319/.277 with 153 strikeouts in 550 plate appearances. He’s repeating the level this year but things haven’t gone any better, as you might have guessed by his .375 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 49 plate appearances.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Stats: .426/.530/.765, 8 2B, 5 HR, 9 RBI, 6 SB, 15 BB, 15 K (18 G)
Pederson has been firing on all cylinders this season at Triple-A Albuquerque, hitting for average and power, getting on base and scoring runs. Pederson serves a top-notch safety net at Triple-A given the Dodgers’ overcrowded and mostly veteran outfield, and he should be the first player summoned from the minors when the team needs a replacement. However, there’s always a chance that the organization dangles him as trade bait this season to improve its on-field product in the major leagues.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros
2014 Stats: .324/.425/.716, 6 2B, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 13 BB, 25 K (19 G)
Singleton had a down year in 2013 following his return from a 50-game suspension but rediscovered his power stroke during the offseason in the Puerto Rican Winter League. The 22-year-old has been one of the most productive hitters in the minor leagues to open the season, with a gaudy 1.142 OPS, seven home runs and 23 RBI in 19 games.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
2014 Stats: .406/.446/.609, 4 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 2 SB, 4 BB, 8 K (17 G)
As I wrote last week, Polanco won’t spend much time in the minor leagues this season, as he represents a clear upgrade in right field for the Pirates over Jose Tabata, Travis Snider or any other player they might run out there. The 22-year-old has been on a tear after going hitless in his season debut on April 4, and he’s batting .429 with six extra-base hits and 12 RBI in his last 10 contests.
Chris Taylor, MIF, Seattle Mariners
2014 Stats: .364/.400/.636, 8 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 4 SB, 5 BB, 12 K (17 G)
Taylor was the most underrated middle-infield prospect in the 2012 draft, and he put himself on the major-league radar last season by batting .314/.409/.455 with 47 extra-base hits and 38 stolen bases in 134 games between High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson. He’s absolutely raked at Triple-A Tacoma—as most Mariners prospect tend to do in the Pacific Coast League—to open the season, as he enters Tuesday with a 1.036 OPS and 12 extra-base hits in 17 games.
Randal Grichuk, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Stats: .352/.397/.620, 8 2B, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 6 BB, 16 K (18 G)
Grichuk is off to a hot start with his new organization, as he’s posted a 1.017 OPS with 12 extra-base hits and 17 RBI through his first 18 games. The 22-year-old makes up a third of the minor’s best outfield, playing alongside Oscar Taveras and Stephen Piscotty at Triple-A Memphis, and all three prospects are likely to see time in the major leagues this season.
Jake Marisnick, OF, Miami Marlins
2014 Stats: .162/.224/.235, 3 2B, 3B, 6 RBI, 3 SB, 3 BB, 14 K (18 G)
Marisnick was the odd-man out in the Marlins’ Opening Day outfield, as he was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans despite batting .432 in 20 games during spring training. Back in the minor leagues, the 23-year-old outfielder has struggled to get things started at the plate with 11 hits (none of which have left the park) and one multi-hit performance through his first 18 games.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats: .143/.229/.175, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 6 BB, 16 K (17 G)
Franco’s performance last season was among the best in the minor leagues, as the then-20-year-old batted .320/.356/.569 with 36 doubles, 31 home runs and 103 RBI in 134 games between High-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading. Though he received an extended look at the hot corner during spring training, Franco, 21, ultimately was assigned to Triple-A after batting .184 in 16 games. Unfortunately, his struggles have now carried over into the regular season, as Franco is batting just .143 with two extra-base hits (both doubles) through 17 games.