MLB Prospects Update: Hottest, Coldest Hitters at Every Minor League Level
We’re nearly a month into the minor league season 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 20-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 who have either opened the season on a tear or struggled to get things going at the dish.
Here’s a look at the hottest and coldest hitters at every minor league level.
Ryan McMahon, 3B, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats: .289/.385/.697, 4 2B, 9 HR, 22 RBI, 13 BB, 24 K (22 games)
McMahon has been one of the more impressive hitters through the season’s first month, as the 19-year-old third baseman’s nine home runs has him tied with Joey Gallo for the minor league lead. The kid is a future big leaguer. Last Friday, McMahon was 2-for-5 with his ninth dinger (a grand slam) and six RBI.
Drew Ward, 3B, Washington Nationals
2014 Stats: .311/.382/.508, 4 2B, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 6 BB, 14 K (14 games)
A third-round draft pick last June, Ward received an aggressive assignment to Low-A Hagerstown this season after he posted a .780 OPS last summer during his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League. The 19-year-old third baseman has been an RBI machine at the more advanced level, driving in 21 runs through Hagerstown’s first 14 games. In his last 10 games, Ward is batting .333/.388/.533 with five extra-base hits and 18 RBI; he owns a 1.149 OPS with runners in scoring position.
Wendell Rijo, 2B, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats: .333/.468/.508, 5 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 15 BB, 16 K (19 games)
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, up-the-middle prospects to keep an eye on this season.
Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees
2014 Stats: .354/.463/.481, 2 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 16 BB, 18 K (23 games)
The 6’7”, 230-pound Judge failed to collect an extra-base hit through his first 12 games for Low-A Charleston. However, the 22-year-old certainly has made up for the slow start; he’s batting .429 (15-for-35) with 12 runs scored, five extra-base hits (including both home runs) and six RBI in his last 10 contests.
Clint Coulter, C, Milwaukee Brewers
2014 Stats: .333/.452/.623, 6 2B, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 2 SB, 13 BB, 10 K (20 games)
Selected by the Brewers with the No. 27 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Coulter, 20, had an impressive professional debut after signing but then struggled mightily last year and battled injuries in what was supposed to be his full-season debut. In 70 games across three levels, Coulter batted .244/.314/.400 with 14 doubles, seven home runs and a 60-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's quickly making up for the lost time this year, however, with a 1.076 OPS, 11 extra-base hits and 10-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 games at Low-A Wisconsin.
Clint Frazier, OF, Cleveland Indians
2014 Stats: .200/.327/.267, 2B, 3B, 3 RBI, 8 BB, 13 K (12 games)
Frazier, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2013 draft, made his highly anticipated season debut last week for Low-A Lake County, collecting seven hits in his first seven games. However, the 19-year-old has been scuffling as of late, with a .105 batting average (2-for-19) in his last five contests. That being said, Frazier’s 13-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 plate appearances this season is a positive sign after posting a 61-to-17 ratio last summer in 196 Arizona League plate appearances.
Stryker Trahan, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Stats: .202/.255/.360, 6 2B, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 2 SB, 7 BB, 30 K (23 games)
Trahan was officially moved from catcher to the outfield this spring to accelerate his offensive development and overall timeline. The 20-year-old got off to a solid start but is batting just .189 with 14 strikeouts in his last six games.
Christian Arroyo, SS, San Francisco Giants
2014 Stats: .198/.231/.256, 3 2B, 3B, 7 RBI, 4 BB, 14 K (23 games)
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. The 18-year-old is yet to find his groove at the plate this season at Low-A Augusta, but that’s understandable as the second-youngest player at a full-season level.
Brandon Nimmo, OF, New York Mets
2014 Stats: .389/.517/.526, 28 R, 5 2B, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 5 SB, 25 BB, 20 K (25 games)
Nimmo, 21, has been red hot this season at High-A St. Lucie, batting .389 with eight extra-base hits and an impressive 20-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 games. The 21-year-old outfielder has hit safely in 19 of 25 games this season, including 12 multihit performances.
Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats: .362/.459/.596, 22 R, 10 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 16 SB, 16 BB, 32 K (26 games)
After a dismal showing at High-A Modesto last season, Story appears to be back on track this year in his second tour of the California League, with 15 extra-base hits and 16 steals through 26 games. The 21-year-old shortstop has also improved his strikeout and walk rates by 4.2 and 6.3 percent, respectively, but his current .533 BABIP suggests he’ll regress (at least to an extent) moving forward.
Raul Mondesi, SS, Kansas City Royals
2014 Stats: .304/.382/.430, 15 R, 2B, 3B, HR, 5 RBI, 5 SB, 9 BB, 23 K (20 games)
Mondesi played the 2013 season as a 17-year-old at Low-A Lexington and held his own with a .261/.311/361 batting line, 27 extra-base hits and 24 steals in 125 games. Now an 18-year-old at High-A Wilmington, Mondesi has established himself as one of the game’s top shortstop prospects, with an .812 OPS, five extra-base hits and five steals in 20 games.
Jorge Polanco, 2B, Minnesota Twins
2014 Stats: .344/.421/.495, 20 R, 6 2B, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 2 SB, 12 BB, 11 K (24 games)
The switch-hitting Polanco opened eyes with his bat last year in his full-season debut, batting .308/.362/.452 with 47 extra-base hits, 78 RBI and a 59-to-42 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 115 games for Low-A Cedar Rapids. The 20-year-old hasn’t skipped a beat this season despite moving up the challenging Florida State League, and he’s posted a .936 OPS with eight runs and RBI in the past 10 games.
Courtney Hawkins, OF, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats: .289/.358/.602, 5 2B, 7 HR, 27 RBI, 9 BB, 25 K (23 games)
Hawkins’ early-season performance at High-A Winston-Salem is quickly making people forget about his disastrous 2013 campaign, as the 20-year-old outfielder owns a .960 OPS through 23 games and currently leads the Carolina League with 27 RBI. Hawkins’ 25-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season obviously leaves something to be desired, but it’s worth noting his strikeout and walk rates have already improved by 11.3 and 2.7 percent, respectively.
Victor Roache, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
2014 Stats: .176/.257/.275, 3 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 7 BB, 25 K (24 games)
The No. 28 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Roache showcased his huge raw power last season at Low-A Wisconsin with 22 home runs in 119 games, but at the cost of 137 strikeouts (26.6 percent strikeout rate). So it isn’t surprising that the 22-year-old has struggled this season in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.
Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals
2014 Stats: .127/.263/.228, 5 2B, HR, 7 RBI, 11 BB, 28 K (22 games)
Starling posted a .727 OPS with 38 extra-base hits and 22 stolen bases at Low-A Lexington last year 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 six extra-base hits and 28 strikeouts in 95 plate appearances (29.5 percent strikeout rate).
Mookie Betts, 2B, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats: .422/.471/.689, 29 R, 10 2B, 3B, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 10 SB, 10 BB, 8 K (21 games)
Betts extended his on-base streak to 51 games Tuesday, going 3-for-4 with a three-run home run for Double-A Portland. No player has been hotter than Betts through the first month of the season, as 21-year-old now has 10 doubles, four home runs and 10 stolen bases in 21 games and has recorded a hit in all but one contest. Entering Wednesday, Betts led all Double-A hitters in batting average, OPS, hits, runs and total bases, and he also ranks second in slugging and fourth in OBP.
Micah Johnson, 2B, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats: .354/.446/.521, 5 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 7 SB (6 CS), 15 BB, 15 K (25 games)
Johnson was named the White Sox’s 2013 Minor League Player of the Year after batting .312/.373/.451 in his full-season debut, with 106 runs, 46 extra-base hits and 84 stolen bases in 131 games across three levels. So far this season, the 23-year-old second baseman has shown improved plate discipline, evidenced by improved strikeout and walk rates but has struggled on the basepaths with a 53.8 percent (7 for 13) success rate on attempted stolen bases.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
2014 Stats: .298/.427/.571, 8 2B, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 5 SB, 15 BB, 28 K (24 games)
Kris Bryant just doesn’t stop. The 22-year-old slugger has been an offensive force this season in his first taste of the Double-A level, as he currently ranks second in the Southern League with five home runs and third with a .999 OPS. Even when he’s not hitting for power, Bryant has proven to be an advanced enough hitter to still get his hits and coax plenty of walks. He’ll always feature some swing-and-miss, but Bryant’s on-base skills and insane pop should mostly offset that element of his game.
J.T. Realmuto, C, Miami Marlins
2014 Stats: .300/.360/.475, 5 2B, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 5 SB, 7 BB, 10 K (21 games)
Realmuto has been on fire as of late, batting .368/.455/.526 with 12 runs scored, 14 hits, four stolen bases and nine RBI in his past 10 games. The 23-year-old has also posted a 47 percent caught-stealing rate this season in 19 games behind the plate. Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention Realmuto’s 2010 high school stats; he batted .595 with 28 home runs and set national records with 88 hits and 119 RBI in 42 games.
Ryan Rua, 3B, Texas Rangers
2014 Stats: .351/.438/.662, 6 2B, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 11 BB, 12 K (23 games)
Rua 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. He’s thriving this year back at Double-A Frisco after playing there the final month of the regular season and currently leads all Southern League hitters in all three triple-slash categories.
Matt Skole, 3B, Washington Nationals
2014 Stats: .177/.244/.228, 4 2B, 6 RBI, 7 BB, 29 K (21 games)
Skole, 24, was limited to only two games at Double-A Harrisburg last year before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery, so it’s understandable that he’s struggled this season back in the Eastern League. In his 2012 full-season debut, Skole batted .291/.426/.559 with 28 doubles, 27 home runs, 104 RBI and a 133-to-99 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 524 plate appearances between both Class-A levels.
Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres
2014 Stats: .215/.253/.304, 4 2B, HR, 8 RBI, BB, 14 K (20 games)
Hedges has struggled to get things started at the plate this season—his first full campaign at the Double-A level—with a .557 OPS and 14-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 20 games. However, despite his struggles with the bat, the 21-year-old has continued his stellar play behind the plate, highlighted by a 39 percent caught-stealing rate and only one passed ball in 19 games.
Domingo Santana, OF, Houston Astros
2014 Stats: .291/.336/.476, 8 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 7 BB, 34 K (26 games)
Santana posted an .842 OPS with 25 home runs and 139 strikeouts at Double-A Corpus Christi last season in 112 games, and the 21-year-old is one of the youngest everyday players at the Triple-A level. Santana will probably strike out 130-plus times again given the veteran pitching and sequencing associated with the level, but there’s a realistic chance he’ll also set a new high-water mark for home runs in the Pacific Coast League.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Stats: .383/.491/.628, 20 R, 8 2B, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 8 SB, 20 BB, 29 K (25 games)
Pederson is firing on all cylinders in the early going this season, as he’s hitting for average (.383) and power (.628 slugging, 13 XBH), getting on base (.491 OBP) and scoring runs (20). 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.
Gregory Polanco, OF Pittsburgh Pirates
2014 Stats: .400/.457/.632, 21 R, 6 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 25 RBI, 4 SB, 9 BB, 16 K (24 games)
My money is on Polanco to be the next big-name call-up; though, the organization has always been deliberately cautious in promoting its top prospects. But with the Pirates scuffling through the first month of the season, it’s increasingly difficult to ignore the reality that Polanco can actually help the club. The 22-year-old is raking against both right- (1.106 OPS) and left-handed (1.052 OPS) pitching.
Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Stats: .326/.383/.558, 5 2B, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 7 BB, 10 K (23 games)
Oscar Taveras is back and hitting up a storm at Triple-A Memphis. The 21-year-old outfielder is currently riding an 13-game hitting streak, during which he’s batting .362 with six extra-base hits. The Cardinals called up Randal Grichuk from Triple-A on Monday, per Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com, but Taveras has seen increased playing time in center field lately, which suggests the organization is exploring ways to get his bat in the lineup sooner rather than later this season.
Jake Marisnick, OF, Miami Marlins
2014 Stats: .194/.245/.290, 4 2B, 3B, HR, 10 RBI, 4 SB, 4 BB, 18 K (24 games)
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 is batting below .200 through his first 24 games but has shown signs of life recently with a .310 batting average in his last seven contests.
Matt Davidson, 3B, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats: .167/.240/.300, 6 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 8 BB, 40 K (24 games)
Davidson had a solid showing in the major leagues last summer with the Diamondbacks, posting a .768 OPS with six doubles, three home runs and a 24-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 31 games. However, the 23-year-old third baseman has struggled mightily at Triple-A Charlotte through the season’s first month and is batting just .081 (3-for-37) with 16 strikeouts in his last 10 games.