Baseball player evaluation is an inexact science.
In 2012, just as in past years, prospects who were underrated in the preseason are exceeding expectations.
Every MLB team has at least one pleasant surprise. These current and former minor league players are either developing faster than projected or utilizing new skills. Some have already arrived in the majors, while others are working diligently toward their debuts.
Relative to teammates and peers, their achievements stand out.
Currently playing for Triple-A Reno Aces.
Jake Elmore just wanted to play everyday in his first season at the Triple-A level. Never did he imagine that he'd be hitting everyday.
His streak of consecutive games with a base knock is the longest in the minor leagues this year.
At 25 years old, he's a versatile infielder who's flirting with a .400 batting average. Major League Baseball is merely one level away.
Not bad for a former 34th-round draft pick.
Currently playing for Atlanta Braves.
10 months ago, Andrelton Simmons was at High-A Lynchburg. Today, he's the starting shortstop on the Atlanta Braves.
Simmons nearly made the transition in spring training, but there were concerns about his batting skills. Tyler Pastornicky seized the job instead, and it was thought that he would be safe through most of the summer.
However, Simmons immediately excelled—offensively and defensively—in the Southern League, and since his late May call-up, he has seamlessly adjusted to the big leagues.
Currently playing for Double-A Bowie Baysox.
Mike Wright's power fastball would serve him well in any role. Because of doubt about his secondary pitches, though, it appeared that the Baltimore Orioles would develop him into a setup man.
Surprisingly, he has been used exclusively as a starter in 2012 and shown enough promise to earn a promotion to Double-A after eight appearances.
Currently playing for Boston Red Sox.
Will Middlebrooks joined the Pawtucket Red Sox for a stint in August 2011. His .161/.200/.268 triple-slash line was evidence that he needed more time.
After a torrid performance this April (.333/.380/.677), he was recalled to temporarily replace an injured Kevin Youkilis.
Turns out that Youk was the one whose days were numbered. The veteran was traded to the Chicago White Sox to clear space for Middlebrooks.
Currently playing for High-A Daytona Cubs.
Cuban-born prospect Frank Del Valle was unhittable in a six-inning start against Chase Utley and the Clearwater Threshers. He would have lasted longer, too, had a blister on his pitching hand not opened up.
Del Valle's impressive changeup was responsible for many of his 11 strikeouts.
He signed with the Chicago Cubs in June 2011, so this is his first full season in professional baseball.
Currently playing for Chicago White Sox.
Of all the MLB pitchers to log at least 43 innings in 2012, none have maintained an earned run average as low as Jose Quintana's.
His 1.25 mark is attributable to a repeatable delivery, which gives him outstanding control. Quintana has faced 97 straight batters without issuing a walk. In the past month, he has allowed only one to reach base with a free pass.
He signed with the Chicago White Sox as a minor league free agent and was not considered a top prospect entering the season.
Currently playing for Triple-A Louisville Bats.
While speedster Billy Hamilton is setting records and hogging headlines down on the farm, J.J. Hoover is helping the Cincinnati Reds to an NL Central title.
He punched out 19 batters in 18 innings pitched before being swapped out for longtime Reds reliever Bill Bray. His 1.06 WHIP was third best on the pitching staff.
Hoover was converted into a bullpen arm in 2011. He's clearly comfortable as one.
Currently playing for Triple-A Columbus Clippers.
Cody Allen has already pitched at five organizational levels since being drafted by the Cleveland Indians in June 2011.
The right-hander wasn't highly touted initially, but he's been posting gaudy numbers every step of the way.
The Tribe's "Bullpen Mafia" hasn't been as effective as expected. Allen would be a welcome addition.
Currently playing for Double-A Tulsa Drillers.
The Colorado Rockies sorely need quality starters. I doubt it will be long before strikeout artist Edwar Cabrera gets to audition.
He has twice received Texas League Pitcher of the Week honors. He'll even take the mound in the annual All-Star Game.
The southpaw is showing command of three quality pitches.
Currently playing for Detroit Tigers.
Quintin Berry was a dynamic base-stealer for three previous franchises before falling into the hands of the Detroit Tigers. None of them trusted his all-around ability enough to promote him to the big leagues.
Detroit didn't have much of a choice when Austin Jackson was relegated to the disabled list.
27-year-old Berry was an adequate fill-in, and now he plays alongside Jackson as a corner outfielder. He has emerged as a respectable No. 2 hitter.
Currently playing for Triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks.
Brandon Barnes is amid his eighth minor league season and is finally producing like someone worth recalling. After thriving during his two months at Corpus Christi, he is currently terrorizing Triple-A pitching.
Astros director of player development Fred Nelson told MLB.com that offense has always held him back.
Something must have clicked for Barnes in the Australian League this winter, because that has been a strength for him in 2012.
Currently playing for High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks.
The Kansas City Royals will send three representatives to the All-Star Futures Game, more than any other organization.
Yordano Ventura is the biggest surprise of the delegation.
Last summer, he amassed 13 wild pitches and worked inefficiently. When he was brought up to Wilmington, however, those problems didn't follow.
Ventura has gotten back to performing like a polished prospect.
Currently playing for Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Angels' starting rotation is tough to crack, even for a former first-round pick like Garrett Richards.
He's not just on the active roster, but he's pitching to a 1.63 ERA. Also, L.A. has won all four of his starts.
Richards limits damage by keeping balls in play (one home run allowed in 2012).
Currently playing for Los Angeles Dodgers.
Elian Herrera can play just about any defensive position. That versatility is especially invaluable to the 2012 Dodgers, who have a populated disabled list.
Though Herrera was somewhat of a free-swinger at Triple-A Albuquerque, he has adopted a more patient approach since his MLB debut.
Herrera wasn't on anybody's radar this spring, and the Dodgers sure didn't foresee him being a regular in their midseason lineup.
Currently playing for Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs (PCL).
Two years removed from a PED suspension, Dan Jennings has restored his reputation.
He is facing stronger competition and plowing through it more easily without anything funky in his bloodstream. The Miami Marlins summoned him to the big leagues when they had an opening in May.
Jennings must be a rare talent to overmatch the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Currently playing for Milwaukee Brewers.
Martin Maldonado has remarkably filled the void left by Jonathan Lucroy's injury. Though he wasn't producing in the minors, Maldonado is driving in nearly a run per start for the Brew Crew.
The Puerto Rican backstop has always been a reputable defensive player. It's just hard to believe how suddenly his offensive skills have surfaced.
Currently playing for Minnesota Twins.
As if the Twins didn't already have enough Canadian star power, now their MLB rotation is being co-led by left-hander Scott Diamond (who's from Ontario).
He was shelled at Triple-A in 2011—4-14, 5.56 ERA, 1.58 WHIP—but genuinely effective at the start of his fifth professional campaign.
A pitch-to-contact guy, Diamond is tremendously consistent. He always lasts at least five innings and keeps each game close by limiting the opposition to four earned runs or fewer.
Currently playing for New York Mets.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis is yet another example of a prospect who was overlooked for being on the wrong side of his 21st birthday.
However, he's practically a staple in the Mets outfield this season.
New York was widely predicted to finish last in the NL East, but halfway through the year the team still has playoff aspirations. Captain Kirk has been a significant contributor.
Currently playing for New York Yankees.
When attempting to name Yankees relievers, Cody Eppley is never the first to come to mind. Injured pitchers Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera are far more notable.
He's dependent on a high-80s fastball and quirky delivery, nonetheless finding success.
The 6'5" Eppley was untouchable at Triple-A before arriving in the Bronx. He hasn't allowed a run at the big league level since June 1.
Currently playing for Oakland Athletics.
The A's have gotten far better results from Ryan Cook than the Arizona Diamondbacks did. Of course, much of that credit is owed to him.
His stats are stellar, granted he doesn't know where the ball is going 100 percent of the time.
What an unbelievable ride for him, from 27th-round draft selection to American League All-Star candidate.
Currently playing for Double-A Reading Phillies.
First baseman Darin Ruf approaches every season with "a sense of urgency" to put up big numbers.
Mission accomplished, man.
He leads all Philadelphia Phillies prospects in home runs, on-base percentage and slugging. Ruf's 12 bombs are as many as he launched in 2009 and 2010 combined.
Currently playing for Pittsburgh Pirates.
After struggling for years as a starting pitching prospect, Jared Hughes gave relieving a try.
Coming out of the bullpen, he attacks the strike zone with added confidence. In every 2012 appearance, he has thrown as many—and usually more—strikes than balls.
Hughes' earned run average has stuck around 2.00 all year.
Currently playing for Single-A Fort Wayne TinCaps.
Adys Portillo is competing at the Single-A level for the second straight summer.
His first run-through was ugly. He couldn't locate anything, and he put on a surplus of baserunners because of it.
Portillo isn't necessarily hitting his spots more as a 20-year-old, but he has gotten stronger. That has improved his repertoire, namely his fastball and the bite on his breaking pitches.
Currently playing for Single-A Augusta Greenjackets.
The San Francisco Giants will probably bring along Clayton Blackburn very carefully. After all, he has barely begun his pro career (drafted out of high school in 2011).
What the organization has been shocked to discover, however, is how advanced he is with four different pitches.
Blackburn has surrendered just 10 runs in his past eight starts.
Currently playing for Seattle Mariners.
Before spring training, Lucas Luetge had not yet pitched above Double-A.
His dominance of MLB left-handed batters makes it clear that he didn't need to take an intermediate step. Luetge hasn't even yielded an extra-base hit to batters against whom he has the platoon advantage.
His earned run average was spotless through his first 25 games.
Currently playing for High-A Palm Beach Cardinals.
Character concerns about Tyler Rahmatulla caused him to drop in the 2011 amateur draft (e.g. academic issues).
The St. Louis Cardinals certainly aren't regretting their decision.
Rahmatulla was excellent in rookie ball and productive enough at Single-A to earn a recent promotion. So far, no stupidity to speak of.
Currently playing for Triple-A Durham Bulls.
The Tampa Bay Rays committed to Leslie Anderson a few years ago with the expectation that he would reach the majors quickly. He was an experienced player from Cuba who was thought to be already developed.
Alas, Anderson's tendency to chase bad pitches sent up a red flag.
The front office feared he would never progress beyond Triple-A, but his plate discipline has noticeably advanced this season.
Currently playing for Texas Rangers.
Robbie Ross was groomed to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but to join the Rangers staff this April, he accepted a bullpen job.
Ross has been nothing short of a sensation.
He leads all MLB relievers in victories and innings pitched, while sporting an awesome earned run average and sub-1.00 WHIP.
Though the southpaw was known to possess great ability, he was not counted on to overwhelm big league batters from the get-go.
Currently playing for Triple-A Las Vegas 51s (PCL).
Chad Beck is having a summer identical to that of aforementioned Miami Marlins prospect Dan Jennings.
The Triple-A closer was making mincemeat of the Pacific Coast League and soon found himself debuting with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Beck is unfortunately 27 years old, but his recent rise suggests that he has some staying power. Since toiling at or below High-A for five years, it has taken him less than 12 months to soar through the remaining organizational ranks.
Currently playing for Washington Nationals.
While phenom Bryce Harper was hurried through the system, Mississippian Tyler Moore had to log close to 500 minor league contests to prove his readiness.
Despite playing irregularly, he owns an unfathomable .450/.560/.850 triple-slash line in June.
Additionally, he brings versatility to the division-leading Nationals. The longtime first baseman is finding at-bats as Washington's left fielder.
Moore's roster spot appears safe...at least until Jayson Werth returns.