What’s there to say about Mike Trout that hasn’t already been said? Clearly, the 21-year-old is from a different planet. While he’s obviously blessed with 80-grade speed, plus hit tool and unexpected power—at this point, that may even be a plus tool, as well—Trout’s ability to make adjustments in all facets of the game is absolutely astounding.
During my junior year of college, one of my teammates came out of the gate hitting nearly .600 over the first three weeks of the season. Every game was a multi-hit effort with a few stolen bases and dazzling defense. It became a habit of mine that after he did something remarkable, I’d ask, “How does it feel to be beating baseball?”
Mike Trout is beating baseball.
Poised to win the American League Rookie of the Year award, AL batting title and likely the MVP award, Trout is having a historical season. And let’s not forget that he missed the first month of the season.
I know, it’s scary.
As we look at the minor leagues—more specifically, the next wave of top prospects that should debut over the next year—it’s fun to speculate whether there may be another player capable of making a Trout-like impact. Although it’s admittedly pretty doubtful, here are my early thoughts on some future superstars.
Height/Weight: 5'11", 165
DOB: 2/20/1993 (Age: 19)
Drafted/Signed: 2009, Curacao
Double-A: .280/.362/.461, 46 XBH (14 HR), 61 RBI, 15 SB, 74 K/57 BB (114 G)
Profar has shown exactly why he’s the top prospect in all of baseball. The 19-year-old is thriving at Double-A, making easy adjustments without showing any flaws in his game. He possesses an above-average hit tool from both sides of the plate that’s highlighted by quick wrists and an advanced feel for the strike zone.
As we all saw in the XM Futures Game, Profar has surprising pop for his size that, when bundled with his quick wrists, could yield 15-20 home runs in his prime.
He’s also made strides as a base stealer—his first full season—although his speed only grades out as above-average. It’s more noticeable on defense, as Profar has excellent range at shortstop and has clean actions through the baseball. He is a plus defender with soft hands and also possesses a strong arm that will allow him to remain at the position.
The top position prospect in the minor leagues, Profar has the potential to be a superstar given his natural ability as a switch-hitter and defensive prowess at short. While he’s still young and would benefit from more experience, Nolan Ryan has suggested that they may recall him this season—possibly even in the near future.
Height/Weight: 6'2", 180
DOB: 6/19/1992 (Age: 20)
Drafted/Signed: 2008, Dominican Republic
Double-A: .320/.382/.571, 60 XBH (21 HR), 82 RBI, 53 K/40 BB (113 G)
The left-handed hitter takes forceful hacks but retains the ability to generate hard contact thanks to his ridiculous hand-eye coordination and knowledge of the strike zone. Albeit a violent one, his swing is balanced and smooth, as he generates exceptional torque and, in turn, the ability to unload on inner-half offerings.
There’s nothing more encouraging than a 20-year-old developing his power at Double-A while retaining a high batting average. It’s hard to predict which tool will ultimately be his best: hit or power. Although there’s a chance that neither ever grades out as a plus, both will at least be above average.
His above-average speed has allowed him to play all three outfield positions so far, but his highest ceiling comes as a corner outfielder. Given his strong arm, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t end up in right field. His speed is slightly below average, especially on the basepaths, but it plays up a grade in the outfield due to his instincts.
Taveras is arguably the best pure hitting prospect in baseball, and the fact that he still has so much time to mature could make him a superstar in his prime.
Height/Weight: 6'1", 200
DOB: 11/15/1992 (Age: 19)
Drafted/Signed: 2011, first round (HS: Owasso, Okla.)
Minors (A-, A+, AA): 8-3, 89.2 IP, 2.01 ERA, .186 BAA, 106 K/22 BB (20 GS)
The No. 4 overall pick in 2011, Bundy’s professional career got off to a legendary start at Low-A Delmarva, firing 30 scoreless innings with 40 strikeouts and two walks.
He features a 94-98 MPH four-seam fastball that has scraped triple digits, as well as a low-90s two-seamer and cutter. Unlike most 19-year-old pitchers, Bundy already has both a feel for and knowledge of how to manipulate his fastball, working both sides of the plate and changing the hitter’s eye level.
However, the Orioles have asked him to not throw the cutter—easily his best overall pitch. It’s a pitch that will still be there when he’s asked to revive it, but until then, he’ll work on refining his off-speed offerings.
The right-hander’s secondary arsenal consists of a deuce that consistently shows plus shape and break, though his command of the pitch was challenged at High-A. Lastly, he mixes in an advanced changeup that should be yet another plus offering in time.
A physical and athletic pitcher, Bundy has repeatable mechanics and can handle a greater workload than expected from a prep arm.
As the top pitching prospect in the minor leagues, the Orioles know that they have a special player on their hands in Bundy. After a promotion to Double-A at the same time Manny Machado was promoted to the major leagues, it’s no secret that the Orioles may use him in September. And honestly, I’m sure he’ll handle it fine.
Height/Weight: 6'4", 185
DOB: 5/30/1990 (Age: 22)
Drafted/Signed: 2009, first round (HS: East Paulding, Ga.)
Minors (AA, AAA): 10-7, 131.2 IP, 3.42 ERA, .226 BAA, 133 K/50 BB (22 GS)
Prior to the season, I believed that Wheeler had the potential to take a huge step forward to become one of the top pitching prospects in the game—and he’s done exactly that. In my opinion, he has all the makings of a No. 1 starter.
Wheeler has a lean 6'4" frame, a quick arm and clean mechanics. His fastball runs as high as 97-98 MPH; however, he usually works in the low to mid 90s with explosive sidearm action on his two-seamer. His curveball has sharp downward break that buckles right-handed hitters, and he also throws a solid-average changeup that should be at least his third above-average offering by the time he reaches the major leagues.
While his command still needs some refinement, he’s excelled this season at Double-A and worked deep into games. Consistently working down in the zone while proving to be difficult to barrel up, Wheeler’s allowed only one home run while registering a favorable ground-ball rate.
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 215
DOB: 7/31/1992 (Age: 19)
Drafted/Signed: 2011, first round (HS: Tampa, Fla.)
Minors (A-, A+): 12-1, 119 IP, 1.89 ERA, .192 BAA, 142 K/31 BB (22 GS)
Fernandez, who grew up in Cuba and ultimately fled to the United States in 2008, is yet another 2011 first-rounder with No. 1 starter upside. The right-hander has a crisp fastball that sits at 92-96 mph and scrapes 97-98. Working from a high arm angle, he consistently throws the pitch on a downward plane and generates late, heavy sink.
What’s impressive about Fernandez is that he already has three off-speed pitches in his arsenal, the best being a hard, late-breaking slider that generates swing-and-misses.
His curveball is an solid-average pitch that can get too loopy and lose its pace at times, so don’t be surprised if the pitch is scrapped as he develops. The right-hander also has a unique feel for his changeup, which only furthers the thought that he could be a frontline starter.
Fernandez has been one of the best pitchers in all of the minor leagues this season, as he absolutely dominated Low-A hitters, piling up strikeouts while exhibiting advanced command of all pitches and working deep into games. He received a promotion to High-A in late June, where he’s continued to thrive and improve.
Of all the great pitching prospects enjoying dominant seasons, nobody has impressed me more than Fernandez.
Height/Weight: 6'4", 189
DOB: 12/5/1991 (Age: 20)
Drafted/Signed: 2010, first round (HS: Westlake, Calif.)
High-A: .323/.400/.523, 42 XBH (12 HR), 46 RBI, 19 SB, 74 K/45 BB (94 G)
Still just 20 years old, Yelich’s hit tool already grades out as a plus and still has room to grow with improvement in his plate discipline. A left-handed hitter, his swing is incredibly smooth and fluid, as he keeps his bat in the zone for an extended period of time and attacks pitches throughout the entire strike zone.
Due to the level plane of his swing, Yelich will only hit for slightly above-average power, but if he's able to add some lift, he has the upside to produce 20 to 25 home runs annually. As of now, most of his power is to the pull side, but he’s started to drive the ball out the other way—something that will only improve with experience.
His easy speed and good instincts on the bases suggest that Yelich will have 20-20, perhaps even 30-30, potential in his prime. Regardless, he’ll always hit for a high average.
Height/Weight: 6'4", 210
DOB: 3/4/1992 (Age: 20)
Drafted/Signed: 2010, first round (HS: Archbishop McCarthy, Fla.)
Minors (A+, AA): .345/.385/.487, 163 H, 42 XBH (10 HR), 7 SB, 97 K/29 BB (118 G)
A first-round selection in 2010, Castellanos is hands down the Tigers’ top hitting prospect. After an anemic start to the 2011 season at Low-A, he went on to slash .312/.367/.436 while playing in 135 games.
Even though he swatted only seven home runs, the right-handed hitter did tally 36 doubles. Given his ability to barrel up the baseball, adding a little loft to his swing should yield more home runs. He struck out 130 times compared to 45 walks, so he’ll need to improve that differential this season.
Castellanos is still learning how to play at third, but his range, instincts and above-average arm work well there. He’s tall (6'4") with wiry strength and lots of room to fill out, and having such a phenomenal season only raises his ceiling.
Blocked at third base in Detroit by Miguel Cabrera, Castellanos has been play right field exclusively since his promotion to Double-A. There’s even been speculation that he may aggressively promoted to the major leagues to at least platoon with Brennan Boesch is September.
The 20-year-old starred at the XM Futures Game in July, going 3-for-4 with a home run, three runs scored and three RBI. He was named the contest’s Most Valuable Player.
Height/Weight: 6'0", 195
DOB: 6/6/1990 (Age: 23)
Drafted/Signed: 2011, first round (Rice)
Minors: .268/.368/.512, 11 XBH (3 HR), 16 K/12 BB (26 G)
Even though he’s not a physically imposing hitter, the Rice alumnus has a plus bat with power. But what I find most impressive about Rendon is his pitch recognition and ability to manipulate counts in his favor.
Despite his lack of professional experience, the right-handed hitter still profiles as one of the more advanced hitters in the minor leagues—much like how he was considered the most advanced bat in the 2011 draft class. Rendon manages to make consistent, hard contact and drives the ball to all fields with authority.
As a third baseman, he's an above-average defender with solid instincts and a plus arm. Prior to the season, there was even speculation that the Nationals may move him to second base to expedite his big league arrival.
Unfortunately, in his second game of the season with High-A Potomac, Rendon suffered a fractured ankle while rounding third base. The ankle injury is his third in as many years.
He recently returned ahead of schedule from the injury, and after stops in the New York-Penn (SS) and Carolina (High-A), he’s already reached Double-A. Despite the injury, the Nationals are firm believers in his potential with the bat, and it won’t take him long to reach the major leagues.
Height/Weight: 6'4", 220
DOB: 9/8/1990 (Age: 21)
Drafted/Signed: 2011, first round (UCLA)
Minors (A+, AA): 8-6, 115 IP, 2.82 ERA, .224 BAA, 121 K/34 BB (23 G)
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Gerrit Cole is your classic power pitcher with an electric arsenal.
His fastball can flash triple digits on the radar gun, though he typically sits in the upper 90s. When he’s efficient enough to work his slider off his fastball, it’s a legitimate strikeout pitch. Given his double-plus velocity, Cole also has a decent changeup when he’s able to mix it in.
There’s no denying that Cole has ace potential, but I just don’t think he will breeze through the minors as others do.
Although he doesn’t walk a lot of hitters, the right-hander still falls behind too many hitters and leaves hittable pitches up in the zone. Furthermore, when pitching from the stack, he struggles to repeat his mechanics, ripping open with his glove side and throwing from a slightly lower arm slot.
Still, his arsenal is exceptional, as we all witnessed firsthand in the XM Futures Game, and he has the potential to be a frontline starter for years to come.
Having only made four starts for Double-A this season, he’ll likely spend more time at the level before a possible late-season exposure at Triple-A. At the same time, if the Pirates are still in the hunt come September and in need of pitching (starters or relievers), his estimated time of arrival may get bumped up.
The right-hander has some of the most explosive and electric pitches in the minor leagues and may be hard to hold back.
Height/Weight: 6'1", 160
DOB: 9/9/1990 (Age: 21)
Drafted/Signed: 2009, second round (HS: Taylorsville, Miss.)
Minors (A+, AA): .312/.409/.426, 105 R, 36 XBH (13 3B), 142 SB, 32 CS, 99 K/75 BB (117 G)
The first minor leaguer to steal 100 bases in over a decade in 2011 (103 for Low-A Dayton), Hamilton is hands down the fastest player in baseball. Even more impressive is the fact that he’s made enormous strides this season learning the intricacies of the game.
He’ll never hit for power, but as a switch-hitting shortstop, the improvement in his plate discipline this season has already boosted his stock.
Prior to his promotion to Double-A, Hamilton was batting over .320 from both sides of the plate at High-A. He’s shown more power from the right side due to more lift in his swing and better extension after contact. He’s also done a better job utilizing his speed this season, hitting ground balls at a favorable rate and putting pressure on the opposing defense.
Outside of his range—his best defensive tool—Hamilton's arm and hands can be fringy, which has some scouts thinking that he’ll wind up in center field or perhaps at second base. His arm stroke is unnatural and awkward at shortstop, which has led to increased throwing errors, as his lower half often moves too quickly to execute fluid arm action.
Having already eclipsed last year’s high-water mark for stolen bases (103), Hamilton had 80 stolen bases by the High-A All-Star break. What he is doing on the basepaths is absolutely amazing and needs to be followed closely for the rest of the season.
For those of you who may be wondering, Vince Coleman holds the minor league single-season stolen base record of 145, set in 1983. Hamilton currently has 142 and could break the record this weekend.
Given his speed, there’s a chance that the Reds may be forced to consider using him as a base-stealing threat off the bench—especially if they find themselves in the playoff hunt during the final month of the season.