MLB Prospects: All 30 MLB Teams' Breakout Prospect of the Year
After reviewing each organization’s pitcher and player of the year on Friday afternoon, I figured that I’d follow up with another season-in-review-type article.
One of my favorite parts of this job is keeping track of all the breakout prospects, monitoring them closely with the hope of determining which players profile at the big league level. Most of the time prospects enjoy a red-hot start to the year only to fizzle out over the remainder of the season, often following a promotion to a more advanced level. However, there's always the rare few who seemingly come out of nowhere and put themselves on everyone's radar.
So, here is a look at each team’s top breakout prospect from the 2012 minor league season.
Boston Red Sox: RHP Matt Barnes
2012 Stats (A-, A+): 7-5, 119.2 IP, 2.86 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 1.13 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 (25 GS)
Barnes' immediate impact this season at Low-A was surprising, as there were mixed reviews about his command and mechanics coming out of the University of Connecticut. However, his breaking ball—which is his best pitch—has been consistent all season, which led to his success out of the gate (26.2 IP, 0.34 ERA, 14.2 K/9).
New York Yankees: OF Tyler Austin
2012 Stats (RK, A-, A+, AA): .322/.400/.559, 58 XBH (17 HR), 80 RBI, 23 SB, 98 K/51 BB (110 G)
A lesser-known prospect heading into the 2012 season, Austin has emerged as a legitimate top-50 overall player thanks to his consistent, impressive production and surprising speed at multiple levels.
Baltimore Orioles: RHP Dylan Bundy
2012 Stats (A-, A+, AA): 9-3, 103.2 IP, 2.08 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 (23 GS)
After tossing 30 scoreless innings at Low-A, allowing only five hits and two walks and fanning 40 batters, Dylan Bundy became an overnight sensation—you know, the kind that nearly reaches the major leagues in his first full season.
Currently pitching in the Double-A playoffs with no signs of slowing down, expect him to be part of the Orioles' rotation at some point in 2013.
Toronto Blue Jays: LHP Sean Nolin
2012 Stats (A+): 9-0, 101.1 IP, 2.04 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 9.6 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 (20 G)
Because the "Big Three” of Aaron Sanchez, Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard have garnered all the attention in the prospect realm this season, Nolin hasn’t received the credit that he deserves. He’s been excellent at High-A, demonstrating advanced command of multiple pitches as well as an understanding of letting hitters get themselves out.
The left-hander finished the season with an impressive showing at Double-A New Hampshire.
Tampa Bay Rays: LHP Blake Snell
2012 Stats (Rk): 5-1, 47.1 IP, 2.09 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 (11 GS)
One of the Rays’ many first-round picks in 2011, Snell is a tall lefty who throws a heavy sinker on a good downward plane. Logging his first professional experience this season at the organization's discretion, the 19-year-old’s command has been unexpectedly sharp, as well as his ability to pound the lower portion of the strike zone.
Chicago White Sox: OF Trayce Thompson
2012 Stats (A+, AA, AAA): .253/.328/.482, 62 XBH (25 HR), 96 RBI, 21 SB, 166 K/55 BB (136 G)
A highly impressive raw talent with serious strikeout problems, Thompson improved in all facets of the game this season, especially following the All-Star break. After beginning the season at High-A, the toolsy outfielder was promoted (from Double-A) to Triple-A in time for the playoffs, completing an impressive breakout campaign and propelling him up the prospect ranks.
Detroit Tigers: 3B/RF Nick Castellanos
2012 Stats (A+, AA): .320/.365/.451, 46 XBH (10 HR), 57 RBI, 118 K/36 BB (134 G)
After batting .405/.461/.553 in 55 games at High-A to begin the season, the 20-year-old was promoted to Double-A, where success didn’t come as easily (.264/.296/.382 with 76 strikeouts in 79 games). Still, Castellanos turned in a remarkable, breakout season and emerged as one of baseball’s top up-and-coming pure hitters.
He could arrive in the major leagues earlier than anticipated, too, after making a quick, impressive transition to right field during the second half of the season.
Cleveland Indians: SS Ronny Rodriguez
2012 Stats (A+): .264/.300/.452, 43 XBH (19 HR), 66 RBI, 7 SB, 88 K/19 BB (126 G)
While Rodriguez has the tools to be a big league shortstop, he’s still an incredibly raw product on the field. He has impressive power for an up-the-middle prospect but is too much of a free swinger and struggles to lay off mediocre breaking balls.
He has the arm strength and range to stick at shortstop, though he tends to rush his footwork and throws. Still, he’s one of many promising shortstop prospects in the Indians’ system to enjoy a strong 2012 campaign.
Kansas City Royals: RHP Yordano Ventura
2012 Stats (A+, AA): 3-7, 103.2 IP, 3.47 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 11.03 K/9, 3.47 BB/9 (22 GS)
Despite an undersized, 5’11”, 140-pound frame, Ventura boasts a fastball that can reach triple digits with ease, as well as the makings of a plus breaking ball and changeup.
The right-hander started the game for the World Team in the XM Futures Game, and has arguably emerged as the team’s top pitching prospect outside of Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Zimmer.
Minnesota Twins: RHP Jose Berrios
2012 Stats (Rk): 3-0, 4 SV, 30.2 IP, 1.17 ERA, 0.65 WHIP, 14.09 K/9, 1.17 BB/9 (11 G)
The Twins' 32nd overall draft pick in 2012 out of Puerto Rico, Berrios was overshadowed by high school teammate and No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa.
Berrios has a plus fastball with the potential for a plus breaking ball. He also mixes in a changeup that's more advanced than expected at the time of the draft. His command and polish have been a big surprise, as the lanky right-hander has carved up rookie-level hitters with ease this season.
Los Angeles Angels: 3B Kaleb Cowart
2012 Stats (A-, A+): .276/.358/.452, 54 XBH (16 HR), 103 RBI, 14 SB, 111 K/67 BB (135 G)
Over the course of the 2012 season, Cowart has gone from a raw player with concerns about his overall (he's a switch-hitter) hit tool to the top prospect in the Angels’ system—possibly even a top-50 prospect.
Everything about his game has vastly improved and he could move quickly given the Angels' lack of a productive third baseman.
Oakland Athletics: RHP Dan Straily
2012 Stats (AA, AAA): 9-7, 152 IP, 2.78 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 (25 GS)
MLB: 1-0, 17 IP, 3.18 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 6.35 K/9, 2.12 BB/9 (3 GS)
The minor league strikeout leader this season (190 in 152 IP), Straily was promoted to the major leagues by the A's at the beginning of August after he began the season at Double-A. The right-hander has gone from a seemingly organizational arm to arguably Oakland's top pitching prospect.
The right-hander possesses a four-pitch mix of above-average offerings that play up due to his excellent command—especially his fastball. His best off-speed offering is his changeup, which receives above-average to plus grades.
Texas Rangers: RHP Cody Buckel
2012 Stats (A+, AA): 10-8, 144.2 IP, 2.49 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 1.10 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 (26 G; 23 GS)
The undersized right-hander’s four-pitch mix and excellent command have made him a top-50 prospect—he was rumored to be part of a Rangers’ offer to the Brewers in pursuit of Zack Greinke at the trade deadline—especially after posting a 1.31 ERA and 10.8 K/9 in 13 starts at High-A to begin the year.
Seattle Mariners: SS Brad Miller
2012 Stats (A+, AA): .334/.410/.512, 62 XBH (15 HR), 68 RBI, 23 SB, 105 K/74 BB (137 G)
When the Mariners drafted Miller in 2011, it was no secret that they drafted his bat and not his glove. Although he's still inconsistent in the field, his advanced hit tool, plate discipline and speed have overshadowed those defensive issues..
After raking at High-A for most of the season, the left-handed hitter thrived following a promotion in July. His impressive bat could have him in Seattle in the near future, but where he fits defensively is still undetermined.
Atlanta Braves: RHP Zeke Spruill
2012 Stats (AA): 9-11, 158.2 IP, 3.57 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 1.29 WHIP, 1.44 GB/FB, 5.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
A 6’5” right-hander, Spruill isn’t a strikeout artist by any means. Rather, he’s a sinkerballer with two average secondary pitches who consistently throws on a downward plane.
The 2008 second-round pick has been consistent all season while shooting up the Braves’ rotational depth chart. In a weak system, his strong, under-the-radar campaign is especially noticeable.
New York Mets: 3B Wilmer Flores
2012 Stats (A+, AA): .300/.349/.479, 50 XBH (18 HR), 75 RBI, 60 K/38 BB (130 G)
It has taken Flores three-and-a-half seasons to receive a promotion from A-ball, but it seems as though it's paid off. The 20-year-old third baseman has made impressive strides at the plate this season, in 79 games at Double-A nonetheless, and his power has finally emerged.
Philadelphia Phillies: LHP Adam Morgan
2012 Stats (A+, AA): 8-11, 153.1 IP, 3.35 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 0.5 HR/9, 9.5 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 (26 G)
Morgan, a 22-year-old left-hander, has pitched well at two stops this season, demonstrating advanced command and the ability to keep runners off base. His control continues to be impressive, as the left-hander could reach the major leagues by late 2013.
Washington Nationals: 3B Matt Skole
2012 Stats (A-, A+): .291/.426/.559, 56 XBH (27 HR), 104 RBI, 133 K/99 BB (119 G)
Skole is a three-true-outcome hitter, posting 27 home runs, 133 strikeouts and 99 walks this season. A fifth-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech in 2011, the 6’4” left-handed hitter turned in a monster year (27 HR, 94 RBI, 94 BB) at Low-A Hagerstown, so it’s no surprise that he was promoted to High-A at the end of the season.
Even though his numbers in the low minors have been impressive, his real challenge will come against more advanced pitching relative to his age (23) in 2013.
Miami Marlins: RHP Jose Fernandez
2012 Stats (A-, A+): 14-1, 130 IP, 1.80 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 0.1 HR/9, 10.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 (24 GS)
Of all of the great seasons had by minor league pitchers this season, Fernandez has been the most impressive. In fact, I consider him to be the 2012 minor league pitcher of the year. He has all the makings of a future ace with an arsenal of plus pitches and mature mound presence.
Chicago Cubs: IF Gioskar Amaya
2012 Stats (SS): .300/.483/.529, 26 XBH (12 3B), 15 SB, 65 K/33 BB (70 G)
Amaya turned in an impressive 2011 pro debut as an 18-year-old, and he has only built upon the success this season at Short Season Boise. He makes lots of hard contact and flashes surprising power relative to his size and frame.
A plus athlete and runner, Amaya has logged time at shortstop, second and third base this season, though it’s undecided where he's a clean fit in the majors.
Houston Astros: 2B Delino DeShields
2012 Stats (A-, A+): .287/.389/.428, 44 XBH (12 HR), 101 SB, 131 K/83 BB (135 G)
Repeating Low-A Lexington to begin the year, DeShields had one of the best under-the-radar seasons of all minor leaguers. He eclipsed 100 stolen bases but was overshadowed by Billy Hamilton’s record-breaking total, and, in general, has vastly improved his contact and on-base skills.
Pittsburgh Pirates: SS Alen Hanson
2012 Stats (A-): .309/.381/.528, 62 XBH (16 HR), 35 SB, 105 K/55 BB (124 G)
A switch-hitter, Hanson is the top breakout prospect in all the minors this season, at least in my opinion. Over the course of the entire season, he routinely demonstrated an impressive blend of power and speed, especially for an up-the-middle player.
St. Louis Cardinals: RHP Trevor Rosenthal
2012 Stats (AA, AAA): 8-6, 109 IP, 2.97 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 (20 GS)
MLB: 12.2 IP, 3.55 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 (9 G)
Shelby Miller's down year—until the All-Star break, that is—seemingly opened the door for Rosenthal, who was promoted from Double-A to the majors as a relief pitcher in mid-July. With a sinker that works in the high 90s, the right-hander is arguably the top pitcher in the Cardinals’ system.
He may be used as a reliever this season, but his future is as a starter.
Milwaukee Brewers: OF Khris Davis
2012 Stats (Rk, AA, AAA): .350/.451/.604, 46 XBH (15 HR), 52 RBI, 67 K/42 BB (82 G)
The 24-year-old outfielder certainly can hit. However, his defensive ability limits him to left field, and he possesses below-average speed. Regardless, Davis has raked his way to Triple-A this season, and given his hot bat, I wouldn’t rule out a September call-up.
Cincinnati Reds: LHP Tony Cingrani
2012 Stats (A+, AA): 10-4, 131.1 IP, 1.51 ERA, 0.997 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 (23 GS)
MLB: 3 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 5 K (1 G)
Featuring a plus fastball-changeup pairing, many believed Cingrani’s success would fade as he reached higher levels due to a lack of a third, legitimate offering. Cingrani has defied those odds, as the 23-year-old southpaw has now reached the major leagues (and turned in an impressive debut).
Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Matt Magill
2012 Stats (AA): 11-8, 146.1 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 (26 GS)
With all the highly touted pitching prospects in the Dodgers’ system (despite their slew of midseason trades), Magill’s season at Double-A has been overlooked. A 31st-round draft pick in 2008, the right-hander posted a high strikeout rate while improving his command relative to his 2011 campaign.
He’s arguably put himself in the same conversation as Zach Lee, Chris Reed and Garrett Gould on the organizational depth chart. It'll be interesting to see which player will be the first to arrive in the big leagues.
San Diego Padres: RHP Adys Portillo
2012 Stats (A-, AA): 8-11, 126.2 IP, 3.34 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 5.0 BB/9 (26 GS)
Hampered by control problems over the course of his young minor league career, Portillo finally turned the corner this season. The right-hander stopped concerning himself with velocity and the need to blow it past hitters, focusing on the command of his fastball and development of his off-speed pitches instead.
San Francisco Giants: RHP Clayton Blackburn
2012 Stats (A-): 8-4, 131.1 IP, 2.54 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 1.2 BB/9 (22 GS)
After posting an impressive strikeout-to-walk rate in his rookie-level professional debut in 2011, the 19-year-old right-hander churned out even gaudier numbers this season with 127 strikeouts and only 17 walks at Low-A.
He’s polished for his age with a legitimate four-pitch mix. Look for Blackburn to be toward the top of the Giants’ prospect rankings along with Kyle Crick headed into the 2013 season, especially after his performance at High-A during their postseason run.
Colorado Rockies: 3B Sam Mende
2012 Stats (A-): .281/.340/.467, 53 XBH (38 2B), 68 RBI, 23 SB, 92 K/29 BB (112 G)
A 31st-round draft pick in 2011 following a poor senior season, Mende was considered a glove-first third baseman. This season, however, the right-handed hitting third baseman was a doubles machine, showing surprising speed as well as a knack for stealing bases.
Playing alongside shortstop Trevor Story this season, they both should begin the 2013 season at High-A.
Arizona Diamondbacks: OF Alfredo Marte
2012 Stats (AA): .294/.363/.523, 48 XBH (20 HR), 75 RBI, 72 K/34 BB (113 G)
Due to the fact that he is a 23-year-old at Double-A, Marte garnered little attention headed into the 2012 season. However, after hitting for both average and power over the first half of the season, Marte was named a starting outfielder on the World Team in the 2012 XM Futures Game in Kansas City.
The left-handed hitter's power is very real, but he must continue to improve his contact rate.