5 Highly Regarded MLB Prospects Who Are Stars Waiting to Happen
Every time I publish an updated ranking of my top 50 prospects, I have to remind myself of the likelihood that very few of those players will enjoy success in the major leagues. At the same time, there are plenty of prospects that I will never rank, for one reason or another, that develop into impact big leaguers. That’s simply the nature of scouting and analyzing prospects.
However, just because I have to potential to be wrong with my assessment of a player doesn’t mean I necessarily have to be conservative in my projection; there are plenty of players that I sincerely believe will enjoy a long and productive major league career.
So, I thought that I’d take a look at five very different but immensely talented prospects that have been on my mind lately.
Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
2012 Stats (SS): 1-2, 52 IP, 1.04 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 7.79 K/9, 0.87 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9, 5.00 GB/FB (12 GS)
Selected by the Rays in the first round (No. 24 overall) of the 2011 draft, Guerrieri is a 6’3”, 195-pound right-hander with a projectable frame and pitchability.
Although he didn’t make his professional debut until this past season, Guerrieri was anything but rusty as he demonstrated excellent command of his advanced arsenal. The South Carolina native boasts a fastball that has scraped upper-90s in the past, but registered in the low-90s this summer with late, arm-side life and tons of sink. Perhaps what’s most impressive is his ability to manipulate his fastball—he throws a cutter sometimes while his two-seam is essentially a sinker—at such a young age.
Guerrieri’s curveball is of the downer variety and has great a great pace and shape; another pitch that should grade as a plus offering. He’s still getting a feel for the changeup, understandably, after relying on his fastball-curveball combo as an amateur. However, the pitch has vastly improved over the course of the season, and his overall deception and command of it should make it a legitimate weapon in the future.
Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2012 Stats (A-): 8-5, 103.2 IP, 2.60 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 0.3 HR/9, 10.6 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 (27 G; 19 GS)
A first-round draft pick by the Blue Jays in 2010, Syndergaard spent the 2012 season at Low-A Lansing with fellow pitching prospects RHP Aaron Sanchez and LHP Justin Nicolino.
At 6’5”, 200 pounds, Syndergaard possesses an ideal pitcher’s frame with repeatable mechanics and clean, fluid arm action. The recently-turned 20-year-old showcases a fastball that usually sits between 94-96 mph, but he’s known to reach back for triple-digits on occasion. While the plus velocity definitely helps, his ability to consistently throw the pitch on a downward plane makes the right-hander difficult to barrel. As a result, he yields a favorable amount of groundballs and just as much weak contact.
Beyond the plus heater, Syndergaard also features a plus breaking ball with impressive shape and a sharp, late-breaking bite and a changeup that’s thrown with deceiving arm speed.
Addison Russell, SS, Oakland Athletics
2012 Stats (Rk, SS, A-): .369/.432/.594, 80 H, 26 XBH (7 HR), 45 RBI, 16 SB, 48/23 K/BB (55 G)
Headed into the draft last June, Russell received mixed reviews from scouts, as many feared that he’d ultimately become too thick and have to move off shortstop, which would, in turn, lower his overall ceiling. However, the 18-year-old quieted his skeptics by shedding 20 pounds during his senior season and improving his chances of remaining at the position.
The 11th overall selection in June, Russell enjoyed the finest season of any prep hitter from the draft class, as he opened the year in the rookie-level Arizona League, but finished his professional debut at Low-A Burlington.
The A’s had every reason to aggressively promote their first-rounder, as the 6’0", 215-pound shortstop batted .369/.432/.594 with 80 hits, 26 extra-base hits, 45 RBI, 16 stolen bases and 48/23 K/BB in 55 games. At each level, Russell showcased his above-average bat speed and the ability to square up the baseball with consistency.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
2012 Stats (A-): .257/.352/.355, 126 H, 33 XBH, 27 SB, 78/61 K/BB (122 G)
The No. 8 overall draft pick in 2011, Lindor was billed as a switch-hitting, defense-oriented shortstop who was considerably advanced for his age. So, it wasn’t a total surprise when the 18-year-old emerged as the top defensive shortstop across all of Low-A.
However, what Lindor did this past season with the leather and at the dish was absolutely amazing and solidified him as one of the top position prospects in the game.
His defense ability is something that cannot be taught; at 18 years old, he already handles the position better than most big-league shortstops. Call it hyperbole if you wish, but it’s the truth. He’s incredibly instinctual with plus range and a strong arm and seemingly always understands how a game’s current situation may dictate the next play. But what I like most about him—something I look for in all shortstop prospects—is that he plays the position with a sense of creativity.
As a hitter, Lindor will likely never hit for much power. However, he has a compact swing from both sides of the plate that should evolve into at least an average hit tool with plenty of gap power.
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Los Angeles Angels
2012 Stats (A-, A+): .276/.358/.452, 145 H, 54 XBH (16 HR), 103 RBI, 14 SB, 111/67 K/BB (135 G)
One of my favorite prospects, Cowart improved in all facets of the game this year in his full-season debut. A first-round draft pick in 2010, the switch-hitting third baseman was a raw talent when he was drafted, as he had spent his entire high school career as a two-way player. (In case you are wondering, the right-hander was mid-90s off the bump in high school and, as a result, received first-round consideration as a pitcher.)
After posting a .765 OPS in 72 games last season for the Angels’ rookie-level Pioneer League affiliate, Cowart was an entirely different player this season as he went from a fringe prospect to legitimate top 50 one. Splitting time between Low-A and High-A, the switch-hitter batted .276/.358/.452 with 54 extra-base hits, 103 RBI, 14 stolen bases and 111/67 K/BB in 135 games. For the sake of comparison, he posted an 81/25 K/BB in 72 rookie-level games.
Cowart’s defense was also substantially better at the hot corner, as he committed only 16 errors playing against advanced competition relative to his age. And, of course, his strong arm is more than enough to remain there.