Scouring the Depths of the Minor Leagues for the Greatest Hidden Gems
In ranking every team’s top 10 prospects over the last six weeks, I’ve been forced to make the same difficult decision of whether to rank a young, unproven prospect over a high-floor, sure-fire big leaguer.
As the series has unfolded, I feel as though I haven’t favored one prospect type over the other. At the same time, I admit that some of my aggressive rankings of younger players—those who aren’t expected to arrive in the major leagues until at least 2015—are driven by my gut instinct.
Because I only analyze 10 prospects per team, there have been countless players who were last-minute cuts and subsequently omitted from the final list. Therefore, I thought that I’d highlight 10 under-the-radar prospects—more specifically, those stashed at a rookie/short-season level or Class-A affiliate—who deserve the recognition.
Kyle Smith, RHP, Kansas City Royals (20)
A fourth-round draft pick out of a Florida high school in 2011, Smith turned in a dominant professional debut this past season, spending most of the year in the Midwest League (Low-A).
After fanning 11 batters over nine innings in his first professional start, the right-hander was promoted to Low-A Kane County where he registered a 2.94 ERA and 11.63 K/9 in 67.1 innings. He’s undersized at 6'0'', 170 pounds, but he has excellent body control, a fast arm and advanced three-pitch mix.
Kennys Vargas, 1B, Minnesota Twins (22)
A 6’5”, switch-hitting first baseman, Vargas had hit for average at each level, but he showed more consistent power last season at Low-A Beloit.
The 22-year-old’s approach was more consistent, as he registered a 41/28 strikeout-to-walk rate in 41 games. He has a long way to go as a first base-only prospect, but his potential with the bat is intriguing.
Kevin Pillar, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (24)
A 32nd-round draft pick out of Cal State-Dominguez Hills in 2011, Pillar has emerged as one of the more polished players in the Blue Jays system.
After batting .347/.377/.534 in the Appalachian League after signing, the 6'0'', 200-pound outfielder batted .323/.374/.439 with 38 extra-base hits, 91 RBI, 51 stolen bases and 70/40 K/BB last season in 128 games between Low-A Lansing and High-A Dunedin.
Pillar’s only down tool is his power, though he does shoot the gaps with regularity. He may only have the ceiling as a fourth outfielder, but there’s something to be said for his overall approach and consistency.
Corey Embree, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (20)
I had the chance to see Embree a few years ago while living in the St. Louis area and was very impressed with his size and athleticism. I was surprised when he was a 47th-round pick in 2011 (Giants) and then a 38th-round selection in 2012 (Dodgers).
The 6’3”, 218-pound outfielder had a solid pro debut this past season, batting .320/.409/.493 with nine extra-base hits and 15/10 K/BB in 24 games for the organization’s rookie-level affiliate in the Arizona League.
He has solid-average speed for his size with right-handed raw power and an accurate, plus arm.
Kevin Brady, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies (22)
Selected by the Phillies in the 10th round of the 2012 draft, Brady always showcased above-average stuff while at Clemson but could never stay healthy. Therefore, the 6’3” right-hander was drafted as a 21-year-old redshirt junior.
He has a plus fastball which reaches the mid-90s and has the potential for two solid-average secondary offerings (curveball, changeup).
Kyle Hendricks, RHP, Chicago Cubs (23)
An eighth-round draft pick of the Rangers out of Dartmouth in 2011, Hendricks dominated at short-season Spokane in his professional debut and even made a start for Double-A Frisco.
The 6’3”, 190-pound right-hander was excellent in his full-season debut for High-A Myrtle Beach this past season, as he registered a 2.82 ERA with 112/15 K/BB in 130.2 innings. However, Hendricks was dealt just before the July 31 trade deadline to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Ryan Dempster.
With an intelligent approach, impressive four-pitch mix—highlighted by a plus changeup—and knack for inducing ground outs, Hendricks has the potential to move quickly given the Cubs’ lack of pitching prospects.
Nate Karns, RHP, Washington Nationals (25)
A 6’5”, 230-pound right-hander, Karns required shoulder surgery for a torn labrum after signing as a 12th-rounder in 2009. He didn’t return until 2011, but he moved quickly upon doing so and finished the season at short-season Auburn.
The 25-year-old opened this past season at Low-A Hagerstown, where he registered a 2.03 ERA and 12.38 K/9 in 44.1 innings. He followed that with a 2.26 ERA, 10.93 K/9 and reduced walk rate after a promotion to High-A Potomac.
He’s obviously behind the curve age wise, but his power frame and swing-and-miss arsenal has legitimate potential. In fact, I kind of regret not including him in the back end of my Nats’ top 10 prospects.
Jose Ramirez, 2B, Cleveland Indians (20)
Ramirez made an impressive full-season debut in 2012 at Low-A Lake County, ultimately batting .354/.403/.462 with 15 stolen bases and 26/24 K/BB in 67 games.
He may be diminutive in stature (5’8”, 165 pounds), but he can flat-out rake. He doesn't have a lot of power, just exceptional bat-to-ball ability and a feel for the strike zone. The switch-hitter will never show much power, but his hit tool is very real.
Cody Martin, RHP, Atlanta Braves (23)
A seventh-round pick out of Gonzaga in 2011, Martin, a dominant closer while at Gonzaga, showed a lot of promise in a similar role during his professional debut later that year.
However, due to his ability to command four average-to-plus offerings, he was moved to the starting rotation early in the 2012 season and went on to register a 2.93 ERA with 123/34 K/BB in 107.1 innings.
Kolby Copeland, OF, Miami Marlins (18)
One of the few 2012 draft picks on this list, Copeland slid to the supplemental third round due to his two-sport background in high school (and the fact that he missed half of his senior season after receiving an underage DUI).
A left-handed hitter, the 18-year-old has excellent hand-eye coordination and a line-drive-oriented swing that yields hard contact to all fields. He has above-average raw power despite the fact that he failed to go yard in 62 games during his pro debut.
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