Without launching into a long diatribe on the state of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame and the lack of inductees from the 2013 class, I believe that Barry Bonds is a no-doubt Hall of Famer. Yes, he played at a legendary level with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs late in his career, but he was also a legitimate superstar before that.
A seven-time winner of the National League’s most valuable player award, Bonds batted .298/.444/.607 with 762 home runs, 514 stolen bases and 2,558 walks in 2,986 games over his 22-year career. The left-handed hitter holds the all-time record for home runs, home runs in a single season, walks and intentional walks.
According to Baseball Reference, Bond’s best seasons came in 2001 (the year he set the big-league home run record with 73) and 2002 when he registered an 11.6 WAR as a 36- and 37-year-old, respectively. He went 30-30 (30 home runs and 30 stolen bases) on five different occasions, and joined the 40-40 club in 1996 when he hit 42 home runs and stole 40 bases.
Turning our attention to the minor leagues, I ask this: is there a prospect with the potential to be the next Barry Bonds? Well, if you consider him to be one of the greatest players of all time, as I do, then it’s doubtful.
However, here’s a look at five highly regarded outfield prospects who have a superstar ceiling.
*Players that were featured in their team's top-10 prospects may contain notes from original scouting report.
Season in Review: Making his professional debut in the Appalachian League, Starling batted .275/.371/.485 with 20 extra-base hits and 70 strikeouts in 53 games.
Scouting Report: The 6’4”, 180-pound outfielder is painfully raw from an offensive standpoint; right-handed hitter boasts above-average raw power to all fields with slightly more to his pull side; concerning amount of swing-and-miss in his game (70 strikeouts in 200 at-bats); struggles to make in-game adjustments; has a tendency to arm-bar which leads to a long swing; bat head travels through the zone on same plane regardless of pitch location; lacks bat-to-ball ability which impedes overall projection of hit tool; more experience will hopefully improve his pitch recognition.
Season in Review: After signing a nine-year, $30 million contract with the Cubs in June, the Cuban defector batted .299/.369/.463 with 12 extra-base hits, 12 stolen bases and 19/12 K/BB in 34 games between the rookie-level Arizona League and Low-A Peoria.
Scouting Report: Incredibly physical player at 6’3”, 205 pounds, but requires little projection; ball absolutely jumps off his right-handed bat thanks to dynamic bat speed and plus-plus raw power; comfortable driving the ball with authority to all fields; approach was more developed than expected in pro debut; comfortable hitting when behind in the count; advanced pitch recognition relative to stateside experience; swing can be a bit rushed and choppy at times and will need to iron out kinks as he develops; premium velocity may exploit weaknesses at higher levels.
Season in Review: Polanco had a monster breakout season at Low-A West Virginia, batting .235/.388/.522 with 48 extra-base hits (16 home runs), 40 stolen bases and 64/44 K/BB in 116 games as a 20-year-old.
Scouting Report: An incredibly raw but athletic prospect; very projectable 6’4”, 170-pound frame with plenty of room to add strength; outstanding tools and secondary skills; the left-handed hitter has the potential for an above-average hit tool in the major leagues; showcases excellent bat speed and hand-eye coordination; already comfortable driving the ball to all fields; always swings to drive the ball, which helps explain his improved power utility; strikes the ball with backspin carry; bat is a big-time premium if he can remain in center field—which he should.
Season in Review: The No. 2 overall draft pick in 2012, Buxton had an encouraging professional debut across two rookie levels. He batted .248/.344/.448 with 19 extra-base hits, 11 stolen bases and 41/19 K/BB in 48 games.
Scouting Report: Owns elite athleticism and one of the best collection of tools among all prospects; high-ceiling, high-risk prospect; plus-plus speed plays on both sides of the ball; plus bat speed yields plus raw power; has loose wrists with quick-twitch muscles; approach and hit tool are both raw; will benefit from a few additional years of experience in the low minors; full-season pitching should be a healthy challenge; will be forced to simplify his swing to handle better velocity and secondary pitches.
Season in Review: Taveras was named the MVP of the Texas League (Double-A) last year in his age-20 season after leading the league in both batting average (.321) and extra-base hits (67).
Scouting Report: The purest and best hitter in all the minor leagues; has all the makings of a future superstar with an outstanding hit tool; possesses plate discipline beyond his years and unparalleled barrel-to-ball ability; left-handed hitter employs a powerful yet balanced swing; keeps bat head in the zone for an extended period of time without sacrificing pop; began to tap into his power last season against advanced competition; extra-base machine who makes loud contact to all fields; comfortable hitting any pitch in any count; doesn’t walk a ton, but strikeouts will always be minimal given his pitch recognition and excellent hand-eye coordination.