10 MLB Prospects Who Will Take the Largest Leaps Forward in 2013

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistMarch 22, 2013

10 MLB Prospects Who Will Take the Largest Leaps Forward in 2013

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    One of the big buzz words you will hear about when it comes to prospects, especially those at the lower levels of the minor leagues prior to the start of the season, is "leap."

    Who is going to take the leap this year? Which highly-regarded player who spent last year in a short-season league or A-ball is going to see his skills start to come together? Which toolsy players who have spent time climbing the ladder without seeing their skills actualize on the field are ready for a big breakout?

    The gift and curse of being a prospect is figuring it out. It can be a crystallizing moment when, all of a sudden, that raw power they show in batting practice makes its way into game action because of body maturity or a change in their swing mechanics. 

    Some prospects never have to worry about taking the leap because they get it right away. Bryce Harper entered Low-A Hagerstown in 2011 as an 18-year-old ready to play. At that young age, showing all the skills that made him the most hyped pick in draft history let everyone know he was destined for greatness before he even stepped on the field. 

    Not everyone is blessed with Harper's unique skill set, though. If they were, evaluating talent and finding superstars would be much easier than it is. 

    So, in anticipation of the 2013 season, here is a look at the prospects—those with a couple of years in the minors, or just getting their career started—who will take the biggest leap forward. 

    Note: All stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted.

Max Fried, LHP, San Diego Padres

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    Age: 19. No. 7 pick in 2012 MLB draft (San Diego Padres); 6'4" 185 pounds, LHP, Harvard-Westlake H.S.

    Highest level in 2012: Arizona Rookie League

    10 G (9 GS), 0-1, 17.2 IP, 14 H, 9 R (7 ER), 1 HR, 6 BB, 17 K

    Scouting Report

    Fried offers a ton of projection right now as a tall left-hander who can add velocity as his frame fills out. He currently has an average fastball with natural movement to the arm side, a hard-breaking curveball that will flash above-average and a solid-average changeup. 

    His delivery, easy and simple, features a big stride to the plate that actually helps his fastball play up because it gets on hitters quicker. There is no extraneous movement, and he is in prime position to field when he releases the ball. 

    Why Fried will take the leap

    If you like a young, polished lefty with two average pitches right now, the potential to add more velocity and a changeup that will get better, Fried is the pitcher for you. He doesn't have the upside of a No. 1 starter, but can turn into a really good No. 2 down the line. 

    When you are drafting, especially in the top 10, you want a player who shows good present stuff with the potential to add a lot more down the line. Fried has as much upside as any high school pitcher from last year's class with the exception of his Harvard-Westlake teammate Lucas Giolito, who will miss most of this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last August. 

Lewis Brinson, OF, Texas Rangers

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    Age: 18 (Turns 19 on May 8). No. 29 overall pick to Texas Rangers in 2012 MLB draft; 6'3", 170 pounds, Coral Spring High School

    Highest level in 2012: Arizona Rookie League

    54 G, .283/.345/.523, 67 H, 22 2B, 7 3B, 7 HR, 42 RBI, 21 BB, 74 K, 14 SB

    Scouting Report

    One of the best pure athletes in the 2012 draft, Brinson's tools looked better than his actual performance on the field before the Rangers took him. 

    However, ESPN's Keith Law (h/t ESPNDallas.com) noted that the Rangers made a change to his swing that allows his bat to get through the zone quicker and still keep his power intact. 

    If those changes hold, Brinson has the potential to be a five-tool center fielder. He can hit (now for power), has speed to cover a ton of ground and is an above-average center fielder when it comes to arm strength. 

    Why Brinson will take the leap

    Changing his swing was the first step towards a breakout season for Brinson. He is still incredibly raw, so 2013 is going to be just as much a learning year as it will be about performance. He may not have the best stats this season, but as long as the tools he has shown are still present, he will be a top-50 prospect next year. 

Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Age: 20. No. 34 overall pick to Toronto Blue Jays in 2010 MLB draft; RHP, 6'4", 190 pounds, Barstow High School

    Highest level reached in 2012: Low Class-A

    25 G (18 GS), 8-5, 90.1 IP, 2.49 ERA, 64 H, 33 R (25 ER), 3 HR, 51 BB, 97 K

    Scouting Report

    Sanchez has some of the best raw stuff in the minors. His plus fastball sits in the mid 90s and he complements it with a power curveball for which he already has a good feel. His changeup, which lags behind his other offerings, can be a weapon as it has great downward fade. 

    Command is the biggest issue right now. He walked 51 batters in just over 90 innings last season. His delivery works very well, as he generates good fastballs thanks to an incredibly fast arm. 

    Why Sanchez will take the leap

    The Blue Jays kept Sanchez on a strict pitch count all last season. Hopefully, with the reins loosened a little bit this year, the big right-hander will be able to become more of a pitcher than a pure thrower. 

    On stuff, Sanchez has No. 1 starter upside. He will start the season at High-A, so it will be interesting to see how his command translates against advanced hitters. 

Addison Russell, SS, Oakland Athletics

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    Age: 19. No. 11 overall pick to Oakland Athletics in 2012 MLB draft; SS, 6'0", 195 pounds, Pace High School

    Highest level reached in 2012: Low-A

    55 G, .369/.432/.594, 80 H, 10 2B, 9 3B, 7 HR, 45 RBI, 23 BB, 48 K, 16 SB

    Scouting report

    If you were to do the 2012 draft over again, Russell would be a top-3 pick. After doubts whether or not he could stay at shortstop because his weight shot up to 225 pounds in 2011, Russell worked to drop the added weight to stay at the position without sacrificing any of his offensive potential. 

    Russell destroyed three different levels last season, posting a 1.027 OPS in 55 games. He has plus power potential thanks to tremendous bat speed. He makes hard contact with a line-drive swing. His arm and glove at short are both plus, though he does need to improve his setup and footwork. 

    Why Russell will take the leap

    It could be argued that Russell has already taken a huge leap—I wouldn't argue with it—but I think there is more to come this season. The power-hitting shortstop just has to make a few adjustments on defense and add a little more loft to his swing to tap into that big-power potential. 

    We could easily be talking about Russell as one of the five-best prospects in baseball either by the All-Star break or the start of 2014.

Dorssys Paulino, SS, Cleveland Indians

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    Age: 18. Signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic by the Cleveland Indians in 2010; SS, 6'0", 175 pounds

    Highest level reached in 2012: Short-Season New York-Penn League

    56 G, .333/.380/.558, 77 H, 19 2B, 6 3B, 7 HR, 38 RBI, 18 BB, 45 K, 11 SB

    Scouting Report

    Paulino has more offensive upside than fellow Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor. He has an easy swing with some loft at the end to drive the ball, and his hands explode through the zone. His pitch recognition has gotten better, as he doesn't chase as many off-speed pitches out of the strike zone. 

    On defense, however, Paulino can't touch Lindor. He has a good arm, but his feel for the position could lead to a move to third base. If he can put himself in better spots to make plays, making it more likely that he will stay at short, he could be a big mover. 

    Why Paulino will take the leap

    As an offensive-oriented shortstop, Paulino has the potential to be a very good player. He can hit for a solid average with 15-20 homers and a lot of extra-base hits. He is just 18 years old and the youngest player on this list. He is also making his first appearance in a full-season league this year, so he has the most risk attached to him. 

Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets

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    Age: 20. No. 38 overall pick to Toronto Blue Jays in 2010 MLB draft (traded to Mets on December 17, 2012); RHP, 6'5", 200 pounds, Legacy High School

    Highest level reached in 2012: Low-A

    27 G (19 GS), 8-5, 103.2 IP, 2.60 ERA, 81 H, 41 R (30 ER), 3 HR, 31 BB, 122 K

    Scouting Report

    Built with a workhorse frame, Syndergaard has the stuff to pitch at the top of a rotation. He brings a plus-power fastball with movement and excellent downward plane. His curveball is inconsistent right now, often slowing down at times when he should throw it harder. He also throws a changeup that is a little too firm.

    Syndergaard commands all of his pitches well, even though his off-speed stuff tends to get him in trouble right now. He has the size and stuff to be a true top-of-the-rotation starter. 

    Why Syndergaard will take the leap

    There isn't any projection left in Syndergaard, but there are a few areas where he can get better to reach his ultimate ceiling. The biggest area of concern is getting a better feel for his curveball and throwing it in the high 70s with more consistency. 

    But a 20 year old with command and polish of three pitches is not something you see everyday. As long as Syndergaard's stuff starts to match, he could be one of the five-10 best right-handed pitching prospects in the game. 

Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Age: 20. No. 7 overall pick to Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011 MLB draft; RHP, 6'4", 225 pounds, Broken Arrow Senior High School

    Highest level reached in 2012: Low-A

    27 G (27 GS), 12-6, 136.0 IP, 3.84 ERA, 87 H, 64 R (58 ER), 6 HR, 84 BB, 152 K

    Scouting Report

    Bradley's first full season in pro ball did not go as planned. His stuff—a potential plus mid 90s fastball, curveball and above-average changeup--looked fine. Where he ran into problems was figuring out where they were going once the ball left his hand. 

    Walking 84 in just 136 innings, Bradley has to improve his command by leaps and bounds if he wants to reach the No. 2 starter ceiling he once had. Finding consistency with the fastball will be the first order of business, with the off-speed stuff coming not far behind it. 

    Why Bradley will take the leap

    Even though it was a rough debut for Bradley, it is important to remember that he was in his first year, adjusting to better hitters than he had ever faced in high school. Despite that, his stuff remains solid. 

    Command is always the last thing to develop for a pitcher, especially when you are talking about a high school draftee. He will make the move to High-A this year.

Slade Heathcott, OF, New York Yankees

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    Age: 22. No. 29 overall pick to New York Yankees in 2009 MLB draft; CF, 6'0", 195 pounds, Texas High School

    Highest level reached in 2012: High-A

    65 G, .302/.380/.461, 70 H, 18 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 29 RBI, 25 BB, 70 K, 17 SB

    Scouting Report

    The more you watch Heathcott play, the more you love what you see. He has elite speed that helps his defense in center field play up, as he can track down balls most players can't get to, and boasts a plus throwing arm at the position. 

    At the plate, Heathcott has more room to grow. His power hasn't factored in games yet, though his .461 slugging percentage last season was a career best. He won't hit a ton of home runs because he is more concerned with contact, but there is plus home run power in there. 

    Another big issue holding him back is health. He has yet to play in more than 76 games in a season because he plays with a reckless abandon that takes a physical toll. 

    Why Heathcott will take the leap

    Honestly, as long as he stays healthy, I see no reason why Heathcott can't become a top-15 prospect for 2014. He has five above-average or better tools and is getting closer to showing all of them in games. 

    If he plays in 110-120 games this season, Heathcott will get the kind of attention most Yankees fans have set aside for Mason Williams right now. 

Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals

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    Age: 20. No. 5 overall pick to Kansas City Royals in 2011 MLB draft; CF, 6'4", 180 pounds, Gardner Edgerton High School

    Highest level reached in 2012: Appalachian Rookie League

    53 G, .275/.371/.485, 55 H, 8 2B, 2 3B, 10 HR, 33 RBI, 28 BB, 70 K, 10 SB

    Scouting Report

    The Royals really did Starling no favors in 2012, hiding him from the world until the summer when he played in just 53 games for Burlington in the Appalachian Rookie League. He was older for a high school draft pick in 2011 and has yet to get his first taste of full-season ball. 

    Starling's explosive tools are still present, as he has plus speed, arm strength and range in center field. His power still projects as plus, though his approach at the plate needs a lot of work. He struck out 28 times in just 200 at-bats last season thanks to a long swing and below-average hand-eye coordination. 

    Why Starling will take the leap

    Even if he strikes out a lot—which should be expected unless he changes his swing mechanics—Starling's natural athleticism should be good enough to carry him while he makes adjustments to better pitching. 

    I am cautiously optimistic about Starling because he still has five-tool potential. It just looks less likely that he will reach that ceiling now than it did at the start of last season. 

Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

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    Age: 20. No. 27 overall pick to Cincinnati Reds in 2011 MLB draft; RHP, 6'2", 190 pounds, Alhambra High School

    Highest level reached in 2012: Low-A

    15 GS, 3-4, 65.0 IP, 3.18 ERA, 54 H, 34 R (23 ER), 6 HR, 23 BB, 72 K

    Scouting Report

    Stephenson's fastball continues to dazzle. He regularly throws it in the mid 90s and can touch triple digits if he rears back for a little extra. He still has some projection left, as his curveball can be a knockout weapon in the near future. His changeup is also improving. 

    The delivery is clean, as he uses his lower half to generate a ton of arm speed and bring the velocity on his fastball. 

    He doesn't always stay on top of his pitches, causing the fastball to sail up on him and making him very hittable. The command will determine his ultimate ceiling, but you can easily see a plus-plus fastball, plus breaking ball and average changeup. 

    Why Stephenson will take the leap

    Stephenson was solid in limited action last season, but he needs to work on keeping the ball down in the zone. The stuff is already there for the most part, and he just has to slow down his edlivery to control it. 

    It may be optimistic, but Stephenson could be among the top-10 pitching prospects in baseball next season. 

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