MLB Prospects Update: Hottest, Coldest Hitters at Every Minor League Level
Norm Hall/Getty Images
Even though the 2013 Minor League Baseball season just began last Thursday, there have already been countless standout performances by top prospects across all levels.
For those familiar with my weekly hot/cold lists that appeared on Prospect Pipeline during the 2012 season, you’ll be happy to know that I’ll be doing the same thing this year.
With most teams having played roughly 3-4 games over the weekend, it’s important to acknowledge the role of small sample sizes when interpreting certain players’ statistics. Therefore, I decided to narrow my focus to only notable prospects, and especially those who have appeared in my top-50 or top-100 rankings over the last year.
That being said, there’s still a large contingent of prospects who’ve either opened the season on a tear, or struggled to get things going at the dish.
So, here’s a look at the hottest and coldest hitters at every minor league level to begin the 2013 season.
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
9-for-16 (.563), 3 XBH (HR), 2 SB, 2/2 K/BB (4 G)
Byron Buxton, the second overall pick in the 2012 draft, has opened his full-season debut on an absolute tear. In addition to homering in the second game of the year, the toolsy outfielder has amassed multiple hits in three of four games played, including a 4-for-5 performance with a double and triple in the series finale against Beloit on Sunday.
Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
6-for-20 (.300), 3 XBH (HR), 8 RBI, SB, 4/2 K/BB (4 G)
The No. 1 overall draft pick last June, it’s scary to think that Carlos Correa is only 18 years old. Playing for Low-A Quad Cities, the immensely talented shortstop turned in a monster performance against Kane County on Saturday. At the dish, he was 4-for-7 with a double, home run and five RBI.
Mitch Walding, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
6-for-11 (.545), 2B, 4 RBI, 1/5 K/BB (4 G)
One of my favorite sleeper prospects headed into last season, Mitch Walding struggled to the tune of .233/.326/.308 over 69 Short-Season games.
But you know what? I’m standing by my prediction for the upcoming season. While the emergence of power may still be a few years away, Walding appears poised for a breakout season in Low-A.
Lewis Brinson, OF, Texas Rangers
7-for-17 (.412), 2 HR, 2 SB, 5/1 K/BB (4 G)
One of multiple highly regarded Texas Rangers’ prospects to open the season in Low-A, Lewis Brinson projects to have five above-average-to-plus tools at maturity, but he is understandably raw in all facets of the game.
Still, the 6’3”, 170-pound outfielder turned plenty of heads over the weekend by hitting safely in all four games against Greensboro and jumping the yard on back-to-back days (Saturday and Sunday) to conclude the series.
Roman Quinn, SS, Philadelphia Phillies
6-for-18 (.333), 3 SB, 4/1 K/BB (4 G)
A player likely to move up every prospect list over the course of the season, Roman Quinn may very well be the fastest player in the minor leagues not named Billy Hamilton.
In his professional debut last summer in the Short-Season New York-Penn League, the 5’10” switch-hitter paced the league in triples (11), stolen bases (30) and runs scored (56). Making his full-season debut for Low-A Lakewood, Quinn has picked up where he left off last year with six hits and three stolen bases through his first four games.
Josh Bell, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
1-for-12 (.083), 3/1 K/BB (3 G)
One of the more intriguing prep hitters in the 2011 draft class, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Josh Bell a well-over-slot, $5 million bonus as a second-rounder. However, just 15 games into his professional debut for Low-A West Virginia, the 6’4” switch-hitter suffered a knee injury that required season-ending surgery.
As a result, Bell has fallen behind the developmental curve, especially as it relates to his plate discipline and pitch recognition. While his .083 batting average through the first three games of the season is a small sample—and somewhat expected following the massive layoff—his need to make up for lost time puts additional pressure on his once-promising bat.
Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals
1-for-12 (.083), 7/2 K/BB (4 G)
Ever since the Kansas City Royals made Derek “Bubba” Starling the fifth overall selection in 2011, the now-20-year-old’s prospect stock has been sliding steadily in the rankings.
While his tools still rank among the best in the minor leagues, the 6’4” outfielder remains a model of inconsistency, especially at the plate.
More specifically, he’s struggled to make in-game adjustments from at-bat to at-bat; Starling repeatedly bars his front arm and rushes both his load and weight transfer. In turn, the right-handed hitter struggles to make a favorable point of contact, as his bat drags through the zone on the same plane regardless of pitch location.
Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas Rangers
1-for-13 (.077), 7/2 K/BB (4 G)
Other than Miguel Sano of the Minnesota Twins, Joey Gallo is arguably the only other hitter in the minor leagues with true 80-grade power. He emerged as a rookie-level sensation in his professional debut last summer, as the 6’5”, left-handed hitter shattered the Arizona League record with 18 home runs in 43 games (1.169 OPS).
Considering his penchant for the three true outcomes (home run, strikeout and walk), Gallo may endure periods in which he struggles to make contact. At the same time, he’ll also go on home run binges as if he were a character out of a Matt Christopher book.
Dante Bichette Jr., 3B, New York Yankees
2-for-16 (.125), HR, 7/1 K/BB (4 G)
The son of the former mullet-sporting Colorado Rockies outfielder of the same name, Dante Bichette Jr. posted an impressive .947 OPS in his professional debut in 2011, but saw his OPS drop nearly 300 points during his full-season debut the following year in Low-A.
Repeating the level once again this season, the third baseman is off to another slow start after a 2-for-16 opening series. While he’s bound to post better numbers in his second tour of the level, the deterioration of the 20-year-old’s plate discipline over the last year is becoming increasingly disconcerting.
Charlie Tilson, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
2-for-18 (.111), 4/0 K/BB (4 G)
Selected by the St. Louis Cardinals as an over-slot second-rounder in 2011, Charlie Tilson missed the entire 2012 season while recovering from shoulder surgery. Possessing top-of-the-order potential thanks to a knack for contact and plus speed from the left side, the 21-year-old is in desperate need of significant professional experience.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Naquin, OF, Cleveland Indians
4-for-11 (.364), HR, 5 RBI, 3/2 K/BB (3 G)
The 15th overall selection in the 2012 draft, Tyler Naquin continues to be viewed as a “tweener,” as he lacks the speed and range for center field and doesn’t offer the power commonly associated with a major league right fielder.
However, that wasn’t the case in his full-season debut for High-A Carolina last week, as the 21-year-old was 3-for-4 with a double, home run and four RBI.
Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers
4-for-13 (.308), 4 XBH (2 HR), 4/2 K/BB (3 G)
Spending his entire age-18 season at Low-A Hickory, Rougned Odor posted a .714 OPS with 37 extra-base hits (10 home runs) and 19 stolen bases in 109 games. Having moved up to High-A for the 2013 season, Odor, 19, homered in each of his first two games at the more advanced level.
And if he can continue to build upon his impressive 2012 campaign, there’s a strong chance that he’ll receive a taste of Double-A later this season as a teenager.
Mac Williamson, OF, San Francisco Giants
6-for-17 (.353), 4 XBH (2 HR), 4/0 K/BB (4 G)
At 6’5”, 240 pounds, Mac Williamson is a physical presence who moves surprisingly well in the outfield. Drafted out of Wake Forest last June, the 22-year-old raked to the tune of .342/.392/.596 with seven home runs in 29 games for Short-Season Salem Keizer.
Making the jump to High-A San Jose for the 2013 season, the right-handed hitting slugger is poised to post big-time numbers in the hitter-friendly California League.
Cory Spangenberg, 2B, San Diego Padres
7-for-17 (.412), 2B, 8 SB, 3/3 K/BB (4 G)
When the San Diego Padres drafted Cory Spangenberg with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft, they expected him to get to the major leagues in a hurry.
However, that wasn’t the case during his first full season in 2012, as the second baseman batted .271/.324/.352 with 21 extra-base hits and 27 stolen bases over 98 High-A games. Due to his inconsistent season, the organization is having the 22-year-old repeat the level.
Luckily, he’s already enjoyed a significantly better start than 2012, as Spangenberg is batting .412/.500/.471 through four games and leads all minor leagues with eight stolen bases.
Stephen Piscotty, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals
4-for-14 (.286), 3 XBH (2 HR), 0/1 K/BB (4 G)
The 36th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Stephen Piscotty was regarded as one of the more polished hitters in the class. However, as a product of Stanford’s contact-geared hitting philosophy, many question how much power he’ll show as a professional.
The good news is that the 22-year-old enjoyed a two-homer game on Sunday.
Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins
7-for-16 (.438), 2 XBH, 2/3 K/BB (4 G)
After pacing the Midwest League with 28 home runs last season, Sano is making the jump to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League where he may be truly challenged for the first time. The legitimate 80-grade power will always be there; but his plate discipline must continue to improve.
Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies
1-for-15 (.067), 9/4 K/BB (4 G)
For those familiar with my work, you’re probably well aware of my affinity for Trevor Story. (I ranked him as the No. 29 prospect in baseball following spring training.) He may not be flashy, but his tools are all above-average or better across the board.
After amassing 67 extra-base hits last season in Low-A, it’s frightening to think of the numbers the 20-year-old will post in the hitter-friendly California League.
Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres
1-for-14 (.071), SB, 1/1 K/BB (3 G)
Arguably the top defensive catching prospect in the game, Austin Hedges' stock sky-rocketed last season in Low-A thanks to a breakout season at the plate (.785 OPS in 96 games).
Although he got off to a slow start this past weekend, the 20-year-old could vault into the top 25 with a strong follow-up campaign and stands a legitimate chance to reach Double-A by his 21st birthday.
Courtney Hawkins, OF, Chicago White Sox
1-for-10 (.100), SB, 6/0 K/BB (3 G)
The 13th-overall pick in the 2012 draft, Courtney Hawkins made a splash after signing by batting .284/.324/.480 with 26 extra-base hits in 59 games. He’s opening the year at High-A Winston-Salem after posting an .882 OPS over five games there to conclude his impressive professional debut. He was over-eager this past weekend, with six strikeouts in his first 10 at-bats.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Randal Grichuk, OF, Los Angeles Angels
2-for-9 (.222), HR, SB, 2/5 K/BB (4 G)
Selected ahead of Mike Trout in the first round of the 2009 draft, Randal Grichuk turned in a long-overdue breakout season last year in the California League, as he posted an .823 OPS with 18 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 135 games.
While his stats aren’t as sexy as others’ on this list, the fact that the 21-year-old has been more selective (5/2 K/BB) over his first four games in Double-A is encouraging.
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
3-for-14 (.214), 3 XBH (2 HR), 6/2 K/BB (4 G)
A classic line for George Springer, who continues to employ an all-or-nothing approach.
Despite his struggles in High-A over the final month of the 2012 season, the Houston Astros challenged the 23-year-old with a promotion to Double-A to begin the year. And even though he’s fanned six times in his first 14 at-bats, the ultra-toolsy center fielder continues to showcase plus raw power with three extra-base hits (two home runs) through four games.
Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
5-for-10 (.500), HR, SB, 3/2 K/BB (3 G)
Having played only 23 minor league games last season after signing in late June, nobody quite knew what to expect from Yasiel Puig headed into spring training. But with Carl Crawford absent for a majority of camp, the 22-year-old made the most of his extended playing time by batting .517/.500/.828 with 10 extra-base hits (three home runs) and four stolen bases.
The organization ultimately made the right decision in sending Puig to Double-A Chattanooga to begin his first full season, where the 6’3”, 245-pound outfielder has continued his assault on opposing pitchers.
Brad Miller, SS-3B, Seattle Mariners
7-for-16 (.438), 2 XBH (HR), 5/1 K/BB (4 G)
A second-round draft pick in 2011, Brad Miller reached Double-A in his first full season as a professional and batted .334/.410/.512 with 62 extra-base hits (15 home runs), 23 stolen bases and 105/74 K/BB in 137 games across two levels.
Opening the year back at Double-A, the 23-year-old has picked up where he left off with seven hits in his first 20 at-bats.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
3-for-14 (.214), 3 XBH (2 HR), SB, 2/1 K/BB (4 G)
Joc Pederson thrived last season at High-A Rancho Cucamonga in the hitter-friendly California League, as he posted a .913 OPS with 18 home runs and 26 stolen bases in 110 games.
The 2013 season should be a telling year for the 20-year-old, as he makes the jump to Double-A. And even though he’s only notched three hits through the first four games, two of them have left the yard.
Orlando Calixte, SS, Kansas City Royals
1-for-11 (.091), 1/1 K/BB (3 G)
Splitting the 2012 season between both Class-A levels, Orlando Calixte belted a career-high 14 home runs in 125 games but also fanned 109 times compared to only 36 walks.
His success last year earned the 21-year-old a promotion to Double-A for the 2013 season, but he has only mustered one hit through the first three games.
Joe Panik, SS, San Francisco Giants
3-for-17 (.176), K
After a solid 2012 campaign for High-A San Jose, the San Francisco Giants promoted Joe Panik, their first-round pick the previous year, to Double-A Richmond for the 2013 season.
Regarded as a contact-oriented middle infielder with mature plate discipline, the 22-year-old is off to a slow start at the more advanced level, with three hits and zero walks through four games.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
3-for-14 (.214), 6/0 K/BB (3 G)
Revered as one of the top young hitters in the minor leagues, Xander Bogaerts posted a gaudy .896 OPS with 37 doubles and 20 home runs last season in 127 games across two levels.
The 20-year-old was especially impressive following a late-season promotion to Double-A, where he accumulated 15 extra-base hits in 23 games.
Slade Heathcott, OF, New York Yankees
3-for-16 (.188), 2B, 7/0 K/BB (3 G)
Selected with the 29th overall pick in the 2009 draft, Slade Heathcott is yet to play more than 76 games in a single season due various personal problems and a slew of injuries.
However, he did show signs of turning the corner last season, as the 22-year-old batted .307/.378/.470 with 23 extra-base hits and 19 stolen bases in 65 games.
Having finally made the jump to Double-A for the 2013 season, Heathcott struggled over the weekend with three hits and seven strikeouts in 16 at-bats.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners
5-for-12 (.417), 5 XBH (2 HR), 8 RBI, 4/2 K/BB (3 G)
The third overall pick last June out of the University of Florida, Mike Zunino enjoyed an insanely good professional debut after signing, as he posted a 1.137 OPS with 13 home runs in 44 games between Short-Season Everett and Double-A Jackson.
Zunino fell a single shy of the cycle in his Triple-A debut, while each of his five hits have been for extra bases.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
7-for-13 (.538), 4 XBH (2 HR) (3 G)
After an eye-opening spring training in major league camp, Nolan Arenado jumped the yard in his first two Triple-A contests. While the power is nice to see considering he hit only 12 home runs last season at Double-A, he’s repeatedly benefited from playing in hitter-friendly leagues.
Luckily, his next promotion will be to the major leagues and Coors Field, where his power should be amplified once again. Regardless, with the ongoing improvement of his above-average-to-plus hit tool, Arenado should spend most of the 2013 season in the major leagues.
Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Minnesota Twins
5-for-15 (.400), 4 XBH (2 HR), 4/3 K/BB (4 G)
After mastering High-A pitching in the Florida State League, Oswaldo Arcia received a midseason promotion to Double-A where he erupted to bat .328/.398/.557 with 35 extra-base hits (10 home runs) in 69 games.
He’s already on the Twins’ 40-man roster, so expect the Twins to call him up at some point this season—possibly before the All-Star break.
Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
4-for-11 (.364), 3 XBH, 3 SB (3 G)
Although he has truly elite, game-changing speed that resulted in a record-breaking 155 stolen bases last season in 132 games, Hamilton’s bat and on-base skills need further seasoning in the minor leagues. He’s working to cut down some of the swing-and-miss from both sides of the plate.
If his contact rate continues to improve as it did in 2012, the 22-year-old could arrive in the major leagues ahead of schedule.
Travis d’Arnaud, C, New York Mets
3-for-8 (.375), 6 R, 2 XBH, 3/6 K/BB (3 G)
The top catching prospect in the game, expectations are inevitably high for Travis d’Arnaud, who was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the deal for R.A. Dickey. After a strong performance this spring with his new club, d’Arnaud will likely put up big numbers once again in the Pacific Coast League before a call-up sometime around the All-Star break.
Jared Mitchell, OF, Chicago White Sox
1-for-15 (.067), 7/3 K/BB (4 G)
Since suffering a season-ending ankle injury during spring training in 2010, Jared Mitchell has struggled to establish consistency at the plate. The 2009 first-rounder held his own in the high minors last season, as he batted .237/.358/.420 with 48 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases in 130 games between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte.
While his on-base skills are still solid, Mitchell’s high strikeout totals continue to cast doubt upon his hit tool.
Cody Asche, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
2-for-16 (.125), 2B, 7/2 K/BB (4 G)
In his full-season debut in 2012, Cody Asche batted .324/.369/.481 with 51 extra-base hits in 130 games across two levels. After leaving the pitcher-friendly Florida State League for Double-A Reading, the left-handed hitter enjoyed a spike in power, as he amassed 20 doubles and 10 home runs at the more advanced level.
It’s doubtful that he’ll hit for consistent power in the majors, though the Philadelphia Phillies clearly seem intent on giving him a chance later this season.
Tim Beckham, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
2-for-14 (.143), 6/0 K/BB (4 G)
Will this be the year that the former No. 1 overall draft pick reaches the major leagues? Probably. Now that he’s on the Tampa Bay Rays’ 40-man roster, he should at least serve as a September call-up.
But let’s be real; it’s not as though Beckham reaching the majors will make everyone forget about his disappointing path, not to mentioned who the Rays could have drafted instead.
Mike Olt, 3B, Texas Rangers
1-for-16 (.063), 2B, 10/2 K/BB (4 G)
Making the jump from Double-A to the major leagues in early August, Mike Olt’s weaknesses were exploited by more advanced pitching. While his power makes him one of the top third base prospects in the game, the 24-year-old’s hit tool doesn’t project as favorably and stands to benefit from additional time in the high minors.
Jonathan Villar, SS, Houston Astros
0-for-14, 4/1 K/BB (4 G)
Once regarded as the Astros’ future shortstop, Jonathan Villar’s development has trailed off since reaching Double-A.
Although the 6’1” switch-hitter posted a career-best .732 OPS last season, he also missed a portion of year after breaking his hand while punching inanimate objects in the dugout/clubhouse.