3B Nolan Arenado is already putting up big numbers for Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Although the 2013 minor league season is a little more than a week old, many of the game’s top prospects—not to mention those who continue to fly under the radar—are off to a red-hot start.
So, as we all head into the weekend, here’s a look at each team’s hottest prospect to start the 2013 season.
2013 Stats: 10 IP, 4.50 ERA, .233 BAA, 13/0 K/BB (2 GS)
Selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Kevin Gausman, a 6’3” right-hander, boasts big-time arm strength with a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s that he complements with a plus-plus changeup in the 81 to 84 mph range. His slider has sharp break when it’s on, though the overall feel for the pitch is still inconsistent.
The 22-year-old was touched up in his first start of the season for Double-A Bowie, but he bounced back on Thursday night when he allowed one earned run with five strikeouts over six innings.
2013 Stats: .435/.458/.522, 2 XBH, 3 SB, 4/1 K/BB (6 G)
After battling injuries for most of 2011, Garin Cecchini enjoyed a breakout campaign last season, as he batted .305/.394/.433 with 84 runs scored, 38 doubles and 51 stolen bases in 118 games for Low-A Greenville.
He failed to collect a hit in High-A Salem’s first two games, but since then, the 21-year-old is 10-for-16 over the team’s last four contests.
2013 Stats: 6.1 IP, 5.68 ERA, .240 BAA, 16/5 K/BB (2 GS)
Rafael De Paula, 22, spent the entire 2012 season pitching in the Dominican Summer League where he fanned 85 batters in 61.2 innings. The 6’2” right-hander has a three-pitch mix that’s highlighted by a plus fastball, as well as a curveball and changeup that both flash at least above-average potential.
After striking out 11 batters over 4.1 innings in his stateside debut on April 6, De Paula followed with five more over two innings in his second start. The ERA and walks leave something to be desired, but 16 strikeouts in 6.1 innings is certainly impressive.
2013 Stats: .333/.424/.407, 2 XBH, 9/5 K/BB (7 G)
After obliterating minor league pitching last season with a .987 OPS and 37 home runs in 134 games, Wil Myers is on the verge of an early promotion with his new team, the Tampa Bay Rays, thanks to a hot start at Triple-A Durham.
Even though he’s struck out nine times in seven games, the fact that Myers has already amassed five walks is encouraging given his 140/61 K/BB rate last season.
2013 Stats: 10 IP, 2.70 ERA, .088 BAA, 7/3 K/BB (2 GS)
Aaron Sanchez enjoyed a significant jump in the rankings last season after registering a 2.49 ERA and .204 BAA with 97 strikeouts in 90.1 innings for Low-A Lansing. At 6’4”, 190 pounds, the right-hander boasts one of the more projectable arms in the low minors with an effortless plus fastball, filthy curveball and work-in-progress changeup.
Moved up to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League (High-A) for the 2013 season, Sanchez seems poised for another big year, especially after firing five no-hit innings in his start on Thursday night.
2013 Stats: .250/.300/.643, 6 XBH (2 HR), SB, 8/1 K/BB (7 G)
The super toolsy outfielder had a breakout season in 2012, as he batted .253/.328/.482 with 25 home runs and 21 stolen bases in 136 games across three minor league levels. Although he showcased an impressive blend of power and speed, the 6’3” center fielder’s raw plate discipline led to 166 strikeouts during that span.
Back at Double-A Birmingham to begin the 2013 season, Trayce Thompson was 1-for-12 with five strikeouts in the first three games. Since then, however, he’s been in a groove with five extra-base hits in his last 16 at-bats.
2013 Stats: .458/.519/.667, 3 XBH, 5 SB, 1/3 K/BB (6 G)
Although he’s only 19, Francisco Lindor is already revered as the best young shortstop in the minor leagues. He spent the entire 2012 season in Low-A and held his own with a .257/.352/.355 batting line and 27 stolen bases in 122 games, though he noticeably wore down over the final few months.
The immensely talented switch-hitter is off to a torrid start at High-A, as he’s collected 11 hits in his first 24 at-bats. Equally impressive is the fact that he’s amassed more walks (3) than strikeouts (1), and is a perfect 5-for-5 on the basepaths. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the major leagues by his 21st birthday.
2013 Stats: .385/.407/.615, 4 XBH (HR), 2 SB, 3/1 K/BB (6 G)
In his first full season at High-A Lakeland last season—which was also his fourth straight at the Class-A level—Hernan Perez batted .261/.298/.338 with 27 stolen bases in 124 games. However, the highlight of his season came when the Detroit Tigers called him up to the major leagues, seemingly out of nowhere, in June. Although he appeared in only two contests, the 22-year-old managed to collected his first big league hit.
Perez was finally promoted to Double-A Erie to open the 2013 season, and has responded favorably thus far with 10 hits in six games. Demonstrating more consistency at the dish should help him get back to the major leagues later in the year.
2013 Stats: 5 IP, 3.60 ERA, .118 BAA, 8/0 K/BB (1 GS)
With clean, repeatable mechanics and a four-pitch mix that includes a mid-to-high 90s fastball and plus curveball, Kyle Zimmer is simply too good to spend more than a month in High-A. The fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft, the right-hander registered a 2.04 ERA with 42/8 K/BB in 39.2 innings in his pro debut last season before undergoing season-ending surgery to remove bone chips in his right elbow.
Fully healthy, Zimmer was outstanding in his first start of the 2013 season, as he allowed only two hits with eight strikeouts over five impressive innings for High-A Wilmington.
2013 Stats: .500/.565/.950, 6 R, 4 XBH (2 HR), 2 SB, 5/3 K/BB (5 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 19-year-old outfielder has collected multiple hits on three occasions and has three extra-base hits over his last two games.
While it’s impossible for Buxton to maintain his current torrid pace for the duration of the season, he’s already showing why his ceiling is regarded as one of the highest in the minor leagues.
2013 Stats: .423/.529/.885, 7 XBH (2 HR), 9 RBI, 7/6 K/BB (7 G)
After a storied career alongside Mike Zunino at the University of Florida, Nolan Fontana batted a disappointing .225 last season, but he demonstrated advanced plate discipline with 65 walks in 40 games for Low-A Lexington.
Assigned to High-A Lancaster to open the 2013 season, the shortstop is already reaping the benefits of playing in the hitter-friendly California League, as reflected by his .423/.529/.885 batting line with seven extra-base hits through the first seven games.
2013 Stats: 11 IP, 1.64 ERA, .244 BAA, 13/2 K/BB (2 GS)
A model of inconsistency last season at Low-A Cedar Rapids, Austin Wood, a 6’4” right-hander, registered a 4.30 ERA with 109/72 K/BB in 127.2 innings. Although he possesses a plus velocity in the mid-90s and sharp breaking ball, his inability to miss bats was a result of sloppy mechanics and poor fastball command.
The 22-year-old has been considerably more effective to open the 2013 season, as he’s posted a 13/2 K/BB through his first two starts for High-A Inland Empire.
2013 Stats: 5.2 IP, 1.59 ERA, .160 BAA, 9/0 K/BB (1 GS); MLB: 6.2 IP, 2.70 ERA, .200 BAA, 11/0 K/BB (1 GS)
The pop-up pitching prospect of the year in 2012, Dan Straily led all minor league hurlers with 190 strikeouts last season across two levels. His overwhelming success earned him a promotion to the major leagues in early August, where he registered a 3.89 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 39.1 innings for the A’s in the heat of a pennant race.
With Bartolo Colon’s 50-game suspension carrying over into the start of the season, Straily opened the year in the A’s rotation and fanned 11 batters in his first start against the Astros. However, the right-hander was demoted to Triple-A upon Colon’s return, where he struck out nine more batters in his start on Thursday.
2013 Stats: .385/.414/1.038, 8 XBH (4 HR), 17 RBI, 7/2 K/BB (6 G)
The third overall pick last June out of the University of Florida, Mike Zunino enjoyed an insanely good professional debut last summer after signing, as he posted a 1.137 OPS with 13 home runs in 44 games between Short-Season Everett and Double-A Jackson.
Opening the year back in Double-A, Zunino has picked up where he left off with a .385/.414/.1.038 batting line through his first six games. More importantly, the 22-year-old catcher has already jumped the yard in four games and leads all minor league hitters with 17 RBI. Considering the Mariners’ offensive struggles to open the year, we may be seeing Zunino in the majors well ahead of schedule.
2013 Stats: .348/.400/.739, 5 XBH (2 HR), 6/2 K/BB (6 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. Moved up to High-A for the 2013 season, Odor, an undersized left-handed hitter, homered in each of his first two contests and has hit safely in all six games.
If the now-19-year-old can continue to improve upon his impressive 2012 campaign, there’s a decent chance that he’ll receive a taste of Double-A later this season as a teenager.
2013 Stats: 5 IP, 0.00 ER, .067 BAA, 6/1 K/BB (1 GS)
Selected in the second round of the 2012 draft out of Georgia, Alex Wood made a strong impression during his professional debut, as he registered a 2.22 ERA with 52/14 K/BB in 52.2 innings for Low-A Rome. The 6’4” left-hander followed up with a strong showing this spring in major league camp, and, as a result, received an aggressive assignment to Double-A Mississippi to open the 2013 season.
In his first start of the year, Wood allowed only one hit over five scoreless frames while tallying six strikeouts and one walk. Even though the Braves’ starting rotation is crowded at the moment, and he has arms such as J.R. Graham ahead of him on the depth chart, the 22-year-old (and his deceptive arm action) could offer value as a late-season addition to the team’s bullpen.
2013 Stats: 5 IP, 0.00 ERA, .063 BAA, 8/0 K/BB (1 GS)
After registering a 3.47 ERA with 135/43 K/BB in 127 innings last season across both Class-A levels, Adam Conley, a left-hander, was moved up to Double-A for the 2013 season.
A second-round draft pick in 2011, the 22-year-old seems poised to build upon last season’s success at the more advanced level. And if his first start of the year is a sign of what’s to come, there’s a decent chance that Conley will reach the major leagues by the end of the year.
2013 Stats: 11.2 IP, 1.54 ERA, .186 BAA, 15/0 K/BB (2 GS)
Although right-handers Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard receive the most attention in the Mets’ system, Rafael Montero arguably has the most helium headed into the season. In his full-season debut in 2012, the right-hander registered a 2.36 ERA with 110/19 K/BB in 122 innings across both Class-A levels.
After drawing rave reviews from coaches and teammates alike this spring, the 22-year-old has been electric in both Double-A starts with 15 strikeouts and zero walks over 11.2 innings. With a three-pitch mix that’s highlighted by a plus fastball and slider, it’s conceivable that Montero will make a push for the major leagues by the end of the season.
2013 Stats: .321/.424/.393, 2 XBH, 5/5 K/BB (8 G)
Selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, Mitch Walding struggled last summer with a .233/.326/.308 bating line in 69 Short-Season games. Even though he struggled to make consistent contact, the sweet-swinging left-handed hitter demonstrated solid plate discipline with 66/31 K/BB.
Assigned to Low-A Lakewood, Walding has gotten off to a hot start in his full-season debut with nine hits and five walks through his first eight games.
2013 Stats: .545/.593/.818, 8 R, 3 XBH, 3 SB, 3/4 K/BB (6 G)
Despite posting a .658 OPS with 42 stolen bases last season in 82 games for Double-A Harrisburg, the Washington Nationals left Jeff Kobernus off the 40-man roster and unprotected for the Rule 5 draft. As a result, he was selected by the Red Sox in the minor league phase and immediately traded to the Tigers. After spending a majority of the spring in the team’s big league camp, he was ultimately returned to the Nationals.
Kobernus has enjoyed a red-hot start to the season at Triple-A Syracuse, as the 24-year-old is 12-for-22 (.545) with three extra-base hits, three stolen bases and 3/4 K/BB. Given his speed and defensive versatility, there’s a good chance that he reaches the major leagues later this season in a reserve role.
2013 Stats: .435/.519/.739, 3 XBH (2 HR), 4/4 K/BB (6 G)
Signed to a nine-year contract in late June, Jorge Soler posted a .910 OPS over 20 games at Low-A Peoria last summer in his full-season debut. At 6’4”, 215 pounds, the 21-year-old is a physical specimen with loud tools and secondary skills that appear to be better than originally expected.
After a strong showing this spring in major league camp, Soler was assigned to High-A Daytona to begin the season where he’s enjoyed a red-hot start with 10 hits in 23 at-bats. Unfortunately, his six-game hit streak will be put on hold for the next five games in the wake of his bat-wielding incident on Wednesday night. There’s never been a red flag regarding his makeup, so consider it a huge mental lapse and isolated incident.
2013 Stats: 12.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, .079 BAA, 21/2 K/BB (2 GS)
A third-rounder out of Rice in 2011, Tony Cingrani enjoyed a meteoric rise through the Reds’ system last season, as he began the year in High-A and finished in the major leagues. Additionally, the left-hander led all qualifying minor league pitchers with a 1.73 ERA, and ranked second with 172 strikeouts.
The 23-year-old has been outstanding in both starts this season at Triple-A Louisville, as he’s allowed only three hits with 21/2 K/BB over 12.1 scoreless innings. At this rate, it’ll be hard to keep the 6’4” left-hander in the minor leagues for much longer, as he represents the top candidate to replace Mike Leake at the back end of the team’s starting rotation.
2013 Stats: 11 IP, 1.64 ERA, .190 BAA, 12/2 K/BB (2 GS)
Selected in the second round of the 2010 draft, Jimmy Nelson enjoyed a breakout season in 2012 and reached Double-A for the first time in his career. Overall, the 6’6’, 245-pound right-hander registered a 2.83 ERA with 119/62 K/BB and a 1.98 GO/AO over 127.1 innings. Despite his success, Nelson was plagued by control and command problems that were amplified upon reaching Double-A (42/37 K/BB).
Back in Double-A to open the season, the 23-year-old has been sharp in each of his two starts. In addition to posting 12/2 K/BB through 11 innings, Nelson has continued to induce a high number of ground-ball outs (2.14 GO/AO).
2013 Stats: .269/.333/.462, 3 XBH (HR), 5 SB, 3/2 K/BB (7 G)
Arguably the breakout prospect of the 2012 season among position players, Gregory Polanco batted .325/.388/.522 with 16 home runs and 40 stolen bases in 116 games for Low-A West Virginia. Thanks to his plus speed, the 21-year-old should have no problem remaining in center field, which makes his hit tool and power all the more promising.
While Polanco’s 2013 slash line isn’t overly impressive at first glance, it’s important to keep in mind that the 6’4” outfielder is playing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. After his monster 2012 campaign, expect the left-handed hitter’s performance to be scrutinized over the course of the season.
2013 Stats: .379/.419/.483, 8 R, 2 XBH, 2/2 K/BB (7 G)
Selected with the 22nd overall pick out of Hawaii in the 2011 draft, Kolten Wong spent the entire 2012 season at Double-A Springfield where he posted a .754 OPS with 79 runs scored and 21 stolen bases in 126 games. A left-handed hitter with a mature approach, Wong’s knack for consistent contact profiles favorably as a two-hitter in the major leagues.
Assigned to Triple-A Memphis to open the 2013 season, the 22-year-old has served as a catalyst at the top of the order and has hit safely in each of the team’s seven games.
2013 Stats: 11.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, .184 BAA, 19/3 K/BB (2 GS)
After dominating the Midwest League last year in his full-season debut, Archie Bradley could rank as one of the top pitchers in the minor leagues by the end of the 2013 season. At 6’4”, 225 pounds, the right-hander throws his fastball in the mid-90s on a steep downhill plane and complements it with a sharp, downer curveball.
But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Bradley’s game is his ability to pound the lower portion of the strike zone with both offerings.
The area where he stands to improve is command, as the 20-year-old walked 84 batters in 136 innings last season. Despite moving up to the hitter-friendly California League (High-A) for his sophomore campaign, Bradley has been exceptionally sharp through his first two starts with 19/3 K/BB and seven hits allowed over 11.2 scoreless innings.
2013 Stats: .476/.542/.952, 6 XBH (2 HR), 3/3 K/BB (6 G)
Coming off a monster campaign at High-A Modesto in 2011, Nolan Arenado’s power trailed off last season in Double-A as he posted a .766 OPS in 134 games. The 21-year-old resuscitated his prospect stock this spring with an eye-opening spring in major league camp.
The third baseman has continued to swing a hot bat at Triple-A to open the season, as he’s already amassed six extra-base hits through his first six games. If he sustains his current pace, the right-handed hitter could receive an ahead-of-schedule promotion to the major leagues, where his power will inevitably be amplified at hitter-friendly Coors Field.
2013 Stats: .450/.522/.700, 3 XBH (HR), 4/3 K/BB (6 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 assigned him to Double-A Chattanooga to begin his first full season, where the 6’3”, 245-pound outfielder has continued his assault on opposing pitchers with a 1.222 OPS through six games.
Although aspects of his game are still very raw, Puig’s natural ability and plus power should help him reach the major leagues later this season.
2013 Stats: 10 IP, 0.00 ERA, .063 BAA, 12/2 K/BB (2 GS)
Admittedly one of my favorite pitchers in the minor leagues, Joe Ross had a disappointing season in 2012 in which he battled shoulder tendonitis and logged only 54.2 innings. Still only 19, the 6’3” right-hander has a highly projectable frame as well as excellent athleticism.
Finally healthy for the 2013 season, the right-hander has been excellent at Low-A Fort Wayne to begin the season, as he’s posted a 12/2 K/BB and is yet to allow an earned run through his first two starts. The organization will obviously proceed cautiously with Ross given his injury last season, as he owns arguably the highest ceiling in the organization.
2013 Stats: 11 IP, 0.82 ERA, .135 BAA, 12/1 K/BB (2 GS)
After registering a 2.54 ERA with 143/18 K/BB last season in Low-A, Clayton Blackburn, 20, was moved up to High-A his sophomore campaign. At 6’3”, 220 pounds, the right-hander doesn’t require as much projection as teammate and top prospect Kyle Crick. However, the right-hander already boasts the best command in the organization with an advanced feel for his three-pitch mix.
Picking up where he left off last season, Blackburn has allowed only one earned run with 12/1 K/BB over his first two starts. Although he may be challenged as he continues to move up the ladder, the right-hander has all the makings of a mid-rotation workhorse in the major leagues.