When it comes to the future of an organization, no sport pours more time in nurturing and developing young players than baseball. From the annual June MLB Amateur draft to multiple levels of minor league stops to fall and winter leagues, baseball teams will literally spend years and millions of dollars to draft, develop and graduate players to big-league competition.
Due to the rising costs of free agents, the lack of high-end stars reaching free agency and respective fanbases gravitating towards homegrown stars, the demand and hope for high-end prospects has never been higher.
While some think prospects have become overvalued, baseball fans will pour over organizational rankings to see how their team is set up for success in both the present and future.
Of course, as baseball fans have come to know very well, not all prospects will pan out. In fact, when comparing baseball to the NFL and NBA, you're much more likely to see a top prospect spend an entire career in the minor leagues in baseball.
Prospects require patience and foresight, but when they pan out, their value becomes obvious from the moment they take the field.
For every Todd Van Poppel, there is a Bryce Harper.
While every organization hopes to draft and develop a few of these future stars, it's more fun to imagine an entire dream team of them.
Without further ado, here is a list of Major League Baseball's All-Prospect Team.
If it weren't for injuries to his back, knee and most recently, foot, d'Arnaud likely would have shed the prospect label years ago. After being traded twice in the last three years, ironically, both times for Cy Young winners, d'Arnaud seems to have found a home in the New York Mets organization as their catcher of the future.
When assessing his long-term potential, look to his performance as the 2011 MVP of the Eastern League in Double-A.
During that dominant campaign for New Hampshire, d'Arnaud posted a .914 OPS, legged out 55 extra-base hits, racked up 230 total bases and threw out 26 percent of base stealers trying to run on him behind the plate, which was good for the sixth best percentage in the Eastern League.
Injuries have begun to cast a cloud over his future, but he remains the premier catching prospect in the sport.
Look away, Phillies fans.
Like d'Arnaud, the top first base prospect on our list is also a former Philadelphia Phillies farmhand traded away to satisfy the "win now" mentality that has helped the Phillies to a sustained run of excellence over the last six years but ultimately looms as their undoing.
As Ryan Howard struggles to regain his former self after suffering an Achilles injury at the very end of the 2011 season, Houston is on the cusp of handing the first base job to Singleton.
Despite an .893 OPS in Double-A last season, Singleton isn't yet mashing at Triple-A in 2013. Instead, he's in the midst of a 50-game suspension for recreational drug use. When he returns, expect his bat to be talked about often this summer in Houston. If he excels, a September call-up isn't out of the question.
The Astros have a long, long road to rebuild their roster. Singleton's power can provide a major building block towards that.
Due to Chase Headley's injury, Gyorko debuted with the major league team to start the 2013 season.
Padres fans should get used to his name in the lineup, regardless of what his long-term position turns out to be.
From the day Gyorko was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft, just a few picks before fellow young major leaguers Andrelton Simmons and Drew Smyly, it was clear that his future would be dictated by his bat, not his glove.
Through three seasons of minor league play, the bat has proven to be worthy of the selection and showed he is major league ready this spring. His .913 career minor league OPS, 30 home run season in 2012 and back-to-back 100-plus RBI seasons showed San Diego that he can hold his own in the lineup.
As the years go on, the Padres will find him a home somewhere along their infield and watch the numbers pile up in their lineup.
Outstanding bat speed? Check. Switch-hitting ability? Check. Surprising power? Check. Advanced for his 20-year-old age? Check.
Aside from finding an opening in the Rangers lineup and middle infield, there's little that Profar can't do on a baseball field.
If Texas wasn't as stacked with talent, Profar would be playing everyday in the show right now. As it is, his performance might force his way to the Rangers at some point this summer.
If he doesn't, his talent could cause another team, like, say, the Miami Marlins, to offer a top-flight outfielder or pitcher in return for six years of control on a talent like Profar.
Either way, he's coming to a ballpark near you this summer.
In a sport where prospects are evaluated by comparing tools, Sano has one that stands out above others: Raw power.
While comparing anyone's power with Giancarlo Stanton seems like a foolish exercise, look at Sano's isolated power numbers (slugging percentage minus batting average) during his minor league career thus far: .203, .182, .345, .263 and through 19 games in 2013, .356.
Stanton, stemming from rookie ball to Double-A, posted the following ISO's: .077, .133, .318, .283, .224 and .417.
Sano will turn 20 in May. Stanton was 20 upon being called up to Miami in 2010.
When Minnesota decides to give Sano the call-up to the big leagues, expect a major power boost to their lineup.
Some prospects are athletes learning how to hit at high levels of competition. Christian Yelich is a born hitter learning to do all the other things needed to achieve success at high levels of baseball competition.
The following are Yelich's batting averages across his three years of minor league baseball: .362, .312, .329. No matter the level, from rookie ball to Double-A, Yelich has dominated opposing pitching.
With a swing that's been compared to Mark Grace and John Olerud, the Marlins outfielder has a chance to compete for batting titles for many years in Miami.
As the 23rd pick in the 2010 draft, Yelich will soon join his fellow first-round picks Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey and Chris Sale in the major leagues.
When selecting Tavares for Bleacher Report's All-Phenom Team, I pointed out the comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero that scouts have made.
The most amazing thing about Tavares in regard to the Guerrero comparison? At the same age, he seems to have a better grasp of hitting than Vladimir, an almost sure-fire future Hall of Famer, did.
In 2011, at the age of 19, Tavares hit .386 in Single-A. In 1996, at the same age, Vladimir hit .314 in rookie league ball.
Of course, projecting Tavares to become a better player than Vladimir Guerrero is a ridiculous notion. He's still just a prospect in the Cardinals system.
Yet the potential for greatness is evident.
If not for stubbornness by his former team and service time concerns by his current organization, Wil Myers would already be crushing baseballs in the majors.
Last year, while spending time between Double and Triple-A, Myers punished baseballs to the tune of a combined .987 OPS. At the age of 22, he already has 65 career home runs in the minors, has played in the Futures Game and is a three-time member of Baseball America's preseason top 30 prospects in baseball.
He's probably going to strikeout often during his early days in Tampa, but the power gain will offset the whiffs.
Myers is a future cleanup hitter in Tampa.
For now, he can hit and thrive on the All-Prospect Team.
While a trip to see Dr. James Andrews will cause Baltimore baseball fans to hold their breath, the future is bright for Dylan Bundy.
After being chosen as the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bundy burst on the scene last season by striking out batters at all levels across minor league baseball.
In 103.2 IP across Single-A, High-A and Double-A competition, Bundy whiffed 119 batters. His 10.3 K/9 rate as a 19-year-old starter is very similar to the type of dominance showed by CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez in their 19-year-old minor league seasons respectively.
Of course, those pitchers were able to combine dominance with health. For now, Bundy can say the same. His spot on this team is secure until that changes significantly.
There's little to be excited about in Seattle right now. The Mariners are 8-15, having lost four of six games to the Houston Astros this month.
If a front-office house cleaning is coming in Seattle, the next executives won't have a bare cupboard to work with.
Most of that is due to the presence of 20-year-old Taijuan Walker.
With three excellent pitches—fastball, curve, change—Walker has shown an ability to miss bats (9.5 K/9) across his minor league career. Furthermore, his K/BB ratio of 2.5 shows a young pitcher with command to go along with raw ability.
For years, Seattle has been searching for a long-term wing man to pair with Felix Hernandez in the rotation.
In Walker, they've found it.
One of the best parts about watching young players grow into established stars is the path from wide-eyed rookie to been there, done that veteran.
After Fernandez, a surprise inclusion on the Marlins' 25-man roster to start the season, defeated Philadelphia for his first major league victory, he had this to say to the Miami Herald:
“I love to be out there helping them out,” Fernandez said. “It was a lot of fun. I still can’t believe I’m in the big leagues pitching, and I’m trying to help my team to win, and it’s just fun to be here.”
Fernandez can pretend he's the one helping out the Marlins to victories. As the months go on, fanbases around baseball will see that he's dragging his teammates to them every fifth day.
Hosting a sports talk radio show for WFAN allows me to solicit opinion, commentary and comments on the sporting world from a passionate and eclectic group of fans.
While it's hard to get two people, let alone a city of over 8,000,000, to agree on anything, the top pitching prospect in the Mets organization is a subject that seems to have universal agreement:
Wheeler is good enough to be in New York's rotation right now!
To that, I can't argue.
Of course, there's more to it.
First, with the Mets unlikely to compete for a postseason spot this year, starting Wheeler's free-agent and arbitration clock now would be short sighted and cost millions down the line.
Second, an early-season blister along with playing in hitter-friendly Las Vegas, has slowed Wheeler's dominance just a bit. He's walking too many batters and hasn't forced the organization's hand just yet.
Eventually, he will.
At some point this summer, he'll be a part of the rotation in Flushing and sit atop it along with Matt Harvey as a co-ace for a long, long time.
Not a bad haul for two months of Carlos Beltran.
Considering the pitching woes for the Angels in Los Angeles, some Angel fans are probably clamoring for a time machine to take back Tyler Skaggs from the Dan Haren deal in 2010.
The only southpaw in our all-prospect rotation, Skaggs, 21, is knocking on the door of Arizona's starting five.
With one of the best curveballs in minor league baseball, Skaggs reminds of a young Barry Zito. His fastball looks even better due to the curve, his changeup is improving by the year and bats are being missed at a tremendous rate (9.8 K/9).
Of all his attributes and statistical dominance thus far, perhaps nothing has been more impressive than his 2.91 ERA in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Chase Field has been a hitters haven over the years, but Skaggs has the stuff and background to succeed in Arizona for a long time.
To be honest, choosing a "closer" for an All-Prospect Team can be a challenge. Baseball has changed over the years, incorporating bigger and more versatile bullpens, but it's rare to see a pitcher drafted and developed as a relief pitcher.
For the most part, relief pitchers, even the greatest arms like Billy Wagner, Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, were developed to be starters. For one reason or another, they became relief pitchers.
Of course, there are a few—Craig Kimbrel, Chad Cordero, Huston Street—that come to mind as a lock-down relief pitcher from their first stop in the minors through their time as top closers.
Soon, there may be a new name to add to that list: Mark Montgomery.
The 22-year-old right-handed reliever has pitched in 78 games across the Yankees' minor league system but has never started a game.
Due to an unhittable slider and outrageous strikeout ability (14.6 K/9), Montgomery is being ticketed for a future spot in the New York bullpen.
Furthermore, he might end up as the heir apparent to the great Mariano Rivera.
Anyone good enough for that job is good enough to close for our All-Prospect Team.
Who would you have included in your All-Prospect Team? How would you fill out the lineup card?