MLB Prospects Update: Hottest, Coldest Hitters at Every Minor League Level
I don’t know what the Minnesota Twins are feeding their young hitters, but I want some.
In all seriousness, the team’s top position prospects have been absolutely raking to begin the 2013 season.
At the top of the list is third baseman Miguel Sano, obviously, as he’s already posted gaudy numbers in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League (High-A). Meanwhile, playing alongside Sano at Fort Myers is Eddie Rosario, a 21-year-old left-handed hitter who possesses one of the more underrated hit tools in the minor leagues.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Top draft pick Byron Buxton has nearly mastered Low-A after only five weeks, and he’s pacing the Midwest League in nearly every offensive category. Not to be outdone, teammate and fellow outfielder Adam Brett Walker II (ABW2) has also put up big power numbers thus far. But the fact that he’s done so as a 21-year-old in Low-A does make it less impressive.
Anyway, enough of my gushing about Twins’ prospects.
Here’s a look at this week’s hottest and coldest hitters at every minor league level.
Hottest *Like last week, I'm only focusing on the hottest hitters because, well, there's a ton of 'em.
Rosell Herrera, SS/3B, Colorado Rockies
.362/.444/.595, 26 R, 15 XBH (6 HR), 6 SB, 26/19 K/BB (30 G)
Herrera opened the 2012 season at Low-A Asheville, but he was ultimately demoted to the Short-Season Northwoods League after posting a .543 OPS through 63 games. His second tour of the level has been substantially better, clearly. Last 10 games: .457/.545/.771, 15 R, 5 2B, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 5/8 K/BB.
Tom Murphy, C, Colorado Rockies
.415/.531/.892, 21 R, 15 XBH (7 HR), 19/12 K/BB (19 G)
The Rockies' third-round draft pick last June, Murphy’s plus raw power has been on display during his current 15-game hitting streak, albeit against inferior competition in the South Atlantic League. Depending on the organization’s assessment of his defense, the 22-year-old could be a candidate for a promotion directly to Double-A.
Jorge Alfaro, C, Texas Rangers
.266/.319/.560, 16 XBH (8 HR), 21 RBI, 30/5 K/BB (30 G)
An outstanding athlete with the tools to be an impact player at the major league level, Alfaro, 19, is quickly learning how to tap into his plus raw power while repeating Low-A Hickory. His game still involves a lot of swing-and-miss, but man, the kid can really sting the ball.
Adam Brett Walker II, OF, Minnesota Twins
.303/.361/.596, 16 XBH (7 HR), 32 RBI, 28/8 K/BB (28 G)
Yes, ABW2 has tons of raw power and is currently putting up gaudy numbers in his full-season debut. But at the same time, he’s also a 21-year-old college player in Low-A. It’s not like he’s Byron Buxton or anything...
Bryon Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
.373/.488/.647, 31 R, 15 XBH (5 HR), 24 RBI, 13 SB, 21/24 K/BB (28 G)
Speaking of the devil, what Buxton is doing this season at Low-A is unbelievable. The 19-year-old has one of the highest ceilings among all minor league position prospects, and he is making a strong case for a top-10 overall ranking by midseason.
Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati Reds
.284/.393/.474, 11 XBH (3 HR), 19/16 K/BB (27 G)
The 2012 supplemental first-rounder has mature plate discipline for his age, as well as a promising hit tool from the left side. His future role is still up in the air, however, as Winker will have to show more consistent power in future seasons to avoid “tweener” status.
Jabari Henry, OF, Seattle Mariners
.370/.480/.605, 11 XBH, 10/18 K/BB (24 G)
An 18th-round selection out of Florida International last June, Henry could be this year’s breakout pop-up prospect in the Midwest League. But much like ABW2, he’s an older prospect at 22 and should be out-performing his Low-A peers.
Kevin Plawecki, C, New York Mets
.400/.457/.691, 17 2B, 5 HR, 28 RBI, 14/8 K/BB (29 G)
Plawecki has feasted on South Atlantic League pitching over the first month-plus of the 2013 season, as the 22-year-old currently leads the league in hits (44), doubles (17), total bases (76) and OPS (1.148).
Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
.362/.422/.517, 42 H, 12 XBH, 7 SB, 13/11 K/BB (30 G)
Like Byron Buxton, Lindor is already making a strong case for a top-10 overall thanks a ridiculously good start to the season at High-A Carolina. Beyond his obvious defensive virtues, the 19-year-old’s consistency at the plate could have him on the fast track to the major leagues by midseason. Last 10 games: .487/.524/.692, 19 H, 5 XBH, 7 RBI.
Jake Lamb, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks
.396/.500/.708, 9 XBH (3 HR), 16/11 K/BB (15 G)
Drafted in the sixth round last June, Lamb is an above-average defender at the hot corner with consistent gap power from the left side and steadily improving power frequency. Last 10 games: .412/.487/.676, 6 2B, 7 RBI.
Nolan Fontana, SS, Houston Astros
.353/.487/.543, 29 R, 13 XBH (3 HR), 23 RBI, 24/30 K/BB (31 G)
Fontana continues to be an on-base machine at High-A Lancaster, as the 21-year-old has recorded more walks (30) than strikeouts (24) this season. While he has some pop, don’t expect Fontana to post anything close to a .543 slugging percentage outside the California League.
Sean Coyle, 2B, Boston Red Sox
.300/.345/.725, 22 R, 15 XBH (9 HR), 6 SB, 20/6 K/BB (19 G)
Coyle showcased an intriguing blend of power and speed in each of the last two seasons between both Class-A levels, though his overaggressive approach and propensity to swing and miss has prevented his hit tool from developing.
Assigned to High-A Salem for the second consecutive season, the 20-year-old is currently pacing the Carolina League with nine home runs and a .725 slugging percentage.
Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins
.387/.465/.757, 27 R, 20 XBH (10 HR), 31 RBI, 34/14 K/BB (30 G)
Most prospect evaluators—myself included—expected Sano to struggle in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. Well, we couldn’t have been more wrong about that one. The soon-to-be 20-year-old is currently leading the league with 10 home runs, 31 RBI and a 1.222 OPS.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
.322/.389/.504, 37 H, 13 XBH (4 HR), 12 SB, 19/12 K/BB (31 G)
After a breakout campaign last year for Low-A West Virginia, Polanco, 21, has had no problem adjusting to the Florida State League. More importantly, he’s thriving in the face of more advanced competition.
Garin Cecchini, 3B, Boston Red Sox
.379/.467/.670, 22 R, 18 XBH (4 HR), 10 SB, 16/17 K/BB (27 G)
Coming off an impressive full-season debut in 2012, Cecchini’s prospect stock is on the rise thanks to a red-hot start at High-A Salem; in fact, it’s reached the point where one could even say he’s mastered the level. Last 10 games: .436/.511/.872, 10 R, 17 H, 10 XBH, 11 RBI, 3 SB, 5/6 K/BB.
Eddie Rosario, 2B, Minnesota Twins
.347/.380/.532, 25 R, 14 XBH (3 HR), 22/8 K/BB (30 G)
Apparently, hitting is contagious among the Twins’ Class-A prospects—even if they aren’t all on the same team. Rosario, 21, has hit for average at every minor league stop thus far and has the potential for a plus hit tool at maturity.
Cameron Perkins, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
.352/.379/.576, 44 H, 19 XBH (13 2B), 16/5 K/BB (30 G)
After an impressive professional debut last summer in the Short-Season New York-Penn League, the Phillies bumped Perkins directly to High-A Clearwater for his full-season debut. The 6’5” outfielder has surpassed all expectations with a .352/.379/.576 triple-slash line through 30 Florida State League games.
Chris Taylor, SS, Seattle Mariners
.320/.430/.472, 13 XBH, 9 SB, 36/23 K/BB (31 G)
One of the more underrated shortstops in the 2012 draft class, Taylor is an offense-minded shortstop with advanced plate discipline and a knack for making consistent contact. The 22-year-old has the chops, arm strength and instincts to remain at the position for the foreseeable future and, in my opinion, will surprise everyone with his consistency on both sides of the ball.
Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies
.167/.244/.259, 7 XBH, 4 SB, 42/9 K/BB (29 G)
I still love Trevor Story and consider him a top-50 prospect, but this is getting ridiculous. That said, he’s shown signs of life over the last three games by going 4-for-12 with three RBI and two stolen bases.
Addison Russell, SS, Oakland Athletics
.177/.333/.291, 6 XBH, 30/19 K/BB (21 G)
Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing discouraging about Russell’s start to the season with a .333 on-base percentage and 12 runs scored through 21 games. But after dealing with a few mild muscle strains in early April, the 19-year-old has struggled to find his rhythm at the plate.
Jason Esposito, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
.206/.254/.299, 6 XBH, 33/5 K/BB (28 G)
A second-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2011, Esposito is a solid defender at the hot corner but lacks projection in his hit tool.
Richie Shaffer, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays
.232/.268/.393, 10 XBH (4 HR), 31/5 K/BB (30 G)
The Rays’ first-round draft pick last June, Shaffer, like Cameron Perkins, is making the jump from the Short-Season level to High-A for his full-season debut. However, the 22-year-old hasn’t fared nearly as well with a 29/5 K/BB through 29 games.
Brandon Jacobs, OF, Boston Red Sox
.180/.270/.320, 10 XBH (2 HR), 31/10 K/BB (27 G)
Jacobs is once again off to a rough start at High-A Salem this season, which is also his third consecutive campaign at a Class-A affiliate. Unless the 22-year-old figures things out sometime soon, he may never even make it to Double-A.
Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins
.343/.389/.687, 14 R, 13 XBH (3 HR), 15 RBI, 19/5 K/BB (15 G)
Possessing the sweetest and purest swing in the minor leagues, Yelich’s start to the 2013 season was delayed by a heel injury sustained during spring training. However, after finally settling in at Double-A and regaining his timing at the dish, the left-handed hitter has quickly made up for lost time with an eye-popping 1.075 OPS and 13 extra-base hits through 15 games.
Yelich has been especially hot over his last 10 games: .400/.438/.844, 11 R, 10 XBH (3 HR), 11 RBI.
Tyler Collins, OF, Detroit Tigers
.260/.351/.552, 20 R, 14 XBH (7 HR), 19/12 K/BB (27 G)
After a dismal start to the season, Collins, 22, has been an absolute monster at the dish over his last 10 games: .333/.463/.939, 6 HR, 13 RBI, 8/8 K/BB.
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
.289/.381/.636, 27 R, 20 XBH (11 HR), 9 SB, 40/16 K/BB (32 G)
After launching 24 home runs across two levels in his full-season debut last year, Springer currently leads all minor league hitters with 11 home runs.
The 23-year-old has always been a streaky hitter—which basically means he strikes out too often—and probably always will be. However, even a slight adjustment or improvement to his approach could help the toolsy outfielder reach the major leagues ahead of schedule later this season.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
.298/.365/.471, 19 R, 10 XBH (2 HR), 29/11 K/BB (24 G)
After battling through a painfully slow start back at Double-A Portland, Bogaerts finally caught fire in mid-April and hasn’t let up. During his current nine-game hitting streak, the 20-year-old is batting .350 (14-for-40) with seven extra-base hits and nine RBI.
Kevin Pillar, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
.331/.383/.465, 18 R, 12 XBH (3 HR), 10 SB, 12/9 K/BB (33 G)
Although he’s not the sexiest prospect as a 24-year-old “tweener,” Pillar has proven that his bat will play at any level. Now in his third minor league season, the right-handed hitter has batted .322 or better at every stop and shows no signs of slowing down.
Nick Ahmed, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
.162/.227/.172, 2B, 23/8 K/BB (32 G)
Acquired from the Braves as part of the blockbuster deal for Justin Upton during the offseason, Ahmed is yet to break out of his early-season funk at Double-A Mobile. Beyond the problems in his approach, the 23-year-old simply is not driving the baseball this year, as he mustered just one extra-base hit in 99 at-bats.
Jack Marder, 2B/C, Seattle Mariners
.195/.290/.317, 7 XBH, 18/8 K/BB (25 G)
Coming off an unexpected breakout campaign in which he posted a 1.008 OPS with 16 stolen bases over 65 games at High-A High Desert, Marder has struggled away from the hitter-friendly California League this season.
Since it makes little sense for the Mariners to demote him back to the Cal League, expect Marder to work through his early-season issues at the more advanced level.
Christian Villanueva, 3B, Chicago Cubs
One of two prospects acquired from the Rangers in the Ryan Dempster deal last summer, Villanueva is yet to flash his offensive potential as a member of the Cubs. In my opinion, it has more to do with his approach than it does his hitting mechanics.
However, if he can right the ship and gain some momentum headed into the second half of the season, there’s a chance that the 21-year-old could serve as a September call-up.
Sebastian Valle, C, Philadelphia Phillies
.179/.238/.333, 8 XBH (2 HR), 28/6 K/BB (23 G)
After posting a career-worst .699 OPS last season between Double-A and Triple-A, things only seem to be getting worse for Valle. While the 22-year-old has plenty of talent, his inability to make swift adjustments against advanced pitching has prevented a natural ascension of the Phillies’ system.
Ronny Rodriguez, SS/2B, Cleveland Indians
.230/.246/.328, 7 XBH, 12 RBI, 5 SB, 22/2 K/BB (32 G)
Like Sebastian Valle, Rodriguez is an excellent athlete who’s loaded with loud tools and raw talent—"raw" being the operative word.
Although he posted a .752 OPS at High-A Carolina last season, the right-handed hitter’s lack of plate discipline has been exploited in the early-going at Double-A. And with Francisco Lindor tearing up the Carolina League, it’s conceivable that Tribe may choose to flip-flop the duo sometime soon.
Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
.308/.351/.462, 10 XBH (3 HR), 16 RBI, 13/6 K/BB (27 G)
It’s official: Oscar Taveras is starting to heat up. Regarded as the best pure hitter in the minor leagues, the 20-year-old outfielder is batting .325/.372/.500 with four extra-base hits and nine RBI over his last 10 games. He has also seen his season average climb back over .300.
Sadly, it doesn’t seem as though we’ll get to see Taveras in the major leagues until the final months of the season. At the same time, an injury to either Matt Holiday or Carlos Beltran would open the door for the phenom.
Michael Choice, OF, Oakland Athletics
.288/.399/.492, 24 R, 12 XBH (6 HR), 26 RBI, 28/19 K/BB (31 G)
Although Choice missed the second half of the 2012 season at Double-A with a broken hand (via HBP), the A’s promoted him to Triple-A after a strong showing this spring in major league camp.
In possession of robust, plus raw power and above-average power frequency, Choice is currently putting up big numbers in the Pacific Coast League—as he should be. And if Josh Reddick’s stint on the disabled list doesn’t go as planned, promoting Choice to the major leagues may be the best option for replacing his production.
Nick Franklin, SS/2B, Seattle Mariners
.344/.468/.522, 20 R, 10 XBH (3 HR), 5 SB, 14/20 K/BB (25 G)
After a hot start at Double-A Jackson in 2012, Franklin was promoted to Triple-A Tacoma, where he posted a .725 OPS with 68 strikeouts in 64 games. Sent back to the level to open the current season, the switch-hitting middle infielder has made noticeable adjustments to his approach by being more selective and working deeper counts.
Additionally, it’s a great sign that the 22-year-old is finally making consistent, hard contact his natural right side.
Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
.354/.380/.486, 30 R, 51 H, 13 XBH, 6 SB, 29/5 K/BB (32 G)
Because Owings posted a .668 OPS in 69 Double-A games last year, the Diamondbacks' decision to promote him to Triple-A for the 2013 season was surprising. But, apparently, it was a good call, as Owings currently leads the entire Pacific Coast League with 51 hits in 32 games.
The 21-year-old has quick wrists and a powerful swing that should yield 15-20 home runs in the major leagues. However, his lack of a consistent approach and poor on-base skills would be easily exploited and may prevent him hitting at the top of the lineup.
Jonathan Villar, SS, Houston Astros
.301/.344/.480, 17 R, 13 XBH (3 HR), 21 RBI, 10 SB, 29/7 K/BB (32 G)
Since making his full-season debut with the Phillies in 2010, Villar has showcased an intriguing blend on extra-base pop and plus speed. And even though he has the athleticism, range and arm strength to handle shortstop at the highest level, the 22-year-old switch-hitter still makes too many mistakes and appears to lose his focus at times.
Regardless, Villar has picked the right time to put things together in his first season at Triple-A Oklahoma City. If he continues to make improvements on both sides of the ball, he could be in line for an early call-up.
Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
.190/.254/.267, 11 R, 7 XBH, 17 SB, 22/10 K/BB (29 G)
After a record-breaking campaign in 2012, in which he narrowed the gap between his off-the-charts natural ability and baseball skills, Hamilton has seemingly taken two steps back this season at Triple-A Louisville.
While he’ll always be a menace on the basepaths and, at worst, offer value as a late-inning replacement and pinch-runner, Hamilton won’t receive a legitimate crack at the big league lineup until his contact rate (from both sides of the plate) and on-base skills improve.
Gary Brown, OF, San Francisco Giants
.201/.267/.306, 26 R, 10 XBH, 4 SB (4 CS), 33/9 K/BB (33 G)
Brown’s prospect stock has been on a steep decline since the start of the 2012 season, as the 24-year-old hasn’t come close to matching the .925 OPS and 53 stolen bases that he posted at High-A San Jose (California League...go figure) in 2011.
And if he can’t get on base at a reasonable clip and utilize his plus-plus speed, then Brown is essentially reduced to a defensive replacement at best.
Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners
.220/.308/.484, 16 R, 12 XBH (5 HR), 29 RBI, 31/10 K/BB (24 G)
After a torrid start to the season at Triple-A Tacoma, Zunino has cooled off considerably while battling through his first major slump as a professional. While it would be great to see the 22-year-old reach the major leagues before the All-Star break, allowing him sufficient time to work through his struggles is undoubtedly in the best interest of his long-term development.
Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
.276/.372/.414, 17 R, 9 XBH (3 HR), 17 RBI, 40/17 K/BB (30 G)
As is the case with most young hitters awaiting an imminent call-up to the major leagues, Myers has been up and down at the plate through the first five weeks of the season. When he’s in a funk, the 22-year-old swings through too many pitches, which is accurately reflected by his 14 strikeouts over the last 10 games.
Nick Castellanos, OF, Detroit Tigers
.230/.278/.381, 14 XBH (10 2B), 33/10 K/BB (34 G)
Castellanos solidified his status as a can’t-miss prospect last season by posting an .815 OPS between High-A and Double-A as a 20-year-old. At the same time, his success also led to lofty expectation headed into the 2013.
While the third baseman-turned-outfielder has held his own thus far, despite the inconsistent production, his lack of plate discipline and propensity to expand the strike zone has resulted in 13 strikeouts over his last 10 games.