Stock Up, Stock Down on MLB's Top 10 Prospects After Week 6
The prospect watch has been underway for more than a month this season, with the top players in the minors trying to make a statement and force their way on to a big league roster or earn a promotion.
Of course, things haven't been smooth sailing for all of the elite players in minor league baseball. That's the great thing about this game, it humbles even the most talented players and forces them to make an adjustment.
What separates the elite players from everyone else is their ability to recognize where they are struggling, do what is necessary to fix it and get back on track before a prolonged slump drags them down too far.
Here is our latest edition of stock up, stock down on the top 10 prospects in baseball and a look at a few other names to keep a close eye on moving forward.
Note: All stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted. Prospect rankings reflect my own list prior to the start of the season.
No. 10: Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins
After starting the season on the disabled list, Christian Yelich has come back on fire. In fact, the 21-year-old has been playing so well that it would not be a shock to see the Marlins bring him up very soon.
Before the season started, I would have told you that there was no way Miami would start Yelich's arbitration clock until late in the second half. But we have seen what the front office is doing with Jose Fernandez and Marcell Ozuna.
Perhaps as a way to at least keep fans interested, the Marlins are giving their top prospects a shot in the big leagues before we think they are ready. Fernandez has been very good, and Ozuna is adjusting very quickly.
Yelich is next in line for a promotion if/when a need arises for the Marlins. Considering he hit .432/.532/.946 in the last 10 games, he may not need a lot more time in Double-A.
No. 9: Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Francisco Lindor continues to exceed the already lofty expectations he has set for himself. Everything that the 19-year-old shortstop has done this season is remarkable, especially considering he is the second-youngest player in the Carolina League.
Even though the last 10 games have not been his best, he is still hitting for average and getting on base (.282/.364/.333 over that stretch).
Known for his patience and bat control, Lindor displays an eye at the plate that goes far beyond what a normal 19-year-old should have. His 16-to-14 walk-to-strikeout ratio is a testament to his ability to work counts and not hack at bad pitches.
In addition, Lindor is also showing more power out of the gate than expected. He will never be a huge home run hitter, but the fact he has already blasted seven doubles and eight triples is a great sign.
All of that and we haven't even talked about Lindor's defense at shortstop, which is his calling card. He could be in Double-A by the end of the season. This is a special talent.
No. 8: Zack Wheeler, RHP, New York Mets
I think we can just start counting the days until Zack Wheeler joins Matt Harvey in the Mets rotation. He corrected some flaws with his mechanics and grip on the ball, and the results have been fantastic.
In his last three starts, Wheeler has thrown 20 innings and given up 14 hits, three earned runs, one home run, three walks and 19 strikeouts.
What makes Wheeler's recent success even more impressive is the environment which he is having it. Las Vegas—and a lot of Pacific Coast League parks—are notorious for the high offensive output.
But looking at where Wheeler is now, both with stuff and command, the Mets really have no reason to keep him in Triple-A other than to delay his arbitration clock. It is a sound financial decision, though it makes the wait for him to get in the big leagues agonizing.
No. 7: Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
One of the most fun parts about watching prospects move up the ladder, especially the great ones, is seeing them almost effortlessly adjust to the higher levels of competition and prove that they will be the future faces of baseball.
Case in point: Xander Bogaerts. The Red Sox's 20-year-old shortstop did nothing but hit in his first four years in the minors, but he was playing his first full season in Double-A this year, which tends to be the biggest leap for prospects before the majors.
Bogaerts struggled for the first week with Portland, only to turn things on in a flash and push his line up to .296/.382/.452 in 28 games. Even more impressive has been the way he has cut down his strikeouts and increased his walks, going from nearly a 3-1 ratio two weeks ago down to around 2-1 right now.
The thinking is that Bogaerts will eventually have to move to third base, where his bat will play just fine. But if there is a way to keep his offense at shortstop, look out.
No. 6: Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
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Aside from a walk total that is a little higher than you would like—though it isn't outrageous to the point where it has gotten him in trouble—Taijuan Walker has gotten the hang of Double-A this season after a so-so 2012.
Walker never appeared to be in over his head last year, despite having a 4.69 ERA; he just had to learn how to pitch against advanced hitters at the age of 19.
Now that he is 20, with a full year at Double-A already under his belt, Walker is letting his immense talent do the talking for him. He did get beat around a bit in his last start, with seven hits and four runs allowed in 5.1 innings, but he also struck out seven.
The Mariners have played fast with Walker because his stuff, poise and maturity have warranted moving him up. He still has an outside shot to debut later this season, though developing consistent command is still critical.
No. 5: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
The quote from Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street says that "Greed is good." In the case of Gerrit Cole, it is time for us to start getting greedy. His overall numbers in the minors look fine, but we keep wanting to see more.
It is not enough to simply be good at Triple-A for a pitcher of Cole's talents—we want him to be dominant. So far that hasn't happened, and if anything, he appears to be regressing a little bit.
Cole's stuff is so good that hitters, especially in the minors, are never going to be able to square him up. So you will see a low batting average against, few home runs allowed and a good ERA. Then you start looking at his strikeout-to-walk ratio, innings pitched per start and wonder when he will take the leap.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Cole is going deeper into games. He has worked at least seven innings in two of his last three starts, but he also has a 12-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that span.
No. 4: Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
There was a tease last week, as Wil Myers was pulled from a game after three innings, leading to some speculation that the Rays were preparing to bring him up and didn't want to risk an injury.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times quickly shot that theory down by reporting that Myers was actually taken out due to an illness.
#Rays say top prospect OF Wil Myers left Durham game after 2 innings with an upset stomach— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) May 10, 2013
Still, the time is going to come very soon. In the next few weeks, Myers should be a fixture in that Rays lineup for a long time.
But my opinion on Myers is starting to shift, though not necessarily to decrease his status. I wonder if he is going to be more of a .250-.260 hitter with a lot of home runs, walks and strikeouts. His strikeout rate skyrocketed last year after he changed his swing to tap into more power, and that trend has continued so far this season.
Myers hasn't hit for as much power at the start of this season as he did in 2012, and he has already struck out 44 times in 125 at-bats. Perhaps it is just a young player adjusting to a new league and a little frustration at repeating a level he destroyed last year.
No. 3: Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Until there is something new reported on Dylan Bundy's status, it is impossible to evaluate him. He was shut down for six weeks after getting a platelet-rich plasma injection on April 29 from Dr. James Andrews.
If you are an Orioles fan, the best news to come out of Bundy's visit to Dr. Andrews was that there was no structural damage to his arm that required surgery, but it is still upsetting to know that he won't be able to throw a ball until June.
Considering how cautious the Orioles were with Bundy, just 20 years old, last season, it would seem to be a stretch that he would be able to pitch in the big leagues at all in 2013. He has to prove he can throw without getting hurt, then pitch in rehab games to build his arm strength back up and then get back into minor league games.
Let's just hope Bundy really did just need to shut things down for a few weeks and avoids any serious surgery that will keep him out even longer.
No. 2: Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
There is good news and bad news about Oscar Taveras right now.
The good news is that his bat is doing just fine at Triple-A, not that anyone really expected him to struggle. Taveras' unique, innate ability to make hard contact is as good as there is in the minors and is the reason he could be called up at 20 years old and hold his own.
The bad news, which came across on Sunday, is that Taveras suffered an ankle injury during a game against Fresno.
According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Taveras is day-to-day after X-rays showed that nothing was broken or fractured.
The only reason Taveras isn't in St. Louis right now—and may not be until 2014—is because the Cardinals already have a crowded outfield that is playing well. But if something should happen to one of their starters, you can rest assured that he will likely be the first name on their call-up list.
No. 1: Jurickson Profar, SS, Texas Rangers
Aside from an underwhelming batting average and slugging percentage, Jurickson Profar is right where you would expect him to be during his first season in Triple-A. He is working counts, taking walks, putting the ball in play and showing off the rare instincts he has that separate him from 99 percent of players in baseball.
If there was some logical explanation for Profar's low average, like he was striking out at an alarming rate, I would say that the level has caught up to him and it is time to make adjustments. But nothing in his overall stat line suggests that is the case at all.
Instead, we can probably attribute some things just to a little bad luck at the start of the season. We see it all the time when players go through a bad stretch, but it gets compounded at the beginning of a year because three poor games can skew everything.
Profar isn't lighting up the stat sheet right now, but he has not been overmatched in any way. Eventually the numbers will line up with his skills.
Names to Watch
Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
I wanted to include these two together since they really aren't that far apart in development or level—Sano is in High-A, Buxton in Low-A—and they are the future faces of a Minnesota franchise that has gone through a down period at the big league level.
Sano is ripping up High-A right now with a .377/.462/.713 line with 10 home runs in 33 games. He has the best power in the minors—or is at least tied with Texas' Joey Gallo—but is evolving into a very good hitter.
Strikeouts will always be part of Sano's game—he has 37 in 122 at-bats this season—but if he makes enough contact to hit .260-.270 in the big leagues, he will hit 40 home runs with no problem.
Meanwhile, Buxton's start might be more impressive considering how raw it appeared he was coming out of a small Georgia high school last year. He is hitting .352/.458/.608 with 18 extra-base hits and a 29-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Of any duo in the minors, Buxton and Sano is easily the best of the bunch. They are both superstars and MVP candidates in the making, even though they are at least two years away from contributing.
Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies
Trevor Story was the breakout star in Colorado's system last year, hitting .277/.367/.505 with 43 doubles, five triples and 18 home runs in 122 games.
This season, however, has been a different story entirely. Story had strikeout problems last year, with 121 in 477 at-bats, but this year it has become more pronounced. He has whiffed 45 times in 125 at-bats and his line sits at a paltry .184/.250/.280 at High-A Modesto.
Unless Story can start putting the ball in play more consistently or at least get his approach back to where it was in 2012, this could turn into a lost season for the 20-year-old.