Each MLB Team's 'Hidden Gem' Prospect Fans May Not Know About
Due to the amount of attention paid to each organization's top prospects and early-round draft picks, many of the game's underrated prospects are perpetually obscured. Most of the time, these prospects are younger players who are housed in the low minors and still require considerable physical projection. At the same time, there are countless prospects on the older side of the age curve who have dipped off the radar due to injury.
Here's a look at one "hidden gem" from each organization who could make a push for the major leagues in the coming years.
Josh Hader, LHP, Baltimore Orioles
A 6’3”, 160-pound left-hander, Hader was selected by the Orioles in the 19th round of the 2012 draft. The 19-year-old lacks an overpowering fastball in the low-90s, but his projectable frame suggests he should add a few more ticks as he adds strength. His secondary offerings consist of a both an average curveball and changeup that play up thanks to his advanced command.
Manuel Margot, OF, Boston Red Sox
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in July, 2011, Margot showcases plus-plus speed on both sides of the ball. Only 18 years old, the right-handed hitter possesses plate discipline beyond his years and employs a short, quick swing that enables him to lace line drives from line-to-line. He may feature average power at maturity, though that will also depend on how much strength he adds in the coming years.
Rafael De Paula, RHP, New York Yankees
Coming off an impressive professional debut in the Dominican Summer League, De Paula, 22, has continued to make strides this year in his full-season debut. At 6’2”, 212 pounds, the right-hander overpowers hitters with a plus-plus fastball that sits in the mid-to-upper-90s. His curveball and changeup have both improved this season and have helped him amass a gaudy strikeout total.
Jesse Hahn, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
A sixth-round pick of the Rays in 2010, Hahn didn’t make his professional debut until last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011. A 6’5”, 182-pound right-hander, he’ll sit comfortably in the mid-90s with his fastball and will flirt with elite velocity.
In terms of his secondary pitches, he flashes a sharp, downer curveball as well as a promising slider. Provided that he can remain healthy, Hahn’s power arsenal could lead to a quick rise to the major leagues.
Alberto Tirado, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Tirado, 18, is slightly undersized at 6’1”, 177 pounds, but boasts a power arm and projectable arsenal. The right-hander’s fastball will bump 96 mph with some weight, and he already demonstrates a feel for attacking the bottom of the strike zone. His changeup is a slightly above-average offering at the moment with a chance to add a grade, while his slider is a raw offering that flashes at least average potential.
Micah Johnson, 2B, Chicago White Sox
A ninth-round draft pick out of Indiana in 2012, Johnson is a legitimate plus-plus runner and currently leads all minor leaguers with 53 stolen bases this season. A switch hitter, he has more thump than his 5’11”, 190-pound frame suggests, but swings through too many pitches. In the field, Johnson is a fringy defender at second base, though his speed does give him above-average range for the position.
Chen Lee, RHP, Cleveland Indians
A 26-year-old right-hander, Lee works from a deceptive low three-quarters arm slot that makes his low-to-mid-90s fastball play up and helps him miss bats with regularity. Although his command is only average, he does a good job working low in the zone and generates a high number of ground-ball outs.
Although he lacks a true out pitch and struggles against left-handed hitters, it’s a safe bet that Lee will contribute in the major leagues at some point later in the season.
Devon Travis, 2B, Detroit Tigers
A 13th-round draft pick out of Florida State in 2012, Travis lacks outstanding tools but is a well-rounded player with mature secondary skills. At 5’9”, 183 pounds, the right-handed hitter has more power than his size suggests, while his advanced plate discipline allows him to make consistent contact and reach base at a favorable clip.
Elier Hernandez, OF, Kansas City Royals
Signed for $3 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, Hernandez is an impressive athlete with present strength at 6’3”, 200 pounds. Only 18 years old, the right-handed hitter showcases plus bat speed that results in consistent loud contact. And although it may take some time for his bat to develop, Hernandez is expected to hit for enough power to profile as a corner outfielder at the highest level.
D.J. Baxendale, RHP, Minnesota Twins
Selected by the Twins in the 10th round of the 2012 draft out of Arkansas, Baxendale has been sharp since making his professional debut last season. The 6’2”, 210-pound right-hander will work in the low-90s with his fastball and features above-average command of the pitch throughout the strike zone. And although his breaking ball and changeup are merely average offerings, he demonstrates a feel for both pitches and how to sequence his entire arsenal.
Vincent Velasquez, RHP, Houston Astros
A second-round draft pick in 2010, Velasquez’s professional career got off to a slow start as he missed the entire 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. But when he’s at his best, the 6’3”, 203-pound right-hander features a very projectable three-pitch mix that includes an above-average fastball, average breaking ball and changeup that flashes above-average potential. At the moment, the only thing the 21-year-old lacks is consistency.
Yency Almonte, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
Selected by the Angels in the 17th round of the 2012 draft, Almonte has a projectable frame at 6’3”, 185 pounds with room to add considerable strength as he matures physically. Along those same lines, while the 19-year-old’s fastball is currently an average pitch, he’s likely to add velocity as he fills out. Almonte’s slider currently represents as his best secondary offering with sharp break, and should serve as an out pitch once he develops more consistency.
Drew Granier, RHP, Oakland Athletics
Granier isn’t a sexy prospect as a 24-year-old without a plus pitch. But for what he lacks in physical projection and pure stuff, he makes up for with pitchability.
The right-hander features a four-pitch mix of average offerings—his slider is the only pitch that flashes above-average potential—that he commands throughout the strike zone. And although he’s missed a high number of bats over the last two seasons, it’s doubtful that the trend will continue against more advanced hitters at higher levels.
Luiz Gohara, LHP, Seattle Mariners
Signed by the Mariners out of Brazil late last summer, Gohara is a physical left-hander with a strong, durable frame at 6’3”, 210 pounds. Beyond his size, the 16-year-old has drawn rave reviews for his ability to flash three pitches with average-or-better potential, including a fastball that already cracks 90 mph.
C.J. Edwards, RHP, Texas Rangers
A 48th-round draft pick in 2011, Edwards, 21, has quietly emerged as one of the Rangers’ more intriguing pitching prospects over the last two seasons. At 6’2”, 155 pounds, the wiry-thin right-hander has a deceptive delivery that makes his average stuff play up and helps him miss bats with consistency. His best offering is his above-average fastball that has late life and jumps on opposing hitters, while his changeup and curveball have continued to improve.
Luis Merejo, LHP, Atlanta Braves
Signed by the Braves in the fall of 2011, Merejo, 18, lacks physical projection at 6’, 175 pounds, but possesses a distinct feel for pitching uncommon in players his age.
His fastball currently features average velocity with a chance to improve a grade as he adds strength, and he commands it well throughout the strike zone. His breaking ball and changeup are promising offerings that he already sequences well, though his command of both pitches lags behind that of his heater due to the lack of experience.
Anthony DeSalfani, RHP, Miami Marlins
Acquired by the Marlins as part of the team’s blockbuster deal with the Blue Jays last November, DeSalfani has blossomed into a potential solid mid-rotation starter.
At 6’2”, 195-pounds, the right-hander shows above-average command of a fastball in the 91-95 mph range and throws it on a consistent downhill plane. Meanwhile, his slider has developed into an above-average out pitch that generates both whiffs and weak contact. His changeup lags behind his other offerings, but has been more consistent this season and flashes at least average potential.
Jake Leathersich, LHP, New York Mets
A fifth-round draft pick out of Massachusetts-Lowell in 2011, the only thing Leathersich has done since entering the Mets' system is miss bats at an insane rate.
At 5’11”, 205 pounds, the left-hander hides the ball exceptionally well and has some crossfire to his delivery, and as a result, his low-90s fastball appears much hotter to opposing hitters. While his curveball flashes above-average potential, the 22-year-old’s heater will always be his money pitch and allow him to post high strikeout totals in the major leagues.
Cameron Perkins, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 draft out of Purdue, Perkins has emerged as one of the better pure hitters in the Phillies’ system over the last year.
At 6’5”, 195 pounds, the organization moved him to the outfield this season where he has a greater chance for upward mobility. A right-handed hitter, Perkins is an aggressive hitter who attacks the baseball and pounds the gaps with consistency. However, for a player with his size and strength, he’ll need to showcase better power frequency as he moves up the organizational ladder.
Taylor Jordan, RHP, Washinton Nationals
A ninth-round selection in the 2009 draft, Jordan’s career was off to a great start until an elbow injury in 2011 required season-ending Tommy John surgery. Since returning to the mound, the 24-year-old right-hander has been excellent and has started to move quickly as a result.
At 6’3”, 190 pounds, he boasts a plus fastball with heavy sink and complements it with an above-average slider and work-in-progress changeup. While he misses his share of bats, Jordan doesn’t profile as a strikeout pitcher at higher levels. That being said, his pure stuff and solid command projects favorably as a No. 4 or 5 starter in the major leagues.
Kyle Hendricks, RHP, Chicago Cubs
Acquired last summer in the deal that sent Ryan Dempster to the Rangers, Hendricks is a pitchability right-hander with above-average command of four pitches.
While his fastball isn’t overpowering in the low-90s, the 6’3”, 190-pounder possesses an advanced feel for his secondary arsenal including a plus changeup with outstanding fading action. In general, Hendricks simply knows how to pitch and sequence his offerings, and projects favorably as a back-end starter in the major leagues.
Amir Garrett, LHP, Cincinnati Reds
At 6’5”, 210 pounds, Garrett, 21, is absolutely loaded with projection, and has little mileage on his arm due to his background as a basketball player.
The left-hander features a fastball that already sits in the low-90s and bumps 95-96 mph, though his secondary pitches are understandably raw and underdeveloped due to his lack of experience. Garrett has a high ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter at maturity, but will need considerable seasoning in the minor leagues along the way.
Jorge Lopez, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Plucked out of Puerto Rico in the second round of the 2011 draft, Lopez has an incredibly projectable frame at 6’4”, 165 pounds with plenty of room to add strength as he matures physically.
And while his fastball currently sits in the low-90s, the 20-year-old right-hander should be a mid-90s guy by the time he’s fully developed. Lopez’s secondary arsenal is highlighted by an inconsistent curveball that flashes above-average potential, and he’s gradually developing a more consistent feel for a changeup.
Dilson Herrera, 2B, Pittsburgh Pirates
Following in the footsteps of Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson, both of whom enjoyed breakout seasons in the low minors in 2012, Herrera, 19, is currently hitting for both average and power in the South Atlantic League.
At 5’10”, 150 pounds, the right-handed hitter already possesses surprising power for his size, while his above-average speed is apparent on both sides of the ball. And while he currently has more swing-and-miss to his game than desired, the strikeout totals should start to come down as he gains experience.
Mike O'Neill, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
At 5’9”, 170 pounds, O’Neill is the opposite of projectable. However, the 25-year-old outfielder has done nothing but hit and get on base since entering the Cardinals’ system in 2010.
Over four minor league seasons, the left-handed hitter has amassed 178 walks compared to only 79 strikeouts, and posted an impressive .334 batting average. It’s doubtful that he’ll ever make a significant impact in the major leagues, though his insanely good plate discipline and approach could make him serviceable as a fourth outfielder.
Jake Barrett, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
A third-round draft pick out of Arizona State in 2012, Barrett has the makings of a big league closer. At 6’3”, 230 pounds, the 21-year-old right-hander attacks opposing hitters with two plus pitches in an upper-90s fastball and devastating slider. And given his dominant performance for High-A Visalia to open the season, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s fast tracked to the major leagues after the All-Star break.
Rosell Herrera, SS/3B, Colorado Rockies
A highly regarded prospect headed into the 2012 season, Herrera struggled at Low-A Asheville to begin the year and was subsequently demoted to the short-season Northwest league.
This season has been a different story for the 20-year-old infielder, however, as he’s excelled on both sides of the ball and emerged as one of the top overall players in the South Atlantic League. Having grown into his 6’3”, 180-pound frame over the last year, the switch-hitter is hitting for both average and power, and is due for a promotion in the near future.
Ross Stripling, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
A fifth-round draft pick out of Texas A&M last June, Stripling has moved quickly up the Dodgers’ organizational ladder thanks to his above-average command of three pitches.
While his fastball will flirt with plus velocity, the 23-year-old right-hander’s best offering is his 12-to-6 breaking ball that allows him to keep opposing hitters off balance and miss bats. Already promoted from High-A to Double-A this season, Stripling should continue to move quickly and could conceivably debut in the major leagues by the end of the year.
Kevin Quackenbush, RHP, San Diego Padres
Quackenbush has been dominant since signing with the Padres as an eighth-round draft pick in 2011. Although he has a power frame at 6’3”, 220 pounds, the 24-year-old right-hander lacks a true plus offering but compensates with a highly deceptive delivery and tons of late movement to his fastball-slider mix.
Joan Gregorio, RHP, San Francisco Giants
At 6’7”, 180-pounds, Gregorio, 21, is a tall right-hander with a wiry frame ideal for adding strength.
Using his height to create a downhill plane towards the plate, he’ll work in the low-90s with his fastball and should gain several ticks as he fills out. His secondary arsenal consists of only a slider, though it does flash at least above-average potential with tight rotation and sharp break.
However, Gregorio will need to develop a third pitch and improve his command to avoid a relegation to the bullpen.