5 Top Prospects Who Will Go from Single-A All-Stars to MLB All-Stars
There comes a point in every young baseball player's career where they, to steal an intentionally ambiguous line from Tony Soprano, get it.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly when that moment comes, at least from the outside. Some players might tell you that it was there all along and they just needed a period of adjustment. Others could say that physical and mental maturity hit them and everything finally clicked.
The point being that, for the players in the Low-A Midwest League All-Star Game on Tuesday night in Dayton, the gap between what they are and what they could be in the future is still so large that their careers could veer off course at any moment.
But when you look at the raw tools these young athletes put on display in Dayton, it's hard not to fall in love. As a follow-up companion piece to my list of players to watch in the game on Tuesday, here are the players who showed that they have what it takes to go from the Low-A All-Star game to the Major League Baseball summer classic in the not-too-distant future.
Note: Unlike the original piece, which dealt with just the players who were going to be on the field, we will include the stars who were originally on the All-Star rosters but didn't play in the game.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
Not that this comes as much of a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to what's going on the minor leagues right now, but Byron Buxton is really, really impressive when you see him in person.
Tuesday was my first in-person look at Buxton. My previous encounters had come with video and on games broadcast over the Internet. Needless to say, the love affair only grew more intense getting a chance to see what he can do up close and personal.
Even though Buxton went hitless in the All-Star game, you could see from the at-bats he put together, including fighting off some good breaking balls down in the zone to put the ball in play, that he already gets it.
Watching him take fielding practice, you can see just how natural and easy Buxton is in center field. He showed off his plus throwing arm multiple times during fielding drills, making accurate throws to third base and home.
The Twins are going to be forced to promote Buxton to High-A very soon because the Midwest League isn't a challenge for him anymore. Considering how advanced he is—especially when you think about how raw it was assumed he was at the time he got drafted—Buxton could realistically be in the big leagues by 2015.
Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
While Buxton clearly has the highest ceiling of anyone on this list and has been the talk of the minor leagues so far this season, Carlos Correa was the most impressive hitter on the field in Dayton Tuesday night.
Things got started in batting practice when Correa showed off an electrifying bat that always seems to make loud, hard contact and drives it to all fields. He is still very slim and slender at 6'4", 205 pounds and will add muscle as he gets older—remember, the Astros' top prospect is still just 18 years old—to more consistently show his raw power.
But when you are one of the youngest players in one of the most difficult hitting leagues in baseball, yet you are hitting .304/.400/.430, that is a special talent.
Correa's night got even better during the game, when he delivered one of the best hits of the night in the third inning. Down in the count 1-2 against Tampa Bay prospect Dylan Floro, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft waited back on a breaking ball and hit it to right center field.
An 18-year-old in a showcase game is not supposed to do something like that. Correa isn't your typical teenage hitter and the sky really is the limit for him. He may not be able to stay at shortstop in the future, but his bat will play anywhere on the field.
Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati Reds
The hometown hero for the fans in Dayton, Jesse Winker had a very good day at Fifth Third Field. That shouldn't come as a surprise, as the Reds' second pick in the 2012 draft has been very good for the Dragons in his first full season.
To date, Winker is hitting .291/.395/.493 with nine home runs, 23 extra-base hits and a 44-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In front of a very partisan crowd, he lit up the pre-game home run derby by hitting six home runs in the first round and leading the East squad to a victory.
Even though Winker is already filled out at 6'2", 210 pounds and is a very good athlete, I was surprised at how much pop he was showing. He has done it in games, so perhaps my expectations should have been higher.
There are holes in his swing, as he is a little too upright and has an uppercut that will lead to strikeouts against advanced pitching, but he has the potential to have above-average or, with some adjustments, plus power potential in the big leagues. He has a good approach and discipline, so he could be a player who hits .250-.260 with a lot of walks and 20-25 homers.
Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
*Stephenson was selected to the East All-Star team but didn't play due to injury
Although Cincinnati's system is heavy with position players, there are also a number of intriguing arms led by Robert Stephenson.
The 27th pick in the 2011 draft, Stephenson has taken a huge step forward so far this season. He's on the disabled list right now with a hamstring injury, so it shouldn't be anything that keeps him out too long.
He should be able to add to his 66.2 innings of work, which already eclipses his 2012 total of 65. He has also made great strides with his command and control, posting an 85-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The profile is that of a top-of-the-rotation starter, with a plus-plus fastball and plus curveball that has become a true hammer this season. He is still developing the changeup, but that only needs to be an average offering for him to reach his ceiling.
Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
*Taylor Guerrieri didn't pitch in the All-Star game and was replaced by Dayton's Ben Klimesh
One thing that we can definitively say about Guerrieri is that, no matter how well he throws, we aren't going to see him in Tampa Bay until 2016. This franchise is notorious for moving players, especially pitchers, one level at a time every year.
At that rate, Guerrieri will still just be 23 years old. And given the way his career has started, he looks like another in an already-long line of excellent starting pitchers developed by the Rays over the last five years.
Guerrieri isn't missing bats the way you would expect a pitcher with his stuff would, including an above-average fastball with good movement and plus curveball, but his size, plane on the fastball and ability to control everything down in the zone allows him to succeed. In 106 professional innings, split between the New York-Penn League and Low-A, he's walked just 15 hitters and struck out 88 with 78 hits allowed.
I would like to see Guerrieri's fastball get back to being the monster it looked like in high school to project him as a true No. 2 (or better) starter, but his combination of size, pitch type, control and projection makes him a potential star.
Lance McCullers, Jr., RHP, Houston Astros
Depending on what you think McCullers' ultimate role will be, he could end up as an All-Star. That will likely be as a reliever, as his pitching plays better in a short burst than over the course of six-plus innings. He is being groomed in the rotation, and rightfully so, but there may come a point in the future where the team sees his best role is a high-leverage reliever.
Joe Ross, RHP, San Diego Padres
Ross had a rough outing in the All-Star game, with three hits and two runs allowed, but with a cleaned up delivery, plus fastball, two off-speed pitches that still flash above-average and physical projection at 6'3", 185 pounds, he could turn into a No. 2 starter.
Raul Alcantara, RHP, Oakland Athletics
Alcantara was one of the best arms in the game on Tuesday. He is still learning to command his arsenal and get a feel for his off-speed pitches, but the 20-year-old stays around the zone and always keeps the ball down. He is virtually all upside right now, but there is a lot to like about his low-90s fastball and projectable 6'3", 180-pound frame.