MLB Prospects Update: Hottest, Coldest Hitters at Every Minor League Level
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The latest installment of this feature includes two of the fastest rising outfield prospects in the minors and a former outfielder turned second baseman who will be transitioned back to the outfield in the Arizona Fall League.
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
Season stats: .303 BA, 37 HR, 106 RBI, 27 2B, 4 3B, 82 BB, 158 K, 43 SB in 131 games (AAA/AA)
Only three homers short of a 40/40 season, the Astros appear set on keeping their top center field prospect in the minors so he can try and become the first to do it since 1956. With the way he's going, he should have plenty of time to accomplish the feat.
While his average is down this month—he's hitting .273 in August after hitting .347 in July—his power surge continues (8 HR, 22 RBI) and what has been most impressive is the 23 walks and 23 strikeouts ratio to help keep his on-base percentage well above .400. For a player whose lone weakness could be a lack of plate discipline, this is a great sign that he can make adjustments and continue to improve as a hitter.
During a rebuilding season, it would be nice to get him some at-bats in the majors at some point after the Triple-A season. But don't be surprised if the 23-year-old isn't in Houston until 2014. He doesn't have to be placed on the 40-man roster this offseason—he's not eligible for the Rule 5 draft—so the Astros could opt to operate during the beginning of their offseason with more flexibility by keeping the spot open until he joins the team next season.
Jerry Sands, 1B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Season stats: .208 BA, 7 HR, 31 RBI, 16 2B, 2 3B, 49 BB, 101 K in 102 games
At the least, Jerry Sands was a 4A hitter (too good for Triple-A, not good enough for the majors) with the potential to become a right-handed bat off the bench in the future. But after the year he's having, that projection might be lofty.
The 25-year-old, who posted an OPS over .900 in consecutive Triple-A seasons in 2011-2012, was starting to show some signs of life in July (.793 OPS in 16 games), but he's gone completely in the tank this month. His latest 2-for-23 slump has his batting average down into the low .200s, and he has just one homer in 32 games since the All-Star break.
Sands survived the latest 40-man roster deductions when the team added Marlon Byrd and John Buck, but it's unlikely he'll still be on it by the time the offseason gets underway.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Season stats: .283 BA, 21 HR, 57 RBI, 24 2B, 3 3B, 68 BB, 110 K, 30 SB in 119 games
Pederson's breakout season came to a halt in July when he hit just .203 with two homers in 17 games. But the 21-year-old is back on track this month, as he's hit .343 with four homers in his last 10 games.
The crowded Dodgers outfield, combined with Pederson's emergence, has made him the target of trade rumors in 2013, and it could be that he was distracted in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. Those rumors aren't likely to go away this winter, however, as the team still has four very good big leaguers under contract for several years, so the strong finish will help to keep his trade value high.
Christian Villanueva, 3B, Chicago Cubs
Season stats: .260 BA, 16 HR, 67 RBI, 40 BB, 32 BB, 111 K, 5 SB in 128 games
Without a clear-cut candidate for the title of Cubs' "third baseman of the future," Villanueva could put himself in the mix with a strong finish to what has been a pretty good season with Double-A Tennessee. But he's faltering down the stretch with only four hits in his last 32 at-bats.
In the meantime, Mike Olt is heating up in Triple-A and Villanueva's teammate Javier Baez's monster season at the plate could force a position switch off of shortstop in 2014 so his arrival to the majors can be expedited. If it's third base, then Villavueva's future becomes even more bleak.
Delino DeShields Jr., 2B, Houston Astros
Season stats: .316 BA, 4 HR, 51 RBI, 25 2B, 12 3B, 52 BB, 87 K, 47 SB in 105 games (HiA/LoA)
After being taken with the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft, DeShields began his pro career with 15 games in center field. He's been a second baseman in the three seasons since. But unlike his dad, Delino DeShields Sr., who played nearly 1,400 big league games at the position, Delino Jr. appears to to be destined for a career in the outfield.
The team announced that the 21-year-old would be transitioned back to the outfield in the Arizona Fall League. As he continues to show an ability to be a very good hitter, it makes sense for the team to figure out where he'd fit best on the diamond.
Before an 0-for-4 in his last start on Monday, DeShields had 30 hits in 75 at-bats (.400 BA) this month with seven doubles, four triples and eight stolen bases. The real test for DeShields will come in 2014 when he'll likely play everyday in the Double-A Corpus Christi outfield.
Matt Reynolds, SS, New York Mets
Season stats: .224 BA, 5 HR, 46 RBI, 18 2B, 6 3B, 34 BB, 78 K, 9 SB in 113 games
The team's second-round pick in the 2012 draft, Reynolds began his first full season with an aggressive assignment at High-A St. Lucie. It's turned out to be a bit overwhelming for the 22-year-old shortstop, who didn't get off to a great start and hasn't been able to turn things around as things have gotten worse over the past two months.
With just five hits in his last 34 at-bats, Reynolds is failing to make the late-season push that would give the Mets the confidence to continue moving him up the ladder. He'll likely return to St. Lucie in 2014.
Greg Bird, 1B, New York Yankees
Season stats: .291 BA, 20 HR, 83 RBI, 36 2B, 98 BB, 127 K in 125 games
Drafted in the fifth round as a high school catcher back in 2011, Bird was quickly moved to first base where he's proving in his full-season debut that he's got plenty of offensive ability to stick.
With 15 hits and seven walks in his last 10 games, the 20-year-old has his batting average up over .290 and he's just two walks short of 100. Most importantly for a corner infield prospect, the left-handed hitter is showing more and more power as the season goes along.
After hitting just five homers in his first 62 games, he's now hit 15 in his last 63. If he continues to hit as he moves up the ladder, he could be in line to take over as the Yankees first baseman once Mark Teixeira's contract expires following the 2016 season.
Patrick Leonard, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays
Season stats: .222 BA, 9 HR, 56 RBI, 26 2B, 39 BB, 114 K, 4 SB in 117 games
Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi could make the offseason deal that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City completely worth it. And that's a good thing because the other two prospects included in the deal, lefty Mike Montgomery (4.60 ERA in Triple-A) and Leonard, aren't looking like good bets to help out in the majors anytime soon.
Not only has Leonard, who is in a 4-for-28 slump, failed to show much offense in his first season in the Rays organization, he's played primarily at first base after spending his first pro season in 2012 at third base. Low-level first base prospects need to hit if they want to stay on the radar. Aside from a pretty solid two months in June and July (.262 BA, 5 HR, 16 2B), Leonard has not.
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