In prospect evaluation, players are assessed based on their ceilings, or potential impacts in the major leagues. So, it only makes sense that baseball’s elite prospects are often labeled as a future MVP and Cy Young candidates.
There’s obviously a lot that can stand in the way and prevent a prospect from reaching his ceiling, as no player is ever a lock to succeed in the major leagues. However, there’s something to be said about having enough potential to be worthy of being discussed in the context of baseball’s most prestigious awards.
Here’s a look at the top prospects who could be the fastest MVP and Cy Young winners.
1. Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Heading into the season, the consensus was that Bradley would ultimately rank among the game’s top pitching prospects if he could consistently repeat his delivery and pound the strike zone. Well, the 20-year-old certainly out-did himself in that regard; after dominating at both High-A Visalia and Double-A Mobile this season, the right-hander now ranks as the best pitching prospect in baseball.
And with a strong, durable frame; a lethal plus-plus fastball-curveball combination; and an improving feel for pitching, it may not be long until we’re discussing Bradley as one of the better pitchers in the major leagues.
2. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Walker mastered the Double-A level in his second tour this season and then held his own with Triple-A Tacoma following a promotion in late June.
However, the real surprise came last week when the 21-year-old was called up to the major leagues to make his highly anticipate debut.
The right-hander certainly didn’t disappoint, as he allowed one unearned run over five innings en route to the first win of his career. While Walker’s command wasn’t nearly as sharp in his follow-up outing on Wednesday, he still showcased the electric stuff that has made him a top-ranked pitching prospect in each of the past two seasons.
3. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets
Acquired by the Mets from the Blue Jays in the R.A. Dickey deal, Syndergaard emerged as one of baseball’s top pitching prospects this year, which also was his first in New York's system. The 20-year-old took a huge step forward on all fronts this season, posting an impressive 3.06 ERA and a 133-28 K/BB ratio in 117.2 innings between High-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton.
With a four-pitch mix that includes a fastball in the upper-90s and a pair of swing-and-miss breaking balls, Syndergaard has both the pure stuff and the pitchability to one day headline the New York's starting rotation.
And once he arrives in the major leagues—presumably late in the 2014 season—expect the right-hander to make an immediate impact.
4. Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Stephenson dominated to begin the season with a 2.57 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 77 innings at Low-A Daytona. As a result of his success, the Reds promoted him High-A Bakersfield in mid-July, where he proceeded to post a 3.05 ERA with a 22-2 K/BB ratio over four starts.
The 20-year-old received a final promotion in mid-August, as the Reds decided to move him up to Double-A Pensacola for the last month of the season. While he showed the ability to miss bats at the more advanced level, the right-hander struggled with his control and failed to work deep into games.
However, with a fastball that sits in the upper-90s and frequently bumps triple digits, as well as a pair of secondary pitches that have noticeably improved over the last year, Stephenson’s electric stuff will help him reach the major leagues next season, ahead of schedule.
5. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Expected to move quickly in his first full season as a pro, Zimmer unexpectedly struggled at High-A Wilmington during the first three months of the season.
However, he was able to right the ship in early July and subsequently dominated following a promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
Zimmer has the potential to be a high-end No. 2 starter, with four impressive offerings, above-average command, and knowledge of how to attack hitters and exploit weaknesses. Despite his lack of experience as a professional, the right-hander has the potential to reach the major leagues quickly next year with a hot start in the high minors.
Also in the Mix
- Mark Appel (Astros)
- Jameson Taillon (Pirates)
- Jonathan Gray (Rockies)
- Alex Meyer (Twins)
- Lucas Giolito (Nationals)
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
Buxton has the potential to be the best player in the major leagues in his prime. Yes—he’s seriously that good. In his full-season debut this year, the 19-year-old posted a .944 OPS with 109 runs scored, 49 extra-base hits, 55 stolen bases and a 105-76 K/BB ratio in 125 games between Low-A Cedar Rapids and High-A Fort Myers.
Like a Mike Trout or a Bryce Harper, Buxton possesses the rare combination of five plus (or better) tools and an innate feel for the game at a young age.
Simply put: He has the ceiling of a future superstar, and it may not take him long to reach it.
2. Xander Bogaerts, SS-3B, Boston Red Sox
Splitting the season between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, Bogaerts made significant strides at the plate, as he demonstrated the ability to make ongoing adjustments without negatively impacting his overall production. More specifically, the 20-year-old became more comfortable at working deep counts and driving the ball across the entire field without selling out for power.
Technically, Bogaerts has a head start against his future competition for the MVP award; after all, he’s already getting his feet wet in the major leagues in the heart of an AL East pennant race.
3. Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
After struggling at High-A Daytona to begin the season, Baez eventually caught fire and received a well-deserved promotion to Double-A Tennessee. The 20-year-old responded to the challenge by emerging as one of the hottest hitters in the minor leagues during the second half, posting a 1.031 OPS with 17 home runs and 49 RBI over his final 49 games.
Baez has the natural ability to succeed in the major leagues right now. However, his plate discipline and pitch recognition are both still raw and in need of further refinement in the minor leagues, and he’ll need to learn how to slow the game down before receiving a call-up.
But once he arrives...look out.
4. Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Taveras is still one of the game’s top prospects despite the fact that an ankle injury limited him to only 46 games this season. Regarded as the purest hitter in the minor leagues, the 21-year-old has a truly special bat—the kind an organization can build around.
With a swing that can only be described as controlled violence, Taveras has the potential to be a plus-plus hitter in the major leagues with effortless 20-plus-home run pop, to boot. As long as he’s healthy, he’s a safe bet to make an immediate impact in the major leagues.
The only question is when the Cardinals will be ready to offer him an everyday job.
5. George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
After posting a high strikeout rate and struggling to control the strike zone during his impressive full-season debut in 2012, Springer was expected to endure a regression this year against advanced pitching in the high minors. Instead, the 23-year-old essentially mastered both the Double- and Triple-A levels and posted the types of gaudy numbers that made his 2012 campaign look like an off year. (OK, not really. But you know what I mean.)
Springer became the first prospect have a 30-30 season in the minor leagues since Grant Desme in 2009, and he ultimately fell three home runs shy of joining the 40-40 club.
While he has one of the higher ceilings of all prospects, there’s still a notion of risk tied to his overall development.
Still, it’s difficult to envision his superb combination of power and speed not translating into the major leagues.
Also in the Mix
- Carlos Correa (Astros)
- Kris Bryant (Cubs)
- Miguel Sano (Twins)
- Addison Russell (Athletics)
- Gregory Polanco (Pirates)