Marcus Semien parlayed an impressive showing at Double- and Triple-A into a September call-up.
Every year, virtually unknown prospects become household names by surpassing expectations in the minor leagues.
In 2012, those players included the likes of Gregory Polanco, Joc Pederson, Alen Hanson, Garin Cecchini and Dan Straily, each of whom has either reached the major leagues or is now considered a top-50 overall prospect.
This year’s crop of breakout prospects is equally impressive, with numerous players that project to be future major leaguers in some capacity. So, be sure to keep an eye on these emerging stars heading into the 2014 season.
Here’s a look at the 2013 Minor League Baseball all-breakout team.
2013 Stats (A-/A+): .305/.390/.448, 47 XBH (38 2B), 80 RBI, 53/42 K/BB; 29 percent caught-stealing rate (125 G)
The No. 35 overall selection in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University, Kevin Plawecki was viewed as a glove-first catcher with a solid approach and knack for making contact. Assigned to the short-season New York-Penn League last summer after signing, he batted .250/.345/.384 with 15 extra-base hits and more walks (25) than strikeouts (24). While it was definitely a nice professional debut, it came as a 21-year-old in a league populated by significantly younger prospects.
As expected, the New York Mets moved Plawecki up to Low-A Savannah this year for his full-season debut. The 22-year-old emerged as one of the South Atlantic League’s (SAL) top hitters over the first half of the season, batting .314/.390/.494 with 31 extra-base hits, 43 RBI and a 32-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 65 games.
With nothing left to prove in the SAL, Plawecki was promoted to High-A St. Lucie in late June and batted .294/.391/.392 with 16 extra-base hits and a 21-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 60 games. While the combination of the grind of his first full pro season and finishing the year in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League zapped his power during the second half, Plawecki continued to show the impressive on-base skills that made him one of the more coveted backstops in the 2012 draft class.
2013 Stats (A+/AA/AAA): .295/.394/.535, 125 H, 60 XBH (18 HR), 85 RBI, 68/63 K/BB (122 G)
Signed in 2009 out of South Korea, Ji-Man Choi had a very promising professional debut the following year, batting .360/.440/.517 with 21 extra-base hits and 10 steals in 50 games between the Arizona League Mariners and High-A High Desert. Unfortunately, he spent the entire 2011 season on the disabled list with a strained back muscle. The setback in his development resulted in an assignment to Low-A Clinton in 2012, where Choi made up for lost time by batting .298/.420/.463 with eight home runs and 43 RBI in 66 games.
This year, Choi has enjoyed the quick ascent of the Seattle Mariners’ system that had seemed inevitable back in 2010. It’s easy to point out that the 22-year-old’s triple-slash line deteriorated upon reaching Double- and Triple-A; it also marked the first time that he’d played at either level. And depending on the organization’s confidence in Justin Smoak moving forward, it’s conceivable that Choi could get a look in the major leagues next season.
2013 Stats (A-/A+): .314/.417/.506, 93 R, 55 XBH (15 HR), 38 SB, 57/81 K/BB (127 G)
A fifth-round draft pick in 2011, Mookie Betts was a largely unknown prospect heading into the 2013 season after he posted a .658 OPS with nine extra-base hits in 71 games last summer in the short-season New York-Penn League.
But after his impressive full-season debut this year, Betts has emerged as one of the more intriguing prospects in the game. Showcasing arguably the best plate discipline in the low minors, the 20-year-old posted a ridiculous 57-81 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season in 127 games between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem. And after failing to jump the yard in his pro debut, Betts showed legitimate pop this season with 15 home runs, 36 doubles and four triples. Add in 38 stolen bases, and we’re talking about one of the better overall seasons across all minor league levels.
There were only two other prospects who outperformed Betts’ .923 OPS and 38 stolen bases this season: Byron Buxton (.944 OPS, 55 SB) and George Springer (1.010 OPS, 45 SB). That’s elite company, folks.
2013 Stats (A-): .302/.362/.500, 159 H, 70 XBH (15 HR), 85 RBI, 92/47 K/BB (134 G)
Originally a 13th-round draft pick in 2010, Brandon Drury was considered a toss-in prospect when the Atlanta Braves traded him to the Arizona Diamondbacks in January as part of the deal for Justin Upton. Drury was named the rookie-level Appalachian League’s Player of the Year in 2011 after he batted .347/.367/.525 with 31 extra-base hits and 54 RBI in 63 games. However, his full-season debut the following year was a major disappointment, as he posted a pedestrian .603 OPS in 123 games with Low-A Rome.
After joining the Diamondbacks during the offseason, the 21-year-old was assigned to the team’s Low-A affiliate in the Midwest League. In 134 games, Drury led the league with 51 doubles, ranked second in hits (159) and total bases (263), and posted the fourth-best OPS (.862).
In a recent conversation with a member of Arizona’s front office, he had this to say about Drury: “Kid’s going to be a big leaguer.”
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): .284/.401/.479, 110 R, 57 XBH (19 HR), 24 SB, 90/98 K/BB (137 G)
Selected in the sixth round of the 2011 draft out of the University of California, Marcus Semien has improved in every season since entering Chicago’s system. Last year in his first full professional season, he posted an .833 OPS with 50 extra-base hits and 11 stolen in 107 games at High-A Winston-Salem.
Moved up to Double-A Birmingham for the 2013 season, the 22-year-old put himself on the big league radar by batting .290/.420/.483 with 90 runs scored, 41 extra-base hits (15 home runs), 20 stolen bases and a ridiculous 84-66 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 105 games. The White Sox promoted Semien to Triple-A Charlotte in early August where he continued to impress, posting an .802 OPS with 20 runs scored and 16 extra-base hits in 32 games.
And after batting .284/.401/.479 with 110 runs scored, 19 home runs, 24 stolen bases and a 90-98 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 137 games between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte, the organization decided to reward the Semien with a promotion to The Show on September 1.
2013 Stats (A+/AA): .295/.355/.464, 40 XBH (15 HR), 11 SB, 46/37 K/BB (112 G)
Selected out of Stanford with the No. 36 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Stephen Piscotty impressed during his professional debut last summer by posting an .823 OPS with 23 extra-base hits and a 25-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 games for Low-A Quad Cities.
Given his age and college background, the organization promoted the 22-year-old to High-A Palm Beach for his first full professional season. Though he was expected to hold his own in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, Piscotty actually enjoyed an uptick in his overall production, batting .292/.348/.477 with 25 extra-base hits (nine home runs) in 63 games.
Piscotty didn’t skip a beat following a promotion to Double-A Springfield in late June, as he batted .299/.364/.446 with 15 extra-base hits, seven stolen bases and a 19-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 49 games at the more advanced level.
Though he’s a mature hitter with a consistent approach and a knack for pounding the gaps, there is some doubt as to whether Piscotty will ever offer enough power to make him a serviceable corner outfielder. While his above-average hit tool will likely get him to the major leagues, possibly as early as late 2014, his development of over-the-fence pop may ultimately determine whether he becomes more than a fourth outfielder at the highest level.
2013 Stats (A-): 9-3, 111.1 IP, 2.18 ERA, .142 BAA, 164/61 K/BB (24 GS)
Any conversation about breakout prospects should begin with Tyler Glasnow, the Pittsburgh Pirates' fifth-round pick from the 2011 draft.
While he was limited to only 38.1 innings during his professional debut between the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn Leagues, Glasnow showed huge potential with a 1.88 ERA, .168 BAA and 44 strikeouts. As a result, the Pirates felt comfortable bumping the 6’7” right-hander up to Low-A West Virginia this year for his full-season debut.
To say that Glasnow responded favorably would be a gross understatement. The 20-year-old was utterly dominant in the South Atlantic League this season, as he led the league in ERA (2.18), opponent batting average (.142), strikeouts (164) and K/9 (13.26). More significantly, the right-hander emerged as a consensus top-50 overall prospect.
With a heavy fastball that works easily in the mid-90s with late life, sharp curveball that flashes plus potential and changeup that will need serious refinement moving forward, Glasnow has the ceiling of at least a mid-rotation starter. But if the arsenal improves as expected as he moves up the organizational ladder, we could be talking about him as a potential front-line starter by the end of the 2014 season.
2013 Stats (A+/AA): 29 SV, 52 IP, 1.21 IP, .197 BAA, 59/12 K/BB (52 G)
A third-round draft pick in 2012 out of Arizona State University, Jake Barrett was assigned to Low-A South Bend last summer for his professional debut. Coming off a long, grueling college season, the right-hander struggled in the Midwest League, registering a 5.84 ERA with six saves and 25 strikeouts in 24.2 innings.
This year, however, Barrett emerged as the lights-out closer that the organization expected and jumped on the fast track to the major leagues as a result. The 22-year-old opened his first full professional season with a 1.98 ERA, 15 saves and a 37-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27.1 innings for High-A Visalia. Unsurprisingly, he was moved up to Double-A Mobile in late June where he served as one of the top relievers in the minors during the second half. In 24.2 innings in the Southern League, Barrett put up video-game numbers with a 0.36 ERA, 14 saves and a stellar 22-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio spanning 24 appearances.
With a plus fastball-slider combination ideal that results in excessive whiffs and weak contact, expect Barrett to emerge as the Diamondbacks’ closer by mid-2014.