Darin Ruf hit 38 home runs at Double-A Reading in 2012.
Every season, there are prospects that seemingly come out of nowhere to post monster numbers in the minor leagues—take Darin Ruf, for example.
Heading into the 2012 season, Ruf, who was 25 at the time, had yet to play in a game above the High-A level but was coming off a career-high 17 home runs. Then, in his first taste of Double-A, Ruf exploded for a minor league-leading 38 home runs last season, while also adding three more as a September call-up with the Phillies.
Despite Ruf’s underwhelming performance at Triple-A Lehigh Valley this year, the 26-year-old’s 2012 campaign was solid enough to keep him floating between the majors and minors. More significantly, it helped him remain in the mix for everyday playing time when both Ben Revere and Domonic Brown landed on the disabled list.
Here’s a look at 10 prospects who put up surprising numbers in 2013.
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): .282/.347/.574, 61 XBH (32 HR), 99 RBI, 127/44 K/BB (120 G)
2013 Stats (MLB): .227 (5-for-22), 2 2B, 7 K, 3 BB (11 G)
Lambo was selected by the Dodgers in the fourth round of the 2007 draft and was regarded as one of the organization’s better prospects early in his career. The outfielder appeared to be on the fast track to the major leagues after posting an .833 OPS with 18 home runs in 131 games between Low- and Double-A in 2008, but he regressed the following season while repeating at the more advanced level.
In 2010, Lambo was suspended for 50 games for violating the league's drug policy, and he was unsurprisingly dealt to the Pirates along with James McDonald at the trade deadline that year. He then spent the next two seasons struggling between Double-A and Triple-A, and he was limited to only 35 games in 2012 due to a wrist injury.
This year, however, the 25-year-old has been the player that scouts once envisioned as an impact corner outfielder. Finally healthy, Lambo showcased legitimate power, with nearly half of his hits going for extra bases. More importantly, his power and approach improved following the jump to Triple-A, and it ultimately led to a call-up with the Pirates this season.
Lambo is an older prospect, and he will certainly have lofty expectations placed upon him heading into the 2014 season. However, his untapped potential gives him intriguing upside.
2013 Stats (R/A-): .251/.338/.623, 68 XBH (40 HR), 88 RBI, 15 SB, 172/50 K/BB (111 G)
Gallo has the best left-handed power in the minors, and he isn’t too far behind Miguel Sano in the running for best power overall.
After setting the rookie-level Arizona League home run record last season with 18 of them in 43 games—followed by four more in the Northwest League—Gallo became the first teenager since 1962 to hit 40 home runs in a season.
The 19-year-old missed most of July this season with a strained groin, but he made up for the lost time in August with his best month of the season, batting .308/.400/.885 with 12 home runs in 22 games.
When Gallo is locked in, the 19-year-old is capable of putting together streaks on par with his final 10 games of the regular season: .361/.452/1.139, 11 R, 2 3B, 8 HR, 15 RBI, 12/6 K/BB. Even when he’s struggling and piling up strikeouts, Gallo’s raw power gives him the potential to flirt with an .800 OPS.
2013 Stats (AA/AAA): 140 IP, 2.96 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, .219 BAA, 127/47 K/BB (25 G/24 GS)
The No. 39 overall selection in the 2010 draft, Ranaudo had a hugely disappointing 2012 season, in which he logged only 37.2 innings (nine starts) at Double-A Portland and spent most of the year on the disabled list.
Then, looking to rebound and hop back onto the big-league radar, Ranaudo was one of the top pitchers in the minor leagues over the first two months of this season, registering a 1.15 ERA and 58/15 K/BB ratio in 54.2 innings at Portland.
The 24-year-old regressed during both June and July, though that was expected given the heavier workload. The Red Sox promoted Ranaudo to Triple-A Pawtucket for the final month of the season, a challenge to which he responded by posting a 2.97 ERA and 21/7 K/BB in 30.1 innings.
While Ranaudo had an unexpectedly solid bounce-back campaign in 2013, I’m not sold that the he will be more than a backend starter in the bigs. At 6’7’, 230 pounds, the right-hander’s combination of size and a solid three-pitch mix has made him successful against minor-league hitters, even though he has a tendency to work up in the zone. However, at least in my opinion, that’s not going to translate favorably at the highest level.
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 and Chris Johnson.
Drury was named the rookie-level Appalachian League 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 letdown, as he posted a pedestrian .603 OPS in 123 games with Low-A Rome.
In his first year with the Diamondbacks, the 21-year-old was wisely assigned back to the Low-A level rather than being rushed with a promotion to High-A. In 134 games, Drury led the Midwest League with 51 doubles, ranked second in hits (159) and total bases (263), and posted the fourth-best OPS (.862).
This year was also Drury’s first as an everyday third baseman after splitting time between both corner infield spots in 2012, and from what I can glean from his numbers, he held his own with only 13 errors in 108 games.
2013 Stats (AAA): .253/.286/.517, 66 XBH (29 HR), 77 RBI, 134/20 K/BB (134 G)
Walters was acquired from the Diamondbacks in July of 2011 in exchange for starter Jason Marquis. He then suffered a broken hamate bone during spring training in 2012, but he was still able to play at three different levels upon returning that season, ultimately finishing the season at Triple-A Syracuse. In addition to launching 12 home runs last season, Walters posted a respectable .266 batting average despite striking out 109 times in 126 games.
This year, his first full season at the Triple-A level, the switch-hitting Walters showcased his power stroke with 66 extra-base hits in 134 games, and he was tied for International League-lead with 29 home runs at the time of his promotion to the major leagues.
But while he took a huge step forward in the power department this season with a career-high .517 slugging percentage, the 24-year-old infielder’s all-or-nothing approach (134/20 K/BB ratio)—especially from the left side of the plate—lead to a career-worst .253 batting average and .286 on-base percentage.
However, Walter’s combination of raw power and defensive versatility still resulted in a call-up by the Nationals earlier this month.
2013 Stats (A+/AA): 157 IP, 2.98 ERA, .193 BAA, 175/47 K/BB (27 GS)
Do you know who led the minors in strikeouts this season? If you answered Dan Winkler, you are correct (and probably cheated).
A 20th-round selection in 2011 out of the University of Central Florida, Winkler was unimpressive last year in his full-season debut at Low-A Asheville. Making 25 starts in 2012, the right-hander registered a 4.46 ERA with 152 hits allowed and a 136/47 K/BB in 145.1 innings.
This year, however, the 23-year-old was simply a different pitcher. Opening the season in the hitter-friendly California League, Winkler posted a 2.97 ERA, a .184 BAA and a 152/37 K/BB ratio in 130.1 innings (22 starts) at High-A Modesto. His overwhelming success at the challenging level lead to a late-season promotion to Double-A Tulsa in early August, where the right-hander held his own with a 3.04 ERA in 26.2 innings (five starts).
While he lacks an overpowering offering, Winkler has good command of a solid fastball and isn’t afraid to attack opposing hitters. Meanwhile, his sharp slider with plus potential serves as his out-pitch and the source of most of his strikeouts.
However, the effectiveness of the pitch, as well as the fact that his delivery involves considerable effort, has led to the popular belief that the right-hander will wind up in the bullpen.
2013 Stats (A-/A+): .314/.417/.506, 93 R, 55 XBH (15 HR), 38 SB, 57/81 K/BB (127 G)
Three prospects posted at least a .923 OPS with 38 steals this season: Byron Buxton (.944 OPS, 55 SB), George Springer (1.010 OPS, 45 SB) and Mookie Betts.
A fifth-round draft pick in 2011, 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 K/BB 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 in 2013.
Betts is definitely a prospect to follow closely in 2014.
2013 Stats (A-): .343/.419/.515, 162 H, 49 XBH (16 HR), 21 SB, 96/61 K/BB (126 G)
Herrera was one of the Rockies’ more intriguing prospects heading into the 2012 season, as he was coming off an impressive stateside debut, during which he posted an .810 OPS in the rookie-level Pioneer League.
However, the then-19-year-old responded poorly to the organization’s challenging assignment to Low-A Asheville last season, and he was ultimately demoted to Short-Season Tri-City after posting a .543 OPS in 63 games.
To put it simply: Herrera’s second tour of the South Atlantic League (SAL) this season was the exact opposite of his 2012 campaign. The 20-year-old led the league with 162 hits and a .343 batting average, ranked second with 243 total bases, and posted the third-highest OPS (.933) behind Greg Bird (.938) and Joey Gallo (.944). Following the conclusion of the regular season, Herrera was named as the SAL’s MVP and Most Outstanding Major League Prospect.
His performance this season does come with a caveat, in that he did most of his damage at home in Asheville’s notoriously hitter-friendly ballpark. Specifically, Herrera batted .384/.455/.635 (1.090 OPS) with 31 extra-base hits in 60 home games, compared to a .308/.386/.411 (.797 OPS) clip with 18 extra-base hits in 66 road contests.
While it’s hard to ignore the over .200-point difference in OPS, it’s not as though Herrera was a slouch on the road. Plus, the switch-hitter excelled from both sides of the plate, posting a .916 OPS in 364 at-bats against right-handed pitching—including all 16 of his home runs—and an .816 OPS in 108 at-bats against southpaws.
2013 Stats (A-): .288/.428/.511, 84 R, 59 XBH (20 HR), 84 RBI, 132/107 K/BB (130 G)
A commenter recently mentioned Bird as one of the year’s top breakout prospects, and I agree. So, I thought now would be a perfect time to delve into the young slugger’s season and, more importantly, his future.
Bird was viewed as potential catcher when the Yankees drafted him in the fifth round of the 2011 draft out of a Colorado high school. However, it wasn’t long into the following season before back pain forced him to first base. Since then, the 20-year-old has been raking.
Making his full-season debut this year, Bird demonstrated one of the most intriguing combinations of power and plate discipline in the low minors. In 30 games this season with Low-A Charleston, he led the South Atlantic League with 107 walks—also the second highest total in the minor leagues—and a .428 on-base percentage. He also ranked second in runs scored (84) and RBI (84), fourth in doubles (36) and total bases (234), and fifth in home runs (20).
While Bird also struck out 132 times, that’s partially a product of his patient approach and ability to work the count. From a hitting perspective, I think highly of his overall feel for using the entire field at a young age without selling out for power. According to MLBfarm.com (phenomenal site, by the way), of the 223 balls he put in play this season fielded by an outfielder, 81 were to right field, 72 were to center and 70 went to left.
2013 Stats (A-/A+/AA): 113.1 IP, 1.99 ERA, .213 BAA, 122/27 K/BB (34 G/13 GS)
Signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as a non-drafted free agent on Jun. 19, 2012, Petrick enjoyed a promising professional debut last year as an older player in the rookie-level Appalachian League. This year, however, the 24-year-old has put himself on the big-league radar by ascending three levels in his full-season debut.
Petrick opened the season in the Low-A Peoria bullpen, where he notched seven saves with a 0.83 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 32.2 innings. He was then promoted to High-A Palm Beach in early June, where he added 10 more scoreless innings out of the pen before moving into the team’s starting rotation.
In his first four starts of the year at High-A, the right-hander allowed one earned run on 15 hits with 21 strikeouts and three walks in 23.1 innings. And so, Petrick then received his third promotion of the year—this time to Double-A.
Petrick hasn’t thrown up the zeros that he did at his first two minor-league stops, as he allowed an earned run in each of his nine Double-A starts this season. That being said, though, he’s also allowed more than three earned runs only once.
Most importantly, Petrick is yet another example of why the Cardinals’ scouting and player development is the best in baseball: they are on the verge of cultivating a major-league arm from a player who probably signed for an actual packet of ketchup after being passed over in the draft for 50 rounds.