Fastest Rising Prospect in Each MLB Team's Farm System
While the MLB season is just hitting its boiling point with a little less than two weeks to go and teams still clamoring for postseason spots, the minor league regular season has already wrapped up.
As with any season, a number of top prospects made the jump to the big leagues, and as a result those are prospects who generated the most attention.
However, within each team's organization there were at least a few guys who moved on the fast track towards the big leagues this past year, advancing at least a few levels and in some cases pushing up their ETA timetable.
So here is a look at the fastest rising prospect in each MLB team's farm system, the guy who took the biggest step towards reaching the big leagues this past year. Players who advanced two levels and players who made the jump from the low minors to Double-A and Triple-A make up the bulk of this list, with a few fast-moving draft picks from the 2013 class sprinkled in.
*Note: Only players who have yet to make their big league debut were considered. All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
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Baltimore Orioles: 1B Christian Walker (22 Years Old)
Taken in the fourth round in 2012 out of South Carolina after helping lead the team to back-to-back titles, Walker quickly climbed the ranks in his first full season as a pro. He may not develop prototypical first base power, but has the ability to hit .300 at the big league level and ranks as one of the top first base prospects in the game right now.
Boston Red Sox: SP Brian Johnson (22 Years Old)
A two-way player at the University of Florida who was taken in the first round of the 2012 draft, Johnson has a solid four-pitch repertoire with a plus fastball/slider combination right now and a curveball/changeup that could develop into above average offerings as well. Focusing on pitching full-time could mean he moves quickly, and a debut in Boston sometime late next season is not out of the question.
New York Yankees: C/3B Peter O'Brien (23 Years Old)
Selected in the second round of the 2012 draft after putting up terrific college numbers between Bethune-Cookman and the University of Miami, O'Brien may not wind up sticking at catcher but his bat will be his ticket to the majors one way or another. After hitting just .202/.249/.394 in 48 games at Low-A last season, he stepped his game up in a big way this season and he could be in position for a 2015 debut.
Tampa Bay Rays: 2B Ryan Brett (21 Years Old)
A third-round pick out of high school in 2010, Brett played full season ball for the first time in 2012 and hit .285/.348/.393 in a full season at Single-A. After spending time in extended spring training he spent a game in Rookie League before joining High-A Charlotte. He spent 25 games at Double-A to close out the season, and the 5'9" spark plug could be vying for a bench job in the majors sooner rather than later.
Toronto Blue Jays: C A.J. Jimenez (23 Years Old)
Viewed as a glove-first catcher heading into the season, the Puerto Rico native showed some offensive skills this season, though he did miss some time with injury. With J.P. Arencibia struggling to hit .200, Jimenez could give him a run for his job in the very near future. Don't be surprised to see him get a long look this coming spring.
Chicago White Sox: 2B Micah Johnson (22 Years Old)
Named Preseason Third-Team All-American by Baseball America heading into his junior year at Indiana, Johnson turned in a disappointing, injury-plagued season but was still taken in the ninth round of the 2012 draft. He put up fantastic numbers at Single-A Kannapolis before earning two more promotions before the year was up, and he could be setting himself up as Gordon Beckham's eventual replacement.
Cleveland Indians: RP Kyle Crockett (21 Years Old)
One of the top closers in college baseball last season, Crockett posted a 1.70 ERA with 12 saves and a 11.0 K/9 at the University of Virginia before being taken in the fourth round of the June draft. He has a shot at being the first person from the draft class to reach the majors, and could get a look this coming spring for a bullpen spot.
Detroit Tigers: 2B Devon Travis (22 Years Old)
Taken in the 13th round of the 2012 draft, Travis played 25 games at the Low-A level last season and hit .280/.352/.441 after signing. He opened the season in Single-A, where most expected him to spend a full season, but he hit well enough to earn a promotion to High-A and ended the season with a combined 16 home runs and 22 steals while posting a .936 OPS.
Kansas City Royals: OF Jorge Bonifacio (20 Years Old)
The younger brother of Royals' infielder Emilio Bonifacio, the team signed Jorge at the age of 17 out of the Dominican Republic, and he spent all of last season in Single-A where he hit .282/.336/.432 with 10 home runs and 61 RBI. He reached Double-A to end last season, and more than held his own in 25 games there, so it may not be long before he joins his brother in the majors.
Minnesota Twins: CF Byron Buxton (19 Years Old)
The Minor League Player of the Year, Buxton was viewed by most experts as the top talent in the 2012 draft, but he slipped to No. 2 overall when the Astros opted to select the less expensive Carlos Correa at No. 1 overall. After spending 48 games in rookie ball after signing last year, he opened the year in Single-A and advanced to High-A at midseason. He'll likely be among the youngest players in Double-A next year, and should continue on the fast track.
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Houston Astros: RF Preston Tucker (23 Years Old)
As staple in the University of Florida lineup for four seasons, Tucker went from being drafted in the 16th round of the 2011 draft to the seventh round in 2012. Staying in school an extra year worked out well for him. He's moved to right field full-time, and he'll move as quickly as his bat allows, and that may be quickly if his 2013 season is any indication.
Los Angeles Angels: SP Mark Sappington (22 Years Old)
A fifth-round pick out of Rockhurst University in 2012, Sappington signed in time to make appear in 15 games (12 starts) in rookie ball and posted a 5.15 ERA. Despite those less-than-impressive numbers, he opened the season at High-A Inland Empire and with a late-season promotion to Double-A he does not look to far off from contributing as a bright spot in a thin Angels' farm system.
Oakland Athletics: 1B Max Muncy (23 Years Old)
Also taken in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, Muncy was taken after a solid career at the University of Baylor, and he debuted at Single-A Burlington after signing last year. He opened this season in High-A and after posting a .907 OPS in 93 game he earned a promotion. With Miles Head struggling this year, he may well have passed him on the first base depth chart and could continue on the fast track to Oakland.
Seattle Mariners: SS Chris Taylor (23 Years Old)
Still another fifth-round pick from 2012, selected out of the University of Virginia, Taylor hit .322/.417/.432 with 17 steals in 49 games after signing last season while playing between Low-A and Single-A. That was enough for him to open the season at High-A and he was promoted again to Double-A at midseason as he should be in a position to push Brad Miller sooner rather than later.
Texas Rangers: SP Luke Jackson (22 Years Old)
The No. 45 pick in the 2010 draft out of high school, Jackson began his career with a full season in Single-A, where he posted a 5.64 ERA over 19 starts. He split the next season between Single-A and High-A and dealt with some struggles once again, with a 4.65 ERA and 1.504 WHIP. He took a big step forward this year though, and the majors may be just around the corner.
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Atlanta Braves: SP Cody Martin (24 Years Old)
A seventh-round selection out of Gonzaga in 2011, Martin spent a full season at High-A Lynchburg last season, going an impressive 12-7 with a 2.93 ERA, but the question was whether his average stuff would net the same results in the high minors. Those questions were answered with impressive showings in Double-A and Triple-A, and he looks poised to see Atlanta in 2014.
Miami Marlins: SP Andrew Heaney (22 Years Old)
The No. 9 pick in last year's draft out of Oklahoma State, Heaney got his feet wet after signing with four starts at Single-A Greensboro, and he opened the year as the team's top pitching prospect after Jose Fernandez made the big league club out of spring training. He was expected to move as quickly as any arm taken in the 2012 draft, and he has, as a 2014 call-up does not seem out of the question.
New York Mets: SP Jacob deGrom (25 Years Old)
A ninth-round pick in 2010, DeGrom missed all of 2011 following Tommy John surgery, but returned to post decent numbers last season between Single-A and High-A where he was among the older prospects at that level. The Mets looked to get him back on track this season by promoting him aggressively, and while his overall numbers weren't spectacular this season was a big step in the right direction for him.
Philadelphia Phillies: 3B Maikel Franco (21 Years Old)
Signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 17-year-old back in 2010, Franco burst onto the prospect scene last season when he hit .280/.336/.439 with 14 home runs and 84 RBI in a full season at Single-A. He's taken his game to another level this season though, especially from a power standpoint, and he was even better following a promotion to Double-A. Fellow prospect and late-season call-up Cody Asche will be pushed at third very soon.
Washington Nationals: SP Robbie Ray (21 Years Old)
Taken in the 12th round of the 2010 draft but signed to a well-above-slot bonus of $799,000, Ray moved slowly his first three seasons in the minors, spending a full year each in Low-A, Single-A and High-A. He opened 2013 at High-A once again, but after pitching well earned a promotion to Double-A and now looks to be in a good position to make his big league debut at some point in 2014.
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Chicago Cubs: 3B Kris Bryant (21 Years Old)
The most prolific slugger in college baseball this past season, Kris Bryant hit .329/.493/.820 with an NCAA-high 31 home runs and 62 RBI in 62 games, winning the Golden Spikes award. The Cubs moved him aggressively after he signed, jumping him over Single-A all together, and he will continue on the fast track to the hot corner in Chicago.
Cincinnati Reds: RP Michael Lorenzen (21 Years Old)
A two-way stud at Cal State Fullerton, the Reds plan to continue to use him both as a reliever and an outfielder in some capacity next season, but pitching will likely be his ticket to the majors. His fastball/curveball combination would play in a big league bullpen right now, and he may be the first player from the 2013 class to see the majors as a result.
Milwaukee Brewers: RP David Goforth (24 Years Old)
Drafted out of Mississippi in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, Goforth was originally used as a reliever but moved to the rotation last season where he went 10-8 with a 4.66 ERA. That was enough for him to open the year at High-A, where he was starting once again, but he moved to the bullpen after being promoted to Double-A and that may be where his future lies where his fastball/cutter combination should play well.
Pittsburgh Pirates: CF Gregory Polanco (22 Years Old)
A breakout 2012 in which he hit .325/.388/.522 with 16 home runs and 40 steals put Polanco on the map, and he built off of that this season as he opened the year at High-A and finished it with two games in Triple-A. If he slides to right field and joins Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen in the Pirates outfield, they'd arguably boast the most athletic outfield in all of baseball.
St. Louis Cardinals: SP Marco Gonzales (21 Years Old)
A two-way player at Gonzaga who won the John Olerud Award, Gonzales went 7-3 with a 2.80 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 106 innings of work on the mound in his final season, while also hitting .311/.375/.389 with two home runs and 26 RBI. Pitching is where he'll make his money as a pro, and he left college as one of the more polished arms in his class, evidenced by the fact the Cardinals skipped him two levels to High-A after a stint in rookie ball.
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Arizona Diamondbacks: SP Archie Bradley (21 Years Old)
The No. 25 prospect in baseball entering the season, according to Baseball America, Bradley went 12-6 with a 3.84 ERA in a full season at Class-A in 2012 after being selected with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 draft. He owned High-A hitters through five starts before being bumped up to Double-A where he enjoyed similar success. He'll likely debut at some point next season, and has legitimate ace-caliber potential.
Colorado Rockies: SP Eddie Butler (22 Years Old)
The No. 46 pick in the 2012 draft out of Radford University, Butler signed quickly and had an impressive debut last season as he went 7-1 with a 2.13 ERA in 13 games in rookie ball. He opened the season in Single-A and finished it with an impressive six-start showing at the Double-A level. The Rockies remain a loaded offensive team in need of consistent starting pitching, and he could see Colorado in the second half next year if he keeps pitching like he has.
Los Angeles Dodgers: SP Ross Stripling (23 Years Old)
After returning to Texas A&M for his senior season, Stripling was taken in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, and he signed in time to make 14 appearances in rookie ball, posting a 1.24 ERA in 36.1 innings of work. The prototypical high-floor college arm, Stripling is relatively polished with a solid three-pitch repertoire, and he should move quickly. He doesn't have ace upside, but he should stick as a starter and has middle-of-the-rotation potential.
San Diego Padres: 2B Cory Spangenberg (22 Years Old)
The No. 10 pick in the 2011 draft out of Indian River CC, Spangenberg has done nothing but hit since signing early and posting a .316/.419/.418 line over 275 at-bats between Low-A and Single-A in 2011. He spent a full season in High-A last year, and spent just 54 games there this season before jumping to Double-A. He's now blocked at second base by Jedd Gyorko, but the Padres will find a way to use him once his bat is ready, and that will likely be soon.
San Francisco Giants: SP Edwin Escobar (23 Years Old)
Signed as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela, Escobar had made just four appearances above Low-A ball heading into 2012, when the team finally stretched him out and he went 7-8 with a 2.96 ERA and 8.4 K/9 in 22 starts at Single-A. He's off and running now, and put up terrific numbers across the board while spending half the season in Double-A. With the Giants big league rotation headed for some changes, he could get a look at the end of next season.