Progress Reports on All 30 MLB Teams' Top Prospect in Winter Ball
Although they usually don’t feature the combination of big-ticket prospects and all-around depth that the Arizona Fall League does, the various international winter leagues at least offer those of us going through offseason prospect withdrawal a temporary fix.
Compared to previous years, there are more top-ranked prospects participating in the winter leagues this year than I can remember. And as the countdown to spring training begins, it’s likely that more players will join the leagues as they look to get a head start on the 2014 season and improve their chances of making an Opening Day roster.
However, before next week’s Winter Meetings take center stage, I wanted to give an update on the performance of each team’s top prospect that has been playing in an offseason league. For those teams that lack a notable prospect playing in a winter league, I included a progress report on their top prospect from the Arizona Fall League (AFL).
For the sake of presentation, here is how the four main winter leagues will be identified in this article:
- Dominican Winter League (DWL)
- Mexican Winter League (MWL)
- Puerto Rican Winter League (PWL)
- Venezuelan Winter League (VWL)
Here are progress reports on all 30 MLB teams' top prospect in winter ball.
Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Baltimore Orioles
2013 AFL Stats: 14.2 IP, 5.52 IP, .267 BAA, 16/6 K/BB (5 GS)
After a strong showing over the first half of the 2013 season in the Carolina League, Eduardo Rodriguez was promoted to Double-A Bowie in early July. The left-hander was initially overmatched at the more advanced level, as he registered a 7.02 ERA and 33-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his first 34.2 innings (seven starts).
However, Rodriguez ultimately settled in and went on to post a respectable 4.22 ERA and 59-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 59.2 innings.
While he normally works in the low-90s with his fastball, Rodriguez sat in the 92-95 mph range more often this past season; the ball just looks free and easy coming out of his hand because of the deception created on the backside. His slider has improved considerably since the beginning of the 2013 season, as it’s now more of a power offering in the mid-80s with tight spin and swing-and-miss bite.
Even though the 20-year-old’s stuff looked good in the Arizona Fall League, his control and command was shaky overall. However, Rodriguez flashed his huge upside in the league’s title game, allowing only two hits over three scoreless innings with four strikeouts.
Rodriguez will get another crack at the Double-A level to open the 2013 season and, based on the Orioles' propensity for challenging their pitching prospects, he could conceivably reach the major leagues later in the year.
Allen Webster, RHP, Boston Red Sox
2013 DWL Stats: 17.2 IP, 6.11 ERA, .319 BAA, 15/10 K/BB (5 GS)
As a result of his success in the minor leagues to begin the 2013 season, the Red Sox called Webster up to start the back end of a double-dip on April 21. After that, he bounced between the minors and the majors three more times but struggled in each of his opportunities with the Red Sox.
Overall, the 23-year-old registered an 8.60 ERA with 37 hits allowed and a 23-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 30.1 innings (seven starts) with Boston.
His fastball is most effective in the range of 91-96 mph with some sink and arm-side life. He’ll occasionally scrape 97-98 mph in shorter bursts. It has heavy sinking action when located down in the zone and yields a high number of ground-ball outs.
Webster also features a mid- to upper-80s slider that flashes plus potential with tight spin and late break, and it’s a highly effective offering when he can drop it off the table. The right-hander’s changeup improved significantly this past season, as he throws it with deceptive arm speed in low-80s with a heavy fade. When he’s on, Webster is still flat-out nasty, with three pitches capable of missing bats at the highest level.
However, the fringe command that he showed this past season with the Red Sox has carried over into the Dominican Winter League. In five starts, Webster has completed five innings just once while allowing 22 hits and 10 walks in 17.2 innings.
Zoilo Almonte, OF, New York Yankees
2013 DWL Stats: .312/.345/.428, 10 XBH (3 HR), 6 SB, 29/7 K/BB (35 G)
If it feels like Zoilo Almonte has been in the Yankees’ system forever—and it’s probably because he has been.
Signed by the Yankees out of the Dominican Republic way back in 2005, Almonte didn’t graduate to the Double-A level until his 2011 breakout campaign.
The following year, Almonte spent the entire season back at the level and proved that his 2011 production wasn’t a fluke by batting .277/.322/.487 with 21 home runs in 106 games.
The 24-year-old continued to develop into a more complete player this past season, and he finally reached the major leagues in his eighth year in the Yankees’ system.
Almonte got off to a hot start after receiving the call-up, collecting seven hits in his first 12 at-bats. However, the switch-hitting outfielder gradually cooled off at the plate and spent time on the disabled list with an ankle injury.
Overall, he batted .236/.274/.302 with five extra-base hits in 34 games with the Yankees.
Almonte showed last season that he’s valuable as either a fourth or fifth outfielder, given his ability to play multiple outfield positions and swing the bat from both sides of the plate. So, the fact that he’s batting .312/.345/.428 through 35 games in the Dominican Winter League should only help his chances of cracking the Yankees’ Opening Day roster as a reserve.
Richie Shaffer, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays
2013 AFL Stats: .277/.478/.362, 4 2B, 17/17 K/BB (16 G)
Selected by the Rays with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Richie Shaffer was promoted directly from the Short-Season level to High-A Charlotte in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League for the 2013 season.
However, prior to the season, the organization revamped Shaffer’s swing, adding a high leg lift to his load, with the hope of improving his power. As a result, the 22-year-old was unable to establish rhythm at the plate and struggled to make consistent contact.
Shaffer eventually reverted back to his original swing around the mid-season mark and put up respectable numbers during the second half, but it wasn’t enough to salvage the disappointing full-season debut. Overall, the right-handed hitter batted .254/.308/.399 with 45 extra-base hits (11 home runs), 73 RBI and a 106-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 122 games.
Shaffer fared much better in the Arizona Fall League with a .277 batting average and as many walks (17) as strikeouts (17). Specifically, he impressed with his approach and plate discipline, not to mention his ability to use the entire field.
But other than four doubles, Shaffer showcased minimal in-game power. He obviously still has some time to develop, but it’s difficult to envision Shaffer playing a corner position in the major leagues without legitimate over-the-fence pop.
Sean Nolin, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2013 DWL Stats: 26.2 IP, 3.38 ERA, .253 BAA, 24/10 K/BB (6 GS)
Coming off a breakout full-season debut in 2012, left-hander Sean Nolin was assigned back to Double-A New Hampshire this past season and made three impressive starts before getting the call to join the Blue Jays for a spot start.
Unfortunately, the 23-year-old’s big league debut against Baltimore on May 24 was one to forget. Nolin was chased from his first start after only 1.1 innings and 35 pitches. Before departing, he allowed six earned runs on seven hits and a walk.
Nolin returned to Double-A following the start and ultimately posted a 3.01 ERA and 103-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 92.2 innings (17 starts). He also was successful after moving up a level to Triple-A Buffalo for the final month of the regular season.
Though he lacks a true plus-offering, Nolin has a solid four-pitch mix and pitchability to start in the major leagues. But as he learned in his brief audition last season, his league-average fastball velocity will be hit hard if it's not down in the zone. And while he features good control of his secondary offerings, he needs to be more aggressive with them and force opposing hitters to expand the strike zone.
Currently pitching in the Dominican Winter League, Nolin has allowed more than two earned runs just once in six starts, and he’s tallied at least five strikeouts in half his outings. Expect him to contend for a spot at the back end of Toronto's rotation in spring training.
Trayce Thompson, OF, Chicago White Sox
2013 VWL Stats: .045/.120/.045, 7 K (13 G)
A second-round draft pick in 2009 out of a California high school, Trayce Thompson’s baseball skills failed to materialize during his first three minor league seasons, and he didn’t graduate from the Low-A level until the 2012 season.
Even though the 22-year-old rebounded after a sluggish first half, he struggled overall to the tune of a .229/.321/.383 batting line with 15 home runs, 25 stolen bases and 139 strikeouts in 135 games.
Thompson possesses an intriguing blend of power and speed and has the defensive chops to remain in center field. However, his hit tool has been slow to develop, as his pitch recognition is still fringy and results in a high strikeout total.
Needing consistent at-bats in order to bounce back from his rough regular season, Thompson began playing in the Venezuelan Winter League in mid-October. But after collecting only one hit in 22 at-bats, spanning 13 games, he was released by the club and sent home for the offseason.
That is probably not what the White Sox were hoping to see from a guy they recently added to the 40-man roster.
Jose Ramirez, 2B, Cleveland Indians
2013 DWL Stats: .287/.321/.386, 9 XBH, 4 CS, 17/3 K/BB (25 G)
Jose Ramirez reached the major leagues as a September call-up this past season after playing in only 180 games at a full-season level.
With Low-A Kane County in 2012, Ramirez batted .354/.403/.462 with 20 extra-base hits, 15 stolen bases and a 26/24 K/BB ratio in 67 games.
Bumped directly to Double-A Akron for the 2013 season, the 21-year-old excelled as one of the younger everyday players—it was technically his age-20 season—at the level, batting .272/.325/.349 with 25 extra-base hits and a 41-39 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 113 games. He also led the Eastern League with 38 stolen bases and ranked fourth with 78 runs scored at the time of the promotion.
Ramirez was 4-for-12 with a triple and five runs scored in 15 games with the Indians during the final month of the regular season.
At 5’9”, 165 pounds, Ramirez doesn’t require much physical projection, but he gets the most out of his tools. The switch hitter has a simple swing and direct path to the ball, demonstrating a similar and consistent approach from both sides of the plate. In general, Ramirez makes lots of hard contact thanks to a strong top hand and impressive bat-to-ball skills.
While he has the potential for plus hit tool at maturity, Ramirez may never offer more than below-average power. However, he has decent pop to the gaps and should collect plenty of extra-base hits thanks to his plus speed.
Ramirez profiles as a second baseman at the highest level, though he’s capable of playing several infield positions. His arm is a down tool, but it is sufficient for the position, where he also showcases smooth, clean actions and quick feet that lend to his above-average range.
Currently playing in the Dominican Winter League, Ramirez has been one of the league’s more consistent hitters with a .287 batting average through 25 games. The Indians’ are big on the 21-year-old, so it’s conceivable that he’ll open the year in the major leagues and serve a similar role to the one he had as a September call-up.
Hernan Perez, 2B, Detroit Tigers
2013 VWL Stats: .275/.315/.314, 2 XBH, 9/3 K/BB (18 G)
Hernan Perez received his first taste of the major leagues in 2012 when the Tigers promoted him directly from High-A Lakewood as they awaited the arrival of the newly acquired Omar Infante. Perez ultimately collected his first big league hit and appeared in two games.
Perez finally reached Double-A this past season, his sixth in the Tigers’ system, and improved upon his breakout 2012 campaign by batting .301/.325/.423 with 34 extra-base hits and 24 stolen bases in 87 games. He also played in 16 games with Triple-A Toledo.
The 22-year-old also received another look in the major leagues, appearing in 34 games between two second-half stints with the Tigers.
Having played most of his professional career at shortstop, Perez’s sharp defense at the keystone is a major reason the Tigers felt comfortable using him as reserve over parts of the last two seasons. While he’ll never offer much in the power department, Perez’s line-drive stroke and above-average speed make him a consistent doubles threat.
Despite playing in 137 games across three levels, Perez is getting a head start on the 2014 season by playing in the Venezuelan Winter League. Still, it’s unlikely that he’ll make the Tigers’ Opening Day roster following the team’s recent acquisition of second baseman Ian Kinsler from the Rangers. However, that’s not entirely a bad thing; Perez stands to benefit from at least one more full season in Triple-A.
Christian Colon, 2B/SS, Kansas City Royals
2013 PWL Stats: .284/.326/.386, 7 XBH, 3 SB, 12/5 K/BB (22 G)
When the Royals selected Christian Colon with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2010 draft, they expected him to make quick work of the minor leagues thanks to his advanced plate discipline and knack for making hard contact.
However, injuries have limited the 24-year-old to a combined 403 games over the last four seasons and delayed his arrival in the major leagues.
On a positive note, Colon turned in his best minor league season in 2013, batting .273/.335/.379 with 27 extra-base hits (12 home runs), 15 stolen bases and a 57-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio while playing in a career-high 131 games at Triple-A Omaha.
Now playing in the Venezuelan Winter League, the middle infielder is answering questions about his durability and has now played in 153 total games this year. He’s been especially hot at the plate over the last 10 games with a .395 batting average and four doubles.
Eddie Rosario, 2B, Minnesota Twins
2013 AFL Stats: .238/.262/.275, 2 XBH, 13/3 K/BB (20 G)
2013 PWL Stats: .137/.200/.235, 2 XBH, 3 SB, 13/4 K/BB (15 G)
Assigned to High-A Fort Myers to open the 2013 season, Eddie Rosario made quick work of the pitcher-friendly Florida State League by batting .329/.377/.527 with 40 runs scored and 24 extra-base hits in 52 games.
Rosario’s strong first half resulted in a promotion to Double-A New Britain for the remainder of the year. Despite the fact that he was one of the younger everyday players at the level—it was technically his age-21 season—the left-handed hitter held his own at the dish with a .284/.330/.412 batting line with 26 extra-base hits in 70 games.
Rosario is a good athlete with surprising strength in his 6’0”, 170-pound frame. His biggest draw is a projectable hit tool that’s fueled by his impressive bat-to-ball ability. Though he generally has a plan at the plate and shows the ability to make adjustments, Rosario limits his own potential by swinging like a power hitter, dropping his hands and trying to lift the ball after contact. The fact that he still uses the whole field and hits for average is simply a testament to his hand-eye coordination and barrel control.
After a subpar showing in the Arizona Fall League, Rosario surprisingly wasted no time before starting up in the Puerto Rican Winter League. The reason behind his extra-long season, which is now approaching 160 games, came to light on Nov. 19, when LaVelle E. Neal III of The Star Tribune reported that Rosario has been suspended for 50 games for violating Minor League Baseball’s drug policy.
To make matters worse, he’s batting just .127 through 16 games in the PWL.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros
2013 PWL Stats: .306/.422/.612, 12 XBH (7 HR), 21/16 K/BB (24 G)
Speaking of suspensions…
After opening the 2013 season serving a 50-game suspension, Jonathan Singleton struggled to find his power stroke as he worked his way back up the organizational ladder.
The 22-year-old first baseman made brief stops at Low-A Quad Cities and Double-A Corpus Christi before a promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Playing in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Singleton posted a pedestrian .687 OPS with six home runs and 89 strikeouts in 73 games.
However, Singleton's power has seemingly returned. The left-handed hitter has seven home runs through his first 24 games in the Puerto Rican Winter League, and he’s currently riding a power surge that includes four bombs in his last seven games.
While Singleton probably won’t crack Houston’s Opening Day roster, he has a relatively clear path to playing time in the major leagues and should receive a mid-season promotion.
C.J. Cron, 1B, Los Angeles Angels
2013 AFL Stats: .413/.467/.700, 12 XBH (5 HR), 20 RBI, 11/8 K/BB (20 G)
2013 DWL Stats: 4-for-14 (.286), 2 2B, 5 RBI, 4/1 K/BB (4 G)
After hitting 27 home runs during his full-season debut at High-A in 2012, C.J. Cron had his total cut in half this past season at Double-A—perhaps a result of offseason shoulder surgery.
Playing in 134 games, the 23-year-old held his own with a .274 bating average but saw his home run total drop to 14 while striking out a career-high 83 times. As a first-base-only prospect, let alone a right-handed one, Cron’s bat (more specifically his power) will determine if he reaches the major leagues.
At 6’4”, 235 pounds, Cron’s raw power is as big as his size suggests. However, his lack of impact bat speed prevents him from getting on top of fastballs at average velocity and clearing his hips on those on the inner half of the plate.
Thanks to a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, highlighted by winning the league’s batting title with a .413 average, Cron has resuscitated his prospect stock that was down following his 2013 campaign in which he totaled 14 home runs.
Despite playing in a combined 154 games between the minor league season and AFL, Cron is still going strong in the Dominican Winter League, with a pair of doubles and five RBI in four games.
Addison Russell, SS, Oakland Athletics
2013 AFL Stats: .282/.361/.435, 10 XBH, 5 SB, 15/10 K/BB (21 G)
As a result of his impressive pro debut in 2012, Addison Russell received an aggressive assignment to High-A Stockton to open the 2013 season. As the youngest everyday player in the California League, the 19-year-old batted .275/.377/.508 with 85 runs scored, 56 extra-base hits (17 home runs) and 21 stolen bases in 107 games.
At the end of the year, the A’s promoted Russell to Triple-A Sacramento for the team’s stretch run, though he went just 1-for-13 with nine strikeouts in three games.
Although he looked raw at times this past season as a 19-year-old in High-A, Russell has the makings of an impact shortstop at the major league level.
After an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League with a .282 batting average and 10 extra-base hits, Russell is likely to open the 2014 season in Double-A and has the potential to take over as the A's big league shortstop, as a 20-year-old, by the end of the year.
Chris Taylor, 2B/SS, Seattle Mariners
2013 AFL Stats: .294/.351/.426, 6 XBH, 5 SB, 15/6 K/BB (18 G)
Chris Taylor was one of the more well-rounded, high-floor shortstop prospects in the 2012 draft class, and the Mariners landed a potential steal when they nabbed him in the fifth round.
Taylor didn’t disappoint in his first full professional season this year, as the 23-year-old batted .314/.409/.455 with 108 runs scored, 47 extra-base hits, 38 stolen bases and a 117/84 strikeout-to-walk rate in 134 games between High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson. However, it’s worth noting that his OPS dropped by nearly .180 points at the more advanced level.
Taylor continued to showcase his overall consistency in the Arizona Fall League, posting a .778 OPS in 18 games with six extra-base hits and five stolen bases. He lacks a clear path to playing time with the Mariners, but the middle infielder could conceivably see time as a reserve next season.
Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers
2013 VWL Stats: .227/.279/.320, 4 XBH, 9 RBI, 4 SB, 14/6 K/BB (32 G)
Signed out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old in early 2011, Rougned Odor has emerged as the Texas Rangers’ top prospect and arguably the top second base prospect in the game.
Opening the 2013 season at High-A Myrtle Beach, the 19-year-old batted .305/.369/.454 with 42 extra-base hits and 27 stolen bases in 100 games before a late-season promotion to Double-A Frisco.
Despite moving up to the more advanced level, the left-handed hitter held his own by posting a .306/.354/.530 batting line with 30 runs scored, eight doubles and six home runs in 30 games.
Overall, Odor posted an .839 OPS with 41 doubles, 11 home runs, 32 stolen bases and a 91-35 strikeout-to-walk rate in 130 games.
Odor possesses much more physical strength than his 5’11”, 170-pound frame suggests. He has continually thrived as a younger player in advanced leagues and boasts a high-end combination of hit-tool potential and plus speed. The left-handed hitter also has above-average power for his position with impressive power frequency. In general, he’s an extra-base machine and drives the ball with authority to all fields.
Odor’s above-average range at second base, soft hands and strong arm are a clean fit at the position, and he could probably even cut it at shortstop in a pinch. He’s an intense, hard-nosed ballplayer with excellent instincts who makes things happen on both sides of the ball.
After a red-hot start in the Venezuelan Winter League, Odor has cooled off at the plate with a .156 batting average over his last 10 games. He’s also in an 0-for-16 slump, spanning the last four games.
With Ian Kinsler out of the picture and Jurickson Profar likely to take over at the keystone, there’s no need for the Rangers to rush Odor to the major leagues. However, a strong start to the season back at Double-A combined with a lack of production from Profar could have him in the major leagues ahead of schedule.
Christian Bethancourt, C, Atlanta Braves
2013 DWL Stats: .226/.276/.340, 4 XBH, 12/3 K/BB (16 G)
Christian Bethancourt is regarded as one of the top defensive catchers in the minor leagues, with an 80-grade arm and receiving skills that have steadily improved over the last two seasons. However, a punch-less bat has prevented the 22-year-old from becoming a potential impact player.
This season, his second straight at the Double-A level, Bethancourt finally made strides in his development at the dish. Making more consistent contact and striking out less, the right-handed hitter batted .277/.305/.436 with 33 extra-base hits (12 home runs), 11 stolen bases and a 57-16 strikeout-to-walk rate in 90 games.
Following the conclusion of the minor league season, Bethancourt was among the Braves’ September call-ups. However, he appeared in one game and struck out in his only at-bat.
After appearing in only 91 games during the regular season, Bethancourt is trying to make up for the lost time by playing in the Dominican Winter League. A strong showing could improve his chances of breaking camp as the Braves’ backup catcher in 2014, though he’ll have to pick up the pace after having already posted a .615 OPS through 16 games.
Jesus Solorzano, OF, Miami Marlins
2013 VWL Stats: .191/.224/.298, 4 XBH, 12/0 K/BB (22 G)
Signed by the Marlins out of Venezuela in the summer of 2009, Jesus Solorzano spent back-to-back seasons in the Dominican Summer League before making his stateside debut in 2011.
The 23-year-old finally graduated to a full-season level in 2013, as he spent the entire year at Low-A Greensboro. Though he was old for the level, Solorzano opened eyes with his power-speed potential and ultimately posted solid numbers, batting .285/.325/.450 with 15 home runs and 33 stolen bases in 129 games. However, his plate discipline was the mess many expected from the free-swinging outfielder, as his 111-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio certainly left something to be desired.
After a rough start in the Venezuelan Winter League, Solorzano has had his role reduced to late-inning replacement and received only two at-bats in the past month.
Wilmer Flores, 3B/2B, New York Mets
2013 VWL Stats: 11-for-25 (.440), 4 BB, 2 K (6 G)
After four mediocre seasons in the low minors, Wilmer Flores finally put things together in 2012 when he posted an .827 OPS with a career-high 18 home runs in 130 games between High-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton.
Flores’ breakout performance earned him a promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas to open the 2013 season. The 22-year-old thrived in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, posting a career-best .887 OPS with 55 extra-base hits (15 home runs) in only 107 games.
The Mets promoted Flores to the major leagues in early August, where he was overmatched by top-notch sequencing and posted an ugly .542 OPS in 101 plate appearances.
Flores has been on fire since starting in the Venezuelan Winter League last week, with a .440 batting average and a hit in each of his first seven contests.
Maikel Franco, 3B/1B, Philadelphia Phillies
2013 DWL Stats: .236/.364/.341, 9 XBH (2 HR), 12 RBI, 30/5 K/BB (35 G)
Maikel Franco emerged as one of the minors’ more intriguing young sluggers in 2012, when he tallied 32 doubles and 14 home runs for Low-A Lakewood as a 19-year-old.
Heading into the 2013 season, the belief was that Franco would showcase even more power if he refined his plate discipline.
Well, that happened—exactly.
Assigned to High-A Clearwater, the 20-year-old destroyed Florida State League pitching in the first half of the season, posting a .925 OPS with 23 doubles and 16 home runs in 289 plate appearances.
The Phillies challenged Franco with a promotion to Double-A Reading around midseason and, amazingly, he was even more impressive at the advanced level. In 292 plate appearances (69 games), Franco batted .339/.363/.563 with 94 total hits and 15 home runs.
Overall, Franco batted .320/.356/.569 with 36 doubles, 31 home runs and 103 RBI in 581 plate appearances between both levels. More significantly, the 20-year-old showed an improved feel for the strike zone with a 70-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 134 games.
Franco has struggled overall in the Dominican Winter League, posting a .236 batting average and 30 strikeouts in 35 games. However, he’s showing signs of turning the corner with two home runs—his only two DWL dingers—in the last seven games.
Michael Taylor, OF, Washington Nationals
2013 PWL Stats: .359/.394/.495, 9 XBH (2 HR), 4 CS, 28/4 K/BB (25 G)
Michael Taylor is what a big league outfielder should look like.
At 6’4”, 205 pounds, Taylor has finally grown into his once-wiry frame and is showing some of the power that was projected when the Nationals made him a fifth-round draft pick out of high school in 2009.
In his second consecutive season at High-A Potomac in 2013, Taylor, 22, batted .263/.340/.426 with 57 extra-base hits (41 doubles), 87 RBI, 51 stolen bases (in 58 attempts) and a 131-55 strikeout-to-walk rate in 133 games.
While Taylor’s high strikeout rate remains a concern, it’s hard not to be intrigued by his power-speed potential should the baseball skills continue to develop favorably.
In November, the Nationals added Taylor to the 40-man roster to protect him from being selected in December’s Rule 5 draft—and it probably had something to do with his eye-opening performance this offseason in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
Through his first 25 games, Taylor is currently leading the league (among all qualified hitters) with a .359 batting average.
Arismendy Alcantara, SS/2B, Chicago Cubs
2013 DWL Stats: .200/.231/.280, 2 XBH, 2 SB, 13/2 K/BB (17 G)
Arismendy Alcantara put himself on the map by posting a .655 OPS during his full-season debut at Low-A Peoria in 2011, followed by a .786 OPS with 27 extra-base hits and 25 stolen bases in 85 games at High-A Daytona.
This past season, the 22-year-old emerged as one of the more intriguing infield prospects in the game with a breakout performance at Double-A Tennessee. Playing in 133 games—the first time in his career in which he’s played in more than 100 games in a season—the switch-hitting infielder batted .271/.352/.451 with 55 extra-base hits (15 home runs) and 31 stolen bases.
Alcantara is undersized at 5’10”, 160 pounds, but he has a compact build that is loaded with strength and natural athleticism. More specifically, he’s an aggressive hitter who attacks the ball and makes consistent, hard contact from both sides of the plate. While he does have some swing-and-miss to his game, Alcantara has demonstrated the ability to draw more walks this season against advanced pitching.
He’s an easy plus runner whose speed plays on both sides of the ball. Additionally, he’s a smart base stealer with an 80 percent (91-of-114) career success rate over five seasons.
Defensively, Alcantara is a quick and aggressive shortstop with plus range. He has the tools, including the plus arm strength and athleticism, for either middle infield position.
After playing in a career-high 133 games this past season, Alcantara has struggled so far in the Dominican Winter League, posting a .511 OPS and 13 strikeouts in 17 games.
Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
2013 PWL Stats: .227/.284/.293, 4 XBH, 11 SB, 12/6 K/BB (17 G)
Everyone knows about Billy Hamilton’s speed. However, in order to make an impact in the major leagues, he needs to be more than a fourth outfielder who’s just ridiculously fast.
Hamilton had some nice swings with the Reds as a September call-up, but the 23-year-old switch-hitter struggled at Triple-A Louisville for most of the year after a breakout offensive campaign in 2012, as he only recorded a .256/.308/.343 batting line and a 102-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 123 games.
In general, the development of Hamilton’s hit tool remains a legitimate concern.
As a switch-hitter, Hamilton has quick wrists from both sides of the plate that allow him to generate above-average bat speed and be short to the ball. However, he struggles to keep his weight back and will lunge at too many pitches, too many of which are within the strike zone. It also prevents him from turning on quality velocity on the inner-half of the plate. And though he controls the zone relatively well, he also makes far too much weak contact for someone who projects as a dynamic leadoff hitter.
After getting off to a slow start in the Puerto Rican Winter League, Hamilton’s production has picked up as of late with a .444 batting average (8-for-18) and five stolen bases over his last four games.
Mitch Haniger, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
2013 AFL Stats: .280/.354/.480, 12 XBH (4 HR), 24 RBI, 18/11 K/BB (25 G)
The Milwaukee Brewers landed a potential steal in Mitch Haniger when they selected him with the No. 38 overall pick in the 2012 draft, mostly due to the belief that he had untapped power potential.
After signing, Haniger was assigned to Low-A Wisconsin but ultimately appeared in only 14 games due to a knee injury.
Finally healthy, the 22-year-old returned to Low-A to open the 2013 season and posted a .909 OPS with 19 extra-base hits and more walks (25) than strikeouts (24) in 41 games. As a result of his success at the level, the outfielder was promoted to High-A Brevard County and held his own with a .250/.323/.396 batting line with 33 extra-base hits (24 doubles) in 88 games in the challenging Florida State League.
Between both levels, Haniger batted .264/.348/.431 with 52 extra-base hits—but only 11 home runs—68 RBI and a 92-57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 129 games.
Playing in the AFL this fall, he posted an .867 OPS with eight doubles, four home runs and a league-leading 24 RBI in 24 games for the Surprise Saguaros.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
2013 DWL Stats: .320/.424/.500, 13 XBH (4 HR), 24 RBI, 4 SB, 27/22 K/BB (33 G)
Moved up to High-A Bradenton after a remarkable full-season debut in 2012, Gregory Polanco was even better this past season across three levels.
Overall, the 22-year-old (in his age-21 season) batted .285/.356/.434 with 44 extra-base hits (12 home runs), 71 RBI, 38 stolen bases and a 73-52 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 127 games between Bradenton and Double-A Altoona. He also played in two games at Triple-A Indianapolis to finish the regular season.
A left-handed hitter, Polanco has a mature approach at the plate with a present feel for the strike zone and mature pitch recognition. Due to his lanky build and long arms, he gets excellent coverage at the plate and utilizes the whole field.
Although he has a wiry frame with plenty of room left to add strength, Polanco’s quick wrists and impressive bat speed give him more power than one might expect. He generates outstanding extension after contact, while his high follow-through creates considerable backspin carry to all fields.
Polanco’s tools and feel for the game are both highly impressive for a player of his age and experience, so it’s anything but a surprise that he’s putting up big numbers this offseason.
Playing in the Dominican Winter League, Polanco currently boasts a .924 OPS with 13 extra-base hits (four home runs), 24 RBI and a 27-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 33 games.
Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
2013 AFL Stats: .371/.430/.506, 7 XBH, 18 RBI, 7 SB, 14/9 K/BB (23 G)
Selected out of Stanford with the No. 36 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Stephen Piscotty impressed during his professional debut in 2012 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.
While Piscotty’s hit tool will likely get him to the major leagues, possibly as early as mid- to late-2014, his development of over-the-fence pop may ultimately determine whether he becomes more than a fourth outfielder at the highest level.
Regardless, it’s safe to say that Piscotty helped his own cause in the Arizona Fall League, where he ranked as one of the league’s top hitters with a .371/.430/.506 batting line, 20 runs scored, seven extra-base hits and seven stolen bases in 23 games.
Jake Barrett, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
2013 AFL Stats: 4 SV, 8.2 IP, 6.23 ERA, .286 BAA, 9/6 K/BB (9 G)
A third-round draft pick in 2012 out of Arizona State University, 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 him to become and jumped on the fast track to the major leagues. 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, including a 0.36 ERA, 14 saves and a stellar 22-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio spanning 24 appearances.
Coming of his first full professional season, Barrett was physically exhausted in the Arizona Fall League, and it showed through his lack of fastball control. However, the right-hander did save four games.
With a plus fastball-slider combination that generates both whiffs and weak contact, Barrett should join the Diamondbacks’ bullpen during the 2014 season and could emerge as an impact closer by 2016.
Kyle Parker, 1B, Colorado Rockies
2013 AFL Stats: .278/.320/.536, 15 XBH (4 HR), 21/5 K/BB (24 G)
Selected by the Rockies in the first round of the 2010 draft, Kyle Parker, who also served as the quarterback during his time at Clemson University, has moved through the minors at a steady, level-per-year pace.
This past season, the 24-year-old posted an .836 OPS with 23 home runs in 123 games at Double-A Tulsa. More importantly, his plate discipline held up at the more advanced level, as he posted a 99-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 528 plate appearances.
Prior to the start of the AFL season, the Rockies shifted Parker from the outfield to first base. Naturally, the move prompted speculation that the organization views him as a potential successor for Todd Helton.
It’s difficult to argue that his bat doesn’t fit the mold of a first baseman, especially after he posted an .856 OPS with 15 extra-base hits in the fall league. Plus, he’s never been regarded as a strong defensive corner outfielder, so the move was likely to happen later in his career.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
2013 VWL Stats: .255/.439/.473, 13 XBH (5 HR), 42/36 K/BB (34 G)
Coming off an impressive full-season debut at the High-A level in 2012, Joc Pederson improved his stock as much as any position prospect this past season by batting .278/.381/.497 with 22 home runs, 31 stolen bases and a 114-70 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 123 games as a 21-year-old in the Double-A Southern League.
Just a year ago, there was doubt surrounding Pederson’s projection as an everyday outfielder in the major leagues, largely due to the belief that the left-handed hitter’s approach and power might not survive an ascent up the organizational ladder. Well, suffice it to say, he changed his own outlook by amassing 49 extra-base hits in an advanced league this past season.
The 21-year-old has continued to impress this winter while playing in Venezuela, as he currently leads the league with 36 walks in 34 games and ranks sixth among qualified hitters with a .912 OPS.
Expect Pederson to reach the major leagues during the second half of the 2014 season, likely as a fourth or fifth outfielder. However, his estimated arrival in The Show could be affected dramatically should the organization trade Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and/or Carl Crawford this winter.
Rymer Liriano, OF, San Diego Padres
2013 DWL Stats: 1-for-6, HR (3 G)
Coming off an impressive 2012 in which he batted .280/.350/.417 with 42 extra-base hits and 32 stolen bases in 127 games between High-A Inland Empire and Double-A San Antonio, there was a popular belief that Rymer Liriano could make an impact in the major leagues during the 2013 season.
However, the 22-year-old never got the chance to do so, as he suffered an elbow injury in the spring that resulted in season-ending Tommy John surgery.
A physically mature player at 6’0” and 225 pounds, Liriano has a ton of raw strength and projects for at least average tools across the board.
While his hit tool may never develop into anything beyond average, the toolsy outfielder’s plus bat speed and raw power suggest plenty of untapped potential at the plate. The right-handed hitter keeps his hands inside the ball and gets extensive plate coverage, though it can work against him at times by generating too many weakly hit outs.
Due to his plus speed and strong, accurate arm, Liriano has a clean projection as a right fielder in the major leagues; his routes and jumps are average, and he covers more ground in the outfield than one would expect with impressive closing speed.
After roughly 10 months on the shelf following surgery, Liriano is finally back in action playing in the Dominican Winter League. While he’s only had six at-bats since returning, he made an immediate impact with a home run in his first start.
Kyle Crick, RHP, San Francisco Giants
2013 AFL Stats: 15.2 IP, 2.87 ERA, .161 BAA, 24/11 K/BB (7 G/5 GS)
While a strained oblique limited Kyle Crick to only 14 starts this past season, the 20-year-old was flat-out nasty when healthy, posting a 1.57 ERA and .201 opponent batting average with 95 strikeouts in 68.2 innings at High-A San Jose.
Boasting a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and frequently scrapes 96-97, along with a trio of secondary offerings that can flash plus but lack consistency, Crick has the makings of a front-of-the-rotation pitcher. That being said, both his control and command will need considerable refinement before reaching the major leagues.
Crick showed signs of rust in the early going of the AFL, struggling to command his fastball and work down in the zone consistently as a starter. However, the right-hander smoothed out his delivery and ultimately served as the league’s most dominant pitcher over the final few weeks.
Specifically, in his final two AFL starts—he logged three innings in both—Crick allowed just one hit and two walks with 10 strikeouts over six shutout innings.