Xander Bogaerts is beyond untouchable after reaching the major leagues as a 20-year-old in 2013.
If we learned anything from the 2013 offseason—when Wil Myers, Travis d’Arnaud, Trevor Bauer, Noah Syndergaard, Jake Odorizzi and Jake Marisnick were each involved in blockbuster deals—it’s that very few prospects are “untouchable” when the right trade opportunity is on the table.
However, there are those young players that are so valuable to their organization that they’re unlikely to be included, or even discussed, in any potential deal. Those prospects are usually expected to fill a void at the highest level and generally have upside that discourages any conception of a trade; they're studs and the future of their respective franchises.
Here’s a look at each MLB team’s untouchable prospect for the 2014 season.
It was a busy 2013 season for Kevin Gausman, as he was rushed to the major leagues as a starter in May before finally finding success as a reliever in September.
The 6’3” right-hander has easy velocity at 94-99 mph with his four-seam fastball, and his two-seamer registers a few ticks slower but features more arm-side run. Gausman’s changeup is a legitimate plus-plus pitch in the low- to mid-80s with devastating, splitter-like drop, and he’s made noticeable strides improving his slider over the last year.
The 23-year-old’s development of the breaking ball will be crucial to his success moving forward, as a viable third pitch to complement his fastball-changeup combo could make him a front-of-the-rotation force for years to come.
In general, Gausman’s electric arsenal and plus command profile give him an insanely high ceiling, and with a more consistent and effective breaking ball, he could realize that potential in short order. The right-hander will begin the 2014 season in the team's big-league rotation, and he has the potential to emerge as one of the best young starters in baseball.
The 2013 season couldn’t have gone better for Xander Bogaerts, as he made stops at Double-A and Triple-A before finally reaching the major leagues in August, only to emerge as the starting third baseman on Boston’s World Series-winning team.
While Bogaerts has always projected to be plus hitter in the major leagues, he’s raised the bar over the last year by adding strength and sharpening his approach. With lightning-quick bat speed and preternatural bat-to-ball skills, the 21-year-old stays short and quick to the ball and utilizes his tremendous plate coverage. As he matures, both physically and as a hitter, he should be capable of hitting 20-25 home runs in any given season.
He has the ceiling of one of baseball’s top players, with the potential to offer star-level production at a premium position. Even if he’s forced to move from shortstop to third base full time, his bat should make him a perennial All-Star.
A member of the Yankees’ farm system since 2008, Jose Ramirez didn’t reach Double-A until the 2013 season, after spending his previous four campaigns between both A-ball levels. The right-hander made strides with his command at the more advanced level and even spent a month (albeit a shaky one) at Triple-A before landing on the disabled with a strained oblique.
Ramirez—a durable 6’3”, 190-pounder—works from a low-three-quarters arm slot, showing a quick arm but inconsistent release point. The 23-year-old has a plus fastball that registers consistently in the mid-90s with sink, though his command of the pitch is fringy. The right-hander also throws a hard slider that registers in high 80s with depth and tilt, and it has at least average potential. He also throws a changeup with outstanding fade in the mid-80s that flashes plus or better potential.
Ramirez has a history of shoulder and arm problems and has been slow to develop, but his proximity to the major leagues is especially valuable to the Yankees, who lack impact arms in the upper levels of their system.
Enny Romero has a projectable frame at 6’3”, 165 pounds, with plenty of room to add strength, and he possesses the best arm strength in Tampa Bay’s system. However, despite reaching the major leagues late last season, the left-hander is still more of a thrower than a pitcher, and he struggles to repeat a consistent release point.
The 22-year-old’s plus fastball is explosive and ranges anywhere from 92-97 mph, while his command of the pitch is best described as effectively wild. Romero’s power curveball flashes plus potential due to its velocity and downer break, and his changeup is raw but shows at least above-average potential.
Romero has the stuff to pitch in a major-league rotation, but his below-average command doesn’t make him a lock for the role over the long term. However, if the Rays decide to trade David Price this offseason, then Romero becomes a strong candidate to move into the starting rotation.
After serving a 50-game PED suspension to begin the 2013 season, Marcus Stroman blew past expectations with an impressive showing in the Double-A rotation. The athletic right-hander possesses tons of arm strength, despite his 5’9” frame, with an explosive fastball in the mid-90s and a cutter that has above-average potential.
Stroman’s best secondary offering is a near-plus-plus slider that’s thrown with serious velocity (courtesy of his lightning-quick arm) in the high 80s, and he uses it to pile up strikeouts. And though his changeup is technically his lesser offering, his arm speed and consistent release point should make it a weapon.
With questions about the 22-year-old's durability and ability to log 150-plus innings in a season, his long-term future as a starter will be up for debate until he proves otherwise—which he will in 2014. The right-hander’s slight build offers an unusual look for opposing hitters and, when combined with his electric stuff, could help him reach his ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter quickly.
Erik Johnson emerged as the White Sox’s top pitching prospect last season, making stops at Double-A and Triple-A before reaching the major leagues as a September call-up.
The 23-year-old right-hander features an impressive four-pitch mix, as he’ll work comfortably in the low- to mid-90s with his fastball and complements it with one of the better sliders in the minors, a legitimate plus offering thrown in the upper-80s with excellent tilt. Rounding out Johnson’s arsenal are a changeup and curveball, both of which are serviceable pitches used to keep opposing hitters off his fastball-slider combo.
With the trade of Hector Santiago to the Angels this offseason, Johnson should open the 2014 season in Chicago’s rotation, and he has the potential to surpass expectations as the team’s fourth or fifth starter.
Francisco Lindor’s rapid ascension through the minor leagues continued in 2013, as the then-teenager finished the season with a strong showing at the Double-A level. Regarded as the best defensive shortstop in the minor leagues, Lindor is an absolute wizard with the glove and has the potential to be an elite defensive shortstop in the major leagues.
Even if the switch-hitter’s bat doesn’t develop as expected, he has the potential to enjoy a long, successful career in the major leagues based on his defensive prowess, superb instincts and ability to control the speed of the game.
With that being said, the 20-year-old shows all the signs of becoming an average or better hitter, as he has an advanced approach and smooth stroke from both sides of the plate. Lindor has a realistic ceiling of the top defensive shortstop in the game, and he could conceivably blossom into a frequent All-Star.
After improving his plate discipline and showing more consistent power at Triple-A last season, Nick Castellanos reached the major leagues as a September call-up and made several starts in left field. He is a natural hitter with advanced bat-to-ball skills and an inside-out swing that suggests he could become a .300-plus hitter at the highest level.
While he’s always been a consistent source of extra-base hits during his career, the right-handed hitter’s line-drive-oriented swing does limit his home-run power. However, as he continues to develop physically and learns to turn on the ball, he should show more over-the-fence pop.
Drafted and developed as a third baseman until mid-2012, Castellanos was moved to the outfield as a way to potentially get his bat to the major leagues ahead of schedule. However, following the Tigers offseason trade of Prince Fielder, the 21-year-old is expected to open the season as the team’s third baseman (his strongest position) with Miguel Cabrera moving back to first base.
Kyle Zimmer has the potential to be a monster, with four impressive offerings and above-average command as well as knowledge on how to attack hitters and exploit weaknesses. Employing a clean and repeatable delivery, Zimmer’s fastball works comfortably in the mid-90s with late life, and he has the ability to reach back for something in the 96-98 mph range as needed.
His curveball is a second plus pitch with excellent pace and a sharp, downer break, and it will work nicely as an out pitch in the major leagues. The 22-year-old will also mix in an average slider with tight spin and decent depth as well as a changeup with late fading action out of the zone.
Zimmer will open the 2014 season back at Double-A and, provided he remains healthy, should reach the major leagues sometime after the All-Star break. There's some concern about his workload and injury history, but the right-hander's stuff is too good to be wasted in the minors for a full season.
Byron Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, emerged as baseball’s top prospect in his first full professional season last year, posting monster numbers between both Class-A levels as a teenager. He is a supremely gifted athlete with 80-grade speed and the potential to be an elite defender in center field.
At the plate, the right-hander hitter’s combination of explosive bat speed and hand-eye coordination will help him reach the major leagues quickly, while his mature approach and pitch recognition could make him one of the game’s top hitters. And while he’s already an extra-base machine thanks to his wheels, Buxton also has the raw power to produce 20-plus home runs.
Buxton has the ceiling of an MVP-caliber player in his prime, with five potentially plus tools and a feel for making in-game adjustments. Assuming he opens the 2014 season at Double-A, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the 20-year-old finish the year in the major leagues.
Carlos Correa, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 draft, proved to be more advanced than expected last year as one of the younger everyday players at a full-season level, showcasing impact potential on both sides of the ball and an overall mature feel for the game.
The right-handed hitter has a simple, direct swing in which he attacks the ball and utilizes the entire field. However, it’s his advanced plate discipline and pitch recognition that already makes him a special hitter. And while the 19-year-old possesses plenty of raw power, he doesn’t swing for the fences, employing an approach geared toward consistent hard contact and getting on base instead.
In spite of his 6’4”, 190-pound frame, Correa is an excellent athlete with above-average speed and the tools to stick at shortstop, including soft hands, good range and a legitimate plus-plus arm. He is a physically blessed player with the potential for five average or better tools at maturity.
Amazingly, he may not require much more time to refine his game in the minor leagues, and there’s no reason not to believe he’ll be a top-tier shortstop with legitimate MVP potential in his prime.
Taylor Lindsey turned in the breakout performance last year that many expected in his 2012 full-season debut. Moved up to Double-A for the first time, Lindsey posted a career-low batting average, but he did set career highs in home runs and walks.
The 22-year-old has excellent hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball skills that allow him to make consistently hard contact. A left-handed batter, Lindsey sets up with his hands low around the torso, only to elevate them as part of his timing mechanism, and he surprisingly doesn’t struggle to turn around quality velocity.
While he had always shown plenty of gap power with the ability to barrel the ball to all fields, Lindsey showcased improved over-the-fence pop last season and could develop more as he continues to rise toward the major leagues.
Given the Angels’ positional depth at the major-league level, it’s hard to say that any one of their infield prospects—the others being C.J. Cron and Kaleb Cowart—is “untouchable.” However, with Howie Kendrick’s name popping up in trade rumors this offseason, the organization seems prepared to keep Lindsey.
After an outstanding professional debut in 2012, Addison Russell continued to develop quickly last season, despite an aggressive assignment to High-A.
Russell has the makings of an All-Star shortstop, with four above-average or better tools that will only improve with experience. The right-handed hitter’s combination of plus bat speed and a deep point of contact should produce above-average power at the highest level, if not more. Also, given his ability to use the entire field, Russell should always tally a high number of doubles and triples.
The 20-year-old’s game features some swing-and-miss at the present, though that can at least be partially attributed to his status as a young player facing advanced pitching. Russell is a plus runner with the athleticism, range and arm strength to stick at shortstop, as well as the instincts to swipe 20 bags annually. Assuming he opens the 2014 season in Double-A, it's very likely that Russell will debut as the A's big-league shortstop before his 21st birthday.
Taijuan Walker went through a learning year in 2012, when he struggled as a teenager at Double-A. However, his ability to make adjustments and work through mechanical issues paid huge dividends last season, which concluded with an impressive showing in the major leagues.
Walker is a top-notch athlete with a highly projectable frame, and he’s shown the ability to handle a sizable workload throughout his young career. The right-hander’s fastball explodes out of his hand and consistently registers between 93-96 mph, and he’ll dial it up to 97-98 on occasion. The Mariners introduced a cutter into his arsenal in 2012, and he’s quickly adopted a feel for the pitch, throwing it in the low-90s with excellent slicing action to his glove side.
The 21-year-old’s curveball is still inconsistent and leaves something to be desired, though it has good shape and downward bite when thrown well. Lastly, his changeup has come a long way over the past year and could surpass initial projections with more refinement, but it’s still a fringe-average offering at the present.
Walker will audition for the starting rotation next spring and will probably win a spot based on the virtues of his stuff. However, his command, especially as it relates to his secondary arsenal, will be challenged as will his ability to make adjustments against major-league hitters.
Jorge Alfaro has always shown tremendous athleticism and the potential for five impact tools, but it was the emergence of his baseball skills in 2013 that has his stock soaring. Alfaro has as much upside as any catcher in the minor leagues, as he’s an incredibly agile and aggressive behind the plate with legitimate 80-grade arm strength. However, his blocking and receiving is inconsistent and even sloppy at times.
At the plate, the right-handed hitter has the bat speed to turn around velocity but struggles to recognize spin and keep weight on his backside. The 20-year-old’s above-average speed is a major weapon and makes him a rare dual-threat catching prospect with the potential for 20-plus home runs and double-digit stolen bases in his prime.
While his long-term projection as an All-Star-caliber backstop still involves considerable risk, Alfaro should continue to make significant developmental strides next year and could conceivably reach Double-A by season’s end.
An athletic right-hander with a live arm and little mileage, Lucas Sims made developmental strides in 2013 after moving into the Low-A starting rotation for the second half, showcasing an impressive and underrated combination of stuff and polish.
The 19-year-old has the makings of an advanced four-pitch mix, with a low- to mid-90s fastball, a swing-and-miss breaking ball that has a big shape and heavy downer, as well as a serviceable slider and changeup that both flash average.
Sims already knows how to pitch at a young age, and he could start to move quickly in 2014 with a strong start at High-A.
Video courtesy of Mike Newman (ROTOscouting.com)
Andrew Heaney was slowed by an oblique injury to last season and didn’t take the mound for the first time until May 20. However, once he got going, the 22-year-old was quick to make up for the lost time.
At 6’2”, Heaney’s frame is both wiry and athletic with room to add strength. As for his stuff, the left-hander features an above-average-to-plus fastball that works in the low- to mid-90s with late life. His go-to secondary pitch is a good slider that should induce whiffs at the highest level. Heaney made significant progress developing his changeup last season, and it should at least be a solid-to-average offering at maturity.
The only thing really holding Heaney back from the major leagues is lack of experience. When all is said and done, he should emerge as a solid No. 3 starter, possibly even a No. 2 if everything comes together perfectly. Plus, he’s an excellent candidate to parlay a strong showing in the AFL and a potentially hot start back at Double-A Jacksonville next season into an ahead-of-schedule call-up by the Marlins.
Noah Syndergaard dominated in his first season in the Mets' system, showcasing command of a powerful arsenal and reaching Double-A.
The 6’6” right-hander has a physical presence on the mound, throwing everything on a steep downhill plane and pounding the lower portion of strike zone. Syndergaard’s plus-plus heater sits in the mid- to upper-90s with late, arm-side life, and he frequently flirts with triple-digits. His curveball also has plus-plus potential, and his command of the pitch improved last season after adding a slider to his already impressive arsenal. The 21-year-old throws his changeup with good arm speed and confidence, and it could serve as a third plus-or-better offering at maturity.
Syndergaard has one of the highest ceilings among all pitching prospects, with the pure stuff and command to pitch at the front of a rotation. Assuming he opens the 2014 season at Triple-A, the right-hander could be ready to debut around midseason, just as Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler did in previous seasons.
Maikel Franco’s prospect stock exploded in 2013, as he improved his contact rate and showcased projectable in-game power at a pair of advanced levels.
A physically strong right-handed hitter at 6’1” and 180 pounds, Franco’s explosive wrists and bat speed fuel his plus-plus power projection, which could manifest in the form of 30-plus home runs at maturity. While he continued to feast on fastballs last year, his improved secondary recognition helped him control the strike zone and strike out less often.
Franco is expected to open the 2014 season at Triple-A, and a hot start could have him hitting in the middle of the Phillies' lineup sometime after the All-Star break.
Video courtesy of Baseball Instinct
Lucas Giolito received consideration for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft before an elbow injury cost him his entire high school season. The right-hander then re-injured his elbow during his first professional start later that summer and subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery. However, Giolito made up for the lost time after returning to action last July and loudly announced his presence as one of the best pitching prospects in the game.
With an ideal power-pitcher’s frame at 6’6”, 225 pounds, the right-hander’s fastball will range anywhere from 94-100 mph, and he sustains the velocity deep into starts. His curveball is another potential plus-plus offering that buckles right-handed hitters and draws endless whiffs. Meanwhile, the 19-year-old’s changeup was a borderline plus pitch before the injury but should also be excellent as he regains a feel for it.
With three monster offerings, Giolito has the ceiling of one of baseball’s best pitchers and should dominate next year in his full-season debut.
Albert Almora’s full-season debut was bookended by a pair of injuries, but it didn’t stop him from emerging as one of the top hitters in the low minors.
A premium athlete with a frame that leaves room for projection, Almora showcases five average-or-better tools and extremely advanced baseball skills for a player his age. The right-handed hitter has a quiet and efficient swing with preternatural barrel control and a knack for consistently staying inside the ball. His power should develop as he matures, and it has the potential to be above-average by the time he reaches the major leagues.
Defensively, the 19-year-old has slightly above-average speed and demonstrates excellent instincts in center field through his reads, jumps and positioning. Almora is an incredibly well-rounded player for his age with sneaky All-Star potential, and he could start moving quickly next season so long as he stays healthy. More importantly, unlike other top-ranked Cubs prospects, such as Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, Almora has a clear path to playing time at the highest level.
Robert Stephenson was put on the fast track to the major leagues in 2013, seeing time at three different levels and finishing the season at Double-A.
A durable right-hander with a projectable 6’2”, 190-pound frame and huge arm strength, Stephenson boasts a plus-plus fastball in the 94-98 mph range and occasionally bumps triple digits. His secondary arsenal is headlined by a potential plus-plus curveball that serves as an out-pitch with true 12-to-6 break. The 20-year-old will also work in a changeup in the high-80s that’s on the firm side, though his improved feel suggests it may improve a grade.
Though Stephenson could be ready for the major leagues at some point next season, he’s unlikely to receive an audition unless there’s an injury. However, expect the right-hander to assume a spot in the Reds’ starting rotation in 2015, possibly replacing Homer Bailey should he depart via free agency.
Video courtesy of BullpenBanter.com
Tyrone Taylor has an athletic build at 6’0”, 185 pounds, with broad shoulders and a projectable body. While he has a fluid swing, the right-hander hitter has too much pre-pitch movement with his hands but gets quieter before initiating his swing. He has above-average power potential and is still learning how to use it in games. And though his swing lacks leverage to consistently drive the ball over the fence, he has present gap pop and a feel for using entire field.
The 19-year-old is an aggressive defender in center field, with excellent closing speed and the ability to flat-out go get the ball. Taylor has an instinctual first step and takes direct routes, and he’s especially adept at going back and tracking the ball. He has slightly above-average arm strength that plays up, thanks to a quick release, and his throws are accurate with good carry.
Taylor is a potential breakout prospect for the 2014 season, as he’s set to open the year in High-A as a 20-year-old. If he takes a step forward in the power department, then we’re talking about an under-the-radar 20-20 candidate.
Gregory Polanco followed his stellar 2012 full-season debut with an even better showing in 2013, as the toolsy outfielder excelled at three levels and finished the year in Triple-A.
A left-handed batter, Polanco has a mature approach and gets excellent plate coverage thanks his lanky build and long arms. His swing will get lengthy on occasion and impede his ability to handle velocity, both on the hands and up in the zone, but that issue might correct itself as he adds strength. Overall, Polanco projects as an above-average hitter in the major leagues with enough raw power to hit 15-plus home runs.
The 22-year-old’s tools and feel for the game are both impressive for a player of his age and experience, though he’s still rough around edges with room to improve in all facets of the game. However, the potential is there for a first-division standout at maturity, and it might not be long until Polanco joins Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte to form the most exciting outfield in baseball.
The top-ranked outfield prospect headed into the 2013 season, Oscar Taveras was limited to only 46 games at Triple-A after suffering an ankle sprain in May that ultimately required season-ending surgery.
A physically strong left-handed hitter, Taveras has all the makings of a future batting champion, with a controlled but violent, torque-oriented swing that results in consistently loud contact to all fields. His extension through the ball generates backspin carry and should always amass a significant number of extra-base hits in a given season. Though Taveras has plenty of strength, his in-game power is more so a product of being a pure hitter.
Provided that he’s healthy next season, Taveras is a safe bet to rake upon reaching the major leagues, and he could potentially run away with the National League Rookie of the Year award. Spring training will help determine where the 21-year-old begins the season, but expect Taveras to play regularly once he reaches the majors.
After flashing enormous potential during his full-season debut in 2012, Archie Bradley dominated older hitters at Double-A last season and nearly reached the major leagues as a September call-up. An excellent athlete with a durable, 6’4”, 225-pound build, the right-hander repeated his delivery with more consistency last season, which in turn improved both his control and command.
Bradley arguably boasts the deadliest two-pitch combination among minor-league pitchers, with a heavy fastball in the mid- to upper-90s and a power curveball with 12-to-6 shape and sharp, downer bite. Even though both pitches already grade as plus offerings suitable for the major leagues, they each have the potential to improve a grade with further refinement. The right-hander’s feel for a changeup noticeably lags behind that of his other two offerings, but it flashes above-average potential and should serve as a third weapon in time.
Bradley will compete for a spot in the big-league rotation next spring, though it’s likely he’ll open the season at Triple-A. Regardless, the Diamondbacks recent history of promoting top pitching prospects ahead of schedule suggests that the 21-year-old will spend most of the 2014 season in the major leagues.
Eddie Butler quickly jumped on the major-league radar in 2013 with a stellar full-season debut across three levels.
The right-hander has three pitches that grade as plus or better as well as a vastly underrated feel for pitching. Butler’s fastball sits in the mid- to upper-90s with exceptional sink and run to the arm side, and he complements it with a swing-and-miss, wipe-out slider in the upper-80s. Lastly, Butler possesses a filthy changeup in the same velocity range that dives off the table and evades barrels.
While the 22-year-old’s strenuous arm action and low release point will always provoke questions about his durability as a starter, Butler has passed every test so far and shouldn't be long for the minors in 2014.
In what would have been his sophomore year of high school, Julio Urias became youngest player to see time at a full-season level in 2013. The left-hander emerged as a can’t-miss prospect, showcasing a truly special combination of stuff and pitchability.
Utilizing a repeatable delivery and smooth arm action, Urias’ fastball already sits in the low-90s and bumps 94-95 mph. The 17-year-old’s secondary arsenal is equally promising, with a potential plus curveball that he’ll throw in any count and a fading changeup that steadily improved during the 2013 season.
Given his age and highly advanced developmental state, Urias has legitimate front-of-the-rotation upside, and there’s a realistic chance he’ll be pitching in the major leagues as a teenager.
Video courtesy of BullpenBanter.com
Austin Hedges is the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues, with elite, game-changing chops that would play in the major leagues right now. The quickness and efficiency of his footwork is unparalleled among his peers, and his elite catch-and-throw skills, insanely quick transfer and plus arm strength allow him to essentially shut down the running game. Meanwhile, Hedges’ knowledge of and ability to handle a pitching staff gives unquantifiable value to the organization and their crop of talented pitching prospects.
However, the 21-year-old’s bat will ultimately determine whether he becomes the superstar people expect. His approach has translated favorably at advanced levels, suggesting that he’ll hit for average with further experience and development. Power has never been Hedges’ calling card—and probably never will be—though he does have the consistent gap pop to be a doubles machine.
If he continues to make strides at the plate next season, presumably back at Double-A, it’s not crazy to envision the Padres offering him a late-season cup of coffee.
Kyle Crick has the potential to be the Giants’ next great homegrown starter, with a strong and durable 6’4”, 220-pound frame and the arsenal to pitch at the front of a rotation. The right-hander has effortless fastball velocity at 93-96 mph and will reach back for 97-98 mph, but his control and command of the pitch remains inconsistent and will require further refinement. Crick’s changeup is a second plus pitch that is thrown with excellent arm speed and considerable fade.
The 21-year-old also throws a pair of breaking balls: an inconsistent curveball with plus potential and a late-biting slider that should serve as a viable fourth pitch at maturity. Although the right-hander has a sizable gap between his present ability and future potential, a strong showing at Double-A and a better feel for his arsenal could have him in the major leagues by the end of the season.