Mookie Betts put himself on the map with a breakout 2013 campaign.
Every year, virtually unknown prospects become household names by surpassing expectations in the minor leagues.
Over the last two seasons those players included the likes of Gregory Polanco, Chris Owings, Danny Salazar, Joc Pederson, Mookie Betts, Garin Cecchini and Dan Straily—each of whom has either reached the major leagues or is now considered a top-100 overall prospect.
This year’s crop of breakout prospects could be equally impressive, as there are numerous players in the low minors that project to be future major leaguers in some capacity. So, be sure to keep an eye on these potential stars during the upcoming season.
Here are my preseason picks for the 2014 prospect all-breakout team.
After being selected by the Orioles in the second round of the 2013 draft, Chance Sisco quickly proved to be more advanced than expected during his professional debut last summer.
Assigned to the complex level Gulf Coast League, the 18-year-old batted .371/.475/.464 with six extra-base hits and a 21-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 118 plate appearances. He then finished the season with a two-game stint in the Short Season New York-Penn League.
I recently ranked Sisco as the Orioles’ No. 8 prospect for the 2014 season and published the following scouting report:
Sisco’s 6’2”, 190-pound frame is projectable and ideal for adding strength; excellent athlete; dual-threat catcher with potential for four average or better tools at maturity; left-handed batter’s strong wrists produce good bat speed; quick swing; already uses the entire field; generates impressive extension after contact that suggests power will come; advanced plate discipline considering inexperience; approach could help drive future grade of hit tool.
He has only been a full-time catcher for roughly one year; already shows feel for speed of the game; solid-average arm strength; demonstrated ability to make swift adjustments with blocking and receiver during professional debut; possesses the tools, secondary skills and baseball savvy to rank among the team’s top five prospects at this time next year.
Sisco will likely begin the 2014 season back in the New York-Penn League, where the Orioles can continue to groom him defensively in a relatively controlled environment. However, if he makes the same quick adjustments that he did during his pro debut last summer, there’s a realistic chance Sisco receives a taste of full-season action by season’s end.
Matt Olson opened eyes with his power during his 2012 professional debut in the Arizona League, batting .282/.345/.520 with 25 extra-base hits (eight home runs) in 197 plate appearances.
Moved up to Low-A Beloit for the 2013 season, Olson’s power translated favorably at the more advanced level, as he ranked second in the Midwest League with 23 home runs and 93 RBI, and he also tied for fifth with 32 doubles. However, his power frequency came at the expense of a fringy contact rate, as Olson posted the second-highest strikeout total (148) in the league and saw his batting average drop to .225 in 558 plate appearances.
Adam Wells recently ranked Olson as the A’s fourth-best prospect for the 2014 season and shared the following notes in his scouting report:
Intriguing offensive profile; must overcome first base stigma but projects as plus hitter to be an everyday player; already displays good feel for hitting; good patience and willingness to work deep counts; big body and long limbs leave holes in swing; contact has been an issue early in career.
Ability to get on base with plus raw power; already slugged 55 extra-base hits in Low-A at age 19; underrated athlete; good actions at first base; dangerous hitter when arms get extended; will have to rake in order to remain legitimate prospect.
Olson will move up to High-A Stockton in 2014 and has the potential to put up huge power numbers in the hitter-friendly California League. If he can improve his contact rate and eliminate some of the swing-and-miss in his game, the A’s could decide to challenge him with a late-season promotion to Double-A.
Jorge Polanco impressed last year in his full-season debut at Low-A Cedar Rapids, batting .308/.362/.452 with 47 extra-base hits (32 doubles), 78 RBI and a 59-42 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 115 games. Unfortunately, standout performances by the Twins’ other top prospects obscured the 20-year-old’s well-rounded campaign.
However, that didn’t deter Adam Wells from ranking the switch-hitting second baseman as the organization’s eight-best prospect for the 2014 season. Here’s what Wells had to say about Polanco in his scouting report:
Playing with Byron Buxton in Cedar Rapids, Jorge Polanco didn't get enough attention for breakout 2013 season; translated raw tools into excellent performance; excellent hit tool; short stride and small frame limits power upside; makes solid contact; line-drive machine.
Best tool is speed; will be stolen-base threat when he learns to read pitchers; limited arm strength limits profile to second base; range will play up at the position; excellent footwork; will have to hit for high average since power is limited to be starter at position; steps taken in recent years lead to solid-average projection; underrated prospect in deep system.
Polanco still trails Eddie Rosario at second base on the organizational depth chart, but he’ll have a chance to make up ground this spring with Rosario set to serve a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
A supplemental first-round selection in the 2012 draft, Mitch Nay suffered a broken foot shortly after signing and didn’t make his professional debut until the 2013 season.
In spite of the time off, the Blue Jays assigned Nay to the Rookie-level Appalachian League, where he showcased his potential and emerged as one of the league’s top offensive prospects. Overall, the then-19-year-old batted .300/.364/.426 with 17 extra-base hits (six home runs) and an impressive 35-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 258 plate appearances.
Nay’s showing at the plate last year inspired me to rank him as the Blue Jays’ No. 6 prospect for the 2014 season. Here’s what I published in his scouting report:
Physically strong right-handed batter with large, 6’3”, 195-pound frame; demonstrates a good feel for hitting as well as the strike zone; makes consistent hard contact behind a straightaway approach; Nay looks for something to drive but will also work his share of walks; plus-plus raw power should appear in games more often moving forward; hit tool projects to be average at maturity, though his advanced approach could make it play up; overall offensive potential makes him a breakout candidate in 2014.
Good build and offensive profile for third baseman; good hands and plus arm strength are his carrying defensive attributes; decent range and mobility despite possessing below-average footwork that can be rough with a shaky (and often late) first step; high error total from 2013 should come down as he adjusts to speed of game; he eventually could be forced off the position, in which case he’d likely move to a corner outfield spot rather than first base.
Nay will make his full-season debut at Low-A Lansing in 2014, where his mature approach and outstanding bat-to-ball skills should help him hit for average and (more) power against advanced pitching.
Raul Mondesi was the youngest everyday player at a full-season level in 2013, as he played over half the season as a 17-year-old and held his own with a .261/.311/.361 batting line, 27 extra-base hits and 24 stolen bases in 536 plate appearances at Low-A Lexington.
The switch-hitting shortstop was recently ranked as the Royals’ No. 4 prospect for 2014 season. Here’s a look at his scouting report:
Son of former big leaguer Raul Mondesi; projectable 6’1”, 165-pound frame leaves room to add strength; switch-hitter who’s understandably raw from both sides of the plate; approach is advanced for his age and gives him a chance for an above-average-to-plus hit tool. Above-average bat speed; hard to get a read on his power potential at the moment; shows in-game gap power and has above-average speed to be consistent extra-base threat.
Mondesi is raw at shortstop but has the athleticism and defensive skills to thrive at the position; intuitive player with an instinctual first step; excellent glove; slick transfer and quick release; needs to improve his body control; plus range leads to high error total, though it’s nothing concerning; plus arm should only get stronger.
The precocious shortstop will need a few more years of seasoning in the minors to refine his skills on both sides of the ball and learn how to slow down the game, but his ceiling of a first-division shortstop should make it worth the wait. For now, we’ll have to be content with a breakout 2014 season at High-A Wilmington (or possibly even back at Lexington).
A second-round draft pick out of high school in 2012, Nick Williams opened eyes with his pure hitting ability last season while playing for an absolutely loaded Low-A Hickory team.
In his full-season debut, the 19-year-old outfielder batted .293/.337/.543 with 38 extra-base hits (17 home runs) in 404 plate appearances. Though Williams’ aggressive approach is part of what makes him a special hitter, it will need serious refinement moving forward after he posted a 110-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season.
Here is what I wrote in Williams’ scouting report after ranking him as the Rangers’ No. 6 prospect for the 2014 season:
6’3”, 195-pounder is a premium athlete with a slew of loud and potentially impact tools; left-handed hitter flat-out rakes; ability to barrel and drive the ball is almost unparalleled among his peers; outstanding bat-to-ball ability and hand-eye coordination; potential for a legitimate plus hit and power tools at maturity; impact, plus bat speed allows him to turn around high-end velocity with ease; decent secondary recognition; overaggressive hitter who attacks the ball and doesn’t attempt to coax walks; will need to refine baseball skills moving forward.
Williams is a 70-grade runner with long strides that cater to his overall range in center field; played left field for most of 2013 season in deference in Lewis Brinson; should continue to see time at both positions moving forward; arm is below-average and a down tool; inconsistent reads and routes reflect his overall rawness but also leaves significant room for improvement.
With Williams’ natural hitting ability, even the slightest improvement in his approach next season could result in a breakout campaign—seriously, that’s how good his bat can be.
The 2013 season was a tale of two halves for Daniel Norris.
The 20-year-old struggled out of the gate at Low-A Lansing, showing the same overall inconsistency that plagued him in 2012. As a result, Norris posted an ugly 5.8 ERA and 48-29 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 45 innings before landing on the disabled list in early June with forearm tightness.
But Norris was a different pitcher upon returning from the injury; the 6’2” left-hander made an adjustment to the length of his stride that allowed him to repeat a more consistent release point and better stay in line with his target.
The southpaw’s second-half numbers are a testament to what he can do when firing on all cylinders. Between July and August, Norris registered a stellar 2.17 ERA and 52-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 45.2 innings.
Norris’ turnaround led to his recent ranking as the Blue Jays’ No. 4 prospect for the 2014 season. Here’s a look at his scouting report:
Left-hander’s fastball works in the 92-94 mph range, and he can reach back for a few additional ticks as needed; slider is a swing-and-miss offering with plus potential, thrown with depth and late bite; has the makings of an above-average changeup, but command and feel will need refinement; curveball lacks projection but will serve as serviceable, change-of-pace offering at maturity; secondary arsenal lacks consistency but should improve with experience; potential to take a huge step forward in 2014 with improved command.
Norris should open the 2014 season at High-A Dunedin after making his final regular-season start there last year, and he’s poised to put up impressive numbers in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League if his new-and-improved mechanics carry over.