Catcher Jorge Alfaro (Rangers) should open the 2014 season at High-A Myrtle Beach.
Not every successful major league player is a former top prospect. Rather, it’s the high-ceiling players who typically garner the most hype as they ascend the organizational ladder.
One of the more rewarding aspects of scouting comes from the identification of young players who, despite flying under the radar, showcase the potential to be impact players at the highest level.
With that said, here’s a look at five lesser-known prospects with the potential to be major league stars.
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs
The son of the former big leaguer of the same name, Mondesi was the youngest everyday player at full-season level in 2013, playing his entire age-17 campaign at Low-A Lexington.
Mondesi was understandably raw given his age and general inexperience, though that didn’t detract from the potential he flashed on all sides of the ball. Overall, he batted .261/.311/.361 with 27 extra-base hits (13 doubles, seven triples and seven home runs) in 536 plate appearances and had 24 stolen bases in 34 attempts.
The fact he held his own against significantly advanced competition, for an entire season no less, is impressive. And it’s crazy to think about how good he’ll be with a more consistent approach (118-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season) and improved pitch recognition.
A switch-hitter, Mondesi has a clean swing from both sides of the plate, as well as a solid approach that could result in an above-average to plus hit tool at maturity. While it’s hard to get a read on his power potential at the moment, he has the present bat speed and in-game gap power to be a consistent extra-base threat at the highest level.
Defensively, Mondesi is raw at shortstop but has the athleticism, loud tools and instincts to develop into an impact player at the position. The youngster will need a few more years in the minors to refine his baseball skills and learn to slow the game down, but his ceiling of an All-Star shortstop should make it worth the wait.
Jorge Alfaro offered a glimpse of his potential during his 2012 full-season debut at Low-A Hickory, when the then-teenager posted a .750 OPS with 31 extra-base hits and seven stolen bases.
Assigned back to Hickory for the 2013 season, Alfaro, 20, took the huge step forward that many envisioned, batting .258/.338/.452 with 39 extra-base hits (16 home runs) and 16 stolen bases in 19 attempts. However, as was the case in the previous season, his plate discipline and approach left something to be desired, as the young right-handed hitter posted a 111-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
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. Alfaro’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.
Matt Wisler continued his quiet surge through the minor leagues in 2013, showcasing an intriguing blend of stuff and poise while excelling as a 20-year-old against older hitters.
Promoted to Double-A San Antonio after six outstanding starts at High-A Lake Elsinore, Wisler was equally dominating at the more advanced level, posting a 3.00 ERA and 131-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 105 innings (20 starts).
The right-hander was especially sharp over the final two months of the regular season, posting a 2.25 ERA and 59-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 56 innings (11 starts).
An athletic and projectable right-hander, Wisler pounds both sides of the plate with a plus fastball in the low- to mid-90s and will run it as high as 95-96 mph with lots of late life. His slider is another plus offering and is utterly devastating against same-side hitters, thrown with excellent depth and two-plane break in the 82-87 mph range. He’ll also mix in a firm changeup and serviceable curveball.
Wisler’s feel for pitching and command of a deep arsenal has him on the fast track to the major leagues, and he could conceivably debut by midseason with a hot start at Triple-A.
Video courtesy of Jason Cole
After spending parts of two seasons between the Dominican Summer League and Arizona Rookie League, Miguel Almonte was deployed to Low-A Lexington in 2013 for his full-season debut.
Though he was both young and inexperienced relative to the competition, that didn’t prevent the 20-year-old right-hander from emerging as one of the top pitchers in the South Atlantic League. Making 25 starts on the season, Almonte posted an impressive 3.10 ERA and excellent strikeout (24.7 percent) and walk (6.7 percent), while his 1.16 WHIP ranked fifth among all qualified starters.
At 6’2”, 180 pounds, Almonte has a loose, athletic frame that allows for smooth mechanics and encourages his fast but fluid arm. The right-hander has an aggressive approach and attacks the zone with a projectable four-pitch mix, demonstrating a rare blend of pure stuff and feel for a player of his age.
Almonte’s fastball is a plus offering that works consistently in the 91-95 mph range with above-average life, and it’s conceivable that he’ll add velocity as he adds strength. The changeup is a present plus with plus-plus potential and, in general, is highly advanced for his age; he shows confidence in the pitch against both right- and left-handed hitters, and it already serves as a swing-and-miss offering.
Although he’s young, Almonte has an impressive overall feel for changing speeds and keeping hitters off balance, throwing a curveball that features a nice shape and has average potential as well as a slider that’s inconsistent but definitely usable.
Though Almonte may hit some road bumps between the High- and Double-A levels and will need to develop a consistent breaking ball, he has all the makings of a high-end mid-rotation starter in the major leagues.
As a high school senior, Josh Bell wrote a letter to every major league club to inform each of them that he did not want to be drafted and planned to honor his scholarship to the University of Texas.
However, the Pirates tested the strength of Bell’s college commitment, selecting him in the second round of the 2011 draft and signing him for a $5 million bonus, a record for a player selected outside the first round.
Making his professional (and full-season) debut at Low-A West Virginia in 2012, Bell played in only 15 games after he required season-ending surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Fully healthy, he returned to action last season back at West Virginia and quickly reminded everyone of his offensive potential by batting .279/.353/.453 with 52 extra-base hits and a 90-52 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 519 plate appearances.
The 21-year-old switch hitter projects to hit for both average and power at the highest level, employing a short line-drive stroke from the right side of the plate and a more leveraged and power-oriented swing from the left.
Bell hit 37 doubles compared to 13 home runs last season, and as he continues to add strength to his 6’3”, 213-pound frame and gain experience against quality pitching, it’s easy to envision him becoming a middle-of-the-order threat capable of hitting 20-25 home runs at maturity.
Video courtesy of PiratesProspects.com