Selecting MLB's All-Future Team
The start of the minor league season on Thursday means that things are about to heat up on the prospect front.
Many of baseball's top-ranked prospects are set to open the season in the high minors, and it might not take long for some of them to prove worthy of at least an audition in the major leagues. At the same time, there's also a collection of young, high-ceiling players that could find themselves in a similar position at this time next year.
In anticipation of what will be an exciting and overall great year for prospects, we've put together a team (and even added a few extra spots) of the future stars to follow closely this season, with the only requirement being that the player has yet to reach the major leagues. Basically, these are the prospects we expect to be stars in roughly three to five years, if not sooner.
Here is Major League Baseball's All-Future Team.
Catcher: Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres
Austin Hedges held his own last season at High-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio—though, as expected given his age and lack of professional experience, his production tapered off at the more advanced level. Between both stops, the then-20-year-old batted .260/.333/.390 with 25 doubles and a 54-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 341 plate appearances.
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 are unparalleled among his peers, while his catch-and-throw skills, insanely quick transfer and plus arm strength allow him to essentially shut down the running game. Furthermore, Hedges’ knowledge of and ability to handle a pitching staff give an unquantifiable value to the organization and its crop of talented pitching prospects.
Hedges’ right-handed hitter’s bat will ultimately determine whether he becomes the superstar people expect or just an insanely good defensive catcher. 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.
With all that said, there’s a realistic chance Hedges will be considered one of the top catchers in baseball, even if he’s a .250-hitter for the majority of his career.
First Base: Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies
Maikel Franco’s prospect stock took off in 2013, as his improved contact rate and in-game power translated in a big way at a pair of advanced levels. Splitting the season between High-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading, Franco, 20 at the time, batted .320/.356/.569 with 36 doubles, 31 home runs and 103 RBI in 581 plate appearances.
Franco’s strong wrists and plus bat speed fuel his 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.
Even though Franco is a below-average runner, he has decent lateral range at third base to go along with good hands and above-average arm strength. However, the 21-year-old also saw time at first base this spring, as the organization explored other ways to expedite the arrival of his bat in the major leagues.
Ideally, the Phillies want a scenario where he receives near-everyday at-bats. Regardless of when he arrives and what position he plays, Franco’s bat should make him an impact middle-of-the-order presence for a long time.
Second Base: Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers
The Rangers assigned Rougned Odor to High-A Myrtle Beach to begin the 2013 season, and the 20-year-old responded to the challenge by batting .305/.369/.454 with 42 extra-base hits and 27 stolen bases in 425 plate appearances before a late-season promotion to Double-A Frisco.
The left-handed-hitting second baseman continued to thrive at the more advanced level, posting a .306/.354/.530 batting line with 20 runs scored, eight doubles and six home runs in 144 plate appearances.
Overall, Odor posted an .839 OPS with 41 doubles, 11 home runs, 32 stolen bases and a 91-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 569 plate appearances.
An undersized player (5'11", 170 lbs), Odor stands out for his high-end combination of plus hit-tool potential and present plus speed. He has above-average power relative to the position and shows it in games, and he’s generally an extra-base machine that drives the ball with authority to all fields.
Odor’s above-average range at second base, soft hands and strong arm are all a clean fit at the position, and he’s an intense, hard-nosed ballplayer with excellent instincts on both sides of the ball.
Shortstop: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
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, as the then-18-year-old batted .320/.405/.467 with 45 extra-base hits (nine home runs), 86 RBI, 10 stolen bases and an 83-58 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 519 plate appearances at Low-A Quad Cities.
The right-handed hitter has a simple, direct swing in which he attacks the ball and utilizes the entire field. However, it’s the advanced plate discipline and pitch recognition that already make him a special hitter. Correa possesses plenty of raw power but doesn’t swing for the fences, employing an approach that is instead geared toward consistent hard contact and getting on base.
Despite his 6’4”, 205-pound frame, Correa, 19, is an excellent athlete with average speed and the tools to stick at shortstop, including soft hands, good range and a legitimate plus-plus arm. Correa is a physically blessed player with the potential for five above-average-or-better tools at maturity.
Amazingly, he may not require much time to refine his game in the minor leagues, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll be anything short of a top-tier shortstop with legitimate MVP potential in his prime.
Middle Infield: Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
Javier Baez turned in a monster 2013 campaign between High-A and Double-A, batting .282/.341/.578 with 98 runs scored and 20 stolen bases. The 21-year-old led all minor league hitters with 75 extra-base hits and 111 RBI, and he also ranked second with 37 home runs in 577 plate appearances.
Baez generates elite raw power with his extremely strong wrists and violent swing—the kind that makes 30-plus annual home runs in the major leagues a very real possibility. He has issues with pitch recognition and chases too many breaking balls out of the zone, but that is mostly a product of his aggressive approach, and he should improve in this area with more experience against quality pitching.
Plus, even if Baez posts poor strikeout-to-walk rates in the major leagues—he’s struck out 220 times against 54 walks in 916 minor league plate appearances—his bat speed and ability to square the ball should result in respectable batting averages.
Defensively, Baez is an impressive athlete with smooth actions at shortstop and a plus arm that’s ideal for the position. However, as is the case with most young shortstops, he’s still learning to control his body and, more importantly, learning to slow down the game. So don’t get too caught up in the high error totals (67 errors in 203 games) during the early stages of his career.
Third Base: Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins
Miguel Sano’s prospect stock exploded in 2013 thanks to the significant improvements he made on both sides of the ball at a pair of advanced levels. Splitting the season between High-A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain, the 20-year-old batted .280/.373/.521 with 30 doubles, 35 home runs and 103 RBI in 553 plate appearances.
No prospect in the minor leagues has as much usable in-game power as Sano. A physically strong right-handed hitter with a linebacker build (6’4”, 235 lbs), Sano showcases effortless elite power to all fields, easily lofting the ball out of the park with big-time backspin carry. With legitimate 80-grade power, he has the potential to be one of baseball’s premier sluggers upon arriving in the major leagues and is capable of hitting 35-plus home runs in his prime.
Unfortunately, Sano suffered an elbow injury during winter ball that carried over into spring training, and he was forced to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Corner Infield: Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
Selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, Kris Bryant made stops at three minor league levels last summer after signing, capping his impressive professional debut by batting .333/.387/.719 with five home runs and 14 RBI in 16 games at High-A Daytona.
Bryant’s late-season success carried over into the Arizona Fall League, where he was named the circuit’s MVP after batting .364/.457/.727 with eight doubles, six home runs and 17 RBI in 20 games.
While known for his robust, light-tower power to all fields, Bryant actually has a good feel for hitting, with a line-to-line approach, good pitch recognition and excellent plate coverage. I do think he’ll encounter some problems in the high minors due to his lack of a stride and purely rotational swing, but it is nothing he can’t overcome with a few adjustments and more experience.
There’s some uncertainty whether Bryant will remain at third base with Javy Baez ahead of him on the depth chart, and there’s a good chance the 22-year-old will see time at both corner outfield spots as the season unfolds. In spite of his massive 6’5”, 215-pound build, Bryant is a good athlete and moves well for his size, and if he is forced to move to the outfield, he should have modest range given the length of his strides.
His plus arm is a clean fit in right field, as is his bat, but like Baez, it’s all about what position will give him the clearest path to the major leagues. Regardless, Bryant should serve as a force in the middle of the Cubs lineup for years to come, with the potential to hit 35-plus home runs annually.
Outfield: Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
Byron Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, emerged as baseball’s top prospect last year in his first full professional season, as the then-teenager posted a .944 OPS with 49 extra-base hits (12 home runs), 55 stolen bases and an impressive 105-76 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 574 plate appearances between both Class-A levels.
Buxton, now 20, 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-handed 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 legitimate plus tools and unique feel for making in-game adjustments at a young age. Expect him to finish the upcoming season in the major leagues, so long as his current wrist injury heals relatively quickly.
Outfield: Oscar Taveras, St. Louis Cardinals
After a monster 2012 campaign at Double-A, Oscar Taveras entered the 2013 season as the top-ranked outfield prospect and was expected to make an impact at the major league level.
However, after opening the year at Triple-A Memphis, the 21-year-old suffered a high-ankle sprain in late May, which resulted in two separate stints on the disabled list and, ultimately, season-ending surgery. Taveras batted .306/.341/.462 with 17 extra-base hits and 32 RBI at Memphis but was limited to just 46 games.
Taveras features an explosive, yet well-balanced, left-handed swing that enables him to keep the bat head in the zone for an extended period of time. As a result, he seemingly always achieves a favorable point of contact, while his extension through the ball allows him to generate backspin carry to all fields and amass a significant number of extra-base hits. And while he has plenty of strength and raw power, his in-game power is more so a product of him being a pure hitter.
However, it’s Taveras’ unparalleled hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball ability that separates him from other highly regarded young hitters. Taveras simply hits everything: fastballs, breaking balls, off-speed pitches, same-side pitching, pitcher’s pitches—you name it and he can barrel it, effortlessly.
Taveras has the makings of a future batting champion and perennial All-Star; the only thing currently standing in his way is a path to regular playing time in the major leagues.
Outfield: George Springer, Houston Astros
George Springer continued his assault on minor league pitching in 2013, as the now-24-year-old put up the kind of numbers that made his 2012 stats look like a warm-up act.
Splitting the season between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City, Springer batted .303/.411/.600 with 68 extra-base hits (37 home runs), 106 runs and 108 RBI in 590 plate appearances. And just for good measure, he also stole 45 bases in 53 attempts. The outfielder’s 30-30 performance was the first in the minor leagues since 2009, and he ultimately fell three home runs shy of joining the 40-40 club.
Few players in the minors—and soon to be majors—are as naturally gifted as Springer, who showcases four plus tools (power, speed, glove, arm) on any given night. For that reason, there are even fewer players with as high of a ceiling as the Astros’ future outfielder.
However, the ongoing development of Springer’s hit tool and plate discipline will ultimately determine whether he’s an All-Star-caliber player or a major league regular.
Outfield: Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates
Gregory Polanco followed his breakthrough full-season debut in 2012 with an even better showing in 2013, as the toolsy outfielder excelled at three levels and finished the year in Triple-A. Between all stops, the 22-year-old batted .285/.356/.434 with 26 doubles, 16 home runs, 85 RBI and 40 stolen bases in 485 plate appearances.
A left-handed hitter, Polanco has a mature approach and gets excellent plate coverage thanks to his lanky build and long arms. His swing will get lengthy on occasion, and it can impede his ability to handle velocity—both on the hands and up in the zone—but that’s really only a minor gripe. Overall, Polanco projects as an above-average hitter in the major leagues with enough raw power to hit 15-plus home runs annually.
His tools and feel for the game are both impressive for a player of his age and experience, though he’s still rough around the 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 shouldn’t be long until he joins Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte to form the most exciting outfield in baseball.
Outfield: Clint Frazier, Cleveland Indians
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Clint Frazier wasted no time last summer making an impact in his professional debut. Playing 44 games for the Indians’ affiliate in the complex-level Gulf Coast League, Frazier batted .297/.362/.506 with 11 doubles, five triples and five home runs in 196 plate appearances.
Frazier, 19, has incredibly strong wrists and forearms with quick-twitch muscles that help generate off-the-charts bat speed and one of the more explosive swings in the minor leagues. As is the case with most young power hitters, Frazier’s pitch recognition is raw and leads to some swing-and-miss, and he’ll need time to thoroughly develop at the plate. However, at maturity he should have an above-average or better hit tool and plus in-game power.
Frazier’s offensive ceiling is especially valuable should he remain in center field long term; however, his projection as a .275-plus hitter with 25-plus home runs at maturity will more than suffice at a corner spot.
He’ll need several seasons worth of at-bats in the minor leagues, but the final product could be a perennial All-Star.
Starting Pitcher: Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Archie Bradley opened the 2013 season at High-A Visalia and made quick work of the hitter-friendly California League, posting a 1.26 ERA and 43/10 K/BB in 28.2 innings over five starts.
As a result of his utter domination at the level, the then-20-year-old received an early-season promotion to Double-A Mobile, where he continued to thrive against older, more experienced hitters. Making 21 starts at Mobile, Bradley registered a 1.97 ERA, .214 opponents’ batting average and a 119/59 K/BB in 123.1 innings.
Between both levels, the right-hander posted a 1.84 ERA with 162 strikeouts in 152 innings.
An excellent athlete with a durable and projectable 6’4”, 225-pound frame, Bradley boasts arguably the most lethal two-pitch combination among minor league pitchers, with a heavy fastball in the mid- to upper-90s and power curveball with a 12-to-6 shape and sharp downer bite. The right-hander’s feel for a changeup lags behind that of his two other offerings, but it flashes above-average potential and should serve as a third weapon in time.
Bradley enters the season knocking on the door of the major leagues and, as the sport’s top-ranked pitching prospect, he’s expected to join the Diamondbacks rotation sooner rather than later. Considering the right-hander’s present stuff and room for improvement—specifically in the command department—it’s scary to think how good he’ll be in just a few years.
Starting Pitcher: Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets
Noah Syndergaard took a huge step forward in 2013—as many expected would happen—posting an impressive 3.06 ERA and 133/28 K/BB in 117.2 innings between High-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton.
The 6’6” right-hander has a power pitcher’s frame and is 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.
Syndergaard’s curveball also has plus-plus potential, and his command of the pitch improved last season after he added a slider to his arsenal. He throws his changeup with good arm speed and confidence, and it could serve as a third plus-or-better offering at maturity.
In general, the 21-year-old Syndergaard has one of the highest ceilings among all pitching prospects thanks to an outstanding combination of stuff and command. And once he arrives, it shouldn’t take the right-hander long to realize his potential and ascent to the front of the Mets’ starting rotation.
Starting Pitcher: Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals
Lucas Giolito received consideration for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft before an elbow injury cost him the entire high school season. The right-hander then reinjured 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. Making 11 starts between the Gulf Coast League and Short-Season Auburn, the 19-year-old posted a 1.96 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 36.2 innings.
With an ideal power pitcher’s frame, Giolito’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, Giolito’s changeup was already a borderline plus pitch before the injury, and it should be excellent as he regains a feel for it.
With three monster offerings, Giolito has the ceiling of one of baseball’s best pitchers. However, expect the Nationals to proceed cautiously given his injury history.
Starting Pitcher: Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Julio Urias was the youngest player to see time at a full-season level in 2013, as the then-16-year-old registered a 2.48 ERA and 67/16 K/BB in 54.1 innings (18 starts) at Low-A Great Lakes. His eye-opening performance begs the question: what were you doing as a sophomore in high school?
The left-hander showcases a truly special combination of stuff and pitchability thanks to a repeatable delivery and smooth arm action. Urias’ fastball already sits in the low-90s and bumps 94-95 mph, and his 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, now 17, 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 Jeff Reese, Bullpen Banter.
Starting Pitcher: Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Tyler Glasnow opened eyes last year in his full-season debut, as the highly projectable, 6’7” right-hander absolutely dominated hitters in the South Atlantic League with a 2.18 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 111.1 innings (24 starts). He also held opposing hitters to a .142 batting average.
Although Glasnow, 20, struggles to keep his lanky frame and long limbs in sync during his delivery, he showcases tantalizing stuff when he’s at his best, with an explosive fastball in the mid- to upper-90s, a swing-and-miss curveball that flashes plus potential and a nascent changeup for which he’s steadily developing a feel.
The Pirates have no need to rush his development, so expect the young right-hander to spend several seasons in the minors in order to refine his arsenal and delivery. But if Glasnow comes anywhere close to reaching his potential, then we could be talking about a front-of-the-rotation force in a matter of years.
*Video courtesy of Josh Norris.