10 Unknown MLB Prospects Who Will Take a Huge Leap Forward in 2014
After an offseason hearing about prospects like Arizona's Archie Bradley, Boston's Xander Bogaerts and Detroit's Nick Castellanos ad nauseam, another article talking about that trio—or other top prospects around the game—seemed, well, like overkill.
It is time for something different—time to delve into the world of the unknown.
With the wealth of information available online, and with more fans than ever before taking a vested interest in knowing more about the prospects in their favorite team's pipelines, finding a truly "unknown" prospect is a difficult task to undertake.
To make things a bit easier, we'll set some guidelines as to what constitutes "unknown":
- Players cannot be ranked as one of an organization's 10 best prospects entering the season by either MLB.com or Baseball America.
- Players cannot have been drafted in the first round or supplemental "sandwich" round of MLB's annual First-Year Player Draft.
- Players cannot have appeared in a major league game.
- If they are on Twitter, players cannot have more than 5,000 followers.
All of the players on this list made enough of an impact in 2013 to grab our attention, and they're all ready to take a leap forward in 2014, both in terms of their development as well as the level of competition at which they will compete.
Here's a look at 10 prospects that you may not know well but who you aren't going to want to forget.
All statistics, heights and weights courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
2B/SS Javier Betancourt, Detroit Tigers
|GCL Tigers (Rookie)||50||.333||.379||.819||13 (2)||5-for-8||12/14|
|2013 Totals||50||.333||.379||.819||13 (3)||5-for-8||12/14|
Like his uncle—former National League All-Star Edgardo Alfonso—Javier Betancourt brings an advanced approach and excellent pitch recognition skills with him to the plate, posting nearly identical walk and strikeout rates, the latter of which was the second-lowest mark in the Gulf Coast League last year.
He doesn't have the pop in his bat that his uncle did, and he lacks high-end speed. This makes it imperative that he continues to spray line drives around the field more often than he puts the ball on the ground, which he showed a penchant for doing in Rookie ball.
A solid defender in the middle of the infield, Betancourt could wind up at third base, much like his uncle, where he has the arm strength and fielding chops to be at least a league-average defender. However, he doesn't have the kind of power that teams normally look for from a corner infielder.
One of the youngest players to make an appearance in spring training with the Tigers this year—appearing in three games and going 0-for-2 with a strikeout and RBI—Betancourt will start the season with Single-A West Michigan. He could play his way up to High-A Lakeland before the season comes to an end, though.
RHP Ronald Herrera, Oakland Athletics
|AZL Athletics (Rookie)||14||6-4||3.82||1.23||70.2||76||11/58|
Despite being only 18 years old, Ronald Herrera performed with the poise of a seasoned veteran in his first professional season.
He flashed advanced stuff on the mound, with an above-average low-90s fastball with sink that he can command on both sides of the plate, which is surprising given his age and slight 5'10", 168-pound frame.
Herrera's secondary pitches, a changeup and curveball, are both average at this point but project to become above-average offerings, with his curve showing flashes of being a legitimate strikeout pitch.
With an easy, repeatable delivery and a maturity not usually found in teenage pitchers, Herrera has all the tools to stick in the rotation going forward. He'll start the 2014 season at Single-A Beloit, but a strong showing could find him quickly rising through the ranks.
RHP Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles
Twitter Handle: N/A
|Tampa (NYY High-A)||28||2-3||4.22||1.24||42.2||34||19/36|
After hitting only .247 with a .311 slugging percentage over his first three seasons as a professional ballplayer, Baltimore decided to see if Mychal Givens—drafted by the Orioles as a shortstop out of H.B. Plant High School in Tampa, Fla. in the second round of the 2009 draft—could do any better on the mound.
"I might have liked to try hitting one more time, but whatever decision they think is best for me to get me to the next level I'm behind 100 percent. I think my first year pitching as a pro was a success," Givens told MASN Sports' Steve Melewski over the winter.
Givens' stuff and velocity improved as the season progressed, as he was able to get his fastball, which has heavy sink thanks to his three-quarters arm slot, from the high-80s into the low-90s consistently. He also showed improvement with his secondary offerings (slider and changeup) as well.
He spent part of the winter working with former MLB pitching coach Rick Peterson, who is now Baltimore's Director of Pitching Development, and was able to dial his heater up into the mid-90s during Instructional League play.
Givens still needs to refine his fastball command and continue to develop his secondary stuff at High-A Frederick, but he's got the talent to work his way through the minor leagues quickly, and he could be a contender to break camp with the Orioles in 2015.
Of Victor Reyes, Atlanta Braves
|GCL Braves (Rookie)||31||.357||.414||.860||9 (0)||5-for-6||12/20|
|Danville (Rookie)||18||.321||.345||.703||3 (0)||0-for-0||3/9|
|2013 Totals||49||.342||.387||.796||12 (0)||5-for-6||15/29|
Pay no attention to Victor Reyes' power numbers, for the 6'3", 170-pound teenager still has some physical maturing to do—and as he adds bulk to his athletic frame, the power will come.
Atlanta's top international signing in 2011, Reyes is a super-athletic outfielder with a strong throwing arm and the speed to stick in center field, though he'll primarily play in left field with the Low-A Rome Braves in 2014.
He's got quick hands and an advanced approach at the plate, which allows him to get the bat around quickly while covering the entire plate and without expanding the strike zone all that much.
Reyes needs to add some muscle to his frame and keep his hands and weight back more consistently so that he can drive the ball, but he's got all the makings of a future star. He'll be firmly entrenched as one of Atlanta's top outfield prospects—if not the top outfield prospect—by the time the 2014 season comes to an end.
RHP Corey Black, Chicago Cubs
Twitter Handle: @CBlackCHC
|Tampa (NYY High-A)||19||3-8||4.25||1.50||82.2||79||45/88|
|Daytona (CHC High-A)||5||4-0||2.88||1.28||25.0||22||10/28|
If New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman had his way, Corey Black would still be wearing pinstripes, as he explained to ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand shortly after agreeing to trade the hard-throwing youngster to Chicago in exchange for Alfonso Soriano last season:
I didn't want to give up [Single-A pitcher] Corey Black, but I didn't nix the Soriano deal. I did not want to do Corey Black. We had been negotiating with the Cubs for a long time. They wanted something more a week earlier and ownership, obviously, in our discussions [felt] we needed to do something.
They were like, 'Hey, we are not going to wait anymore to negotiate, we have to get this done now.'
Selected in the fourth round of the 2012 draft out of Faulkner University in Alabama, Black has a four-pitch arsenal, including a mid-90s fastball that he can dial up a few ticks when needed to pair along with a solid changeup. His curveball, which is a work in progress, has a chance to be another plus offering.
Black's biggest issue is his height. At 5'11", some believe that he's not tall enough to stick in the rotation, but he showed an improved ability to stay tall in his delivery upon his arrival in Daytona, a necessity for someone of his stature.
Look for Black to take the next step in his development at Double-A Tennessee this season, transforming from a possible swing man in a major league rotation to a legitimate pitching prospect for the Cubs. He is someone who could make an impact in the big leagues as early as 2015.
SS Franchy Cordero, San Diego Padres
Twitter Handle: @FranchyCordero
|AZL Padres (Rookie)||35||.333||.381||.891||13 (3)||11-for-11||10/33|
|2013 Totals||35||.333||.381||.891||13 (3)||11-for-11||10/33|
Franchy Cordero has a long way to go in his development, but the toolsy, athletic 19-year-old has a legitimate chance to do something that no left-handed hitting Dominican shortstop prospect has done before: play in the major leagues.
At 6'3" and 175 pounds, it wouldn't be surprising to see Cordero eventually outgrow the position as he adds bulk to his frame, but he's got the hands, range, speed and arm to stick at short. He uses that speed well when he reaches base, and it's when he has a bat in his hands that he's really an exciting prospect to watch.
Cordero has excellent bat speed and enough power at this point in his development to drive the ball with conviction when he makes solid contact. As he gets stronger, the power will come, and his natural ability at the plate should allow him to hit for average as well.
San Diego has no reason to rush him, with Everth Cabrera currently holding things down at the major league level. Cordero will spend the bulk of the 2014 season with Low-A Fort Wayne, where he'll take the leap from "intriguing prospect" to "future stud."
LHP C.J. Riefenhauser, Tampa Bay Rays
Twitter Handle: @CJRief
A 20th-round pick by Tampa Bay in the 2010 draft out of Florida's Chipola College, nobody had any expectations for C.J. Riefenhauser. After spending the first two-plus years of his professional career as a mediocre starter, the Rays decided to have him try his hand as a reliever.
Boy, was that ever the right move.
Riefenhauser dominated as Double-A Montgomery's closer in 2013, converting 11 saves with a .153 BAA. As a result, he earned a mid-season promotion to Triple-A Durham as well as a spot in the 2013 MLB Futures Game as a replacement for the injured Taylor Guerrieri.
He didn't disappoint, working a one-two-three eighth inning for Team USA on only six pitches. He continued to open eyes this spring, scattering two hits over five scoreless innings of relief with a .118 BAA while walking one and fanning three.
Back with Triple-A Durham to start the year, you might say that he's already taken a huge leap forward, and you wouldn't be wrong. But he's got one more giant leap to make—to Tampa Bay's bullpen—and he'll make that jump at some point in 2014.
RHP Rob Whalen, New York Mets
Twitter Handle: @RobWhalen38
While the team's other pitching prospects, like Vic Black, Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard have received the bulk of the attention—and rightfully so—Rob Whalen has become completely overlooked, and that's a mistake.
His fastball is the first thing that you notice when he's on the mound, as Baseball America noted in their 2014 Prospect Handbook: "He sits 91-92 mph and bumps 94 with above-average life, and a two-seamer he learned in 2013 helped him rack up more than twice as many groundouts as airouts at Rookie-level Kingston."
The team's 12th-round pick in the 2012 draft is anything but a one-trick pony that relies on his heater and nothing else. Whalen has a trio of secondary pitches that are all in various stages of development, including a changeup and curveball that show the potential to be legitimate plus offerings before too long.
With little projection left in his 6'2", 200-pound frame, Whalen will start the year at Low-A Savannah, but he should move quickly through the lower levels of the Mets farm system, with a late-season appearance or two with Double-A Binghamton being a real possibility.
3B Zach Green, Philadelphia Phillies
|Williamsport (Low-A)||74||.252||.344||.822||34 (13)||8-for-13||31/91|
|2013 Totals||74||.252||.344||.822||34 (13)||8-for-13||31/91|
While Maikel Franco gets most of the attention when it comes to Philadelphia's prospects, the team has another intriguing third baseman working his way through the farm system in Zach Green, who was selected in the third round of the 2012 draft out of Jesuit High School in Sacramento, Calif.
Standing 6'3" and weighing 210 pounds, Green has big-time raw power from the right side of the plate, something that is always in demand.
In 2013, he led the short-season New York-Penn League in doubles (20) and home runs while ranking second in slugging percentage (.478). However, he also led the way with 91 strikeouts, which is no surprise for a powerful youngster with a long swing.
Defensively, while he has the arm strength to stick at the hot corner, Green's overall game in the field needs continued refinement, and in the best-case scenario, he's probably no more than an average or slightly-below-average defender at the position.
Green is far from a finished product, needing to close some of the holes in his swing so that he can tap into his power on a more consistent basis. He also needs to improve his approach at the plate, especially against breaking balls, which gave him fits a season ago.
He'll start the 2014 season with Single-A Lakewood, but he could wind up with High-A Clearwater before the year is up. Green may never hit for a high average, and he's always going to be strikeout prone, but he's the kind of power-hitting corner infielder that teams covet.
RHP Mike Monster, Los Angeles Angels
2013 Stats: Did Not Pitch
A 25th-round pick by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2009 MLB draft, Mike Monster didn't sign and stayed in his native Canada, where he spent two years pitching for Okanagan College before dropping out of school, all but leaving his baseball career behind.
He popped up on Los Angeles' radar this past winter after pitching in an alumni game at his alma mater, with his fastball touching the mid-90s consistently. Shortly thereafter, he was signed to a deal.
“This is a heavy fastball with some sink to it — he throws 93 to 95 mph and has a chance to break some bats,” Tim Schmidt, a special assignment scout who was among the Angels contingent who watched Monster, told the Los Angeles Times' Mike DiGiovana back in December.
“His curve has to be improved, but he can spin the ball. It’s going to take a while for him to figure out who he is and what he can do, but once he does, who knows? Guys like this do throw in major league bullpens.”
Expected to continue to get work in at extended spring training to start the season, Monster figures to make his professional debut at short-season Orem, the team's rookie affiliate.
He hasn't pitched competitively in two years, so there's sure to be considerable rust that he needs to shake off. But with his natural talent and the team's lack of quality pitching in the system, he'll quickly establish himself as one of the organization's most promising young arms.