MLB Prospects Update: Hottest, Coldest Hitters at Every Minor League Level
The 2014 Minor League Baseball season began last Thursday, and there already have been countless standout performances by top prospects across all four full-season levels.
For those familiar with our weekly hot/cold lists that appeared on Prospect Pipeline during the previous two seasons, you’ll be happy to know that we'll be doing the same thing this year.
With most teams having played roughly three-five games since Thursday, it’s important to acknowledge the role of small sample sizes when evaluating players’ statistics. However, it's impossible to ignore there’s still a large contingent of young hitters that have either opened the season on a tear or struggled to get things going at the dish.
Here are at the hottest and coldest hitters at every minor league level to begin the 2014 season.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Stats: .429 (6-for-14), 2 HR, 2 SB, 3 BB, 2 K (4 G)
Unsurprisingly, Pederson is off to a hot start in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League and showing his usual combination of power and speed. The 21-year-old will get a shot in the major leagues this season. The only question is how early.
Cameron Rupp, C, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats (Triple-A): .429 (3-for-7), 3 HR, 6 RBI, 5 BB, 2 K (3 G)
Rupp is known more for his defense than bat, but the 25-year-old held his own at the dish last September during a four-game stint with the Phillies, and then he posted a .893 OPS this spring in 13 games. He’s next in line on the team’s depth chart behind the plate, so expect to see him in the major leagues for a good chunk of the 2014 season.
Matt Davidson, 3B, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats (Triple-A): .278 (5-for-18), 4 2B, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 6 K (5 G)
Davidson had a solid showing with Arizona last summer, posting a .768 OPS with six doubles, three home runs and a 24/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 31 games, and he’ll receive a few months of seasoning at Triple-A Charlotte this spring before taking over as the White Sox’s everyday third baseman.
Jon Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros
2014 Stats (Triple-A): .263 (5-for-19), 2 2B, HR, 7 RBI, 5 BB, 9 K (5 G)
Singleton had a down year in 2013 following his return from a well-documented 50-game suspension but rediscovered his power stroke during the offseason in the Puerto Rican Winter League. The 22-year-old has struck out nine times through his first five games at Triple-A Oklahoma City this season, but the power has carried over, with three extra-base hits and seven RBI in his last 14 plate appearances.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
2014 Stats (Triple-A): .400 (6-for-15), 2B, HR, 4 RBI, BB, 2 K (4 G)
Like many other top prospects at the Triple-A level, Polanco, 22, is simply putting in his time before an inevitable promotion to the major leagues later this season. In his past two contests, the toolsy outfielder is 5-for-9 with a home run and three RBI.
Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
2014 Stats: .071 (1-for-14), HR, 2 BB, 6 K (5 G)
Baez has a reputation as a slow starter—especially when reaching a new/higher level—so don’t read too far into his 1-for-14 through five games. It won’t be long until he settles in at the dish and starts dropping tape-measure bombs on a daily basis for Triple-A Iowa, which of course will be followed by a promotion to the major leagues, possibly as early as June.
Brian Goodwin, OF, Washington Nationals
2014 Stats: .167 (2-for-12), 3 BB, 7 K (4 G)
Goodwin continues to be a divisive prospect, as he shows all the tools to be an impact outfielder in the major leagues but lacks the consistency and secondary skills to hold an everyday role. That being said, if he starts to put things together this year, then there’s a good chance he joins the Nationals by season’s end.
Domingo Santana, OF, Houston Astros
2014 Stats: .105 (2-for-19), 2B, 2 BB, 7 K (5 G)
Santana posted an .842 OPS with 25 home runs and 139 strikeouts at Double-A Corpus Christi last season in 112 games, and the 21-year-old opens his 2014 campaign as one of the youngest everyday players at the Triple-A level. Santana will probably strike out 130-plus times again given the veteran pitching and sequencing associated with the level, but there’s a realistic chance he’ll also set a new high-water mark for home runs in the Pacific Coast League.
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Los Angeles Angles
2014 Stats: .412 (7-for-17), 2 2B, HR, 7 RBI, 2 SB, 4 BB, 3 K (5 G)
After a breakout 2012 campaign between both Class-A levels, Cowart took a huge step backward last season at Double-A, batting .221/.279/.301 with 27 extra-base hits and 124 strikeouts in 132 games. Well, the 21-year-old began his potential bounce-back season in style last week, going 5-for-6 with a double, home run, stolen base and five RBI in Double-A Arkansas’ season opener.
Mookie Betts, 2B, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats: .529 (9-for-17), 3 2B, HR, SB, BB, K (4 G)
One of the top breakout prospects from the 2013 season, Betts wasted no time making an impact at Double-A Portland, going 4-for-4 with a home run in his season opener, and he’s now hit safely in all four games. Now if only his path to the major leagues wasn’t blocked by Dustin Pedroia.
Blake Swihart, C, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats: .455 (5-for-11), 2B, 3B, 2 RBI (3 G)
Swihart enters the year as a vastly underrated prospect, but that’s likely to change with his success on all sides of the ball at Double-A. The 22-year-old switch-hitter projects as an everyday backstop in the major leagues, and with another step forward this season against advanced competition, he could be ready for an audition at some point next year.
Jace Peterson, SS, San Diego Padres
2014 Stats: .474 (9-for-19), 2 2B, HR, 4 RBI, SB, 3 BB, 2 K (5 G)
Peterson, 23, is an example of an older prospect that has a chance for a decent big league career, as he’s athletic infielder capable of playing multiple positions and has a strong track record of hitting for average and getting on base. However, he has plenty to prove this season in his first taste of Double-A.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
2014 Stats: .231 (3-for-13), 2 HR, 3 RBI, SB, 2 BB, 5 K (4 G)
Bryant appropriately homered in his first Double-A at-bat last week, and added another for good measure the following day. I think strikeouts will be a bigger issue than many expect this year against Southern League pitching, but there’s no reason Bryant shouldn’t slug his way to the major leagues by season’s end.
Jake Lamb, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Stats: .154 (2-for-13), 2B, HR, BB, 5 K (4 G)
Lamb was one of my preseason picks for a breakout 2014 season, but so far the 23-year-old is off to a slow start in his first taste of Double-A, with two hits (both of the extra-base variety) and seven strikeouts in 18 plate appearances.
Michael Taylor, OF, Washington Nationals
2014 Stats: .235 (4-for-17), 3 SB, 2 BB, 9 K (4 G)
Taylor showed signs of finally putting things together last year while repeating High-A Potomac, as the ultra athletic outfielder posted a .767 OPS with 57 extra-base hits and 57 stolen bases in 133 games. This season will be crucial for the 23-year-old out, as he’ll be forced to show more consistency at a challenging level.
Tyler Naquin, OF, Cleveland Indians
2014 Stats: .188 (3-for-16), 2B, 2 BB, 6 K (4 G)
Naquin jumped from the short-season New York-Penn to High-A Carolina League last season and quieted many of his doubters by batting .277/.345/.424 with 42 extra-base hits before struggling at Double-A Akron following a late-season promotion. The 23-year-old is back at Akron this season and will need to make strides offensively to retain his current career trajectory.
Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
2014 Stats: .533 (8-for-15), 2B, HR, 8 RBI, BB (4 G)
Correa’s season-opening series against High-A Lake Elsinore—also his High-A debut—couldn’t have gone better, as the 19-year-old shortstop collected eight hits and eight RBI over four games, highlighted by a trio of multi-hit performances.
In his season opener, Correa was 3-for-4 with four RBI, and three days later, he went 3-for-4 once again, this time adding a home run, three runs scored and a trio of RBI. Assuming Byron Buxton graduates to the major leagues at some point this season, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Correa is not baseball’s top-ranked prospect headed into 2014.
Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats: .364 (8-for-22), 2 2B, 3B, HR, 4 SB, 2 BB, 7 K (5 G)
I ranked Story as the No. 34 overall prospect headed into the 2013 season, and he made me look like a clown by batting .233/.305/.394 with 183 strikeouts in 130 games for High-A Modesto in the hitter-friendly California League. Repeating the level this year, Story, 21, is already looking like a candidate for a rebound season, especially after the shortstop hit for the cycle on Monday afternoon.
Story hit leadoff and opened the game with a home run. He collected singles in his next two at-bats before adding an RBI double in the fourth inning. Story completed his cycle with a triple in the seventh inning but ruined his perfect afternoon with a strikeout in the ninth.
Tyrone Taylor, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
2014 Stats: .375 (6-for-16), 5 2B, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K (4 G)
Taylor opened eyes last year in his full-season debut by batting .274/.338/.400 with 43 extra-base hits and 19 stolen bases in 122 games for Low-A Wisconsin. Moved up to High-A Brevard County for the 2014 season, the 20-year-old has been a doubles machine so far, with five of them through his first four games. As Taylor adds strength and matures as a hitter, expect some of those two-baggers to start clearing fences.
Gabriel Guerrero, OF, Seattle Mariners
2014 Stats: .500 (9-for-18), 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, SB, 2 K (5 G)
The nephew of Vladimir Guerrero, Gabriel showcased his raw talent last year in his full-season debut, as he batted .271/.303/.358 with 30 extra-base hits but 113 strikeouts in 125 games at Low-A Clinton. The 20-year-old is off to a red-hot start this season in the hitter-friendly California League, as he’s now hit safely in all five games and, more specifically, is 6-for-11 for two home runs and eight RBI in his last three contests.
Mac Williamson, OF, San Francisco Giants
2014 Stats: .059 (1-for-17), SB, 3 BB, 4 K (5 G)
Williamson put up huge numbers last season as a 23-year-old in the hitter-friendly California League, batting .292/.375/.504 with 31 doubles and 25 home runs but also 132 strikeouts in 136 games. The 6’5”, 240-pound outfielder has serious power and a decent approach, but there will be ongoing skepticism regarding his hit-tool potential until he proves otherwise.
Hunter Renfroe, OF, San Diego Padres
2014 Stats: .150 (3-for-20), 2 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 3 BB, 9 K (5 G)
Renfroe batted .212/.268/.379 with a 23/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year in 18 games at Low-A Fort Wayne, so it’s a bit surprising that the Padres moved him up to High-A for the 2014 season. Through his first five games at the more advanced level, Renfroe, 22, has struck out at least once in each contest, and he’s fanned nine times in 23 plate appearances overall.
Nick Williams, OF, Texas Rangers
2014 Stats: .176 (3-for-17), 2 2B, 8 K (4 G)
Williams boasts one of the more impressive hit tools among all hitters in the low minors, but his 110/15 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season at Low-A Hickory is evidence that his approach has a ways to go. The 20-year-old left-handed hitter has struggled to make consistent contact in the early going this season, as he’s now struck out eight times in 17 at-bats.
J.P. Crawford, SS, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats: .368 (7-for-19), 2 2B, HR, SB, BB, 2 K (4 G)
Crawford got off to a modest start this season, collecting one hit in each of his first three games, but the 2013 first-rounder exploded at the dish on Monday, going 4-for-6 with a double, home run and four runs scored in Low-A Lakewood’s win over Greensboro.
Jared King, OF, New York Mets
2014 Stats: .333 (3-for-9), 2 2B, 4 RBI, SB, 3 BB, 2 K (3 G)
I viewed King as one of the better college bats in the 2013 draft class, so I was surprised when he batted only .266/.365/.347 in 63 games last season for short-season Brooklyn. After going hitless to kick off his full-season debut at Low-A Savannah, King, 22, is 3-for-6 with two triples and four RBI in hist last two contests.
Dylan Cozens, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats: .400 (8-for-20), 2B, 3 RBI, 2 SB, 7 K (4 G)
Like teammate J.P. Crawford, Cozens enjoyed a respectable start to his season, hitting safely in each of his first three games but exploded in Lakewood’s game on Monday by going 4-for-6 with a double and three RBI. Cozens’ prospect stock should tick up this season so long as he handles the strike zone and limits the strikeouts.
Dustin Peterson, 3B, San Diego Padres
2014 Stats: .375 (6-for-16), 3 2B, 3B, 3 RBI, 2 BB, K (4 G)
Peterson, a second-round draft pick of the Padres last June and the younger brother of first-round pick D.J. Peterson, had a disappointing professional debut last summer, batting .293/.337/.344 with 33 strikeouts in 38 games. However, the 19-year-old is off to a great start this spring at Low-A Fort Wayne, with four extra-base hits through his first four games.
David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats: .250 (4-for-16), 3B, HR, 2 RBI, BB, 2 K (4 G)
Dahl appeared to be on the fast track to the major leagues following his tremendous professional debut in 2012, but he ended up playing in only 10 games last year as the result of team-imposed suspension and season-ending hamstring injury. Fully healthy, Dahl was quickly reminded us of his huge potential, and he homered for the first time in over a year on Monday.
Franchy Cordero, SS, San Diego Padres
2014 Stats: .063 (1-for-16), SB, 2 BB, 11 K (4 G)
Cordero is one of the more intriguing and naturally talented prospects in the low minors, though it is rather surprising the Padres assigned him to a full-season level to begin the year. The 19-year-old shortstop has been overmatched in the early going, with 11 strikeouts through his first four games, but the hits should start falling as he settles in at the plate.
Phil Ervin, OF, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats: .182 (2-for-11), 2B, BB, 6 K (3 G)
Ervin, the No. 27 overall pick in the 2013 draft, turned in a stellar professional debut last season, posting a .989 OPS with 21 extra-base hits (nine home runs) and 14 stolen bases in 46 games between the Rookie-level Pioneer League and Low-A Dayton. The 21-year-old outfielder is off to a slow start this season back at the level, but it’s seemingly only a matter of time until he heats up and forces a promotion to a more advanced level.