MLB Prospects Update: Hottest, Coldest Hitters at Every Minor League Level
The 2014 Minor League Baseball season isn’t even two weeks young, but countless prospects have already made strong early impressions at each of the four full-season levels.
With most teams having played roughly 10-plus games since Opening Day (April 4), it’s important to acknowledge the role of small sample sizes when evaluating a player's success using 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.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
2014 Stats: .465/.511/.744, 2 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, SB, 3 BB, 4 K (11 games)
As I wrote earlier this week, Polanco shouldn’t spend much time in the minor leagues this season, as he represents a clear upgrade in right field for the Pirates over their current Jose Tabata/Travis Snider platoon. After going hitless in his season debut on April 4, the 22-year-old has put together a 10-game hitting streak during which he’s batted .500 with 20 hits (six extra-base hits) and 11 RBI.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Stats: .385/.520/.692, 12 R, 3 2B, 3 HR, 4 SB, 11 BB, 9 K (11 games)
Like Polanco, Pederson is firing on all cylinders in the early going this season, as he’s hitting for average and power, getting on base and scoring runs. Pederson serves a top-notch safety net at Triple-A given the Dodgers’ overcrowded and mostly veteran outfield, and should be the first player summoned from the minors when the team needs a replacement. However, there’s always a chance that the organization dangles him as trade bait this season to improve its on-field product in the major leagues.
Adam Duvall, 3B, San Francisco Giants
2014 Stats: .313/.389/.688, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 6 BB, 6 K (12 games)
Duvall, 25, is off to a red-hot start this season in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, with a 1.076 OPS, six home runs and 17 RBI through 12 games. He’s currently riding a seven-game hitting streak during which he’s batted .357 with five homers and 13 RBI. Last year Duvall endured a regression in the power department, hitting only 17 home runs at Double-A Richmond after belting 30 the previous year at High-A San Jose. While he lacks a clear path to playing time in the major leagues, Duvall could be called on at some point this season should Pablo Sandoval be forced to miss an extended period of time.
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
2014 Stats: .319/.429/.574, 13 R, 4 2B, 2 HR, 4 SB, 8 BB, 15 K (12 games)
There isn’t much left to say about Springer at this point, and there certainly isn’t anything left for him to prove in the minor leagues. The 24-year-old outfielder owns a 1.003 OPS with seven extra-base hits and four steals through his first 12 games, and he’s expected to receive a promotion in June when service time is no longer an issue.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros
2014 Stats: .326/.453/.698, 4 2B, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 10 BB, 14 K (11 games)
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 14 times through his first 11 games this season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, but power hasn’t been an issue; Singleton has eight extra-base hits in 53 plate appearances.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats: .098/.178/.122, 2B, 4 BB, 10 K (11 games)
Franco’s performance last season was among the best in the minor leagues, as the then-20-year-old batted .320/.356/.569 with 36 doubles, 31 home runs and 103 RBI in 134 games between High-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading. Though he received an extended look at the hot corner during spring training, Franco, 21, ultimately was assigned to Triple-A after batting .184 in 16 games. Unfortunately, his struggles have now carried over into the regular season, as Franco is batting just .098 with one extra-base hit through 11 games.
Jake Marisnick, OF, Miami Marlins
2014 Stats: .182/.275/.273, 2 2B, 3B, 3 SB, 3 BB, 10 K (12 games)
Marisnick was the odd-man out in the Marlins’ Opening Day outfield, as he was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans despite batting .432 in 20 games during spring training. Back in the minor leagues, the 23-year-old outfielder has struggled to get things started at the plate and is yet to put together a multihit performance through the first 12 games.
Mookie Betts, 2B, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats: .450/.500/.725, 6 2B, 3B, HR, 5 RBI, 4 SB, 5 BB, 5 K (10 games)
After a breakout full-season debut last year across both Class-A levels, Betts entered 2014 as one of the better second base prospects in the minor leagues. The 21-year-old has been very impressive through the first two weeks of the season, evidenced by his 1.225 OPS, eight extra-base hits and four stolen bases in 10 games. Betts also is currently enjoying a five-game hitting streak in which he’s batting .429 with eight runs and three steals.
Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees
2014 Stats: .353/.450/.588, 5 2B, HR, 10 RBI, 6 BB, 7 K (9 games)
Sanchez held his own at Double-A Trenton over the final month of the 2013 regular season, posting a .744 OPS with eight extra-base hits and a 16/13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23 games. Assigned back to Trenton to begin the season, the 21-year-old catcher has hit safely in seven of his first nine games and shown a good approach with seven strikeouts against six walks.
Trayce Thompson, OF, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats: .359/.419/.513, 3 2B, HR, 7 RBI, 4 BB, 8 K (10 games)
Thompson, 23, has opened the season on a tear and is now batting .359/.419/.513 with three doubles, a home run, seven RBI and 8-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 10 games. After going 0-for-5 in Birmingham's season opener, Thompson is batting .412 during his current nine-game hitting streak. With Avisail Garcia out of the year, Thompson, who's already on the White Sox's 40-man roster, could conceivably get a look in the major leagues late in the season.
James Ramsey, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Stats: .395/.458/.791, 3 2B, 3B, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 4 BB, 11 K (11 games)
Ramsey, the No. 23 overall pick in the 2012 draft, has opened the 2014 season on a tear, batting .395 with extra-base hits through his first 11 games. Last season the 24-year-old spent time at three different levels and batted .265/.373/.440 with 16 doubles, 16 home runs and a 121-to-65 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 112 games. Ramsey might have a chance to reach the major leagues later this season, but he has both Oscar Taveras and Stephen Piscotty ahead of him on the organizational depth chart.
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Los Angeles Angels
2014 Stats: .367/.459/.533, 2 2B, HR, 9 RBI, 6 SB, 6 BB, 6 K (9 games)
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 is already off to a better start this year while repeating the level, showing a better feel for the strike zone and making consistent contact.
Matt Skole, 3B, Washington Nationals
2014 Stats: .122/.217/.171, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 5 BB, 16 K (11 games)
Skole, 24, was limited to only two games at Double-A Harrisburg last year before having to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, so it’s understandable that he’s struggled this season back in the Eastern League. In his 2012 full-season debut, Skole batted .291/.426/.559 with 28 doubles, 27 home runs, 104 RBI and a 133-to-99 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 524 plate appearances between both Class-A levels.
Jake Lamb, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Stats: .182/.289/.364, 3 2B, HR, 3 BB, 14 K (10 games)
I tabbed Lamb as one of my breakout prospects for 2014, expecting him to put up surprisingly good numbers in his first taste of Double-A after a strong full-season debut last year at High-A Visalia. Well, that hasn’t been the case thus far, though he has shown good pop with four extra-base hits.
Zach Borenstein, OF, Los Angeles Angels
2014 Stats: .211/.268/.263, 2 2B, 4 SB, 3 BB, 14 K (10 games)
Borenstein, 23, was named the California League player of the year in 2013 after batting .337/.403/.631 with 22 doubles, 28 home runs and 95 RBI in 112 games. However, given his age and swing, there was doubt as to whether the left-handed hitter’s bat would translate at Double-A this season. It hasn’t through the first 10 games, but obviously there’s still plenty of time for Borenstein to silence his doubters.
Gabriel Guerrero, OF, Seattle Mariners
2014 Stats: .396/.423/.667, 4 2B, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 3 SB, 2 BB, 10 K (12 games)
Guerrero—yes, he’s Vladimir’s nephew—has shown more consistent power this season at High-A High Desert, though that was to be expected playing in the California League. Headed into Tuesday’s game, the 20-year-old outfielder is among the league leaders in several categories, as he ranks fifth in OPS (1.090) and is tied for second and third in RBI (14) and total bases (32), respectively.
Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats: .360/.418/.580, 6 2B, 3B, HR, 9 SB, 5 BB, 19 K (12 games)
After a dismal showing at High-A Modesto last season, Story appears to be back on track this year in his second tour of the California League. The 21-year-old shortstop has already tallied eight extra-base hits and nine steals through 12 games, but Story’s 19-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that span is slightly concerning, especially after his 183-to-45 ratio at the level last season.
Rio Ruiz, 3B, Houston Astros
2014 Stats: .356/.420/.511, 4 2B, HR, 8 RBI, 5 BB, 9 K (11 games)
One of the more underrated hitters below the Double-A level, Ruiz batted .260/.335/.430 with 33 doubles, 12 home runs and a 92-to-50 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year in 114 games for Low-A Quad Cities, and there’s a strong chance the 19-year-old will put even better power numbers this season in the hitter-friendly California League. In his last four games, Ruiz is batting .526 with a home run, three doubles and seven RBI.
Chad Pinder, SS, Oakland Athletics
2014 Stats: .378/.429/.844, 4 2B, 3B, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 4 BB, 7 K (11 games)
Pinder, the No. 71 overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Virginia Tech, struggled mightily last summer in his professional debut, batting .200/.286/.293 with 41 strikeouts in 161 plate appearances for short-season Vermont. Therefore, it was surprising when the A’s promoted the 22-year-old directly to High-A Stockton this season. Yet Pinder has handled the advanced level just fine so far, amassing 10 extra-base hits (five home runs) and 13 RBI in 11 games.
Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas Rangers
2014 Stats: .343/.447/.800, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 9 BB, 12 K (11 games)
Gallo led all minor league hitters last season with 40 home runs (38 of which came while playing for Low-A Hickory) but was kept in the park for the first six games of the season. However, in his last five contests, Gallo is batting .533 with five home runs, 10 RBI, nine runs and 4-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Classic Joey Gallo. Amirite?
Courtney Hawkins, OF, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats: .333/.370/.643, 4 2B, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 3 BB, 14 K (11 games)
Hawkins’ early-season performance at High-A Winston-Salem is quickly making people forget about his disastrous 2013 campaign, as the 20-year-old outfielder owns a 1.012 OPS through 11 games and currently leads the Carolina League with 15 RBI. Still, Hawkins has also posted a 14-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that span, which obviously leaves something to be desired.
Brandon Nimmo, OF, New York Mets
2014 Stats: .381/.480/.524, 3 2B, HR, 5 RBI, 8 BB, 11 K (11 games)
Nimmo, 21, has been impressive this season at High-A St. Lucie, batting .381 with four-extra base hits and a 11-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 games. The outfielder is also in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak during which he’s batting .400 with eight runs and four RBI.
Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics
2014 Stats: .182/.321/.273, 2B, HR, 5 RBI, 8 BB, 16 K (11 games)
Olson, a supplemental first-round pick in 2012, showed huge power last season at Low-A Beloit, hitting 32 doubles and 23 home runs in 134 games, but it came at the cost of 148 strikeouts. In his defense, Olson has a “Three True Outcome” profile and therefore also collects his share of walks. However, it’s hard to see the power translating as consistently at higher levels without eliminating some of the swing-and-miss from his game.
Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals
2014 Stats: .103/.239/.231, 2 2B, HR, 4 RBI, 6 BB, 15 K (10 games)
Starling posted a .727 OPS with 38 extra-base hits and 22 stolen bases last season in his full-season debut, but he also struck out 128 times in 498 plate appearances. So far this season it’s been more of the same, as the 21-year-old has three extra-base hits and 15 strikeouts in 46 plate appearances.
Hunter Dozier, 3B, Kansas City Royals
2014 Stats: .167/.271/.238, 3 2B, 4 RBI, 4 BB, 12 K (11 games)
The Royals selected Dozier with the No. 8 overall pick last June so as to save money to sign left-hander Sean Manaea in the second round. In his professional debut last summer, the 22-year-old posted an .892 OPS with 37 extra-base hits (seven home runs), 52 RBI and a 37-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 69 games between Rookie-level Idaho Falls and Low-A Lexington. Dozier has started slowly this season and has now fanned in six of his last 10 at-bats, but his mature approach bat-to-ball skills will allow him to adjust to Carolina League pitching.
Clint Coulter, C, Milwaukee Brewers
2014 Stats: .286/.459/.821, 3 2B, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 7 BB, 6 K (9 games)
Selected by the Brewers with the No. 27 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Coulter, 20, had an impressive professional debut after signing, but then struggled mightily last year and battled injuries in what was supposed to be his full-season debut. In 70 games across three levels, Coulter batted .244/.314/.400 with 14 doubles, seven home runs and a 60-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's quickly making up for the lost time this year, however, with a 1.281 OPS and four home runs through his first nine games at Class A Wisconsin.
Austin Wilson, OF, Seattle Mariners
2014 Stats: .342/.419/.500, 3 2B, HR, 12 RBI, 2 BB, 5 K (10 games)
The No. 49 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Wilson had a decent professional debut last summer playing for short-season Everett in the Northwest League, as the 6’4”, 210-pound outfielder posted a .732 OPS with 20 extra-base hits (six home runs) and a 42-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 56 games. Wilson’s making his full-season debut this year at Low-A Clinton and so far he’s been a consistent run producer, tallying an RBI in seven of 10 games.
Carson Kelly, C, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Stats: .300/.389/.500, 2B, 3B, HR, 5 RBI, 4 BB, 4 K (8 games)
The Cardinals moved Kelly from third base to catcher last fall, a move that quietly suggests the organization thinks his bat is special and will develop despite having to learn a new, incredibly complicated position. However, the team was confident enough with his defense to assign him to Low-A Peoria this season. If right-hander Alex Reyes is the Cardinals’ lower-level pitching prospect to watch this year, then Kelly is his offensive equivalent.
Avery Romero, 2B, Miami Marlins
2014 Stats: .417/.451/.563, 4 2B, HR, 6 RBI, 2 SB, 3 BB, 6 K (11 games)
Romero has crushed the ball out of the gate this season, collecting 20 hits in his first 11 games. The 20-year-old is currently riding a seven-game hitting streak during which he’s batting .455 with five multihit games. Romero was one of the more advanced prep hitters in the 2012 draft class, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he receives an early promotion to High-A.
Wendell Rijo, 2B, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats: .355/.474/.548, 3 2B, HR, 6 BB, 8 K (9 games)
Rijo, 18, was signed out of the Dominican Republic for $575,000 in July 2012 and impressed last season in his professional debut, batting .277/.367/.375 with 16 doubles, 15 stolen bases and a 32-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 184 at-bats between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and short-season Lowell. He has a ways to go before reaching the major leagues, but Rijo is definitely one of the more intriguing lower-level prospects to keep an eye on this season.
Stryker Trahan, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Stats: .154/.167/.308, 2B, 3B, HR, 8 RBI, BB, 13 K (10 games)
Trahan was officially moved from catcher to the outfield this spring to accelerate his offensive development and overall timeline. The 19-year-old got off to a solid start but is batting just .090 with 11 strikeouts in his last six games. Trahan had an especially rough game on April 9, going 0-for-5 with five strikeouts against Low-A Beloit. Yes, that's a platinum sombrero.
Dominic Smith, 1B, New York Mets
2014 Stats: .184/.205/.184, BB, 4 K (10 games)
Smith is regarded as one of the best first base prospects in the minor leagues, but he’s yet to collect an extra-base hit through Low-A Savannah’s first 10 games. Mike Newman of ROTOscouting.com recently published an excellent report on the 18-year-old Smith in which he detailed several concerns about his bat and body type.
Ryder Jones, 3B, San Francisco Giants
2014 Stats: .162/.244/.243, 3 2B, 5 RBI, 4 BB, 14 K (10 games)
Jones had a solid professional debut last summer in the Rookie-level Arizona League, posting a .794 OPS with 10 extra-base hits in 37 games. However, he’s struggled to get going at Low-A Augusta this spring and has now struck out in nine of 10 games.