Every MLB Team's Top Prospect Who Won't Live Up to Expectations

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistApril 23, 2014

Every MLB Team's Top Prospect Who Won't Live Up to Expectations

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The best and worst part of being a baseball fan is hearing about prospects. These are the players who represent the future of every organization, the studs who will bring that elusive championship to a city in need of celebrating. 

    Because we all get so wrapped up in the things that these players can do and what they can become, it's easy to forget that prospects are usually between the ages of 18-23 and have no idea what kind of cereal they want to eat in the morning, let alone how their baseball skills will develop. 

    The simple plan will be to draft a player or sign an international free agent, then move him up before making him a permanent staple in the lineup or pitching rotation. But in this game, when do things ever go as planned?

    Our focus is on the best prospect in each team's system who won't reach the ceiling that he can get to with some minor mechanical tweaks and/or development. Players were considered based on their current level of performance, how good they project to be and how likely they are to reach that ceiling. 

    Note: Prospect rankings are courtesy of Bleacher Report's 2014 preseason top 10 lists, written by MLB Lead Prospect Writer Mike Rosenbaum and myself. Stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted. 

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Player: Stryker Trahan, C

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 7

    There are no guarantees in the MLB draft, but that seems especially true for high school catchers due to the degree of difficulty associated with the position, the years of development needed to play it at the level needed and trying to remain good enough with the bat. 

    Stryker Trahan has two problems en route to Arizona, which is still far away for the soon-to-be 20-year-old who is playing in Low-A right now. First, he's 6'1", 215 pounds and could look like a hulking monster by the time his frame starts growing. That makes it difficult to project him as a catcher long-term, along with some poor defensive mechanics like bad footwork and receiving skills. 

    Second, if Trahan isn't a catcher and ends up as a first baseman/DH type, that puts immense pressure on the bat. He's got enough raw power to project at first base, but the ability to hit the ball consistently and recognize pitches isn't there. 

    So instead of an offensive-minded catcher, we are looking at a first baseman with raw power and a fringy hit tool. 

Atlanta Braves

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    Player: J.R. Graham, RHP

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 3

    J.R. Graham's stock has already fallen, as the right-hander entered last season at No. 2 on Atlanta's prospect list (behind Julio Teheran). He made just eight starts in 2013 due to shoulder problems.

    The stuff is there for Graham to be a quality mid-rotation starter when he's healthy. The right-hander has a plus fastball that can touch 95-96 mph with some life and an above-average slider, though the changeup needs refinement.

    Being undersized at 6'0", 195 pounds, lack of plane on the fastball and the injury problems make Graham look like a future reliever. 

Baltimore Orioles

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    Player: Josh Hart, OF

    Preseason Prospect Rank: outside top 10

    While not one of Baltimore's big five prospects entering 2014 (Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Hunter Harvey, Eduardo Rodriguez, Jonathan Schoop), Josh Hart possesses a lot of tools that give him the potential to be a quality center fielder/leadoff hitter. 

    Unfortunately the 19-year-old Hart falls into the same category as Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton, though Hart is about 20 pounds heavier already and could get stronger. He doesn't hit the ball hard enough to make pitchers afraid of leaving a fastball over the plate. 

    Hamilton can make up for the lack of power with blazing speed that no one else, Hart included, can match. Hart has to figure out a way to start driving the ball into gaps or risks turning into a career minor leaguer. 

Boston Red Sox

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    Player: Matt Barnes, RHP

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 9

    For most teams, Matt Barnes would easily fit into the top five on a prospect list. The Boston Red Sox, loaded with depth at virtually every level, barely have room for Barnes in the top 10 entering this season. 

    On the surface, there are a lot of things to like about Barnes. He's the perfect size at 6'4", 205 pounds, has a fastball that sits 93-95 mph with some late life and a nice looking curveball with sharp break. 

    But when you start to analyze the 23-year-old, the sum isn't as great as the individual parts. Barnes has average fastball control, below average command of everything and lacks a quality third pitch. 

    The pieces make Barnes look like a potential No. 3 starter, but the sum points to someone who will end up as a late-inning reliever. 

Chicago Cubs

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez

    Player: Jorge Soler, OF

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 4

    Having seen Jorge Soler in person last October during the Arizona Fall League, he's an impressive physical specimen at 6'4", 215 pounds. He's athletic, strong and has great upside as a baseball player. 

    Soler is also fragile and volatile. He played just 55 games last season due to a stress fracture in his left tibia and has played just one game this season due to a hamstring injury

    There was also the incident last season when Soler grabbed a bat from the dugout and waved it around like he was going to attack the opposing team due to a perceived bad call followed by some taunting. 

    He's also unpolished on the field, lacking pitch recognition and an approach at the plate. There's enough raw talent to project Soler as a regular right fielder, but too much instability to project stardom for the 22-year-old. 

Chicago White Sox

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    Player: Tim Anderson, SS

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 4

    Having put together the White Sox prospect list for this season, Tim Anderson was the player whose position I struggled with the most. He's only valuable as a starting player if he can stay at shortstop, which isn't a certainty due to average (at best) arm strength. 

    Moving Anderson to second base means he has to hit. There are raw tools suggesting that's possible. He's got elite speed, above-average raw power and good bat speed but lacks any kind of approach with the bat in his hands. 

    A move to center field, where the speed will play and arm strength isn't as much of a concern, puts less pressure on the bat, though that approach really limits his ability to get on base enough to have value as a starting outfielder. 

Cincinnati Reds

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    Player: Jesse Winker, OF

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 4

    When you watch Jesse Winker hit, it's hard not to fall in love. He's got a beautiful left-handed swing and understands the strike zone well for a player who will spend most of this season in High-A at age 20. 

    Winker's ability to track pitches and commit late while still driving the ball is one of his best traits, though there are limitations to his offensive game and defensive concerns that limit his future potential. 

    He's not going to hit for enough power to project as an above-average left fielder or first baseman, doesn't have the speed for center field and has fringe-average arm strength which makes right field out of the question. 

    Being able to hit for average and get on base gives Winker a future in the big leagues, though not enough of one to be more than an everyday player on a non-playoff contender. 

Cleveland Indians

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Player: Tyler Naquin, OF

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 5

    There was some hope that Tyler Naquin was turning a corner late last season. Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) wrote that Naquin's glove and swing got better, even giving him an overall future potential of five (major-league regular). 

    While it's still early in the 2014 season and small-sample-size caveats apply, Naquin is still showing problems making contact with advanced pitching (18 strikeouts in 53 at-bats with Double-A Akron through April 18). 

    Naquin doesn't have enough glove or power to compensate for those high strikeout totals, so the future actually points to a fourth outfielder in a perfect-world scenario. 

Colorado Rockies

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    Player: Trevor Story, SS

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 10

    Trevor Story's stock fell hard in 2013 after he left the hitter-friendly confines of Asheville. He hit a paltry .233/.305/.394 in 130 games at High-A Modesto, including 183 strikeouts in 497 at-bats. 

    There's still enough upside with the bat thanks to a very smooth, quiet right-handed swing and more power than you would expect from a 6'1", 175-pound shortstop, but the strikeout totals are still a huge problem. 

    Playing shortstop does help Story, as he doesn't have to hit as much to bring value on the field. He's a quality defender with good range and footwork, though that's not enough to carry him as a starter in the big leagues, as the 21-year-old strikes out more than 30 percent of the time already. 

Detroit Tigers

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    Player: Jonathon Crawford, RHP

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 2

    It's easy to pick on Detroit's system because the team is so focused on winning at the MLB levelthe point of the sport, after allthat the minors have been completely ignored in recent years. 

    Jonathon Crawford vaulted to the top of the Tigers' prospect list with the graduation of Nick Castellanos, though the right-hander would be at the bottom of a list of all 30 MLB team's top prospects. 

    Crawford is starting in Low-A right now, but a lot of effort in the delivery, lack of a third pitch and limited command makes him a reliever the higher he climbs up the ladder. 

Houston Astros

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    Player: Mike Foltynewicz, RHP

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 5

    No pitcher in Houston's deep system has a higher ceiling than Mike Foltynewicz—sorry, Mark Appel—but getting all the parts in place is a problem. The 22-year-old throws 100 mph, has an above-average breaking ball on occasion and is a horse at 6'4", 220 pounds. 

    Throwing hard is great, but throwing strikes, commanding the heater and having a breaking ball that opponents respect is critical to success in the upper levels of the minors and, especially, the majors. 

    Foltynewicz's walk rate was higher in 2013 (66 in 129.1 innings) than 2012 (62 in 152 innings), and he's never missed bats at a rate consistent with the velocity on his fastball (249 strikeouts in 281.1 innings from 2012-13). 

    The ceiling is that of a No. 2 starter, but the package fits closer to a late-inning reliever. 

Kansas City Royals

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    Orlin Wagner

    Player: Bubba Starling, OF

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 5

    A late-season surge in 2013 raised Bubba Starling's slash line to .241/.329/.398 and provided some hope that he was starting to turn a corner. Unfortunately, it appears to be a mirage we all fell for once again. 

    ESPN's Keith Law (Insider subscription required) recently scouted Starling and noted that his swing is a complete mess with "no trigger or load," making it difficult to drive the ball with any kind of authority. 

    The No. 5 pick in the 2011 draft, Starling's tools were always considered raw but with enough present performance and upside to become a superstar. After nearly 200 mostly disappointing games in the minors, he'll be lucky to be a bench player in the big leagues. 

Los Angeles Angels

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Player: Taylor Lindsey, 2B

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 1

    The Los Angeles Angels are one of only two teams whose No. 1 prospect is on this particular list, which speaks volumes about where the system is at right now and how little depth they have. 

    Taylor Lindsey is a prospect I like, which is why I put him at No. 1 on our Angels' preseason prospect list, but there's so little margin of error for a player with his limited skill set that it's hard to call him a guaranteed big leaguer. 

    Lindsey knows how to hit. He's got solid bat-to-ball skills, a strong approach and sprays line drives all over the field. But there's little power potential for a player with his wide base and some inconsistent mechanics. 

    With fringe range at second base, Lindsey doesn't have impact potential with the glove, so he has to hit for a high average to be an MLB regular. As good as the hit tool is, it doesn't project to be at star level. 

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Player: Chris Anderson, RHP

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 5

    No prospect in last year's draft caused more headaches than Chris Anderson. There were times he looked like a top-10 pick, then started to slow down as the year went on with a dip in velocity and inconsistent results that let the Los Angeles Dodgers grab him in the middle of the first round. 

    Some of the problems stemmed from overwork by Jacksonville coaches, which didn't seem to be a long-term issue after Anderson got to work with the Dodgers' development staff. 

    On his best days, Anderson will throw two plus pitches (fastball, slider) and look like a No. 3 starter, but well-below-average command and a fringy changeup paint the picture of a reliever who may struggle in high-leverage situations. 

Miami Marlins

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Player: Jake Marisnick, OF

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 2

    It's hard to look at an athlete like Jake Marisnick without falling in love. He can show four plus tools on a given day, which would make him one of the top prospects in baseball if he could do it consistently. 

    The biggest knocks against Marisnick are an inability to make consistently hard contact, an overaggressive approach and poor routes in the outfield. 

    The Mariners traded for Marisnick hoping to get a star who would pair with Christian Yelich in the outfield, but they are likely to end up with a fourth outfielder. 

Milwaukee Brewers

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Player: Johnny Hellweg, RHP

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 4

    Even though Milwaukee's system isn't deep, there are names at the top worth paying attention to. Unfortunately Johnny Hellweg has not proven to be one of them. He's a pitcher who throws hard, and that's about it. 

    Being 6'9" has its advantages, but it's also a detriment for most pitchers, Hellweg included. It's harder to repeat mechanics and find a consistent release point when you have longer limbs, making control/command extremely difficult. 

    Hellweg has averaged 6.2 walks per nine innings in the minors, so it will be a miracle if he ever throws enough strikes to find any role in the big leagues. 

Minnesota Twins

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    Steven Senne

    Player: Alex Meyer, RHP

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 3

    Speaking of tall pitchers, Alex Meyer is also a 6'9" right-handed monster who throws hard. What separates him from Hellweg is better secondary stuff and better control of the strike zone, though there are still doubts about his eventual role. 

    Meyer's fastball-slider combination paint the picture of a No. 2/3 starter. He's still refining a changeup that's only an average pitch, and the fastball command is still below-average right now. 

    Containing those long limbs is the key to Meyer's success. He's facing an uphill battle, but he at least has enough in the tank to be a back-end starter or high-leverage reliever. 

New York Mets

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    Kathy Kmonicek

    Player: Brandon Nimmo, OF

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 8

    The New York Mets finally saw results from Brandon Nimmo, their 2011 first-round pick, in 2013. He hit .273/.397/.359 in 110 games at Low-A, showing athleticism and three average-or-better tools. 

    Because of limited power upside due to a straight bat path with no loft at the end of his swing, Nimmo's always going to have a low ceiling. His floor is average because he gets on base, though lack of speed will eventually push the 21-year-old to left field, where power is essential. 

    The Mets got a quality athlete in Nimmo, but the baseball tools are more like a fourth outfielder than a future starter. 

New York Yankees

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    Player: Slade Heathcott, OF

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 3

    Unlike most prospects on this list, who will struggle to match the hype due to deficiencies with their tools, Slade Heathcott is a player whose future depends entirely on his ability to stay healthy. 

    Heathcott's tools are loud and exciting. He can hit for average with a solid approach and has above-average raw power, elite running speed and plus arm strength. The 23-year-old has all it takes to make it in the big leagues. 

    But Heathcott is also one of those players whose all-out style and approach hurts him (literally and figuratively) more than it helps. He's played in more than 100 games just once in four full minor league seasons (last year, when he reached 103). 

    Until Heathcott proves he can stay on the field for a sustained period of time, he will always be more promise than performance. 

Oakland Athletics

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    Jeff Chiu

    Player: Michael Ynoa, RHP

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 5

    It's no secret that the Athletics haven't received a good return thus far on their then-record $4.25 million investment in Michael Ynoa. He made three starts in 2010 before having Tommy John surgery, didn't pitch at all in 2011 and had 14 unimpressive appearances in 2012. 

    Last year was the first time it looked like Ynoa might give the A's something to be excited about. He had a 2.14 ERA with 48 strikeouts and 18 walks in 15 starts at Low-A, but a late-season promotion to High-A brought the 22-year-old back to earth (7.71 ERA, 20-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio). 

    Ynoa hasn't fared much better this season, allowing six earned runs in 2.2 innings and going back on the disabled list. It's time to accept that the young right-hander isn't going to pan out and move on. 

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Charlie Neibergall

    Player: Jesse Biddle, LHP

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 3

    One name that gets mentioned all the time when discussing Jesse Biddle is former New York Yankees star Andy Pettitte. It's an easy comparison to make since both are left-handed and get outs more from their ability to mix pitches than from overpowering hitters. 

    The difference is that Biddle's inability to throw strikes on a consistent basis makes his margin for error so small. He walked 82 in 138.1 innings last year, though in the early stages of 2014 he appears to be more comfortable (28-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio). 

    But we've been teased by Biddle before, when he lowered his walk rate from 2011 to 2012 (4.5 to 3.4) before it ballooned back up in 2013. He's got the ceiling of a No. 3 starter but the command of a reliever. 

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Gene J. Puskar

    Player: Jameson Taillon, RHP

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 2

    It's hard to pick on a player as gifted as Jameson Taillon when he's on the shelf following Tommy John surgery, but rest assured he would have made this list even without the injury. 

    The No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, Taillon always had great velocity on the fastball (92-96 mph) and a hard-snapping curveball. But hitters always hit him harder than they should given the quality of his stuff due to a lack of deception in the delivery. 

    Taillon's injury makes his future projection more difficult, because we don't know what his stuff will be like when he returns or if his command is going to come back. Hopefully he comes back better than ever, but it could be two years before we know exactly what the 22-year-old will be. 

San Diego Padres

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    Charlie Riedel

    Player: Rymer Liriano, OF

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 10

    A long-time favorite of mine, Rymer Liriano has always shown great tools on the field. He has plus raw power and arm strength, above-average running speed and glove in right field. 

    None of those offensive skills matter much if you struggle to read the pitches coming at you, which Liriano has virtually every year of his career except in 2011 at Low-A (.319/.383/.499), a level he was repeating. 

    After missing last season due to Tommy John surgery, Liriano's timing is going to take a while to come back, but he's still showing the same problems as before. Until he corrects them, a big league future seems out of the equation. 

San Francisco Giants

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    Gregory Bull

    Player: Kyle Crick, RHP

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 1

    Kyle Crick routinely ranks near the back half of top-100 lists because there's a lot to love. He's a 21-year--old, 6'2", 220-pound right-hander who can hit 97 and snaps off a plus slider that makes hitters look foolish. 

    Like so many high-school pitchers, Crick's command was going to be the deciding factor if he became a No. 2 starter or future reliever. Two full years into his career, throwing strikes is still a huge problem for San Francisco's top prospect. 

    A move to Double-A this season is only going to further exploit how weak Crick's command is at this point and could spell an end to his time as a top-100 prospect. 

Seattle Mariners

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Player: D.J. Peterson, 3B

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 2

    The Seattle Mariners drafted D.J. Peterson in the first round last year based entirely on his ability to hit. He came out of New Mexico as a polished college hitter who controlled the strike zone well with a short, quick swing through the zone. 

    Peterson's ability to hit would make him the envy of a lot of prospects, but he's going to end up at first base due to poor lateral movement and reactions at the hot corner. That means hitting for average isn't going to cut it. 

    As good as Peterson's swing looks, it's not conducive to hitting for power. He did hit 13 homers in 55 games after signing last season, though a lot of that can be attributed to facing inferior competition at low levels. 

    Unless the power miraculously arrives, Peterson is going to be a high-average, low-power, no-defense first baseman. That's good enough for a second-division team but not one with playoff aspirations. 

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson

    Player: Tim Cooney, LHP

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 7

    In its list of the Cardinals' top 20 prospects for 2014, MLB.com called Tim Cooney "a slightly lesser version of St. Louis' top pick in 2013, fellow college southpaw Marco Gonzales."

    As much as I like Gonzales, that's probably an exaggeration to say Cooney is "slightly" below him. Gonzales makes up for the lack of velocity on his fastball with a plus-plus changeup that hitters have no chance against.

    Cooney, on the other hand, has a solid-average changeup but not one that opponents have to worry about. He's projected to be a No. 3/4-type starter, but the average fastball and below-average breaking balls make him seem more like a swing guy who will give you multiple innings out of the bullpen. 

    That kind of pitcher does have value, even in today's era of 12- and 13-man bullpens, but not nearly as much as a back-end starter. 

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Steven Senne

    Player: Hak-Ju Lee, SS

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 5

    It's sad to say, especially for a 23-year-old, but we're always going to wonder what happened to Hak-Ju Lee. He had the potential to be a star defensive shortstop with enough of a bat to be an above-average regular, undoubtedly what Tampa Bay was hoping when it acquired him from Chicago in the Matt Garza trade. 

    Unfortunately the bat seemed to top out in 2011, when Lee split time between High-A and Double-A, and advanced pitching really started to exploit his lack of pop. He missed most of 2013 with torn ligaments in his left knee and hasn't played in a game since. 

    Knee injuries are always dangerous for a player, but it's especially troubling for someone like Lee who relies on speed to be effective in the box, on the bases and with the glove. 

Texas Rangers

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Player: Luis Sardinas, SS

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 4

    There aren't a lot of minor league shortstops who are more fun to watch in the field than Luis Sardinas. My first live exposure to him was during the 2012 Arizona Fall League, where he made an incredible play deep in the hole to his right and fired a strike to first base.

    Those are the kinds of things Sardinas can do when he's focused entirely on the game. His biggest problem are those moments when he takes his mind off baseball, making casual errors that shouldn't happen for a player with his glove. 

    Hitting has never been an area of strength for Sardinas, at least projecting him to the big leagues. He's got great speed and makes contact from both sides as a switch-hitter but doesn't drive the ball with any kind of authority. 

    The glove is good enough to get Sardinas to the big leagues. It just isn't going to be good enough to make him more than a utility player. 

Toronto Blue Jays

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Player: Aaron Sanchez, RHP

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 2

    Somehow, some way, we keep hoping that Aaron Sanchez is going to turn that corner and become one of the best right-handed pitching prospects in baseball. He's got a big fastball (92-96 mph) with excellent movement and a power curveball that can break a lot of knees when it's on. 

    He's just 21 years old and already in Double-A, so it seems that everything is falling into place. Unfortunately the problems that have always plagued him—upright finish in delivery, no stride to the plate, poor command—are still present. 

    If Sanchez can figure things out, the ceiling is huge. With that fastball and curveball, the 21-year-old has the potential to be a No. 2 starter. Putting the pieces together so everything fits has been the issue. 

Washington Nationals

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Player: Brian Goodwin, OF

    Preseason Prospect Rank: No. 3

    Another player whose individual tools grade out much higher than the total package, Brian Goodwin runs so hot and cold in the minors that you never know what to expect night-in and night-out. 

    For instance, last season the 23-year-old hit .252/.355/.407 in Double-A, showing good discipline at the plate and reaching double figures in doubles, triples and homers. He also strikes out a lot (121 times in 457 at-bats) and will show different swings from pitch to pitch. 

    The best way to describe a player like Goodwin is as an athlete who plays baseball instead of an athletic baseball player. He has all the right parts to be the latter, but not enough all-around refinement to be more than the former. 

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