10 MLB Prospects Who Look to Be Taking a Big Leap Forward This Year

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIMay 6, 2014

10 MLB Prospects Who Look to Be Taking a Big Leap Forward This Year

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    MLB prospects endure the excruciating bus rides for just one reason. 

    From big-money first-rounders to organizational soldiers, every player is trying to make it to the major leagues. What follows is a rundown of 10 MLB prospects, who are looking to make a big leap forward this season. 

    Some of these standouts are on the verge of breaking into the big leagues. Others are simply trying to make the notoriously difficult jump to Double-A. So, let's take a look at 10 MLB prospects looking to climb the ladder in 2014.

Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees

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    Arnulfo Franco/Associated Press

    Age: 21

    Current Minor League Level: Double-A

    With Brian McCann behind the plate for the New York Yankees, Gary Sanchez's future in the Bronx is looking cloudy. 

    However, that hasn't stopped the club's top prospect from starting fast in 2014. In his first 25 games, the 6'3'' catcher has already clubbed seven doubles and four home runs while driving in 21 runs.

    The way he's swinging the bat, Sanchez is on pace for a midseason promotion to Triple-A. Ultimately, if it turns out there's no room for the catcher in New York, he would be a major trade chip for the team.

Andrew Heaney, SP, Miami Marlins

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    Age: 22

    Current Minor League Level: Double-A

    Andrew Heaney is dealing in Double-A. 

    In six starts, the No. 9 overall selection from the 2012 MLB draft has produced a 2.45 ERA and piled up 33 strikeouts in as many innings. Heaney's "best pitch" is his slider, according to Jim Callis of MLB.com

    The 22-year-old ranks as the top left-handed pitcher in all of the minor leagues, according to Baseball America. However, his early-season showing for the Jacksonville Suns clearly demonstrates that it's only a matter of time before Heaney makes the jump to Miami's rotation.

Billy Burns, CF, Oakland Athletics

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    Age: 24

    Current Minor League Level: Double-A

    Billy Burns is scary fast. 

    Earlier this season. the prospect scored from second base on a sacrifice fly to the right-center field gap. In the video above, you can't see the whole play, but you can watch as Burns tears around third base. 

    In 2014, the switch-hitter is batting just .237 in his first 20 games, but he has racked up 12 steals in 13 attempts. With such disruptive speed, Burns could be a highly valuable asset for the Oakland Athletics when rosters expand in September.

Edwin Escobar, SP, San Francisco Giants

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    Current Minor League Level: Triple-A

    The San Francisco Giants are cruising so far in 2014. 

    However, one potential weakness for the club could be the starting rotation where Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum have been turning in some shaky performances. Should the team need to bolster the staff later this summer, Edwin Escobar could be a name to call upon. 

    Escobar owns an unsightly 4.80 ERA in six Triple-A starts, but much of the damage occurred during just two poor outings. The left-hander recently hit 95 mph on the radar gun, according to Bryant-Jon Anteola of The Fresno Bee.

    The key for the 22-year-old is to become more consistent with his "mechanics," as Dwight Bernard, the pitching coach for the Fresno Grizzlies, explained to Anteola. 

    If Escobar can accomplish that, he has a strong chance to contribute in the big leagues before the end of the 2014 season.

Mookie Betts, 2B, Boston Red Sox

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    Age: 21

    Current Minor League Level: Double-A

    Mookie Betts isn't having any trouble adjusting to Double-A pitching. 

    In his first 27 contests for the Portland Sea Dogs, the 21-year-old is hitting .412 with 10 doubles and four home runs.

    The right-handed hitter has a patient approach at the plate and is difficult to strike out. In 2014, Betts has drawn 14 walks but punched out only nine times. Last season, he walked 81 times and went down on strikes on just 57 occasions. 

    The 21-year-old has swiped 13 bases in 2014 after totaling 38 steals a season ago. Betts also has impressive range at second base, as you can see in the video above.

Jon Gray, SP, Colorado Rockies

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    Age: 22

    Current Minor League Level: Double-A

    Jon Gray is flying through the minor leagues.

    The right-hander, whom the Colorado Rockies selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 draft, is currently pitching in Double-A. The 22-year-old has posted a 3.64 ERA in six starts, but he's taken off in his last four outings. Over that stretch, Gray has allowed just three earned runs in 23 frames. 

    No team wants to rush the development of a pitcher as talented as Gray. Then again, Colorado's starting staff is tied for the sixth-worst ERA in baseball. So, the idea of a late-season promotion can't be out of the question for the club's front office—especially if the Rockies remain in the race. 

Arismendy Alcantara, 2B, Chicago Cubs

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    Age: 22

    Current Minor League Level: Triple-A

    Don't be fooled by his small stature.

    Arismendy Alcantara, who stand 5'10", has some serious power. Last summer during the All-Star Futures Game, the infielder deposited a home run into the second deck at Citi Field. This year, the 22-year-old has connected on nine doubles, four triples and two home runs in 28 Triple-A contests.

    The switch-hitter is also a perfect 8-for-8 on stolen bases this season after swiping 31 bags in 2013. There's no doubt that the Cubs have a ton of talented infielders in the system. Still, Alcantara is definitely one to watch out for.

Michael Ynoa, RP, Oakland Athletics

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    Age: 22

    Current Minor League Level: High-A

    The Oakland Athletics inked Michael Ynoa to a signing bonus of $4.25 million way back in 2008. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, at the time that was the biggest outlay ever for a non-Cuban amateur from Latin America. 

    Since landing that record payday, though, the right-hander has endured a flood of injuries. Already this season, Ynoa missed time with bicep tendonitis, per Melissa Lockard of OaklandClubhouse.com. However, he's now healthy and pitching in relief for the High-A Stockton Ports. 

    Considering that he stands 6'7" and can throw 97 mph, Ynoa makes for an intriguing bullpen prospect. For now, his goal should be to try and remain healthy throughout the summer and aim to earn a late-season call-up to Double-A.

Christian Bethancourt, C, Atlanta Braves

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    Current Minor League Level: Triple-A

    Christian Bethancourt's meal ticket is his defense. 

    However, before the 22-year-old takes over the catcher's job in Atlanta, he'll need to show improvement at the plate. During seven seasons in the minors, Bethancourt owns a .671 OPS and has never drawn more than 17 walks during a single season. 

    In 2014, the catcher is hitting .253 with four doubles in 20 contests. The right-handed batter has also struck out 20 times while drawing just five walks.

Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Age: 21

    Current Minor League Level: Triple-A

    The St. Louis Cardinals have a history of making impact call-ups. 

    This year, that player could be Oscar Taveras. The left-handed hitter, whom MLB.com ranks as the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball, is off to a strong start in Triple-A.  In his first 28 games, the outfielder is batting .312 with five doubles and five home runs.

    The Cardinals need offense. With the ability to hit for both average and power, Taveras could be the answer. 

    Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and MILB.com. All videos courtesy of YouTube.com.

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.