MLB Prospects Update: Hottest, Coldest Players at Each Minor League Level
We’re over a month into the minor league season, and countless prospects are making strong impressions, for one reason or another, at each of the four full-season levels.
With most teams having played roughly 25-plus games since Opening Day (April 3), we’re beginning to distance ourselves from issues related to small sample sizes. This week’s installment of the season-long series also marks the debut of a new format, as we’ve decided to include reports on both hitters and pitchers in the same article.
Here’s a look at the hottest and coldest hitters and pitchers at every minor league level.
David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats (28 games): .276/.317/.552, 6 2B, 8 HR, 16 RBI, 9 SB, 7 BB, 23 K
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 this season, Dahl has quickly reminded us of his huge potential, with a .276 batting average, 15 extra-base hits and nine stolen bases through 28 games. Furthermore, his .276 ISO in 124 plate appearances this season is the third highest among all qualified Low-A hitters.
Alex Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Stats (5 starts): 2-1, 23.1 IP, 2.31 ERA, .183 BAA, 16 BB, 32 K
One of the more high-ceiling pitching prospects in the low minors, Reyes is making his full-season debut this year and missing bats with his overpowering stuff. That being said, success hasn’t come easy for the 19-year-old right-hander, as shaky control resulted in 16 walks in his first three starts (12.1 IP). However, he’s shown significant improvement on that front in his past two outings, with a 16/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 innings.
Wendell Rijo, 2B, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats (24 games): .321/.461/.494, 6 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB, 20 BB, 21 K
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.
Rijo will require a few years to refine his game in the minor leagues, but, as you might have already inferred from the hot start to his full-season debut, Rijo is definitely one of the more intriguing lower-level, up-the-middle prospects to keep an eye on this season.
Caleb Smith, LHP, New York Yankees
2014 Stats (6 starts): 3-1, 27.1 IP, 0.66 ERA, .144 BAA, 9 BB, 33 K
A 14th-round draft pick last June out of Sam Houston State, Smith, 22, has put up impressive numbers through his first six starts, with a 0.66 ERA and 33/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27.1 innings. The left-hander has been scored upon in only one start this season, and he hasn't allowed a run in his last four outings, with a 26/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18 1/3 innings during that span.
Given his strong command and college background, Smith should receive a promotion to High-A Tampa in the coming weeks.
Kohl Stewart, RHP, Minnesota Twins
2014 Stats (6 starts): 1-1, 30.2 IP, 2.35 ERA, .159 BAA, 6 BB, 17 K
Stewart, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2013 draft, has been impressive to begin his professional debut, as he’s yet allow more than four hits or three earned runs in a start. The 19-year-old right-hander has been especially sharp over his past three outings, posting a 0.54 ERA and 16/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16.2 innings.
Buck Farmer, RHP, Detroit Tigers
2014 Stats (6 starts): 4-2, 35.2 IP, 2.02 ERA, .215 BAA, 12 BB, 49 K (5 GS)
A fifth-round draft pick last June out of Georgia Tech, Farmer, 23, has logged at least six innings and six strikeouts in his last five starts, during which he’s posted a 1.69 ERA and 42/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32 innings. He currently leads all Midwest League pitchers in strikeouts (49) and K/9 (12.36)
Stryker Trahan, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Stats (29 games): .183/.232/.304, 6 2B, 2 HR, 17 RBI, 8 BB, 38 K
Trahan was officially moved from catcher to the outfield this spring to accelerate his offensive development and overall timeline. However, the move hasn’t boosted the 20-year-old’s production as expected, as he’s batting only .175 with three extra-base hits (all doubles) and a 22/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the last 16 games.
Franchy Cordero, SS, San Diego Padres
2014 Stats (22 games): .188/.237/.235, 2 2B, 3B, 9 RBI, 3 SB, 4 BB, 36 K
Cordero emerged as one of the more exciting rookie-level prospects last season in the Arizona League, posting an .891 OPS with 13 extra-base hits in 35 games. The Padres were so impressed that they assigned him to Low-A Fort Wayne for his full-season debut, but the 19-year-old’s flaws have been exposed in the early going, evidenced by his .472 OPS, 36/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 18 errors at shortstop in 22 games.
As a result of his ongoing struggles, Cordero was recently reassigned to the short-season Northwest League, which is scheduled to begin its regular season on June 13.
Christian Arroyo, SS, San Francisco Giants
2014 Stats (28 games): .194/.219/.241, 3 2B, 3B, 12 RBI, 4 BB, 19 K
The No. 25 overall pick in the 2013 draft, Arroyo quickly surpassed expectations last summer in his professional debut, batting .326/.388/.511 with 25 extra-base hits in 45 games for the Giants affiliate in the rookie-level Arizona League. The 18-year-old is yet to find his groove at the plate this season at Low-A Augusta, but that’s understandable as the second-youngest player at a full-season level.
Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas Rangers
2014 Stats (31 games): .327/.431/.745, 29 R, 4 2B, 3 3B, 12 HR, 28 RBI, 3 SB, 23 BB, 38 K
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 24 contests, Gallo is batting .345 with 17 extra-base hits (10 home runs), 24 RBI and an 30/18 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Daniel Norris, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2014 Stats (6 starts): 3-0, 28.2 IP, 0.63 ERA, .210 BAA, 9 BB, 36 K
Between Norris’ six starts last August and six this season, the 21-year-old left-hander owns a 0.62 ERA and 66-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57.2 innings. Norris logged only 4.2 frames in his latest outing, but he managed to strike out a season-high 10 batters before departing.
Ben Lively, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats (7 starts): 6-0, 42.2 IP, 0.63 ERA, .158 BAA, 3 BB, 54 K
Lively has received a lot of Tony Cingrani comparisons with his hot start at High-A Bakersfield, and so over the last few weeks we’ve been comparing their statistics based on the same number of starts. Through Cingrani’s first seven starts at Bakersfield in 2012, the left-hander had posted a 0.68 ERA and 53/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 40 innings. So, technically, Lively’s performance this season actually has been better than Cingrani’s.
Jake Thompson, RHP, Detroit Tigers
2014 Stats (6 starts): 3-1, 37 IP, 0.97 ERA, .190 BAA, 11 BB, 35 K
Thompson, 20, had an under-the-radar good full-season debut last year at Low-A West Michigan, as the right-hander posted a 3.13 ERA and a 91-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 83.1 innings. Moved up to High-A Lakeland for the 2014 season, Thompson has dominated through six Florida State League starts, as he’s fanned at least five hitters in each outing and pitched into (or through) the seventh inning on four occasions.
Don’t be surprised if he ranks as the Tigers’ top pitching prospect headed into the 2015 season.
Brandon Nimmo, OF, New York Mets
2014 Stats (33 games): .344/.484/.451, 34 R, 5 2B, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 5 SB, 33 BB, 28 K
Nimmo has been on a tear this season at High-A St. Lucie, batting .344 with eight extra-base and more walks (33) than strikeouts (28) in 33 games. The 21-year-old outfielder has hit safely in 23 of 33 games this season in the pitcher-friendly Florida State league, including 13 multihit performances.
Daniel Vogelbach, 1B, Chicago Cubs
2014 Stats (29 games): .245/.322/.330, 3 2B, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 12 BB, 19 K
Vogelbach has silenced his skeptics at each minor league stop over the past three seasons; last year, he posted an .824 OPS with 23 doubles, 19 home runs and an 89/73 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 131 games between both Class-A levels.
Even though the 21-year-old is batting .245 with only two home runs through 29 games this season back at High-A Daytona, he’s been swinging a relatively hot bat over his last 10 games, with a .405 batting average and three extra-base hits. Power is Vogelbach’s thing, so expect it to emerge as the season unfolds.
Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals
2014 Stats (29 games): .157/.276/.287, 8 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 4 SB, 14 BB, 36 K
Starling posted a .727 OPS with 38 extra-base hits and 22 stolen bases at Low-A Lexington last year 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 10 extra-base hits and 36 strikeouts in 127 plate appearances (28.3 percent strikeout rate).
Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers
2014 Stats (32 games): .279/.314/.450, 2 2B, 3B, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 6 SB, 7 BB, 22 K
Odor, 20, has made up for a slow start this season with a nine-game hitting streak, during which he's batting .421/.450/.737 with five extra-base hits (three home runs), 10 RBI and two steals. Overall, the left-handed-hitting second baseman is batting .279/.314/.450 with 21 runs, six homers, 17 RBI and six stolen bases in 32 games. He could get a look in the major leagues later this season should Jurickson Profar struggle or miss time.
Mookie Betts, 2B, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats (29 games): .402/.457/.623, 36 R, 10 2B, 3B, 5 HR, 18 RBI, 15 SB, 14 BB, 9 K
Betts extended his on-base streak to 59 games Wednesday, going 1-for-4 with his fifth homer of the season for Double-A Portland. No player has been hotter than Betts through the first month of the season, as 21-year-old currently leads all Double-A hitters in batting average, OPS (1.079), hits (49), runs (36) and total bases (80).
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
2014 Stats (32 games): .313/.428/.600, 26 R, 9 2B, 8 HR, 23 RBI, 5 SB, 19 BB, 38 K
Bryant continues to pass every challenge the organization throws his way and shows no signs of slowing down until he’s reached the major leagues. The 22-year-old slugger has been an offensive force this season in his first taste of the Double-A level, as he currently leads the Southern League in home runs (eight), OPS (1.028) and total bases (69).
Even when he’s not hitting for power, Bryant has proven to be an advanced enough hitter to still get his hits and coax plenty of walks. He’ll always feature some swing-and-miss, but the on-base skills and insane pop should mostly offset that element of his game.
Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami Marlins
2014 Stats (7 starts): 3-1, 39 IP, 2.31 ERA, .212 BAA, 10 BB, 37 K
After allowing three runs on a career-worst 10 hits in his season debut, Heaney has dominated in six consecutive outings and made a strong case for an early-season call-up to the major leagues. During that span, the 22-year-old left-hander has posted a 1.87 ERA and 34/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 33.2 innings.
Dan Winkler, RHP, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats (6 starts): 4-1, 37 IP, 1.22 ERA, .136 BAA, 10 BB, 41 K
Winkler still isn’t considered a notable prospect despite leading the minor leagues last season with 175 strikeouts. However, given the 24-year-old’s outstanding start this year at Double-A Tulsa, that might not be the case for much longer. Last four starts: 24.2 IP, 14 H, 3 ER, 6 BB, 33 K.
Cam Bedrosian, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
2014 Stats (13 games): 3 SV, 14.2 IP, 1.23 ERA, .104 BAA, 4 BB, 31 K
Bedrosian’s performance this season is simply too impressive to not include on this list. Splitting the first month-plus between High-A Inland Empire and Double-A Arkansas, the 22-year-old right-hander has been scored on once in 13 appearances, and that one shaky outing is the only game in which he’s failed to strike out multiple batters.
In fact, Bedrosian has struck out the side on seven occasions. Given the ongoing struggles of the Angels bullpen, I wouldn’t be surprised if the right-hander is in the majors by the All-Star break.
Kyle Crick, RHP, San Francisco Giants
2014 Stats (5 starts): 1-1, 15.2 IP, 4.60 ERA, .259 BAA, 18 BB, 20 K
The Giants have kept Crick, 21, on a short leash this season at Double-A Richmond due to his inconsistent command, which explains why he’s lasted five innings in just one start. Opposing hitters are only batting .259 against Crick this season, but he’s already issued 18 walks in 15.2 innings, including 13 in his last eight frames.
The right-hander turned in his worst outing of the season last week, allowing five runs (four earned) on six hits and four walks while needing 81 pitches to complete three innings.
Nick Wittgren, RHP, Miami Marlins
2014 Stats (11 games): 2 SV, 15 IP, 5.40 ERA, .353 BAA, BB, 9 K
Wittgren emerged as a potential late-inning weapon last year in his full-season debut, saving 26 games with a 0.77 ERA, .198 BAA and 63/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 58.1 innings between High- and Double-A. Well, the 22-year-old right-hander has been shelled this season in his return to the Southern League, as he’s already been scored on in six of 11 appearances.
Mason Williams, OF, New York Yankees
2014 Stats (31 games): .203/.287/.281, 5 2B, 3B, HR, 8 RBI, 4 SB, 15 BB, 19 K
Williams is back at Double-A Trenton after batting .153 last season in 17 games at the level. The 22-year-old hasn’t fared any better this year, evidenced by his .568 OPS through 31 games, but at least he’s showed respectable plate discipline with a 19/15 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Wilmer Flores, 2B, New York Mets
2014 Stats (29 games): .307/.360/.500, 5 2B, 5 HR, 25 RBI, 9 BB, 21 K
Flores went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts for the Mets on Opening Day and then continued to struggle at the plate after he was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas. However, the 22-year-old since has made up for his slow start, with a .404 batting average, three doubles, four home runs and 17 RBI in his last 13 games.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
2014 Stats (31 games): .395/.444/.613, 9 2B, 3 3B, 4 HR, 28 RBI, 7 SB, 10 BB, 24 K
It’s only a matter of time until the Pirates (14-20) call up Polanco, as he clearly has little left to prove in the minor leagues. The organization has always been deliberately slow in promoting its top prospects; however, with an offense that ranks in the middle of the pack among all NL teams in most categories, it’s become clear that the 22-year-old will serve as an upgrade upon arrival.
Polanco currently leads all International League hitters (with at least 100 plate appearances) in all triple-slash line categories, as well as wOBA (.372), runs scored (23) and RBI (27).
Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets
2014 Stats (7 starts): 4-2, 37.2 IP, 3.58 ERA, .278 BAA, 15 BB, 36 K
After a handful of shaky outings to begin his season, Syndergaard, 21, has looked much better in his past two turns in the rotation, with a 0.71 ERA and 15/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 12.2 innings. He also struck out a season-high eight batters in his start on Monday against Tacoma.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Stats (31 games): .371/.479/.619, 25 R, 8 2B, 7 HR, 16 RBI, 10 SB, 24 BB, 35 K
Pederson continues to fire on all cylinders this season, as he currently ranks third among all Triple-A hitters in home runs, on-base percentage, OPS, stolen bases and wOBA (.477). The 21-year-old serves a top-notch safety net at Triple-A given the Dodgers’ overcrowded and mostly veteran outfield, and he 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.
Chris Taylor, SS/2B, Seattle Mariners
2014 Stats (28 games): .351/.398/.561, 11 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 5 SB, 10 BB, 21 K
Taylor was the most underrated middle-infield prospect in the 2012 draft, and he put himself on the major league radar last season by batting .314/.409/.455 with 47 extra-base hits and 38 stolen bases in 134 games between High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson.
He’s absolutely raked at Triple-A Tacoma—as most of Seattle’s prospects tend to do in the Pacific Coast League—to open the season, hitting safely in 22 of 28 contests, including 12 multihit performances.
Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
2014 Stats (22 games): .169/.250/.313, 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 3 SB, 7 BB, 34 K
Baez has been a slow starter for most of his professional career, whether to open a season or following a promotion to a more advanced level. So it isn’t entirely surprising that the 21-year-old slugger has scuffled through the season’s first month. According to FanGraphs, Baez currently ranks dead last among all qualified Triple-A hitters in both wOBA (.235) and wRC+ (32).
In his 14 games since returning from a minor hamstring injury, Baez is batting just .175 with one home run and a 23/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64 plate appearances. Last week, he batted .105 with 10 strikeouts in 24 plate appearances.
Tyler Matzek, LHP, Colorado Rockies
2014 Stats (6 starts): 1-2, 31.2 IP, 4.83 ERA, .238 BAA, 15 BB, 33 K
It took four turbulent years in the minor leagues, but it seemed as though Matzek—the No. 11 overall pick in the 2009 draft—might have finally figured things out after his first four starts (2.18 ERA, 24 K in 20.2 IP) at Triple-A Colorado Springs. However, the 23-year-old southpaw’s performance has quickly deteriorated in his last two outings, with a 9.81 ERA and 19 hits allowed in 11 innings.
Matt Davidson, 3B, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats (27 games): .165/.239/.320, 6 2B, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 9 BB, 43 K
Davidson had a solid showing in the major leagues last summer with the Diamondbacks, posting a .768 OPS with six doubles, three home runs and a 24-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 31 games. However, the 23-year-old has struggled mightily at Triple-A Charlotte this season and is batting just .091 (3-for-33) with 14 strikeouts in his last 10 games. However, two of those three hits did leave the yard.
Zach Lee, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Stats (6 starts): 2-3, 31.1 IP, 4.02 ERA, .289 BAA, 9 BB, 21 K
Lee, 22, pitched well in his first four starts this season, allowing a combined five earned runs in 22.2 innings. However, the right-hander since has been shelled in back-to-back outings, yielding a combined nine earned runs on 20 hits in only 8.2 frames.
Lee hasn't missed many bats this season, with 21 strikeouts and career-worst 6.03 K/9 through 31.1 innings, but he's managed to keep the ball in the park (0.29 HR/9) in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats (30 games): .205/.268/.316, 7 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 9 BB, 24 K
Franco’s production last season ranked 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 carried over into the regular season, as Franco has mustered only a .584 OPS through 30 games. He showed signs of busting out of his early-season funk last weekend, when he was 6-for-14 with three doubles and a home run over a three-game stretch. Since then, however, Franco is just 3-for-16 with no extra-base hits or RBI.