MLB Prospects Update: Hottest, Coldest Players at Each Minor League Level
We’re now well into the minor league season, and countless prospects continue to open eyes with their performances at each of the four full-season levels.
With teams having played around 40-plus games since Opening Day on April 3—most starting pitchers have made at least seven starts, while hitters are nearing 200 plate appearances—we continue to distance ourselves from concerns related to small sample sizes. As we did in the series’ previous installments, this week’s list of players once again combines reports on both hitters and pitchers in the same article.
Here are the hottest and coldest players at every minor league level.
All stats courtesy of MiLB.com and accurate as of May 21, 2014.
Kohl Stewart, RHP, Minnesota Twins
2014 Stats (8 GS): 40.2 IP, 2.21 ERA, .185 BAA, 11 BB, 29 K
Stewart, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2013 draft, has had an impressive professional debut, as he’s yet to allow more than five hits or three earned runs in any start this season. The 19-year-old right-hander has been especially sharp over his past five outings, with a 1.01 ERA, .175 BAA and 22/8 K/BB over 26.2 innings.
Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals
2014 Stats (7 GS): 32.1 IP, 2.51 ERA, .186 BAA, 14 BB, 36 K
The right-hander is viewed as one of the sport's top pitching prospects, so he's doing exactly what he should be doing against South Atlantic League batters. On Sunday, he allowed one hit in six scoreless innings while striking out seven compared to only one walk.
The 19-year-old’s innings and strikeout total from the outing represent season highs. Giolito is simply too good to remain at the Low-A level much longer, though it will be interesting to see how the Nationals handle his development this year, his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.
Clint Coulter, C, Milwaukee Brewers
2014 Stats (40 G): .295/.424/.561, 19 XBH, 35 RBI, 26 BB, 29 K
Selected by the Brewers with the No. 27 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Coulter, 20, struggled mightily last year and battled injuries in what was supposed to be his full-season debut. However, the right-handed hitting backstop is quickly making up for the lost time this year, posting a .979 OPS, 19 extra-base hits and 30/27 K/BB in 41 games at Low-A Wisconsin.
Stryker Trahan, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Stats (40 G): .191/.243/.306, 11 XBH, 25 RBI, 11 BB, 56 K
Trahan was officially moved from catcher to the outfield this spring in order 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 .176 with two extra-base hits and a 26/4 K/BB over his last 17 games.
Alex Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Stats (7 GS): 33.0 IP, 4.36 ERA, .181 BAA, 26 BB, 43 K
One of the more high-ceiling pitching prospects in the low minors, Reyes is making his full-season debut this year and consistently missing bats (12.0 K/9, 32 percent strikeout rate) with his high-end stuff.
After walking 12 batters between his first two starts (eight innings), the 19-year-old right-hander has issued eight free passes over his last 21.1 frames (four starts). However, Reyes’ start on Monday was easily the worst of his career, as he allowed eight earned runs on four hits with six walks in only 3.2 innings against Low-A Clinton.
Trey Ball, LHP, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats (4 GS): 14.1 IP, 9.42 ERA, .418 BAA, 7 BB, 8 K
The No. 7 overall pick in last year’s draft, Ball, 19, allowed a combined five earned runs in his first two starts for Low-A Greenville this year while working exactly five innings in each game. However, the 6’6” left-hander has been shelled in his last two outings, allowing 10 earned runs on 13 hits with six walks in 4.1 innings.
On Monday, Ball was chased from his start after yielding five earned runs on five hits with two walks in just 0.2 innings.
Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas Rangers
2014 Stats (44 G): .340/.461/.787, 44 R, 7 2B, 3 3B, 18 HR, 39 RBI, 35 BB, 47 K
Gallo led all minor league hitters last season with 40 home runs (38 of which came while playing for Low-A Hickory), and he’s on pace to shatter that mark this year with a minor league-leading 18 home runs through his first 44 games.
Beyond his legitimate 80-grade power, the 20-year-old slugger has shown better place discipline and pitch recognition this season, as he has a 47/35 K/BB in 191 plate appearances.
Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Stats (38 G): .354/.405/.582, 17 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 5 SB, 12 BB, 38 K
Seager has been one of the California League’s more impressive hitters this season, highlighted by his .354 batting average and .987 OPS through 38 games. The 20-year-old has been especially hot this month following his return from a minor hamstring injury, as he’s batting .425/.481/.699 with 11 doubles and three home runs through 73 at-bats in May.
Jed Bradley, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers
2014 Stats (9 GS): 54.0 IP, 2.67 ERA, .228 BAA, 9 BB, 47 K
Yes, I’m referring to the same Jed Bradley who posted a 4.95 ERA in 185.2 innings at High-A Brevard County over the previous two seasons.
Well, the 24-year-old left-hander is back at Brevard County this year, but this time he’s finally putting things together. In his start on Wednesday, Bradley scattered four hits and struck out three batters over nine shutout innings.
Albert Almora, OF, Chicago Cubs
2014 Stats (38 G): .271/.294/.381, 11 2B, 2 HR, 19 RBI, 4 BB, 18 K
After a slow start to the season at High-A Daytona, Almora has batted .297/.333/.422 with six extra-base hits and a vastly improved 8/4 K/BB in 16 games this month. While he’s batting only .271 overall, the 19-year-old has still managed to raise his OPS by .153 points in his last 16 contests.
Alex Gonzalez, RHP, Texas Rnagers
2014 Stats (9 GS): 55.1 IP, 2.28 ERA, .196 BAA, 13 BB, 41 K
The No. 23 overall pick in last year’s draft, “Chi Chi” has made easy work of Carolina League hitters over the last month, posting a stellar 0.96 ERA and 20/8 K/BB in 28 innings (four starts). The 21-year-old right-hander has now thrown at least six innings in six of his last seven starts for High-A Myrtle Beach.
Billy McKinney, OF, Oakland Athletics
2014 Stats (40 G): .206/.340/.368, 26 R, 5 2B, 3B, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 29 BB, 35 K
McKinney, the A’s first-round draft pick last June, is making the jump from short-season ball to High-A this year, so it’s important to not read too far into his low batting average. Still, after posting a .790 OPS with 10 extra-base hits in April, the 19-year-old’s production has noticeably regressed this month, with a .551 OPS and two doubles through 16 games.
Domingo Tapia, RHP, New York Mets
2014 Stats (8 GS): 38.2 IP, 4.42 ERA, .234 BAA, 19 BB, 19 K
Tapia has yet to reproduce the promise he showed during his 2012 full-season debut at Low-A Savannah, as his control has steadily deteriorated in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League over the last two seasons. Specifically, the 22-year-old right-hander owns a 4.63 ERA and 103/78 K/BB in 136 innings (29 starts) at the level.
Rymer Liriano, OF, San Diego Padres
2014 Stats (43 G): .276/.350/.534, 20 XBH (10 HR), 28 RBI, 7 SB, 18 BB, 45 K
Liriano missed the entire 2013 season while recovering form Tommy John surgery, so it wasn’t surprising when he turned in a shaky first month of the season at Double-A San Antonio.
The 22-year-old has raked since the calendar turned to May, though, as he’s batting .347/.419/.667 with seven home runs, three doubles and 16 RBI in 20 games this month. The Padres’ big league offense is starved for production, so it’ll be interesting to see how aggressive they are with Liriano this summer.
Peter O’Brien, C/OF, New York Yankees
2014 Stats (41 G): .316/.339/.722, 29 XBH (17 HR), 35 RBI, 4 BB, 39 K
Peter O'Brien has put up monster numbers since his recent promotion to Double-A Trenton, as the 23-year-old owns a 1.109 OPS with seven home runs and 16 RBI through 11 games. However, his 39/4 K/BB between both levels also suggests that the right-handed slugger could be in store for a regression moving forward.
As was the case when he was at High-A Tampa, O'Brien is receiving most of his bats at catcher and designated hitter, but he continues to see occasional playing time in right field. Basically, the Yankees are exploring ways to expedite his arrival to the major leagues.
Shae Simmons, RHP, Atlanta Braves
2014 Stats (17 G): 12 SV, 20.0 IP, 0.90 ERA, .183 BAA, 4 BB, 26 K
A 22nd-round draft pick in 2012, Simmons has the potential to be the next great bullpen arm to emerge from the Braves system. The 5’11” right-hander has utterly dominated as Double-A Mississippi’s closer this season, as he’s already saved 12 games and fanned 26 batters (against four walks) in 20 innings.
Henry Owens, LHP, Boston Red Sox
2014 Stats (9 GS): 50.1 IP, 3.22 ERA, .190 BAA, 27 BB, 57 K
Owens hasn’t been particularly sharp or efficient in his past three starts for Double-A Portland, issuing a combined 14 walks in 15.2 innings. However, the 21-year-old southpaw has been difficult to barrel—as is usually the case when his secondary pitches are working—with three hits allowed and 22 strikeouts during that same span. Specifically, Owens has struck eight batters in exactly four innings in back-to-back starts.
Michael Lorenzen, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats (9 GS): 51.2 IP, 2.26 ERA, .225 BAA, 18 BB, 37 K
The Reds have remained steadfast in their development of Lorenzen—the No. 38 overall pick in the 2013 draft—as a starting pitcher, challenging the 22-year-old with an aggressive Opening Day assignment to Double-A Pensacola.
The right-hander has been better than expected in the role this year, as he’s now worked at least five innings in each of his nine starts. In his latest outing, Lorenzen fired five no-hit innings with four walks and six strikeouts against Jackson.
Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, Chicago Cubs
2014 Stats (14 G): 14.0 IP, 0.64 ERA, .167 BAA, 4 BB, 18 K
This season marks the first time since 2011 that Vizcaino has pitched in a professional game, as the right-hander missed the last two seasons while slowly recovering from Tommy John surgery. Now 23, the right-hander has the potential to be a late-inning weapon for the Cubs this season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he is the closer for the big league club by August or September (if not sooner).
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Los Angeles Angels
2014 Stats (42 G): .224/.297/.340, 6 2B, 4 HR, 24 RBI, 11 SB, 16 BB, 34 K
Coming off an impressive full-season debut at both A-ball levels, Cowart took a huge step backward last season in his first taste of Double-A, batting .221/.279/.301 with 27 extra-base hits and 124 strikeouts in 132 games.
Well, the 21-year-old is technically off to a better start this year while repeating the level, but he still struggles to make consistent hard contact, especially from the right side of the plate.
Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees
2014 Stats (38 G): .231/.309/.371, 12 XBH, 24 RBI, 16 BB, 30 K
Sanchez got off to a hot start this season in his return to Double-A Trenton, posting an .875 OPS with nine extra-base hits in 19 April games. The 21-year-old backstop has cooled off considerably in the season’s second month, as he’s batting just .134 with 17 strikeouts in his last 77 plate appearances (19 games).
Yorman Rodriguez, OF, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats (31 G): .262/.305/.361, 2 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 4 SB, 8 BB, 38 K
Rodriguez turned in a long-overdue breakout campaign in 2013, posting a .751 OPS with 35 doubles, 13 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 129 games between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola. Back at Pensacola, the 21-year-old’s performance this season has been up and down, and he’s been slumping hard of late, with a .042 batting average (1-for-24) and 11 strikeouts over his last six games.
Steven Souza Jr., OF, Washington Nationals
2014 Stats (25 G): .349/.456/.523, 8 XBH, 14 RBI, 6 SB, 16 BB, 13 K
Souza has already received a pair of call-ups with the Nationals this season, and he has collected one hit in eight at-bats while appearing in eight games. The very underrated 25-year-old outfielder has been on fire after his most recent demotion, as he’s batted .358/.452/.509 with five extra-base hits and five steals in the past 14 games.
Christian Bethancourt, C, Atlanta Braves
2014 Stats (32 G): .261/.291/.387, 7 2B, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 5 BB, 26 K
Bethancourt will always be known for his plus defense behind the plate, and any offense he provides should be considered a bonus. After batting .203 with three doubles and 17 strikeouts in the season’s first month, the 21-year-old has come alive at the plate in May, with a .327/.339/.545 batting line, seven extra-base hits (two homers) and 15 RBI in 15 games. He’s also thrown out 12 of 33 base stealers (36 percent) this season at Triple-A Gwinnett.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Stats (44 G)*: .359/.463/.653, 42 R, 8 2B, 14 HR, 29 RBI, 13 SB, 33 BB, 54 K
Pederson continues to fire on all cylinders this season, as he currently ranks second among all Triple-A hitters in home runs (14), on-base percentage (.463), OPS (1.116), stolen bases (13) and wOBA (.480). The 21-year-old represents a safety net at Triple-A, as the Dodgers outfield is presently overcrowded with mostly veteran outfielders, some of whom are injury prone.
Pederson should be the first player called upon from the minors once the Dodgers can offer him at least several starts per week, though there’s always a chance the organization uses him as trade bait this summer in order to improve its on-field product at the major league level.
Kyle Hendricks, RHP, Chicago Cubs
2014 Stats (8 GS): 50.0 IP, 3.06 ERA, .243 BAA, 11 BB, 54 K
An eighth-round draft pick out of Dartmouth in 2011, Hendricks has made a quick ascent up the ladder despite lacking a dominant pitch. The right-hander’s command is among the best in the minor leagues, as evidenced by his 63 walks in 364 innings over his last three seasons.
The 24-year-old has made a strong case for a first-half call-up by posting a 1.40 ERA and 25/3 K/BB in 19.1 innings over his past three starts.
Corey Knebel, RHP, Detroit Tigers
2014 Stats (14 G): 19 IP, 0.95 ERA, .159 BAA, 9 BB, 27 K
The No. 39 overall pick in last year’s draft, Knebel, 22, received a promotion to Triple-A Toledo last week after he posted a 1.20 ERA and 23/8 K/BB in 15 innings (11 appearances) at Double-A Erie. The right-hander has yet to allow a run through three appearances at the more advanced level, and it shouldn’t be long until he joins the Tigers bullpen.
Matt Wisler, RHP, San Diego Padres
2014 Stats (10 GS): 43.1 IP, 5.61 ERA, .311 BAA, 13 BB, 48 K
Wisler, 21, posted a 2.10 ERA and 35/6 K/BB in 30 innings at Double-A San Antonio to begin the season, but he’s been absolutely shelled in four consecutive starts following a promotion to Triple-A El Paso. The right-hander has surrendered at least four earned runs in each game and completed five innings only once.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats (42 games): .235/.315/.370, 10 2B, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 17 BB, 29 K
Franco’s struggles during spring training carried over into the regular season, as the 21-year-old posted a hugely disappointing .487 OPS in 23 April games. He showed signs of busting out of his early-season funk through the first two weeks of May, but the right-handed slugger has since fallen into another mini-slump, with a .190 batting average and one extra-base hit in his last 25 plate appearances.
*Stats reflect games through May 20, 2014