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 in the neighborhood of 50 games since Opening Day on April 3—most starting pitchers have made at least 10 starts, while hitters are in range of 200 plate appearances—small sample sizes are no longer quite so small.
As we've done in 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.
Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees
2014 Statistics: .310/.411/.454, 26 R, 14 XBH (5 HR), 25 RBI, 1 SB, 41:29 K:BB (207 PA)
Sandwiched between third baseman Eric Jagielo and lefty Ian Clarkin, who have been solid in their own right so far, Judge has gotten off to the fastest start of New York's three first-round selections last year. After five straight multi-hit efforts in the last week, including homers in back-to-back games, it might not be long before the massive (6'7", 230 pounds) 22-year-old gets bumped to High-A.
Hunter Harvey, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
2014 Statistics: 2 W, 1.89 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 2 HR, 57:18 K:BB (47.2 IP)
Harvey, who went 22nd overall last year, continued a streak in which he's struck out at least as many hitters as innings pitched in each of his last eight starts. His 57 whiffs rank second—by one—in the South Atlantic League, which is impressive given that the O's are limiting the 19-year-old to 85-90 pitchers per outing.
Phil Ervin, OF, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Statistics: .215/.280/.308, 23 R, 14 XBH (1 HR), 26 RBI, 17 SB, 47:16 K:BB (218 PA)
Although Ervin's season stats aren't all that exciting for a first-round pick making his full-season debut, he's picked up the pace over his past 10 games: 14-for-44 (.318) with five extra-base hits, including his first homer, and a steal in each of his last four.
D.J. Davis, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
2014 Statistics: .228/.288/.352, 23 R, 14 XBH (4 HR), 25 RBI, 5 SB, 74:15 K:BB (208 PA)
On the potential-to-production spectrum, Davis remains on the potential edge. The 19-year-old, who went 17th overall in 2012, is showing just how raw he still is with 74 strikeouts—tied for the most in organized baseball—and just five successful steals out of 15 attempts.
Clint Frazier, OF, Cleveland Indians
2014 Statistics: .234/.326/.331, 18 R, 10 XBH (1 HR), 10 RBI, 6 SB, 53:21 K:BB (178 PA)
Projected to possess the most power in the 2013 draft, Frazier has yet to show much pop this year with just 10 non-singles and but one homer. (To be fair, he did mash 21 extra-base hits in 44 games at rookie ball last year.) Also? The strikeouts are becoming a concern (29.7 percent) for the No. 5 pick, especially at the A-ball level. Maybe that whole don't-draft-a-redhead thing is for real?
Gosuke Katoh, 2B, New York Yankees
2014 Statistics: .176/.311/.280, 20 R, 8 XBH (1 HR), 12 RBI, 11 SB, 56:23 K:BB (153 PA)
The Yankees' second-round selection a year ago, Katoh has shown a knack for drawing a walk (15.0 percent) but little else so far in the wake of a strong rookie-ball debut in 2013. The 19-year-old has been particularly quiet over his past 10 games with only four hits over 29 at-bats (.138) and a whopping 15 whiffs.
Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Statistics: .361/.408/.594, 28 R, 28 XBH (6 HR), 29 RBI, 5 SB, 41:12 K:BB (196 PA)
Seager really struggled following his promotion to High-A late last year in his first full pro campaign with a .160 average in 27 games, but he's started 2014 at the same level—and he's on fire. During the last two weeks, the 20-year-old is hitting .431 (28-for-65) with 15 extra-base hits, including four homers, over 15 games. Yowza.
Brandon Nimmo, OF, New York Mets
2014 Statistics: .340/.468/.484, 48 R, 15 XBH (4 HR), 23 RBI, 8 SB, 43:45 K:BB (233 PA)
While there was some potentially scary news on the Mets' top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard, per Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News, their top position-player prospect kept on keepin' on. The 13th overall take in 2011, Nimmo went 8-for-21 (.381) and doubled his season total in homers by smacking a pair. The 21-year-old's .952 OPS is the highest among all hitters currently in the Florida State League.
Christian Binford, RHP, Kansas City Royals
2014 Statistics: 3 W, 2.21 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 1 HR, 64:11 K:BB (53.0 IP)
Yordano Ventura had to leave his last start with elbow soreness, and Kyle Zimmer, the No. 5 pick in 2012, was shut down for another six to eight weeks, but Binford proved that not every one of the Royals' young arms had a tough week by hurling seven innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts his last time out. The 21-year-old has surrendered just seven earned in his last five starts (1.99 ERA) with 38 whiffs in 31.2 frames.
Billy McKinney, OF, Oakland Athletics
2014 Statistics: .212/.345/.363, 27 R, 12 XBH (6 HR), 16 RBI, 3 SB, 38:31 K:BB (203 PA)
The A's figured McKinney, the 24th overall take last June, was ready for High-A at the outset of his first full pro season. While the lefty swinger has shown good plate discipline (15.3 walk rate, 18.7 strikeout rate) for a 19-year-old, his other numbers are lagging, especially in the hitter-friendly California League. Since going 4-for-4 on May 11, McKinney has managed only six knocks—all singles—in his last 34 at-bats (.176).
Lance McCullers, RHP, Houston Astros
2014 Statistics: 2 W, 4.60 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 4 HR, 50:25 K:BB (43.0 IP)
So far, McCullers has held up in his first shot at the Cal League, but his performance has been trending down of late. Following a gem to close out April—the hard-throwing 20-year-old struck out a career-high 10 over five scoreless—McCullers has given up 17 hits, 13 walks and 14 earned runs over his past 14.1 frames across four outings.
Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas Rangers
2014 Statistics: .323/.463/.738, 46 R, 29 XBH (18 HR), 40 RBI, 5 SB, 55:44 K:BB (214 PA)
Overall, Gallo has been one of the most fearsome hitters in baseball in 2014. In the past week? Not so much. The 20-year-old slugger, whose 18 homers are the most at any level (including the majors), hasn't hit one out in his past eight games—an eternity for the lefty. And he's 4-for-20 with 12 whiffs over that span. Don't worry: Gallo's next three-homer game is probably right around the corner.
Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals
2014 Statistics: .196/.300/.302, 26 R, 13 XBH (2 HR), 22 RBI, 9 SB, 56:21 K:BB (210 PA)
Starling actually has been hot of late—his 15-game hitting streak came to an end Tuesday—but at the same time, that stretch brought his season slash line up to the numbers you see above. The fifth pick in 2011, Starling turns 22 in August, and given his ceaseless struggles with the stick, including a high strikeout rate (26.7 percent), that's not a good thing.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
2014 Statistics: .335/.440/.637, 43 R, 27 XBH (14 HR), 43 RBI, 6 SB, 60:29 K:BB (216 PA)
As we approach the one-year anniversary of Bryant's being selected No. 2 overall, the 22-year-old slugger had another three-homer week while going 9-for-22 (.409). Ho hum.
Henry Owens, LHP, Boston Red Sox
2014 Statistics: 5 W, 2.83 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 3 HR, 63:28 K:BB (57.1 . IP)
In allowing all of seven hits over his past 22.1 frames across four starts, the 21-year-old Owens continues to be stingy with contact (6.0 H/9). Whether he can reach his full potential as a No. 2 starter will depend on whether he can maintain his deception while also improving his control and command. He walked 15 over that same span and sports a 4.4 BB/9 for the year.
Mookie Betts, 2B/OF, Boston Red Sox
2014 Statistics: .363/.451/.568, 50 R, 25 XBH (6 HR), 30 RBI, 22 SB, 16:32 K:BB (226 PA)
Owens' Portland teammate, Betts is Eastern League leader in average, runs and stolen bases among players currently in the circuit, and while that strikeout-to-walk ratio might seem backward, it's not. Even more intriguing is the fact that Betts has been playing center field the last two weeks. That could be because he's blocked by Dustin Pedroia at second, but it's possibly a way to get him to Boston more quickly, with Jackie Bradley Jr. still struggling (.574 OPS).
Christian Walker, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
2014 Statistics: .330/.390/.589, 35 R, 22 XBH (14 HR), 45 RBI, 1 SB, 40:19 K:BB (218 PA)
A recent homer binge—seven in his past 12 contests, capped off by a two-homer game on Memorial Day—means the 2012 fourth-rounder already has surpassed the 11 long balls the 23-year-old hit in his first full season last year.
Marco Gonzales, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Statistics: 3 W, 1.27 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 1 HR, 44:11 K:BB (49.2 IP)
Yes, Gonzales is yet another polished college arm on the fast track for the Cardinals. Taken 19th overall last year—after Michael Wacha went with that same pick in 2012—the 22-year-old made it out of A-ball after just 10 starts between this year and last. While Gonzales won't make his MLB debut less than a year after being drafted like Wacha did, his first two outings at Double-A (12 IP, 1 ER, 12:3 K:BB) are an indication that his pace is only slightly slower.
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Los Angeles Angels
2014 Statistics: .207/.278/.310, 20 R, 10 XBH (4 HR), 25 RBI, 11 SB, 38:17 K:BB (196 PA)
Cowart, who turns 22 on June 2, looked like the Angels' third baseman of the future after a breakout 2012, but the 18th overall pick from 2010 has been terrible over the past season-and-two-months. He's hit rock bottom over his last 15 games, with just six knocks in 55 at-bats (.109), only one of which went for extra bases. If this continues much longer, a return to the mound may be in order for the former high school pitcher.
Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
2014 Statistics: 1 W, 3.54 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 2 HR, 41:34 K:BB (48.1 IP)
Sanchez, 21, impressed in big league camp during spring training to the point where some thought he was nearly ready to make it to the majors this year. That's looking like a long shot at the moment, as the 2010 first-rounder continues to battle control and command problems (6.3 BB/9). His last outing was particularly scary in that regard, as Sanchez failed to get even one out while allowing six runs without giving up a single hit—thanks to four walks and a hit batter.
Yorman Rodriguez, OF, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Statistics: .243/.287/.329, 15 R, 6 XBH (2 HR), 7 RBI, 4 SB, 43:9 K:BB (145 PA)
The 21-year-old Venezuelan's stock has fluctuated wildly since his first pro season in 2009, and right now it's on a downward slope again, both for the year and the past few weeks. Rodriguez has only three hits in 38 at-bats (.079) to go with 14 strikeouts in his last 10 games.
Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
2014 Statistics: .225/.287/.437, 22 R, 17 XBH (7 HR), 25 RBI, 4 SB, 56:12 K:BB (167 PA)
On the whole, Baez's 2014 would be categorized as "cold," but few hitters have been hotter over the past two weeks. The 21-year-old is batting .422 (19-for-45) with four homers among his 12 extra-base hits during an 11-game hitting streak. The strikeout rate (33.5 percent) remain a concern, but they always will with Baez's aggressive approach and violent swing. If he can stay hot, expect Baez to get a look with the Cubs in late summer/early fall in preparation for being on the Opening Day roster next year.
Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Statistics: .323/.369/.527, 30 R, 22 XBH (7 HR), 40 RBI, 1 SB, 25:14 K:BB (203 PA)
Taveras would be a no-brainer to be up with the Cardinals before he turns 22 on June 19, except there's no easy way to fit him into the big league roster at the moment. That's part of the reason he's been playing center field—his easiest path to St. Louis—on a regular basis since early May, and if he keeps hitting like he has over the past week (15-for-30, four extra-base hits), he may just force the Cardinals' hands.
Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Boston Red Sox
2014 Statistics: 5 W, 2.90 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 3 HR, 53:32 K:BB (59.0 IP)
The 2010 first-rounder is still walking too many (4.9 BB/9) but has limited the damage by allowing only one run across his last three starts (19.1 innings). That has put Ranaudo, 24, in position for a call-up should the recently recalled Brandon Workman falter or the Red Sox decide, as Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe suggests, they can't take any more of Clay Buchholz (7.02 ERA).
Travis Shaw, 1B, Boston Red Sox
2014 Statistics: .304/.402/.538, 36 R, 20 XBH (11 HR), 37 RBI, 5 SB, 24:29 K:BB (215 PA)
After a down year in 2013 (.221 BA), this 24-year-old returned to Double-A and beat up on the competition, a performance that just got him promoted to Pawtucket over the weekend. Shaw is looking like quite a find as a ninth-rounder in 2009 who could reach Boston as a bat off the bench later in the year.
Zach Lee, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Statistics: 4 W, 4.56 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 5 HR, 40:15 K:BB (53.1 IP)
Lee, 22, had been making steady progress through the Dodgers' system since being taken 28th overall in 2010, but he's struggling in his first taste of the hitter-friendly PCL. He's given up at least as many hits as innings pitched in seven straight starts and his 65 total hits allowed ranks fourth in the circuit behind a trio of major league retreads.
John Lamb, LHP, Kansas City Royals
2014 Statistics: 2 W, 4.59 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, 10 HR, 54:23 K:BB (51.0 IP)
Once one of the Royals' most promising pitching prospects (is that an oxymoron?), Lamb's stuff has never fully made it back from Tommy John surgery that cost him most of 2011 and 2012. The 23-year-old has made it to the minors' highest level, but only two pitchers in the PCL have surrendered more than his 10 homers. He's close to becoming an org arm.
Tim Cooney, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2014 Statistics: 4 W, 4.42 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 10 HR, 43:22 K:BB (57.0 IP)
Cooney, 23, also has given up 10 long balls, five of which have come in his past two outings. In those eight innings, he's allowed 17 hits, seven walk and 12 earned to see his ERA jump from 2.94 to 4.42. That certainly qualifies as "cold."
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
2014 Statistics: .345/.408/.558, 36 R, 25 XBH (6 HR), 43RBI, 10 SB, 40:20 K:BB (218 PA)
You might be surprised to see Polanco in this section, but if you've been following the 22-year-old's season, you're aware of just how ridiculous his numbers were only a week ago—and why he fits here for now. The lefty swinger has gone just 3-for-27 (.111) with but one extra-base hit (albeit a homer) over his past seven games. Maybe he's just saving his next hot stretch for Pittsburgh.
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