Each MLB Team's 'Hidden Gem' Prospect Fans May Not Know About
Due to the amount of attention paid to each organization's top prospects and early-round draft picks, many of the game's underrated prospects are perpetually obscured. Most of the time, these prospects are younger players housed in the low minors who still require considerable physical projection and time to develop. At the same time, there are countless prospects on the older side of the age curve that have dipped off the radar due to injury.
So how does one identify such players? Well, I began by excluding any player ranked among his team’s top-10 prospects (per Prospect Pipeline’s preseason rankings) heading into the season as well as those players recently selected in the 2014 first-year player draft. Lastly, I decided to filter out prospects that began the current season at or above the Double-A level, with exceptions being made for players who are 21 years of age or younger.
With all that being said, here's a look at one hidden gem from each organization who should be followed closely moving forward.
Prospect: Ofelky Peralta, RHP
2014 stats (DSL): 6.2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 K (2 starts)
Right-hander Ofelky Peralta, one of the more intriguing and high-upside arms available in last year’s international class, was signed by the Orioles in September out of the Dominican Republic for $325,000—the highest bonus given by the organization.
The 17-year-old is currently making his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League, where he’s pitched to a 2.70 ERA in 6.2 innings over two starts.
Peralta oozes with projection at 6’5” and 195 pounds. But right now, per Ben Badler of Baseball America, he’s simply a live-armed teenager with a low-90s fastball and a messy delivery. It will be years before he actually becomes something, but there’s no question that Peralta’s combination of age, arm strength and size offers something to dream about.
Boston Red Sox
Prospect: Wendell Rijo, 2B
2014 stats (Low-A): .260/.359/.385, 25 R, 16 XBH, 5 SB, 28 BB, 55 K (54 games)
The Red Sox signed Rijo out of the Dominican Republic in July 2012 for $575,000, and he quickly showed what all the excitement was about last summer in his professional debut. Spending most of the season in the Gulf Coast League—he was promoted to the Short Season New York-Penn League for Lowell’s final three games—Rijo, 17 at the time, batted .277/.367/.375 with 16 doubles, 15 stolen bases and a strong 32/22 K/BB in 52 games.
Rijo has continued to impress this year in his full-season debut at Low-A Greenville, where, despite being roughly three years younger than the average player in the South Atlantic League, the 18-year-old second baseman is currently batting .260/.359/.385 with 16 extra-base hits, five steals and 28 walks in 54 games.
Rijo stands out compared to other hitters his age due to his advanced bat-to-ball skills and overall feel for the zone. His knack for working deep counts and coaxing walks should lead to a solid on-base clip each year, while his ability to use the entire field will give him a chance to hit for average. At 5’11” and 170 pounds, Rijo stands to gain strength with physical maturation, but he’ll likely always offer more gap power than true over-the-fence pop.
The torn ACL he suffered in 2012 hasn’t impacted his speed, which grades as above average and plays on both sides of the ball. Defensively, Rijo has actions, hands and athleticism suitable for a long-term projection at second base, and his overall profile could make him a first-division regular at the position.
New York Yankees
Prospect: Abiatal Avelino, SS
2014 stats (Low-A): .294/.349/.387, 17 R, 10 XBH, 11 SB, 9 BB, 17 K (29 games)
Avelino tore it up in his 2013 stateside debut, batting .336/.422/.469 with 35 runs, 12 extra-base hits, 17 RBI and more walks (16) than strikeouts (11) in 34 games split between both of the Yankees’ Gulf Coast League affiliates. He also led the GCL with 26 stolen bases. Avelino finished the season in the New York-Penn League, where he batted .243 but maintained a solid 6/4 K/BB while playing in 17 games.
The Yankees offered the 19-year-old shortstop an aggressive promotion to Low-A Charleston for the 2014 season—a testament to the organization’s belief in his mature skill set and makeup—and he was playing well until landing on the disabled list in mid-May with a quad injury. When he returns, Avelino will look to improve upon his current .294/.349/.387 batting line, nine doubles and 11 stolen bases.
A right-handed hitter, Avelino features quick swing in which he stays short to the ball and generates good extension post contact. His above-average speed and ability to use the entire field should yield a high number of doubles, and a few balls could start sneaking over the fence as he adds strength to his wiry 5’11”, 186-pound frame. Defensively, Avelino has a legitimate chance to stick at shortstop over the long term, as he showcases a natural feel for the position to go along with a slick glove and plus arm.
Tampa Bay Rays
Prospect: Thomas Milone, OF
2014 stats: Assigned to Rookie-level Appalachian League
A two-sport standout at Masuk High School (Conn.), Milone was viewed as a high-risk/high-reward draft prospect due to his loud tools and raw baseball skills, but that didn’t prevent the Rays from taking a flier on him in the third round of the 2013 draft.
As expected, Milone struggled in his professional debut last summer after signing, batting .190 with 38 strikeouts in 40 Gulf Coast League games. However, he showed well following a late-season promotion to the New York-Penn League, going 4-for-6 in two games with his first pro homer, and his success carried over into the fall instructional league.
At 5’11” and 190 pounds, Milone stands out for his plus speed, with the potential to steal 20-plus bases in a given season and hold down center field over the long term. His offensive package figures to be a work-in-progress for some time; he has good strength and the bat speed can be above average, but his approach and pitch recognition lag behind his baseball skills on the other side of the ball.
Milone’s projection as a top-of-the-order center fielder will depend on his development of the hit tool, though the top-flight athleticism he demonstrates should at least give him a chance.
Toronto Blue Jays
Prospect: Miguel Castro, RHP
2014 stats (Short Season Single-A): 4.0 IP, 4 H, ER, BB, 5 K (1 start)
Miguel Castro’s stateside debut last summer may have been brief, but coming off a 1.36 ERA and 71/12 K/BB in 53 innings in the Dominican Summer League, it was enough to put him on the prospect radar heading into 2014. In 17 innings between Toronto’s affiliates in the Gulf Coast League and Appalachian Leagues, the right-hander posted a 2.18 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 17 innings.
Castro made his season debut in the Northwest League last weekend and definitely will be a name to follow closely for the duration of the summer.
Besides his projectable 6’5”, 190-pound frame, Castro, 19, already shows big-time arm strength, with a fastball that works consistently in the low-90s and bumps 94-95 mph. His athletic delivery allows him to command the offering better than most pitchers his age, and his quick arm suggests that he’ll be able to develop a sharp breaking ball and changeup.
Chicago White Sox
Prospect: Francellis Montas, RHP
2014 stats (High-A): 3-0, 51.0 IP, 1.76 ERA, .196 BAA, 11 BB, 49 K (8 starts)
Part of the White Sox return in last summer’s Jake Peavy deal, Montas came over from the Dominican Republic with a reputation for having an upper-90s fastball but also a raw feel for pitching. The right-hander finished the year with a 5.43 ERA and 127/50 K/BB in 111 innings between both of the team’s Low-A affiliates.
This year, Montas, 21, has remained as one of the South Siders’ top pitching prospects despite moving up to the Carolina League, as he’s finally putting up numbers which reflect his impact stuff.
As previously mentioned, the 6’2”, 185-pound right-hander boasts a fastball in the upper-90s that eats up opposing hitters. However, in spite of his improved control this season, Montas' delivery involves considerable effort and currently impedes his ability to locate pitches within the strike zone; he won’t dominate as many hitters at the top of the zone at higher minor league levels.
He struggles to throw strikes consistently with his curveball, slider and changeup, suggesting that he may be better suited for a bullpen role at the highest level. However, any improvement to his secondary arsenal and command profile would give him enormous potential as a starter.
Prospect: Nellie Rodriguez, 1B
2014 stats (Low-A): .221/.311/.383, 21 XBH (8 HR), 25 RBI, 30 BB, 71 K (65 games)
Selected in the 15th round of the 2012 draft and signed to an over-slot $100,000 bonus, Rodriguez made his full-season debut the following year in the Midwest League. However, he was demoted after batting just .194 with 53 strikeouts in 47 games. The young slugger found his groove after moving to the New York-Penn League, where he posted an .818 OPS with 16 doubles and nine homers in 73 games and led his team in most offensive categories.
Strikeouts have been an issue this season in his return to Low-A Lake County—73 strikeouts in 66 games—but the 20-year-old has shown more consistent power with 12 doubles and eight homers during that span.
It’s not easy to declare a first-base-only prospect a “hidden gem,” but Rodriguez has the bat to support a major league projection at the position. At 6’2” and 225 pounds, the right-handed hitter’s strength and bat speed yield plus raw power, with most of his thump coming to the pull side.
He tends to pull off too many pitches and tries to yank everything, suggesting that his batting average stands to improve with better use of the whole field and recognition of secondary offerings. It’s a difficult profile to live up to, but Rodriguez’s bat could have the potential to carry him up the ladder.
Prospect: Joe Jimenez, RHP
2014 stats (Short Season): 1 SV, 2.1 IP, 0 H, BB, 6 K (2 games)
After signing with the Tigers around this time last year as a non-drafted free agent out of Puerto Rico, Jimenez promptly opened eyes with his performance in the Gulf Coast League, where he posted a stellar 0.50 ERA and 24/6 K/BB in 18 innings while making eight relief appearances.
The organization is already managing the 19-year-old's workload by having him work out of the bullpen for Short Season Connecticut. However, through is first two appearances, it’s been more of the same, as he’s allowed just one baserunner (via a walk) and fanned six in 2.1 innings.
What Jimenez lacks in physical projection at 6’3” and 220 pounds, he more than makes up for with advanced stuff and pitchability. The right-hander works in the low-90s with his heater and generates good sink and arm-side run, and more importantly, he already demonstrates a feel for throwing it to the bottom of the zone.
His slider is more advanced than one would expect due to his experience, as it is thrown with tight rotation and good depth, while his changeup has nice velocity separation and the potential to be at least average at maturity. Jimenez has the upside of a durable No. 3 or 4 starter at maturity if everything comes together.
Kansas City Royals
Prospect: Ramon Torres, 2B
2014 stats (Low-A): .322/.366/.453, 40 R, 19 XBH (5 HR), 14 SB, 15 BB, 30 K (62 games)
Signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2009, Torres spent most of his first four professional seasons between the Royals’ Dominican Summer League and Rookie-level affiliates, but he finally received his first crack at Low-A Lexington during the final month of the 2013 season. Unfortunately, he failed to make the most of the opportunity, posting a .218 batting average and .538 OPS in 26 games.
This season, however, Torres is enjoying a breakout performance back in the South Atlantic League, as he’s raked to the tune of a .322 batting average and .819 OPS to go along with 19 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases through 63 games.
At 5’10”, 155 pounds, Torres, a switch-hitter, has added strength to his frame over the last year, which has led to improved in-game power so far this season. He’ll never be much of a home-run threat given his size, but that fact that some of his doubles are starting to clear the fence is encouraging, nonetheless.
More importantly, the slight spike in power has come from both sides of the plate, thus giving his bat additional value as a second-base prospect. Furthermore, Torres’ on-base skills allow him get the most out of his above-average speed, and they are what fuel his projection to steal upwards of 20 bases in a given season at maturity.
Defensively, Torres has spent most of his career at shortstop, but the presence of players such as Raul Mondesi and Orlando Calixte ahead of him on the depth chart has him working mostly at second base this season. Regardless, Torres has enough range and arm strength to handle either position moving forward.
Prospect:Stephen Gonsalves, LHP
2014 stats: Assigned to Rookie-level Appalachian League
Following his selection by the Twins in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, Stephen Gonsalves made an indelible impression by posting an outstanding 0.95 ERA and 39/11 K/BB in 28.1 innings between the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues. The left-hander failed to yield a home run during that span while holding opposing hitters to a .182 batting average.
Gonsalves’ projectable 6’5”, 190-pound frame gives him plenty of room to add strength and durability moving forward, which in turn should help him iron out some of the kinks in his delivery and repeat it with greater consistency.
In terms of stuff, the 19-year-old left-hander features a fastball in the low-90s, and given his aforementioned remaining projection, he could easily be a mid-90s guy at maturity. Gonsalves has an interesting mix of secondary offerings, with a curveball and changeup that respectively flash at least average potential as well as a slightly below-average splitter, which has carried over from his days as a prep.
If he can add more velocity (a product of gaining strength) and refine his secondary arsenal, Gonsalves could develop into a solid mid-rotation starter for the Twins within the next several years, with a chance to reach the major leagues sometime during the 2017 season.
Prospect: Teoscar Hernandez, OF
2014 stats (High-A): .292/.372/.553, 51 R, 35 XBH (12 HR), 54 RBI, 21 SB, 32 BB, 86 K (61 games)
Signed by the Astros in 2011 out of the Dominican Republic, Hernandez would likely receive love as a top prospect in almost any other farm system. However, the 21-year-old continues to fly under the radar and is buried behind Houston’s current wealth of talent in the minor leagues.
Hernandez opened eyes last season with his performance at Low-A Quad Cities, as the toolsy outfielder posted a .763 OPS with 47 extra-base hits (13 home runs) and 24 stolen bases in 123 games. Moved up to High-A Lancaster prior to his 2014 campaign, Hernandez has solidified his status as a top prospect this season by putting up huge numbers (albeit in the hitter-friendly California League), posting a .925 OPS to go along with 35 extra-base hits (12 home runs) and 21 stolen bases through his first 61 contests.
At 6’2” and 180 pounds, Hernandez has the potential to be a legitimate five-tool player, with his plus arm strength and defense in center field representing his strongest attributes at the present time. Those same tools could also support a move to either corner outfield position down the road, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be allowed to stick up the middle for as long as possible.
At the plate, the right-handed hitter has considerable swing-and-miss to his game, as evidenced by his 221 strikeouts in 185 games over the past two seasons. Yet, Hernandez’s quick bat and ability to make hard contact has allowed him to maintain a steady batting average during that time while also improving his in-game power frequency.
That being said, I’m not completely sold on the 21-year-old’s potential to hit for average at the highest level. However, his potential to post 20-20 seasons with ease at a premium position makes him a can’t-miss prospect moving forward.
Los Angeles Angels
Prospect: Nate Smith, LHP
2014 stats (High-A/Double-A): 8-4, 85.1 IP, 3.38 ERA, .215 BAA, 24 BB, 85 K (15 starts)
An eighth-round draft pick in 2013 out of Furman, Smith has quietly hopped on the fast track to the major leagues this season after making the jump from the Rookie-level Pioneer League to High-A Inland Empire.
Despite the challenges of pitching in the hitter-friendly California League, Smith, 22, posted a 3.07 ERA and 51/14 K/BB in 55.2 innings before moving up to Double-A Arkansas in late May. The left-hander has continued to blow past expectations in the Southern League, where he currently owns a 3.94 ERA and 34/10 K/BB through 29.2 innings (five starts).
At 6’3” and 200 pounds, Smith features a high-floor combination of pitchability and polish, which would profile nicely at the back end of a starting rotation. In fact, his rapid climb through the minors could make him a realistic option for the Angels next season.
The 22-year-old southpaw pounds the zone with a fastball in the 88-92 mph range, and he complements the pitch with an above-average fading changeup that has excellent fading action and speed differential. His curveball, thrown with good depth and pace, should represent at least another average offering at maturity, and it tends to play up thanks to his feel for attacking hitters with sequence.
Prospect: Chris Kohler, LHP
2014 stats: Assigned to Rookie-level Arizona League
Selected in the supplemental third round of the 2013 draft out of high school, Kohler accepted a $486,000 bonus from the A’s to pass on his previous commitment to Oklahoma.
Kohler was a late-bloomer on the mound after serving as a two-way player for his high school team—he committed to Southern California as an outfielder prior to his sophomore campaign—but one might not have made that assumption following his impressive professional debut. After signing with the A’s, the left-hander was assigned to the Arizona League, where he posted a 2.78 ERA and 32/9 K/BB in 22.2 innings (13 appearances/four starts).
Based on his success last summer as well as the A’s tendency to challenge their top pitching prospects, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Kohler log significant time at Low-A Beloit.
A highly projectable 6’3”, 190-pound left-hander, Kohler currently works in the low-90s with his fastball, but all signs—such as his frame and clean, repeatable delivery—suggest there’s more velocity to come. His curveball projects as a plus offering at maturity, as he already demonstrates an excellent feel for imparting tight spin in order to generate two-plane break, while his changeup also represents an advanced offering with above-average potential.
Kohler’s plus command profile at maturity and overall pitchability should allow him to achieve his floor as a high-end back-of-the-rotation arm, possibly sooner than expected, too. However, an uptick in his velocity and stuff could quickly put the left-hander in the discussion as a No. 2 or 3 starter at the major league level.
Prospect: Ketel Marte, SS
2014 stats (Double-A): .302/.335/.388, 20 XBH, 21 RBI, 17 SB, 14 BB, 33 K (63 games)
Signed by the Mariners in 2010 out of the Dominican Republic, Marte made his first appearance at a full-season level (Low-A Clinton) in late 2012, a little more than a year after making his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League.
Since then, Marte has been moving through the team's system at an accelerated pace, receiving an aggressive assignment to Double-A Jackson for the 2014 season after appearing in only 19 games at High-A High Desert the previous year.
At 20 years of age, Marte is one of the youngest everyday players at the Double-A level—just a few months older than Addison Russell and Francisco Lindor—but the Mariners clearly were confident he'd be able to at least hold his own in the Southern League. Through his first 63 games at the advanced level, the shortstop has rewarded the organization’s decision by batting .302/.335/.388 with 20 extra-base hits and 17 stolen bases.
At 6’1” and 180 pounds, Marte, a switch-hitter, has an impressive feel for making consistent contact from both sides but is noticeably more advanced as a lefty. Meanwhile, his present combination of on-base skills—a product of his advanced plate discipline and pitch recognition—and speed make his bat even more valuable as a potential top-of-the-order presence. With one home run in 185 full-season games, power will never be part of Marte’s game. However, he should have no problem accruing a high number of doubles and triples in a given season.
Though he profiles at either middle-infield position, Marte has all the tools to stick at shortstop for the duration of his career, with smooth actions, above-average range and a strong, accurate arm. He’s received glowing reviews for his makeup and work ethic, so expect the Mariners to continue to challenge him moving forward.
Prospect: Cole Wiper, RHP
2014 stats (Low-A): 4-6, 58 IP, 3.88 ERA, .209 BAA (8 HR), 29 BB, 66 K (12 starts)
Wiper underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 at Oregon and consequently fell in the draft to the 10th round, where the Rangers grabbed him and signed him over-slot for $700,000.
Fully recovered from the surgery, the right-hander turned in a strong professional debut in 2013, with a 2.13 ERA and 26/8 K/BB over 25.1 innings in the Arizona League. The 22-year-old has continued to make developmental strides this year in his full-season debut at Low-A Hickory, posting a 3.88 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 58 innings across 12 starts.
At 6’4” and 185 pounds, Wiper offers an intriguing blend of physical projection and stuff, though his command and feel for pitching are both understandably raw due to him being less than two years removed from elbow surgery. That being said, the right-hander still shows a lively fastball in the low-90s to go along with a plus changeup and a slider which has sharp bite but lacking in consistency.
Wiper will be given extended time to develop as a starter given his age and bat-missing arsenal, but he could also jump on the fast track to the major leagues in a relief role.
Prospect: Wes Parsons, RHP
2014 stats (High-A): 4-3, 67.0 IP, 3.76 ERA, .248 BAA, 14 BB, 65 K (12 starts)
Signed by the Braves on July 30, 2012, after going undrafted out of Jackson State Community College, right-hander Wes Parsons came from virtually nowhere last season to post a stellar 2.63 ERA and 101/21 K/BB in 109.2 innings for Low-A Rome.
The 21-year-old hasn’t skipped a beat this season despite moving up to the Carolina League, as he’s registered a 3.75 ERA and 69/17 K/BB through 72 innings (13 starts) at High-A Lynchburg.
At 6’5” and 190 pounds, the right-handed Parsons works in the low-90s with an above-average fastball, and it’s possible he’ll add more velocity as he continues to add strength to his projectable frame. Meanwhile, his athleticism and easy delivery allow him to command the pitch throughout the strike zone and consistently pound its lower quadrants.
As is the case with his fastball, Parsons’ advanced control and command profile cause his secondary offerings to play up, as he consistently generates swings and misses with an above-average slider and does a nice job of keeping hitters off-balance with a fringe-average changeup.
Though he lacks a high ceiling, Parsons' combination of stuff and command give him a realistic upside as a No. 4 or 5 starter at maturity, with a move to bullpen representing a solid fallback option should he struggle at the higher levels.
Prospect: Jarlin Garcia, LHP
2014 stats (Low-A): 6-2, 70.2 IP, 4.58 ERA, .281 BAA (7 HR), 13 BB, 61 K (13 starts)
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in August 2010, Garcia spent his first two professional seasons between the Dominican Summer and Gulf Coast Leagues before moving up to the New York-Penn League last summer. The left-hander would turn in an eye-opening performance against more age-appropriate hitters, posting a 3.10 ERA and 74/18 K/BB in 69.2 innings (15 starts).
Garcia’s advanced control has translated this year in his full-season debut, as the 21-year-old currently owns a 61/13 K/BB in 70.2 innings for Low-A Greensboro. However, his lack of command—which is expected given his overall lack of stateside experience—has caused him to be knocked around (4.58 ERA) at times by South Atlantic League hitters, who collectively are batting .281 (81 hits) with seven home runs against him.
At 6’2” and 170 pounds, Garcia has an athletic and projectable frame to go along with a loose arm and smooth delivery. His fastball works consistently in the low-90s and features good sinking action that’s produced a 1.91 ground-ball-to-fly-ball rate as a professional. However, the pitch will flatten out and play light to the plate when left up in the zone. All that being said, it’s easy to envision him working in the mid-90s more frequently after adding strength.
Garcia’s curveball has above-average potential at maturity and represents his best secondary offering, as he already shows a feel for adding and subtracting and doesn’t shy away from throwing it in any count. He has a tendency to be predictable with his fastball-curveball combination, which makes his ongoing development of a changeup all the more important. If the pitch, which he throws in the 83-85 mph range, can serve as at least an average offering, then Garcia, who projects to have average command, should have the chance to reach his ceiling as a mid-rotation starter.
New York Mets
Prospect: Jhoan Urena, 3B
2014 stats (Short Season): .227/.346/.364, HR, 4 BB, 8 K (7 games)
Signed in 2011 by the Mets out of the Dominican Republic for $425,000, Urena made a strong impression last season in his stateside debut by batting .299/.351/.376 with nine extra-base hits and 20 RBI in 47 Gulf Coast League contests. The strong performance earned the 19-year-old a promotion to the Short Season New York-Penn League for the 2014 season, where he currently owns a .710 OPS through his first seven games.
At 6’1” and 200 pounds, Urena is physically mature for his age, but the switch-hitter already demonstrates an advanced feel for hitting, with a line-to-line approach and effortless raw power. He’s likely to continue mashing lots of doubles over the next couple years, but his strength and knack for barreling the ball should eventually produce above-average over-the-fence power.
Defensively, Urena showcases good athleticism for his size with decent defensive chops that inevitably will improve as he gains experience against more advanced competition. Meanwhile, the 19-year-old’s plus arm strength is a clean fit at the position and should help him make up for some of the shortcomings with the glove.
Prospect: Deivi Grullon, C
2014 stats (SS/Low-A/High-A): .223/.279/.320, 12 R, 8 XBH, 6 BB, 16 K (31 games)
The Phillies gave Grullon the largest bonus ($575,000) of any of their 2012 international signees, and, amazingly, the Dominican Republic native is already looking like a worthy investment after parts of two seasons in their system.
Grullon bypassed the Dominican Summer League last season en route to the Gulf Coast League, where he opened eyes on both sides of the ball by posting a .697 OPS with eight doubles in 41 games while throwing out 23 percent of basestealers behind the plate.
The 18-year-old opened the 2014 season with a two-game stint at High-A Clearwater before moving down to Low-A Lakewood, where he batted .237 with six extra-base hits in 24 games before moving to the more age-appropriate New York-Penn League in mid-June.
At 6’1” and 180 pounds, Grullon shows all the tools to stick behind the plate over the long term, with a projectable blend of strength and athleticism, quick feet, outstanding catch-and-throw skills and arm strength that grades anywhere from 70 to 80 on the scouting scale depending on whom you ask. That being said, his blocking and receiving skills require refinement, and he’ll need to move away from relying on sheer arm strength moving forward.
Offensively, the right-handed hitting backstop lacks a standout tool, but his feel for the zone and ability to make hard contact should make him an average hitter at maturity. Furthermore, Grullon has the strength and post-contact extension to amass double-digit home runs in any given season, though he’s more likely to serve as a consistent source of doubles during his promising career.
While the offensive profile isn’t particularly sexy, Grullon’s defensive chops and ridiculous arm strength should help him reach the major leagues several years down the road. And if the bat ultimately surpasses expectations, then the 18-year-old could emerge as a first-division beast.
Prospect: Austin Voth, RHP
2014 stats (Low-A): 4-3, 69.2 IP, 2.45 ERA, .206 BAA, 22 BB, 74 K (13 starts)
After struggling through his freshman and sophomore seasons at the University of Washington, Voth emerged as an intriguing draft prospect in 2013 as a junior, with a 2.99 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 105.1 innings, ultimately leading to him being selected by the Nationals in the fifth round of the 2013 draft.
The right-hander subsequently dominated in his professional debut after signing, as he posted a stellar 1.75 ERA and 55/6 K/BB in 46.1 innings across three levels including a pair of starts at Low-A Hagerstown.
The 21-year-old has continued to dominate this season in his return to the South Atlantic League, as he currently sports a 2.45 ERA and 74/22 K/BB through 69.2 innings.
Voth, who has a lean and athletic 6’1”, 190-pound frame, has no problem repeating his simple delivery, which in turn allows him to work from a consistent arm slot and pound the zone with his full arsenal.
Speaking of his arsenal, Voth sits comfortably in the low-90s with his fastball and has the present command to locate the pitch throughout the strike zone. The right-hander throws his slider on the same plane as his heater, which will help him continue to miss bats at a favorable rate as he moves up the organizational ladder. His changeup should continue to improve, too, to the point where it represents a third average-or-better offering.
However, while Voth’s stuff is plenty good, it’s his plus control profile that makes him a name to watch moving forward, as it could help him reach the major leagues ahead of schedule.
Prospect: Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP
2014 stats (Low-A): 3-0, 40.0 IP, 2.48 ERA, .265 BAA, 7 BB, 43 K (8 starts)
Tseng made a name for himself while pitching for the Taiwanese national team in several high-profile international tournaments (including the World Baseball Classic), which led to the Cubs decision to sign the then-18-year-old last July for a $1.625 million bonus.
The organization held him back from making his professional debut last summer, instead opting to send him directly to Low-A Kane County this season after a warm-up in extended spring training. Though he’s made only eight starts thus far, the 19-year-old right-hander's transition to full-season ball has been seamless—and he’s quickly gaining helium as a result, with a 2.48 ERA and 43/7 K/BB in 40 innings.
Tseng, a physical 6’1”, 210-pound right-hander, employs a slow windup with a pause at the height of his delivery—the same kind of pause used by most pitchers who enter the professional ranks after developing in an Asian country—before utilizing his strong core and lower half to explode toward the plate.
His delivery allows him to consistently stay on top of the ball and generate excellent plane on his fastball. The 19-year-old typically works in the 90-92 mph range with good arm-side run, and he already demonstrates a feel for locating the pitch to both sides of the plate. His changeup usually serves as his better secondary offering, thrown at 81-84 mph with decent fading action, while his curveball will flash above-average potential in the low- to mid-70s with good shape and pace.
Tseng’s command and control give him more present polish than most teen hurlers, and his potential for three average-or-better offerings—with the fastball and curveball representing future plus offerings—suggest the upside of a No. 3 starter at maturity.
Prospect: Jacob Constante, LHP
2014 stats: Assigned to Rookie-level Arizona League
Unlike most of his international peers who sign as 16 year olds, Constante, who hails from the Dominican Republic, inked a deal worth $730,000 with the Reds as a 19-year-old in February 2013. The left-hander’s age gave him a noticeable advantage that summer in his professional debut, as he dominated younger hitters in the Dominican Summer League with a 1.86 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 38.2 innings.
He’ll begin the 2014 season in the Arizona League, but a strong performance against more age-appropriate hitters could see the 20-year-old finish his campaign at a more advanced level.
Constante has an ideal 6’4”, 215-pound frame, with present strength—especially in his core and lower half—and broad shoulders that help him generate easy fastball velocity in the 90-94 mph range. His slider is inconsistent, which isn’t surprising given his lack of professional experience, but it flashes plus when he’s on and should serve as his out pitch with refinement.
The left-hander also has a basic feel for a potentially average changeup and makes an effort to mix it with his fastball-slider combination, but it’s a comparatively raw offering that will require considerable time to develop moving forward.
Constante’s age and lack of stateside experience make it difficult to offer a realistic projection, but there’s certainly a lot to like in terms of his size, arm strength and potential for at least two plus pitches.
Prospect: Jorge Lopez, RHP
2014 stats (High-A): 7-2, 67.0 IP, 2.69 ERA, .235 BAA, 18 BB, 54 K (12 starts)
A second-round selection in the 2011 draft out of Puerto Rico, Lopez made his highly anticipated full-season debut last year—after two years of struggling between various complex levels—at Low-A Wisconsin, where the promising right-hander posted a 5.23 ERA, .264 opponents’ batting average and 92/48 K/BB in 117 innings.
Despite his disappointing performance in the Midwest League, the Brewers decided to promote the 21-year-old with a promotion to High-A Brevard County for the 2014 season. Suffice it to say, Lopez’s response to the organization’s challenge has surpassed expectations, as he currently owns a 2.69 ERA and 54/18 K/BB through 67 innings in the Florida State League.
Lopez is loaded with projection at 6’4” and 165 pounds, which in turn could make his present low-90s fastball and consistent mid-90s offerings even better at maturity. He also has a feel for mixing in a two-seamer with decent arm-side sink that registers a few ticks slower. The right-hander’s curveball, though inconsistent at the moment, projects as a slightly above-average offering at maturity with late bite out of the zone. He also features a changeup, which should play as an average once he learns to throw it less firmly.
Lopez’s effectiveness with his fastball and curveball should at least give the young right-hander future value as a big league reliever. Yet, at the same time, the huge gap between his present ability and ceiling makes it hard to ignore his potential as a mid-rotation starter.
Prospect: Cody Dickson, LHP
2014 stats (Low-A): 2-8, 59.2 IP, 5.58 ERA, .301 BAA (8 HR), 29 BB, 47 K (13 starts)
Despite a shaky junior campaign at Sam Houston State while bouncing between the bullpen and starting rotation, the Pirates saw enough in Cody Dickson to pop him with their fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft. After signing for $375,000, the left-hander reported to the Short Season New York-Penn League, where he posted a 2.37 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 57 innings (14 starts).
However, Dickson, 22, hasn’t fared as well this year in his full-season debut at Low-A West Virginia, as he currently owns a 5.58 ERA as a result of allowing 71 hits (eight of which have left the yard) and 29 walks in 59.2 innings.
Dickson has an athletic frame at 6’3” and 180 pounds with room to grow, which suggests that the southpaw could add more velocity to his current low- to mid-90s heater in future seasons. However, as he’s found out this year, plus velocity alone won’t cut it against advanced hitters, and he’ll need to improve his command of the pitch in order to enjoy success as higher levels.
Meanwhile, the 22-year-old’s curveball and changeup both project to be at least average offerings when all is said and done, giving him the best-case scenario of a No. 3 or 4 starter. And if Dickson’s control and command don’t progress as hoped, then he still has a bright future in the bullpen, where his stuff is sure to play up in short bursts.
St. Louis Cardinals
Prospect: Vaughn Bryan, CF
2014 stats (Low-A): .271/.340/.388, 11 R, 7 XBH, 3 SB, 9 BB, 16 K (24 games)
After signing for $100,000 out of Broward Community College as a 35th-round draft pick in 2013, Vaughn Bryan flashed his power-speed potential in the Appalachian League with a .280 batting average, 16 extra-base hits and 13 steals in 57 games for Johnson City.
Bryan has continued to showcase his upside this year in his full-season debut at Low-A Peoria, as the 21-year-old currently sports a .271/.340/.388 batting line through his first 24 games.
Arguably one of the top sleeper prospects in the minor leagues, Bryan is a tremendous athlete with plus-plus speed and the range to hold down center field over the long term. Though his offensive profile requires more projection, the 6’0”, 185-pound switch-hitter already exhibits good bat speed and strength from both sides of the plate, suggesting the potential for average hit and plus power tools at maturity.
Bryan is obviously still years away from making an impact in the major leagues, but the finished product could be a high-end center fielder with the ability to hit 15-20 home runs and steal 20-plus bases in a given season.
Prospect: Brad Keller, RHP
2014 stats (Rookie - Pioneer): 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, BB, 4 K (1 start)
An eighth-round draft pick out of high school in 2013, Keller quickly emerged as a potential Day 2 steal for the Diamondbacks after signing, posting a 2.22 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 56.2 innings in the Arizona League last year. He capped his professional debut with a pair of appearances at Missoula in the Pioneer League, and the 18-year-old recently made his 2014 debut back at the level.
At 6’5” and 230 pounds, Keller is a physical right-hander with a smooth delivery and present strength, and he’s already seen his fastball velocity climb to the low-90s since turning pro. Plus, it isn’t hard to envision him adding more velocity with physical maturation and overall experience.
Keller also has the makings of two average-or-better secondary offerings: a hard slider in the low-80s and changeup with decent fading action. If he continues to progress as hoped, Keller has the potential to serve as a mid-rotation workhorse in his prime.
Prospect: Raul Fernandez, RHP
2014 stats (High-A): 7 SV, 22.1 IP, 5.24 ERA, .301 BAA, 10 BB, 17 K (24 games)
Signed by the Rockies back in 2007, Fernandez spent his first two professional seasons as a catcher before moving to the mound in 2009. The right-hander has been slow to develop to his adjusted role, as he spent four seasons between the Dominican Summer League and Pioneer League prior to making his full-season debut last year.
Serving as Low-A Asheville’s closer in 2013, Fernandez recorded 16 saves with a 55/11 K/BB in 34.1 innings, but he also posted a 6.29 ERA and allowed six dingers during that span.
Moved up to High-A Modesto for the current season, the 23-year-old right-hander has improved his ERA to 5.24 and allowed only two home runs over 22.1 innings in the hitter-friendly California League—he’s also saved seven contests—but has his strikeout (6.85 K/9) and walk (4.03 BB/9) rates both have moved in the wrong direction.
While Fernandez boasts a legitimate plus-plus fastball in the upper-90s that explodes out of his hand, his lack of command of the pitch will continue to restrict him to a bullpen-only role. His slider and splitter are nasty when he’s on, and they should help him miss bats at any level. However, both offerings tend to play down a grade when he isn’t around the strike zone with the fastball.
Fernandez has a strict reliever profile due to his age and the lack of projection remaining on his 6’2”, 180-pound frame, but there’s no doubt the right-hander has the type of power stuff to excel in a late-inning role. Furthermore, he has the potential to move quickly with improved fastball command and execution of his secondary pitches.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Prospect: Victor Arano, RHP
2014 stats (Low-A): 3-3, 47.0 IP, 4.60 ERA, .246 BAA (6 HR), 9 BB, 51 K (13 games/7 starts)
Victor Arano made an immediate impact last summer in the Arizona League after signing with the Dodgers out of Mexico earlier in the year, as he pitched to a solid 4.20 ERA and 49/13 K/BB in 49.1 innings.
Though the 19-year-old right-hander has been prone to give up the long ball this season (six home runs in 47 frames) at Low-A Great Lakes, his strikeout (9.77 K/9) and walk (1.72 BB/9) rates have both improved against hitters roughly three years his elder.
Arano lacks physical projection at 6’2” and 200 pounds, though it’s not a major concern moving forward thanks to his smooth delivery and clean arm action. The right-hander’s fastball velocity will vary from start to start, but he usually works in the low-90s and can reach back for a few more ticks when necessary. He’ll flash plus with his curveball, throwing it with tight spin and depth, and he has a present feel for mixing in a change that has average potential.
The biggest question is whether or not Arano can learn to execute a game plan when pitching with runners on base, and there is also concern about his ability to retire left-handed hitters at higher levels. If he clears those developmental hurdles, the 19-year-old could emerge as a solid No. 3 or 4 starter for the Dodgers.
San Diego Padres
Prospect: Zach Eflin, RHP
2014 stats (High-A): 5-3, 76.0 IP, 3.91 ERA, .259 BAA (7 HR), 20 BB, 59 K (14 starts)
The No. 33 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Eflin might not be the best example of a “hidden gem.” However, considering the right-hander’s untapped potential, I think he’s worth including on this list.
After signing with the Padres, Eflin was limited to only seven innings in his professional debut due to a triceps strain and bout of mononucleosis. However, the organization still promoted the right-hander to Low-A Fort Wayne last summer for his full-season debut, where he made up for some of the lost time with a 2.73 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 118.2 innings.
The Padres moved up Eflin to the hitter-friendly California League for 2014, where the 20-year-old has registered a 3.91 ERA and 59/20 K/BB through 76 innings.
With a highly projectable 6’4”, 200-pound frame, Eflin creates a downhill plane to the plate from a three-quarters arm slot and works in the low-90s with his fastball. He has the potential to add more velocity with physical development. The right-hander’s changeup represents his best secondary offering and flashes plus, while his slider is less consistent and features more room for growth.
Eflin already profiles as a solid back-end starter thanks to his average command profile and chance for a legitimate three-pitch mix, but an improved ability to miss bats could improve his projection to that of a No. 2 or 3 starter.
San Francisco Giants
Prospect: Keury Mella, RHP
2014 stats (Low-A): 3-2, 60.1 IP, 4.03 ERA, .273 BAA, 12 BB, 53 K (11 starts)
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in the fall of the 2011, Mella dazzled last season in his stateside debut with a 2.25 ERA and 41/11 K/BB over 36 innings in the Arizona League. He also posted an impressive 3.91 ground-ball-to-fly-ball rate and failed to surrender a home run during that span.
While the 20-year-old has been hit around more often this year (4.03 ERA, .273 BAA) in full-season debut at Low-A Augustana, he’s managed to lower his walk rate (1.79 BB/9) while maintaining a high ground-ball rate (3.78) in 60.1 innings.
The right-handed Mella already possesses huge arm strength, armed with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s with late life, and the projection remaining on his 6’2”, 200-pound frame could make him a consistent high-90s guy in a few years. He throws his curveball with velocity in the low-80s with sharp, downer break, but it’s an inconsistent offering at the present, as he lacks a consistent feel for it. Meanwhile, Mella continues to make strides in his development of a changeup, and it should give him a third average-or-better offering at maturity.
Overall, Mella’s combination of velocity and strike-throwing potential give him one of the highest ceilings among all pitching prospects below the High-A level. And if the secondary offerings improve as expected, then look out.