Selecting MLB's 2014 All-Prospect Team at the Quarter Pole
As the final quarter of the 2014 Major League Baseball season approaches, it's time to take stock of the top performances to date from the best prospects in the sport down in the minors.
Speaking of the minor leagues, there's even less of a season left, as most circuits wrap up their regular seasons by early September. That means there's not much time for position players and pitchers to pump up their production from here on out. While statistics will change, there's a good chance that the most impressive players so far will remain as such down the stretch.
What follows, then, is a look at the All-Prospect Team based on performance to this point, with each position being represented.
Although the goal is to include only legitimate, highly regarded prospects, this is not purely a listing of the best prospect at each position. Rather, it's a rundown of the top youngster at each spot who has had the best 2014 campaign.
In other words, while Minnesota Twins outfield prospect Byron Buxton still is considered one of the best prospects around (if not the best), an early wrist injury has limited him to just 29 games overall. Even if he's back on the diamond now, that won't get it done for the purposes of this piece.
Another thing to keep in mind: Players were considered as long as they remain prospect-eligible, meaning they can currently be in the majors, but they can't have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched. Also, only a player's performance in the minors (not the majors) was taken into account.
Put simply, this is the best of the best for this year.
Catcher: Blake Swihart, Boston Red Sox
Having conquered Double-A in his first look at that level this year, Blake Swihart just jumped to Triple-A in early August. It was a well-deserved bump, as the 22-year-old backstop has made huge strides on both sides of the ball in his fourth professional season, making him the fairly easy choice for the All-Prospect Team at a shallow spot.
A switch-hitter drafted in the first round in 2011, Swihart is batting .298/.348/.489 and already has set career highs in runs (51), home runs (13) and RBI (60). He's also catching 48 percent of would-be base-stealers.
That's why Baseball America tabbed Swihart "the game's best catching prospect" in its midseason top 50 prospects update.
Honorable Mentions: Kevin Plawecki, New York Mets; Jorge Alfaro, Texas Rangers; Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs
First Base: Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics
Matt Olson isn't yet widely known as a big name outside of scouting circles, but it won't be long before this 2012 first-rounder becomes a more popular prospect. First base might be lacking in talent and depth overall compared to other positions in the minors, but the 20-year-old Olson has bashed and walked his way near the tippy top of the spot.
Sure, his stats at High-A are inflated some by the hitter-haven California League, but Olson's 34 home runs are tied for third-most in the minors, and he leads both the minors and majors with 100 walks. That explains his elite .400 on-base percentage, even if Olson, who swings from the left side, is hitting a so-so .257.
Honorable Mentions: Peter O'Brien, Arizona Diamondbacks; Christian Walker, Baltimore Orioles; Conrad Gregor, Houston Astros
Second Base: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
After his latest of two too-brief stints in Boston, Mookie Betts is back doing his all-around thing at Triple-A. The 21-year-old didn't do much in the majors (.244/.279/.366), but even in merely 13 games, he showed he wasn't overmatched or overwhelmed.
In the minors, he's the one doing the overwhelming, as his .346/.433/.536 triple-slash line, along with 86 runs, 11 homers and 32 steals, is simply dynamic production. Oh, and the righty-hitting Betts has walked more times (59) than he's whiffed (48), too.
While Betts checks in at second base—his natural position—the Red Sox have been grooming him in the outfield over the past two months so he won't be blocked by Dustin Pedroia. With Boston's 2014 a wash, Betts is likely to get another look before the season is up, but he probably won't relinquish his place here.
Honorable Mentions: Jose Peraza, Atlanta Braves; Arismendy Alcantara, Chicago Cubs; Dilson Herrera, New York Mets; Robert Refsnyder, New York Yankees; Tony Kemp, Houston Astros
Third Base: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
With Kris Bryant, 2013's No. 2 overall pick, the only question is whether the Chicago Cubs will promote him to the major leagues this year or next. Bringing him to the North Side to join fellow top prospects Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara remains a possibility, especially because Bryant really can't do anything more in the minors.
The 22-year-old tore through Double-A to start the season, and the righty slugger has done the same after getting bumped to Iowa in mid-June. His statistics are just stupid-good: .338/.446/.683 with an all-of-baseball-best 38 homers (tied with Joey Gallo, who unfortunately plays the same position).
The monstrous performance has been enough for ESPN's Keith Law to tab Bryant as the new No. 1 prospect in the game in his midseason update (subscription required):
Bryant has power, he's capable at third base, and his eye and approach continue to improve. Even if he's just a .260 to .270 hitter -- probably a pessimistic forecast -- he'll still be an MVP-caliber bat who hits 30-40 homers and gets on base at a solid clip.
Even at the offensive position with the most competition, Bryant's 2014 numbers put him in a class by himself.
Honorable Mentions: Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers; D.J. Peterson, Seattle Mariners; Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks; Brandon Drury, Arizona Diamondbacks; Renato Nunez, Oakland Athletics; Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies
Shortstop: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
No wonder the Los Angeles Dodgers didn't make any major moves at the trade deadline: Every team they engaged with inquired about the immovable piece that is Corey Seager. The younger brother of the Seattle Mariners' Kyle, Corey is 20 years old and has it in him to be better than his older sibling, which is saying something given Kyle's success.
The Dodgers pushed their Seager, a 2012 first-rounder, to Double-A after he dominated the Cal League in the first half. In all, Seager is sporting a crazy .350 batting average and 1.019 OPS, thanks in large part to a best-in-baseball 41 doubles. Not that he can't hit 'em out: He has 19 homers, too.
Javier Baez (23 HR, .833 OPS) put up a good fight after his slow start, and a healthy Carlos Correa (.325/.416/.510) would have been right there in the end, but this top-producing-shortstop-prospect-of-2014 battle belongs to Seager.
Honorable Mentions: Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs; Carlos Correa, Houston Astros; Daniel Robertson, Oakland Athletics; Andrew Velazquez, Arizona Diamondbacks
Outfield: Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers
In his first taste of Triple-A, Joc Pederson hasn't disappointed. The second straight Dodgers youngster on the All-Prospect Team, the 22-year-old Pederson has taken advantage of his hitter-friendly surroundings in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and Albuquerque.
But the lefty hitter isn't a PCL creation, considering he's now posted a 20-20 campaign for the second straight season with 26 homers and steals apiece. Pederson also is hitting .299 to go with a .422 OBP that ranks in the top five among minor leaguers who have spent all year in full-season play.
As Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) wrote of Pederson, ranked as the No. 17 prospect in its midseason top 50: "The profile once thought to have some 'tweener' qualities has now shown enough power and plate discipline to play every day."
The Dodgers' excess of high-priced outfielders has blocked Pederson from making a big league debut that would have come months ago in any other organization. But at least he can take solace in the fact that the glut has allowed him to accumulate enough digits to qualify here.
Outfield: Michael Taylor, Washington Nationals
It's taken Michael Taylor quite a while, but his breakout season finally has come five years after he was drafted in the sixth round back in 2009 as an athletic, yet raw, project prospect.
Now 23, the right-handed Taylor reached Triple-A on the strength of a .315/.401/.547 line. And oh by the way, he has 22 home runs and 35 stolen bases, making Taylor the only player in the minors or majors with at least 20 of the former and 30 of the latter (not counting the crazy Mexican League, where stats might as well be made up).
With the Washington Nationals battling injuries to outfielders Jayson Werth and Steven Souza, the club has called up Taylor, a defensive whiz, to pitch in primarily with his glove, per James Wagner of The Washington Post.
"It’s been my goal since I was about three years old," Taylor said upon arriving, "to finally get a chance to be here and make a dream come true."
Outfield: Dalton Pompey, Toronto Blue Jays
Dalton Pompey might be the most surprising name on the All-Prospect Team, but the 2010 16th-rounder out of high school's starting status here has been very much earned over some other deserving names.
Like Michael Taylor, the 21-year-old Pompey had been best described as toolsy-yet-raw up until 2014. It didn't help that a broken hand cost him all but 20 games in 2012, slowing his development that much more.
Pompey, however, did so well in his introduction to High-A ball to start the season that the Jays moved him to Double-A at the end of June. Between the two levels, the switch-hitter is on his way to setting career bests in average (.313), on-base (.393) and slugging (.466). He's also already one stolen base shy of his highest mark of 38 set a year ago.
Pompey's coming-out party has him checked in at No. 47 in Baseball America's latest rankings.
Honorable Mentions: Aaron Judge, New York Yankees; Steven Moya, Detroit Tigers; Teoscar Hernandez, Houston Astros; David Dahl, Colorado Rockies; Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates; Raimel Tapia, Colorado Rockies
Designated Hitter: Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
Sure, this spot could go to a more bat-only player who doesn't necessarily have a defensive home, but Joey Gallo—who came in second to the otherworldly Kris Bryant at the hot corner—has been too good not to be recognized, so he gets the nod at designated hitter.
Speaking of Bryant, the 20-year-old Gallo is in an incredibly entertaining race for the minor league home-run crown with the Cubs masher—and both currently have hit 38 out to top the sport at any level. This comes, by the way, after the lefty-swinging Gallo's 40 four-baggers in 2013 led the minors. Dude does damage.
If you want to enjoy a visual of one of Gallo's patented bombs, just click the video up top of his windshield-busting moonshot that helped win him the MVP award of the Futures Game.
Despite all the power (1.060 OPS), Gallo is unlikely to see the majors this year, as Jim Bowden of ESPN notes, citing Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. The club, understandably, doesn't want to rush him, especially from Double-A and at such a young age, although the temptation must be there.
Honorable Mentions: Peterson, Seattle Mariners; Judge, New York Yankees; Moya, Detroit Tigers; O'Brien, Arizona Diamondbacks; Clint Coulter, Milwaukee Brewers
Starting Pitcher: Jimmy Nelson, Milwaukee Brewers
Despite losing the opportunity to pad his minor league stats even more now that he's a member of the Milwaukee Brewers five-man, Jimmy Nelson is the No. 1 starter on the All-Prospect Team.
What the 25-year-old did at Triple-A—and in the PCL, no less—was downright eye-opening, putting up stats both minuscule (1.46 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 3 HR) and massive (114 K, 3.6 K:BB in 111.0 IP).
You want consistency? Nelson, a 6'6" righty, also turned in a quality start in 16 of his 17 games.
Only minor league numbers count here, but it's satisfying to know that Nelson has continued to throw well in Milwaukee, where he has a 4.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and has had a quality start in each of his past four turns.
Starting Pitcher: Henry Owens, Boston Red Sox
Following his domination of Double-A hitters into the second half of the season, Henry Owens started off the same way at Pawtucket by taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning in his first start at Triple-A last week.
Overall, the 22-year-old lanky lefty has compiled a 2.65 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 9.5 K/9 over 132.2 innings. Owens' 3.5 BB/9 rate has dropped a full free pass from 2013 too. And while wins aren't all that useful a stat for pitchers, it's at least neat to point out that Owens' 15 wins is the most in the entire sport at the moment.
Here's what Keith Law of ESPN.com wrote about Owens, whom he ranked No. 23 in his most recent top 50:
Owens doesn't throw hard, mostly 90-92 mph but up to 94 whenever he needs it, succeeding with tremendous deception in his delivery and one of the minors' best changeups, which has made him more effective against right-handed hitters than lefties throughout his pro career.
Well, Owens has been effective—and then some—against every kind of hitter in 2014.
Starting Pitcher: Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates
Despite a late start to 2014 due to a back injury, Tyler Glasnow has picked up where he left off on his hugely impressive 2013.
The 6'7" right-hander battles his delivery, which causes control problems, and yet even with a 4.6 BB/9 mark, he still has a 1.53 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 11.0 K/9 in 100.0 innings at High-A.
By preventing hitters from hitting most of the time, as he's allowed a ridiculous 58 knocks total.
Baseball Prospectus explained why Glasnow, 20, is so hard to hit—and why he ranks as the outlet's No. 31 'spect:
Most young pitchers are waiting for something to click, but few of them can anticipate a ceiling as high as Glasnow can. With long arms, premium velocity and an extreme downward plane, hitters simply don't square Glasnow up.
Starting Pitcher: Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins
In case you were unaware of Jose Berrios prior to this season, he helped make himself known by pitching well enough to earn the starting nod as a Minnesota Twins prospect at the Futures Game.
Just 20, Berrios feasted on High-A hitters (1.96 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 10.2 K/9), resulting in a recent promotion to Double-A, where he's been very good in three of his first five starts.
The 6'0" right-hander is the No. 50 prospect for Keith Law, who draws a promising comparison:
Berrios is a lot like Yordano Ventura for me -- undersized, loose-armed, fly-ball-prone, with incredible velocity from a delivery that doesn't make a ton of use of his lower half, actually showing a better breaking ball now than Ventura did at the same age.
That provides a different look for the All-Prospect rotation from Nelson, Owens and Glasnow, all of whom are at least 6'6".
Starting Pitcher: Austin Voth, Washington Nationals
A fifth-rounder out of the University of Washington in 2013, Austin Voth already has reached Double-A while pitching through three levels this year.
During his six-start stopover at High-A Potomac, the 22-year-old caught the eye of a rehabbing Bryce Harper for what he did in racking up six scoreless innings with six strikeouts and just four baserunners June 24.
"He looked great," Harper said of Voth, according to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post. "He's doing well. I’m excited to see a guy like that. I had no clue who he was. To see a guy like that come out and pretty much carve, he did a great job. It was fun to watch."
All in all, the right-hander takes the final starting spot over some other fine arms, thanks to a 2.27 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 9.7 K/9 in 122.2 frames.
Honorable Mentions: Ben Lively, Cincinnati Reds; Daniel Norris, Toronto Blue Jays; Lucas Giolito, Washington Nationals; Luis Severino, New York Yankees; Brian Johnson, Boston Red Sox; Josh Hader, Houston Astros; Christian Binford, Kansas City Royals; Andrew Heaney, Miami Marlins; Marco Gonzales, St. Louis Cardinals; Alex Meyer, Minnesota Twins; Hunter Harvey, Baltimore Orioles
Relief Pitcher: Cam Bedrosian, Los Angeles Angels
With a 7.59 ERA and 1.97 WHIP (albeit in merely 10 appearances), Cam Bedrosian's initial opportunity in the majors has been very up and down. So, too, has Bedrosian himself, as he's shuttled back and forth between Double-A and MLB three times since the start of June.
The 22-year-old former first-round pick (and former starter derailed by injury and ineffectiveness) has been much, much better on the farm, however. Bedrosian, a hard-throwing right-hander who regularly hits the upper-90s, has put up Nintendo numbers between High-A Inland Empire and Arkansas: 16 saves, 0.95 ERA, 0.61 WHIP with a 72-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38.0 frames.
Even with all the time jockeying up and down, Bedrosian is the All-Prospect Team's top reliever and one who should get the hang of things in the majors soon enough.
Honorable Mentions: R.J. Alvarez, San Diego Padres; Corey Knebel, Texas Rangers; Chasen Shreve, Atlanta Braves; Keone Kela, Texas Rangers
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