25 Jaw-Dropping Minor League Prospects Closest to "Can't-Miss" Status
Attaining "can't-miss" prospect status is incredibly difficult.
Derek Jeter didn't have it, nor did Albert Pujols, although it came (and went) pretty easily to failed big-leaguers Matt Antonelli, Sean Burroughs and Brien Taylor.
Not every player whose star shines so brightly, so early, has the sustainable power to keep the light burning for years to come. Chances are, some of the players on this list won't even crack their team's big-league rosters in the next two or three years.
Heck, some of them might fall off the face of the earth after this season, and we'll never hear from them again.
There's also that slight chance, however, that some of these prospects will toss aside their "can't-miss" status and ascend into the stratosphere where current big-league stars such as Evan Longoria, Buster Posey and Prince Fielder eat, sleep and homer.
Here's my best guess on which ones will have staying power.
Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Moore is the closest thing to "can't-miss" that the minor leagues has going on right now.
He is coming off of a fantastic season in which he cracked 200 strikeouts for the second consecutive season and one that culminated in a spot on the Rays' playoff roster.
In his first glimpse of postseason ball, Moore twirled a gem against the best offensive team in the American League, the Texas Rangers.
He kept them off the scoreboard for seven innings in Game 1 and ended up a victor in only his second big-league start.
Moore is almost a lock to crack the Rays' 2012 rotation and could look forward to the same kind of success that former Rays prospect David Price had in his first full season.
Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
You want to talk about "can't-miss?"
In St. Louis, there's no doubt that right-hander Shelby Miller is destined to follow a path that will make him the talk of the town no matter if Albert Pujols is still around or not.
Miller has long been touted as one of the most big-league-ready prospects in baseball, but 2012 is likely to be the year that he finally cracks the big-league roster.
After finishing the 2011 campaign on a tear in Double-A (9-3, 2.70 ERA), he'll probably start the season at Triple-A Memphis, but with his poise and command (312-to-88 career K:BB ratio), he'll be in St. Louis before the All-Star break.
Assuming the team can sustain another playoff run and Miller doesn't have the season everyone envisions, he could be a dark horse to finish out the season in the team's bullpen.
Manny Machado, SS, Baltimore Orioles
Machado is the best infield prospect to come along in Baltimore since Cal Ripken Jr.
Usually, that's all that needs to be said, but since this slide would look lonely with just one sentence, I'll go on.
Machado didn't have as impressive a season as everyone thought, but he still earned a promotion from Low-A to High-A, where he led the Frederick Keys to the Carolina League championship, winning MVP honors along the way.
At different times during the season he showed great power, impressive speed, plate discipline beyond his years and great leadership abilities.
He's no Bryce Harper (both in a good and bad way), but he should have no problem ranking among the top offensive shortstops in baseball whenever he reaches Baltimore (ETA 2014).
Jurickson Profar, SS, Texas Rangers
Profar doesn't get as much attention as Manny Machado or the other top shortstop prospects in baseball, but he has the potential (offensively and defensively) to put the rest of them to shame.
Still just 18 years old, Profar has already shown the ability to dominate Low-A ball like few others have done.
He hit .286 with 37 doubles, eight triples, 12 home runs and 23 steals in 115 games and maintained an astonishing walk-to-strikeout ratio (65-to-63).
As vast as his offensive potential is, he's even better defensively. There's no doubt he ranks among the top defensive shortstops in the minors, despite the fact that he's still incredibly raw.
Profar will likely need two or three more seasons worth of seasoning, but when he arrives in Texas he may just be impressive enough to force Texas' current shortstop Elvis Andrus to second base.
Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
Record-setting high-schooler, record-setting JUCO hitter, first overall selection, 17 homers in his first 109 games, reached Double-A by age 18.
Bryce Harper—enough said.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Castellanos might not be a household name to you and your loved ones, but give it another three or four seasons, and he'll be mentioned among the top young hitters in baseball.
He proved that he was one of the top hitters in Low-A ball this past season, maintaining a .312 average while driving in 76 runs, despite ranking as one of the younger players in the league.
Next season he'll head to High-A, assuming the Tigers don't challenge him with an aggressive promotion to Double-A.
Don't forget that Castellanos was tabbed as the most polished high school hitter from the 2010 draft class.
Mike Montgomery, LHP, Kansas City Royals
Despite the rough season, Montgomery is still a shining star.
Thanks to an injury to John Lamb, the left-hander is now the top pitching prospect in the K.C. system and one of the top lefty prospects in all of baseball.
You can't really blame Montgomery for his rough campaign.
For starters, he was pitching in Triple-A. Second, he pitched the entire season at age 21. And don't forget, he showed some promise.
He set career highs in numerous categories, including innings (150.2), games started (27) and strikeouts (129).
Montgomery also has some of the best stuff in the minors. His fastball is electric, and his curveball has above-average potential. He also has two other pitches that have great promise.
Had he had a better season, Montgomery could have finished the season in Kansas City.
He will in 2012.
Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Teheran's rough big-league debut (5.03 ERA, four HRA in 19.2 IP) doesn't begin to signify the kind of potential he has.
Just check out his minor league stats from the past season to get a better idea of what he has to offer: 15-3, 2.55 ERA, 122-to-48 K:BB ratio.
Teheran's meteoric rise from Low-A ball to the majors in just two years proves he's a quick learner, and he's got the stuff to back up all the attention he receives.
He should challenge for a spot in the big-league rotation in spring training and will likely spend the majority of the season in the majors, despite being just 20 (turns 21 on January 27).
Travis d'Arnaud, C, Toronto Blue Jays
D'Arnaud gets nowhere near as much love as some of the other top catching prospects in baseball, but he's got a skill set that should put him at the top of the charts.
At the plate, d'Arnaud has improved dramatically since his debut season back in 2007.
He set career highs in 2011 in home runs (21), RBI (78) and batting average (.311).
His slugging percentage (.542) ranked third in the Eastern League and was tops among players with more than 100 at-bats. He also finished third in homers and sixth in RBI.
Behind the plate, d'Arnaud has also made steady progress. He threw out 27 percent of runners attempting to steal in 2011, down just a smidge from 30 percent in 2010.
He's only committed 28 errors in his entire career, spanning 336 games.
After a successful campaign at Double-A in 2011, d'Arnaud will move up to Triple-A next season and has a good chance at seeing some time in the majors.
Jesus Montero, C, New York Yankees
Montero proved his worthiness late this past season, hitting .328 with four homers and 12 RBI in 18 games.
That was enough of a sample for him to warrant a spot on the team's big-league roster heading into the 2012 season.
And while his long-term position has yet to be determined, there's no doubt that wherever he plays, he's likely to continue to rake at the plate.
After all, he is a career .308 hitter in the minors and an owner of four consecutive seasons with 17 or more home runs.
Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
As good as Shelby Miller is, the Cardinals just might have a more talented prospect in Carlos Martinez.
Martinez exploded onto the scene in 2010, posting a 0.76 ERA in 12 starts, while striking out 78 batters in 59 innings for the Cardinals' Dominican rookie ball squad.
He upped his game even more in 2011, striking out 98 batters in 84.2 innings spanning 18 starts.
The whole while, Martinez has been incredibly hard to hit, allowing just four home runs and 104 hits in 143.2 innings.
The right-hander ended the 2011 season in High-A ball, and he'll likely start back there in 2012, but there's a good chance he'll spend a solid chunk of the season in Double-A.
Jacob Turner, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Think of Turner as a Shelby Miller clone.
Same great size. Similar great stuff. Same great poise.
The only difference between the two, besides a few mph, is the fact that Turner has actually tasted the big-leagues.
He made three starts in 2011—one of which went incredibly well, and two of which were poorly received.
In the minors he was much better, posting a 3.44 ERA and 110-to-35 K:BB ratio, splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A. He dazzled in Toledo, posting a 20-to-3 K:BB ratio in 17.1 innings.
If he doesn't earn a spot in the rotation in spring training, Turner will likely start back at Triple-A, just a phone call away from Detroit.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
Arenado is another name the normal baseball fan might not recognize, but in another two years he'll likely rank among the top young power hitters in the game.
This past season in High-A ball, Arenado exploded for 20 homers and a minor league-leading 122 RBI.
He did put up these numbers in the highly offensive California League, but unlike many sluggers who have career years in the circuit, Arenado has an impressive resume to fall back on.
He hit .300 in back-to-back seasons prior to 2011 and rapped 41 doubles in 2010.
He's easily Colorado's top hitting prospect, both in terms of power and batting average, and he also features some decent defensive potential.
Once upon a time, his move to first base was considered inevitable, but his improved physique and work-ethic has led the Rockies to believe he might be able to stick at the hot corner long-term.
Wily Peralta, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Despite the addition of LHP Jed Bradley and RHP Taylor Jungmann, it was right-hander Wily Peralta that was named the top prospect in the Milwaukee system, according to Baseball America, and for good reason.
Peralta had a terrific season in 2011, winning 11 games, posting a 3.17 ERA and striking out 157 batters in 150.2 innings.
He looked downright dominating in Double-A and looked even better in a short cameo in Triple-A (2-0, 40-to-11 K:BB in 31 IP).
He'll likely challenge for a spot in the rotation out of spring training.
If he doesn't, he'll begin back at Triple-A.
Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Trout won Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year honors this past season, despite impressive performances by a handful of candidates including Bryce Harper, Matt Moore and Paul Goldschmidt.
Trout dazzled yet again, this time at Double-A Arkansas, hitting .326 with 18 doubles, 13 triples, 11 homers and 33 steals in just 91 games.
That was enough to make him a prime candidate for a promotion to the majors, which he received in early July.
He got off to a hot start but hit a rough patch in July and August, leading to an ugly season line (.220, 9-to-30 BB:K ratio and just four steals).
Trout has every intention of winning a spot on the big-league roster in 2012, and despite a crowded outfield, he might just do that.
Trevor Bauer, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Don't sleep on Bauer because he was drafted in 2011.
There's a good chance he'll start the season pitching in the D-Backs big-league rotation.
That's exactly the reason the team shelled out $3.4 million and handed the right-hander a big-league contract.
They knew he would be quick to the majors and would stay there for a very long time.
He dominated his first few starts, garnering some talk that he could reach the majors as early as this past September, but an ugly late-season outing and the wear and tear he endured after leading all collegiate pitchers in complete games and innings pitched in 2011 was enough to convince the team to shut him down.
Despite an unorthodox delivery—not to mention some questionable exercise routines—Bauer has arguably the most varied arsenal in baseball, minors or majors. That should make him hard to hit as a rookie.
Devin Mesoraco, C, Cinncinnati Reds
If there's any catching prospect out there with more talent than Toronto's Travis d'Arnaud, it's Cincinnati's former first-round selection, Devin Mesoraco.
Mesoraco has been one of the top power hitters in the minors over the past two seasons, during which he has rapped 61 doubles, slugged 41 homers and driven in 146 runs.
He was good enough last season to earn a big-league promotion, and although he didn't set the world on fire, there's no doubt he's going to win the catcher's spot out of spring training.
Behind the plate, Mesoraco has been sensational as well, throwing out 29 percent of base-stealers for his career, including a high-water mark of 41 percent in 2010.
Manny Banuelos, LHP, New York Yankees
Banuelos almost earned a spot on the Yankees' roster last spring training after dazzling to the tune of a sub-2.20 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 12 innings.
He ended up drawing the short stick and returned to the minors, but everything he did while there positioned him to wind up back in the Big Apple in 2012.
As one of the youngest pitchers in the Double-A Eastern League, he was fantastic, striking out more than one batter an inning while holding hitters to a .263 batting average.
He earned a promotion to Triple-A where he held his own as a 20-year-old.
Banuelos has some of the best stuff in the New York system and nothing—not the aggressive ways of the Yankees in free agency or his diminutive size—should keep him from eventually landing one of five spots.
Tyler Skaggs, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-Backs have quietly put together one of the finest collections of pitching talent in baseball.
In addition to 2011 draftees Trevor Bauer and Archie Bradley, they have another stud pitcher capable of leading the team's big-league rotation for years to come.
Skaggs came to the desert via Los Angeles, where he emerged as one of that team's top prospects.
He was the player-to-be-named-later in the Dan Haren deal and immediately thrived upon arriving in the National League.
He posted a 1.69 ERA in his first four starts with Arizona and then set his sights on High-A ball in 2011.
He did the organization one better, and earned a midseason promotion to Double-A, where he looked just as strong.
In addition to showing incredible poise and command, Skaggs has developed into a strikeout machine. He racked up nearly 200 this past season in just 158.1 innings.
Martin Perez, LHP, Texas Rangers
Perez is arguably the top left-handed pitcher in the minors after Tampa Bay's Matt Moore, and while he doesn't offer Moore's polish and command, he more than makes up for it with what has the potential to be superior stuff.
Perez has been tantalizing scouts and fans alike for years with his immense potential, and 2011 was finally the year that it all came together.
He looked sensational in Double-A, striking out 83 batters in 88.1 innings while holding down a 3.16 ERA in 16 starts.
Then the Rangers promoted the 20-year-old to Triple-A, where he made his mark as one of the league's youngest pitchers. He initially looked overwhelmed, but he adapted in his final few starts.
With C.J. Wilson potentially departing, the Rangers will likely take a long look at Perez in spring training, gauging his big-league readiness.
It might take him a few seasons to adjust to the majors, just as it did when he was promoted to Double-A in 2009, but you can bet that when the light comes on, he's going to be scary good.
Danny Hultzen, LHP, Seattle Mariners
The second overall pick in the 2011 draft, Hultzen might just make the leap straight from college to the majors, just like Mike Leake did for Cincinnati a few years ago.
The former Virginia Cavaliers ace (12-3, 1.37 ERA in 2011) already has excellent stuff, not to mention incredible poise and command, but he also has something very few other prospects have—a guaranteed invite to spring training. Before ever even playing in a full season of minor league contests.
Somehow, Hultzen had his adviser negotiate that into his big-league deal.
If he impresses the front office, he could be in line to take either the No. 4 or No. 5 spot in the rotation.
Drew Pomeranz, LHP, Colorado Rockies
There's a reason the Rockies were so keen on acquiring Pomeranz, the 23-year-old lefty who was drafted in 2010 and made his big-league debut a little more than a year later.
He's going to be very good very soon.
Don't let the ugly debut fool you. Yes, he got roughed up to the tune of a 5.40 ERA in four starts, but this is also the same guy who was an All-American at Ole Miss and who posted a 1.78 ERA and 119-to-38 K:BB ratio in his first—and likely only—season in the minor leagues.
Pomeranz seemingly got better at each level in 2011, pitching in the Indians system, and Colorado had no qualms about tossing him right into the fire after acquiring him in exchange for Ubaldo Jimenez.
Provided he remains healthy, he should earn one of five rotation spots.
Leonys Martin, OF, Texas Rangers
Little-known Leonys Martin is actually the Rangers' top position prospect.
He defected from Cuba, and his services were won by the Rangers, who bid $15.5 million for his talent.
He went right to work and ended the 2011 season in the majors, with pit-stops in Double-A and Triple-A.
Overall, he showed an impressive tool set. He can hit for power (nine doubles and four homers in 29 games in Double-A), has excellent speed (five triples and 19 steals in just 73 total games) and is a gem defensively (six OF assists).
Martin is such a solid all-around talent that there has even been talks of him forcing current center fielder Josh Hamilton over to a corner spot.
Matt Harvey, RHP, New York Mets
As of yet, the Mets have failed to make any moves in free agency, and if that remains the case then they might find themselves calling upon one of their top pitching prospects, Matt Harvey, at some point this season.
Since he's seen only 12 starts above High-A ball, it's highly unlikely that Harvey will crack the team's rotation out of spring training, but there's no doubt he'll be there fighting for a roster spot in a few months.
The right-hander had a sterling 2011 campaign.
He dominated High-A Florida State League opposition and held his own in Double-A. He finished the season with 13 victories, a 3.32 ERA and an organization-best 156 strikeouts.
He also earned a spot on the U.S. team at the Futures Game and was named FSL Pitcher of the Week twice.
Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
It's been a known fact for several years that Starling Marte's ceiling is one of the highest in the Pittsburgh system.
This year, however, the pieces finally came together, and Marte put together a campaign worthy of a top prospect.
In addition to his first All-Star nod, Marte was named to the Futures Game World roster and looked exceptional performing against the best prospects in the game.
He hit .332 in 129 games, all with Double-A Altoona. He ranked near the top of the Eastern League leaderboard with 38 doubles, eight triples and 91 runs.
He also paced his own squad with 24 steals and finished second in home runs and RBI. For his efforts, the 22-year-old outfielder earned team MVP honors in his fifth year with the Pirates.
Marte has always been considered a premium talent, but until this past year he had never appeared in more than 68 contests in a single season, limiting his exposure to the rigors and trials of a full season.
He responded incredibly well and should enter the 2012 season as one of the team's top prospects.