Comparing minor leaguers to Major Leaguers isn't exactly a science. That's why in a world of endless technologies, we still end up with big-league busts like Billy Rowell, Matt Bush and my personal favorite, Bryan Bullington.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where we constantly compare everything, so it doesn't appear that baseball's fascination with finding the next A-Rod (Manny Machado), Michael Bourn (Billy Hamilton) or Adrian Gonzalez (Anthony Rizzo) is going to die down anytime soon.
Odds are that the majority of the players on this list of top prospects are going to become successful big-leaguers. Some might blossom into everyday players while others might find their niche as fourth outfielders, set-up men or clutch pinch-hitters.
Either way, there's a decent big-league comparison for each of them. Here they are, the pride and joy of minor league baseball, compared to the best and brightest of the Major Leagues.
Without Tim Lincecum, Trevor Bauer would have likely slipped to the third or fourth-round in this past year's draft...maybe even further.
The truth is, Lincecum opened the door for all diminutive pitchers with funky deliveries, and Bauer walked right through that door and ended up as the third-overall pick in the 2011 draft. Not only did he earn a big-league contract and a hefty bonus, but he also is a mere stone's throw away from pitching in the big leagues.
Besides the obvious comparison to Lincecum's delivery, Bauer also features many of the same characteristics. Both have amazing fastballs with great velocity. Both also have incredible secondary pitches.
The D-Backs missed out on drafting Lincecum in 2006 (they held the 10th pick, Lincecum went 9th), and were more than happy to pick up on the next "Freak."
Teheran is arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball.
That kind of thing was never said about Reds starter Edinson Volquez, although the two have more in common that you'd think.
For starters, they both have electric fastballs. Volquez has averaged nearly 94 mph on his pitch during his career, while Teheran sits right in that 93-95 mph range as well. He averaged 93 mph per fastball during his brief cameo this past season.
Both also have a great curveball-changeup combo. Teheran's ceiling is much higher than Volquez's ever was, but remember the latter went 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 2008.
Bundy is such a unique case, that in order to find a decent comparison for him, you actually have to go back a few years.
The name Roger Clemens shouldn't be thrown around lightly. For starters, the Rocket won 354 games and struck out 4,672 batters during a brilliant, never-ending 24-year career. Furthermore, Clemens had one of the most impressive work ethics ever witnessed by a professional baseball player. That's where the comparison to Bundy starts.
If you haven't seen Bundy's YouTube video, you're truly missing out. Baltimore's front-office officials swear they've never seen anything like it. To call him a "workout warrior" is a severe disservice.
Like Clemens, Bundy is a true Midwest fire-baller, capable of reaching the high 90s with his fastball. Both pitchers also featured a vast array of secondary pitches. In Bundy's case, it's an impressive cutter and a solid curveball.
The youngster has a long way to go to even have his name uttered in the same breath as Clemens, but if the early returns on the 19-year-old's makeup and stuff are any indication, his potential is nearly as vast.
Middlebrooks had a breakout season in 2011, setting career highs in just about every offensive category, including home runs (23), RBI (94) and batting average (.285).
For all of his successes, however, he still has some gaping holes in his game, namely his impatience at the plate. In addition to setting career bests in the categories mentioned above, he also posted a career-worst BB:K ratio of 26-to-114. It should be noted, however, that those 114 strikeouts were actually a three-year low for Middlebrooks.
The offensive upside, combined with the tendency for high-strikeout totals, makes a solid comparison for Middlebrooks to another 2011 breakout star, Kansas City's Alex Gordon, formerly of third base.
Gordon has always struggled with strikeouts, dating back to his first season in the Majors (2007), but has stuck around thanks to his offensive potential that he capitalized on this past season, setting career highs in homers (23), RBI (87) and average (.302).
Jackson has been the Cubs' top prospect for going on two years now, but with a strong showing at Triple-A in 2011 (.297, 10 homers, six steals in 48 games), it's likely that his run is coming to an end.
Jackson offers a perfect blend of power and speed and is slightly above average in just about every other department. He offers solid defensive ability and has a strong arm. An all-around, solid, everyday player.
Melky Cabrera offers a similar collection of tools. He has solid speed and better-than-expected power (20 steals and 18 homers in 2011). He also plays a mean centerfield. He racked up 13 assists this past season, second among all Major League centerfielders.
The Cubs have a knack for developing players to just under the level of talent that the general consensus rated them, and Jackson, while he'll still turn out to be a valuable regular, has that look to me.
You know it's bad in Chicago when the top overall prospect is Walker, the team's first selection (supplemental first round) in the 2011 draft. Not because Walker isn't a talented individual—he most certainly is—but because he has so many holes.
For starters, he has little to no power. He failed to homer in 54 games and 222 at-bats in his debut season and managed just eight doubles, usually the tell-tale sign of burgeoning power. He also strikes out like crazy. He racked up 81 of those, meaning nearly 40 percent of his at-bats ended in a strikeout.
But Walker isn't all bad. He has insane speed, some of the best in the minors. He's electric on the basepaths, and that speed translates well into the outfield, where he should be an above-average defender.
Walker is tough to find a comp for because of his size. He isn't a pint-size speedster like Michael Bourn (5'11", 180) or Coco Crisp (5'10", 185). Instead, he has excellent size (6'3", 195) and with a few more pounds to add to fully grow into his body, his game could take on a very Cameron Maybin-like style.
Despite not having the diminutive size of today's elite base stealer, Maybin has been incredibly effective racking up the steals. He finished tied for fourth in all of baseball in 2011 and complemented his season line with nine homers and 40 RBI. Those seem like achievable numbers for Walker, especially as he continues to grow into his body.
Mesoraco is one of the easiest comparisons on this list.
His amazing bat skills, both in terms of power and hitting for average, make him an easy double for the best-hitting catcher in baseball for the past decade, Atlanta's Brian McCann. The Braves slugger has quietly gone about putting together one of the finest offensive careers ever seen by a catcher. He's homered at least 18 times in each of his six full\ seasons and has already racked up 136 in his career. And he's still just 27 years old. He's been no slouch in terms of hitting for average either, compiling a .286 mark over 3,000-plus at-bats.
As good as McCann has been, Mesoraco has the potential to be even better. His power is slightly better than McCann's while his ability to hit for a high average is about the same. He should be a regular .300, 25 home run kind of producer.
Another very underrated part of both players' game is the value they offer behind the plate. Both show incredible leadership abilities and back those traits up with their play. McCann threw out 30 percent of base stealers as recently as 2010, while Mesoraco erased the same percent in 2009 and a career-best 41 percent in 2010.
Francisco Lindor was the top shortstop available in the 2011 draft, and despite having Asdrubal Cabrera manning the position in the big leagues, the Indians were more than happy to pounce on him with the eighth-overall pick.
Cabrera has earned high marks for his defense and was a regular on SportsCenter's top plays during the 2011 season. Lindor has that same kind of talent, but it's not Cabrera who he most resembles. Due to his lack of power, he's a much better comparison to Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro.
Castro not only has solid defensive skills but is a sensational contact hitter who shies away from strikeouts like they're the plague. Lindor has that same ability and in time could prove to be an even better hitter since he has the added advantage of being a switch-hitter.
Arenado had a season to remember in 2011, finishing as the minor-league RBI leader. Yes, his numbers (.298, 22 HR, 122 RBI) were slightly inflated by the California League, a hitter's paradise, but he looked nearly as good at the plate in 2010 (.308, 12 HR, 65 RBI), when he was playing in the less-friendly South Atlantic League.
Furthermore, Arenado so impressed club officials with his offseason work ethic that he now seems to have the chops to stick at third base, where just about everyone who was familiar with the situation didn't expect.
At the plate, Arenado's game is eerily similar to that of another hard-hitting third baseman, Michael Young. Neither features jaw-dropping power, but both know how to hit a mistake out of the ballpark. Both are also doubles machines (Arenado has 88 in 280 career contests) with the ability to drive in runs without needing the long-ball. Young, for example, averages only 16 home runs per 162 games. He hit just 11 in 2011 but still topped the 100-RBI mark.
Arenado's bat is also good enough to produce an annual .300 average, something Young has accomplished seven times. And while the former might not win a batting title, like Young did in 2005, he has more than enough talent to carve out a career similar to the 12-year veteran.
Being compared to Jeremy Guthrie might not seem like that big of an honor, but consider that for the better part of his time with the Orioles, Guthrie has been one of the most reliable pitchers in the AL East.
Turner is actually quite similar to Guthrie. Both feature mid 90s fastballs and complement them with great breaking balls. Furthermore, both have incredible baseball intelligence. Turner needed less than 50 minor league starts to reach the Majors.
Also, neither pitcher is particularly flashy. Turner doesn't have that appeal that other top pitching prospects like Shelby Miller and Matt Moore have. As a result, he likely won't get as much attention, but I'm pretty sure the Tigers wouldn't have a problem with him being as consistent as Guthrie.
Not many minor leaguers have the combination of speed and power that oozes out of Springer's lithe, athletic body.
Likewise, not many big-leaguers have the same combination that Matt Kemp has made his name on.
Similar in build and in the way they play the game, Kemp is probably the best comparison for Springer, who should have much better plate discipline than the free-swinging Dodgers outfielder.
In the field, their skills are similar as well, although as he fills out, Springer will likely have to move to an outfield corner, while Kemp has maintained his ability to stick in center six seasons into his career.
Kemp raised the bar with a stunning display of both power (39 HR) and speed (40 SB) in 2011.
It's tough to find a player with Starling's combination of speed and power, but the player he most closely resembles is Houston outfielder Hunter Pence.
Like Pence, Starling is a lanky outfielder with great speed and power. Pence filled out once he joined the pro ranks, much like Starling will. And as he fills out, he'll likely lose some speed, just like Pence did, but he should maintain just enough to be a productive base-stealer.
Pence has been an underrated power hitter for the duration of his career in Houston. He hit exactly 25 homers from 2008-10 and just missed that mark in 2011, slugging 22 this past season. Starling should offer more power than that, but if he decides to make himself into a more rounded player, the Pence comp could be dead on.
Trout has it all: blinding speed, immense raw power, a rocket arm, sensational plate discipline and eye-popping intangibles. As such, it's incredibly hard to find a solid comparison for him in a current big-leaguer. He has the speed of a Michael Bourn and the sneaky power of a Curtis Granderson.
I suppose a decent compromise is Philadelphia's Shane Victorino, the Flyin' Hawaiian. Victorino has a similar combination of power and speed and is a sensational outfielder who doesn't get nearly as much credit (for anything) as he deserves.
In 2011, Victorino rapped a league-leader 16 triples and homered a career-high 17 times. He wasn't, and has never been, a RBI machine (just 61), but he more than makes a difference in a loaded Phillies lineup. He stole just 19 bases in 2011 but swiped at least 34 in three of the previous four seasons.
Without a doubt, Trout has more speed and will thus rack up more steals, but the power numbers should be similar. Both players are incredibly well-rounded and have similar tools.
Lee was one of the top high-school pitchers coming out of the 2010 MLB draft and as such commanded a lofty bonus. The Dodgers surprisingly ponied up and shelled out the $5.25 million it took to get Lee to ditch a scholarship offer to play football for Les Miles at LSU.
Since signing him, the team has discovered that his ceiling is actually much higher than even they had thought. Just 20 years old, he's already starting to receive comparisons to Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter. It all starts with the fastball. Neither pitcher's main pitch is devastatingly fast, sitting in the low 90s, but both make the pitch play up with incredible command of it.
Lee has a promising curveball that would make Carpenter proud, considering he has one of the best and most unhittable deuces in baseball. Lee has also toyed around with a slider. The three pitches, combined with great command and a killer attitude on the mound, should make him a Dodgers ace to rival current ace Clayton Kershaw for the No. 1 spot.
Yelich had a breakout season in 2011, his first full season in the minors. Playing as a 19-year old in Low-A ball, he hit .312 with 15 homers, 77 RBI and 32 steals. He was also a doubles machine, rapping 32 in just 122 games.
As he continues to gain more experience, and more weight, Yelich is likely going to move away from centerfield and possibly into right, where he would be a decent comparison to current O's right-fielder Nick Markakis. Once upon a time, Markakis has a even blend of speed and power, and while he hasn't posted impressive stolen base totals in a few years, he's still capable of swiping 20 per season.
Yelich should have that same ability, as well as the hitting ability to average 18 homers and 85 RBI per season, something Markakis has done since joining the Orioles back in 2006.
The best comparison to Bradley, in both size and stuff, is Chicago's John Danks.
Like Danks, Bradley is primarily a fastball-changeup pitcher, with the latter being his best pitch. His change is one of the best in the 2011 draft class and should be a true weapon for him as a pro.
He also features low 90s velocity like Danks and a decent slider, which just so happens to be the White Sox starter's No. 3 pitch.
Bradley has the frame and the mentality to be every bit as much of an innings-eater as Danks, who has averaged more than 200 innings the past three seasons.
With Kyle Gibson sidelined until at least the middle of the 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery, the Twins top prospect status falls to Dominican slugger Miguel Sano.
Sano had his way with Appalachian League pitchers in 2011, slugging 20 home runs and racking up 59 RBI in just 66 games. Baseball America has consistently ranked him as having some of the best power in the minor leagues, and he proved them right over and over again this past season.
Sano's offensive prowess and lanky build might remind many of a young Nelson Cruz, also a product of the Dominican Republic. Cruz still has about 40 pounds on the youngster, but when he first came up he had a lanky build as well. Sano will no doubt put on more bulk as he progresses, and that should only help his power stroke.
Cruz has slugged nearly 100 home runs the past three seasons but has yet to show any real improvement in his plate discipline (33-to-116 BB:K), yet another way he resembles Sano (23-to-77).
Wheeler was traded mid-season to New York from San Francisco, where he emerged as the Giants' top prospect. He now holds that same title in New York, despite numerous other worthy candidates.
He made drastic improvements in 2011, sharpening his fastball command and getting better definition on his slider, which resembles a cutter. His three-pitch combination (fastball, curveball, slider/cutter) instantly brings Dan Haren to mind. Haren was mainly a fastball/slider pitcher early in his career but has become a cutter/curveball kind of guy of late.
I could see Wheeler following that same course. Both have incredible velocity, with Wheeler capable of reaching back and hitting 97 mph on the gun. Only time will tell if like the A's, D-Backs and Angels, the Mets have a frontline starter in Wheeler, but the early returns look pretty good.
Despite having very limited defensive abilities, Jesus Montero proved to be one of the finest hitters in the minor leagues. That offensive potential earned him a late-season promotion to the big leagues, where he hit .328 with four homers and 12 RBI in 18 games. He'll no doubt enter the 2012 season as a lock to make the big-league roster.
Due primarily to his offensive potency, Montero is a perfect comp to current Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera. Both have an amazing ability to balance hitting for average and power. Both also got off to quick starts in the Majors. Another potentially overlooked similarity between the two players, both of whom hail from Venezuela, is their plate discipline.
Montero and Cabrera are also very similar on the defensive side of things. Cabrera (6'4", 240) was forced from third base due to his "less-than-athletic" nature. The same thing could happen to Montero (6'3", 235), who is currently slotted to begin his first full season in the Majors behind the plate.
Grant Green is one of the top shortstop prospects in baseball. Very few other players at his position offer as much power, and it's undeniable that there is a more seasoned hitter at shortstop (.318, 20 HR, 87 RBI).
There are few who actually believe, however, that Green has the ability to stick at shortstop, meaning he's likely destined for third base, where he would be a good comp to New York's David Wright. Not eye-popping power, but without a doubt, the ability to hit 25-30 per season while maintaining a solid average.
At third base, he would be a capable defender, although it would be hard to him to measure to Wright, a two-time Gold Glove winner at the hot corner.
Instead of trying to force another comparison on another right-handed pitcher (Trevor May), I went ahead and selected the Phillies' top position player, catcher Sebastian Valle, one of the top international signings from Mexico in quite some time.
Valle's value starts with his defensive ability. He's sensational behind the plate, consistently posting some of the best pop-times and caught-stealing percentages in the minors. He threw out 32 percent of base-stealers in 2011. On defense, he closely resembles Arizona's Miguel Montero, arguably the top defensive catcher in baseball.
Like Montero, however, Valle is no one-trick pony. Montero homered 18 times in 2011 and drove in 86 runs for the NL West winning D-Backs. Valle put up similar numbers in Low-A ball back in 2010, before struggling through the worst offensive season of his career in 2011.
Valle is still a long ways off from the Majors but has similar potential as a 21-year old.
Considering the fact that they both throw in the upper 90s and can reach triple digits, and they both have some pretty good secondary pitches, it's no wonder Cole most frequently gets comped to 2009 No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg.
Strasburg has consistently been clocked at 100 mph in the Majors, and Cole recently hit 102 mph in the Arizona Fall League.
The one difference is that Cole lacks the elite command that Strasburg has over all of his pitches, including his fastball. That one setback caused Cole to struggle more than other pitchers with his kind of stuff would during his time at UCLA.
Still, getting compared to Strasburg is quite an impressive feat in itself.
Miller dazzled scouts at the Futures Game during All-Star Weekend, nothing new for the former first-round pick (2009). He's been wowing team officials and opponents alike with his pure stuff and more important, his maturity on the mound since the day he signed.
It's only fitting then, that one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in baseball get the almighty comp to 2011 Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander. In addition to their similar attitudes on the mound and fire-balling nature, Verlander and Miller have plenty in common. Both feature great velocity, and although Verlander can scrape triple-digits, the movement on Miller's pitch makes it nearly as tough to hit.
Both also happen to be three-pitch pitchers, featuring a stunning curveball and impressive changeup in addition to their plus-plus fastballs. Miller should reach the big leagues at some point during the 2012 season, providing the team with another potential No. 1 starter, joining Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.
Cory Spangenberg might have been considered by some in the industry a money-saving pick, but there's no denying his speed and hitting ability was some of the best available. He showed them both off in his debut, hitting .316 with 25 steals.
Spangenberg didn't show much power (just three HR in 72 games), but his bat is solid enough that he could eventually hit 10-15 at the big-league level. That, combined with his speed (30-40 SB per season) inevitably leads to a Brian Roberts comp.
Roberts arguably has more power, as evidenced by his 18-homer season in 2005, but in terms of speed and defensive prowess, the comparison makes sense.
Brown came to San Francisco with a lot more hype and attention than current Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner brought to New York, but setting aside all the bonuses and awards, there really is no better comparison for the young Giants outfielder who completed his first full season in 2011.
Brown actually put up similar numbers to Mike Trout last season, but projecting his skills to the Majors makes him and Gardner a very similar pair. Both have blinding speed. Brown swiped 53 bases last year, while Gardner stole an American League-leading 49. Both also have shown considerable ability with the bat, and like Gardner, Brown should be a capable run-producer in the Majors, capable of topping the 100-run plateau on an annual basis.
Like the Yankees speedster, Brown also has a sensational idea of what he's doing at the plate. He should be able to produce similar BB:K ratios in the Majors, while providing top-notch defense in the outfield.
Hultzen is very similar to Braves starter Mike Minor, another finesse lefty who experienced a slight improvement in his velocity during his final season at college, as well as a guy who has excellent command of multiple off-speed pitches.
Of course, the Mariners hope that Hultzen turns out to be Minor on crack, considering they shelled out a $6.35 million signing bonus to get him to forgo his senior year at UVA. He's sharp and polished enough that he shouldn't have a problem achieving more than Minor.
And while it will be hard for Hultzen to beat Minor's rapid ascent to the Majors, it's likely that he could be one of the first players from the first round to reach the big leagues.
Moore is like Mike Trout, in that he is so much more talented than any of his peers that it's quite hard to find a decent comparison for him. In many ways, however, he's most similar to his rotation-mate, left-hander David Price.
Both southpaws have incredible velocity, capable of reaching the high 90s with their above-average fastballs. Both also have an impressive collection of secondary pitches. Price's slider is one of the best in baseball, while Moore's curveball is arguably the best in the minors.
Moore will also be cracking into the rotation at a time that is similar to Price's arrival. Price made roughly 66 starts during his time at Vanderbilt and into the minors. Moore needed a few more than that (all in the minors since he was drafted out of HS) but should also reach the Majors for good at age 23.
Profar's skills would be impressive enough if he were a seasoned minor league veteran, but the fact that he has shown the abilities that he has at such a young age (18) is almost unbelievable.
The only current big-league shortstop with his collection of tools is 2011 breakout star Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera had a career-defining year this past season, hitting .273 with 25 homers, 87 RBI and 17 steals. In addition, he also offered Gold Glove-caliber defense while winning the AL Silver Slugger at shortstop and earning his first All-Star nod.
Profar has similar potential, both at the plate and in the field. At the plate, he benefits from being a switch-hitter. He has solid raw power but has yet to truly grow into his lanky frame. As he gains more weight, he'll gain more strength. On the basepaths, he has great speed, but as he fills out he should lose a bit. He should be a threat to steal 15-20 bases per season.
And in the field, he's a Gold Glove defender capable of making all the plays, including the spectacular ones.
Thanks to the departure of Brett Lawrie for the Majors, the Blue Jays no longer have an elite prospect in their system. That doesn't mean their cupboard is bare, however. The situation is quite the opposite, with Toronto housing one of the best, and deepest, collections of minor league talent in baseball.
It all starts with Anthony Gose, who has arguably the highest ceiling in the system. Gose offers plus-plus speed, some of the best in the minors, and tantalized scouts and team officials with some in-game power this past season. He also made strides with his plate discipline.
A moderately acceptable comp for Gose would be Carl Crawford. While Gose is nowhere near the all-around athlete that Crawford was while at Tampa Bay, he's still pretty good. He's capable of stealing 50 bases per year at the big-league level, assuming his bat can carry him there. He should have 10-15 homer potential down the road and will likely offer the same stunning defensive abilities that Crawford did when he was younger.
The only thing standing in the way of Gose becoming Crawford-like is his plate discipline. He struck out a career-high 154 times in 2011. Crawford's plate discipline isn't exactly the stuff of legends, but it's much better than that.
Harper is arguably the top position prospect to come along in at least a decade, and as such, it's hard to find a suitable comparison for him. He has a fantastic combination of speed and power and has the strongest right-field arm in the minors.
Due to his sensational athleticism and his offensive potential, Harper most closely resembles Josh Hamilton. Both have incredible power, deceiving speed and cannon-arms. It wouldn't be entirely unreasonable to see Harper put together the kind of season that Hamilton had in 2008 (.304, 32 HR, 130 RBI).
Harper, of course, has the added benefit of not having a drug addiction, something which seems likely to extend his career and raise his ceiling.