Mike Trout, Wil Myers and Bryce Harper are three of the most promising young prospects in baseball today.
All three outfielders possess above-average skills in most, if not all, categories on both sides of the ball, and all three are destined for superstardom in the big leagues.
Outfielders don't have just one role. They don't have to have soft hands and quick reflexes like a middle infielder, and they don't necessarily have to hit for power as they would be expected to if they were corner infielders.
Today's elite outfielders don't fit one mold, and more often than not, the elite guys can do it all: They can hit for power, hit for average, play stellar defense and tear up the base paths.
Here's every team's No. 1 outfield prospect.
When it comes to prospects, the Baltimore Orioles are stacked in the infield. Unfortunately, that depth does not translate to the outfield.
Of just a handful of legitimate outfield prospects, Xavier Avery is arguably the one with the best shot of making it to Camden Yards. He has a chance to reach the majors toward the end of 2012, but most likely his ETA is 2013.
The former second-round draft pick spent the entire 2011 campaign in the Eastern League with Double-A Bowie, but he wasn't able to duplicate the numbers from 12 months ago that saw him rising up the ladder.
His .666 OPS does not stand out from the crowd, and his .259 average is the lowest single-season mark of his four-year career.
There were positives, though.
His 31 doubles and 49 walks were both personal highs, and his 36 stolen bases proved he was still a threat on the base paths at the higher level. He was named to the midseason All-Star team, but he cooled down after the break.
Following some time off, Avery suited up for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League and showed why he should still be high on the radar.
In 30 games, he hit .288 with five triples, nine steals, 15 RBI and 21 runs scored, and he was named an AFL Rising Star.
Few people knew much about Bryce Brentz before the 2011 season, other than the fact that he was a first-round draft pick.
Now, just 12 months later, he's considered the top outfield prospect in the Red Sox organization.
In the short-season New York-Penn League in 2010, Brentz hit just .198 with five homers in 69 games.
This year, the Tennessee native showed why he stood out from the crowd as one of the best collegiate bats in the nation.
Brentz mashed 30 homers and drove home 94 runs in 115 games between Greenville and Salem.
During his time in the South Atlantic League, Brentz hit .359 and compiled a league-best 26-game hitting streak, between April 17 and May 15.
He stayed locked in following a promotion to the Carolina League, hitting 19 homers in 75 games. There are few reasons to keep Brentz at this level in 2012, so expect to see him start at Double-A and work his way up to Pawtucket by September.
I don't know what to make of Slade Heathcott.
His pedigree speaks for itself in the forms of an All-State selection in college and a first-round pick in the 2009 draft, but shoulder surgery in 2010 and a trip to the DL with a similar injury in 2011 cast shadows over his long-term health.
He's an elite defensive center fielder when he's on the field, but he's known just as much for his reckless teenage years as he is for his talent on the diamond.
He's appeared in just 132 games since being selected 29th overall by the Yankees, but the talent is there to see. With his newfound faith guiding him on his way, some people believe Heathcott is on his way to the Bronx.
With gap-to-gap power, a little pop and decent speed, those predictions seem almost certainly right.
Maturity and health may be the only things standing in his way.
Drew Vettleson is still several years away from making it to the majors, but he has the talent to stand out in a loaded Rays system.
The left-handed right fielder hits for average, hits for power, has plus speed and has a cannon for an arm.
A pitcher in high school, Vettleson is a gifted athlete with solid fundamentals. You can expect the 20-year-old, who weighs only 185 pounds, to add a little more power to his swing as he finishes filling out over the next few years.
Vettleson hit .282 with seven homers, 40 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 61 short-season games with the Princeton Rays in his rookie year, 2011. There's no reason to think he won't move up the ladder and shine in a full-season league next year.
Vettleson is a more complete package than Josh Sale, another Rays outfielder who is expected to produce big things down the road.
I love Jake Marisnick's all-around game, and I'm intrigued by the power-average-speed-defense combination that the 20-year-old displayed with the Lansing Lugnuts this year.
The only problem is that Anthony Gose is just a little more explosive in almost every aspect of the game.
Gose has ridiculous speed (70 steals in New Hampshire) and above-average power (16 homers, 20 doubles, .763 OPS). His speed gives him tremendous range in center field, and he's more than capable of making plays once he gets to the ball.
Gose doesn't have the same patience at the plate that Marisnick does, but I expect Gose to develop into a prototypical top-of-the-order kind of guy.
If he can develop a little better pitch recognition, he's probably less than 18 months away from a big-league debut. Spring training will ultimately determine where he starts 2012, but it should be the Pacific Coast League.
Brandon Short put together a career year in 2010 with the Winston-Salem Dash and continued his impressive growth in the Southern League with Double-A Birmingham in 2011.
His hitting stats took a knock with the jump in competition, but that was to be expected. Still, Short smacked 13 homers and plated 60 runs in 130 games, posting a .729 OPS.
Maybe the most impressive jump came in his running game. Short stole a career-high 21 bases in 30 attempts, proving he is more than just a slugging outfielder.
The 2012 season represents the fifth professional year for the 23-year-old, and it could be make-or-break time. If Short can maintain a .260 average at Triple-A Charlotte while still improving his power output and base-running, he'll have a shot at the big leagues in 2013.
He's right on the cusp of making something big happen, but he'll need to do it sooner rather than later to meet the expectations he's put on himself.
Drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft, Washington is another of the 20-and-under prospects who projects to fill a big-league leadoff spot down the line.
He struggled at times in the Midwest League with Lake County this year, but he also showed solid ability on the base paths. That speed should serve Washington well in center field in a year or two, and if he doesn’t lose too many steps as he adds bulk to that slender 5’11” frame, he should be a solid all-around player with a little power in that bat.
He’s still pretty raw in most elements of his game, and that is the biggest reason behind some of the streaky performances you saw at times this year.
As he enters his second full year, expect those kinks to iron out and his average to shoot up.
He was given the green light regularly in 2011. If he bumps his average to .260 or .270, you could see him running wild on defenses wherever he suits up in 2012.
The 2012 season could be the most important year for Daniel Fields in terms of his development.
The 20-year-old failed to show any real growth statistically this past season, despite repeating the Florida State League, and time is probably running out for the former sixth-round draft pick to show what he is capable of.
One of his in-house rivals for the top outfield prospect is Lakeland teammate Avisail Garcia. Also 20, Garcia came to the Flying Tigers from the Midwest League and outproduced Fields across the board.
Garcia is taller and bigger than Fields, and that has translated into more raw power and better offensive output. He also has pretty good speed for a 6’4” guy, but he still doesn’t have the upside that Fields does.
Garcia lacks plate discipline, and even though he can hammer the ball a long way, his reckless approach at the dish will hold him back.
Fields knows how to work a walk, but unfortunately that has been the only way he’s been getting on base over the last few years.
Once Fields addresses the holes in his swing against left-handers, he should be fine.
There will be growing pains in 2012, but he should be able to cope with the new challenges.
Wil Myers is one of those youngsters right on the verge of becoming a top-10 prospect. In terms of outfielders, there are few better, and he undoubtedly leads the second class of talent behind the Bryce Harper-Mike Trout combo at the front of the pack.
Myers took to the outfield well and showed he had solid defensive capabilities to go alongside his above-average bat.
The third-round draft pick spent all of 2011 in the Double-A Texas League with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, hitting .254 with eight homers and 49 RBI in 99 games.
In his three seasons as a minor leaguer, Myers has hit .296, so there’s no doubt he’s one of the best pure hitters in the organization today.
Just to reinforce his position as one of the better prospects in the game, the 21-year-old hit .360 with four homers, five triples and five doubles in 23 Arizona Fall League games with the Surprise Saguaros. He walked (20) more times than he struck out (18), posting a red-hot 1.156 OPS.
He’s ready for Triple-A.
I love Aaron Hicks, but how many more times do we have to see him post distinctly average numbers before we come to the realization that maybe he simply isn’t as good as we thought he was?
Hicks repeated the Midwest League in 2010 and looked better than the previous year, but there wasn’t a huge amount of growth in Fort Myers this season. We knew he was outstanding in the outfield, and we knew he has great strike-zone discipline.
He didn’t show us anything new to suggest he was even as close as two years away from the majors.
Sure, 41 extra-base hits is nice, but for someone who relies on getting on base and running , a .242 average in the Florida State League isn’t god enough.
I’m starting to like Oswaldo Arcia instead. He’s two years younger than Hicks, and he should see time at Double-A New Britain in 2012.
He’s still a little raw and, unlike Hicks, needs to learn to take pitches, but he should hit for average and drive the ball with power.
This coming season will be huge for both players, especially if they’re side by side in the Rock Cats outfield.
Mike Trout still has rookie eligibility and is therefore on this list as a prospect.
The outfielder will be a cornerstone of the Angels franchise for years to come because he has all the tools needed to be successful at the highest level: He can hit for average, hit for power, run the bases and play defense.
The 2011 season marked his second full year of pro ball. In 2010, Trout batted .341 with 10 homers, 58 RBI and 56 stolen bases across two levels. This year in the Texas League, he hit .326 with a career-best 11 homers in 91 games with Arkansas, prompting a call-up to the Angels.
Trout has superstar written all over him. He's going to be a very special player for a lot of years to come.
Jeremy Moore, Kole Calhoun and Randal Grichuk will all have the impossible task of following in Trout’s footsteps once he graduates to the big leagues.
Michael Choice was selected 10th overall in the 2010 draft and absolutely lived up to his high billing this past season.
The 22-year-old Texas native smacked 30 homers and plated 82 runs across 118 Cal League games for the Stockton Ports. His .285 average was impressive for someone who struck out 134 times, but 61 walks tells you he also has some discipline for a guy with such a big swing.
Choice's .918 OPS over the course of a full season was outstanding, and even if you discount some of the power due to the fact that he’s in a hitter-friendly league, his performances were worthy of taking notice.
His slightly unorthodox swing might make you think there are serious flaws in his mechanics, but he is still extremely quick to the ball. His lower body is pretty quiet, but that doesn’t seem to affect his timing.
More rotation in the hips might help his swing, but if he sticks with his approach he’ll likely be just fine.
Guillermo Pimentel is a young, left-handed outfielder who has the chance to become a legitimate big-league slugger.
The 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic was signed as a non-drafted free agent back in 2009, and 2012 should mark his debut in a full-season league.
He spent 2010 in the Arizona League, and he graduated to the short-season Appy League this past season, hitting 11 homers and recording 46 RBI over just 65 games.
There are some concerns about his plate discipline, but there’s no doubt that his power is for real. With a little seasoning, this right fielder has the potential to do a lot of damage.
You’re not going to see his name in a Mariners lineup any time soon, but remember his name, because Pimentel could be a star of the future.
Leonys Martin debuted in 2011 and seemed to be on the fast track from the very beginning.
He started off in the Arizona League but quickly got promoted to Frisco of the Texas League. From there he climbed to Triple-A Round Rock before earning a call up to the majors.
The Rangers spent significant money—$15.5 million—signing him to a five-year deal, and they obviously didn’t want to waste any time in getting the 23-year-old Cuban defector into the lineup.
Martin profiles as a solid gap-to-gap hitter with decent power, average speed and plus defense. Scouts have said he has good instincts in the field, at the plate and on the base paths, so that gives you a good idea of how useful this kid can be.
He hit .295 with four homers, five triples, 42 RBI and 19 stolen bases across the three minor league levels in 2011. Acknowledging the small sample size, he also hit .375 in eight games with the Rangers.
There’s no reason to start Martin off anywhere below Triple-A this spring, and there’s even a chance of his cracking the major league roster out of spring training. I’d give him a couple months in the Pacific Coast League, reevaluate his performance and then consider a promotion.
Of course, he’s just an injury or two from being in Arlington even sooner.
The Atlanta Braves have a lot of depth in terms of pitching prospects, but very little in the way of star outfielders. \
Matt Lipka may not be great, but he’s the best of the bunch.
The main question with Lipka is what role he’ll ultimately play. He could wind up in center, or he could just as easily become a full-time middle infielder.
For a 19-year-old, Lipka handled the demands of a full-season league well, appearing in 127 games for the Rome Braves this past year. He showed plus speed, a decent eye and power to the doubles alleys.
The right-hander may not ever hit for a ton of power, but he should post respectable numbers at any level at which he plays. He’ll score a lot of runs as long as he keeps his average around the .260 mark.
Christian Yelich has the potential to be an exciting, dual-threat outfielder.
In his first full year of pro ball, Yelich hit .312 with 15 homers and 32 stolen bases. He also smacked 32 doubles, drew 44 walks, plated 77 runs and scored 73 times.
All of the pieces of the puzzle are there for the 6’4” 20-year-old, selected 23rd overall in the 2010 draft.
Yelich came into the season with just 47 professional at-bats under his belt, but it didn’t take him long to find his groove and adapt from the high-school game.
What impressed people most about the outfielder, though, was the second half he put together. He hit .354 after the All-Star break, posting a .991 OPS in 60 games.
A South Atlantic League mid- and postseason All-Star, Yelich should shine again in 2012.
I like Cory Vaughn, but in terms of age and development, I have to give the nod to Cesar Puello.
Puello is still only 20 years old, and he has progressed from the Gulf Coast League in 2008 to Kingsport, Savannah and St. Lucie over each of the previous three seasons.
At every level, Puello has demonstrated that he can hit for average and steal bases, making him profile very much like an Angel Pagan type of outfielder.
The Florida State League gave Puello his first real test, especially after coming off his first full year of baseball, in which he hit .292 and swiped 45 bases.
Hits and steals were not as easy to come by in 2011, but Puello still put together a solid year: He hit .259 and stole 19 bases, setting career highs in homers (10), RBI (50) and triples (five).
His strikeouts rose and his walks decreased, but there’s enough ability there to stay optimistic about his future.
Puello has good fundamentals and a strong skill set. He could be in Citi Field by the end of 2013.
The Philadelphia Phillies, much like the in-division Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, don’t have too many outfielders in the system who are likely to make splashes at the big-league level.
Jiwan James is a converted pitcher, but you wouldn’t know it. He has excellent speed and he’s a tremendous athlete. With his background, it also goes without saying that he has an excellent arm.
He moved from the Sally League with Lakewood in 2010 to the Florida State League with Clearwater this year and never appeared to miss a beat.
His numbers at the higher level were almost identical to those from the previous year, and that’s always a good sign.
The 22-year-old is a lanky switch-hitter who is more suited to turning doubles into triples than he is driving the ball out of the park, but there’s a chance his power develops as he adds mass to that wiry 6’4” frame.
He hit .268 with four homers, six triples and 31 steals in 2011. I believe he could bat .250 with six or seven homers and 25 stolen bases again next year at Double-A.
There’s nothing to say about Bryce Harper that hasn’t been said before.
The 19-year-old has struggled at times—sometimes with his adjusting to a new level, others with his maturity—but there's no doubt that his talent is legit.
Harper hit .318 with 14 homers and 46 RBI in 72 South Atlantic League games with the Hagerstown Suns before leapfrogging Class-A Advanced to go straight to the Eastern League.
In 37 additional games with the Harrisburg Senators, the 6'3" left-hander batted .256 with three more homers and 12 RBI.
As well as Harper, keep an eye out for Eury Perez. He hit .299 and stole 64 bases with Hagerstown in 2010 and followed that up by hitting .283 with 45 more steals for Potomac in 2011. Perez has a good arm in center field and projects as an exciting leadoff hitter.
Brett Jackson may be 23 years old, but the former first-rounder is right on the cusp of the majors.
He finally got his shot sat the Pacific Coast League in 2011, and he put up the numbers to suggest that he’s ready for the next step.
He hit .274 with 20 homers between Double- and Triple-A, swiping 21 bases and performing well in the outfield.
His prowess with the bat was noticeable immediately when he was promoted to Iowa, and he posted a .939 OPS in 48 games for the minor league Cubs.
The University of California product has now recorded consecutive solid years in the Chicago system.
Now he just needs to find an opening.
He’ll start in Iowa if he doesn’t make the opening day roster, but don’t think he’ll stay down there for long.
He’ll be in the majors by the All-Star break.
Nineteen-year-old Venezuelan native Yorman Rodriguez isn’t too well known outside of the Cincinnati fanbase, but all that could be changing over the next 18 months or so.
The outfielder is an exciting talent, with a good bat and great wheels. He played in 79 games for the Dayton Dragons of the Midwest League in 2011, batting .254 with seven homers and 20 steals. He also plated 40 runs and recorded 14 extra-base hits.
Expectations of Rodriguez were cautiously optimistic coming into the season. He hit .339 with 39 RBI in just 43 games for Billings the previous year, but he was limited to just six weeks of action, so the jury was still out on whether he would make an impact at the higher level.
Rodriguez may never be a superstar, but he’s on his way to making a name for himself within the organization.
If he can stay healthy, improve his plate discipline and add a couple points to his average, he will be in that group of prospects, like Billy Hamilton, who figure to contribute in the majors in 2014.
I’m not sure if George Springer was on anybody’s radar at this time last year. Houston Astros fans probably don’t know anything about him, and I’m pretty sure he’s unheard of even to the most hardcore Minor League Baseball fans.
If he’s known anywhere, it’s in Connecticut, where he tore up collegiate pitching just a year ago.
Springer was a two-way player in high school, and he broke school career hitting records at UConn despite missing his senior year.
He has the potential to be an elite defensive center fielder, and he also profiles as an above-average hitter.
He appeared in eight games for the short-season Tri-City Valley Cats in the New York-Penn League this year, and he’s expected to be a full-time fixture in 2012.
He’s the most unproven of all the prospects on this list, but, if his time at college and the Cape Cod League are anything to go by, he has the talent to rise quickly through the ranks.
At 22, he’s quite old to be starting his career at Low-A ball, but he has the kind of talent to shoot up to Double-A in a single season.
Things need to happen quickly for Springer, but he has the tools to make that happen.
With a groin injury now a thing of the past, Logan Schafer zipped through the system at breakneck speed in 2011.
He went from hitting .174 in seven High-A games in 2010 to appearing in eight Major League games within the space of a year.
Schafer hit .315 across three levels with Brevard County, Huntsville and Nashville this past season. He smacked five homers, swiped 16 bases and posted an .824 OPS in 99 total games.
He won’t dazzle you in any one area, but he’s above average in all aspects of his game.
The left-hander went to the Arizona Fall League this winter to hone his skills. In 21 outings, the California native hit .302 with eight extra-base hits, five steals and 15 runs. He also walked eight times and struck out on nine occasions.
Starling Marte spent all of 2011 at Double-A Altoona, and he should move up to the International League with Triple-A Indianapolis next year.
He patrols center field like a veteran, and he has the speed to cover more ground than most. Once he gets to the ball, Marte also has the arm to rifle it back into the infield in a hurry.
Offensively, Marte broke out for a career year. He lead the Eastern League with a .332 average and 38 doubles, but don’t forget, he also smacked 12 homers, legged out three triples and swiped 24 bases.
Marte has all the tools to be a game-changing player. If he can improve his plate discipline and become a little more selective on the base paths, the world is his oyster.
If the right-hander adds mass to that 6’1”, 170-pound frame, he could even become a 20-homer threat.
With his bat and speed already Triple-A ready, plus power will make Marte one of the very best prospects in the league.
Oscar Taveras is ahead of the curve for a 19-year-old who has barely had 200 minor league at-bats.
This previous season marked Taveras’ first year in a full-season league, and it’s fair to say that he surprised everyone. He hit a ridiculous .386 in 78 games and posted a 1.028 OPS in the Midwest League.
Taveras is a pure hitter who uses the whole field, and his power potential will be on the rise for the next three years. If some of those doubles or triples start leaving the yard, there’s really no limit to what he could do.
He needs to be tested at the next level for us to get an accurate picture of where he is in terms of his development, and he obviously won’t get that in Quad Cities in 2012. I wouldn’t have any trouble with his skipping a level, but I’m also not advocating rushing Taveras through the ranks for the sake of doing so.
Taveras is a stud at the dish with a great approach and elite contact. He’s not the fastest guy in the field, but what he lacks for in raw speed he makes up for with instincts. He can run, but that’s not where this kid’s value lies.
Stick him in the middle of the order, get runners on base for him and leave the rest of it to him.
The Arizona Fall League exposed some holes against left-handed pitchers, so that should be next on the to-do list for him.
The former first-round draft pick saw regular playing time in 2011, and he took a big step toward regaining some of the hype he originally had back in 2009.
A nasty elbow injury sidelined him for all of 2010, but the good news for D-backs fans was that there was no long-term ligament damage.
Pollock’s skill set heading in 2012 is largely unchanged from that when he was signed 17th overall three years ago: He can still hit for average, he can still hit for power and he can still run.
He will drive opposing managers crazy with his wide-ranging ability because there’s seemingly nothing he can’t do on the field.
He hit .307 with 73 RBI, 36 steals in 43 attempts and 103 runs scored in the Double-A Southern League with Mobile this year…and that was after a year on the shelf.
Back to full health, Pollock should start the year as Arizona’s third-best position prospect. If he stays in the lineup, he’ll crack the big league roster before the end of the year.
Some people may see Tim Wheeler’s gaudy strikeout numbers and scoff at his ability, but there’s so much thunder in his lumber that you can’t help but want to watch this kid.
At 23 years old, Wheeler needs to make an impression above Double-A this coming season, but at least he set the foundation with a monster year.
He hammered 33 homers and plated 86 runs for Tulsa, and while he did swing and miss at a lot of pitches, he still hit .287 with an even .900 OPS. That’s pretty impressive for someone who is said to have a lack of discipline and a long swing.
Wheeler will always strike out a lot, but if he continues to rip the cover off the ball, you probably won’t care too much, right?
The powerful 6’4” left-hander has an advantage over many other 200-pound outfielders his size…he can run. He stole 22 bags with Modesto a year ago and added 21 more this year.
He progressed across the board in the Texas League, and he should find success at the next level in 2012.
Alfredo Silverio is the best position player in a farm system absolutely stocked with arms.
The 24-year-old is a little too old for the Southern League, but as long as he shows continued growth in Albuquerque, there shouldn’t be too many causes for concern.
Silverio has hit for power at every level at which he’s played, and he has recently started to incorporate a running game into his skill set.
This past season was a banner year for Silverio, a player who has been in the organization since being picked up as a non-drafted free agent all the way back in 2003.
In 2011 he hit 16 homers with 18 triples, 42 doubles, 85 RBI and 90 runs scored, all career highs, in 132 games with Chattanooga. Silverio also hit .306, 14 points higher than the mark he posted in the hitter-friendly Cal League 12 months ago.
Ranked by Baseball America as the Padres’ No. 2 prospect headed into 2012, Rymer Liriano went from being an afterthought in 2010 to a potential Major League fourth outfielder in the space of a year.
The 20-year-old was coming off a disappointing 2010 campaign, which saw him bat just .231 with three homers across three minor league levels, but he quickly turned things around.
He repeated the Midwest League in Fort Wayne to great effect. While the numbers a second time around have to be taken for what they are, he still posted a .319 batting average, 12 homers and 65 stolen bases. He also smacked 30 doubles and eight triples, also career marks, and scored 81 runs.
He was a post- and midseason All-Star, the Midwest League’s MVP and Prospect of the Year, and a Topps Class A All-Star.
If Liriano wanted to get himself back on the radar, his 2011 season did just that.
San Francisco Giants prospect Gary Brown will be the next big player to come out of the Bay Area.
The 23-year-old is a center fielder with a toolbox stuffed with talent: He can hit for average, hit for power, run and defend.
In 131 games with the San Jose Giants, Brown looked a class apart from the competition this season, his first full year. He hit .330 with 14 homers and 80 RBI in 131 games, stealing 53 bases and scoring 115 runs. He also smacked 34 doubles and legged out 13 triples.
I don't care who you are or what level at which you're playing—those are big numbers. Yes, it's the California League, and, yes, those numbers might be a little inflated.
But he's the real deal.
Brown has prototypical leadoff hitter written all over him, and there's every reason to think he'll be in San Francisco by 2013.
He's the Giants' best hitting prospect by quite a margin.