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USA Today

Cole Hamels isn’t known for turning in strong season debuts. Since 2009, the Phillies left-hander is 1-4 with a 9.55 ERA in 21.2 innings.

On Wednesday night, Hamels took the mound for the first time this season after spending over two months on the shelf with tendonitis in his left shoulder, and he did so with a chance to ensure a series win against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Earlier in the week, manager Ryne Sandberg mentioned on the WIP Morning Show that Hamels would have no restrictions in his season debut (via CBS Philly):

While Hamels left the game after six innings with the Phillies trailing, 2-1, he did end his string of lackluster debuts by allowing two earned runs on four hits with five strikeouts and one walk. More importantly, the 30-year-old southpaw proved that he’s healthy and ready for another strong campaign.

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Carlos Osorio

The minor league season is now in full swing and countless prospects are making strong impressions, for one reason or another, at each of the four full-season levels.

With most pitchers having made roughly three or four starts since Opening Day (April 4), it’s important to acknowledge the role of small sample sizes when evaluating a player's success using statistics. However, it's impossible to ignore there’s still a large contingent of young arms that have either opened the season on a tear or struggled to get things going.

Here are at the hottest and coldest hitters at every minor league level three weeks into the 2014 season.

 

*All stats courtesy of MiLB.com and reflect games through Monday, April 21.

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USA TODAY Sports

The best and worst part of being a baseball fan is hearing about prospects. These are the players who represent the future of every organization, the studs who will bring that elusive championship to a city in need of celebrating. 

Because we all get so wrapped up in the things that these players can do and what they can become, it's easy to forget that prospects are usually between the ages of 18-23 and have no idea what kind of cereal they want to eat in the morning, let alone how their baseball skills will develop. 

The simple plan will be to draft a player or sign an international free agent, then move him up before making him a permanent staple in the lineup or pitching rotation. But in this game, when do things ever go as planned?

Our focus is on the best prospect in each team's system who won't reach the ceiling that he can get to with some minor mechanical tweaks and/or development. Players were considered based on their current level of performance, how good they project to be and how likely they are to reach that ceiling. 

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The St. Louis Cardinals once again face the enviable problem of having too much depth in the minor leagues.

Last year it was too many young arms; this year, it’s outfielders.

The Cardinals’ Triple-A Memphis roster features the best and most exciting outfield in the minor leagues, with top-ranked prospects Oscar Taveras and Stephen Piscotty, as well as offseason acquisition Randal Grichuk. To make matters more complicated, all three players are off to great starts at Memphis.

Speaking this spring about the Cardinals’ collection of young outfielders, manager Mike Matheny acknowledged that finding playing time for each guy would be a challenge.

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USA TODAY Sports

The minor league season is now in full swing and countless prospects are making strong impressions, for one reason or another, at each of the four full-season levels.

With most teams having played roughly 15-plus games since Opening Day (April 4), it’s important to acknowledge the role of small sample sizes when evaluating a player's success using statistics. However, it's impossible to ignore there’s still a large contingent of young hitters that have either opened the season on a tear or struggled to get things going at the dish.

Here are at the hottest and coldest hitters at every minor league level three weeks into the 2014 season.

 

*All stats courtesy of MiLB.com and reflect games through Monday, April 21.

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USA Today

It was an eventful week for some of baseball’s top prospects. For others, not so much.

Xander Bogaerts has been impressive as the Boston Red Sox’s everyday shortstop, batting .270/.403/.349 through his first 18 games, and the 21-year-old is making an early case for the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

Meanwhile, fellow shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder Oscar Taveras are both off to hot starts in the minor leagues, with Correa batting .281/.338/.469 with 14 RBI at High-A Lancaster and Taveras batting .297/.348/.500 at Triple-A Memphis. 

Unfortunately, a pair of top-10 prospects—as determined by Prospect Pipeline's End-of-Spring Top 100 Prospects—are currently on the disabled list with injuries, as Byron Buxton (left wrist sprain) and Addison Russell (right hamstring tear) are currently on the seven-day disabled list for their respective Double-A teams. Meanwhile, Taijuan Walker’s shoulder flared up prior to a Triple-A rehab start, forcing the right-hander to be shut down once again.

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USA TODAY Sports

It was a tough week for the Philadelphia Phillies, as they went 2-4 in six games and fell to last place in the National League East.

Thankfully, things weren’t quite as bleak down on the farm; many of the team’s top offensive prospects came out of their respective shells last week and put up impressive numbers, especially those players at Low-A Lakewood in the South Atlantic League.

The following is a look at the early-season performances of the Phillies’ current top-10 prospects, as ranked by Prospect Pipeline headed into 2014. This series is updated weekly, a with a stock “up,” “even” or “down” indication given to each prospect based upon what direction his performance is trending.

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USA Today

Giancarlo Stanton has a reputation as a notoriously slow starter, or at least he did until this year.

The 24-year-old has crushed the ball out of the gate this season, as he entered Friday’s game against the Seattle Mariners batting .299/.347/.597 with five home runs and a major league-leading 21 RBI through 16 games. Through his first 16 games last season, Stanton was batting just .200/.324/.250 with zero home runs, four RBI and 22 strikeouts.

Speaking of Friday night, Stanton contributed three hits along with five RBI. The bulk of that production coming on this particularly timely moonshot.

So, if Stanton is so hot right now, then why aren’t more teams pitching around him?

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USA Today

The Los Angeles Dodgers have something special in Julio Urias.

The 17-year-old Urias made himself known to a larger audience this spring after receiving an invitation to the Dodgers’ major league spring training. While he made only one appearance before a reassignment to the minor leagues, the highly touted left-hander made an indelible impression.

Getting the start for the Dodgers on March 15, Urias worked a perfect first inning against the San Diego Padres, striking out big leaguers Will Venable and Yonder Alonso in the process. The Dodgers went on to win the game, 5-4, and Urias was credited with the win.

The Dodgers discovered Urias during a trip to Mexico to scout Yasiel Puig. According to Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

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Nobody really knew what to expect from Jose Abreu headed into the season. Sure, we’d all heard about his exploits while playing in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, but it was difficult to say with any certainty how his game would translate in the major leagues.

Well, it turns out the Chicago White Sox knew exactly what they were doing last offseason by signing the 27-year-old first baseman for six years and $68 million. The contract is already looking like a bargain with Abreu’s impressive start to the season, and if he puts up the numbers it seems he will, then the White Sox could have their first Rookie of the Year since Ozzie Guillen in 1985.

Abreu is only batting .217 through his first 15 games in the major leagues, but he was sitting at .300 on April 11 before playing the Indians. Since then the right-handed-hitting slugger has been mired in the first slump of his career, as he’s gone 1-for-20 with eight strikeouts in his last five contests.