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It’s hard to believe we’re nearly halfway through the 2014 season.

But if the second half is anything like we’ve seen so far, then baseball fans are in store for an exciting summer.

Throughout the season, Bleacher Report’s MLB staff will be reflecting on this year’s biggest offseason acquisitions by evaluating each player’s performance for his new team. In mid-May, Joel Reuter shared his insight while grading many of the high-profile acquisitions. Today, we’ll do something similar with new, fresh grades for baseball's 10 biggest offseason signings or trades.

To be clear, this is not a list or ranking of the 10 best acquisitions that took place prior to the 2014 season; it’s intended to highlight high-priced players that either signed with a new team or were traded elsewhere. Therefore, you won’t find guys here like Michael Morse, Scott Kazmir or Justin Morneau, who have already offered tremendous value relative to their one- or two-year contracts.

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The finals of the 2014 College World Series are set to begin Monday with the first game of a best-of-three series between Virginia and Vanderbilt. Each team will be seeking its first CWS title in program history.

Virginia is making its first-ever trip to the finals, and their performance during the regionals and super regionals has them pegged as the favorite to win this year’s title. Specifically, the team’s pitching staff has been unimaginably good, as it has been the driving force behind the Cavaliers' surge toward the finals, with a combined 1.34 ERA and 72/23 K/BB in 87 innings over nine games.

Vanderbilt, meanwhile, will be making its second CWS finals appearance in the last four years, and they are looking to avenge a 2011 loss to Florida. Though loaded with a host of impressive arms, the Commodores offense is the reason the team is now two wins away from its first title. As a whole, Vandy is batting .297 through 10 games with a tournament-leading 24 stolen bases and 6.3 runs per game.

The two teams also had a combined total of four players selected in the first round (including the compensation rounds) of the MLB first-year player draft earlier this month, and each of those players has the potential to impact the upcoming series and help their team make history.

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Back in October 2012, teenage phenom Shohei Otani had the baseball world buzzing with excitement after he expressed a desire to sign with an MLB team out high school in Japan rather than begin his career in Nippon Professional Baseball.

But after being selected by the Nippon Ham Fighters with the No. 1 overall pick in that year’s NPB amateur draft, the highly touted right-hander ultimately decided to put his major league aspirations on hold, at least temporarily, and sign with the well-known NPB franchise.

However, Otani’s showing with the Fighters this season, highlighted by a recent stretch of flat-out dominant pitching performances—not to mention the overwhelming successes of countrymen Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka in Major League Baseball—now has the 19-year-old back at the forefront of all discussions regarding who will be the next elite Japanese pitcher to pursue a career in the States.

 

Background

After his outstanding career at Hanamaki Higashi High School and strong performance for Japan’s 18-and-under national team, Otani, a 6’4” right-hander, captured headlines worldwide with the announcement that he would bypass the NPB and pursue a career in MLB (via The Associated Press on ESPN.com). He then urged his potential NPB suitors not to draft him in the league’s annual amateur draft.

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Due to the amount of attention paid to each organization's top prospects and early-round draft picks, many of the game's underrated prospects are perpetually obscured. Most of the time, these prospects are younger players housed in the low minors who still require considerable physical projection and time to develop. At the same time, there are countless prospects on the older side of the age curve that have dipped off the radar due to injury.

So how does one identify such players? Well, I began by excluding any player ranked among his team’s top-10 prospects (per Prospect Pipeline’s preseason rankings) heading into the season as well as those players recently selected in the 2014 first-year player draft. Lastly, I decided to filter out prospects that began the current season at or above the Double-A level, with exceptions being made for players who are 21 years of age or younger.

With all that being said, here's a look at one hidden gem from each organization who should be followed closely moving forward.

 

All stats are current through June 18, 2014 and courtesy of either MiLB.com, Baseball-Reference or The Baseball Cube (for college players), unless otherwise noted.

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The 2014 season has seen a number of notable prospects receive call-ups to the major leagues. Undoubtedly, there are more to comeand soon.

In fact, with the Super Two cutoff now in the rear-view mirror, there should be plenty of promotions of prime prospects arriving over the coming days.

Already, highly regarded youngsters like George Springer, Jonathan Singleton and Gregory Polanco are starting for their respective clubs.

Over the past week or so, the injury-riddled Colorado Rockies called up left-hander Tyler Matzek and first baseman/outfielder Kyle Parker, just as the floundering Philadelphia Phillies gave a shot to hard-throwing closer of the future Ken Giles.

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If there’s one reason to appreciate the overlap between Major League Baseball’s amateur draft and the College World Series, it’s because the final eight teams to reach Omaha each year tend to feature many of the top early-round picks from the previous week.

This year is no exception, as there will be six first-round picks in action this weekend, including three players from Virginia’s talented squad as well as several others who were selected in the first five rounds.

Here's a preview of the must-watch MLB draft picks to keep an eye on this weekend during the opening round of the 2014 College World Series.

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The 2014 season has already seen a collection of notable prospects receive promotions to the major leagues. Undoubtedly, there are more to come. And soon.

In fact, with the Super Two cutoff coming right around this time, there should be plenty of promotions of primo prospects over the coming days.

Already, highly regarded youngsters like George Springer, Oscar Taveras, Jonathan Singleton and Marcus Stroman are starting for their respective clubs following call-ups.

The big news this week, of course, was the Pittsburgh Pirates' promotion of elite prospect Gregory Polanco, who had been tearing up the International League.

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We’re now over two months into the 2014 season, which means it’s about that time of the year when teams begin to assess—if they haven’t already, that is—whether or not they can contend for a postseason berth.

For teams on the outside looking in, the remainder of the season presents a potential opportunity to part with either older or costly players—guys who can improve another team in the short term but offer minimal long-term value to their current organization. In such a scenario, a team that’s willing to move a legitimate major league asset typically receives an influx of young, high-upside talent in return.

So, who are the prospects that could be on the move this season?

While my selections for this article aren't necessarily based on any specific rumors, I did focus on prospects who are part of an organization that has a glaring need at the major league level. Along those same lines, I also looked at what each prospect means to his respective organizationboth at the present and in the futurein order to determine whether he realistically could be used as a trade chip at some point this season.

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We’re now well into the minor league season, and countless prospects continue to open eyes with their performances at each of the four full-season levels. And with the Short Season New York-Penn League set to begin Friday, we’ll soon have an entirely new crop of prospects to break down each week.

With teams having played around 60-plus games since Opening Day on April 3—most starting pitchers have made anywhere from 10 to 14 starts, while everyday players are nearing 250 plate appearances—we continue to distance ourselves from concerns related to small sample sizes.

As we did in the series’ previous installments, this week’s list of players once again combines reports on both hitters and pitchers in the same article.

Here are the hottest and coldest players at every minor league level.

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We're only a few days removed from the conclusion of the 2014 draft, but it's never too early to start looking ahead at what next year's class has to offer.

While my colleague Adam Wells already highlighted many of the top 2015 prospects on Monday with a mock draft, here we'll look at next year's crop of talent in greater depth through a position-by-position breakdown. Each player's position is based on his projection as a professional, as guys are often drafted at a position other than their primary position as an amateur.

Players are ranked based on their perceived impact potential in the major leagues. However, keep in mind that these rankings will change drastically between now and next June, as the class hasn't even taken shape beyond some of the highly touted prospects you'll soon read about.

Here are the top-ranked 2015 draft prospects at each position.