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USA Today

We’re now over halfway through 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 rookie and short-season leagues now underway, we have even more prospects to break down each week. However, well only be looking at just the hottest players from those two levels due to the small sample of games.

With teams having played around 70-plus games since Opening Day on April 3—most starting pitchers have made anywhere from 10 to 16 starts, while everyday players have amassed 300-plus plate appearances—we no longer have to worry about misleading 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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The baseball world is still buzzing following Tuesday’s announcement of the 2014 Futures Game rosters, as this year’s collection of talent will feature as many familiar names and fresh faces.

Trying to determine when a player might arrive in the major leagues is an important part of evaluating prospects, as it forces one to consider a player’s future potential in relation to his organization’s current outlook.

Though call-ups during the season tend to be at least partially tied to a player’s preseason development timeline, there also are many unexpected promotions that come from out of nowhere. (Marco Gonzales, anyone?)

So when can fans expect to see this year’s Futures Game selections in the major leagues? Here’s a breakdown of each team’s roster complete with ETAs for every player.

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The 25-man rosters for the 2014 Futures Game were released Tuesday, via MLB, giving fans an idea of which prospects will be suiting up for the U.S. and World teams on Sunday, July 13.

Since its introduction in 1999, the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game has evolved into the hidden gem of All-Star weekend.

The event offers fans a unique opportunity to watch baseball’s brightest prospects on the same field.

Each year the event serves as a stepping stone for prospects destined for greatness, as 22 players from last year’s game have already reached the major leagues.

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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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USA Today

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.