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Gene J. Puskar

Gregory Polanco proved during spring training that he’s nearly ready for an audition in the major leagues, as the 22-year-old posted an .804 OPS with three extra-base hits while appearing in 10 games.

And with his red-hot start this season at Triple-A Indianapolis, it’s only a matter of time until the toolsy outfielder gets the call.

Polanco seemingly emerged from nowhere to turn in one of the top breakout performances of the 2012 season. Playing in 116 games for Low-A West Virginia in the South Atlantic League, Polanco batted an impressive .325/.388/.522 with 16 home runs and 40 stolen bases in 485 plate appearances.

He followed the eye-opening full-season debut with an even better showing in 2013, as the toolsy outfielder excelled at three levels and finished the year in Triple-A. Between all stops, Polanco batted .285/.356/.434 with 26 doubles, 16 home runs, 85 RBI and 40 stolen bases in 485 plate appearances.

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The arrival of generational stars Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Manny Machado in the major leagues during the 2012 season set a new standard for all future rookie classes.

Yet, in spite of the lofty expectations, the overall influx of young talent in the major leagues last season as a whole was more impressive than the now legendary 2012 class.

Top-ranked prospects such as Wil Myers, Jose Fernandez, Yasiel PuigGerrit Cole, Michael Wacha, Anthony Rendon, Zack Wheeler and Christian Yelich made immediate impacts last year upon reaching the major leagues, and they since have justified the hype ascribed to them at the onset of their respective professional careers.

However, except for Fernandez, who to everyone’s surprise opened the season in the Marlins starting rotation after pitching at High-A in 2012, all of the aforementioned players began the season in the minor leagues.

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The 2014 Minor League Baseball season is only a week old, yet there are already stellar performances being put forth by key prospects at every level. 

Due to the uncertain, volatile nature of prospectsespecially when they start a new levelthere is always a concern that they will be overwhelmed by the quality of the competition they are set to face. There's a gradual progression, both in pitching and hitting, that must be dealt with at each rung of the ladder. 

Sometimes, though, there is just something to be said for natural talent playing up. Every MLB team wants to build a farm system that can churn out talent year after year, but some are better at adding and acquiring it than others. 

Whatever the overall look of a farm system is, we have found a player from each team who has shined bright in the very early going of the 2014 season. Some of these are names that fans are familiar with, and others are names you should know, but all warrant inclusion on this list. 

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It’s unusual for a prospect to experience a quick, uninterrupted ascent to the major leagues.

Despite how it may seem after the emergence of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Jose Fernandez and Xander Bogaerts in recent years, a team’s decision to promote a prospect to the major leagues has just as much to do with its 25- and 40-man roster situation as it does that player actually being ready for the highest level.

Often times, a prospect is kept in the minors for what seems like an unnecessarily long time because he’s blocked at the major league level by a veteran (and often costly) player. Other times it’s the exact opposite; a prospect is held in the minors because the organization already has a cost-effective option in the major leagues.

As a result, the club is less inclined to begin its prospect’s service-time clock with an early promotion in such a scenario.

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The 2014 Minor League Baseball season began last Thursday, and there already have been countless standout performances by top prospects across all four full-season levels.

For those familiar with our weekly hot/cold lists that appeared on Prospect Pipeline during the previous two seasons, you’ll be happy to know that we'll be doing the same thing this year. The series' first installment, where we looked at some early-season offensive performances, appeared Tuesday.

With most teams having played roughly five-to-seven games since Thursday, it’s important to acknowledge the role of small sample sizes when evaluating players’ statistics, especially when it comes to pitchers. That being said, it's still worth recognizing some of the young arms that have been on display early this season.

Here are the hottest and coldest pitchers at every minor league level to begin the 2014 season.

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Orlin Wagner

Yordano Ventura is quickly becoming must-watch television.

On Tuesday night the 22-year-old made his season debut for the Kansas City Royals, nearly a week after his scheduled start was rained out.

Facing the Tampa Bay Rays, Ventura proved why he’s one of baseball’s most promising young pitchers, as the right-hander scattered two hits over six scoreless innings and recorded six strikeouts without issuing a walk. As the Royals lost the game 1-0 on a James Loney RBI in the ninth, Ventura didn't receive a decision in his first start. 

As expected, he showcased an elite fastball velocity, topping out at 101 mph twice in the outing and sitting in the high-90s for the duration of his start. However, it was Ventura's ability to sequence and command his changeup (and to a lesser extent his curveball), and consistently work ahead in the count that surely left onlookers believing they witnessed a star in the making.

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USA Today

The 2014 Minor League Baseball season began last Thursday, and there already have been countless standout performances by top prospects across all four full-season levels.

For those familiar with our weekly hot/cold lists that appeared on Prospect Pipeline during the previous two seasons, you’ll be happy to know that we'll be doing the same thing this year.

With most teams having played roughly three-five games since Thursday, it’s important to acknowledge the role of small sample sizes when evaluating players’ 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 to begin the 2014 season.

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

Xander Bogaerts has been the star everyone expected through the first week of the season, batting .360 through his first seven games, and the 21-year-old shortstop looks like a safe bet to run away with the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

Meanwhile, fellow shortstops Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor are off to similar hot starts in the minor leagues, with Correa batting .471 with eight RBI at High-A Lancaster, and Lindor batting .353 back at Double-A Akron. 

Unfortunately, a pair of top-10 prospects—as determined by Prospect Pipeline's End-of-Season Top 100 Prospects—are dealing with injuries, as Byron Buxton (wrist sprain) and Addison Russell (hamstring strain) are currently on the seven-day disabled list for their respective Double-A teams.

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STEVE NESIUS

Wil Myers made headlines last year before the season even started.

During the offseason, the Kansas City Royals sent Myers, fresh off a 37-homer season in the minor leagues, and three other prospects to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.

In Myers’ first year with his new organization, the outfielder needed just a few months at the Triple-A level before receiving the call to join the Rays in mid-June. From that point on, Myers was one of the more productive rookies in the major leagues, and he was ultimately named the American League Rookie of the Year after batting .293 with 13 home runs and 53 RBI in 88 games.

However, with Myers now entering his sophomore season, the pressure is on the 23-year-old to build off his impressive rookie campaign.

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The Masahiro Tanaka era is under way.

On Friday night, the 25-year-old Japanese pitcher made his highly anticipated Major League debut, taking the mound for the Yankees against the Blue Jays in their home opener.

Well, Tanaka ultimately put a damper on an otherwise exciting night for Blue Jays fans, as the right-hander picked up his first career win behind seven strong innings of two-run ball in which he scattered six hits and recorded eight strikeouts without issuing a walk. 

Even though it wasn’t a particularly clean or efficient outing, Tanaka still showcased his customary high-end combination of pure stuff and command, and he gave baseball fans from around the world an idea of what to expect this season moving forward.