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USA Today

We’re nearly a month into the minor league season 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 20-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 who have either opened the season on a tear or struggled to get things going at the dish.

Here’s a look at the hottest and coldest hitters at every minor league level.

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Manny Machado is back.

The Baltimore Orioles are expected to activate the 21-year-old third baseman before the series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. With Tuesday's game being postponed because of rain, it's expected that Machado will make his season debut on Wednesday.

Machado suffered an ugly, season-ending knee injury last September, and the Orioles were understandably cautious with his rehab this spring following offseason surgery. He might have been ready earlier in the season if not for a minor setback experienced while running the bases, but his recent three-game rehab stint with High-A Frederick suggests Machado is ready to pick up where he left off in 2013.

 

Machado was assigned to Frederick for the team's weekend series, after playing several games in extended spring training, and made an immediate impact by going 8-for-12 with four doubles and a triple. The 21-year-old convinced the organization he was ready to be activated following Sunday's game, when he went 4-for-4 with three runs scored, a pair of doubles and RBI, walk and stolen base.

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Every season features players who take nontraditional, roundabout paths to unexpected success in the major leagues.

Last year it was the Atlanta Braves’ Evan Gattis. This year, it’s Chris Colabello of the Minnesota Twins.

Through the first month of the season, the 30-year-old Colabello is batting .308/.351/.505 with nine doubles, three home runs and 27 RBI.

Colabello went undrafted out of Massachusetts’ Assumption College and signed a contract in 2005 with the Worcester Tornadoes of the Can-Am Independent League. Other than a half-season stint with Nashua (another team in the league), Colabello spent the next seven years with Worcester and batted .317/.390/.514 with 166 doubles, 86 home runs and 420 RBI in 583 games.

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It has been an eventful first month of the season for some of baseball’s top prospects. For others, not so much.

Shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder Oscar Taveras are both off to hot starts at their respective levels, with Correa batting .300/.366/.463 with 16 RBI at High-A Lancaster and Taveras batting .313/.360/.513 at Triple-A Memphis. 

Unfortunately, a pair of top-10 prospects—as determined by Prospect Pipeline's End-of-Spring Top 100 Prospects—are sidelined 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. Corey Seager also landed on the disabled list in the past week with a hamstring injury, while 2013 No. 1 overall draft pick Mark Appel was sent back to extended spring training after several unimpressive starts at High-A Lancaster.

Here’s a look at how the rest of baseball’s top-ranked prospects fared during the third week of the minor league season.

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Gene J. Puskar

There's an old saying in scouting circles that basically says scouting the stat line is a good way to get fired. It's true that putting all of your faith in the numbers for a player is not smart, though it's hardly a crime to judge a player by performance. 

It also helps, in this case, when we are able to put the numbers in perspective by knowing and understanding the scouting reports. All of the players on this list aren't doing anything shocking, especially for prospect junkies, but it's important to talk about what it all means. 

There might be a few players with better stats, though oftentimes they are going to be a 25-year-old in Double-A. That's not the kind of prospect—using that term loosely—worth talking about. 

All of these players have the potential to be at least everyday players in the big leagues, some even boasting superstar upside. 

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Yordano Ventura will have many great starts in his career, but his outing on Friday night against the Baltimore Orioles is one he’ll never forget.

The 22-year-old rookie turned in his finest performance to date against one of the top offenses in the American League, striking out a career-high eight batters over eight shutout innings en route to a 5-0 Royals win. It marked the first time Ventura has worked eight innings in a start, as he allowed seven hits, issued two walks and hit a batter while throwing a career-high 113 pitches.

"I think that's as good as I've seen him," Royals manager Ned Yost said, via the Chicago Tribune. "He had everything going tonight. I mean good fastball, his curveball, that was probably the most consistent curveball he's had all year, and a great changeup. He just pitched a great game."

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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.

In fact, 30 of Prospect Pipeline’s preseason top 100 prospects for 2013 debuted in the major leagues last year, including 12 players who ranked in the top 25. Many of those top-ranked prospects, such as Wil Myers, Jose Fernandez, Yasiel PuigGerrit Cole, Michael Wacha and Christian Yelich, made immediate impacts and quickly justified the hype ascribed to them at the onset of their respective professional careers.

However, last year’s top rookies now face a new test: avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump. With the book now out on each player’s tendencies and weaknesses, they’ll be forced to make significant adjustments in response to those being made against them—which is always easier said than done for any young player.

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Don’t look now, but Billy Hamilton is hitting.

The 23-year-old center fielder struggled out of the gate, batting just .140 through his first 12 games. Since then, however, he’s quietly overcome the dismal start to his rookie campaign.

Headed into Thursday’s series finale against the Pirates, Hamilton had hit safely in seven of his last eight games, with three multi-hit performances and a .355 average during that span. And yes, he also stole his share of bases—seven, to be exact.

The same question has followed Hamilton throughout his professional career: Will he hit well enough to stick as an everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter?

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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.