7 Top Prospects Who Will Be MLB All-Stars Within 3 Years
The goal of every Major League Baseball team is to draft and develop All-Stars. These players are the very best talents and will be the faces of the sport for a long time to come.
Despite having All-Star goals for every prospect drafted or, in the case of international players, signed, it's not as simple as saying that a player who has All-Star potential will reach that ceiling.
In fact, if you look throughout the minors right now, the ratio of players with that kind of upside to those even close to reaching is wider than the Grand Canyon. It takes a special kind of athlete and person to go from raw talent to on-field performance.
Mike Trout didn't get to be who he is out of happenstance. Most teams weren't sold on his ability coming out of high school because he played in New Jersey, which isn't exactly a hotbed for baseball talent. He wasn't even the Angels' first pick in the 2009 draft.
As we look through 2014 prospect lists in anticipation for the 2014 season, here are the seven players who have legitimate shots to become All-Stars in the next three years (2016).
This is not a ranking of the seven best prospects in baseball, because age and development curves have to be taken into consideration.
A player with incredible tools who has a lot of in-game adjustments to make, like the Chicago Cubs' No. 1 prospect, Javier Baez, might not be ready for the Midsummer Classic by the time 2016 rolls around. That doesn't mean he won't get there, but too many questions keep him from the main list right now.
Just to save any questions or comments, I don't think prospects like Nick Castellanos or Taijuan Walker will be All-Stars in the next three years. That doesn't mean I don't like them or that I doubt their ability; I just have lower grades on them than others might. It's just a personal preference.
With that said, here are the prospects we anticipate seeing in baseball's midseason showcase sooner than later.
Note: All stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted. Scouting reports are based on my own personal evaluations.
Notable Names Just Missing the Cut
These are players whose talent suggests future All-Star appearances, but I am skeptical of it happening in the next three years.
Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
No player was harder to leave off the main list than Baez. After all, he played last season at 20 years old, made it to Double-A and hit 37 homers (20 in 54 Double-A games) in 517 at-bats.
Baez has the best bat speed in the minors, possibly in all of baseball, with lightning-fast wrists and plus-plus power potential. He also has a massive case of swing-itis, which is caused by falling in love with your swing and not letting any pitch, no matter where it's thrown, hit the glove.
If he can learn to lay off bad pitches out of the zone and control his aggressive nature, this is a .280 hitter with 30-plus-homer projection. He probably ends up at third base in the future thanks to poor footwork at shortstop.
Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
I have no doubt that Carlos Correa is going to be an All-Star. He was lauded for polish and upside with the bat coming out of the 2012 draft, and that carried over into his performance last season.
Hitting in the Midwest League isn't easy. Doing it as an 18-year-old is even more difficult, so Correa's .320/.405/.467 line looks even more impressive when put in that context. He hit just nine home runs but will grow into more power as his long, lean 6'4", 205-pound body fills out.
People thought Correa was a lock to play third base given his body size, but he displayed more range and better footwork than expected. He's got plenty of arm strength for the position.
I just don't see him debuting until midway through the 2015 season, at the earliest, so an All-Star appearance by 2016 is too aggressive.
Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins
If you are looking for the best power hitter in the minors, Miguel Sano is your man. It's some of the best power in all of baseball and already showing up in games at the age of 20. He's hit 83 homers in 318 games since 2011.
Sano is more than just a one-trick pony. Power is great, but it means nothing if you can't hit the ball. He has a long, leveraged swing and will strike out quite a bit, though you will trade some average for 35 to 40 homers. He's also incredibly patient and will work deep counts and take more than his share of walks to keep his on-base percentage in the .370-.380 range.
He's also turned into a solid-average defender at third base. Sano's body has never gotten out of hand like most expected when he was 6'3", 180 pounds as an 18-year-old. He's a muscular 195 pounds with improved footwork to stay at third base.
I see him as more of a 2017 All-Star candidate, just because the Twins will need him to get more reps in Double-A then bump him to Triple-A at some point this season before pushing him to the big leagues.
After he arrives, pitchers are going to carve him up with velocity on the hands and off-speed stuff, so there will be a longer period of adjustment for him. But when everything clicks, look out.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
Highest Level: High-A (Fort Myers)
When you talk about future All-Stars among the current crop of prospects, it only makes sense that Byron Buxton, the No. 1 prospect in baseball, leads the list. What's so amazing about his full-season debut in 2013 is there were concerns about the maturity of his baseball skills.
Everyone knew Buxton was the best pure talent available in the 2012 draft, but questions surrounded his ability to translate that on the field coming out of a small high school in Georgia.
Buxton has proven all of the skeptics wrong, hitting .334/.424/.520 with 49 extra-base hits and showing plus defense in center field in 125 games across two levels. He exhibited elite tools across the board.
The scary thing for the 29 teams for which Buxton doesn't play is he will actually get better. He's a very lean 6'2", 190 pounds and is still growing into plus raw power. Once that shows up, a lot of those balls he hits off the wall will go over the fence.
The 20-year-old has plus-plus speed and arm strength, though he's still learning to be accurate with throws from center field. He's so free and easy with everything he does. Just watching Buxton swing a bat makes you giddy, because it's a short, quick path to the ball that generates loud contact.
Buxton will only be 22 by the time the 2016 All-Star Game rolls around, but I have no doubt he will be among the best players in the game and a fixture in center field on the American League roster for years to come.
Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Highest Level: Triple-A (Memphis)
It's amazing how quickly we forget about a player, because the emergence of talents like Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Carlos Correa and Javier Baez made us forget that the best pure hitting prospect in baseball still resides in St. Louis' system.
Oscar Taveras would have debuted in the big leagues last season if not for an ankle injury that required surgery in August and limited the 21-year-old to just 47 games.
Even with the slightly delayed start to his career, Taveras still projects to be one of the best hitters in baseball very soon. He's got a very legitimate Vladimir Guerrero profile with the bat, though Taveras' power may not be as prodigious.
What's interesting about Taveras' offensive upside is it shouldn't work. He's very violent and aggressive at the plate, but there's an element of control to it that you rarely see.
Taveras isn't going to be a player who takes a lot of walks, but because he understands the strike zone, has such great bat control and keeps the barrel in the zone longer than humanly possible, his loud contact will allow him to be a .300 hitter with 25-plus homers.
He's played some center field but lacks speed and range to do it for the long term. It won't matter, as the offensive profile is perfect for right field and he also has more than enough arm strength to be an above-average defender in the corner.
It's a good thing Taveras is coming, too, because the Cardinals just haven't been able to find enough good, young players to sustain a roster in recent years.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
Highest Level: MLB (Boston)
If you weren't impressed with Xander Bogaerts' performance for the Boston Red Sox last October, odds are good you stopped watching baseball.
Boston inserted the 21-year-old, with just 18 games of professional experience, into the starting lineup for a slumping Will Middlebrooks in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. He proceeded to go 7-for-24 with two doubles, one triple, two RBIs, four walks and nine strikeouts.
That wasn't by accident. Bogaerts is one of the most mature young hitters in baseball, with as good an eye as you will see and a willingness to take what the pitcher gives him. If you work him away, he will shoot the ball to the opposite field.
Listed at 6'3", 185 pounds, Bogaerts is still growing into his power but will be a 25-plus-homer threat very soon.
One of the few questions about Bogaerts concerns his future position. He's gotten better at shortstop, staying in good shape to retain his range and showing more than enough arm strength.
It's rare to see a player with his body at this age stay up the middle, so there is a thought he might move to third base. It doesn't change much of Bogaerts' projection, because the defense will be more than fine at the hot corner and the bat will play anywhere.
Regardless of what position he plays, Bogaerts is well on his way to being an All-Star. I wouldn't be shocked to see him in the mix for a roster spot this season.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Highest Level: Double-A (Mobile)
One of the best parts about following prospects is watching raw talent turn into performance. That was the case with Archie Bradley in 2013. He wasn't bad, per se, in 2012, after posting a 3.84 ERA and 152 strikeouts in 136 innings.
The problem was Bradley also walked 84 hitters and didn't have any consistency with fastball command. It left some doubt about whether his ceiling as a No. 1 starter was attainable.
Fast forward 12 months: Bradley's fastball command took several steps forward, his curveball is still a hammer that would make Thor jealous, and his changeup now looks like an above-average pitch.
Combine those ingredients with loose, easy arm action and workhorse 6'4", 225-pound frame, and Bradley is the best pitching prospect in baseball entering 2014. He still has some things to work on, like maintaining a consistent release point and throwing quality strikes instead of just blowing immature hitters away.
But a mid-90s fastball with late movement down in the zone followed by a curveball to put hitters away makes Bradley a real candidate to debut late in 2014. His adjustment period will then come in 2015, as hitters get used to seeing what he has, followed by a huge step forward in 2016.
Bradley's going to be a superstar, and I have little doubt that an All-Star appearance in 2016 is in the cards for Arizona's top prospect.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Highest Level: Double-A (Akron)
The only bad thing about having so much shortstop depth in the minors right now is a lot of incredibly talented players will get squeezed out of All-Star spots because there isn't enough room.
Xander Bogaerts was a no-brainer to include on this list, but then I had a long debate with myself about who the other shortstop would be. My choices came down to Cleveland's Francisco Lindor and Oakland's Addison Russell.
Lindor won out for one big reason: He's much more polished in all aspects of the game than Russell. I do think Russell's ceiling is higher because his offensive potential, particularly power, is superior to Lindor's.
That's not to say Lindor is a slouch with the bat—far from it. He's one of the most disciplined young hitters you will see. He's been one of the youngest players everywhere he's gone since being drafted in 2011, yet he owns a .364 on-base percentage and 129-111 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 1,051 plate appearances.
About the only bad thing you can say about Lindor is his small frame limits his power upside, though he's going to hit a lot of doubles and 10-12 homers per season. He doesn't have great foot speed but is so smart and able to read pitchers that 15-20 stolen bases per season might be pessimistic.
When you combine that offensive potential with premium defense at the most important position on the field, Lindor is going to be an All-Star. His glove is a wonder to behold, with incredible instincts and actions for a player so young.
If you are telling me to bet on Lindor or Russell to be an All-Star within three years, I would put the house on Lindor.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Highest Level: Triple-A (Indianapolis)
Times are changing in Pittsburgh. Not only is there optimism for the Pirates heading into 2014 (as there should be), but an impressive farm system will make them even better than during their playoff run last season.
Leading the next wave of young stars is outfielder Gregory Polanco, who is a natural center fielder but will start his MLB career in right field because Andrew McCutchen is pretty good.
Polanco's ascent up the prospect ladder is one every team dreams about when signing a 17-year-old international free agent. He was all tools and upside when the Pirates nabbed him in 2009, and he struggled in 2010 and 2011.
But as he started growing into his body and honing his baseball skills, Polanco's stock exploded in 2012. The 22-year-old hit .325/.388/.522 in Low-A two years ago and played at three different levels in 2013, with a .285/.356/.434 line in 127 games.
At 6'4", 220 pounds, Polanco is built like a linebacker with tight end speed. He has a solid-average arm to play in right field, though it's not ideal for the position.
The bat has the potential to be special. Polanco has never been the most patient hitter, but he has learned to lay off pitches out of the zone and stay within his comfort area. He's a long stride and swing that will make it difficult, especially early in his career, to drive velocity.
He's going to get his feet wet at some point in 2014 and will likely endure some early struggles in 2015, but the tools are so impressive and development track so much better that I am cautiously optimistic an All-Star appearance in 2016 is possible.
Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres
Highest Level: Double-A (San Antonio)
Not that I am alone, but I have been pumping Austin Hedges up to anyone who will listen since seeing him in person two years ago in the Midwest League. He's the best defensive catching prospect I have ever seen, which admittedly isn't a long history.
There are a lot of things you don't expect to see from a high school catcher, like the ability to call a game, strong blocking and receiving skills and comfort catching better velocity than they've ever seen before.
Hedges came into San Diego's system able to do all those things and so much more. His arm is one of the two best among all catching prospects in baseball, with Atlanta's Christian Bethancourt slightly ahead. The 21-year-old is accurate and can gun down anyone throwing off his knees.
As easy as it is to fall in love with Hedges' defense, we must not forget about his bat. He's not a dynamic hitter, but he does more than enough in the box to project as a star.
Making contact has never been a problem for Hedges, with just 116 strikeouts in 637 at-bats since 2012. He has a nice, compact swing and will start to turn some of those doubles into homers in the next few years.
When you are a catcher with elite defensive tools and project as a .260/.330/.430 hitter, many All-Star Games lie in your future. Hedges probably won't debut in San Diego until 2015, but I don't see it taking long for him to be one of the three best catchers in the NL upon arriving.
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