10 Unknown MLB Prospects Who Will Take a Huge Leap Forward in 2015
With all the access and information—and accessible information—out there now compared to even a few short years ago, it's harder that ever to come across a prospect who can truly be classified as "unknown." But we'll try to highlight a batch of somewhat-off-the-radar youngsters who are primed to take a big step in their development in 2015.
In short, we're trying to uncover the next big thing to become the next big thing.
For context, some prospects who might have qualified for a list like this a year ago include Dalton Pompey (Toronto Blue Jays), Nomar Mazara (Texas Rangers), Manuel Margot (Boston Red Sox), Dilson Herrera (New York Mets) and Luis Severino (New York Yankees).
With further improvements and a little luck, these 10 lesser-known prospects could put themselves on the map.
Other Names to Know
Magneuris Sierra, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Edwin Diaz, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Isael Soto, OF, Miami Marlins
Marcos Molina, RHP, New York Mets
Forrest Wall, 2B, Colorado Rockies
Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Houston Astros
Lewis Brinson, OF, Texas Rangers
Courtney Hawkins, OF, Chicago White Sox
Aristedes Aquino, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Gleyber Torres, SS, Chicago Cubs
Keury Mella, RHP, San Francisco Giants
Alex Verdugo, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Micker Adolfo, OF, Chicago White Sox
Josh Hader, LHP, Houston Astros
Obtained in trade for Bud Norris at the July 2013 trade deadline, Josh Hader had something of a breakout season in his first full year with the Houston Astros, posting a 3.29 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings over 123 innings.
The soon-to-be 21-year-old did most of his work at High-A, throwing 103 of those frames at Lancaster, which is one of the tougher pitching environments, too. His initial taste of the high minors, however, was a bit of a mixed bag, as his ERA was north of 6.00 and his WHIP was 1.60 in his 20 innings at Double-A, largely due to allowing 16 free passes.
Hader ultimately may end up a reliever, but if he can have success at Corpus Christi by harnessing his funky, crossfire delivery, which helps him create deception, then he'll get a lot more recognition in 2015.
Jhoan Urena, 3B, New York Mets
Jhoan Urena, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, has progressed nicely in his first three years in the New York Mets' system.
In short-season ball last year in the New York-Penn League, the switch-hitter batted .300/.356/.431. He didn't show profile power for a third baseman, homering just five times in 75 games, but his 20 doubles was the second-highest total in the league.
That's a good sign, as Keith Law of ESPN notes:
Third baseman Jhoan Urena (11) hit only five home runs for Brooklyn this summer, but there's a lot more raw power in there, and he's going to be pretty good at third base given some more instruction. He makes a lot of loud contact and the Mets rave about his makeup, especially his enthusiasm for learning.
This year will be a big test for Urena, who will get his first shot at full-season ball.
Duane Underwood, RHP, Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs are known for their premium position-player prospects right now, what with Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora and others either ready for the majors or not far off. But the organization has some solid young arms, too, they're just a little further behind in the developmental process.
While C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson have strong cases, Duane Underwood might be the best of the bunch. Drafted in the second round in 2012, the 6'2" right-hander showed some serious improvement in 2014, with a 2.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 7.5 K/9.
Prior to 2014, he had an ERA of 5.00, WHIP of 1.62 and K/9 of 6.1.
If Underwood maintains those gains and takes yet another step as he embarks upon High-A and potentially reaches the high minors this year, Cubs fans will have something to get excited about on the mound in the minors, too.
Austin Wilson, OF, Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners have chosen a deliberate path for Austin Wilson, despite his being a high draft pick (Round 2 in 2013) and a fairly polished college hitter out of Stanford.
To wit, Wilson already turned 23 years old in February but has yet to play above the Midwest League (A-ball). He also missed a large chunk of last season with an Achilles injury.
When he did play, however, Wilson—all 6'4", 249 pounds of him—hit a ton with a .301/.384/.543 line, including 13 homers and 18 doubles in 308 plate appearances over 75 games.
In other words, the M's shouldn't be shy about pushing him more in 2015, which has the makings of a coming-out party for Wilson if he can stay healthy.
Amir Garrett, LHP, Cincinnati Reds
Amir Garrett has one of the more intriguing backgrounds among minor leaguers, having been a college basketball player for St. John's. After toiling on the court for a few years, Garrett—who is 6'5" and 210 pounds—is now strictly a baseball prospect.
Because of the development time lost to splitting his duties with hoops, the soon-to-be 23-year-old Garrett remains on the raw side on the mound to this point. But that also presents the opportunity for him to really break out if everything clicks this year. Things started to in 2014, when he had a 3.64 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 8.6 K/9 in 133.1 Midwest League innings.
"No Reds pitcher improved more in 2014," Baseball America noted of Garrett, who the outlet ranked No. 7 in the system entering 2015.
Brandon Drury, 2B/3B, Arizona Diamondbacks
After being one of the throw-ins the Arizona Diamondbacks received along with Martin Prado and young right-hander Randall Delgado in the Justin Upton swap, Brandon Drury has done a good job of getting himself noticed the past two years.
The 22-year-old righty swinger has posted two consecutive similar seasons in which he's had a batting average of at least .299, an on-base percentage of at least .360 and a slugging percentage of at least .500. He followed up his 51-double, 15-homer 2013 with a 42-double, 23-homer effort in reaching Double-A late last year.
On top of all that, Drury went 10-for-23 (.435) with three homers and doubles apiece in 15 games with the D-backs this spring before being sent to minor league camp.
The key for Drury at this stage is whether he can complete the transition to second base, which began last year when third base prospect Jake Lamb broke out in the high minors and made his MLB debut.
"There are a lot of new things to learn [at second base], like positioning," Drury told Jules Tompkins of Arizona Sports. "I haven't played there nearly as much as third or, really, much at all over the last three years."
If Drury takes to the keystone—he has just 12 pro games at the position so far—he could be ready to take over by 2016, rendering declining veteran Aaron Hill obsolete in his final year under contract.
Francisco Mejia, C, Cleveland Indians
The Dominican-born Francisco Mejia has started to make a name for himself through his first two pro seasons, but the third year could be when he takes the leap and becomes one of the Cleveland Indians' best prospects.
In 66 games in the New York-Penn League in 2014, the 19-year-old Mejia slashed .282/.339/.407 as the third-youngest position player in the circuit.
Although he's not all that big at 5'10" and 175 pounds, Mejia brings a lot of value for being a switch-hitting catcher with a plus throwing arm.
"Mejia generates plenty of bat speed and should develop average or better power from both sides," as Jim Shonerd of Baseball America wrote of the No. 7 prospect in the system. "His rocket throwing arm might be his loudest tool, garnering some 70 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale."
With a full-season assignment on tap for Mejia, 2015 will be a big test.
Michael Gettys, OF, San Diego Padres
Michael Gettys, who the San Diego Padres drafted out of high school in the second round last June, is a super toolsy outfielder with plus speed and power—when he makes contact. Therein lies the biggest obstacle to Gettys profiling as a regular, as opposed to as a quality fourth outfielder whose defense and wheels would still give him value.
"Gettys has an 80-grade arm, is a 70-grade runner and shows 65-70 power," writes Law, "but he's never found a swing that worked for him despite several different setups and swing paths; if it clicks, he'll be a monster."
The good news is, Gettys hit extremely well in his initial dip into pro waters, batting .310/.353/.437 with 16 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases in the rookie-level Arizona League. Of course, the 19-year-old also struck out 66 times in 233 plate appearances, so he clearly has plenty of work to do.
The skill set and athleticism, though, could lead to some impressive digits as Gettys tries to find his footing in the low minors in 2015.
Justin Williams, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
One of the prospects the Tampa Bay Rays swiped from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for right-hander Jeremy Hellickson this offseason, Justin Williams has hit extremely well—and eerily similar—in his first two pro campaigns.
In fact, the 19-year-old lefty-swinger posted a .351 batting average in both 2013 and 2014 after being selected in the second round in 2013.
Like most young players drafted out of high school, though, Williams has to improve an aggressive approach that has led to a walk rate barely above 6 percent so far.
He'll have plenty of opportunity to do just that—and to keep hitting—as he spends 2015 in A-ball while also trying to make a strong first impression in his new organization.
Keone Kela, RHP, Texas Rangers
For all the attention that Toronto Blue Jays' camp revelation Miguel Castro has been getting in recent weeks as he tries to crack the roster at age 20, the Texas Rangers have their very own precocious, hard-throwing right-hander who is on the verge of making it to the majors.
Keone Kela, who will be just 22 in mid-April, arguably has been the Rangers' best arm during spring training, what with 8.1 scoreless frames in which he has allowed just two hits and two walks while whiffing 10. All the more impressive, the 2012 12th-rounder has a 2.54 ERA and 12.2 K/9 for his career—and just 38.2 innings at Double-A on his resume.
How good has Kela been in March? "Dominating," Rangers skipper Jeff Banister said, per T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. "His fastball was fresh and his breaking ball was there. He threw strikes. He has done everything we've asked him to do."
If Kela keeps it up, he might not be long for prospect lists since he'll have graduated to the big leagues.