MLB's Top 5 Hitting Prospects at Each Minor League Level
The 2015 Minor League Baseball season kicked off Thursday, with games being played across all four full-season levels. The day was full of standout performances from many of baseball’s most promising young hitters.
Making his full-season debut with Low-A Greenville, 2014 first-round draft pick Michael Chavis (No. 26 overall) cranked a game-tying home run in the seventh inning and then came back in the ninth to deliver a walk-off double.
Minnesota Twins third base prospect Miguel Sano, who missed the entire 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, played in a game for the first time since late 2013 and picked up where he left off with a solo home run.
And while he’s not much of a prospect, we’d be remiss not to mention the Opening Day performance of New York Yankees outfield prospect Ramon Flores, who hit for the cycle as part of a 4-for-4 performance that included three runs scored, two RBI and a walk.
With all that said, here are five must-follow hitters from each full-season level who will put up big numbers in 2015.
Ozhaino Albies, SS, Atlanta Braves (Low-A Rome, South Atlantic League)
Signed by the Atlanta Braves out of Curacao in 2013, Ozhaino Albies put on a hitting clinic this summer in his pro debut. The then-17-year-old batted a robust .381 over 19 games in the Gulf Coast League and then followed it with a .356 clip in 38 Appalachian League contests, giving him a combined batting line of .364/.446/.444 with 10 extra-base hits and 22 stolen bases between both levels.
The 18-year-old switch-hitter has a loose, fluid swing from both sides of the plate to go along with good bat speed and preternatural bat-to-ball skills. Unfortunately, Albies’ slight build (5’9”, 150 pounds) means he’s unlikely to hit for power, though he should be good for plenty of doubles and triples given his contact skills and speed.
Monte Harrison, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (Low-A Wisconsin, Midwest League)
Before he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers, Monte Harrison was a three-sport standout known mostly for his highlight-reel dunks and rating as a 3-star recruit wide receiver, per 247Sports. However, the 19-year-old proved to be more advanced than expected last summer in his pro debut, posting an impressive .261/.402/.339 batting line with a 13.8 percent walk rate and 32 stolen bases over 50 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
Harrison’s bat lags behind his other tools, but that’s mostly a result of having never focused on baseball exclusively. Yet his patient approach and willingness to take walks during his pro debut were pleasant surprises, and his strength and bat speed should give him solid-average power at maturity. Overall, he seems ready to make huge developmental strides next season now that he has fully committed to baseball.
Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox (Low-A Greenville, South Atlantic League)
The Red Sox signed Rafael Devers out of the Dominican Republic during the summer of 2013 for $1.5 million, though the 18-year-old third baseman didn’t make his professional debut until last year.
Devers made an immediate impact in the Dominican Summer League, batting .337/.445/.538 with 12 extra-base hits in 28 games, and he was rewarded with an ahead-of-schedule promotion to the Gulf Coast League. The left-handed hitter continued to open eyes in his stateside debut, as he batted a cool .312/.374/.484 with 17 extra-base hits and 36 RBI over 42 games.
Alex Jackson, RF, Seattle Mariners (Low-A Clinton, Midwest League)
Alex Jackson, the No. 6 overall pick in this year’s draft, suffered a broken bone in his left cheek in late July when he was struck by a fly ball after losing it in the lights during an Arizona League game. The injury kept the 19-year-old outfielder out of action for exactly a month, but he returned to finish his professional debut with a .280/.344/.476 batting line and 10 extra-base hits in 23 games.
Jackson projects as a middle-of-the-order hitter thanks to his plus bat speed, natural hitting ability and big-time raw power. His projection for plus power stems from the combination of his explosive bat speed and the extension he achieves through contact, as he drives the ball with backspin carry to all fields.
Forrest Wall, 2B, Colorado Rockies (Low-A Asheville, South Atlantic League)
Forrest Wall quickly proved to be one of the biggest steals from Day 1 of the 2014 draft with an impressive professional debut, posting a .907 OPS with 15 extra-base hits and 18 steals over 41 games in the rookie-level Pioneer League. The left-handed batter was particularly impressive against same-side pitching, batting .478/.613/.783 with three extra-base hits in 23 at-bats.
The 19-year-old second baseman has the potential to hit .300 and the raw power to hit 15-20 home runs in the majors, and he could be moved to center field in the long term, which would take advantage of his speed. Beginning the 2015 season at Low-A Asheville, Wall could conceivably put up monster numbers at a home field that favors left-handed batters.
Clint Frazier, OF, Cleveland Indians (High-A Lynchburg, Carolina League)
After scuffling through the first three months of his full-season debut at Low-A Lake County, Clint Frazier, 20, ultimately settled in to bat .282/.367/.448 with nine home runs and 11 doubles in 65 games during the second half of the season—when most of his full-season-debut peers were battling fatigue.
Overall, he batted .266/.349/.411 with 37 extra-base hits (13 home runs), 12 stolen bases and a 161/56 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 120 games.
Frazier's strikeout rate is somewhat concerning after he fanned 29.7 percent of the time in 2014, but at the same time, he still produced a respectable 10.3 percent walk rate behind an approach that noticeably improved as the season unfolded. Expect Frazier to take a big step forward this year in the Carolina League.
Ryan McMahon, 3B, Colorado Rockies (High-A Modesto, California League)
Ryan McMahon began the 2014 season on a tear, posting a 1.092 OPS with nine home runs over his first 23 games. However, the left-handed hitter’s power dropped off in subsequent months, as he tallied just four home runs over his next 76 games covering May, June and July.
McMahon finished his season just like he began it, though, and the 20-year-old third baseman went on to rank second in the South Atlantic League in runs (93), doubles (46), OPS (.860) and RBI (tied 102).
At 6’3”, 185 pounds, McMahon is already loaded with strength and should have room to add even more without sacrificing athleticism. The left-handed batter has the potential for a solid-average hit tool, with plus bat speed, good barrel control and a swing that is effortless and pretty and generates consistently hard contact. McMahon’s raw power already shows in games, obviously, and there's a real chance he'll put up even more impressive numbers in the hitter-friendly California League.
Bradley Zimmer, OF, Cleveland Indians (High-A Lynchburg, Carolina League)
Bradley Zimmer, one of Cleveland’s first-round draft picks in 2014, made an immediate impact in the professional ranks last summer, batting .302/.400/.492 with 20 extra-base hits and 12 stolen bases in 48 games between the New York-Penn and Midwest Leagues.
A left-handed hitter, Zimmer, 22, has a smooth, quiet swing with line-drive-oriented bat path through the hitting zone. His swing is long at times but doesn’t prevent him from consistently getting the barrel to a solid contact point, and his ability to recognize secondary pitches is highly advanced for his age.
Brett Phillips, OF, Houston Astros (High-A Lancaster, California League)
Brett Phillips emerged as one of the game’s top breakout prospects this past season, as the 20-year-old claimed the Astros Minor League Player of the Year award behind a stellar .310/.375/.529 batting line with 29 doubles, 14 triples, 17 home runs and 23 stolen bases in 130 games between both Class-A levels.
Phillips muscled up last offseason after failing to jump the yard in his first 376 minor league plate appearances between 2012-13, and his new-found strength, combined with an improved feel for turning on the ball, resulted in 17 long balls in 571 plate appearances last season. It’s hard to say how much power he’ll offer at maturity, but he should hit for plenty of power this year in the California League.
Raimel Tapia, OF, Colorado Rockies (High-A Modesto, California League)
Like Phillips, outfielder Raimel Tapia was one of the top breakout prospects of the 2014 season, as the 21-year-old outfielder blew past all reasonable expectations.
Tapia showcased an assortment of loud tools and advanced secondary skills this season at Low-A Asheville, as he finished third in the South Atlantic League in batting average (.326) and hits (157) and fourth in on-base percentage (.382) and stolen bases (33).
Tapia’s still raw in his approach, but he has the bat-to-ball skills and bat speed to contend for a batting title in his prime and could be in the majors by mid-2016.
Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros (Double-A Corpus Christi, Texas League)
As one of the younger everyday players last year in California League, Carlos Correa continued to blow past all reasonable expectations by batting .325/.416/.510 with 28 extra-base hits, 20 stolen bases and a 45-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 62 games. He seemed bound for a promotion to Double-A before suffering a season-ending fibula injury in late June while sliding into third base.
At 6’4”, 210 pounds, Correa possesses plus raw power but doesn’t swing for the fences, instead employing an approach that’s geared toward consistent hard contact and getting on base. Considering his age (20), it’s safe to bet on Correa developing more pop as he fills out, with the potential to hit upward of 22-25 home runs in his prime.
Correa is a physically blessed player with present plus makeup and the potential for five average-or-better tools at maturity, and he’s still on the fast track to the major leagues in 2015 despite the ankle injury.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins (Double-A Chattanooga, Southern League)
Byron Buxton entered 2014 as the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball, and all signs pointed to him debuting with the Minnesota Twins before the end of the season. Unfortunately, he spent the season battling one injury after the other, each of them resulting in a lengthy stay on the disabled list, and he ultimately played in just 31 games on the year—30 at High-A Fort Myers and one at Double-A New Britain—and batted .234/.307/.395 with 10 extra-base hits in 137 plate appearances.
Buxton has the ceiling of an MVP-caliber player in his prime, with five potentially plus tools and a feel for making in-game adjustments. However, after losing nearly all of 2014 due to injuries, the 21-year-old now faces at least some pressure to make up for the lost time.
Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (Double-A Tulsa, Texas League)
Corey Seager’s second tour of the California League couldn’t have gone better, as the 20-year-old mastered the level with a robust .352/.411/.633 batting line, 34 doubles, 18 home runs and 70 RBI in 80 games.
The hitter-friendly parks of the Cal tend to inflate hitters’ numbers, so it was great to see Seager continue his torrid production after moving up to Double-A Chattanooga. In his first taste of the Southern League, the 6’4”, 215-pound shortstop batted .345/.381/.534 with two home runs, 16 doubles and 27 RBI in 37 contests.
Overall, Seager amassed 75 extra-base hits and led all minor leaguers with 50 doubles. On top of that, he actually fared equally well against same-side pitchers as he did righties this season, posting a 1.065 OPS and 24 extra-base hits in 126 plate appearances against southpaws compared to a .984 OPS with 51 extra-base hits in 400 plate appearances.
David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies (Double-A New Britain, Eastern League)
David Dahl, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2012 draft, made up for his lost 2013 season with a strong performance last year between Low-A Asheville and High-A Modesto.
Though he played his home games in Asheville’s notoriously hitter-friendly park and spent most of the second half in the California League, the outfielder’s 63 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases in 119 games were still plenty impressive, as was his .299/.335/.492 batting line in 547 plate appearances. Dahl's fringy pitch recognition and pitch selection last season were products of his time off and overall inexperience, so don't read too much into his 92-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
While Dahl played just 29 games at the High-A level in 2014, his advanced bat and outstanding defense convinced the Rockies that the 21-year-old is ready to be challenged at Double-A to begin the season.
Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees (Double-A Trenton, Eastern League)
Aaron Judge, the No. 32 overall selection in the 2013 draft, was unable to make his professional debut last summer due to a quad injury, which in turn cast doubt about how he'd fare when thrust into full-season ball in 2014.
However, the 22-year-old outfielder answered those questions by batting .333/.428/.530 with nine home runs, 15 doubles and 45 RBI in 65 games for Low-A Charleston before moving up to High-A Tampa. Judge’s production carried over in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, where he posted a .283/.411/.442 batting line to go along with eight home runs, nine doubles and 33 RBI in 66 games.
Overall, the 6’7”, 275-pound outfielder posted an impressive batting line of .308/.419/.486 to go along with 17 home runs, 24 doubles and a 131-89 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 131 games.
Kris Bryant, 3B/LF, Chicago Cubs (Triple-A Iowa, Pacific Coast League)
Kris Bryant led the minor leagues (qualified hitters only) in home runs (43), slugging percentage (.661), OPS (1.098) and wOBA (.472). He also ranked second in runs (118) and fourth in RBI (110), and he batted .325 with a .438 on-base percentage in 594 plate appearances.
Just like he did all last season, Bryant put on a power showcase in major league camp, hitting a spring training-best nine home runs prior to being reassigned to minor league spring training. Despite his tremendous showing this spring, the Cubs decided an extra year of pre-arbitration control of a slugger such as Bryant was more important than putting him on the Opening Day roster.
While there’s little doubt as to whether he’s ready for the highest level, it’s hard to blame the organization for its decision given the ever-increasing cost across the game for legitimate power hitters.
But don’t worry, folks, it won’t be long until Mr. Bryant arrives in Wrigleyville.
Addison Russell, SS, Chicago Cubs (Triple-A Iowa, Pacific Coast League)
Addison Russell missed most of the first half with a hamstring injury, returning shortly before he was dealt to the Cubs in early July. The 21-year-old shortstop seemed to enjoy the change of scenery, as he batted .294/.332/.536 with 12 home runs, 11 doubles and 36 RBI in 50 games at Double-A Tennessee.
The right-handed hitter’s combination of plus bat speed and a deep point of contact should generate upward of 20 home runs at the highest level, possibly more depending on his physical development in the coming years. And given his ability to use the entire field, Russell should always tally a high number of doubles and triples. On the basepaths, Russell is an above-average runner with the athleticism and instincts to steal 15-20 bags annually.
Russell has the makings of an All-Star-caliber shortstop capable of hitting in the middle of a lineup, and he should be ready at some point next season to make his debut in the major leagues.
Steven Moya, OF/DH, Detroit Tigers (Triple-A Toledo, International League)
Steven Moya's near-elite raw power has long ranked among the best in the minor leagues, but a rash of injuries―including Tommy John surgery―caused him to fall behind the developmental curve.
However, Moya made up for the lost time in a big way last year, as he was named MVP of the Double-A Eastern League after leading the circuit in home runs (35), RBI (105), extra-base hits (71) and slugging percentage (.555)―all career highs. On top of that, his 35 bombs, 286 total bases, 71 extra-base hits and 105 RBI were single-season franchise records for Erie.
Moya’s power and run-producing potential both are very real, but unfortunately, so is his penchant for whiffing and limited hit-tool utility against left-handed pitching. But if he can continue to improve on those fronts, Moya should have an opportunity to carve out a role as a corner outfielder or designated hitter for the Tigers in the upcoming season.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians (Triple-A Columbus, International League)
Francisco Lindor continued his surge toward the major leagues last season, as he once again hit for both average and modest power, demonstrated a discerning eye at the plate and stole his share of bases.
Lindor returned to Double-A Akron last year and held his own as one of the Eastern League’s youngest players, batting .278/.352/.389 with 22 extra-base hits and 25 steals in 88 games. The Indians moved him up to Triple-A Columbus in July, and he batted a very respectable .273 over 38 games at the minors' highest level, although the switch-hitter’s on-base percentage dropped to .307 and he stole just three bases in 10 attempts.
And after swiping 25 bags in 32 attempts in 2013 (78.1 percent), Lindor also took a step back on the basepaths this season with a 63.6 percent success rate (28 for 44) between the two levels.
With Lindor opening the 2015 season back at Triple-A Columbus, the Twins will use a combination of Jose Ramirez and Mike Aviles at shortstop at least until the Super Two deadline passes in late May/early June.
Jose Peraza, 2B, Atlanta Braves (Triple-A Gwinnett, International League)
Jose Peraza jumped on the fast track to the major leagues in 2014 by batting .342/.365/.454 with 97 hits and 35 stolen bases in his first 66 games at High-A Lynchburg. The 20-year-old continued to rake following a midseason promotion to Double-A Mississippi, as he batted .335/.363/.422 with 11 extra-base hits and 25 steals in 44 Southern League contests despite serving as one of the league's younger everyday players.
Between both levels, the right-handed hitter batted .339 with 159 hits and 60 stolen bases in 110 games.
The Braves shifted Peraza from shortstop to second base last season in deference to Andrelton Simmons, which could give the team one of baseball's best double-play combinations for years to come. For now, the Braves will roll with prospect Jace Peterson at the keystone, though it’s widely believed he’ll be keeping the seat warm for Peraza, who should arrive at some point during the second half.