Every MLB Team's Most Overrated Top Prospect

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2018

Every MLB Team's Most Overrated Top Prospect

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    Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

    Few things generate better discussion during the MLB offseason than the release of top prospect lists.

    Earlier this month, we took a look at each team's most underhyped prospect to shine some light on lesser-known youngsters who are capable of taking a major step forward.

    Now it's time for the other end of the spectrum.

    Whether it's an early pick who's failed to live up to his pedigree, a breakout star who isn't duplicating previous success or something else entirely, there's at least one prospect on each team who falls into the category of overrated.

    They're still capable of developing into productive MLB players, but their current developmental standing doesn't match expectations and perception.

AL East

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    Brian Johnson
    Brian JohnsonDerik Hamilton/Associated Press

    Baltimore Orioles: LHP Chris Lee

    An athletic left-hander armed with a mid-90s fastball and a plus slider, Lee emerged as one of the top pitching prospects in the Baltimore system after a breakout season in 2015 that saw him climb three minor league levels.

    However, a shoulder injury limited him to 51.1 innings in 2016, and he followed that up with a rough season with Triple-A Norfolk, posting a 5.11 ERA, 1.70 WHIP and a .302 opponents' batting average over 116.1 innings.

    While he no longer looks like a future rotation candidate, he still has a chance to carve out a role as a lefty specialist.

         

    Boston Red Sox: LHP Brian Johnson

    A two-way standout at the University of Florida, Johnson was taken No. 31 overall in the 2012 draft as a high-floor left-hander with a middle-of-the-rotation ceiling he might be able to reach quickly.

    He checked in as the No. 82 prospect in baseball after going 13-3 with a 2.13 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 132 strikeouts in 143.2 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2014, but that stands as his peak.

    His stuff has fallen off in subsequent seasons, and he now looks more like organizational depth than a future rotation staple. That said, he's out of minor league options, so he'll be given every chance to break camp with a roster spot.

           

    New York Yankees: RHP Luis Medina

    It's easy to get excited about an 18-year-old with can touch triple digits on the radar gun.

    However, Medina is still incredibly raw and more of a thrower than a pitcher.

    His secondary stuff needs significant refining, and his command leaves a lot to be desired after he walked 24 batters in 38.2 innings in rookie ball. The upside is undeniable, but he's a project, and it would be wise to temper expectations for the time being.

          

    Tampa Bay Rays: 3B Adrian Rondon

    MLB.com's No. 3 international prospect in 2014, Rondon landed a $2.95 million bonus from a perennially frugal Rays team.

    Thus far, he has failed to live up to that top prospect pedigree.

    The 19-year-old fell flat in his full-season debut, hitting .221/.286/.330 with a 29.5 percent strikeout rate. He's still well ahead of the developmental curve, so there's no reason to wave the white flag on his prospect status, but so far he's been a disappointment.

          

    Toronto Blue Jays: SS Richard Urena

    It's looking less and less likely that Urena is going to be the long-term answer at shortstop for the Blue Jays.

    The 21-year-old flashed some intriguing tools on both sides of the ball in the lower levels of the minors, and he took over as the shortstop of the future after Toronto traded Franklin Barreto to the Oakland Athletics in the Josh Donaldson deal.

    However, he hit just .247/.286/.359 over 551 plate appearances in Double-A last season, and it was telling that the Blue Jays selected University of North Carolina shortstop Logan Warmoth with the No. 22 pick in last year's draft.

AL Central

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    Will Benson
    Will BensonJulio Cortez/Associated Press

    Chicago White Sox: RHP Carson Fulmer

    A Golden Spikes Award finalist in 2015, Fulmer went 14-2 with a 1.83 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 127.2 innings during his junior season at Vanderbilt.

    Concerns about the level of effort in his delivery caused him to slip to the White Sox and No. 8 overall in that year's draft, and he's struggled to consistently throw strikes as a pro.

    The 24-year-old posted a 5.79 ERA in Triple-A last season, and he's walked batters at a 5.1 BB/9 clip over three minor league seasons. He'll be given every chance to figure it out as a starter while the White Sox continue to rebuild, but he could also take off with a full-time move to the bullpen.

        

    Cleveland Indians: OF Will Benson

    At 6'5" and 225 pounds coming out of Westminster High School in Georgia, Benson had raw power that influenced the Indians to take him with the No. 14 pick in the 2016 draft. However, he has a lot of work to do if he's going to harness his impressive raw tools.

    The 19-year-old has whiffed at a 33.3 percent clip since starting his pro career, and he's hit just .225/.336/.453 in the process.

    With others like Forrest Whitley, Carter Kieboom, Taylor Trammell and Blake Rutherford still on the board when they selected, the Indians could regret reaching for Benson.

         

    Detroit Tigers: OF Derek Hill

    There's a reason the Tigers were essentially starting from scratch down on the farm once they finally decided to start rebuilding.

    The front office has whiffed on a number of early picks in recent years, and Hill is among them as the No. 23 pick in the 2014 draft.

    The 22-year-old did improve his walk rate from 5.8 to 11.6 percent last season, but he was in his third go-around at Single-A West Michigan, and he'll need to continue making strides in the upper levels to regain his prospect status.

         

    Kansas City Royals: RHP Scott Blewett

    A minor shoulder injury caused Blewett to slip out of the first round of the 2014 draft, but it didn't stop the Royals from giving him an above-slot bonus of $1.8 million.

    With a projectable 6'6" frame and a good fastball/curveball combination, there was a lot to like about his future potential.

    However, he's yet to turn his physical tools into on-field performance, posting a 4.44 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in four minor league seasons. The 21-year-old has drawn praise for his "competitiveness and work ethic" and still has time to put it all together, but his prospect star has faded considerably.

         

    Minnesota Twins: RHP Zack Littell

    It's easy to get excited about the 2017 numbers: 19-1, 2.12 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 41 BB, 142 K, 157 IP.

    That's enough to make Littell a legitimate prospect with a chance to outperform his status as a former 11th-round pick.

    However, it's not the best indicator of future performance.

    MLB.com wrote: "Littell's pitchability may be more impressive than his stuff. He can't overpower hitters, but he mixes his pitches, pounds the strike zone and keeps the ball down, generating plenty of strikeouts and groundouts. He has a ceiling of a No. 4 starter, perhaps more if he can add more power to his pitches."

AL West

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    Dan Vogelbach
    Dan VogelbachMatt York/Associated Press

    Houston Astros: LHP Cionel Perez

    An advanced feel for pitching and a polished four-pitch mix give Perez a good chance to one day be part of the big league rotation.

    However, his ceiling is not as high as some of the other pitchers in the Astros system, and he doesn't have much projectability left in his 5'11" frame.

    The Cuban defector made headlines on a national level when his original bonus of $5.15 million was lowered to $2 million after issues arose with his physical. As a result of that attention, he's slightly overrated in a good Astros system.

          

    Los Angeles Angels: RHP Chris Rodriguez

    "It would surprise no one internally if he's the best pitching prospect in the system before too long."

    That's what MLB.com wrote about Rodriguez after he posted a 1.59 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 11.1 innings in rookie ball after going in the fourth round of the 2016 draft.

    He followed that up with a 6.16 ERA, 1.42 WHIP and 56 strikeouts in 57 innings between rookie ball and Single-A last year. That's done nothing to temper expectations for the 19-year-old who is still viewed by many as the top pitching prospect in the Angels system not named Shohei Ohtani.

    The potential is no doubt there, but on-field results have to count for something.

         

    Oakland Athletics: SS Richie Martin

    The A's took Richie Martin with the No. 20 pick in the 2015 draft.

    He was viewed by most as the best defensive shortstop in the class, and the hope was that his bat would eventually catch up to his glove.

    So far that hasn't been the case.

    The 23-year-old carries a .235/.326/.330 line over three minor league seasons, and he's managed just nine home runs in 1,054 plate appearances. He still has the defensive tools to be a useful bench piece, but it looks unlikely he'll live up to his first-round status.

         

    Seattle Mariners: 1B Dan Vogelbach

    Vogelbach is getting dangerously close to earning the dreaded "Quad-A" designation—unofficially given to a player who is too good for Triple-A and not good enough for the majors.

    The 25-year-old has always had intriguing raw power and plus on-base skills, and he hit .290/.388/.455 with 25 doubles, 17 home runs and 83 RBI in Triple-A last year.

    However, he wasn't able to seize a wide-open first base spot in Seattle last year, and now the offseason addition of Ryon Healy has effectively blocked his path. As a first-base-only player defensively, his bat will have to do the talking if he's going to carve out an MLB role.

         

    Texas Rangers: RHP Alex Speas

    MLB.com wrote: "It may seem like blasphemy, but Speas' pure stuff, lanky frame and impressive athleticism earn him comparisons to Dwight Gooden."

    Blasphemy indeed.

    The 6'4", 180-pound right-hander has some intriguing projectability and a big mid-90s fastball that he backs with a plus curveball.

    That said, he struggled to a 6.15 ERA and 1.60 WHIP last season in Low-A, and his 40-grade control needs to improve dramatically if he's going to come close to delivering on his tantalizing ceiling.

NL East

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    Dylan Cozens
    Dylan CozensLenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    Atlanta Braves: IF Travis Demeritte

    Demeritte logged a 25-homer season as a 19-year-old in his full-season debut, but he did it while hitting just .211 and striking out a whopping 171 times.

    It looked like he might finally be turning a corner in 2016 when he hit .266/.361/.554 with 29 doubles and 28 home runs. The Rangers opted to sell high, trading him to the Braves for pitchers Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez, and he crashed back to earth in his first taste of Double-A last year.

    While he did lower his strikeout rate from 33.0 to 26.2 percent, it seemed to come at the price of his power as he hit just 15 home runs.

          

    Miami Marlins: RHP Tyler Kolek

    It's as ugly a stat line as you'll ever see: 3.2 IP, 14 BB, 4 H, 3 HBP, 12 ER.

    However, it did represent a long-awaited return to action for Kolek, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft.

    The flamethrowing Texas high schooler will now look to get his development back on track after missing nearly two full seasons.

    The 22-year-old still has a high ceiling, but until he proves otherwise, it's hard to view him as anything more than a fringe prospect.

         

    New York Mets: C Tomas Nido

    Impact catching prospects are few and far between, so when a young backstop turns in a breakout season in the minors, it usually generates a good deal of buzz.

    With that in mind, it's no surprise Nido shot up prospect rankings when he hit .320/.357/.459 with 32 extra-base hits in 370 plate appearances at High-A St. Lucie during the 2016 season.

    The 23-year-old saw his offensive game crash back to earth with a .232/.287/.354 line in Double-A. While he still has the goods to be a starting catcher at the next level, it seems the move to jump on his bandwagon was premature.

         

    Philadelphia Phillies: OF Dylan Cozens

    A 40-homer season is going to put you on the prospect map.

    Not all power outbursts are created equally in the minor leagues, though, and Cozens enjoyed his playing half his 2016 games in an extremely hitter-friendly ballpark for Double-A Reading.

    Hidden behind the gaudy home run total was 186 strikeouts, and the whiffs continued to pile up this past season when he fanned 194 times at a 35.8 percent clip in Triple-A.

    Unfortunately, this time around it was accompanied by a .210/.301/.418 line and just 27 home runs, leaving the 23-year-old looking more like a flash in the pan than a future star.

         

    Washington Nationals: RHP Austin Voth

    A fifth-round pick in 2013, Voth appeared to be moving steadily toward a spot in the big league rotation.

    • 2014 (A/A+/AA): 126.2 IP, 7-7, 2.77 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 9.5 K/9
    • 2015 (AA): 157.1 IP, 6-7, 2.92 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, 8.5 K/9
    • 2016 (AAA): 157.0 IP, 7-9, 3.15 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9, 7.6 K/9

    Then things came crashing down, as he went 4-12 with a 5.94 ERA and 1.63 WHIP and found himself moving backward through the system last year.

    While the 25-year-old still has time to right the ship, he now looks more like organizational depth than a future rotation piece.

NL Central

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    Corey Ray
    Corey RayLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Chicago Cubs: RHP Trevor Clifton

    In a Cubs system thin on upper-level pitching talent, Clifton emerged as a name to watch when he won the team's Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors in 2016.

    A 12th-round pick in 2013, Clifton built on a strong 2015 season by going 7-7 with a 2.72 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 129 strikeouts in 119 innings with High-A Myrtle Beach.

    The results weren't nearly as impressive last year in Double-A, as he allowed more hits (7.3 to 10.0 H/9), recorded fewer strikeouts (9.8 to 7.7 K/9) and saw his ERA nearly double to 5.20.

    The 22-year-old has now slipped outside the organizational top 10, and he could wind up landing in the bullpen as opposed to filling a spot in the rotation.

         

    Cincinnati Reds: OF Aristides Aquino

    Aquino filled up the stat sheet in 2016 when he posted an .846 OPS with 26 doubles, 12 triples, 23 home runs, 79 RBI, 69 runs scored and 11 stolen bases for High-A Daytona.

    However, his free-swinging approach caught up to him with the promotion to Double-A as he hit just .216/.282/.397 and saw his strikeout rate jump from 19.8 to 28.8 percent.

    The tools are loud, but the approach will need significant fine-tuning if he's going to develop into a regular at the next level.

         

    Milwaukee Brewers: OF Corey Ray

    College bats selected in the first round are generally expected to move quickly toward the majors.

    That hasn't been the case with Ray.

    The No. 5 pick in the 2016 draft jumped straight to Single-A for his pro debut and hit .239/.307/.370 with 20 extra-base hits in 270 plate appearances while receiving a promotion to High-A.

    Back at High-A Carolina for his first full season in the organization, he was unable to build on that debut, posting a nearly identical .238/.311/.367 line with a 156-48 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    In an organization with an abundance of young outfield talent, he'll need to get on track quickly or risk getting lost in the shuffle.

         

    Pittsburgh Pirates: SS Kevin Newman

    Let me preface this by saying I'm still a firm believer that Austin Meadows will live up to his top prospect billing despite some disappointing results the past two seasons.

    Instead, the choice here is Newman, who followed up a .320/.389/.426 line between High-A and Double-A during the 2016 season with a disappointing year in the upper minors.

    His batting line dipped to .267/.311/.363 last season, and a case can be made that Cole Tucker overtook him as the shortstop of the future in the process.

    At the very least, his jump onto leaguewide top-100 lists was premature.

         

    St. Louis Cardinals: SS Edmundo Sosa

    There was a time when Sosa looked like the shortstop of the future for the Cardinals.

    Part of the same international free-agent class as Alex Reyes and Magneuris Sierra, he hit .300/.369/.485 with 19 extra-base hits in 223 plate appearances in rookie ball during the 2015 campaign.

    His power has dried up the past two seasons, though, as he tallied just 32 extra-base knocks in 652 plate appearances amid a series of injuries.

    With all the defensive tools to stick at shortstop, his bat will determine his future role.

NL West

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    Tyler Beede
    Tyler BeedeBen Margot/Associated Press

    Arizona Diamondbacks: OF Socrates Brito

    Brito emerged as arguably the top position-player prospect in the Diamondbacks system when he hit .300/.339/.451 with 41 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases for Double-A Mobile during the 2015 season.

    While he's continued to post strong numbers in the minors, he has yet to establish himself at the major league level.

    The 25-year-old has hit .211/.229/.383 in 131 plate appearances in the big leagues. As he moves to the older end of the prospect scale, he's looking more like a fourth outfielder than a future starter.

         

    Colorado Rockies: 2B/OF Forrest Wall

    High school second basemen rarely find their way into the first round of the draft.

    Wall was one of the few exceptions when he went No. 35 overall in 2014, and he initially backed up that selection when he hit .286/.366/.439 with 33 extra-base hits and 25 stolen bases as a 19-year-old between Low-A and Single-A.

    However, in the two years since, he's failed to match that level of offensive production, and a dislocated shoulder limited him to 22 games last season. He's moved to the outfield and lost a step from what was once elite speed, leaving his future role in question.

         

    Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Yadier Alvarez

    Alvarez is still a fringe top-100 prospect on the strength of his electric stuff.

    He's just not the uber-prospect many viewed him as a year ago, at least not yet.

    A Cuban defector who landed a massive $16 million bonus, Alvarez posted a 2.12 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 59.1 innings in his 2016 pro debut.

    Unfortunately, a less-than-stellar 2017 campaign saw his ERA climb to 4.68 and his walk rate jump from 3.2 to 4.9 BB/9 in a season split between High-A and Double-A.

    He's still a prospect to watch, but Walker Buehler and Mitchell White have passed him for top pitching prospect honors in the organization.

          

    San Diego Padres: 1B Josh Naylor

    On the surface, there's nothing wrong with a .280/.346/.415 line that includes 25 doubles, 10 home runs and 64 RBI.

    That said, for a prospect like Naylor who will generate all of his value at the next level with his power production, it doesn't move the needle enough to make him a top prospect.

    He's still only 20 years old, so there's time for him to tap into more of that raw power.

    Still, it's hard to see how he fits into the long-term plans for a rebuilding San Diego club.

         

    San Francisco Giants: RHP Tyler Beede

    It's fair to say Beede is the best pitching prospect in the Giants system.

    That's not much of an achievement.

    The 24-year-old entered last season as a top-100-caliber prospect, but a disappointing season at the Triple-A level has lowered his stock significantly.

    His ERA (2.81 to 4.79), WHIP (1.28 to 1.47) and strikeout rate (8.2 to 6.9) all moved significantly in the wrong direction, and he now looks more like a back-of-the-rotation starter than a future ace.

         

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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