Welcome to the first installment of Prospect Positional, Rotoworld’s weekly update of prospects at each position. Each week a different position will be re-ranked and discussed, with new additions taking the place of players who are no longer in the minor leagues or those who no longer belong on a list of top prospects for that position. Prospect Positional is broken into six categories:
o Graduates: Those who are no longer in the minor leagues.
o Small Sample Size: Those who have not played much due to injury or delayed assignment.
o Superb Performance: Those who are performing very well at their level, taking into account age, experience and expectations.
o Holding Serve: Those who are performing satisfactorily at their level, taking into account age, experience and expectations.
o Struggling: Those who are not performing well at their level, taking into account age, experience and expectations.
o On the Bubble: Players who are moving up prospect rankings but have not yet reached the top 25.
This week will cover outfielders, a position in which there have been a number of high profile graduations and includes two of the games top prospects. Note: All statistics are current through Sunday, April 20.
Updated Top 25
Graduates (Pre-Season Rank):
Hamilton has struggled in the major leagues thus far, but he has had some flashes of his potential that will keep him in Cincinnati for the time being. He has struck out too much and his extra base hits are more a product of his speed than any semblance of power. He could be a long-term work in progress, but if he can get his batting average near .300 he could be the most disruptive leadoff hitter since Rickey Henderson.
Springer’s .353/.459/.647 slash line in 13 games in Triple-A all but forced the Astros to call him up to Houston. If he can keep his strikeouts in check, he could be a top-20 outfielder for 2014.
Bradley took advantage of an early injury and has played as was expected – great defense and a decent batting line. It seems that his 2013 struggles are behind him and he is ready to shine.
Choice has been a solid fourth outfielder/pinch hitter for the Rangers, and is unlikely to get a fulltime role without an injury. He may never tap into the power that it looked like he possessed during his monster season in 2011, but he is a solid 4th outfielder with the potential to be much more.
Small Sample Size:
Buxton has yet to play due to an injury to his left wrist, but he is likely to be in Double-A by May and could be the second best position player in Minnesota by the end of the season. The future 2-3-4 of Mauer, Buxton and Sano could be among the most productive and feared in baseball.
Soler injured his hamstring during the first game of the season with Double-A Tennessee and has yet to return. It may slow down his developmental timetable, though he will likely reach Wrigley in 2015.
Frazier made his 2014 debut with Low-A Lake County of the Midwest League last week. He could form a solid up-the-middle core with Francisco Lindor in Cleveland.
Meadows hurt his hamstring and is resting it before going to extended spring training. In his professional debut in 2013, Meadows looked every bit the part of a top draft pick.
Taveras has bounced back from a lost year in 2013 to put up a solid, though not spectacular, performance so far in 2014. All he has to do is wait for an opportunity in St. Louis and he should be an immediate offensive threat who hits above .300 with power.
Polanco is setting the International League on fire and could be the best homegrown right fielder in Pittsburgh since Bobby Bonilla, and could hit .300 with power. He is nearly assured of being up before mid-June.
Dahl is making up for the lost season in 2013 and is on pace to exceed 30 home runs in 2014. He appears in line for a mid-season promotion to High-A Modesto. Dahl is unlikely to reach the major leagues until the end of 2015 at the earliest, and could remain in the minor leagues until 2016.
Pederson is enjoying a monster season in Triple-A, but he is blocked by the four-headed outfield monster in Los Angeles, so it will take a concert of events (trade or injury) to allow him to reach the major leagues. He lacks the upside of the rest of the top-5, but he’s raking in Triple-A with no sign he will slow down.
Winker was the 49th pick of the 2012 draft for the Reds, and he has seemingly improved at every level since his debut. He lacks the upside to become a star, but he could be a solid corner outfielder who hits .280 with 15 home runs.
The Mets knew Nimmo was especially raw when they drafted him in 2012, as his high school did not have a baseball team (he played American Legion ball). His high strikeout totals were not unexpected, but he has begun to put it all together in 2014 as he has found his stroke, hitting .400 with increased power. If Nimmo continues his progress, he could hit .280 with 15-20 home runs.
Piscotty has the unfortunate distinction of being the second best outfield prospect for the Springfield Cardinals, where he shares the outfield with uber-prospect Oscar Taveras, and is being blocked by three very good outfielders in St. Louis. Piscotty has the talent to hit .315 with 10-15 home runs if the opportunity arises.
Margot has the potential to hit .300 with 5-10 home runs and 30-plus stolen bases, but needs a lot of development and time before he can reach his potential. His overall line is not staggering, but his quick wrists and speed could turn him into an impact player at the top of a lineup.
Renfroe’s recipe is straightforward: low average, high strikeouts and copious power. If he can keep his strikeouts in check, he could hit .260 with 30-plus home runs, even in capacious Petco Park.
If, before the season, I had to pick one player most likely to make me look stupid for my not including him on the pre-season outfield list, it would have been Tapia. He has the potential to hit .330 with 20 home runs while playing a solid center field, which is a recipe for All-Star appearances and votes for the MVP award.
Parker has hit at least 21 home runs in every season of his professional career, and he is on pace to continue that streak in 2014. Parker has the power to hit 20-plus home runs, but there are questions as to whether he will be able to hit above .260. Additionally, Parker was rumored to be the Rockies first baseman of the future for 2015, but the signing of Justin Morneau through at least 2015 could block his path to Coors Field.
Brinson, who was part of the ultra-talented 2013 Hickory team, is spending a second season in Hickory and has shown improvement. His strikeout percentage has decreased and his batting average has increased more than his increase in BABIP. Brinson still needs to improve his pitch selection and contact rate to have a chance to reach the major leagues as anything more than a 4th outfielder, but he has shown progress and is still young for the South Atlantic League.
Almora may be the last part of the Cubs positional puzzle, as he has the talent to be a high-average center fielder that bats leadoff. He is a low strikeout, low walk hitter with above-average ability to make solid contact. If he keeps hitting .300, he could be patrolling centerfield in Wrigley Field in early 2016.
Liriano is doing well in Double-A despite missing all of 2013 after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament. He has the potential to hit .280 with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, so if he is able to bounce back into form he could be patrolling left field in San Diego soon.
Ervin’s two week cameo in Low-A in 2013 looks like he’s a totally different player than this year. Fewer hits, fewer walks and more strikeouts is not the recipe for progression. He’s been playing professional baseball for less than one year, so he has a lot of time to improve.
Nick Williams hit .293/.337/.543 in 2013 as part of the ultra-talented Hickory lineup, but is struggling to keep his 2014 OPS above his 2013 slugging percentage while in High-A. His strikeout rate has spiked and he has struggled to hit above .250. If he does not improve his contact percentage he could flame out before reaching Double-A.
Bonifacio hit better during his 25-game introduction to Double-A in 2013; historically he is not a slow starter. His power has yet to show up, and I’m beginning to wonder if it will.
Tyler Austin and Mason Williams both had great 2012 seasons with Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, and have struggled since. The acquisitions of Beltran and Ellsbury show that the Yankees did not expect major contributions from either Austin or Williams in the near future, and neither are doing well in 2014. If they don’t start hitting soon, they could be forgotten more quickly than Brandon Wood.
Puello was suspended for the last month of the 2013 minor league season for his involvement with Biogenesis, has struggled in 2014. He has always been a low-walk, high-strikeout player, but he hit .326 in 2013, which made his lack of walks less of an issue. If he doesn’t get his batting average well above the Mendoza Line he is unlikely to reach Queens.
This may be the end of the road for Bubba Starling, blue chip prospect. He will turn 22 before the end of the season and he has yet to show any real improvement. He still plays a very good center field, so he may make the major leagues as a 4th outfielder with power.
On the Bubble:
After his breakout season in 2011, Gary Brown was a consensus top-50 prospect in baseball. He was viewed as a top of the order centerfielder with the potential to hit 30 doubles and 10 home runs, all while batting over .300. Since then, he has stumbled, but he is hitting well in Triple-A and could see time in San Francisco in the event of an injury.
If you’re a fan of solid lefty middle relievers from the 1990s, you may remember C.J. McElroy’s father, Chuck. Even if you do not, you should keep an eye on his son, C.J., the speedy centerfielder in the Cardinals organization. The younger McElroy lacks power, but is good at making solid contact and could turn into a good centerfielder who bats leadoff.
Brett Eibner always struck out too much and never seemed to tap into his power. This year, Eibner has come alive, hitting over .300 with power while cutting down on his strikeouts. He does not have a superstar profile, but centerfielders with good power and the potential to hit .300 do not grow on trees.
Part of the buzz surrounding Gabriel Guerrero is due to the fact that he has the potential to hit .315 with 20-plus home runs in the major leagues, while part of the buzz is due to the fact that he shares a body type, approach and skill set with his uncle, Vladimir. The younger Guerrero needs to work on his overly aggressive approach, but hitting well over .300 as one of the youngest players in the California League shows how much he can do with an unrefined approach.
Mikie Mahtook has failed to impress since he was the 31st overall pick in 2011 out of Louisiana State University, but he seems to be putting it all together while in Triple-A. He does not project as much of a power hitter, but he could hit above .300 with 30-plus doubles and 15-plus stolen bases.
In 2013, Jake Marisnick was hitting .294/.358/.502 in Double-A when he was promoted to Miami, where he struggled to hit, putting up a poor .183/.231/.248 line and exhausted his rookie eligibility. Back in Triple-A to start 2014, Marisnick is struggling to keep his OPS above .400, so the long-term questions remain. If he can get back on track, he projects as a 20/20 threat who plays elite defense in center field.
Billy McKinney’s batting average is too low, but he has slugged six home runs during his first 14 games in High-A as a 19-year old. McKinney, who has a body similar to Marlon Byrd, projects as a .280 hitter with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases. It is unlikely that he will be able to keep up the power surge, but his stock could spike if he continues to hit home runs and improves his batting average.
Adam Brett Walker has a simple calling card: light tower power. In 2013 he was the second consecutive Twins prospect to lead the Midwest League in home runs with 27 (Miguel Sano led the league with 28 in 2012), and he already has four through 16 games. While he hit .278 in 2013, he is struggling to stay above the Mendoza line while experiencing a spike in his strikeout rate. His BABIP has dropped nearly 80 points, so his batting average could see a significant improvement if his BABIP gets closer to his career average. If he is unable to make more consistent contact, dreams of 30-plus home runs hitting behind Mauer-Buxton-Sano will not come to fruition.