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August 1, 2012

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Rarified Air: The Top 10 Prospects in the Minors

by Jason Parks

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It’s not that I’m against prospect rankings; it’s just that they’re not my bag. I stand in awe of those who excel at the process of these classifications, as it takes a balanced approach, one measured against the overall subjectivity of the operation. You have to look at the tools and projection, but you also have to respect and appreciate game production, with each prognosticator assigning their own weight to each variable. National writers like Kevin Goldstein, Keith Law, and Jim Callis have established their bones in this particular brand of prognostication, and I always look forward to their lists.

Last week, a Twitter question coerced me to suggest that Jurickson Profar is the top prospect in the minors, a comment that soon prompted a series of follow-up questions about the prospects who would round out my top five. I never intended to execute a formal ranking, mostly because I like to assign tools and projection more weight than I probably should, and once I fall in love with a prospect, I’m hitched for the long haul. I’m a hypocrite: I try to be as objective as possible when scouting a player, but I struggle to remove the thorns of love when it comes to ranking players against each other. Francisco Lindor was going to be in my top 10 regardless of what he did on the field in 2012. I really like Francisco Lindor, and it’s my article, and that’s my approach. Admittedly, it’s not the best approach. But I’m honest about my intentions, and I did try my best to make this more than just a prospect popularity context. As requested, here are the top 10 players in the minors, with detailed write-ups of the top five.

Prospect #1: Rangers SS Jurickson Profar
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Current MiLB Level: Double-A
Reason for Placement: Profar is simply the best all-around player in the minors, bringing a potent combination of tools and game skills to the table at a very young age. His instincts for baseball are measured on the Jeter Scale, as he always seems to find himself in the place on the field at the right time. The switch-hitter has a smooth stroke from both sides of the plate, with a mature approach that keeps him in favorable hitting environments and gives him an on-base dimension. The hit tool itself is a plus-plus weapon, and Profar should develop into a perennial .300-plus hitter at the major-league level. The power ceiling is still a subject of debate, with some giving him a 10-15 home run cap, while others think 20-plus is likely at full maturity.

Profar doesn’t have plus speed, but he’s an above-average runner, with a quick first step and the aforementioned instincts that make his 50/55 speed play up in game action. His defensive skill-set receives a lot of hype, but I don’t see an elite shortstop; rather, Profar will be above-average, with a big arm, a good glove, and a knack for the big play, but not a defender on the same level as incumbent Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus. The total package is an All-Star in the majors, with a potent bat—contact, on-base skills, and above-average power for the position—a good defensive profile at a premium position, and the type of feel for the game that is found only in the DNA of the best players. He should taste the major leagues at some point in 2013.

Prospect #2: Cardinals OF Oscar Taveras
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Current MiLB level: Double-A
Reason for Placement: Two months ago, I wrote the following about Oscar Taveras:

Oscar Taveras has blossomed into one of the minors’ purest hitters, with offensive projections that could make him a perennial All-Star at the major-league level. With a violent, torque-heavy swing and an aggressive approach, the early word on Taveras was that the same characteristics that allowed him to hit .386 in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League would ultimately be his downfall against superior pitching, the kind that can use sequence and location to disrupt a hitter’s bat speed.

As it turns out, Taveras’s brand of violence is calculated, as he wields his weapon with a controlled fury; to the eye, his swing looks haphazard and aggressive to a fault, but his elite hand quickness and strength allow him to command his swing with more touch than is realized. He can barrel balls to all fields from all hands and has improved his pitch recognition skills, leaving him with an offensive skill set that has few weaknesses. The hit tool receives sevens and eights in reports, and some scouts have even put sevens on his future power, a tool that will continue to mature. His defensive game isn’t nearly as remarkable, but his routes and angles continue to improve, and he has logged time at all three outfield spots, which gives him some positional versatility. Taveras’s offensive potential is the truth, and if he hits his projections he will be a superstar. He isn’t a finished product, but his time in the minors is nearing its conclusion, as the 19-year-old Dominican is more than holding his own in Double-A and should compete for a job in the majors at some point in 2013.

Not much has changed since late May, except for Taveras continuing to mash in Double-A, putting on a show so impressive during batting practice at the Futures Game that I think Peter Gammons tweeted the word “plops”, and jumping from a top-10 prospect to a top-tier prospect. Taveras is my favorite offensive prospect in the game, and if forced to select a future middle-of-the-order hitter to build a franchise around, I’d take Taveras over Myers every day of the week. Perhaps I’m too giddy over the Dominican slugger; after all, there are several scouts who are still concerned about the violence in the swing and the aggressive approach. But I’m completely sold on his offensive ability, and I think he has a chance to be a very special player at the highest level.

Prospect #3: Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Current MiLB Level: High-A
Reason for Placement: Let’s see. Bundy has nasty raw stuff—with projections to be even better—excellent feel for pitching, and on-the-field production that not only backs up the hype, but surpasses what people thought was possible in his debut campaign. These are good things. With a plus-plus fastball that the 19-year-old can already command with a veteran’s touch, Bundy can set the table for a secondary arsenal that has the potential to put him in the rarified air of a major-league ace. His cutter is a supreme piece of aerodynamic filth, thrown with velocity and a late jerk to the glove-side as it nears the plate. The pitch is so nasty it has been muted in game action so that other pitches in the arsenal (namely the curve) can take a step forward. Speaking of the curve, its not on the same level as the other offerings, but it still flashes above-average potential, although it lacks the same consistency and feel of the changeup, which is already a major-league-quality pitch, with good action and arm-speed deception.

Bundy isn’t a tall pitcher, but he’s a physical force on the mound, with more than enough strength, an intense workout regimen to keep him in elite condition, and a bulldog mentality that takes his raw stuff and feel for his craft and amplifies their effect. He’s a monster in the making, and once the training wheels come off, Bundy will be ready for the biggest jump in professional baseball. I wouldn’t be shocked if he makes a push to win a big-league job out of spring training in 2013, and if not, he will no doubt reach the highest level at some point during that season.

Prospect #4: Royals OF Wil Myers
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Current MiLB Level: Triple-A
Reason for Placement: After a somewhat disappointing 2011 campaign, during which injury and inconsistency forced some prognosticators to jump off the bandwagon, Myers showed up legit in the Arizona Fall League before exploding at full strength in 2012, victimizing the Texas League and then moving up to Triple-A and continuing the assault. Myers is a very skilled hitter, with impressive bat speed and clean and efficient swing actions. With bat control and a wide coverage area, Myers should be able to hit for average in the Show, and thanks to his fluid and powerful hips and hands, his power production should put him in the middle of a major-league lineup. His defensive skill-set is better suited for a corner spot, with the arm for right and enough athleticism to cover a larger patch of grass in a pinch. Myers could (and perhaps should) already be playing in Kansas City, and if everything clicks, it won’t take long for the 21-year-old to achieve his All-Star ceiling.

Prospect #5: Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Current MiLB Level: Double-A
Reason for Placement: Cole has the raw stuff to be the top prospect on this list, a beast with three offerings that grade out at 7 or higher on the 2-8 scale. He has prototypical size and strength and a fastball that can work with ease in the plus-plus range and touch over 100 mph when he wants to reach back for it. His slider is extremely sharp, with a violent slice as it nears the plate, thrown with velocity in the upper-80s to low-90s. Basically, Cole can throw his slider faster than the majority of pitchers in the minors can throw their fastball. His changeup has well above-average potential as well, playing off the fastball with good action that can avoid left-handed barrels. The overall command can be hit or miss, and Cole will lose his delivery at times, which will push his offerings up into the hitting zone.

The biggest knock against Cole so far in his brief career is a lack of on-the-field dominance; when you have three pitches with plus-plus qualities, you expect to see box scores that reflect their power.  I’m sold on the stuff, and I think it’s only a matter of time before the pieces start to fit together. It all starts with the delivery and funnels down from that, and if Cole can stay consistent with his mechanics, he has the stuff to become one of the most valuable commodities in the game. Cole is currently being well-served by the patient developmental plan the Pirates are following, as he is only 21 years old and he doesn’t have that many professional innings under his belt. After a little more minor-league seasoning, Cole will be ready to unload his fury at the major-league level, and if the full arsenal comes to play, the Pirates will have a very special pitcher under team control for a long time.

The Next Five
Prospect #6: Orioles SS Manny Machado
Prospect #7: Mariners RHP Taijuan Walker
Prospect #8: Blue Jays C Travis D’Arnaud
Prospect #9: Rangers 3B Mike Olt
Prospect #10: Indians SS Francisco Lindor

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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