June 20, 2012
All Gap Team
Recently, an editor at ESPN told me he was taking his kid to a minor league game and asked which players he should keep an eye on. As he was seeing the Rangers' Low-A Hickory affiliate, one of the first players that came to mind was outfielder Jordan Akins, and I added a comment amount him possibly having the widest gap between the player he is now and the player he has the potential to be. That led to greater discussions about players to dream on, so what follows here is the All-Dream team currently in the minors. All of these players have the potential to be high-impact players in the big leagues, but every one of them has a long way to go and a lot of work to do to get there.
C: Blake Swihart, Red Sox
The 26th overall pick in last year's draft, Swihart's $2.5 million bonus was more in line with that of a top 10 pick, and he has rare tools for a catcher. Still, as a product from a New Mexico high school he still has a long way to go, as he hit just .250/.302/.375 during the first half of the season for Low-A Greenville. Very athletic for a catcher, Swihart is a switch-hitter with the potential for average or more power down the road, and he's shown a solid approach and good feel for contact so far. He has the potential to be a good defender as well but, like his hitting, it's still a work in progress.
1B: Telvin Nash, Astros
Nash has incredible raw power, including 18 home runs in 226 at-bats this year at High-A Lancaster, but questions remain as to his ability to tap into it as he progresses. At six-foot-one and 250 pounds, he's a physical beast, but his swing mechanics are just as beastly. With more than 60% of his hits this year going for extra bases, he makes dangerous contact, but with 114 strikeouts in 226 at-bats it just might not ever matter.
2B: Delino DeShields, Astros
The Astros knew they were drafting a raw product when they made DeShields the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft, but he was a bit more unrefined than expected, hitting just .220/.305/.322 in his full-season debut, and earning a return ticket to Low-A Lexington this year. With a batting average of .265 and 45 stolen bases in 66 games, DeShields has certainly made some progress, but his raw power is still in the potential phase of the game. He just doesn't make as much loud contact as you'd like to see in a player who could—if everything works out, and it rarely does—hit 15 home runs and steal 50 bases annually.
3B: Aderlin Rodriguez, Mets
Rodriguez is the hot corner version of Nash. He is a massive player with massive power, but he's yet to hit enough to make a difference with it. Spending his second straight year at Low-A Savannah, Rodriguez is hitting .254/.326/.459, and scouts have noted some big steps forward in his game: he's relaxed his swing and begun to trust in his strength, which led to a dip in strikeouts. They've also noted some defensive improvements, but whether or not he ends up staying at third base is open to debate.
SS. Luis Sardinas, Rangers
Sardinas earned a seven-figure bonus out of Venezuela three years ago, but 2012 is the first season in which he's been healthy. Still just 19, Sardinas has some drool-worthy upside, especially on the bases and defensively, as he's a plus-plus runner who has 21 stolen bases in 24 attempts; he also has well above-average range, hands and arm strength. He's skinny and weak, and that's holding him back at the plate, where he is hitting just .259 for Low-A Hickory, and 46 of his 50 hits have been singles. If he can just develop enough offensively to hit at the bottom of a lineup, he'll have significant value.
OF: Jordan Akins, Rangers
Akins' size and athleticism have drawn comparisons to a young Matt Kemp, but he's not on the same planet as Kemp in terms of baseball ability. He's a plus-plus runner who earns equal grades for his raw power, but he has almost zero feel for hitting, and his .207/.235/.346 line at Low-A Hickory includes 76 strikeouts in 217 at-bats and just seven walks. There's no prospect in baseball who fits the "spectacular mess" label more than Akins, but he'll get (and deserves) plenty of time to figure things out.
OF: Byron Buxton, Twins
This year's second overall pick, Buxton's $6 million bonus will almost certainly be the 2012 draft's biggest pay day, and he earned it with his tools, as he has the potential to be a dynamic center fielder with above-average power, blazing speed and outstanding defense. That said, he will be a bit of a project, as while he held his own on the national tournament circuit, he simply did not see any quality pitching during his years at a rural Georgia high school. His ceiling in this year's draft class was unmatched, but he's not expected to move quickly through the system, and many adjustments will be necessary.
OF: Bubba Starling, Royals
Starling was last year's Buxton, but he might have even more upside yet also more risk. At six-foot-four and 180 pounds, he has the potential to be a five-tool monster, but he was as focused on football as he was on baseball in high school, so he remains quite raw. All of the tools are there, including plus-plus power and arm strength, and well-above average speed, but his hitting ability is still a work in progress. After signing late last year and being held back in extended spring training in 2012, he turns 20 in August and has yet to make his official debut. He's arguably the biggest lottery ticket in the game.
SP: Luis Heredia, Pirates
Some think Heredia is the best pitching prospect ever to come out of Mexico, and the Pirates showed they might be among them when signing the then-16-year-old to a $2.6 million deal two years ago. He held his own in the Gulf Coast League last year and will begin his 2012 season in the New York-Penn League as a 17-year-old, and there's still plenty of room for growth in both his game and his body. Already six-foot-six, Heredia can touch 96 mph with his fastball while comfortably sitting at 90-93. While he's still refining his mechanics and struggling to find consistency in his delivery due to his length, he does know how to spin a breaking ball, and has some feel for a changeup. He might be five years away from Pittsburgh, but he has a ceiling that ranks with much more well known Pirate arms like Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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