Updates on Byron Buxton, Francisco Lindor, and others around the minor leagues.
Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (Low-A Cedar Rapids)
After a scorching start to the season (1.194 OPS in April), Buxton has cooled (somewhat) in his second month in full-season ball, but thanks to game heroics and flashes of his future brilliance, Buxton’s stock has never been higher. Equipped with eye-splitting tools, including elite speed and easy plus raw power, the 19-year-old is well on his way to being the top prospect in the minors. Buxton recently hit a walk-off grand slam that one scout source in attendance said traveled an estimated 450 feet and was launched off a 98 mph fastball. Perfect Game’s Justin Hlubek captured the event on video, and if you have a change of pants handy, please click this link and drift into a euphoric state. --Jason Parks
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Royals (Double-A Northwest Arkansas)
If Ventura’s physical characteristics read 6’3’’ rather than 5’11’’, the combination of stuff and results would make him one of the premier pitching prospects in the game. Everybody knows about the fastball, as it can hit triple digits in bursts and routinely works in the plus-plus range, but the legitimacy is found in the developmental progression of the secondary arsenal, which includes a plus curveball and a changeup that some think could end up being very special. Because of questions about his ability to handle a starter’s workload, Ventura gets put into the bullpen box, where he profiles as an elite closer. While that’s quite the enticing alternative, the organization is adamant that they always have and will continue to view the 21-year-old righty as a starter, and a very special one at that. Not every slight Dominican righty is going to be the next Pedro, but most slight Dominican righties aren’t in Ventura’s class of talent, and if his body is up to the challenge, the Royals might have the top of the rotation arm they’ve been trying to develop since forever. –Jason Parks
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Looking at the early-season performances at one of the minors' deepest positions.
While it’s premature to suggest the 2013 crop of minor-league shortstops will usher in a Golden Era for the position, the class of talent might be the deepest at the position we’ve seen in a long time. Heading into the season, 13 shortstops cracked the Baseball Prospectus 101, including seven within the top 35. Going even deeper, more than 25 shortstops were included on individual teams’ top 10 lists, with several more featured as “On the Rise” candidates for the season.
Unlike in previous seasons, the current class is lousy with legitimacy, meaning the bulk of the crop has a good chance to remain at the position going forward. Just looking back a few seasons, some of the 101-worthy shortstop prospects included names likes Grant Green, and Wilmer Flores, and Christian Colon, and Miguel Sano, guys who aren’t what I would consider pure shortstops, or even worthy of the distinction “pure enough.”
There are 80-grade runners and then there’s Billy Hamilton. Almost to a person, Hamilton was dubbed the fastest player the BP Prospect Team and industry scouts had seen in their careers. In his past two minor-leagues seasons, Hamilton has stolen 258 bases across three levels. In 2012 he broke a long-standing minor-league record and ended the season with 155 steals in just 132 games. As if the stolen base totals weren’t enough evidence of Hamilton’s blinding speed, scouts routinely report home-to-first times in the 3.40-3.45 second range; blowing the 20-80 scale out of the water. Hamilton is an elite runner in every respect. He gets up to top speed in just a few quick steps, sustains his speed well while running the bases and has shown good closing speed in the outfield. Hamilton’s speed is a game-changing tool that will carry him to the big leagues, and the second he steps on a big league field he will be the fastest player in the history of the game.
It's a rare player indeed who could make the jump Jose Fernandez made. Jason asks front office executives which ones could handle it next year.
While it might seem silly to speculate about possible 2014 assignments, the unexpected promotion of 20-year-old Jose Fernandez to the major leagues took my mind down a curious path. It’s not every day that a prospect ascends to the highest level without first making a stop in the upper minors, especially when the prospect is only two years removed from high school. It has to start with the opportunity, as unexpected injuries and limited options put the Marlins in a personnel quandary, a situation so distressed that a pitcher with only 11 starts at the High-A level was a reasonable choice to secure a spot in the rotation. What I find more interesting is not the decision itself, but the individual characteristics of the pitcher who made such a decision plausible in the first place.
The jump from the High-A level to the Double-A level is considered the second-largest talent jump in the minors, second only to the jump from Triple-A to the majors, and Fernandez is being asked to make both jumps at the same time. This is a monumental challenge that few prospects in the game could manage, both on a physical level (talent) and an emotional level (makeup). Fernandez has both, with room to spare, which isn’t to suggest his refinement level is up to major-league standards or that the decision to promote him so aggressively should be shielded from criticism; rather, Fernandez possesses the necessary characteristics to make such a leap justifiable, at least from a scouting perspective, and that puts him in elite company in that regard.
The Baseball Prospectus 2013 Top 101 Prospects, by Position, by Organization, and by Age
Yesterday, Jason Parks and the Baseball Prospectus prospect crew released our Top 101 Prospects of 2013, also newly available in printed form in the now-shipping Baseball Prospectus 2013 annual. The festivities were wild and raucous for all, perhaps tempered slightly for fans of the Chicago White Sox. Here is the Top 101 list displayed by position, by organization, and by prospect age. Enjoy!
Daily Draft Video Weekend Flashback takes a look at today's top prospects before they were pros.
Francisco Lindor was the easy choice for top prospect in this year's Cleveland Indians Top 10 Prospects here at Baseball Prospectus. This weekend's Draft Video Flashback features Lindor in action in the summer and fall of 2010, leading up to his pre-draft spring.
Jason tries his hand at his own top prospect list, with rankings and commentary.
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.
Not all hot prospects will be stars, and that's a hard pill to swallow.
Prospects fail to develop for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from poor makeup, to marginal physical talent, to lack of instincts, and some only fail in our own minds, where unrealistic expectations create a world where disappointment is assured. As minor league masochists, joy can be found in the process of constructing our own torture, as we open our hearts to the allure of projection and cathedral ceilings, knowing with an intellectual mind that what we want to see as a diamond will really end up being coal. In a game built on a foundation of failure, the developmental process is the evolutionary doorman of that failure, tasked with keeping the exclusive club populated with only the best of the best, the exceptional and the beautiful over the ordinary and the ugly.
I’ve been thinking about failure a lot lately. In my personal life—which I often bring into my professional life—I’ve come upon a developmental roadblock, an imploding relationship that needs to be abandoned, much like a breaking ball that just isn’t good for my arm slot/action anymore. As I transition from the curveball to the slider, I’m going to stumble; learning a new pitch is never easy, especially when you’ve been throwing the curve for so many years. This personal obstruction is a nice companion to the articles I’ve been writing lately, the ones where I take a look at what could go wrong with a prospect based on their present level of refinement. With those pieces, I’m selling the setbacks, preparing readers for the disappointments that are not only possible, but also very likely to occur in some form during the maturation process. As I research those players in search of characteristics in their skill set that are exploitable, introspection forces me to examine the weaknesses in my own skill set, the holes in my game that encouraged failure. With that internal spelunking came perspective, and a somewhat refined approach to expectation management; when the heart hurts, it’s easy to water down the dreams in your head, finding that it's pleasurable to believe in the fairy tale, but not at the expense of your anchor to reality. You can learn a lot from failure.
These guys are so good, they cut glass. They're razor sharp.
The 2012 minor league season has lived nearly half its life, and over the course of the last two and a half months, provided us with the sensational sights, sounds, and smells of the player development machine. We follow closely to monitor the progress of the supermen of tomorrow, their triumphs celebrated and their failures analyzed in graphic detail, a highly invasive process in which we so eagerly participate. The storylines are vast highways of entertainment, often too complex to appreciate in proper detail, but tantalizing enough in their abstract form to keep us content with snapshots. The following are snapshots of the first-half, painted with a wide and often clumsy brush, as I lack the time or the tools to document the blow-by-blow accounts of the campaign with an ultra-fine point. However, along those same lines, I’m going to use quotes from one of my favorite movies in order to set the scenes of the season, and hopefully add some insight through the vehicle of entertainment. “Too many things too many things too many things... I wanna go for a walk. Let's go for a walk.” -Amber Waves
“Start down low with a 350 cube, three and a quarter horsepower, 4-speed, 4:10 gears, ten coats of competition orange, hand-rubbed lacquer with a huplane manifold….Full f*ckin' race cams. Whoo!”
It’s only taken half of a season, but Dylan Bundy has quickly emerged as one the top prospects in the game. Seen by many as the best player available in the historically stacked 2011 draft, Bundy fell to the Orioles with the number four overall pick, and has shoved it ever since, using a plus-plus fastball, a nasty cut fastball, a curveball, and a very promising changeup to carve up the competition. In his first 11 starts in the minors, the 19-year-old native of Oklahoma has only allowed 18 hits in 45 innings pitched, sending 58 down on strikes and issuing an anemic 6 walks. “Aces” are the blue diamonds of the game, and it doesn’t take a keen scouting eye or a Rolodex full of industry sources to realize that Bundy has all the necessary characteristics to reach the lofty ceiling.
OMG, you've never heard of Hanser Alberto? You totally should.
Hanser Alberto, SS/3B, Rangers (Low-A Hickory)
When I visited the Rangers minor league camp this spring, they were playing a pair of games with their Low- and High-A squads about 20 feet from each other. With one of the best systems in baseball, including a plethora of expensive draft picks and big ticket international signings, it was an impressive display of expensive talent, but it was Alberto who stole the show, as he just barreled everything. I hadn't even heard of him, but I got a quick primer from Jason Parks, who thinks he can hit, and that seems to be the universal opinion. That's with good reason as after eight hits over the weekend, including four on Sunday, the 19-year-old Dominican is now hitting .369/.396/.476 while seeing time at both left-side infield positions. It's always fun to see the big name players, but it's equally good to find new names as well.