Wilmer Flores, 2B/3B, New York Mets
The Mets would tell you Flores is beginning the year somewhere other than where they expected, and that is because Flores’ opening day assignment was changed at the last minute. The Mets original developmental plan for Flores, 71st on the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 list, was to have him work at shortstop in the minor leagues. That plan quickly changed once the team needed an infielder on the major-league roster after placing second baseman Daniel Murphy on the paternity list. Instead of beginning the season in Triple-A with the Las Vegas 51s, Flores found himself getting the start at second base for the Mets on Wednesday. It is unclear whether the Mets, who have been rumored to be in search for a shortstop, will keep Flores with the major-league team or send him back to Triple-A to begin working on the conversion to shortstop.
Phillip Ervin, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Perhaps no team is having more success with first round draft picks in recent years than the Reds, and Ervin might very well continue the trend. The no. 27 overall draft pick in the 2013 draft crushed baseballs in the lower levels after signing. He made a brief appearance in the Midwest League, but his presence was felt—at a .349/.451/.465 clip—and he concluded his year with the 63rd spot on the Top 101. While Ervin is surprisingly beginning the season in Low-A, it shouldn’t be long before the 21-year-old joins fellow organizational outfield prospect Jesse Winker in Bakersfield.
Mark Appel, RHP, Houston Astros
After the Astros took Appel with the first pick in the 2013 draft, many believed the organization would not let its newest prized prospect be exposed to the incredibly unfair pitching conditions in Lancaster. That sentiment was even stronger after some television analysts said the Stanford product could pitch in a major-league rotation right now as he was drafted. But after he was touched up a little bit in the lower levels in 2013 and missed some time in the offseason due to an emergency appendectomy, the Astros will take it one level at a time with Appel, who will begin the season in High-A Lancaster.
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
There is no backstory needed for man we call Buxton, as the five-tool talent ascended to be the game’s top prospect after hitting .334/.424/.520 with 12 home runs and 55 stolen bases in 125 games across Low-A and High-A baseball. Buxton will be repeating High-A, however, to start 2014 as he works his way back from a wrist injury. It has already been a tough offseason for Twins prospects, as Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario will miss key developmental time in 2014, so the organization will be holding its collective breath, even if it is just a minor injury for Buxton.
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
Springer becomes the second Astro to make this list, but for a different reason. Springer is now 24 and should be in the majors right now. But the Astros have sent the outfielder back to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he hit .311/.425/.626 last season, in an effort to delay his service time. Fortunately for Springer and Astros fans, the UConn product will be in the major leagues as soon as the Astros are done hitting snooze on his service time, giving Houston its first wave of incoming impact talent.