The annual Top 10 Prospects Series forms the backbone of our understanding about the current state of major-league farmhands. Running 300 players deep, any discussion about the future stars, starters, and busts in baseball begins with the names found in these compilations. Robust as they are though, the Top 10s cover just a fraction of the minor-league baseball player universe. Every organization has at least seven minor-league teams, and estimating conservatively, even the clubs with the fewest affiliates are employing over 150 players at any given time. Granting that many of those are non-prospects, it’s still remarkable how few players with major-league talent get ink on the Top 10s.
In between the top 300 and the role-20 foot soldiers who populate the minor-league landscape lies a large body of talented but flawed players who, at least in prospecting circles, draw more criticism for their weaknesses than plaudits for their strengths. In some cases, these players are just one developmental obstacle or one grade jump from fulfilling their potential. In the absence of a place on a Top 10 list though, they’re all bound by a sort of mutual anonymity, a group deemed too deficient to contribute significantly at the major-league level, out of sight and out of mind from all but their team’s staunchest and most knowledgeable fans.
Below you’ll find thirty of these fringe prospects, one per team. Each has flaws, but each also brings something to the table, and all of them could play a part on a winning big-league team. Some can, and probably will, contribute as starters. Others fit best in the bullpen, or as utility players. But all of these players have the potential to play in the big leagues, and each offers something to dream on, a plausible reason to hope that your team’s fringe prospect will pan out.
Rosy Projection: Second-Divison Right Fielder
Brito has some of the best tools in Arizona’s system. He’s raw at the plate, but flashes impressive power that he might be able to tap into a bit more regularly if he could stop chasing breaking balls off the plate. He probably won’t turn into an average hitter; his jerky hand load isn’t conducive to consistent solid contact and he doesn’t have the plate discipline to compensate for a low average with high walk totals. Whether he hits or not, the profile is carried by his glove. He’s a quick runner—he had 38 steals in High-A last season—with plenty of arm and range for the position. It’s an odd profile, and any positive development at the plate would make him an average regular, if not a little more.
Trivia: Despite a large budget and plenty of time, the finest genealogists on payroll at Baseball Prospectus could find no clear familial trace linking the famous Greek philosopher to the talented outfielder who bears his name. Damn. However, they did find that Brito is from Azua, a mid-sized Dominican city that has produced a number of notable big-leaguers, including Neftali Feliz and Maikel Franco.
Why it could work: “Socrates Brito has a combination of power and speed that could keep him in the lineup every day, but there’s extreme risk in the profile.” – NL Scout
Rosy Projection: Second-Division Center Fielder
One of the fastest players in baseball, Smith’s 80 speed makes him a force on the bases and a range rover in center field. Counting the Arizona Fall League, the 21-year-old swiped 92 bags in 2014 while also using his speed to notch 40 extra-base hits in a breakout campaign at the plate. Still, plenty of evaluators remain skeptical about Smith’s bat, concerned that his poor pitch recognition and slap-hitting approach won’t produce enough value to stay in the lineup every day. Supporters tout his bat speed and point out that he has more strength and power than most players with his speed.
Trivia: Smith jokes that he’s the slowest guy in his family, and there certainly was plenty of speed in the Smith household: his two sisters sprinted in college and his older brother, Michael, was a running back for the University of Arkansas.
Why it could work: “I like him. He can play really play center field, a 55 center fielder. He’s got a short stroke with plenty of barrel control. It’s a fourth-outfield type, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s up with Atlanta this season.” –Tucker Blair
Rosy Projection: Back-End Reliever
Many moons ago, Baltimore tabbed Hobgood with the fourth overall pick. Six years, several injuries, and a few hundred ineffective innings later, Hobgood has re-emerged as a prospect, albeit as a reliever instead of the no. 2 starter the Orioles hoped they’d drafted.
The right-hander still has plenty to offer, however. At his best, he touches 97 with a sinking fastball that he can move around all quadrants of the strike zone. He also throws a power slider that could be plus-plus when all is said and done, and with that kind of arsenal, who needs a changeup? Hobgood has to prove that he can string multiple effective outings together without breaking down, but as long as he stays healthy, he could reach the majors before the All-Star break.
Trivia: As a high-school freshman, Hobgood once leaned out of the dugout to catch a foul pop-up, preventing his third basemen from making the routine play and sending his head coach into a conniption fit.
Why it could work: “Better health and conditioning has led to better results. While he’s a reliever all the way, his arsenal consists of two potential plus-plus offerings that could easily work in the back end of a major-league bullpen if he can tighten up the command.” –Tucker Blair.
Rosy Projection: Utility Player
Generously listed at 5-foot-8, Coyle is a baseball rat who’s wrung every ounce of ability out of his small frame. There’s no standout tool in the 23-year-old’s game: He has average bat speed, an average glove, and without enough arm or range for short, he’s a bit of a tweener on both sides of the ball. None of those limitations will prevent lazy pundits from comparing him to Dustin Pedroia.
At the plate, Coyle’s bat could get him into the lineup. He works with a violent but controlled swing, and he’s popped 58 homers in his first 400 minor-league games. Some of that stems from taking advantage of low-quality minor-league arms, although he does have better power than you’d expect from looking at him. As a right-handed hitter, there are few better ballparks for his skill set than Fenway, and while he’s probably a utility player at the next level, he has the right mentality and drive to exceed expectations.
Trivia: Coyle endeared himself to Red Sox fans when he listed Ted Williams’s The Science of Hitting as one of his earliest coaching tools.
Why it could work: “Coyle has an average glove, and doesn’t have great range, but he’s a scrappy player. Might hit .250 with double-digit homers. Great makeup, his teammates love him, the Red Sox love him. Everybody loves him.” –Tucker Blair
Rosy Projection: Second-Division Starting First Basemen
If Barnum made consistent contact, he wouldn’t be anywhere near a piece about fringy prospects. As it is, the Tampa native has fanned more than once per game since entering pro ball in 2012, and is repeating High-A after socking single-digit home runs for the second consecutive year. Unlike many power-hitting prospects waylaid by contact issues, Barnum hits to all fields and can even work a walk once in a while. Unfortunately, he’s had trouble making hard contact, even on the pitches he connects with. He’s a long shot to stick in the big leagues as a starter, but with a massive 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame and tremendous raw power, he’s a monster if it all clicks. Youth and athleticism are on his side.
Trivia: Barnum lists Rocket Power as his favorite cartoon.
Why it could work: “Barnum has plenty of pop, and if he can find any kind of contact, the profile pulls together and he becomes MLB usable as a second-division starter.” –Mauricio Rubio
Rosy Projection: Second-Division Shortstop
One of the best defenders in the minor leagues, Penalver has all of the attributes you’d want to see in a major-league shortstop: He’s a hardworking, quick-twitch athlete with plenty of lateral range in both directions, and his powerful and accurate arm draws strong reviews from scouts. The bad news is that Penalver’s lack of power and proclivity for underwhelming contact likely limits his upside to that of a defense-first utility player. The good news is that he’s in the Florida State League, so Cubs Twitter remains a few years away from anointing him as Starlin Castro’s successor.
Trivia: On at least one occasion, Penalver participated in an on-field dancing competition with Kris Bryant while the local mascot stole the latter player’s glove and threw it over the left field fence.
Why it could work: “He’ll have no problem sticking at SS and he approaches the game well. His defense is extremely good. He could be a good utility player.” –Jordan Gorosh
Rosy Projection: Starting Left Fielder
Waldrop is a defensive tweener capable of handling left field and first base. His real value comes with the bat though, and after calming his mechanics at the plate, the lefty had a breakout offensive season in 2014. Power is Waldrop’s best tool: his raw is a legitimate six and he’s capable of tapping into it regularly during games. He’s off to a slow start this year though, with twenty strikeouts and only two walks in his first 54 plate appearances. If he gets back to making solid contact regularly, he could be sending balls into the seats in Cincinnati as early as this summer.
Trivia: This Kyle Waldrop hasn’t thrown in the majors or minors since 2013, making it unlikely that we’ll ever see Kyle Waldrop pitch to Kyle Waldrop.
Why it could work: He’ll need to limit the swing and miss in his game, but if he can continue to find the barrel against Double- and Triple-A arms, he’ll force his way to the majors where he could emerge as a second-division starter as soon as 2016.
Rosy Projection: Second-Division Starting Shortstop
With Francisco Lindor in tow, the Indians aren’t exactly hurting for help at shortstop. But if Lindor wakes up one day and decides that he doesn’t want to hit horsehide with a dead tree anymore, Gonzalez could be the man to fill the void. At 6-foot-3’, Gonzalez is big for the position, but his wiry athleticism allows him to move well from side to side, and he has the instincts and arm strength to play the position serviceably in the major leagues. He’s also played second and third professionally, versatility that could serve him well if his bat doesn’t warrant a place in the everyday lineup.
The Puerto Rican has a checkered history with the stick, and excitement about his offensive breakout in 2014 must be tempered by reports of over-aggressiveness, noisy hands, and trouble with breaking stuff. Still, his offensive game is trending upwards and he has the frame to hit for more power if he fills out.
Trivia: The Dominican Summer League generally isn’t a bastion of talent, but Gonzalez is just one of three promising DSL alums in Cleveland’s organization: Danny Salazar and Jesus Aguilar also played in the league.
Why it could work: Any player with the range to play short and at least one other skill—as a plus runner with a good arm and a great work ethic, Gonzalez has three—is an almost surefire big-leaguer. The bat will determine his role, but barring a collapse at the plate, Gonzalez will play in the majors.
Rosy Projection: Platoon Masher
For a two sport athlete—Parker started at quarterback for Clemson—Parker is surprisingly limited defensively. He doesn’t have the arm strength to play right field and he might not have the range and route-running ability to hack it in left either. At the plate, Parker has plus raw power, and he’s capable of catching up to fastballs and crushing mistakes. His game is saddled with a little too much swing and miss for comfort, but even if he doesn’t hit enough to play every day, he can be a weapon off the bench and against lefties.
Trivia: Drafted in 2010, Parker signed a bizarre contract that both made him a millionaire and allowed him to return to school and play football as a redshirt sophomore.
Why it could work: “Parker is unlikely to hit for average thanks to pull-happy tendencies that yank his barrel off line and provide significant hurdles to proper plate coverage. Still, he could prove useful as a power bat off the bench capable of spot starts at first base and either outfield corner.” –Nick Faleris
As workmanlike as it gets, Ryan pounds the zone with an effective cutter and above average command. Despite a large frame—6-foot-5 with room to add weight—Ryan’s fastball rarely breaks 90, and he’s reliant upon all the deception and funky arm action he can extract out of his body to fool hitters. The ceiling is limited here, but Ryan has already pitched big innings in the majors, and he has a future as a swingman or a tough matchup against lefties. It’s not a flashy profile, but Tigers fans could probably do with a bit less excitement from their bullpen.
Trivia: Ryan was drafted in the 12th round of the 2010 MLB draft, just 17 picks after Washington nabbed Robbie Ray.
Why it could work: “He’s probably a LOOGY due to the arm angle, but he’ll be a pretty good one. Lefties have really struggled against him all the way up the chain.” –Jordan Gorosh
A broken pinkie cost Fontana the second half of the 2014 season, and possibly his best chance to stake his claim as Houston’s starting shortstop. With Jed Lowrie in town through 2017 and Carlos Correa on the way, he may not get another shot, and the Astros started giving him game time at second this spring in preparation for a utility role.
Fontana doesn’t have standout tools. His best abilities at the plate are pitch recognition and impressive plate discipline—he’s walked 240 times in 233 career games—and in the field, he makes up for average range and arm strength with good positioning and quick feet. Everything about his profile screams utility player, but if you squint and assume he can translate his natural strength into 40 power while maintaining a solid OBP, you can see a starting second basemen.
Why it could work: “Fontana is physically mature. He’s a grinder with gap power, and he profiles as a good utility man.” –NL Scout
Rosy Projection: Starting Third Basemen
The Royals have relentlessly promoted Cuthbert through the organization since he came stateside in 2010, which is strange considering that the Nicaraguan has never dominated any one level for a sustained length of time. At 22, Cuthbert is again one of the youngest bats in the PCL. He has the tools to hit, combining above-average bat speed with an aesthetically pleasant line-drive stroke.
Defensively, he’s a square peg in a round hole. His best tool might be his throwing arm, but he’s already splitting time at first base, where it’ll be wasted. The move across the diamond also puts huge pressure on his bat. He’s off to a good start in Omaha—he’s hitting .268/.364/.500 with three homers and more walks than strikeouts—but he’ll need to translate his impressive raw power into in-game home runs to fulfill his offensive potential.
Trivia: Cuthbert was born in the remote Corn Islands off the eastern coast of Nicaragua. Politically, the islands are one municipality in the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. There has never been a big-leaguer from the Corn Islands.
Why it could work: “He’s got above-average bat speed, and really good raw power, although it won’t show up in games. He’s not bad defensively either. There’s something there, even though it’s probably a 40.” –Tucker Blair
Rosy Projection: Second-Division Second Basemen
Sometimes fringy minor leaguers create opportunities for themselves by working to overcome the deficiencies inherent in their game—Daniel Descalso comes to mind—or by excelling in the one thing they’re good at to such a degree—Terrance Gore—that they can carve a niche out for themselves in the big leagues. In different circumstances, fringy minor leaguers get their chance because they play in an organization devoid of players at their position. Such is the case for Alex Yarbrough.
A second baseman by trade, Yarbrough doesn’t offer much defensive value, power, or on-base ability. He can hit a little bit though, and his line-drive stroke will help carry him to a career as a utility player. He’s certainly in the right organization: With only Johnny Giovatella and Taylor Featherston ahead of him on the depth chart, he might play his way into the lineup at the keystone for a playoff team as soon as this year.
Why it could work: “I think he can be a solid utility guy, one that can play left field and a not abhorrent second base and the hit tool is above-average. Not a regular, but a guy who can give you 200-250 at-bats off the bench.” –Chris Crawford
Rosy Projection: Super Utility
Traded to Los Angeles in the Dee Gordon deal, Barnes offers the Dodgers one of the more unusual utility profiles in the game. A catcher by trade, Barnes has taken quickly to second and third base, and he should be playable at all three once he reaches the majors. Concerns about his age—he’s been a little old for his league—are valid, but he’s hit at every level and the bat has looked solid against upper-level competition. He has a short stroke designed to hit line drives and enough strength to pop a few balls over the fence. Whether the Dodgers believe he can hit enough to play every day remains to be seen, but he may have more functional utility as a player who does a little bit of everything in a reserve role.
Trivia: When he debuts, Barnes will be the 126th Arizona State Sun Devil to grace a major-league roster. Only USC can claim more major-league alums.
Why it could work: “I love guys who walk more than they strike out and I love guys who offer positional versatility. Barnes has just enough pop to be a big-league bat, and now that he’s seeing time at second and third, he has become an incredibly valuable guy to a big-league roster.” –Jeff Moore
Rosy Projection: Closer
Brice doesn’t get a lot of love for a projectable kid who’s touched 98 on the gun while flashing an above-average curve. Part of that stems from the right-hander’s off-and-on relationship with the strike zone—in five minor-league seasons, he’s never walked fewer than 3.9 hitters per nine innings, and his command is well below average—but hasn’t developed a quality changeup to complement his other offerings either.
The Marlins have wisely let Brice develop as a starter to give him innings, but his profile suggests that he’ll be working out of the bullpen in the big leagues. That’s not a bad thing: he sits in the low 90s as a starter, but that’ll likely tick up a few miles per hour in shorter stints. With better velocity and a repertoire that won’t get him killed against lefties, he could turn into a back-end option out of the Marlins bullpen.
Trivia: In addition to baseball, Brice played soccer at Northwood High School in Pittsboro, NC, where he was (probably) the tallest player in the Big Eight Athletic League by several inches.
Why it could work: “Reports have him as making progress towards transitioning from thrower to pitcher. He just turned 22 and is throwing more strikes.” –Jeff Moore
Rosy Projection: Second-Division Right Fielder
Drafted as a bat-first catcher in the first round out of a small high school in southern Washington, Coulter always had a tough developmental road ahead of him. He spent his first two minor-league seasons adapting to professional arms while trying to hone his game in the sport’s toughest position. The latter task finally proved overwhelming in 2014, forcing the Brewers to move him to right field and pray the bat pans out.
On the positive side, Coulter showed signs of life at the plate in 2014, when he tapped into his potential 60 power and belted 22 homers in the Midwest League. That success has translated to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, where he’s hit six more homers as of this writing. Free from the demands of catching, it’s possible that the bat progresses even more, and he’ll probably need a breakthrough to reach his ceiling as a second-division starter. He struggles with advanced breaking balls, and his platoon splits are uncomfortably wide for a player in High-A. He’s passable in right field though, so his role in Milwaukee will go as far as the stick can carry him.
Trivia: Coulter is just the second player to be drafted from brand new Union High School in Camas, WA. His high-school teammate, Caleb Whalen, was also tabbed by the Brewers.
Why it could work: “Coulter is probably a bench bat. If he’s good enough to start, he won’t have much defensive value, but he could hit 20-25 home runs.” –Jordan Gorosh
Nearly every position player on this list can be described as a max-effort, grinder type, or can claim makeup as one of their best attributes. Neither tag fits Rosario. The 23- year-old Minnesota farmhand missed 50 games last year after testing positive for recreational drugs, and when Rosario did get on the field, he struggled defensively and demonstrated a frustrating lack of improvement in his pitch selection.
The emergence of Brian Dozier pushed the Twins to move Rosario to the outfield, where his bat will be under even more pressure to perform. Fortunately, the hit tool is Rosario’s best attribute, and he has enough pop to have value if he can stick in center. The dream scenario is that Rosario buckles down and works to become the best defensive center fielder he can be. There’s still time for the lightbulb to flicker on.
Why it could work: “He started squaring the ball up much more frequently last fall, showing the offensive potential that cemented his prospect status in the first place.” –Jeff Moore
Rosy Projection: Second-Divison Center Fielder
Double-A Trenton is loaded with New York’s finest minor-league talent, and center fielder Jake Cave shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle. A max-effort player with above-average speed, Cave was an unheralded sixth-round draft pick out of high school in 2011. He broke his kneecap on a foul ball in his first professional game, meaning that he spent the next year and a half rehabbing while waiting for his second professional game.
Despite the lost at-bats and repetitions, Cave has hit well since returning. Playing in mostly miserable hitting environments, the Virginian owns an impressive .290/.354/.409 minor-league batting line since the injury. If you’re a glass half-empty guy, it’s easy to look at Cave and see 30 power, underwhelming speed, middling walk rates, and trouble with lefties. This optimist sees improving plate discipline, a good-enough defender for center field, and a frame conducive for adding power, all in the body of a player whose baseball age is younger than 22.
Trivia: Cave picked Hampton to beat Kentucky in March Madness this year, so his bracket was probably worse than yours.
Why it could work: “Cave does not have any tools above average, but he has solid instincts and hustles at all times. His ability to play center field boosts his value, as his tools would be below average at the corners.” –Tucker Blair
Rosy Projection: Utility Infielder
If you like Reynolds, you can look at him and see a player capable of doing a little bit of everything. He has experience playing second and short, and has the versatility to fill in elsewhere in a pinch. He stole 20 bases and hit .343 across two levels last year, and while the bat is probably a little too light for everyday duty, he walks more than your typical light-hitting middle infielder. Of course, you can also argue the opposite. Most evaluators don’t think he has the defensive chops to start at short every day, and without much power, Reynolds is a low BABIP from being an offensive black hole.
Reynolds will likely settle in between the two extremes. While he isn’t plus at short, the Arkansas product is a smooth fielder with enough arm to handle the position, and as a middle infielder, he doesn’t have to hit much to justify a place on a big-league roster. It isn’t sexy, but Reynolds has the kind of skill set that will allow him to remain in the major leagues longer than many of New York’s shinier prospects.
Trivia: A talented point guard, Reynolds received interest from the basketball coaches at Iowa State, Butler, and Furman.
Why it could work: “He’s remarkably unspectacular, but he is a shortstop and he can handle the position defensively. He could be a decent bench option.” –Jeff Moore
Rosy Projection: Fourth Outfielder
Like every 80-speed, 20-power player before him, Burns will have to prove he can make hard contact consistently enough to avoid becoming just another speedy sideshow. The safe bet is that he doesn’t, and that he spends the next few summers flying commercial in the PCL while collecting a big-league paycheck as a pinch runner when rosters expand in September. Skeptics will point to his .237/.315/.302 line in Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento last year as evidence that he probably won’t have enough stick to warrant a job at the highest level.
But Burns has a couple of things going for him. He’s a disciplined hitter—he’s walked or been hit 247 times in 400 minor-league games—capable of working quality at-bats, and he’s a more efficient base stealer than most players with similar attributes. The 25-year-old is still learning his craft in center, and it’s possible that his future in Oakland hinges on whether or not the A’s trust his defense. The ultimate hope for Burns is that he proves so danged good at what he does well that he proves useful despite some obvious limitations with the bat.
Trivia: Burns’s 89 percent minor-league stolen-base percentage is considerably higher than that of Billy Hamilton (82.4 percent), Tony Campana (75.6 percent), Jarrod Dyson (83.7 percent), Roman Quinn (77.2 percent), Mallex Smith (79.1 percent), and Delino DeShields Jr. (79.2 percent), though it is slightly lower than Terrance Gore’s 91 percent figure.
Why it could work: As one of the most successful minor-league stolen-base threats in recent memory, he doesn’t need to do much with the bat to be a productive player off the bench. He has a good feel for the strike zone, so if he can hit at all, he has a major-league future.
Philadelphia Phillies: Roman Quinn
Rosy Projection: Starting Center Fielder
One of the fastest players in all of baseball, Quinn’s 80 speed turns groundouts into singles and makes him a weapon on the bases. He’s still working on his reads and jumps in Double-A, and he needs to prove he can consistently handle quality breaking balls. But with quick hands and a decent approach at the plate, Quinn has the tools to hit just enough to allow his defense and speed to play in a starting role. There’s not much talent impeding his path to the show, and the 21-year-old could get a chance in Philadelphia’s outfield sometime in the next year or two.
Trivia: Unless Quinn has an impressive and previously unknown understanding of the Russian language, Baseball Reference mistakenly believes this to be Quinn’s Twitter account.
Why it could work: “He’s got more bat than your typical 80 runner and put together very good at-bats when I saw him.” –Al Skorupa
Rosy Projection: Back-End Starter
Sadler won’t wow anyone with his raw stuff. He sits 87-91 with his sinker, and while he can pepper the zone with that and his slider, he’s never been a big strikeout guy in the minors. His changeup remains a work in progress, but when it fades like he wants it to, he can get whiffs with it against lefties. At 6-foot-4, he gets good plane on his pitches, and should generate plenty of groundballs at the next level.
Despite the tame profile, Sadler remains intriguing because he’s in an ideal environment for his skill set. The Pirates love trotting out strike-throwing sinker-ballers and allowing them to induce grounder after grounder into their above-average and optimally shifted infield defense; Sadler could be the latest Pittsburgh starter to enjoy the fruits of the system. As long as he’s not totally overmatched against lefties, he stands a decent chance of outperforming expectations.
Trivia: Sadler was teammates with Andrelton Simmons at Western Oklahoma State College.
Why it could work: “Sadler can miss barrels, get grounders, and keep lefties honest with his changeup. The ceiling is a no. 5 starter, but Sadler will likely settle as a groundball-heavy reliever who can pitch multiple innings if needed.” –Ethan Purser
Rosy Projection: Back-End Reliever
Campos is 27 years old, but thanks to Tommy John surgery and a late start to his career, he only made one minor-league appearance before 2013. Despite his inexperience, the Venezuelan has the raw stuff to be a shutdown arm in the late innings. He’ll touch 97 with his fastball and his best sliders easily grade as plus. As you might expect from someone with only 160 professional innings though, he’s a mess on his worst days and his feel comes and goes with the wind. It’s generally unwise to bet on bad command guys, but Campos’ actual age outpaces his baseball age, and there might be some growth left in that right arm.
Trivia: Campos pursued a career as a professional soccer player prior to signing with the Padres in 2011.
Why it could work: He’s in Triple-A and he throws 97 with a devastating slider. It’s not hard to envision that playing at the highest level.
Rosy Projection: Starting Left Fielder
Williamson’s career has featured a frustrating number of false starts. Best known for his prowess on the mound in high school, an elbow injury forced him to redshirt his freshman year at Wake Forest and ultimately pushed him to the outfield. The switch didn’t stave off trouble forever though, and he missed most of the 2014 season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Between that, the four years he spent in school, and San Francisco’s conservative promotional approach, he’s now almost 25 and has played only 13 games above A-ball.
Still, he could have a major-league future as a big man who can drive the ball very, very far. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Williamson takes a vicious hack capable of producing home runs and strikeouts in proportional measure. Like many hitters of similar size, he has trouble adjusting his long and powerful swing, and his struggles with spin could limit him to reserve duty at the highest level, if he gets there at all. Williamson’s inherent volatility makes him one of the few intriguing upper-level players in San Francisco’s lean system. Double-A will be a big test.
Trivia: Not just a hard thrower, Williamson was ranked as the top high-school pitcher in the state of North Carolina in 2007.
Why it could work: “Mac Williamson has an interesting bat, and once healthy in 2015, he’ll be worth following closely, as his stock could jump a great deal.” –Nick Faleris
Rosy Projection: Second-Division Starter/Bat-First Utility Player
As a defensive back at Rutgers, Kivlehan didn’t even play college baseball until his senior year, but he made up for lost time by winning Big East Player of the Year and intriguing Seattle’s scouting department enough to take him in the fourth round. The Mariners aren’t quite sure what to do with him defensively, as he’s already seen action in all three outfield spots, plus first and third base. A lack of polish will probably limit Kivlehan to left field or first at the highest level, where his bat will determine his ultimate value.
As a hitter, he blends above-average raw power with an ability to consistently barrel pitches on the inner half of the strike zone. He’s susceptible to spin and vulnerable against arms who can consistently pound the outside corner, but the steady improvement he’s shown since draft day indicates an innate ability to smooth out the rougher edges of his game. He hasn’t shown much of a platoon split in the minors and could emerge as a second-division starter if it all clicks.
Trivia: Kivlehan served on the kick-coverage team at Rutgers, and he was just a few feet away from Eric LeGrand when the latter suffered his infamous neck injury in 2010.
Why it could work: Kivlehan may be relatively raw, but his hard-nosed mentality—he was reportedly disinterested in the post-draft festivities at Safeco Field because he felt that he hadn’t earned the right to be there—and multi-sport background suggest that he has the perfect blend of makeup and athleticism to make adjustments when required.
Rosy Projection: Back-End Starter
There’s nothing blatantly attractive in Morales’s profile: a senior sign out of UC Irvine, the 5-foot-11 right-hander generally throws his fastball in the high 80s and neither his slider nor his changeup project to grade as plus offerings out of the rotation. But Morales can throw strikes, and he has enough funk and deception in his delivery to prevent hitters from getting too comfortable in the box. He commands the ball well and kept his walk totals low while pitching in college. He’s already moving quickly—he started the 2015 season in Double-A Springfield—and could be one of the first 2014 draftees to reach the majors.
Trivia: Morales is the only Anteater in program history to post a career earned average under two, finishing with a 1.68 mark over his two years at UC Irvine.
Why it could work: Morales can pitch, and even if he doesn’t have the raw stuff to succeed as a big-league starter, he should be able to stick in the bullpen if his stuff plays up at all in shorter stints.
Rosy Projection: Back-End Starter
The bad news is that Smith missed almost all of 2014 with a forearm injury and will now sit out 2015 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. The good news is that he’s capable of working his fastball into the mid-90s and that he’s flashed an above-average changeup in the past. His third pitch, a curveball, doesn’t grade as well as the other two, but he’s already pitched in the major leagues, and if the strain of starting proves too much, he should be able to provide value as a reliever. Health is the big concern with Smith at this point, but if he recovers from surgery, he’s a good bet to help the Rays in some capacity in 2016.
Trivia: Smith is the only player in major-league history to be named ‘Burch,’ though there was an outfielder named Al Burch who played for the Cardinals and Dodgers in the Deadball Era.
Why it could work: “Smith features a big-time fastball and he’s shown that he can command the pitch in the strike zone. The changeup is the more reliable of the secondary offerings, and he can miss bats with it.” –Jordan Gorosh
Texas Rangers: Ryan Cordell
Rosy Projection: Starting Outfielder
Blessed with the perfect body for baseball, Cordell looked like the steal of the draft when I saw one of his first professional series in 2013. His batting practice was impressive, he showed off prodigious in-game power, and his obvious athleticism made me wonder why he fell to the 11th round. And yet, when the season was over, Cordell’s slash line was a middling .241/.322/.358 in the short-season Northwest League.
Such was the frustration with Cordell in college, where he never translated his immense tools into consistent production at Liberty. It looks like he might have turned the corner in 2014, however, when he topped off a .321/.388/.504 line in the Sally League with an impressive two-week finish in High-A. He’s raking again this season, and he’s even playing a new position: shortstop. At 6-foot-4, he’s probably too big to stick there, but with his speed, he could still fit in the middle of the diamond as a center fielder.
Trivia: Liberty University boasts one of the best baseball programs in the country, but if Cordell reaches the majors, he’d be the first Liberty alum to do so since Doug Brady in 1995.
Why it could work: Cordell’s biggest issue at the plate as an amateur and young professional was an inability to consistently barrel the ball. As that problem has evaporated, the rest of his tools have shined. He’s yet to be tested by advanced breaking balls, but provided that he can handle them well enough, he should have enough power to stick as a fourth outfielder at least, where he’ll have the versatility to play all three positions.
A southpaw capable of touching 92, Boyd throws four pitches for strikes. He probably won’t be a big bat-misser at the highest level—only his slider has a fighting chance to grade better than average—but he can work both sides of the plate and has just enough stuff to be tough on righties as well as lefties. The door isn’t closed on a future in the back of a big-league rotation, but if the Jays are looking for left-handed help in the bullpen, he could be ready for the role this summer. Encouragingly, he’s struck out 24 hitters in his first three Double-A starts after struggling to adjust to the level in 2014.
Trivia: Boyd is the only pitcher on this list to allow a hit to a Baseball Prospectus author. Probably.
How it could work: “I could see him helping the Blue Jays pen in 2015, and I think he’s a true middle reliever in a pen role, because he can get both left- and right-handed hitters out.” –Al Skorupa
Scouts and evaluators are understandably skeptical of pitchers who work primarily with one pitch, particularly if it isn’t a knockout 80-grade style offering. But while Voth doesn’t have Aroldis Chapman’s arm, he has excellent command of a fastball that can reach the mid-90s with tons of movement. His precision with the heater allows him to attack all quadrants of the strike zone and he gets an additional advantage by hiding the ball throughout his delivery. Voth rarely used his off-speed pitches in college, and his biggest developmental focus will be improving the rest of his arsenal.
Trivia: Voth’s time at Kentwood High School in Covington, WA overlapped with Pirates catcher Reese McGuire, who was a freshman when Voth was a senior.
How it could work: Voth dominated A-ball with his fastball. If he can develop a competent breaking ball—he’s thrown a slider in the past, but is working on a curve at the moment—he’ll have enough to at least pitch out of Washington’s bullpen. His ceiling is as an Ervin Santana type, but that might be asking too much of the curve.