It’s a good time to be a talented (and cost-effective) young professional baseball prospect.
We’ve seen quite a few members of the pre-season Top 100 Prospects list graduate to the Majors. Clubs appear to be accelerating the development of top prospects and leaning heavily on them right out of the chute; freshman and sophomore players can be found playing key roles on the top teams in each division.
Some of the players still eligible for the list will become ineligible for the offseason Top 100 list when, in the second half, the front office comes calling. Prospects that could get the call include: Francisco Lindor (Indians), Taijuan Walker (Mariners), Archie Bradley (Diamondbacks), Aaron Sanchez (Blue Jays), Noah Syndergaard (Mets), Joc Pederson (Dodgers), and even Dylan Bundy (Baltimore).
So who sits atop the heap at the midpoint of the 2014 season? Let’s have a look….
Any prospect-eligible player currently in the Majors was not considered for this list, including Oscar Taveras (Cardinals), Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays) and Mookie Betts (Red Sox). Any amateur turning pro in 2014 was also not included.
Bryant headlines perhaps the top minor league system in baseball and could be playing in the big leagues right now for some organizations. There isn’t much that this former second-overall draft pick hasn’t done; he’s hit for average and power while producing impressive on-base rates. The big league combination at third base of Luis Valbuena and Mike Olt won’t be around much longer. Bryant should be one of the premier power hitters in the Majors for years to come while hitting in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup. [Pre-season Ranking: 6th]
Buxton’s slide from the No. 1 slot on the pre-season list has less to do with the Twins prospect and more to do with what Kris Bryant has done in 2014. Sidelined for much of the year with a wrist injury, Buxton returned from the disabled list on July 6. After looking like a potential 2014 call-up, the injury has probably pushed his MLB debut to mid-to-late 2015. [Pre-season Ranking: 1st]
Lindor has always been considered one of the top defensive shortstop prospects in the game. Nothing has changed in that regard and he’s continued to hold his own at the plate in Double-A this season will showing a little more pop in his bat (at the expense of a few more strikeouts). Toss in his ability to steal 20+ bases and you have yourself a valuable middle infielder. And most likely Cleveland’s starting shortstop for 2015. [Pre-season Ranking: 12th]
It’s not often that you get a chance to acquire a Top 5 prospect talent but Chicago did just that after agreeing to part with two established big league starters. Russell missed a significant chunk of the season thanks to a hamstring injury but has been performing well lately. The re-emergence of Starlin Castro, as well as impressive infield depth in the minor, makes things interesting but expect to see Russell take over the Cubs’ starting shortstop gig at some point in 2015. [Pre-season Ranking: 8th]
Correa won’t turn 20 until the end of September but he produced an eye-brow raising .325/.416/.510 in 62 High-A ball games. Unfortunately, he suffered a serious leg injury, which likely ended his season and prevented him from reaching Double-A as a teenager. Look for him to possibly make up for lost development time in the Arizona Fall League. [Pre-season Ranking: 9th]
You have to have a pretty impressive three months to jump from being ranked 28th overall to sixth and that’s exactly what Seager experienced. The shortstop prospect — who will permanently move to third base any day now — has produced a 1.011 OPS in 75 games at the High-A ball level despite turning just 20 in April. He has some polish to add to his overall game but he should be a beast. [Pre-season Ranking: 28th]
It’s been a rough year for Walker, who was supposed to be a key arm in the Mariners rotation right from the get-go in April. Unfortunately, the right-hander suffered a shoulder injury that kept him from throwing his first big league pitch of the year until the end of June. Since returning, he’s flashes his dominating stuff but both his command and control have understandably been off. [Pre-season Ranking: 7th]
It’s been a terribly disappointing season for Baez, who has taken a step backward in his development. However, there are few prospects in the minors that can produce the kind of power that this Puerto Rico native can. The Cubs’ impressive infield depth will allow the organization to be extremely patient with this 21-year-old shortstop (possibly soon-to-be right-fielder). [Pre-season Ranking: 4th]
Bradley is another top-ranked prospect who has seen injuries throw a wet blanket on his season. He opened the year in Triple-A as a 21 year old but suffered an elbow injury five starts in. He’s back in game action now (in Double-A) but both his command and control have been off — and understandably so. If he can get his feet under him in the latter half of the year he has the talent to reach the Majors in 2014. [Pre-season Ranking: 5th]
The Washington Nationals’ system isn’t exactly overflowing with premium talent so it may help Giolito, 20, fly under the radar a bit. He hasn’t received much hype in 2014 despite posting a 2.14 ERA and a strikeout rate of 9.63 K/9 through 13 starts. Batters are hitting just .174 against him, which is all the more impressive when you consider he spent much of 2013 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. [Pre-season Ranking: 13th]
What’s the quickest way to ascend the Top 100 prospects list? Well, there are a number of ways to do it but slugging 70 home runs in less than 200 games will certainly get it done. Gallo just missed making the pre-season Top 100 list due to concerns over his swing-and-miss tendencies but we now have to give credit where credit is due. He’s not going to hit for a high average once his BABIP normalizes but there’s a pretty strong market for sluggers with 80-grade power and a high on-base percentage. [Pre-season Ranking: Not Rank]
Speaking of 80-grade power, Sano is a player who can give Gallo a run for his money… well, when he’s healthy. The Dominican native slugged 35 home runs between High-A and Double-A in 2013 but he may miss all of 2014 after having Tommy John surgery. The injury is not expected to have any long-term effects but the missed development time could set him back a bit as the 21 year old looks to improve his contact rate. [Pre-season Ranking: 10th]
Trades over the past couple of seasons have left the cupboard bare in the upper levels of the Jays system in terms of depth. As such, the organization has been aggressive with some of its young arms, including Sanchez. He’s an extremely talented pitcher with the potential to produce above-average strikeout rates and ground-out rates but he also struggles with both his command and control. A previous shoulder injury appears to be behind him now. [Pre-season Ranking: 22nd]
It’s been a rougher-than-expected year for Syndergaard, who has dealt with health woes, as well as the unfavorable park factors in the Pacific Coast League. The good news is that he’s shown signs of turning things around and he’s still just 21 years old. Despite giving up 97 hits in 79.2 innings due to inconsistent command, he’s shown above-average control and struck out 82 batters. [Pre-season Ranking: 18th]
Bundy reached the Major Leagues as a teenager back in 2012 but then missed all of 2013 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. His rehab has been going well and he’s currently throwing in High-A ball. He has a shot at returning to The Show in September. [Pre-season Ranking: 19th]
Glasnow’s breakout began in 2013 and has continued on into the current season. The right-hander is a tough guy to hit and has allowed just 36 base knocks in 65.0 innings. Unfortunately, his control remains a work in progress and he’s issued 37 free passes. If/when he conquers that demon, the Pirates prospect could become a top-of-the-rotation mainstay. [Pre-season Ranking: 43rd]
Stephenson ranked higher on FanGraphs’ pre-season Top 100 list than any other publication. His stuff has remained impressive in 2014 but the results have not been there due to inconsistent command. Even with his struggles, he’s kept his composure and has held his own at the Double-A level. He’ll be down right scary once he polishes his command and control. [Pre-season Ranking: 11th]
I’ll admit that it’s taken some time for me to warm up to Pederson as a legitimate Top 100 prospect but he’s done his part and I’ve finally climbed aboard the bandwagon. The toolsy outfielder could be starting at the MLB level for a lot of organizations right now but the veteran presence (and large contracts) has kept the young outfielder glued to Triple-A. [Pre-season Ranking: 58th]
The athletic 19-year-old has enjoyed his time in A-ball. He’s produced a strong ground-ball rate while allowing just 59 hits and 23 free passes in 70.2 innings of work. He doesn’t flash the same raw stuff that fellow Twins prospect Alex Meyer does, but he has a chance to be a much more complete pitcher. [Pre-season Ranking: 32nd]
Within the next year, Crawford could easily find his name mentioned among the top three or four shortstop prospects in the game. The young, athletic infielder flashes impressive tools in the field but needs to add strength and show more polish at the plate to truly realize his full potential. He’s probably about two years away from reaching the Majors. [Pre-season Ranking: 50th]
Meyer has overpowered Triple-A hitters with 103 strikeouts in 89.1 innings. The biggest thing holding back the 6-9 hurler is his inconsistent command and control; he’s walked 43 batters. Meyer, 24, should join the Twins’ rotation late in the year or early in 2015. [Pre-season ranking: 23rd]
A highly-regarded amateur, Norris suffered through a nightmare first pro season in 2012 but made adjustments and rebounded nicely in the second half of 2013. He’s spent the 2014 season pitching in both High-A and Double-A ball and has struck out 101 batters in 83.1 innings. The lefty has great makeup, a strong work ethic and the pure stuff to be a No. 2 or 3 hurler once he becomes more consistent with his command. [Pre-season Ranking: N/A]
Gray flashes an upper-90s fastball and is showing improved secondary offerings. At 6-4, he’s going to have to learn to create more downward plane on his offerings if he’s going to have success pitching at home in Colorado. [Pre-season Ranking: 16th]
The third Twins pitcher on this list, Berrios recently received a promotion to Double-A at the age of 20. The biggest knock on the hard-throwing Puerto Rico native is his lack of size. He stands just 6-0 and struggles to stay on top of the ball at times, creating high fly-ball rates. The Twins could easily go from having one of the worst big league rotations to one of the best in only a few seasons. [Pre-season Ranking: 93rd]
Swihart continues to show a strong bat and, as a result, the switch-hitter has become the best backstop prospect in the game, narrowly edging out defensive specialist Austin Hedges of the Padres. With a strong finish to the year, and perhaps a trip to the Arizona Fall League, he 22-year-old Texas native has a shot at opening 2015 as the Red Sox’s starting catcher. [Pre-season Ranking: 66th]
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.