Entering May, Minnesota Twins Byron Buxton was my favorite to seize the label of number one prospect in baseball entering 2014. Diamondbacks pitcher Archie Bradley ranked second as he pushed through High-A and finished April in the Southern League. Shortstop Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians debuted in the third spot after a dominant month offensively. Twins’ Miguel Sano, claimed the fourth spot, as well as the label of best power hitting prospect in the game. Rounding out the top five was Boston Red Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts, who received a partial mulligan for a weak April due to his being the highest rated prospect in baseball entering 2013 not expected to surpass rookie at bats/innings pitched limits.
Remember, May’s edition broke down the anatomy of the number-one prospect. If you need a refresher, or are new to this series, it’s a great starting point. This month, “Opening Acts” will include players deserving of top-five consideration. “Headliners” will feature last month’s top five and what they have, or have not done to stay there.
Opening Acts (listed alphabetically)
Carlos Correa (SS-HOU) – With a May line of .338/.418/.425 including a 11/11 strikeout to walk ratio, Correa is showing command of the strike zone beyond his years. His .183 average with the bases empty versus .409 with runners on base makes me to wonder if the 18-year old is having difficulty maintaining focus. If this is the case, then experience and maturity will lead to a spike in offensive production.
Kevin Gausman (P-BAL) – Readers questioned my exclusion of Gausman from May’s list, and he was honestly the odd man out after the decision was made to discuss the Mets’ dilemma with Zack Wheeler. This month, I still don’t consider Gausman one of the top five prospects in baseball, but wanted to come to his defense after a couple of poor starts in Baltimore.
On paper, there’s really no way to spin his first two starts in a positive light. However, Gausman taking his lumps now will lead to better results later on. As prospect followers, it’s easy to view a 49/5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in Double-A as a sign of pending greatness. And while those numbers are impressive, Gausman’s tendency to elevate his fastball was going to cause him problems at the major league level. It’s likely the reason why he’d allowed nearly a hit per inning in the Eastern League as well. The pure stuff is there for Gausman to become a force with additional refinement. These things take time. Of course, if Gausman remains in Baltimore for the remainder of the season, he won’t qualify for prospect lists next year.
Yasiel Puig (OF-LAD) – With a .315/.400/.596 May, Dodgers outfield prospect Yasiel Puig continues to dominate Double-A competition. More impressive than his combination of speed and power has been Puig’s ability to limit strikeout totals while learning to handle offspeed pitches on the outer half. He’s a star in the making, but Joc Pederson may be the first to receive the call to Los Angeles because of his ability to play center field. Puig will eventually displace Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford, forcing Los Angeles to shed a productive veteran, but I’m not sure it happens in 2013.
Taijuan Walker (P-SEA) – In five May Starts, Walker has halved his walk total from April while maintaining an impressive strikeout rate. However, some of those walks have turned into hits, redistributing his WHIP instead of lowering it. And while his ERA for the month was up more than two runs from his 1.55 April, his peripherals were more conducive to long-term success.
Christian Yelich (OF-MIA) – Yelich was having an excellent May before his production fell off a cliff. Overall, his .262/.361/.583 line for the month is impressive considering the 21-year-old’s power is often brought into question. His streaky start leaves Yelich on the periphery of the top five, but a strong June may be enough to force inclusion. Additionally, the promotions of Jose Fernandez and Marcell Ozuna have me thinking that Yelich may not be prospect eligible next spring.
I’m also of the impression that the Cardinals’ Oscar Taveras will receive enough at bats at the major league level to lose rookie eligibility for 2014. If he has zero big league plate appearances at the end of June, then it will be time to reevaluate.
Headliners (listed in reverse order of last month’s top five)
Xander Bogaerts (SS-BOS) – After a disappointing April, Bogaerts has rebounded to post a triple-slash line of .276/.371/.510 in May. In his last ten games, the Red Sox prospect has been even better. What’s interesting about his season from a statistical standpoint is his having five stolen bases and triples in the early going. Is he adding speed to the profile? If so, then this is a positive development and will only help him stick at shortstop defensively.
Miguel Sano (3B-MIN) – Miguel Sano had nowhere to go but down after an all-world April. In May, his .307/.430/.545 triple-slash line is still awfully impressive for a player who recently celebrated his 20th birthday. Prospect followers are already clamoring for a promotion, but the Twins are likely to take it slow with Sano. The third baseman still strikes out too much, but the fact his rates have come down each season is a positive sign he’ll be able to maintain, if not improve them even more.
Francisco Lindor (SS-CLE) – With a .287/.368/.376 May, Francisco Lindor continues to find success in High-A. Compared to last season, the 19-year-old increased both his speed and power production. At his current pace, Lindor has a legitimate chance of surpassing both his extra base hit and stolen base totals from 2012 by the end of July. This, while maintaining elite defense at the shortstop position.
Archie Bradley (P-ARI) – In six May starts, Bradley has dissected Double-A hitters to the tune of a 0.79 ERA. With 37 strikeouts and 22 hits allowed in 34 innings pitched, the right-hander has cemented his status as the best pitching prospect in baseball for me. My brief glimpse at him in Chattanooga earlier in the month included Bradley striking out Puig looking with a mid-90’s fastball on the inner half. Just as he was settling into the flow of the game, an ill-timed slide into second base led to Bradley being removed for precautionary reasons.
Byron Buxton (OF-MIN) – Like organization-mate Miguel Sano, Buxton’s production had to come back to earth after a dominant April. A .298/.386/.465 May, including 16 steals, was the result. At 19, it was another fantastic month for the center fielder, who has been nothing short of magnificent. With seven home runs and 25 steals overall, can Buxton produce a 20 home run, 60 steal season? If he remains in Single-A, yes, but it will be difficult to keep him from the Florida State League given his level of dominance.
Blame it on the ongoing excellence by the “headliners,” or the ups and downs of the “opening acts,” but my projected top five for 2014 remains unchanged as we head into June. Bradley’s continued dominance at the upper levels is certainly worthy of the top spot, but my temptation to swap him and Buxton is offset by my appreciation for five tool talents. A shakeup may come in July should Taveras remain in Triple-A and/or if Orioles Dylan Bundy return from injury, but for now, Buxton stays on top.