With a month of the minor league season in the books, chat questions are already rolling in about who the top prospect will be in 2014. Each month, I’ll take a look at players who were close in 2013 (we’ll call them “Headliners”), plus fast risers who are staking an early claim to the top spot (we’ll call them “Opening Acts”).
To begin this exercise, it’s important to understand where the number one pick comes from. Since 1990, Baseball America has been releasing its top-100 prospects list. Below is a chart of the year, number-one prospect, and where he ranked the year previous.
|Year||B.A. No. 1 Prospect||Previous Rank|
|1991||Todd Van Poppel||Draft|
|2007||Daisuke Matsuzaka||Int’l Signing|
For a visual representation, here’s the same data in a box-and-whisker plot as I release my inner middle school math teacher. Be aware draft picks, international signings and former Braves standout Steve Avery are not included since a ranking was not available the year previous.
In 23 years of available Baseball America rankings where one can compare to the previous year, five were drafted or signed from the international ranks the year previous. This leaves 18 players in the data set. Of those 18, only 2 (11.1%) rose to the top spot from outside the top-20. If one includes all players ranked outside of the top-10, the percentage triples to 33.3%, but it’s still a low number. When it comes to being the top prospect in baseball, perceived pedigree matters more than one might think.
This brings me to the “Opening Acts” who exploded in April and enter May with helium after entering the season outside of the top-10.
Archie Bradley (P-ARI) – Through six starts, the right-handed pitcher has a 50/12 K/BB ratio in just 34 2/3 innings pitched. Ranked 25th entering the season by BA and 26th here at FanGraphs, his already being promoted to Double-A was a surprise — especially after struggling with command in 2012. When David Laurila’s early April piece on Bradley included “Future D-Backs Ace” in the title, he wasn’t kidding.
Francisco Lindor (SS-CLE) – Considered one of the elite defenders at the shortstop position across minor league baseball, Lindor spent April forcing prospect followers to respect the stick as well. With a .347/.418/.510 triple-slash line, with 11 extra-base hits and seven steals, the 28th ranked (20th at FG) Lindor’s offseason workout regimen is showing up in the stat lines.
Yasiel Puig (OF-LAD) – Ranked 47th entering the year (99th at FG), Puig followed his dominant spring training performance with a torrid start in Double-A. Then, the wheels appeared to come off with an injury, followed by a vehicular arrest. Puig has two home runs in three games since returning to the lineup. As one of the strongest players I’ve scouted, would an assault on Southern League pitching, followed by a big September in Los Angeles be enough to make him the outlier in the data set?
Zack Wheeler (P-NYM) – The 11th ranked prospect in baseball entering 2013 (ninth at FG), the Mets affiliate shuffle left them with what I considered to be the toughest April assignment of spring training. Do the Mets…
- Start Wheeler as the No. 5 starter, starting his time clock and potentially expose him to Major League hitters?
- Start Wheeler in Las Vegas and risk damaging the confidence of a right-hander considered to be a pillar of the future?
- Start Wheeler in Binghamton and risk exposing him to cold weather and a level of competition below his talent level?
It was a no-win situation. Based on the numbers, Wheeler isn’t a contender for the top spot, but he has still made considerable gains since entering the Mets organization.
Taijuan Walker (P-SEA) – Sometimes, we forget Taijuan Walker is only 20-years old. In six starts, Walker has struck out 39 and surrendered only 18 hits in 35 innings pitched. This is bordering on unhittable. Prospect followers point to 20 walks like it’s a scarlet letter, but it would be prudent to reel that sentiment in a bit. As J.D. Sussman reported in spring training, the 18th-ranked prospect per BA (and 13th by FG) is working on a “new” curveball which he struggled to command. This may be a root source of his early command issues.
Next, the “Headliners,” who already have a top-10 ranking to their baseball resume.
Byron Buxton (OF-MIN) – The 10th ranked prospect entering 2013 (16th at FG), Buxton has dominated Single-A with a .388/.509/.694 triple-slash line, with 13 extra base hits, 10 steals and more walks than strikeouts. In a February piece, I asked, “Should he struggle in 2013, just how many people will jump off the Buxton bandwagon?” With top flight tools, but an unrefined approach, it was a legitimate question at the time. Now? Not so much.
Miguel Sano (3B-MIN) – With a .364/.429/.727 line that includes nine home runs, it’s impossible to deny Sano as a contender for the top spot considering he was ranked ninth entering the season (17th at FG). Yes, Sano hasn’t solved his strikeout or defensive issues, but the power and on base skills are impressive enough to earn him a mulligan while he continues to mature.
Other top-10 prospects including Jurickson Profar, Gerrit Cole, Xander Bogaerts, Wil Myers and Oscar Taveras are plugging along, but have yet to make a real push. Plus, I expect all but Bogaerts to lose eligibility before the end of 2013.
As we enter May, Buxton has been as impressive as any prospect in baseball. Having already ranked in the top 10, his path to the top spot is easier than Lindor or Bradley, who are off to equally hot starts. Because of this, Buxton is my top prospect in baseball right now. Rounding out the projected top-5 are Archie Bradley, Francisco Lindor, Miguel Sano and Xander Bogaerts.