There is always a bit of a lull between the end of the minor league playoffs in September and the start of the annual top prospects lists in early November. Because of that gap, I’m breathing new life into an old feature that I wrote for the site in FanGraphs’ infancy back in 2008 and 2009.
The series ‘A Minor Review of 2013′ will look back on some of the major happenings in each MLB organization since the beginning of April as a primer for the upcoming FanGraphs Top 10+5 prospects lists. This series will run throughout September and October. I hope you enjoy the series and are eagerly anticipating the start of ‘Prospect List Season.’
The player listed in the sleeper section was featured in a pre-season series that looked at one fringe prospect in each organization that was expected to take a big step forward during 2013, chosen by myself, a scout or a front office talent evaluator.
The Graduate: Nolan Arenado, 3B: Entering 2013, Arenado was known as a strong hitting prospect with solid — but hardly exceptional — defense at the hot corner. Promoted to the Majors after just 18 Triple-A game, he was a well-below-average hitter who played perhaps the best defense at the hot corner in the National League. Early in his career, Arenado was considered a poor defender so the improvements he’s made are nothing short of extraordinary. Once he starts hitting up to his true potential, Arenado could be a perennial all-star.
The Riser: Eddie Butler, RHP: Butler entered pro ball with questions surrounding his ability to stick in the starting rotation due to his lack of reliable secondary offerings. By the end of 2013, though, the right-hander answered all those questions and established himself as one of the better starting pitching prospects in the game. He began the year in Low-A ball but blew through three levels and finished the year with a 0.66 ERA and just 13 hits allowed in six Double-A starts.
The Tumbler: Trevor Story, SS: I ranked Story as the second best prospect in the system behind Arenado at the beginning of the year but they headed in opposite directions once the season kicked off. Concentration appeared to be one of the young shortstop’s biggest issues. He had an OPS of .549 with the bases empty and struck out a whopping 110 times in 281 at-bats (39% of the time) but his OPS was almost .900 with runners on base. There wasn’t a lot to get excited about during Story’s ’13 campaign but he got a little bit better with each passing month and his best performance was in August when he posted an .868 OPS.
The 2013 Draft Pick: Alex Balog, RHP: Balog, 21, entered pro ball with a lot of hype but his first taste of pro ball did not go as well as expected in the small sample of 30 innings. The durable right-hander is a lot more talented than his first-year numbers would suggest so don’t be surprised if Balog is a name you’re hearing a lot about by the end of 2014 — much like the way Eddie Butler took the prospect world by storm in ’13. The California native can dial up his heater into the mid-90s and he shows some promise with his breaking balls.
The Sleeper: Sam Mende, 3B: Mende was a guy that I knew absolutely nothing about when the 2012 season began. I happen to catch him play while I was intending to focus on other prospects, and his defense at the hot corner impressed me. Injuries all but wiped out his 2013 season so he’ll look to make up for lost time in 2014. Unfortunately, he’s in the wrong organization to play third base at the big league level so he may want to learn to diversify his defensive portfolio.
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