Who’s The No. 1 Prospect?: May Edition

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
1990 Steve Avery N/A
1991 Todd Van Poppel Draft
1992 Brien Taylor Draft
1993 Chipper Jones 4
1994 Cliff Floyd 34
1995 Alex Rodriguez 6
1996 Andruw Jones 21
1997 Andruw Jones 1
1998 Ben Grieve 18
1999 J.D. Drew Draft
2000 Rick Ankiel 2
2001 Josh Hamilton 13
2002 Josh Beckett 3
2003 Mark Teixeira 10
2004 Joe Mauer 4
2005 Joe Mauer 1
2006 Delmon Young 3
2007 Daisuke Matsuzaka Int’l Signing
2008 Jay Bruce 14
2009 Matt Wieters 12
2010 Jason Heyward 5
2011 Bryce Harper Draft
2012 Bryce Harper 1
2013 Jurickson Profar 7

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.

MathWarehouse-box-and-whisker

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…

  1. Start Wheeler as the No. 5 starter, starting his time clock and potentially expose him to Major League hitters?
  2. Start Wheeler in Las Vegas and risk damaging the confidence of a right-hander considered to be a pillar of the future?
  3. 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.

Dylan Bundy won’t stake his claim until he’s healthy and back on the field, while Shelby Miller and Jose Fernandez should lose eligibility in the near future.

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.



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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.


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Trey Baughn
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Member
Trey Baughn
3 years 3 months ago

So you would take Bradley over T. Walker? They are roughly the same age yet Walker has already been dominating AA. Thoughts?

Big Knockers
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Big Knockers
3 years 3 months ago

Great article Mike. How do you see Matt Barnes fitting in? He had one of the strongest first impressions I can remember, but simmered once being called up to AA last year. His FIP indicates he’s actually having a very solid season. Is he anywhere near the top 10?

SC
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SC
3 years 3 months ago

I like the list as a Twins Fan. Yet I have a few questions

1. Is one month of outcomes enough to change prospect rankings which are by nature predicated on tools? While Buxton’s been awesome- I do wonder how one tells the difference between a red-hot month versus actual development?

2. Can a Prospect in Low A really be the best prospect in Baseball due to risk factors involved in their development. While I agree Buxton has the best tools. It would seem hard to think that the Twins shouldn’t trade him for Oscar Tavares since Tavares is more probable and closer to delivering value.

Blofkin
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Blofkin
3 years 3 months ago

I’m not a Twins fan myself but I’m definitely keeping an eye on the development of those 2 (and Alex Meyer, who I think is going to be a stud).

Luis Matos
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Luis Matos
3 years 3 months ago

Nice article. I thought Gausman’s 13.0 K/BB in AA would earn him a mention here.

Caveman Jones
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Caveman Jones
3 years 3 months ago

Knowing how much you love Xander Bogaerts (and for good reason) I am a little surprised to see that you didn’t push the notion that he’d be #1 more in the article. Personally I think it’ll be Bogaerts or Bundy.

mike wants wins
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mike wants wins
3 years 3 months ago

Sano is also doing it in the FSL…..not many hit like that there. Super exciting for a Twins’ fan.

Sparkles Peterson
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Sparkles Peterson
3 years 3 months ago

Taveras is finally heating up after missing the start of the season attending to a death in his family. .353/.421/.588 over the last 10 games, and he was still cold at the start of that stretch.

grant
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grant
3 years 3 months ago

Mark Appel and Jon Gray are possible #1s for next year, too.

Tiers for Fiers
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Tiers for Fiers
3 years 3 months ago

How do you see Wheeler’s development playing out over the summer? His struggles adjusting coupled with the Mets’ terrible bullpen makes me wonder if he might be better off getting seasoned until a late-season call-up. If he’s still eligible next spring, would he crack the top 5?

Rob
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Rob
3 years 3 months ago

Is Kyle Zimmer even close to being in the discussion?

BatSoxFan
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BatSoxFan
3 years 3 months ago

How do you figure Xander is going to lose his eligibility by the end of the year? I don’t see the Sox rushing him up, if they need a SS they will bring up Iglesias before Bogaerts.

Steve
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Steve
3 years 3 months ago

Did you read the article?

Steve
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Steve
3 years 3 months ago

No Yelich?

Wayne
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Wayne
3 years 3 months ago

Yelich is great but no way for #1, esp. going off of early season performance. Yelich has been mediocre thus far in 2013 and his BB/K numbers have been atrocious (4/17 BB/K).

Pat
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Pat
3 years 3 months ago

Does the surprising promotion of Archie Bradley to AA mean the DBacks could be rushing him to the majors as maybe a late 2013 callup? Playoff bullpen help for a stretch run?

boehmer00
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boehmer00
3 years 3 months ago

Give Lindor a year, and he will be the top prospect in the minor leagues. He is good. Very good

Oasis
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Oasis
3 years 3 months ago

Any chance Rendon gets into the discussion?

Ned
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Ned
3 years 3 months ago

20 walks in 38 innings is still concerning though, right? Reminds me of Bauer…

Rye Rye
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Rye Rye
3 years 3 months ago

Bundy’s ETA now with being shut down?

James
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James
3 years 3 months ago

I don’t know if we have enough information about his injury to give an ETA.

topher
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topher
3 years 3 months ago

As M’s fan I like that Walker is working on his pitches to become a more complete pitcher rather than just make it to the bigs. I suspect he could be good enough to make it but needs this time to complete the project. Thanks for your insights.

longbeachyo
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Member
longbeachyo
3 years 3 months ago

I wonder how many of the commenters here are the actual players or friends/relatives of those players… Awfully passionate.

longbeachyo
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Member
longbeachyo
3 years 3 months ago

Great article, btw.

soamx
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soamx
3 years 3 months ago

Who are some guys who have Helium’d their way from the 30-50 range into top 15-20 discussion now?
Looking for some potentially still unowned prospects to target in ottoneu that will be hot names as the year goes on.

kge1141
Member
kge1141
3 years 3 months ago

Given that Zunino is currently struggling, his timeline to the bigs might get pushed back. Though not likely, if he was eligible, any thoughts where he would rank next spring?

Jorge
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Jorge
3 years 3 months ago

What about Yassel Puig?.He is one of tne best 5 players in all of tne minor league and better than a lot of major leaguers

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