Minor League Baseball is upon us, as the farm systems for all 30 teams kick into high gear today. We can’t offer you a 34-hour live chat like our Major League brethren, but how about a six-pack of things that make me excited to cover the minors this season at FanGraphs. Feel free to offer your own bits of excitement in the comments.
1. A new #1 overall prospect. With Jason Heyward already beating my Cubs to a pulp, and Stephen Strasburg probably 4-6 starts away from joining the Nationals, every outlet that prints a top prospect list will have a new man at the top in 12 months. Our own man Marc Hulet had four players in his top 10 that I doubt will pass the rookie threshold this season, and thus still be eligible for prospect lists a year from now: Desmond Jennings, Mike Stanton, Jesus Montero and Domonic Brown.
As far as anointing a new #1 goes, I think the obvious favorites are Stanton, Montero, and Dustin Ackley. If I had to pick one player from Hulet’s 50-100 range that I think could rise this year and enter that discussion, it would probably be Simon Castro or Lonnie Chisenhall. And, we all know that Bryce Harper will be forcing his way into the discussion as well.
2. Which brings me to another minor league season favorite: the draft, and the shortened season performance of the draftees. I owe this site a draft notebook, but in lieu of that today, I’ll tell you the guys getting the most top ten buzz behind Harper (who has established himself as the clear #1). I think Deck McGuire, a three-pitch righty from Georgia Tech, will really be in the Pirates mix with the second overall pick. We established the team needs pitchers, and fast, during our organizational rankings series.
A pair of lefties, Drew Pomeranz and Chris Sale, have both had fabulous springs thus far. Pomeranz surely has the higher ceiling, but I think Sale will coast through the minor leagues in the way that Christian Friedrich has for the Rockies. You will keep hearing a lot about the top prep arms, Jameson Taillon and A.J. Cole, who will be demanding huge dollars from whoever drafts them. The top hitting prospect behind Harper is a depressing group, with prep shortstop Manny Machado and Arkansas 3B Zack Cox leading the way. I really like Cal State Fullerton OF Gary Brown, hitting .454/.496/.689 in 27 games.
3. Stateside debuts for international prospects. Obviously, the most anticipated international signee is Aroldis Chapman, who will start his season in Triple-A. He won’t be down there more than 50 innings or so should we hope to hit the projected innings pitched total that this community projected. We will have to wait until summer to see guys like Miguel Sano and Michael Ynoa, the players that recently broke their respective organization’s bonus records. Montero is proof that spending big money on top Latin prospects pays off, as he promises to be worth a lot more than his $2 million bonus (even if he doesn’t stick as catcher).
4. The breakouts of sinkerballers Kyle Allen and Stephen Fife. Of the players I highlighted at the end of my “Staring Down the Sinkerballers” series, Allen and Fife are the two players with the best stuff. Fife will start the season in Double-A, where he will be part of a rotation that includes Red Sox top prospect Casey Kelly. Allen will also be second fiddle on his squad, the High-A St. Lucie Mets, where he’ll be pitching behind Jeurys Familia. The key for both players, however, will be the performance of their infielders.
5.On the offensive side, the breakout of Joe Benson. Yes, I probably like him a little bit because he grew up not far from me. But I think this is the season that Benson stays healthy and establishes himself as a good prospect. He is a +5-10 guy in center field, and last year, showed a ton of patience (14.1 BB%). We have been talking about his strength and raw power since he was a running back in high school, and now that he’s out of the hellish A-ball hitting environments in the Twins system, I think we start to see some. Why Benson can’t be a .275/.375/.425 hitter (+12-15), which makes him a 4 WAR guy over a full season, is beyond me. If the Twins get in a dogfight in July, teams should be looking to acquire Wilson Ramos and Benson on the cheap.
6. The development of minor league analysis at FanGraphs. I am really excited about the things we have in store for you this season. Our minor league statistical offerings will be improved ten-fold, and we’ll be looking to bring you views inside the game whenever possible. I also plan to really continue investigating the new way of analyzing prospects that has been talked about, which involves pursuing (and evaluating the utility of) things like comparables, bust rate, context-neutral statistics and more. I urge you guys to let myself and Marc Hulet know what you’re looking for, and we’ll do our best to bring it to you.