In preparation for our highly successful and critically acclaimed A Podcast For Your Eyes debut last week, our Benevolent Dictator Bret Goodwin asked Craig and myself to create individual Top 10 lists for 2014.
While I was initially glad to accept my assignment simply because I find these things enjoyable, I was surprised to find that it’s actually a pretty useful exercise, too. If you want to really put a prospect under a microscope and truly weight his upside, what better way than to ask yourself if you could ever see that man topping a list of all players in the minors?
I’ve carried that idea to its logical conclusion here, and am bringing you eight players I think could rank No. 1 over all on Top 100 or 101 or 150 lists before the 2014 season. The first four names might make you say “duh,” but reasoning is provided. The following four might surprise you, and reasoning is provided here as well. My Top 150 rankings from my 2013 list are in parentheses.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, BOS (3)
I’m not sure if you guys know this, but I’m actually sort of high on Bogaerts. All he did last season was decide to post a wRC+ of 144 in High-A and of 159 in Double-A as a 19-year-old, all while convincing many that he can at least begin his career at shortstop. That’s, like, really good. I don’t think he sees a ton of MLB this season because there are two capable players head of him in Stephen Drew and Jose Iglesias, and if he does switch positions he’ll need time to adjust as well. But if Bogaerts is still prospect eligible next season and he still profiles as a shortstop, he’s almost guaranteed to top my list.
Javier Baez, SS, CHC (12)
One of the bigger boom-or-bust prospects in the minors, Baez is allergic to walks and strikes out too much, but men are willing to go to war and die for his bat speed. Similarly to Bogaerts, Baez quieted some of the concerns over his ability to man shortstop in the near term, although the latter is a year further away and I think his defensive profile is more in question. Either way, the potential exists here for 30-plus homers, an average that starts with a “3” and 15 stolen bases to boot. If that sounds a bit like Troy Tulowitzki to you, you’re not too far off.
Taijuan Walker, SP, SEA (9)
I’m generally hesitant to rank pitchers No. 1 overall unless they are named Stephen Strasburg, but Walker may be too dreamy to stay away from if he improves his command. He was solid if not spectacular last season, posting an 8.38 K/9, 3.55 BB/9 and 4.04 FIP in 126.2 Double-A innings, but stats don’t tell the whole story here. He’s just a little ways away from putting it all together, and when his delivery clicks and he can repeat it more consistently there’s nothing stopping him from becoming one of the most durable and exciting pitchers in the game.
Yaisel Puig, OF, LAD (66)
I want to see more of Puig before I crown him king of anything, and if you’re one of the people throwing Bo Jackson comps on him you need to go take a cold shower. But there’s no doubting that Puig’s been everything the Dodgers could’ve hoped for to this point, and if the hit tool can even play to a 50 or 55 we’re talking about a five category Fantasy monster. He might lose his prospect eligibility this season but unless there’s an injury to the Dodgers outfield I don’t see where he fits. A couple hundred MiLB at-bats would probably do him well anyway.
Also considered: Addison Russell (SS, OAK), Miguel Sano (3B, MIN), Byron Buxton (OF, MIN)
Gary Sanchez, C, NYY (29)
The backstop with the biggest pure upside in the minors, Sanchez has a bat that can play in the middle of a lineup and now looks to be adequate enough defensively to stay behind the plate for the start of his career as well. He’s beginning 2013 in High-A but already posted a wRC+ of 117 there last season, leading me to believe he’ll be in Double-A by June. That puts him on track for a 2014 MLB promotion, and plus-hitting catchers tend to be adored by the online prospect community. His stock is rising.
Bubba Starling, OF, KC (39)
Starling has yet to translate his ridiculous tools into on-field performance, but even a modest improvement in his swing path and pitch recognition could catapult him to elite prospect level. Some (perhaps most now?) remain discouraged by Starling’s performance to date, but the skill set is Matt Kemp-level exciting. Of course there’s plenty of Drew Stubbs or Brett Jackson potential here too, but a man can dream. Few others can match his upside.
Aaron Sanchez, SP, TOR (37)
The Blue Jays may have gutted their farm system this offseason but they retained their highest-upside player in Sanchez, who is a lower walk rate away from blossoming into one of the minors’ best pitchers. The likes of Keith Law and other top Interweb analysts have thrown the “future ace” label on Sanchez already, and the 20-year-old is poised for a meaningful test at High-A this season. It’s feasible he could top some Top 100s in a year.
Archie Bradley, SP, ARI (36)
Much of what you just read for Sanchez rings true for Bradley as well. With a prototypical pitcher’s build and well above average stuff, Bradley has all the ingredients you want in someone who can pitch near the top of a rotation. He posted a BB/9 of 5.59 in Single-A last season, though, and that’s going to need to fall by at least one batter if we’re going to talk about listing Bradley 1/1. He’s one of the two or three arms I’ll be keeping the closest eye on this year.
Also considered: Max Fried (SP, SD), Gregory Polanco (OF, PIT), Adalberto Mondesi (SS, KC)
Wait, What About (AKA players who I think will no longer be prospect eligible)
Oscar Taveras (OF, STL), Jurickson Profar (SS, TEX), Dylan Bundy (SP, BAL), Wil Myers (OF, TB), Billy Hamilton (OF, CIN), Gerrit Cole (SP, PIT), Shelby Miller (SP, STL), Jose Fernandez (SP, MIA), Zack Wheeler (SP, NYM), Nick Castellanos (OF/3B, DET), Anthony Rendon (INF, WAS)