One day before the season kicks off, the top 10 prospects will be revealed. These are the absolute best of the best. They have very few holes in their game if any, and they should be making All-Star teams for years to come.
10. Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis: Later in the season, the Cardinals literally have an ace in the hole when they need to replace Kyle Lohse or Jake Westbrook. Miller has everything teams look for in a frontline starter. He has the ideal frame that can handle a huge workload, athleticism to repeat his mechanics, and a great arsenal of two pitches that are definitely plus or better, and a third that could join them. He loves his fastball, and who can blame him? It’s in the mid-90’s, and he’s added movement to the pitch as his career has progressed. His curveball is another great pitch, and his changeup has nice movement and is developing. He still needs to refine his command and trust his secondary stuff a little more, but he’s well on his way to being the next ace in St. Louis.
He’ll start this season in AAA after moving from high-A to AA in 2011. Although his strikeout rate in the Texas League wasn’t the absurd 13.9 per nine it was in the Florida State League, he still struck out over a batter per inning. If he makes his ML debut in 2012, he’ll only be 21 years old, giving the Cardinals another young piece to build around in the post-Pujols era. The Cardinals may want to limit his inning total for one more season, but if he’s healthy, Miller could pitch 170-180 innings this year.
9. Jesus Montero, DH, Seattle: It seems like people have been talking about Montero forever, but it was only six years ago that he was signed. It appears that the Mariners will end the Yankee charade that Montero can be a catcher, and that’s for the best because he can’t. That’s fine though because his bat profiles everywhere, including DH which was where he was in Seattle’s lineup in the opening series in Japan. He makes hard contact on all kinds of pitches to all fields, and that includes home run power. Although Safeco Field might stifle his non-adjusted statistics, but in an average environment he could hit 20-30 home runs annually. His pitch selection could use some improvement, but it won’t be a huge problem because he’s such a good hitter.
If the Yankees didn’t have so many veterans in their lineup that needed the occasional use of the DH spot, Montero probably could’ve spent all of 2011 in the majors instead of spending a second year in AAA. He made quite an impression in September though, and it’s obvious that he’s been major league ready. After the trade to Seattle, he goes from a team with too many hitters to one that doesn’t have nearly enough. He could be the middle of the order bat Seattle needs to finally field a competent lineup, but they still have a lot of work to do.
8. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington: Rendon was the best bat in the 2011 draft, and Washington was fortunate to land him with the 6th pick. He’s a great talent, but maybe teams were concerned with the shoulder and ankle injuries he suffered over the previous season. He was an absolute force at Rice, and he finished with a career OBP over .500 despite a bit of a down junior season. He has a great hit tool thanks to great hand-eye coordination, a quick bat, and he can hit to all fields. Rendon may not have the classic power hitter’s frame, but he should have plus power even though he had a sharp decrease in home runs in his junior season. At third base, he’s a great defender with better than average range and a really good arm.
For now in the Nats organization, he could be a man without a position. Of course Washington already has a young, gold glove caliber player at third with Ryan Zimmerman. Rendon could attempt to play second base, but it seems like he’s not an up the middle athlete. They could live with bad defense, but they could also probably find a better spot. Maybe Zimmerman could move to first to protect against some injuries, but it’s hardly an issue right now. Rendon will start at high-A, and there can’t be a debate about what position the Nats should put him at until he actually gets there. Having too many All-Star third basemen is a pretty nice problem to have.
7. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore: What’s interesting about Bundy is that even as a high school pick, he’s probably more polished than a lot of college arms from the same draft. That’s what made him so appealing to the Orioles at fourth overall; they’re an organization hurting for impact talent, especially on the mound. Some of the prior pitchers on this list have big frames with a lot of projection, but Bundy is the opposite. At 6’1 and 200 pounds, he’s already filled out and makes the most of it, pitching in the mid 90’s. Fortunately, he’s athletic, has sound mechanics and a great work ethic. He has a deep arsenal with really good pitches across the board. His curveball is a plus pitch, and he also throws a solid changeup and a couple variants on his four seam fastball.
His changeup is more advanced than the usual high school pitcher’s, and his cutter is a pitch that usually isn’t taught to pitchers until much later in their development. Some are concerned about his lack of projection, but if he’s already strong with very good present velocity, does it matter much? He hasn’t made his pro debut yet, and he will in low-A this season. He could probably handle higher levels now, and like Manny Machado last year, the Orioles will probably be pretty aggressive with him. If the Orioles ever turn it around, he’s going to be key. A number of top Baltimore pitching prospects have flopped in recent years, and Bundy needs to change that.
6. Trevor Bauer, RHP, Arizona: Full disclosure here: I am a huge Trevor Bauer fan. I strive for objectivity, but it’s definitely possible this is veering off into subjectivity. Bauer shot up draft boards during an outstanding junior season where he proved that he had the top of the line stuff to get pro batters out too. He has a wide array of pitches, and it might be the deepest arsenal in professional baseball. Much of it is different versions of his fastball and changeup, with the heater being more effective of the two. He works in the low to mid 90’s, and he knows how to cut and sink the pitch depending on the situation. His curveball and slider are both plus pitches, and his knowledge of pitching and sequencing allows him to utilize them effectively. Despite his slight 6’1, 175 pound frame, Bauer’s incredible work ethic, pregame routines and mechanics lend themselves to great durability.
The one knock against Bauer is that he can be a bit uneconomical at times. He loves the strikeouts, and no one can blame him because that’s the most effective way to get outs, but with all of his pitches he could probably get some outs a little quicker. People will always have injury concerns for pitchers like Bauer with unique mechanics, but there’s no evidence to date that suggests his style will be detrimental. He’ll start the season in AA where he finished last year, but it won’t be long before he arrives in Arizona and stays there for a long time.
5. Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta: Teheran absolutely flew through Atlanta’s system, and he made his ML debut earlier than expected last year because of a lot of injuries. Despite his advanced approach to pitching, he showed he’s not quite ready for the big leagues. He throws a great changeup with plenty of deception and movement, and it plays off his low 90’s fastball well. At 6’2, he has adequate height. However, he needs to work to locate his fastball and not throw any belt high cookies. His curveball is a solid third offering that’s still getting better. He typically throws quality strikes and has an uncommon knowledge of pitch sequencing for a young arm.
Teheran was just optioned to AAA this week, and that’s for the best. While he’s probably capable of holding his own in the majors, the Braves have better options that are more ready for the majors. He covered three levels in 2010 and finally got to take a breath as he spent all of 2011 in AAA aside from his spot starts for the Braves. He could still use a little more seasoning to improve his curveball and fastball command. Unless there are a lot of injuries in Atlanta this year, Teheran may not find himself back there until September due to their great pitching depth. They can afford to take their time with him though.
4. Jurickson Profar, SS, Texas: Reports from spring training indicate that Profar is closer to the top three prospects than some may think. He’s shown incredible maturity for a player that’s only 19 years old, and his assignment to AA, skipping over high-A completely, reflects that. His baseball smarts allow all five of his tools to play up in game action. He walked more times than he struck out as an 18 year old in low-A last year, an unheard of plate approach for a player that young. He makes great contact from both sides of the plate, displaying more power batting right handed. He probably won’t be a huge base stealer, but he’ll be able to pick his spots and be an effective baserunner. In the field, he’s just as good as he is at the plate. His quickness and instincts give him great range, and he has the arm to make any throw. Profar is the complete package.
Rangers fans on Twitter ask what will happen to Elvis Andrus when Profar is ready all the time, and like the Nats and third base, it’s a nice problem to have. There is also nothing to worry about until Profar is knocking on the door, and that’s not in 2012. Maybe Andrus can find another position. Maybe Profar can. Maybe Andrus gets traded. Many teams would be salivating at the opportunity to get a fast, Gold Glove caliber shortstop. That’s not a concern now though, because Profar hasn’t had an at bat above low-A. The time where the Rangers have to make a big decision could come soon, but not yet.
3. Mike Trout, CF, Anaheim: The final three prospects are probably the unanimous top three on every list. How to order them is where things get hairy. I think they can be put in any order and be justifiable. Trout is a five tool centerfielder whose only problem right now is too many veteran outfielders with the Angels. His rise through the system has been meteoric, and every team that passed on him in the 2009 draft has to be wondering what they missed while scouting him. It’s hard to decide which of his tools is best. I would start with his speed that makes him a major base stealing threat and great centerfielder. He has 102 steals over roughly two minor league seasons, and he steals them at nearly an 80% clip. He should hit for an easy .300 with a good plate approach, and he could become a 20 home run hitter. His arm is just okay.
The Angels can probably deal with an average arm in centerfield with all else he brings. He’ll start the season in the minors, but if the Angels want to give themselves the best chance of making the postseason, he shouldn’t be there long. In addition to all of his physical gifts, he’s an ultra competitive player that will make the most of his ability. It takes a special talent to reach the majors as a 19 year old, and he’s going to be one part of a soon to be dangerous Angels lineup.
2. Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay: The Rays are notorious for moving prospects slowly, and Moore appeared to be on the same track. He had been advancing one level per year until he dominated so much in 2012 that he covered three levels, including pitching game one of a playoff series. In previous seasons, he always started slowly and had a lot of problems throwing strikes. Something clicked for him, and he quickly became the best pitching prospect in baseball. His incredibly effortless delivery produces a mid 90’s fastball and one of the best curveballs in the minors. His changeup has improved to above average, and he could have a cabinet full of Cy Youngs before his career is over.
Over the offseason, the Rays signed Moore to a team friendly contract extension that ensures that they’ll be able to hold onto this budding superstar. If he reaches his potential, Moore will have lost out on a lot of money over the course of the deal, but it’s never a bad thing to have the security of guaranteed money. He’ll still have plenty of years to get the big contracts pitchers have been getting in recent years. If he pitched in an era where pitchers threw enough innings to strike out 300 batters, he would do that easily. He could be the best strikeout pitcher in baseball very soon.
1. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington: The legend of Bryce Harper has been known for years now, but what he showed on the field in his first professional season may have gone beyond the hype. He showed off his easy 80 power and 80 arm as everyone expected, and it won’t be long until that raw power is showing up consistently in games. For now, he’s a really good athlete for someone his size, but if he keeps growing he probably won’t be much of a base stealer. Washington is taking advantage of that athleticism while they can, and Harper will be learning centerfield this year. What impressed scouts at the plate was his ability to make consistent contact with his violent swing. He knows to wait for his pitch, and he’s on his way to being one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball.
Word out of the Nationals all offseason was that Harper would have a chance to win a job with the big club out of spring training. It’s unclear whether or not it was just lip service to keep people interested, but he will be starting the season in AAA. It’s best for him and the team because they’ll be able to manage his service time, and he’ll get some more minor league experience which he needs. He actually struggled a bit in AA after his promotion, but he should be able to handle the higher levels. He’ll refine his game in the field and the plate against some tougher pitching, and sometime in June, he’s finally going to arrive.
I hope you enjoyed the list, and that you’ll have a chance to see some of these up and comers over the course of the season. They’re scattered all across the country at all levels, so everyone should have an opportunity. Was anyone too high or low? Should someone that wasn’t on have been included?