MLB Top Prospects Preview: Eastern League Baseball
With 12 affiliates, the Eastern League is rich in talent every year. 2013 alone saw budding stars Xander Bogaerts, Miguel Sano, Noah Syndergaard, Anthony Rendon, Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco all spend significant time there. Continuing in our series previewing the MLB Top Prospects, here are the ten we’re most excited to see in 2014:
MLB Prospects Preview: Eastern League Hitters
Byron Buxton, CF, New Britain Rock Cats (Twins)
The consensus #1 prospect in baseball, Byron Buxton is the cream of the Eastern League. His performance during the 2013 season surpassed the expectations of even the most bullish forecasters, showcasing five well above-average tools and dominating in pitcher friendly environments. The tools were never in question, but the refinement was remarkable; to fully appreciate this, take a look at Mike’s writeup prior to the beginning of last season. Rather than being handled with kid’s gloves, Buxton is hastening to Minnesota. A late spring injury to his left wrist will force Buxton to begin the season on the disabled list, but that does little to temper our overall enthusiasm.
Alen Hanson, SS, Altoona Curve (Pirates)
Thanks to a mid-season promotion to Altoona, Top-100 prospect Alen Hanson has already received his Double-A baptism. Those 150 plate appearances were uninspiring, but will help acclimate him to the rigors of the level. The toolsy shortstop is a switch hitter with the power potential suited for the middle of an order. Questions persist about whether he can actually stick at the position; Chris felt differently when he saw him in 2012, believing that the tools were suitable and the errors will decrease as the game begins to slow down for him. A strong season could propel Hanson to Pittsburgh if Jordy Mercer struggles, but with the Pirates deliberate promotion system, 2015 or 2016 are better bets.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Akron RubberDucks (Indians)
Edging out Clint Frazier as the top prospect in Cleveland’s organization is Francisco Lindor. Unlike most elite short stops in the minors, the top-10 overall prospect is not a concern to outgrow the position. His defensive game is advanced with good instincts that allow his above-average speed to translate into plus range. Offensively, Lindor does not project to hit for much over the fence power, although he’s one of the strongest players in the entire organization. However, Lindor has an excellent approach with a good feel for hitting from both sides of the plate. The shortstop ended 2013 with Akron and may quickly play himself into International League.
Gary Sanchez, C, Trenton Thunder (Yankees)
Perennially amongst the Yankees’ MLB top prospects, Gary Sanchez is scheduled to return to Trenton after a late season appearance in 2013. Defense is the biggest question mark with Sanchez. Even with gradual improvement, the top-100 prospect remains a poor defender behind the plate who would be passable in a pinch, but exposed as an everyday MLB catcher. His electric bat speed and raw power would become much less special should he be forced to first base. Continued efforts to improve his craft may never overcome the limitations of his physicality; 2014 will help clarify the issue.
Mason Williams, OF, Trenton Thunder (Yankees)
Trenton is the landing spot for another enigmatic Yankees prospect in center fielder Mason Williams. After impressing both Al Skorupa in the NYPL (sorry for the formatting, that post was ported from Joomla) and Mike in the SAL, the top-100 prospect had a forgettable 2013 campaign at High-A Tampa. His power production badly regressed in the pitcher friendly Florida State League, and concerns about his makeup bubbled to the surface after a DUI arrest in April. Still, Mason Williams has the tools to be a stellar defensive center fielder, and the on field production did start to improve towards the end of the year. Some development in his offensive tools could surge him back onto prospect lists by next year’s time.
MLB Top Prospects Preview: Eastern League Pitchers
Dylan Bundy, RHP, Bowie BaySox (Orioles)
The human pitching machine broke, causing Bundy to miss 2013; the baseball world collectively lamented. The top-100 prospect is working his way back from Tommy John surgery, and his rehab will inevitably travel through Bowie. How quickly will the easy mid-90’s fastball return? How about the knee-buckling, power curve? The advanced command? We cannot wait until Dylan Bundy returns to the mound and answers these questions. All of his starts are events.
Kyle Crick, RHP, Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants)
Leading a prospect laden staff for Richmond is 21 year old Kyle Crick is a physically imposing right-hander with a power arsenal. After dominating the SAL, the top-100 prospect moved on to the hitter friendly California League and Crick’s numbers improved across the board, highlighted by his 95 strikeouts in just 68 2/3 innings. The walk rate remains high, and command needs more refinement. The raw stuff makes him a must see.
Nick Kingham, RHP, Altoona Curve (Pirates)
Everything went well for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013. They broke a 20 year losing streak; they made the playoffs; and their already deep farm system saw interesting minor leaguers turn into legitimate prospects. Nick Kingham is one of these players. Drafted in the fourth round as a projectable high school right-hander — a profile that Scouting Director Greg Smith has drafted aggressively during his tenure — the top-100 prospect now throws in the low-to-mid 90’s with a hard breaking ball and solid change. He spent half of 2013 in Altoona, so look for him to move up to Triple-A Indianapolis by mid-season.
Henry Owens, LHP, Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox)
While we’re on the topic of projectable pitchers, the lanky, 6-foot-7 Henry Owens is rapidly moving through the Red Sox system. With a lively low-90’s fastball, a big curveball, and a changeup that continues to improve, the top-100 prospect has posted double digit strikeout rates at each level. He, too, has already found success at the Double-A level, finishing 2013 with six stellar starts for the Sea Dogs.
Aaron Sanchez – RHP – New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Blue Jays)
In a league with Dylan Bundy and Kyle Crick, Aaron Sanchez gives the Eastern League its third elite right-handed pitching prospect. Working with an explosive mid-90’s fastball, hard curveball, and changeup with great action, the swing and miss stuff has been prevalent throughout his minor league career. Controlling that stuff has been more of an obstacle. JD Sussman was an early believer that the inconsistencies in his delivery and release point were problems he would eventually overcome. The top-100 prospect impressed in major league camp and may have helped accelerate his time table.
- Tyler Naquin, OF, Akron RubberDucks (Cleveland Indians)
- Joe Wendle, 2B, Akron RubberDucks (Cleveland Indians)
- Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Bowie BaySox (Baltimore Orioles) (top-100 prospect)
- Devon Travis, 2B, Erie SeaWolves (Detroit Tigers) (top-100 prospect)
- A.J. Cole, RHP, Harrisburg Senators (Washington Nationals) (top-100 prospect)
- Sean Gilmartin, LHP, New Britain Rock Cats (Minnesota Twins)
- Blake Swihart, C, Portland Sea Dogs (Boston Red Sox) (top-100 prospect)
- Jesse Biddle, LHP, Reading Fightin’ Phils (Philadelphia Phillies) (top-1oo prospect)
- Ty Blach, LHP, Richmond Flying Squirrels (San Francisco Giants)
- Clayton Blackburn, RHP, Richmond Flying Squirrels (San Francisco Giants)
- Adalberto Mejia, LHP, Richmond Flying Squirrels (San Francisco Giants)
MLB Top Prospects: Late-Season “Gets”
The All-Star break serves as a convenient point to promote players to the next level. As prospects leave the Eastern League, a fresh wave of talent will filter up from High-A. Big names include Tyler Glasnow (Pirates), Jose Berrios (Twins), Daniel Norris (Blue Jays), and Josh Bell (Pirates).
2 Apr 2014 / Jeff Reese /
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