MLB Top Prospects Preview: Pacific Coast League Baseball
The Pacific Coast League is poised for a banner year. Four Top-10 prospects will call the PCL home this season and the talent level overall is up versus last year. Though uber-prospect Jurickson Profar and playoff scene-stealers Sonny Gray and Michael Wacha called the PCL home in 2013, the current crop boasts a number of game-changing talents. Here are 10 MLB top prospects that have created plenty of buzz early on in 2014.
MLB Prospects Preview: Pacific Coast League Hitters
Oscar Taveras, OF, Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals)
Oscar Taveras, a consensus Top-10 prospect the last two seasons, just needs at-bats. On the field, few prospects can match his hit tool. He was enjoying a fine 2013 with Memphis, hitting .306 in 46 games, before suffering a high ankle sprain that ended his season. The Cardinals need Taveras to prove his health in this stint with the Redbirds. Once he does, the Cardinals will be forced to shuffle the current lineup. It’s difficult to envision his being held in Triple-A for the entire season.
Javier Baez, SS, Iowa Cubs (Cubs)
Javier Baez made plenty of noise this spring. The shorstop has plus power and elite bat speed, earning comparisons to Gary Sheffield. Starlin Castro noticed, too- remarking he’d be open to a position change if Baez helps the Cubs win games. While the decision is in the hands of Rick Renteria and the Cubs brass, Baez is still in Iowa for a few reasons. While cautioning the use of Spring Training stats, Baez struck out 17 times in 53 at-bats, walking once. Baez’ aggressive approach needs refinement to avoid a steady diet of off-speed pitches in MLB. Can he use Triple-A to prove he has the range for shortstop, or is he destined second or third base. His bat is special enough to force the Cubs’ hands, though Super-Two consideration will keep him down until the summer.
George Springer, OF, Oklahoma City RedHawks (Astros)
George Springer enjoyed a breakout 2013, falling just shot of a 40-40 campaign. His power-speed combo is rivaled by few in the game. Springer has the ability to bat in the middle of the Astros lineup and play a strong center field for years to come. Houston will live with the strikeouts, his only real weakness. He’ll spend the coming months in Oklahoma City working on his approach at the plate to prove while awaiting the Super-Two deadline.
Arismendy Alcantara, 2B, Iowa Cubs (Cubs)
Arismendy Alcantara is overshadowed by organization-mates Castro, Baez, and Kris Bryant. Having seen him first-hand though, Chris Blessing called Alcantara “one of the better middle infield prospects in baseball.” A switch-hitter, Alcantara possesses average power, smacking 15 home runs in the Southern League and finishing second on the circuit in doubles and extra-base hits. While Baez faces questions about his home defensively, Alcantara best profiles at second base. However, if the Cubs want to get Baez to Chicago quicker, it’s possible that Baez and Alcantara alternate up the middle in Iowa to get Baez more reps at the keystone. Still, the Cubs’ outstanding organizational depth is meant to create situations like these, where top-100 prospects duke it out at nearly every position in the infield.
Alex Guerrero, 2B, Albuquerque Isotopes (Dodgers)
Alex Guerrero is by far the oldest player on this list at 27, but he has the most to prove. The Dodgers pegged him as an offense-first second baseman due to his strong play in Cuba, where he produced a .290/.402/.576 triple slash with 21 homers in his final season on the island. With above-average power his strongest calling card, Guerrero inked a four-year, $28 million contract that included a $10 million signing bonus. Signed to be the Dodgers’ starting second baseman, Guerrero now faces very real questions about bat speed (Tory Hernandez discussed the importance of bat speed in a recent chat), as well as his defensive chops. As a result, he’ll start in Albuquerque. Guerrero won’t be long for the PCL, but his ability to show a reasonable facsimile of his performance in Cuba will go a long way in figuring out what he is as a player.
MLB Top Prospects Preview: Pacific Coast League Pitchers
Taijuan Walker, RHP, Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners)
A Top-10 prospect, Taijuan Walker is headed for Seattle as soon as he’s healthy, which figures to be late April. The Mariners will send him to Tacoma for a tune-up first though. His arsenal includes a mid-90s fastball and developing off-speed pitches. Mike broke down Walker’s age-relative performance at Double-A Jackson and wondered if Walker was actually UNDER-rated. If anything, Walker could use more time to develop his command, but the present stuff is there enough to dominate in the majors. At 22, Walker joins Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma to form one of the more impressive starting trios in baseball.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Reno Aces (Diamondbacks)
Another Top-10 prospect, Archie Bradley has the build and stuff to incite liberal use of the term “prototypical.” An imposing 6-foot-4 with athleticism and make-up to warrant a scholarship offer from the University of Oklahoma to play quarterback, Bradley pairs his mid-90s fastball with a plus curve and an average changeup. The key for his development is improved command. Walks have been an issue, though his BB/9 decreased from 5.6 in 2012 to 4.1 in 2013. Bradley was in the running for a rotation spot this spring after Patrick Corbin fell victim to Tommy John surgery. Bradley needs to add the finishing touches, but has the talent to force GM Kevin Towers to promote him quickly.
Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Las Vegas 51s (Mets)
Noah Syndergaard is a quintessential power pitcher. He can run his fastball up to 98 mph with good arm-side run and a 12-to-6 “hook from hell” (per Mets manager Terry Collins). Right-handed batters hit .196 against Syndergaard last season, but he’ll need to improve his change-up in order to contain lefties to a similar degree. Still, Syndergaard maintained a K/BB ratio close to five in 2013, showing a great combination of stuff and command. Only 21-years old, Syndergaard is in line for a midseason call-up a la Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. Give the Mets baseball operations staff credit- they acquired Wheeler, Syndergaard, and catcher Travis d’Arnaud, 18 seasons of team control for expensive veterans.
Edwin Escobar, LHP, Fresno Grizzlies (Giants)
Edwin Escobar is another example of the Giants’ ability to identify and develop big-league pitchers. San Francisco acquired a then-17 year-old Escobar in exchange for the rights of Rule 5 draftee Ben Snyder. Four years later, Escobar is knocking on the door. As he’s grown stronger and gained command of his low-90s heater, Escobar established himself as one of the Giants’ top three prospects after an especially strong 2013 season. Escobar will need some time in Fresno to hone his off-speed pitches. Though his slider and change-up will both flash plus, they’re still inconsistent. Just a few weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, Escobar will spend most of 2014 with the Grizzlies, though a playoff run would afford the Giants a powerful bullpen weapon.
Rafael Montero, RHP, Las Vegas 51s (Mets)
Rafael Montero zoomed through the Mets minor league system. He signed as a 20-year old, yet it took only two seasons to advance from short season to Triple-A Las Vegas. ROTOscouting’s Chris Blessing wrote up Montero early on, noting Montero’s two-seamer and the evolution of his slider. A year later, Montero’s command and repertoire are nearly ready for the bigs. His low-90s fastball generates late movement and the slider and change-up are solid average. Montero’s smaller frame doesn’t scream “rotation workhorse,” but Montero logged over 150 innings last season. He’ll fit in nicely behind Harvey, Wheeler, and Syndergaard in Flushing.
MLB Top Prospects: Late-Season “Gets”
Elite prospects show the ability to jump from Double-A (and occasionally lower). Addison Russell (see report), Jonathan Gray, and Eddie Butler (see report) are players that could either jump straight to the majors or see time in the PCL, though Joc Pederson (also mentioned in Mike’s assessment of Bradley), Aaron Sanchez (listed in the Eastern League Prospect Preview), and D.J. Peterson and Victor Sanchez (both discussed in the Southern League Prospect Preview) will be welcome additions as MLB top prospects.
3 Apr 2014 / Ben Flajole /
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