Seager, Urias, Giolito lead list of baseball's new top 10 prospects
With the promotions over the weekend of Minnesota centerfielder Byron Buxton and Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor, the majority of the game’s elite prospects—according to the preseason rankings of Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com—are now in the major leagues. Buxton and Lindor, who were No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, on the latter two lists, join Archie Bradley, Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa (who made his major league debut on June 8), Joey Gallo, Addison Russell and Noah Syndergaard as top-10 prospects who have played their first big league games this year. Add in Carlos Rodon, Blake Swihart and September 2014 call-ups Joc Pederson and Jorge Soler, and 10 of the top 15 prospects on BA’s list, 11 of the top 20 on BP’s list, and eight of the top 10 on MLB.com’s list are now in the major leagues (though Bradley and Soler are on the disabled list).
This influx of elite prospects is indeed exceptional, but it has largely wiped clean those top-prospect lists. That leaves us to wonder: With several weeks still to go before BA and BP offer their annual mid-year top 50, who will be in the top 10 if we eliminate all players who have already debuted in the majors? Based on preseason rankings and first-half performances, I suspect the list might look a bit like this.
Note: I am not considering 2015 draftees here, and I can offer no first-hand scouting on any of these players.
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1. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
Seager is the easiest choice here, and he's also one of the few elite prospects remaining in the minors who may yet make his major league debut this season before the expansion of rosters in September. Ranked No. 5 prior to the season by BA and No. 7 by BP and MLB.com, Seager hit .375/.407/.675 in 20 games at Double A before being promoted to Triple A in May. He got off to a bit of a slow start at his new level, but since cracking two home runs on May 25, he has hit .375/.446/.688 in 16 games.
The little brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle, Corey is just 21, but with the Super Two deadline likely passed and Jimmy Rollins hitting a brutal .199/.260/.336, including 4-for-his-last 35 (.114), the only thing keeping him in the minors at this point is the 3 1/2-game lead the Dodgers have in the NL West.
2. Julio Urias, LHP, Dodgers
Seager, Urias and Nationals righty Lucas Giolito are the only three players left in the minors to have made the top 10 on all of three of the preseason lists mentioned above. Urias, a lefthander, was ranked No. 8 by MLB.com and No. 10 by BA and BP. That was lower than Giolito on all three lists, but Urias ranks higher here because, at 18, he is two full years younger than Giolito, he has reached a higher level (Double A), and he has excelled at that higher level, posting career bests in strikeouts per nine (11.5), walks per nine (2.2), strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.11) and WHIP (0.94).
Urias had elective surgery at the end of May to remove a benign mass that caused his left eyelid to droop and is expected to miss the entire month of June as a result, but that shouldn’t impact his ranking. If anything, having the eye fixed will remove the one concern that existed about him, while the time off will serve to limit his innings and temper the temptation to expedite him to the majors.
3. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Nationals
Like Urias, Giolito has made just seven starts this season. The Nationals, who have brought their top prospect along slowly since his Tommy John surgery in August 2012, held the 20-year-old in extended spring training to limit his innings, waiting until May to send him to Class A Potomac. He has since fallen victim to a .422 opponent’s batting average on balls in play, but his peripherals have been even better than Urias’s (11.6 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 6.38 K/BB, no home runs allowed in 39 2/3 innings). A 6'6" horse, Giolito is more likely to emerge as a true ace than Urias, but first he'll need to make an equally adept leap to Double A.
4. Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins
One of the top power prospects in baseball, Sano was no lower than 13th on any of the three preseason lists despite missing all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. As one might suspect for a young player who missed his entire age-21 season, Sano got off to a slow start in April, but since homering on April 30, he has hit .304/.387/.565 for Double A Chattanooga. Don’t look for Sano to get the same fast-track treatment as his former teammate Buxton, however, both because of his injury and because Trevor Plouffe has been one of the Twins’ top hitters thus far this season. The temptation to plug Sano in at designated hitter, though, grows with every Kennys Vargas strikeout.
5. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates
An ankle injury has sidelined the 21-year-old Glasnow since mid-May, cutting his penultimate start short and likely contributing to his poor showing in his last start before he was placed on the disabled list. Prior to that, however, he had a 0.79 ERA, 4.00 K/BB and more than a strikeout per inning through his first four Double A outings. Perhaps most encouraging is that the 6'8" Glasnow, who topped out at No. 12 on MLB.com's preseason list, had walked just six batters in those four starts.
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The 20-year-old Crawford gets moved up on this list relative to his preseason rankings—his best showing was No. 14 on the BA list—due less to his BABIP-spiked performance at Class A and more to his strong showing without the BABIP help since being promoted to Double A at the end of May. Crawford, who was the 16th overall pick in 2013, has hit .294/.392/.441 at the higher level, with 10 unintentional walks against just nine strikeouts and with seven of his 20 hits going for extra bases.
Crawford’s play at shortstop was never an issue—the big question suppressing his preseason rankings was whether or not he could produce at the plate against upper-level pitching. It’s only been 15 games, but he has thus far answered that question affirmatively.
7. Jonathan Gray, RHP, Rockies
When Kris Bryant made his major league debut in April, I listed five top prospects who could be the next called up to the majors. Of those, the 23-year-old Gray is the only one still in the minors. That’s partially due to his awful first four starts in April, which saw him give up 22 runs (21 earned) in 17 2/3 innings, and mostly because of an absurd .484 BABIP. Since then, Gray has had a .263 BABIP and posted a 2.68 ERA in eight starts, but his strikeout and walk rates are trending dangerously toward one another. Since striking out a season-high seven batters on May 10, Gray has posted a 4.3 K/9, and in his last four starts, he has averaged just shy of three walks per nine innings. Gray has generally had good results in those starts, but as a fly-ball pitcher trying to make the Rockies, his decline in strikeouts (from 12.3 K/9 in 2013 to 8.2 last year to 6.0 on aggregate this year) is a significant concern.
8. Robert Stephenson, RHP, Reds
Stephenson ranked as high as No. 16 on BP’s preseason list but has once again found himself stuck in Double A—a level he first reached at the end of the 2013 season—due to persistent wildness. Like Gray, the 22-year-old Stephenson has fantastic stuff and elite potential, but his successes thus far have been a bit reliant on luck on balls in play (.267 BABIP) and been undermined by a particularly worrisome walk rate (5.4 per nine). Indeed, just when It seemed Stephenson was figuring things out (just four walks in 22 innings and a 0.82 ERA over three starts as May turned to June), he walked six men in four innings his last time out.
9. Raul Mondesi, SS, Royals
Mondesi skips over Pirates righty Jameson Taillon, who is still rehabbing from April 2014 Tommy John surgery, and Diamondbacks righty Braden Shipley, who has a 1.34 K/BB in 13 starts at Double A this season, to crack my top 10. The son of Raul Ramon Mondesi, former Dodgers outfielder and current mayor of San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic, Raul Adalberto Mondesi won’t turn 20 until late July but is already holding his own in Double A, hitting .290/.308/.440. His plate discipline is abysmal (just three walks in 107 PA), but the other parts of that batting line are impressive for a teenaged shortstop in the upper minors. Mondesi has the speed and athleticism at shortstop to be a valuable player with even modest production at the plate. Here’s hoping he becomes discerning enough for that projection to become a reality.
10. Kyle Schwarber, C, Cubs
The big question about Schwarber, the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft, was if he is really a catcher. His bat has answered that question thus far with a resounding, “Who cares?” Starting his first full professional season in Double A, Schwarber has hit .318/.439/.578 this season. Raking at that level the year after being drafted is exactly what Bryant did last season, and he ended that year with more raking at Triple A to set up his debut in Chicago this spring.
With the Cubs now contending, the 22-year-old Schwarber could emerge as a bench bat for them as early as September, but his permanent promotion might come more slowly: Chicago has kept him at catcher this season after giving him 36 games in leftfield last year. The tug-of-war between Schwarber’s bat and glove should be interesting to watch over the next year or so, but whatever the result, he should make the Cubs' increasingly impressive lineup all the more dangerous once the organization decides where he’ll play on the field.